Apples Never Fall

By Liane Moriarty

Going OFF-GRID for a little while! I’m dancing daffodils 21 Dog Champagne to end Czechoslovakia! Spangle Moot! Love, Mum.’ Heart emoji. Butterfly emoji. Flower emoji. Smiley face emoji. ‘Off-grid’ was in capitals.” The beauty therapist’s mother used a lot of emojis in her texts too. Mothers loved emojis. She wondered what all that “dancing daffodils” stuff could possibly mean.

Moriarty once again has written an engrossing exploration of a dramatic family dynamic. I guess every family has its dark undercurrents, resentments, secrets, and challenges, but this is a family whose potential for both everyday and cataclysmic blow-ups is turned up more than a notch. First of all, although affluent and successful, they are a family of former athletes that never quite attained their dreams. The father, Stan, is a successful local tennis coach who had the potential for worldwide fame and greatness. The mother, Joy, gave up her own tennis career to raise 4 challenging kids and build the family business. As energetic and loving as she is she has had her plate more than full throughout her whole life. Like so many wives and mothers of her time, she feels cheated and unappreciated.

When the children were little they always called it “Daddy’s office” even though Joy was the one who handled all the business of the business. Yet they all had to maintain the pretense that because Stan was the man, whatever he was doing was automatically more important and deserved priority over any contribution from the little lady. Well, fuck you, Stan.

And then there’s the 4 kids: Amy, the oldest, who has all kinds of mental health disorders. Pick one. Logan, rather ordinary and scruffy, just broke up with his universally adored girlfriend, Indira, and is confused and miserable. Troy, a wealthy trader, and reformed drug dealer is now divorced from his lovely wife whom he cheated on. And Brooke, outwardly stable, has suffered from debilitating migraines since childhood. She too is divorced and trying, so far unsuccessfully, to start her own physical therapy practice.

Yes, Amy had her mental health challenges, but she was as tough as nails at her core; Logan pretended not to care about anything but cared about everything; Troy acted so superior because he felt so inferior; and Brooke liked to present herself as the most grown-up of them all, but sometimes Joy caught the fleeting expression of a frightened child crossing her face.

Things come to a head when a stranger knocks on Stan and Joy’s door seeking shelter and doesn’t leave. She worms her way into their affections and they become almost dependent upon her. Their kids are bewildered, worried, and start investigating. What’s her scam? When her lies and motives are exposed, she leaves, leaving seeds of destruction behind her. Some months later Joy disappears without a trace except for a perplexing text message to her children. Unbelievably, It starts to look to the police, his children, and the reader that her loving but complex husband of 50 years might have murdered her.

The build-up is slow but fascinating as we get to know each member of the family. I alternatively sympathized then despised then liked them again all at many points in the novel. That is a measure of Liane Moriarty’s talent and skill in constructing her characters. And we are mystified by Savannah. Who is she really and what is she up to? Things really start to pop shortly after the halfway point and the revelations come fast and furious.

In my experience, Lianne Moriarty really knows how to end a book. All is revealed and tied up in a very satisfying conclusion with happy endings, beginnings, and hope for all of the Delaney family.

Nico said there were good floorboards waiting beneath the vile carpet in the house they’d just bought. Amazing to think something beautiful could lie beneath the ugliness and all you had to do was peel it away. 

Then we get a shock of a second bonus ending which I read with simultaneous horror and guilty amusement.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 5, 2021

The Thirteenth Tale

By Diane Setterfield

I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait. They should come after adventures, perils, dangers and dilemmas, and wind everything up nice and neatly. Endings like this are to be found more commonly in old novels than new ones, so I read old novels.

I had very high hopes for The Thirteenth Tale. I was very intrigued at the beginning and thought the ending was excellent, with the fates of the secondary and bit players nicely revealed and loose ends tied up (see quote above.) It was very well written and had some beautifully written and thought-provoking passages. I should have loved it. I dealt in out-of-print and collectible books for years and there was so much that I definitely enjoyed and related to. However, sad to say, I found the middle a bit of a slog. The stories told by Vida Winter telling of her past were deeply unpleasant and disturbing. They were not enjoyable to read and seemed just setups to establish mysteries to be solved later.

