LL REVIEW: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Long lost Reviews (LLR) is a  monthly featured hosted by Ally @ Ally’s Appraisals where bloggers are encouraged to tackle their review backlog with book reviews that have been sitting there for a long time. Reviews can range from in-depth analyses to one sentence statements with no pressure applied. To learn more and see participating blogs visit Ally’s blog here.

Published: 6th November 2018

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Pages: 464 or 19 hours (audio)

Format: Audiobook purchased via Audible

RRP: $53.17 for the audible audiobook without a subscription. $16.45 with the subscription

1.5/5 Stars

Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? In Liane Moriarty’s latest page-turner, 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.

I’ve been umming and ahhing about posting this review for the longest time. Every time I sat down to write it, I would immediately stand back up and walk away from the computer… but here we are.  Reviewing Nine Perfect Strangers for Long Lost Reviews is probably a bit of a cop-out, as the book is not even twelve months old yet, but it did release in November of 2018, so I’m running with it.

Nine Perfect Strangers is the story of … well, nine strangers (I know how odd), who meet for the first time at a very exclusive and upmarket wellness retreat, Tranquillum House. They are expecting two weeks (I think) of remote, unique experiences that will enlighten and enrich their lives spirituality, mentality and physically. Instead, the nine strangers find themselves walking into the most bizarre and unpredictable situation, that I’m sure if they were real, would give you nightmares for the rest of your life.

Before I jump into an extremely long review, I’m going to preface this review by saying Nine Perfect Strangers is a book that readers either love or hate. There is no middle ground. I’ve seen people gush over it and people tear it to shreds. As it turns out, this book was not for me.

I’ve been reading Liane Moriarty’s books all my adult (and even a bit of my teen) reading life. I read her books in high school and new when this one was announced that I had to purchase it straight away because it would be glorious. What I wasn’t expecting was a gigantic brick (nothing against long books in general, but this book is BIG)) coming in at 454 pages. The book sat on my nightstand for months as I balanced ARC’s and life, so I purchased the audiobook from Audible as well thinking well I’d get to experience the book quicker …  I should have stuck with the physical copy.

The audiobook for this book is a whopping nineteen hours long and it’s narrated by Caroline Lee.  And this is where things start to get bad for me. I’m a religious book finisher (not sure if that’s a thing, but I’m making it a thing). To date, there have only ever been two books I have not DNF’ed (did not finish); sometimes this means I will stick with a book for months, or even years until its read (meanwhile reading a host of other things in between). Which brings me to my point, I struggled to finish Nine Perfect Strangers. I stuck with it, and have read the entire book, but I went weeks, borderline months without listening to it … because I was bored.

Moriarty has gone to great lengths to create an eccentric mix of characters from all walks of life in Nine Perfect Strangers. There is Frances – struggling author whose just been catfished by her online lover; Jessica and Ben – a couple who won the lottery but effectively destroyed their relationship; Heather, Napoleon and Zoe – a family with dark secrets, grieving the loss of their son/brother; Tony – ex sport star with ill health; Carmel – a divorced mother, corporate ladder figure who has lost her way; Lars – a seedy lawyer type who offers everyone his services; Yao – an ex-paramedic and now the ‘medical guru’ of Tanquillam House; Marsha – a Russian divorcee, ex-corporate ladder head whose lifestyle almost killed her and the owner and creative founder of Tranquilliam House. But none felt as polished or well-rounded/developed as some of her previous characters.  Each character was a bit lukewarm, almost wary of their own reception

I didn’t connect with any of them.

Because of this, Nine Perfect Strangers was a book that dragged for me. I didn’t initially like Frances at all – I found her rude, self-centred and over the top –  which is most unfortunate as the majority of the book is told from her point of view. Most importantly, however, for the first 3/4 quarters of the book, nothing happened! The characters woke up, drank their suspect smoothies (I have so many unanswered questions), didn’t talk to each other (they were under a vow of silence), did yoga, went to bed and started the day over.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

In the final quarter of the book, Moriarty introduced some suspense and mystery elements to the plot, that had me sit up and pay attention. I started to connect with the characters a tiny bit. To the point that I wanted to know what happened! In hindsight, the ending is over the top dramatic and kind of crazy out of the blue given the books pacing, but at the time, I just remember thinking FINALLY. Then the story wrapped up super quick, there was an epilogue of sorts which tied together ‘everything’ with a nice big bow and the book simply ended. Just like that. My head was left reeling it happened so fast. What’s worse is that a lot of my questions weren’t answered!

