Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Have you ever gone to a health resort? Or even taken a weekend at a spa? As someone whose pampering extends solely to pedicures and manicures, the idea of a spa or health resort sounds heavenly. When I discovered that Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty was set at a health resort with a twist, I decided to give this book a try.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty follows the lives of nine people through ten days at a health resort. Each person gathered at the health resort is there for a variety of reasons. Some are there to lose weight, some to fix their marriages, some to figure out a new way to live, while others are there for reasons that they don’t want to tell others. Even the staff have secrets to hide: both about themselves and the health resort. When setting foot into Tranquillum House, guests are told that this health resort may require them to do things that they aren’t comfortable with. This isn’t your traditional health resort, so they are going to have to work hard to get the results for which they are looking. In the end though, it will be worth the effort(or so they are told).

While each characters is presented somewhat separately in this novel and readers are privy to sections from each one’s point of view, Moriarty chooses to lay the bulk of her exposition on the character of Frances Welty. Frances is a best-selling romance novelist whose latest book is not doing so well. Struggling to figure out what she should do career-wise and simultaneously reeling from a disastrous broken heart, Frances has booked herself into Tranquillum House and is unsure of what to expect. Upon meeting her fellow guests, Frances is immediately intrigued. Using her writerly instincts, Frances tries to figure out the reasons that each has come to Tranquillum House. The person who fascinates her the most is not one of the quests though: it is the director and owner of Tranquillum House itself. Frances finds herself wondering if she really can solve/cure/make better/provide all the answers for Frances and the rest of the guests. Doubts continue to niggle throughout Frances’s stay and leave her wondering if she should stick out her stay or voice her concerns to the other guests. Could the other guests have the same concerns or are they content to follow the staff through the activities planned for each day? Frances will have to figure out a way to connect and figure out what is really happening at Tranquillum House.


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The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

What would you do if you found out that your unborn child had a heart defect that could possibly lead to his/her death? In The Dream Daughter  by Diane Chamberlain, Caroline Sears learns her unborn baby girl has a heart defect that might be fatal. Caroline is obviously devastated. This novel follows Caroline and her family’s journey as they work to find a way, any way, to save her unborn daughter’s life.

The Dream Daughter  by Diane Chamberlain tackles the tender topic of what and how far parents are willing to go in order to save an unborn child. Caroline, known to her family and friends as Carly, has had nothing but bad news lately. Carly has recently been widowed by the Vietnam War. Struggling to find a new normal, Carly moves in with her sister and brother-in-law. More life-changing news comes her way. Learning that she is pregnant, Carly is happy, but a trip to her doctor breaks her yet again. Her doctor tells her that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect. In 1970, there is nothing that can be done to help her child. Told that her child may die soon after she is born(if she survives that long), Carly hopes against all hope that the doctors are wrong and she’ll give birth to a healthy baby girl.

Concurrent to this story line runs the story of Carly’s sister and her husband. Carly’s brother-in-law is a physicist with a slightly mysterious past. Desperate to help Carly while knowing her heart-breaking past, he decides to share a secret with her that has the possibility of shattering their entire family. He knows of a way to save Carly’s baby, but the way to do so is mind-bending. Knowing that he needs to find a way to convince her to listen to him, he pulls out all the stops to get Carly to believe his mind-bending proposal. Carly is flabbergasted by what he proposes. She must pull upon the strength and courage she has deep within herself in order to save her daughter. She must take a giant leap of faith and believe in him. Willing to do anything to save her daughter, Carly embarks on a quest that pushes the boundaries of both science and faith.


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All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

I’m finding that a lot of the current books I’m reading contain themes that are very relevant in today’s society and culture. Emily Giffin’s newest novel deals with social media and the broader consequences and societal implications that happen when decisions are made without thinking through the possible  repercussions. In this novel, readers follow three different people as they struggle choosing between their family and their values. The core message present throughout this book is incredibly relevant to people in all walks of life: are you willing to compromise your beliefs, and if so, how far would you go?