I was never invested in Margaret Ley’s anguish over her lost twin and the dampening effect it had on her life. I guess maybe you have to be a twin to fully appreciate what she was going through and to also understand the key relationship between Adeline and Emmeline. But I just wanted to tell her to get over herself, you were just a baby and didn’t even know about her until you were 10. It was interesting, but I was not emotionally invested in her angst. The refreshing Dr. Clifton says it best, 

“You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits…. However, unlike the heroines of your favorite novels, your constitution has not been weakened by the privations of life in earlier, harsher centuries. No tuberculosis, no childhood polio, no unhygienic living conditions. You’ll survive.”

The final reveals were sort of compelling and surprising, but the reader knew something of the sort was going to be coming since twins were involved.

I had some major questions about some of the key developments in character. Many were answered in the course of the book, but many were not. The characters were deftly drawn but didn’t always hold up to scrutiny. 

**spoiler**

Hester arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air and brought hope and renewal. But then she turned cold, heartless, and abusive. She and the doctor treated the children like laboratory rats. However good their intentions started out being, they ended up just using them as an excuse to be together without guilt. Then back into a positive character in the postscript. The fact that she had a happy and successful marriage and career at the end seemed to come out of nowhere. Could she really be happy with the patronizing Dr. Maudsley, her intellectual inferior?
Why was young Vida so passionately taken with the placid and dull Emmeline?
Could the violent and uncontrollable Adeline really be kept hidden all those teenage years?
Why was John the Dig so hostile to Hester? Yes, if she found out about Vida, she probably would have brought her out into the open and sent her to school. But would that have been such a bad thing? And why was the present-day elderly Vida so devoted to Adeline who was responsible for so much evil and tragedy? (Assuming it was Emmaline who died in the fire.) 

**end spoiler**

 I would have enjoyed some more closure between Margaret and her mother. I would have enjoyed reading more about the very likable Dr. Clifton, a beacon of sense and sanity. I feel like we should have seen much more of him and learned more about him.

The Thirteenth Tale is definitely a book that would benefit from a “knowing what I know now” reread, but once was enough for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 21, 2021

The Blind

By A. F. Brady

This was a well-written book that mostly kept my interest throughout. I cared about and hoped that Sam the psychologist heroine would conquer her demons and find the courage to save her own life from the personal and professional disaster in which she was engulfed.

**Spoiler**

Well everything ended up hunky dory! She conquered her raging alcoholism by just deciding to quit drinking. Who knew it was so easy? She finally left her monster boyfriend by simply ignoring his text messages. Pretty great final farewell scene in her office though! I hope it was final. She escaped being exposed at work and kept her position and status despite severe ethical breaches and being partially responsible for the death of one patient and the almost death of two others. But hey, they weren’t that important in her life, after all. As we see in the last chapter, she even managed to keep the relationship of her good friend and potential love interest. All do to confessing her Borderline Personality Disorder to her “mystery” patient. Hopefully, she will be getting some professional help for that, but maybe, like her alcoholism and her toxic relationships, she just decided not to have it anymore. And what about the smoking? Did she quit that cold turkey as well? And by the way, why was Richard, who turns out to be perfectly sane, always carrying around those old newspapers that held the key to the mystery? **End Spoiler**


The relentless descent of her fortunes and health was pretty gripping, but unfortunately, it was not balanced by a gripping hard-fought recovery. Like many others, I thought the wrap up was too quick and left too many problems and questions just sitting there. I guess it was done for shock value if you are a reader to whom the big reveal was a shock.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 25, 2019

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

By Grady Hendrix

“The devil is loud and brash and full of drama. God, he’s like a sparrow.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about the friendship and loyalty of Abby towards Gretchen. Of course Gretchen was Abby’s friend too, as we see especially in the concluding pages, but for almost half of the book, Gretchen wasn’t there. She’d been replaced.
I loved the humor in the face of the horrific. Not especially the gross details of some of the fates of the teens involved and of course the possession and exorcism, but really the uselessness and terrible behavior of the adults. That was the scariest evil in this book.