Moriarty’s writing has always been highly entertaining and delightful to me in the past. Which leads me to wonder if the form that I ‘read’ this book in partially contributed to my experience. Caroline Lee’s delivery of the book isn’t bad, but perhaps the book itself doesn’t lend itself to the audio form as much as other books do? What’s more, I wonder if it was a case of the wrong book, wrong time? Every time we open a book, our own personal state of mind, preferences and experience affect the way we read and receive the text. While its true I wasn’t going through any negative or traumatic experiences at the time, perhaps my state of being wasn’t prime time reading either? Perhaps this just wasn’t a book for me, personally. We will never know.

What I do know is, when Liane Moriarty’s future books release, I will continue to buy them ASAP. Years of loyal readership and respect does not simply vanish because of one mediocre book. I’m excited to see what she comes out with next and where her writing career is heading, with everything happening in Hollywood with Big Little Lies and her other books being optioned, the world is Moriarty’s oyster and she can only go up from here.

Nine Perfect Strangers is clearly not my favourite Liane Moriarty book by far. So if this was the first of her books you picked up or were thinking of picking up, I would strongly advise you to perhaps try your hand at one of her other books first.

Have you read Nine Perfect Strangers? Did you love it? Hate it? I loved to hear your thoughts, because honestly, so many months later I’m still so conflicted by this book…

To learn more about Liane Moriarty, visit the following social media sites:

Liane Moriarty Website | Facebook | Goodreads

To purchase a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers, visit the following online retailers:

Pan Macmillian Australia | Amazon AUS | Amazon US | Angus & Robertson | Audible | Booktopia | Book Depository | Dymocks |

 

 

REVIEW: Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah & Narrated by Rebecca McCauley

Published: 1st January 2005

Publisher: Bolinda Audio/Publishing

Format: Audio book – Hired from the Library

RRP: $29.95 ( for audio book on cd)/ $16.95 (Paperback)

4.5/5 Stars

The slide opened and I heard a gentle, kind voice: What is your confession, my child? I was stuffed. The Priest would declare me a heretic; my parents would call me a traitor …The Priest asked me again: What is your confession, my child? I’m Muslim. I whispered. Welcome to my world. I’m Amal Abdel-Hakim, a seventeen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim still trying to come to grips with my various identity hyphens. It’s hard enough being cool as a teenager when being one issue behind the latest Cosmo is enough to disqualify you from the in-group. Try wearing a veil on your head and practising the bum’s up position at lunchtime and you know you’re in for a tough time at school. Luckily my friends support me, although they’ve got a few troubles of their own. Simone, blonde, gorgeous and overweight – she’s got serious image issues, and Leila’s really intelligent but her parents are more interested in her getting a marriage certificate than her high school certificate! And I thought I had problems.

I read this book earlier this year now (back in late April/Early May to be exact) and it tackles some major and rather topical issues that the world was facing then, and still is today, despite having been published in 2005.

Does My Head Look Big In This? Was Randa Abdel-Fattah’s début novel back published in 2005. More than ten years on this book is still not only astoundingly perfect, but it’s extremely relevant and topical and I honestly urge everyone to pick it up and read the book. We always talk about the books that changed your life, but I seriously believe this one not only holds the power to change your mind, but your heart, as it tackles the heavy topics of racism, culture, religion and teenage expectations and life in current society. It’s a book that made me understand a culture and religion that is so pushed down and harshly judged for the actions of a few radicals who are so far off book.

With Does My Head Look Big In This?, Randa Abdel-Fattah has crafted the most wonderful and moving story that will not only entertain you, but it will capture your heart and mind, allowing you to glimpse a very misunderstood culture and it’s people in the most relaxed way all within the safety of your lounge room.