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin tells a devastating story from the point of view of three different people: Nina, Tom, and Lyla. Nina has married into Nashville’s elite. Her husband’s tech business has rocketed them into wealth. Her son Finch is attending Windsor Academy, a prestigious private school, and has just been accepted into an even more prestigious college. Their lives are perfect.

Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs to help put his daughter through school. While they may not have everything, the life that they are living is nothing to be scoffed at.

Lyla is Tom’s teenage daughter. Her mother left when she was young, a situation she has to deal with on a daily basis. Wanting to give his daughter a better life, Tom works hard for Lyla to attend Windsor. Lyla finds herself going to school amongst all this wealth and privilege, while she attends the school on scholarship. Lyla doesn’t always fit in, but lucky for her, she has some friends that help her along the way.

Everything seems to be working out for Nina, Tom, and Lyla. Nina is happy with her husband and son, Tom’s businesses are providing him with the income and stability he needs, and Lyla is succeeding in school. Everything comes to a crashing halt with a picture taken at a party. Finch takes the offending picture of Lyla passed out,  captions it with an offensive saying, and sends it out to some of his closest friends. Spreading like wildfire, the picture soon makes it way out to everyone in the community, including Finch’s parents while they are at a dinner party.

The aftermath of this life-changing picture works to divide the Windsor community into two separate camps: those rallying behind Finch and those sympathizing with Lyla. Dealing with scandal, shame, and blame, Lyla, Tom, and Nina all have to decide how far they’re willing to go in two areas: support of family or standing by your beliefs. Nina struggles justifying the actions of her husband and son, while reconciling their behaviors with an event from her past that begins to poke through as her moral compass. Tom’s reaction and Nina’s husband’s reaction are at odds, leaving Nina unsure of who to side with and how she wants the rest of her life to go. Lyla wrestles with teenage hormones, her feelings for Finch, and her understated and sometimes missing outrage at what was done to her. Tom is extremely upset, but finds himself trying to reconcile Lyla’s somewhat bizarre reaction to this incident with his immense desire to seek revenge, sympathy, and what he deems is appropriate recompense for the wrong done to Lyla.


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Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky

I’m not going to lie: the cover of this book is what caught my eye and convinced me to read it. I know, I know, we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers. With so many books in print, the options can be overwhelming though! When it comes to picking out my personal reads, if a cover catches my eye, I’ll read it. It’s yet to let me down so far especially with my latest read by Barbara Delinsky.

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky is a captivating read that kept my attention from beginning to end. There are multiple important current issues discussed throughout this book that can have implications in everyday life. Social media, internet hacking, identity theft, the press, trauma, and secrets are all major themes that the characters in this novel find themselves battling with. This book cautions against becoming too complacent and making sure that we travel outside our comfort zones.

Mackenzie Cooper thought she had it all: a loving husband, a job she loved, a wonderful family, generous friends, and a daughter she adored. In one moment, it was all taken away. Driving her daughter to a play date, Mackenzie took her eyes off the road for just a moment to check the GPS. That glance away changes her life forever. Having lost everything, including her privacy after the intense media coverage surrounding the accident, Mackenzie runs away. She now lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid. Living in a small house with her cats and dog, Maggie has a new job and new friends. She just wants her new life to stay separate from her old life. That means that she can’t risk revealing too much. Her work as a makeup artist at a luxurious local spa allows Maggie to spend her day helping clients hiding the things on their skin that they wish would disappear. She’s a master at her job.

All Maggie wants with her new life is to stay under the radar and keep her probation officer happy. With less than a year left, she is so close to being completely free. Things are going slightly too well for Maggie though when she realizes that she isn’t the only one in this quiet Vermont town with secrets. A local teenage boy, the only son of one of Maggie’s friends, is thrust into the national spotlight when he is accused of hacking a powerful man’s Twitter account, numerous other Twitter accounts, and the local school’s system as well. Maggie has no idea what to do: should she protect herself and pull away or step up to help since she has experience dealing with this type of situation? Either decision will have far-reaching implications for Maggie. As the truth behind this teenager’s actions begin to come to light, Maggie increasingly finds her own newly constructed life unraveling at her feet. She knows that her friend probably just needs to be comforted amongst this sea of chaos, but Maggie truly has to decide how far she is willing to go to help.


