Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

2017: 45
4 of 5 stars
Published January 2013

Don Tillman is a professor of genetics and he really knows his business. He’s single, 40,  and does not make friends easily. In fact, he only has two, and one of those is an elderly lady who is now in a senior citizen home. He has decided, however, that it’s time he finds a wife and in order to screen the candidates properly, comes up with a long and detailed questionnaire to filter out all unsuitable candidates.

Enter Rosie. Sent to him by his other friend, Gene, Rosie is most certainly unsuitable but she’s mainly there to ask his help in finding her biological father. The Wife Project is set aside for The Father Project and they spend a lot of time together. Don is not your ordinary man and has challenges. He’s very clearly living with Asperger’s Syndrome though doesn’t realize it in spite of having conducted lectures in the subject on Gene’s behalf. I think Rosie probably picked up on it early because she’s a PHD in psychology and would recognize the symptoms but it’s never raised as an issue. Don is who he is. Don’s methodical methods and expertise are just what Rosie needs.

You can see that he’s starting to find her appealing but since he doesn’t consider her a wife candidate, just a friend, and he doesn’t think he’s capable of the emotion of love, he continually says or does the wrong thing, having no clue about how to read emotions or situations. Love isn’t logical and Don is lost at sea when it comes to things like that and yet, and yet, he seems to be a lot happier around Rosie than without her.  The story is fun and light hearted and it’s a feel-good book. You get exasperated when Don yet again gets it wrong, you wait with anticipation to see if he gets it right. You want to tell them both not to give up. You sigh with satisfaction at the end.

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Review: Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

2017: 38
3.5 of 5 stars
Published July 2016

Three couples got together for an afternoon barbeque. Something happened that changed everything and it’s now two months later. Relationships are irrevocably changed. Can their relationships and friendships survive? All six adults are still alive so it wasn’t a death but like another book by Moriarty, Big Little Lies, we don’t find out what happened until near the end with the rest of the story told with flashbacks.

Three couples, all with seemingly good marriages. Old friends mixing with new ones.This is a character study that teases the reader about the event in question, not a thriller, or whodunnit and I have to say it does get a bit tedious after awhile. There’s no threatening villain. You pretty much assume that someone said or did or saw something that had a huge impact on the others because those friends that are still talking to each other in the present aren’t on easy terms and all three relationships seem to have been affected.

Did someone get roaring drunk and let a secret out of the closet? Was there serious flirting involved? These were all things that went around in my head as I read the book and every time they teased you about something happening on the day of the barbeque, I got more and more annoyed but I still had to finish the book to find out what it was, even if it was going to be a “Is that all?” reaction. So the event happened a little past the halfway mark and the real importance of it was the after effect on all of the characters. Guilt is powerful, especially when it stirs up old resentments and stirs up the past in other ways. Even then, there were things that were not revealed completely and these were fed into the plot in drips and drabs through to the end of the book, some extra twists and revelations about the event in question. There was one other little twist, unrelated to “the event” as well that was interesting though not especially surprising considering the long term dynamic between the two people involved.

I like character based stories and while they can be a bit slow moving, I like finding out the background of them all and how it affects the dynamic of the group as a whole. That part of the book was quite good. It was only the vague part, the teasing part and the ongoing sense of a piece of the puzzle missing that was a bit annoying.

Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

2017: 23
4 of 5 Stars
Published July 2014

Kindergarden is a dangerous place, both for the children and the parents. It brings out the worst in people, especially all the parents with their rivalries and cliques. Rumours, lies, and great leaps to conclusions cause more headaches and upset than you would think.

Jane has brought her 5 year old son, Ziggy, to live in a small town by the sea where he’s about to start kindergarden. On the way to the Orientation Day for the kids starting school for the first time, she meets Madeleine who is just turning 40, with a teenager and two smaller children, one of whom is Chloe and who is starting kindergarten. Madeleine has turned her ankle on the way back to her car while berating a teenager for texting and driving and Jane drives her and the two younger children to school. Madeleine then fills Jane in on all the cliques and politics among the school mothers. Later that morning, as the children are leaving school, the daughter of a rich, career woman, Renata, accuses Ziggy of choking her and things for Ziggy and Jane get off to a bad start.

Through the school year, there are more accusations, escalated by unfounded rumours. Madeleine is dealing with her teenage daughter’s relationship with her father and father’s new, seemingly perfect wife, Bonnie. Madeleine still harbours a lot of anger and resentment towards her ex husband even though she’s now happily remarried herself. Her friend, Celeste also becomes a friend of Jane. Celeste and her husband, Perry, have two 5 year old twin boys who have also started school and Celeste also has a secret. Perry hits her. Jane has a secret to do with Ziggy’s father. Eventually, you just know, all the secrets are going to come blasting out of the closet and it isn’t going to be pretty.