Amal is just a typical Australian teenage who has a love/hate relationship with school, loves her best friends, loves fashion and shopping and has a crush on the guy in year 11. But she is also Muslim, and just as she prepares to start her third term of year 11 she makes the personal decision to wear the hijab ‘full-time. Feeling she is ready to take on this role and everything it represents Amal believes she is strong enough to endure everything society can and will throw her way; but her parents feel otherwise and warn her constantly how hard the transition and reality can be. Not one to be persuaded, strong headed Amal powers through misconceptions, mistreatment and plain religious and ethnic prejudices is the most remarkable and uplifting way. No, Does My Head Look Big In This? Is not a story for the faint of heart, or prejudice. But it is a story that is humbling, uplifting, and at times quite confronting. It’s a story that has the power to turn your world on its head and leaves you wanting to know more … to find a person in similar circumstance and hug them and tell them you are on their side.

What’s astounding about this book, is the way that Randa Abdel-Fattah has balanced the light heartedness of every day life with the serious and comical teenage years, as well as dealing with racial difference and prejudice. Does My Head Look Big In This? Could have so easily have been a frustrations rant or dressing down, but Randa Abdel-Fattah was able to take the story and make it so much more.

Simply put this book was inspiring. It opened my eyes to another culture in such a humours but down to earth way, all the while maintaining it’s beliefs, integrity and most importantly respect. I really enjoyed Amal’s insights and loved her gutsy and take no-prisoners approach to life. Amal is a character that demands your acknowledgement, if not your respect and I loved how true and hard she believed in everything. Her conviction and faith made me stop at times and contemplate my own beliefs and perceptions and whether I would be strong enough to endure what Amal does for her hard earned beliefs.

I highly recommend this book to everyone no matter their nationality, ethnicity or religious background. Regardless of whether you are 12, 42 or even 102, Does My Head Look Big In This? Is a universal book that everyone should and needs to read at least once within their lifetime.

 

To learn more about Randa Abdel-Fattah, visit the following social media sites:

 Author Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook |

To purchase a copy of Does My Head Look Big In This? visit the following online retailers:

Print –  Booktopia | Amazon US |

Ebook – Booktopia | Amazon US | Amazon UK |

Audio –  Booktopia | Amazon UK | Amazon US |

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Top Ten Tuesday:Top Ten audiobooks you should listen to!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke And The Bookish where bloggers and readers create a list of books based on a weekly list theme.

Today’s topic was:  Top Ten  audiobooks you should listen to!

First let me just say, I absolutely adore audiobooks! I’m a relatively new convert to them, but given that I spend a lot of time in the car driving to and from work, they are the perfect companion for me and an fantastic way for me to fit more reading in, That said, I’ve read or more to the point only realistically listened to about 20-25 audio books so far, so my list is limited, but I stand strongly behind every single one that makes it onto this list.

On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

This was perhaps my first audio book I’d listened to and it was AMAZING! Seriously I stopped doing everything to listen to this one. The narrator was fantastic. The story was out of this world. I’ve since brought the audio book (previously I hired it from the library) so that I can listen to it over and over again.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult.

This audio book is phenomenal!

The very first line of my review for this particular book reads: “12 discs, three days. I couldn’t stop listening to this amazing and empowering story.”

Unsuitable Men by Pippa Wright.

A hilarious, but very relate able book. I devoured this one.

The Rouseabout by Rachael Treasure.

I just really enjoyed this book as audio. It was the perfect book to listen into the car.

Just One Of The Guys by Kristan Higgins

This was a really funny and relaxing book.

 

This week’s topic: Top Ten Characters Who X…
This week’s topic: Top Ten Characters Who X…

REVIEW: Mad Men, Bad Girls And The Guerilla Knitters Institute by Maggie Groff & Read by Georgie Parker

Published: 3rd March 2012 (print)/6th August 2012 (audio)

Publisher: Pan Macmillian Australia (Print) /Bolinda Audio (audio)

Pages: 364 pages/7 dics

Format: Audio book hired from the library – Read by Georgie Parker

RRP: S19.99 (print)/$44.95 (audio)

4/5 Stars

When a secretive American cult moves to the Gold Coast, freelance journalist Scout Davis’s investigative antennae start quivering. She sets out to expose the cult’s lunatic beliefs and bizarre practices, but when she learns the identity of a recent recruit, her quest becomes personal. And dangerous.

