Wednesday 25 September 2013

Book Review: Letters Never Sent by Sandra Moran

Three women, united by love and kinship, struggle to conform to the social norms of the times in which they lived.

In 1931, Katherine Henderson leaves behind her small town in Kansas and the marriage proposal of a local boy to live on her own and work at the Sears & Roebuck glove counter in Chicago. There she meets Annie—a bold, outspoken feminist who challenges Katherine’s idea of who she thinks she is and what she thinks she wants in life.

In 1997, Katherine’s daughter, Joan, travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her estranged mother’s house. Hidden away in an old suitcase, she finds a wooden box containing trinkets and a packet of sealed letters to a person identified only by a first initial.

Joan reads the unsent letters and discovers a woman completely different from the aloof and unyielding mother of her youth–a woman who had loved deeply and lost that love to circumstances beyond her control. Now she just has to find the strength to use the healing power of empathy and forgiveness to live the life she’s always wanted to live.

For the Eclectic Reader Challenge I needed to read a LGBT book. Letters Never Sent grabbed my attention because I was intrigued to see how the author Sandra Moran would tell the story of two women falling in love during the 1930s; a time when society certainly wasn't accepting of lesbian relationships.

Letters Never Sent is an engaging and thought-provoking book for that very reason - it focuses on the social attitudes of the day and the many prejudices women faced. Moran did a wonderful job at highlighting just how tough women had it when they chose to lead a life separate from the norm. I found the character of Annie particularly inspiring because she stands up for herself and doesn't apologise for who she is.

The novel is actually the story of three women - Katherine, Annie and Joan - and the choices they have made, for better or worse. I liked the idea that our decisions can affect the rest of our lives and even the lives of our children. I also liked how Moran created flawed yet lovable characters; people I could relate to as I read, even though I've never been forced to make the hard decisions that they all did.

Moran writes convincingly and the setting in 1930s Chicago is particularly well described. There are a few twists and turns in the novel that kept me entertained throughout. I did find the ending to be fairly predictable, but by that stage I was invested enough in the story that it didn't bother me too much.

Letters Never Sent is an emotional, romantic story that deals with important issues and powerful themes of loss and injustice. It was very moving to read a book that reminded me just how far women have come in our fight for equality and freedom. I enjoyed reading this touching novel.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Book Review: The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic. Written in her husband's hand, it says: to be opened only in the event of my death.
Curious, she opens it - and time stops.
John-Paul's letter confesses to a terrible mistake which, if revealed, would wreck their family as well as the lives of others.
Cecilia - betrayed, angry and distraught - wants to do the right thing, but right for who? If she protects her family by staying silent, the truth will worm through her heart. But if she reveals her husband's secret, she will hurt those she loves most . . .

I discovered Liane Moriarty during last year's AWW Challenge and fell in love with her writing. So I was excited to see she had a new book out this year - The Husband's Secret - which I've just read for AWW2013

The Husband's Secret is a book about the things we hide and the consequences of our actions. Set on Sydney's North Shore, the story follows three main characters - Cecilia, Tess and Rachel - as they negotiate the trials and joys of family life. Bound together by life in their community, what these women don't know is that a secret threatens everything they've built their lives upon.

I was captivated by this story from the first page and I read the book very quickly. Moriarty succeeds in creating a strong narrative that is funny in part, even though we know something sinister is lurking just around the corner. Straightaway I got a sense of the tight-knit community these characters reside in and this only made the secret, when it is revealed, all the more shocking.

Unfortunately I'd worked out what the secret was long before Cecilia opened the letter, but that didn't make it any less shocking. It still made me wonder how this family would survive the revelation. Moriarty creates a fairly believable scenario that has Cecilia questioning her morals and I found this intriguing to read.

I liked all the characters in the novel and fans of Moriarty's family-orientated stories will enjoy reading about how secrets have the ability to bring even the most solid relationships to breaking point. Even though the novel is an easy 'summer read', it does feature complex themes of loss and betrayal.

I didn't agree with all the characters' actions and I felt that forgiveness came a little too easy to John-Paul. The novel does raise the question of whether or not one bad act should cancel out the rest of a life well spent. I believe it depends on the severity of the act, and in this case I felt more punishment was necessary. Having said that, I can see why Moriarty chose the route she did.

Moriarty is great at throwing normal families into abnormal situations and seeing how they react. Her stories make me question how I might respond if I was in the same predicament, and any novel that gets me thinking about the complexities of life, family and relationships is a success in my eyes. The Husband's Secret is an enjoyable and satisfying read.