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Our House by Louise Candlish

Have you ever read a book you loved and found yourself wishing that the ending was different? That’s how I felt during Louise Candlish’s Our House. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book, but the ending felt to me like there could have been more. Maybe there will be a sequel! One can only hope.

Our House by Louise Candlish tells the story of Fiona and Bram Lawson. This married couple have lived together with their two young boys at 91 Trinity Avenue for years. Fiona has poured her heart and soul into this house, working hard to make it a home that fits their unique family style. This safe haven is tested when Fiona discovers Bram cheating on her. Banishing him from the house, Fiona works hard to figure out how to keep her children’s lives as normal as possible. Deciding to draw up a modern coparenting arrangement with Bram called bird’s nest custody, Fiona thinks she has discovered the perfect solution. Instead of shuffling the kids between two different houses, Fiona and Bram will each spend a few nights a week in the house in order to have as little of an impact on the children as possible.

This perfect system ends up backfiring colossally when Fiona comes home early from a romantic weekend away with a new beau to discover a new family moving into 91 Trinity Avenue. This surprises Fiona because that is her house and she certainly didn’t sell it. The new couple has all the necessary paperwork with payment confirmed out to her estranged husband, Bram. What follows is massive confusion as Fiona is confident that there has been a mistake.  Alas upon talking to multiple agents, the disastrous truth is realized: Bram has sold the house out from underneath the family and has absconded with the proceeds from the house sale. Fiona is utterly devastated.

Working hard to figure out the truth, Fiona digs into Bram’s past and discovers that the bird’s nest custody agreement that she was so proud of allowed Bram access to all the necessary documents he needed in order to sell the house out from underneath her and the boys. Even with access to those documents, Fiona also realizes he would have needed the help of others in order to carry out a crime of this magnitude. Fiona is stumped about how he would come into contact with those type of people. Events continue to spiral out of control as Fiona uncovers all the lies Bram was weaving through their lives and how little she actually knew about her husband. Why would he do this to them? Where has he gone?

This story is told through a word document written by Bram while he’s on the run and through transcripts of a podcast on which Fiona tells the whole sordid story of Bram’s betrayal. I really liked the method that Candlish chose to present this book as it allowed readers to pretty much simultaneously see both Bram and Fiona’s points of view and their reasons for behaving the way they do. I was fascinated with the severity of Bram’s crime and how seemingly easy it was for him to sell the house without his wife’s knowledge.


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The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

I’m fascinated with stories that seem like they could be realistically true. A lot of realistic fiction sometimes pulls me out of the story, but The Home for Unwanted Girls kept me engaged in their realistic explanation of a pregnant young woman in 1950s Quebec and the subsequent expectations of her parents and society.

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman is a suspenseful novel that spans decades filled with love, lies, and many secrets. In 1950s Quebec, both the English and French find themselves living in uneasy and unsteady civility. Maggie Hughes is stuck in the middle of this issue with an English-speaking father and a French mother who seem to barely tolerate each other despite their large family. Maggie has grown up with high expectations thrust on her by her father. She’s expected to take over her father’s business and marry a good man, NOT the poor French boy named Gabriel who lives on the farm next door. Readers can practically predict on their own what will happen next because fictional young women live to defy their father’s wishes. Maggie soon finds herself enamored with Gabriel. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, Maggie’s parents tell her that she has to work to get her life back on track and that means she has to put her baby up for adoption.

Baby Elodie is put up for adoption and grows up in Quebec’s orphanage system which is impoverished, dirty, and rife with issues. Elodie is bright and determined to survive the horrible treatments the nuns put her through all while anxiously waiting for her mother to swoop in, find her, and adopt her. With this precarious existence, Elodie survives, but things only manage to get worse when a law is passed that says that psychiatric hospitals will earn more funding than orphanages. Thousands of orphans in Quebec are now declared mentally ill, are shifted to other orphanages-turned-psychiatric-hospitals, and are forced to take care of legitimate psychiatric patients that are bused into the newly minted psychiatric hospitals. Elodie is finally released when she turns seventeen, but her freedom is a difficult adjustment. This new normal is an alien experience, but luckily Elodie has friends that are helping her adjust.