But Scout has her secrets too. In the dead of night she sneaks out with an underground group of yarn bombers to decorate the locality with artworks. The next mission ticks all the right boxes – it’s risky, difficult and extremely silly. However, Scout has a sneaking suspicion that the local police sergeant, Rafe Kelly, is hot on her tail.

 

I have a confession to make. Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerilla Knitters Institute came highly recommended to me by a good friend and publishing guru back in 2012 when the book was first released. I remember distinctly smiling at her and nodding my head. Promising to read it soon, while secretly not at all interested in the book. So when I came across this as an audio book in the library I thought it was about time I gave it a go. Turns out I should have listened to my friend years ago.

Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerilla Knitters Institute is kind of a complex book to describe. So much so that I’m struggling to sum it up in a quick and concise matter. It’s set mostly in the exotic, and much sought after location of Byron Bay Australia and follows a freelance investigative journalist Scout Davis as she deals with work, her family and the eye of a local men that she shouldn’t have feelings for. It’s part crime novel, part contemporary, part epic saga for Scout Davis does not live a simple life. While Scout’s boyfriend is overseas covering a story in Afganistan, Scout chases down the local (and not so-local bad guys and GIRLS), dealing with everything from randy policemen, teenage bullies and religious cult movements that threaten the very nature of society. It’s an epic and somewhat fun journey that is sure to see you moaning out loud (at some of the characters actions, or hot cop RAFE, your choice) and screaming in frustration and agitation at others.

Like I mentioned above I didn’t expect to like this book. I’m not a knitter and know nothing about it and the title implied to be that knitting would play a bigger part in the book. I kind of wish it did to be honest, even despite my reservations, as I really loved hearing about the secret beautification projects the Guerilla Knitters Institute got up to!

While I really enjoyed getting to know most characters that feature in the book, I really loved Scout. She’s witty, she’s sarcastic and hellauva smart and independent woman. She’s conflicted at times, but head strong regardless and she has a heart of gold. I also liked the fact that Groff made the deliberate choice to give Scout diabetes and actively had that condition feature heavily throughout the book. it got plenty of air time with it’s complications and everyday hassles, but I never felt like Groff was cramming the issue down our throats.

My biggest issue with this book is the pacing towards the end. It seems like everything is coming hard and fast and all of Scout’s ‘cases’ are coming to a head that it’s kind of rushed and wrapped up almost too neatly with a pretty little bow. Well a slightly off-centred pretty little bow none-the-less. While I don’t believe the story was sacrificed too greatly for this, I just felt like a bit more time could of been spent with the free fall towards the end. That rush of adrenaline and race to read faster was great, but it was over almost as quick as it begun; quite a contrast to the books slow and lazy Byron Bay start.

Georgie Parker was a surprise choice for narrator for this book. Mainly because I didn’t know she’d done it I guess though. Given Parker’s acting background it makes logical sense for her to narrate and read the book and she does a mostly fantastic job. But even Parker couldn’t save the slow slog of the books opening and her voice grated on my nerves in sections. But that’s more personal taste then anything else.

As a whole Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerilla Knitters Institute was a complete surprise read for me. I had no idea what to expect going in, not that it mattered because I was right there with Scout on her journey for 3/4 of the book. In writing this review, I just discovered there is a sequel to it – Good News, Bad News – which I’m actively tracking down now. I want more Scout Davies and her crazy, but epic discoveries.

 

To purchase a copy of this book, visit the following online retailers:

print – Booktopia |PAN MACMILLIAN AUSTRALIA | ANGUS & ROBERTSON |

audio book – Booktopia | Book Depository |ANGUS & ROBERTSON BOOKWORLD |

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REVIEW: The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom

Published:12th November 2013

Publisher: Harper Audio

Format: Audio Cd (7 Discs) borrowed from Library

RRP: $39.99

3/5

The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out. An allegory about the power of belief – and a page-turner that will touch your soul – Albom’s masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected.

Readers of The Five People You Meet in Heaven will recognize the warmth and emotion so redolent of Albom’s writing, and those who haven’t yet enjoyed the power of his storytelling will thrill at the discovery of one of the best-loved writers of our time.

