Tonight’s reviews will focus on books that were a little … disappointing because I have to write those reviews at some point and now is as good a time as any. At least my first lackluster books checks off a few Bingo boxes!
CBR Bingo: Reading TBR
Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty
I put Nine Perfect Strangers on my TBR two months before its release and bought a copy within a week of its debut yet somehow it took me seven months to pick it up and an additional two months to finish it. There are a few reasons for this- I have read fewer physical books this year due to all the craziness going on in my life (audiobooks for the win!) and I boxed up my books about 2 weeks before I moved to my new house and only recently unpacked them. But also, most importantly, this book was not very good. It is so hard to believe the same woman who wrote Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty wrote this bloated, unfocused mess.
The plot is ostensibly about nine perfect strangers (except there is a family of three and a married couple so not that strange…) who go to a luxury health spa that is not what it seems. Masha, the owner operator, suffered a major cardiac event and died for a few minutes several years ago which inspired her to open the resort with the paramedic who rescued her, Yao. Her clients for the week include the aforementioned family of three, still mourning the loss of their teenage son/ brother, a married couple going through a rough patch now that they’ve won the lottery, a romance writer whose last book is going unpublished, a single mother who wants to lose weight and two single men whose distinguishing traits I cannot remember.
“Relax and enjoy the journey. The stream will carry you this way and that, but will carry you forward to where you need to go.”
They do all the typical retreat things… they fast, they do yoga, they have mandatory silences and then things go off the rails.
At one point I thought Moriarty was going for a Saw like twist and was concerned about the state of her mental health now that HBO is padding her bank accounts. Luckily it story didn’t go quite that far but I was still pretty disappointed overall.
CBR Bingo: Birthday!
White Houses, Amy Bloom
White Houses is a historical work of fiction told through the perspective of “First Friend” Lorena Hickok regarding her romance with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Luckily for me, Eleanor is born October 11, 1884 and you cannot get more beloved than Mrs Roosevelt so I am at least able to check off the Birthday square with this one.
I love historical fiction and generally enjoy when real people intermingle with the fictional characters to add depth and atmosphere to a story but it is tricky to do historical fiction well when both your main characters are real people. Many of the things regarding Hickok and Roosevelt’s relationship is unknown and Bloom takes a lot of liberties filling in the gaps. Also, for a book about a clandestine lesbian affair that began in the White House this was incredibly dull!
“We used to say, we’re no beauties, because it was impossible to tell the truth. In bed, we were beauties. We were goddesses. We were the little girls we’d never been: loved, saucy, delighted, and delightful.”
Bloom bounces between the past and present (after Franklin’s death), without doing a good enough job telling the reader where they were at on the timeline, which also began to grate on me. Overall, there was very little I enjoyed about this one.
The Favorite Sister, Jessica Knoll
How bad is The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll? It is so bad it doesn’t even satisfy a Bingo square, unless I give it reader’s choice which I refuse!
“It is a dangerous thing to conflate feminism with liking all women. It limits women to being one thing, likable, when feminism is about allowing women to be all shades of all things, even if that thing is a snake oil saleswoman.”
I rated The Luckiest Girl alive very highly when I read it back in CBR7 so I naturally had high hopes for The Favorite Sister. If you’re sensing a theme in tonight’s reviews you will know I was very disappointed.
First of all, all the characters are terrible with no redeeming qualities. The book opens with a bit of a mystery: reality TV personality, Kelly, is giving an interview regarding the death of her sister Brett, another reality starlet. The book is told primarily is flashbacks narrated by Kelly, Brett and Stephanie, their costar and Brett’s former best friend, leading to the big reveal of who killed Brett and why.
What I was hoping would be a thriller that satirized the reality TV genre was just a mediocre popcorn book full of unlikable characters who put too much emphasis on getting screen time. I will give Knoll credit for the twist at the end although I don’t know if I was caught by surprise by a well plotted bombshell or I had tuned out so badly I missed out on the clues.
The Widow, Fiona Barton
Jean Taylor’s husband recently died; reporters have been hounding her for weeks trying to get an interview when a pushy female reporter finally persuades Jean to break her silence. The reader is taken through the events that lead up to the moment that Jean became a coveted interviewee.
Since no thriller can follow a linear timeline we are bounced between The Widow in the past and present, a Detective in the past and the Reporter in the present. We learn that Jean’s husband was accused of a heinous crime but eventually found innocent after evidence of police tampering was discovered; because of this he won a large financial settlement as well as a lot of notoriety. A few years later, following an accident that results in his death, the press begins knocking at the Taylor’s door once again.
Spoiler Alert and Trigger Warnings
I was unprepared for the plot of The Widow. I think I would have rated it higher if I had been more aware that a large portion of the plot would be devoted to a pedophile, but also I don’t think I would have read it if I knew a large portion of the plot would be devoted to a pedophile. I should note the question posed in the novel isn’t “was he a pedophile” because it was pretty clear he was one; rather the question was more like “did this particular pedophile murder this missing toddler”.
I also really hated that the only character trait that Jean was given was “desperate for a child” because it turned her into a sad sack of a character. I’ve been trying for a child for three years so I understand the longing but Barton clearly doesn’t. Past Jean didn’t think her husband was a pedophile or murderer- she simply thought he had kidnapped her so they could finally have a baby.
What the actual fuck Barton.
“But Bella’s disappearance brought us together. Made us a real couple. I always said we needed a child.”
Overall the pacing of this one was a bit slow and the plot was gross. Do not recommend.