Maggie has never been able to forget the daughter that she was forced to give up when she was fifteen despite her family’s repeated wishes to move on with her life. Maggie married a businessman desperate to start a family. Living with him has been easy, but when he keeps pushing her to have a baby, Maggie is forced to confront him on their different wishes. Around the same time as the rocky part of her marriage comes to a head, Maggie unexpectedly reconnects with Gabriel after years of separation. Maggie is forced to choose between Gabriel and her husband.

As this novel progresses, Maggie and Elodie’s stories intertwine in unexpected ways, leaving readers to hope that each time circumstances will result in their meeting. Maggie hopes to find Elodie and quickly realizes that she needs to make a better, more focused effort to do so. Throughout this novel, Maggie works to figure out how to balance multiple life truths. The truth that was taken from her and Elodie when Maggie was fifteen haunts her. Maggie yearns for her family to be together and for everything to be out in the open.


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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I had read Celests Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, when it first came out and it captivated me. The story of a family torn apart by the disappearance and death of the middle child, Lydia, captures the rifts and examines the ways that family members struggle to try to understand each other. When I saw that Ng was coming out with another book entitled Little Fires Everywhere, I knew I needed to read it because Ng has the ability to craft domestic fiction that is both engaging and realistic that I simply can’t put down.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng tells the story of the residents of Shaker Heights. Shaker Heights is a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, that prides itself in its ability to plan. This progressive suburb has rules for everything: the colors of the houses, the layouts of the roads, the types of houses, the schools, etc. Every little thing is laid out, even the jobs and lives that residents are expected to lead.

This highly structured, yet surprisingly calm and tranquil, community is normal to the residents that live there, especially longtime resident Elena Richardson. Leaving for college, coming back with a husband, raising four children, and working at the local paper are all things that were expected from Elena. The order and sense of community are both major appeals for Elena in Shaker Heights. She believes that the rules are there for a reason and lives her life making sure everyone around her follows the rules.

Elena’s sense of security is shaken when Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl move into town. Mia is a single mother who makes a living as an artist. She and Pearl move around every couple months, but Mia promises Pearl that Shaker Heights is the place they will stay forever. Arriving in town, Mia rents a house from the Richardsons and soon both families become tangled together. All four Richardson children find Mia and Pearl to be mysterious and are quickly drawn to the pair. The closer the two families become, the more questions come to the surface.

Mia’s arrival in Shaker Heights begins to unsettle the delicate balance of rules and order that the community relies on to survive. To start, Mia has an untraditional job, a very mysterious part, and a disregard for the standard of living that Elena holds dear. Mia keeps part of her past hidden for good reason and some of the Richardson family members take it upon themselves to figure out why.

Mia’s disruption of the status quo comes to a head when Mia and Elena find themselves at opposite sides of a custody battle that’s splattered all over the news. An old family friend of Elena’s is trying to adopt a Chinese-American baby. Mia finds herself championing the biological mother, while Elena is firmly on the side of the adoptive parents. Elena is determined to do anything for her friend, even if that means digging into Mia’s past to discover her secrets and motives. Little does she know that her obsession will quickly unravel her life and the lives of everyone around her in abrupt and unforeseen ways.


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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

What would you do if you found out the life that you were living was a lie? If the life your parents or grandparents have lived was based on a lie? What if your entire family history was based on a lie? This is the true story for some children whose parents don’t tell them that they are adopted either until later in life or after the parents die. Such events can sometimes be traumatic, but it all depends on the child’s character and the sense of identity that they have developed. Will the news that they are adopted be easily accepted or will it throw their lives into upheaval as they work to find their birth parents and their biological heritage? Those questions are all prevalent through Lisa Wingate’s newest book, Before We Were Yours.