“Families like that don’t listen to other people,” Mrs. Rivers said. “You get in the middle of whatever this is and you’ll be giving them an excuse to blame you for everything.”

Mrs. Rivers, Abby’s mother, was not a good parent and was a bitter person although not without good reason. But she was right in all of her observations. Her portrayal was fascinating and unpredictable. One of many gripping characterizations in the book.

Of course, some of the events just could not have played out the way they did for real. When confronted by the sights and smells and devastation that Gretchen’s possession caused, including what happened to one friend in particular, surely at least one parent, teacher, doctor, law enforcement, or clergyperson, would have stepped in, Like in The Exorcist. Denial caused by cognitive dissonance can only continue to a certain point. But that would have defeated the purpose of the book, I guess.

Someone had to do something. Someone had to say something. Teachers weren’t doing it. Her mom wasn’t going to do it. The Langs wouldn’t do it. That left Abby.

This was a real page-turner and one which was emotionally satisfying as well.

P.S. As I always do, I went on Google Earth to find some of the stomping grounds of the characters. Amazingly, Gretchen’s street not only exists, but her exact house is right there too. As are all of the other locations as well. I loved that authenticity.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

May 20, 2020

The Diana Chronicles

by Tina Brown

I picked this book up from the library; my interest prodded by Sally Bedell-Smith’s incredibly and obviously resentful and contemptuous take on Diana and mushy worshipful view of Queen Elizabeth. I was looking for a more balanced view of both women. The only quibble I have is how quickly Diana goes from a sweetly dumb romantic (and slightly “off”) teenager to a scary sophisticated savvy and strange woman. Perhaps the progression is unknowable; it seems to be a whole series of tipping points. But boy, it happened quickly! The writing is witty and engaging. Another thing that stands out so is how close the two might have been to making a go of it or at least hung on longer and made their time together much happier and more tolerable. If only Diana had gotten psychological help. If only Camilla Parker-Bowles had just backed off. If only Charles had not been such a jerk. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

February 12, 2012

The Nothing Girl

By Jodi Taylor

“Jenny, I’m so sorry. I think I may have encouraged you to marry a madman.’ ‘Yes, we’re going to be discussing this later. Oh.”

In reading The Nothing Girl, I have discovered a fresh funny voice in relationship fiction. And heaven be praised! She has a back list! I already had The first volume of The Chronicles of Saint Marys on my Kindle for some reason, and, to my surprise and excitement, she has written a sequel to The Nothing Girl, which I quickly bought as well. Hopefully she will fulfill the promise of the first book I read by her. I laughed, I cheered, I cried, I sighed in satisfaction.

I always thought donkeys said, ‘Hee-haw.’ That’s how you always see it written. Nice and neat. And brief. Hee-haw. Wrong. Our donkey goes: ‘EEEEEEEAAAAAWWWOOOOAARGGHHH,’ pauses briefly for the echoes to die away and then continues with: ‘EEEEEEEEEAAAAAWWWWWEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAWWWWWOOOOORRR. And it was loud. Good God, was it loud. Birds fell from the trees. The windows rattled. A low-flying jet did a quick U-turn and returned to base….

Rating: 5 out of 5.

July 25, 2017

The Silent Patient

by Alex Michaelides

“I’m forty two years old. And I became a psychotherapist because I was fucked-up. That’s the truth – though it’s not what I said during the interview when the question was put to me.”

This is the kind of book that might be better read than listened to. The narrations were great, no complaints there, whatsoever, and I had no trouble following it or remembering all of the characters, but I wish I was able to page through from the beginning to relive all of the clues and get a better handle on it all.

**Spoiler**

Especially the dual timelines. That was surprising, and a bit of a cheat. Were there any clues in the text, that it wasn’t a chronological story? I think it was signaled right from the beginning that there is something wrong with Theo and he is not a good person. Also that Gabriel was not the paragon that Alicia thought he was. The difference between what Alicia says about him versus how he acts on the page stands out. Theo’s crude language and anger was a giveaway for me. I really thought Alicia was innocent though. It seems like the police would have seen the marks of the wires on her wrists and ankles and figured out that there was more to the story of Alicia tying him up and shooting him. 