The book opens on the night of a school fund raiser where someone has died. The rest of the book traces to path to this night from the orientation day at school to the fund raiser. Added on are excerpts from interviews with the other parents where you can clearly see which ones believe all the rumours and which ones have probably started the rumours. The police are trying to get to the bottom of the death but are not having a lot of luck. Of course the truth to the murder/death is going to come out as well.

I liked the book quite a bit. It is definitely soap opera but I like soap operas. The plot wriggles along the twisty path, placing hints and a bit of cryptic vagueness along the way to see if we can figure out a couple of the twists and then who has been killed and why. I didn’t figure it out. I usually never do with these things (unless it’s blatantly obvious) so I’m usually pleasantly surprised and wonder why I didn’t see it coming.  I liked the main characters, despised the ones I was supposed to and plan to read more by this author.

The book has been filmed as an HBO series currently airing so I wanted to read it along with watching the series. I know there’s going to be differences but now, reading the book, it’s completely cast in my head by the actors I’ve seen in the various parts! The series has been moved from the outskirts of Sydney, Australia (the book) to the California coastline and I think it’s been cast quite well.

Review: Hit & Mrs. by Lesley Crewe

2017: 20
Rating: 2.5 stars
Published: September 2009

The first Lesley Crewe book I read was Amazing Grace (review on Goodreads here) which I really liked so my cousin lent me a stack of paperbacks by her. Amazing Grace was published a couple of years ago. Hit & Mrs. is one of her earliest books, if not her first, published in 2009. They are very different in tone. AG is more serious, about dealing with the past and how it has affected lives and family in the presenet. H&M is all about the humour. You could use adjectives like “zany”, “madcap”, “romp”, and “crazy” and they’d all apply. I’m not adverse to an all out mad adventure but there were things in this book that did put me off.

We have four long time friends living in Montreal, all hitting the age of 50. Four different lifestyles. Bette has never married and has been burdened with running the family business and looking after her aging Jewish parents who are always arguing. Gemma is married to an Italian, with a mother-in-law who hates her, with a house full of children and a husband who loves her. Augusta is a widow with two teenage girls. Linda has recently split up from her husband who has run off with a young woman half his age. They decide to take a holiday to New York City using Linda’s ex’s credit card and that’s where it all falls apart.

After a luggage mix up in a ladies’ room and an accidental killing of what may or may not be a cab driver, there are incidents, accidents, mix ups, coincidences, cross communications and a lot of bad luck and the four women have more adventure than they ever expected or wanted. You get to the point where you aren’t surprised anymore, you just wonder what else could go wrong because you know it’s not at an end yet.

The things that I found difficult were the ethnic cliches. Bette is Jewish and her parents are written as the most stereotyped Jewish parents you’ll ever come across. The way they speak, “You want I should…”, that sort of thing. You can hear it in your mind playing out like a bad Woody Allen movie. I really don’t think people talk like that anymore. Maybe they do if they’re New York natives, but I’ve never heard anyone speak like that in Canada. I may be wrong. I haven’t heard every Jewish person in Canada speak but I found it a bit annoying. Gemma’s Italian mother-in-law wears black and hates her, undermines her, insults her, preys on her son’s good nature and putting him squarely in the middle and he, of course, never stands up for his wife. Between the relatives, and the non-stop shenanigans that happen to the four friends who run afoul of drug dealers and the mob, this might be a story you could picture as a movie made with some of the comedy stars of the day but though it might work on screen, I found it a bit harder to read.

This isn’t to say it’s written badly. The four friends are all well written and you can believe that they, as different as they are from each other, could still be friends. Together, they are strong, they are supportive and they are engaging. They are not helpless in the face of adversity, they just can’t deal with the problems in their own personal lives. I think I’d have enjoyed it a lot more if the tedious cliche families had not rubbed me the wrong way. I could accept the cinematic madcap-ness in New York, definitely played for dark humour type laughs otherwise.

Really, though, it’s meant to be a fun read, and it is. Even though parts of it were annoying to me, I still wanted to know what was going to happen next to the women. Is it silly? Yes, but it’s supposed to be. Is it predictable? Yes and that’s possibly not the intention, with the ending wrapped up very neat, tidy and quickly. What rubbed me the wrong way might not bother others. The ending for each woman was also relatively predictable although one thing I was afraid might happen, thankfully did not.

I’m not about to give up on Ms. Crewe. Some of her other books seem a bit less frantic and I know she’s a very good writer because I loved Amazing Grace. I also want to support her because she’s from Nova Scotia, like me and we have some very talented writers here.