What I’m Reading: Nine Perfect Strangers

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From the book jacket:

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.

Combining all of the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.

My review:

While it started off a little slow for my liking, I really enjoyed the eventual build-up to knowing who all the characters are fully. It kept me reading and wanting more, to say the least!

Nine Perfect Strangers, in a nutshell, is a bit all over the place, but I think that really reflects the characters. Masha, is absolutely bonkers, and I was always curious to see what crazy tangent she would go on next.

The rest of the characters were all relatable in some way: Jessica being obsessed with social media and her appearance, Tony longing for what once was, Frances feeling heartbroken after being duped, Carmel just trying to survive as a single mom … In ways I felt sympathy for them and at times they frustrated me. (Like Napoleon the Coddler, for example.)

Over all, I kind of liked the ridiculousness of the story and Tranquillum House. I mean, there’s health resorts, and then there’s this place! I think Moriarty took the worst aspects of every health resort/spa in the world and applied them all to this one place. It was a little over the top in a way, but sometimes I don’t mind a little absurdity. I also really enjoyed that we got little glimpses of what happened to everyone post-Masha’s craziness. I hate how so many storylines just end and you don’t get to know what happened afterwards.

My rating: ★★★★/5

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What I’m Reading: The Island of Sea Women

From the book jacket:

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

My review:

The Island of Sea Women is such a captivating and powerful story not only two friends, but women and their relationships as well. especially since it is based around true historical events. The detail that Lisa See goes into is, as always, remarkable and she really captures the horrific events is such a beautiful way.

What I especially liked about this book is the relationship between Young-sook and Mi-ja; to me, their relationship is similar to those that many women have: we’re inseparable but as we get older, our faith in one another is tested in a make-or-break fashion.

In my opinion, Young-sook and Mi-ja’s friendship was flawed. While it seems strong on the outside, Young-sook’s haenyeo upbringing blinded her to Mi-ja’s “Western” struggles as Mi-ja didn’t have the courage to speak up for herself. Still, their story grabbed me and I couldn’t help but want them to resolve their differences.

The Island of Sea Women opened my eyes to a part of Asian history that I had absolutely no knowledge of, and as I mentioned before, Lisa See tells its tale so wonderfully. I heart hurts for those who were impacted by the 4.3 Incident and I’m really interested in learning more about this island’s history overall.

Despite all of the tragedy within the storyline, it still absorbed me completely. I’d definitely recommend it as it introduces such a different lifestyle for women.

My rating: ★★★★½/5

What I’m Reading: American War

From the book jacket:

An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle—a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war as one of the Miraculous Generation and now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past—his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.

My review:

I’m pretty sure the last dystopian novel I read was Animal Farm by George Orwell, and that was either in grade 10 or 11 English class. Let me just say that American War is no Animal Farm, with no offence to Orwell. 

American War, written by Egypt-born, Canada-based author Omar El Akkad, is an eye-opening idea of what the future of global politics could very well turn out to be. With everything already on its way to going to hell in a hand basket, El Akkad does an incredible job painting a vivid picture of what the world may very well be like in 50 years from now; climate change and earth’s diminishing resources are something that we are perhaps not taking seriously enough. 

While it may seem like the United States is being “picked on”, it only makes sense as the country is generally viewed as one of the biggest leaders in all things economical. It’s an interesting thing to see what it would be like if it reverted back 100 years and another Civil War broke out. What would be devastation look like? Who would be affected? If race is what drove the last war, what would propel this one? Natural resources seems like an obvious choice.

Two of the three Chestnut children, Sarat and Simon, are examples of how war robs children of their youth. When war is the only thing you seem to know growing up, it is seems only natural to join the fight for one reason or another. The third Chestnut child, Dana, is the sole family member who doesn’t seek out revenge for what has happened to her family, perhaps as an example of preserved innocence.

I tried to dig deep and find something that I didn’t like about American War, and quite frankly, I really enjoyed every bit of it. While a bit dense and containing some slight adult content, I really think it should be a required read for high schoolers. It’s eye-opening and thought-provoking.

My rating: ★★★★★/5