**end spoilers**

There were a lot of red herrings that were very well done.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 22, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing

By Delia Owens

“Female fireflies draw in strange males with dishonest signals and eat them; mantis females devour their own mates. Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers.”

Where the Crawdad Sings was a book that was out of my comfort zone. I’m not automatically drawn to lush Pat-Conroyish prose or anything with a whiff of Southern Gothic. But I have read and enjoyed such and I was won over by the glowing reviews that promised tragedy, cruelty, and sadness, yes, but also triumph, romance, and victory. The fact that it was a Reese Witherspoon book club selection sealed the deal. The novel delivered on all points. I didn’t read one glowing review that I disagree with.

I didn’t give it 5 stars. The resolution to the murder mystery did not seem supported by the facts, logistics, and evidence. Maybe I should re-read some parts, because I felt like the author kind of went behind the reader’s back. But it might just be me. The red herrings were excellent. I wish there had been a more satisfactory outcome with Kya’s lost family. One loose end was tied up very sadly, but there were more left hanging. The trial was good, but lacked some drama. The ending with Tate seemed to be a little rushed and easily won.

So it’s not perfect, but I would recommend it to almost anyone. It’s a better book than many I have given 5 stars to, but it aimed high so my bar was set high

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 24, 2018

The Girl He Used to Know

by Tracey Garvis Graves

“What if it turns out that after going through the evaluation, I find out I’m not on the spectrum. That I really am just weird. I don’t know if I can handle that.”

This is a lovely, sweet romance. In a way, it’s two for the price of one because you get the initial meeting and college courtship of Annika and Jonathan, and then, 10 years later, after a mysterious break-up, their attempt to reconcile now that they have changed and matured. Most readers, like me, will be amused, intrigued, moved by, admire, and come to love Annika. Actually, you love her from the first few pages. She is high functioning autistic. Jonathan is great too because he loves and supports Annika. We also meet Janice, the best friend in the world, and Annika’s wonderful mother, who is even more wonderful than you first think.

“It’s a Christmas present from Jonathan. He said I have to wait until Christmas to open it.” “Oh, Annika. That was so sweet of him. He seems like such a nice young man.” “He has never been mean to me, Mom. Not even once.” My mom didn’t say anything right away. But she blinked several times as if there was something in her eye, and then hugged me again. I wriggled away as soon as I could, because this one was so tight I could barely breathe.

I love when you close a book with a sigh of satisfaction, happiness, and emotion. When you read the last paragraph in this, you will know you have read the perfect ending.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

May 10, 2019

Behind Closed Doors

By B. A. Paris

“I can’t help thinking it’s a shame he’s such a sadistic bastard, because he has wonderful manners.”

**This whole review is one giant spoiler***
I haven’t read very many psychological suspense thrillers, domestic or not, that are so popular right now, but I was more than entertained with this one. I couldn’t put it down and read it in one day. It’s not 5 stars because there were too many holes and weaknesses in the plot. There were two main ones. First, why did Jack risk pushing Millie down the stairs and possibly killing her, when the whole reason for his evil plan was to get his hands on her? Second, I loved the justice of his ultimate fate, but Grace took too many chances to accomplish it. Making sure he suffered in the basement jeopardized her successful escape, to begin with. It also practically ensured that an autopsy and investigation would be done. Once law enforcement got a hold of those bars on the windows, her cell, all of the fingerprints, the steel shutters, the forensic evidence in her cell, etc. Etc., the jig would be up. No jury would convict her, ultimately, but what about Millie? Too risky. It comes as a shock to her and (kinda) to the reader, that she is rescued from any suspicion and probable further investigation at the last minute. There are quite a few other quibbles I had with the plausibility of all the goings on, but I won’t pile on.

Other problems? The Molly episode was too disturbing. The ending was too abrupt for me, though I realize it is probably a great way to end it literarily. I wanted more background on Esther. Why was she the one who suspected it was all a charade? What gave her that special insight? She was a great character and I would have loved to see more of her. I would have loved to see the happenings from her point of view. Of course, the wonderful Milly, who was so underestimated.

Overall though it was a well-written page-turner. I loved the “happy” ending, and had no problems at all with Grace, as many of the critical reviewers had.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 28, 2019