Before We Were Yours is a work of historical fiction that delves into the shady antics of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society run by the infamous Georgia Tann. Tann ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society for over 25 years. Between 1924 and 1950, it is estimated that Tann stole over 5,000 children from their families and that over 500 died from abuse, disease, and poor care while they were living under Tann’s care. This true story shattered so many lives. I recommend you read a little bit about Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society before you pick up Before We Were Yours in order to give yourself background information (It isn’t necessary, but like a true Girl Scout and an ever researching librarian, I love to be prepared.)

Before We Were Yours begins in Memphis, Tennessee in 1936. The five Foss children are anxiously awaiting the birth of their youngest new sibling while their mom labors inside their shanty boat home. Fearing for the mom’s life, the midwife demands that she be taken to the hospital to give birth or the babies and the mom will die. Shuttling her off to the hospital in a boat, the dad tells the eldest Foss child to watch over the siblings and stay at the shanty boat until they come back. Men show up in the middle of the night however and the Foss siblings’ lives are forever changed.

Flash to the present and Avery Stafford has come home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment and to also be groomed to possibly take over her father’s political career. At a particularly moving photo-op in a nursing home, Avery meets a woman who immediately captures her interest. The things this woman says to her has Avery shaken to the core. Avery decides that she needs to learn more about this mysterious woman’s life and thus begins a journey that will change her family’s history forever. Secrets never really stay secrets after all.

This novel shifts back and forth between the Foss children in the 1930s and Avery Stafford in the present. I really enjoyed the flip-flop between the two stories as the story of the Foss children created a deep swirling mystery around the woman in the nursing home and Avery’s grandmother. This book had me doing two things: learning more about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society AND looking into my family’s history to see what I did not know already.


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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff has a gorgeous cover. I have been wanting to read this book since it came out because I wanted to figure out if the blue on the cover was supposed to be waves or feathers. (It’s waves, guys!) I listened to this book through OverDrive and was very glad that I did. Fates and Furies is told from the point of view of two separate people and the audiobook has two separate people doing the narration! That allowed me to fully invest in each character’s life and imagine them more vividly. On to the explanation!

Fates and Furies is all about relationships and stories. Lauren Groff has woven a masterful novel about relationship dynamics and the representation of both sides of a story. Each story always has two sides, while each relationship always has two perspectives. The outside world only sees the relationship as one flat surface, while each person in the relationship is really only fully aware of their side of the relationship. It’s rare for people outside a relationship or even for people within the relationship to fully know the complete truth of what is happening in the relationship. Unless a letter is left after one person dies or one person in the relationship writes a memoir, little will be known. (And yes, I know there are those who swear that they don’t keep anything from their partners. Really? You tell them everything? Hmm.. This book examines the truth behind that principle perfectly.)

Fate and Furies tells the story of a marriage over twenty-four years. Lotto and Mathilde fell madly in love at the tender age of 22. At the very end of their senior year of college, Lotto spots Mathilde at a party, pushes through the crowd, falls to his knees and proposes marriage. She says yes on the spot. Two short weeks later, they’re married. Lotto and Mathilde are both glamorous and gorgeous people and separately are the envy of their friends. Put them together and their relationship is unstoppable. Lotto and Mathilde are destined for greatness. Years later, their friends are still in awe of their marriage, but through this book and the side conversations presented, we realize that their relationship has developed some intricate complexities that has twisted them. Lotto and Mathilde have grown over the years and their relationship has matured to encompass a number of layers that have mixed, mashed, and changed the foundation of their marriage and who they are as separate people.

This novel is told from the point of view of multiple people and flashes back to the past. These different viewpoints and histories allow readers to form a better understanding of Lotto and Mathilde as separate people and also as a whole. I enjoyed seeing Lotto and Mathilde’s dynamic change over the years. The examination of how both inside and outside factors can change a relationship was really insightful. The little and big truths and lies a person has can either make or break a relationship. Our past selves also influence how we present our current selves and then our future selves as well. Highly recommended.


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