Mitch Albom is an author I’ve wanted to read for years. Having previously published so-called masterpieces/ must-reads like Tuesday’s With Morrie and the Time Keeper, books I have heard people rave about for years, I went in with high expectations. And a week post finishing the audio version of this book, I’m still not entirely sure what I thought or how I felt about it given it’s hype and the author’s reputation.

Simply put The First Phone Call From Heaven is based upon a simple, yet entirely unique concept; In Coldwater, Michigan, seven unsuspecting residents  receive phone calls from their dearly departed loved ones leading the world to argue the validity and prospect of this so called miracle. In essence the story examines the premise through a town of divided everyday men and women, asking how did this happen and what does it mean? At times I had no clue where Albom was going to take this story or what the larger message of the narrative would imply, but as I made my way through each disc I began to realise that while Albom created a simply story in premise, it was really anything but in reality. Albom essentially put the world’s religions and humanity under a microscope so that he could dissect the concepts of  faith vs beliefs, small towns, family dynamics, love, grief, the grey areas of morally right and wrong and what it really means to live.

There were times when I had no idea where Albom was going with this story. If I’m really being honest, there were a lot of times that I had no idea where he was going. With the narrative focusing on a larger number of first-person point-of-views and convictions, it becomes disjointed and hard to put together. There are so many main stage characters that it was even difficult to keep the characters straight in my head and more than once I wished the main cast had been reduced somewhat significantly. What’s more I was never given enough of any of the characters to really empathise with them on any sort of emotional level. Sure I felt sorry for Sully and I though the police chief and his budding romance was adorable, but it wasn’t enough for me to be wholly invested in the story’s outcome. I was intrigued yes, and because of that willing enough to follow it through to it’s conclusion. But I could of just as easily have shelved it for a time as well.

One thing I did particularly love about this book however was the way Albom casually passed commentary and judgement on social media and it’s impact on the broader community. Through the religious and controversial aspects of this narrative, he examines the way in which today’s society is all too willing to believe everything on the Internet and not check the fact. No one doubts the so-called news story that’s gone vial on say Facebook. We just hit like and share it with our friends and family without every checking it’s validity or accuracy. What’s more through the massive media frenzy sparked by the phone calls, Albom highlights the impact of the news and it’s so called practices (sensational news stories, politics and moneys vs hard cold facts and the truth and the impact on society and individuals when these facts aren’t considered/checked).

I also really liked the way Albom handled the sensitivity of different religions and included a wide range of religious beliefs in the story. But perhaps my favourite part of the story was the way that Albom carefully, and with meticulous timing, intercepted the main story with that of the telephones invention, development and general knowledge. I really enjoyed learning about the every day instrument and how it came to be, and found it amazing that there over 600 lawsuits fighting it’s originality. It was just really intriguing stuff that I hadn’t learnt before, or even thought to look up.

The audio book was narrated by Mitch Albom himself which was kind of cool in many ways, least of all being that it was like being privileged enough to hear an author read aloud their story the way they originally intended it and heard it themselves. Albom did a fantastic job at acting out the character voices and keeping the pace and flow of the story going. My biggest pet peeve with the form was that harperaudio don’t put music at the end of the disc or announce that it’s the end of the disc. While this normally wouldn’t seem like a big deal, you have no idea how frustrating it is to be listening to the disc in the car with a CD player that automatically starts right back at the beginning with no warning. Maybe I’ve been spoilt with past audio books. I don’t know.

In what could of easily been a very religious and morally right and wrong narrative, Mitch Albom has successfully created a well-balanced and superbly crafted (at times) story of individuality and unique appeal. Not everyone will agree on the religious aspects or some of his finer points, but no matter what your personal views are on the topic, there is something in here for every reader. While it’s true I was mostly confused and hesitant when the story started, the end third of the book did hold me captive and on more than on occasion while driving I found myself yelling at the stereo and guessing who/what was behind the calls.

While The First Phone Call From Heaven may have been my first Mitch Albom book and a bit of a hit and miss in parts, I’m still looking forward to tracking down some of his older works in the future and giving them ago.

To learn more about Mitch Albom, visit the following social media sites:

Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Google + |

To purchase a copy of the book, visit the following online retailers:

Print – Booktopia | BOOK DEPOSITORY | Worderly | Angus & Robertson’s Bookworld | QBD |

Audio Book –  Booktopia |BOOK DEPOSITORY