Tag Archives: families

#Bookreview PRACTICING NORMAL by Cara Sue Achterberg (@CaraAchterberg) A great book about the games families play and what love really is.

REVIEWS FOR LITERARY WORLD REVIEWS

Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg
Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg

Title:   Practicing Normal
Author:   Cara Sue Achterberg  
ISBN13:  978-1611882445
ASIN:  B06XH4SJW6
Published:  31st May 2017
Pages:  336
Genre:  Women’s Fiction, Family Life
Description:

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.

The Turners know in their hearts that they’re anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors’ homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger’s who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by.

And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett’s secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face.

Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That’s what happens when you’re practicing normal.

Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.

“Does facing the truth beat living a lie? In PRACTICING NORMAL, Cara Sue Achterberg has given us a smart story that is both a window and a mirror, about the extraordinary pain ― and the occasional gifts ― of an ordinary life.”
– Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author of THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN

“What does it really mean to have a normal life? Achterberg’s stunning new novel explores how a family can fracture just trying to survive, and how what makes us different is also what can make us most divine.”
– Caroline Leavitt, author of CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD and the New York Times bestsellers PICTURES OF YOU and IS THIS TOMORROW

“PRACTICING NORMAL takes a deep dive into the dysfunctional dynamics of a ‘picture perfect family.’ A compelling story about the beautiful humanity in the most ordinary of lives: from first love to a marriage on the downward slide to an unexpected family tragedy. Achterberg handles each thread with tender care and we can’t help but root for every member of the Turner family.”
– Kate Moretti, New York Times bestselling author of THE VANISHING YEAR 

Body of review:

I was given a copy of this book as a gift and I freely chose to review it.

Tolstoi’s probably best-known quote: All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way fits perfectly this novel. As a psychiatrist, ‘normal’ is one of those terms that we always seem to come back to, even if it is impossible to define. It seems that normal is always what other people are, never us. Perhaps, as it is discussed in the novel in reference to Autism and Asperger’s, which are conditions that fall within a spectrum, the same is true for normality. It is not an on or off thing. Perhaps we all belong to some point within the spectrum, but we’d be hard pushed to find many people whom we’d all agree were ‘normal’, at least if we got to know them well.

The novel introduces us to the Turners, who live a reasonably comfortable life within a theoretically idyllic neighbourhood. Once we scratch a bit under the surface, we find: Jenna, the sixteen year old daughter, who is not a goth but likes to shave her hair, dye it in interesting colours, collects piercings and is an ace at breaking into neighbours’ houses (courtesy of her father’s job in a security company). Kate, her mother, is forever busy caring for everybody but herself. She has to look after her mother, Mildred, who might be dementing, or perhaps not, and who lives alone, never leaves the house and talks to her birds. She also has to look after JT, her son, with an Asperger’s diagnosis, who cycles through periods of obsession with different topics (ER Medicine, Fire-fighting…), has tantrums if his routine is disturbed, cannot read people’s expressions or understand their feelings, but is a genius at Maths and has an incredible memory. She also runs around the rest of the household and is always worried about her husband, Everett, who cheated on her once (that she knows of). The chapters alternate the first-person narrations of Jenna (who somehow becomes friendly with the rich, handsome and all-around nice neighbour, Wells, who isn’t, after all, the stereotypical jock), and Kate (whose sister, Evelyn, has made contact with their father, Frank, who left them when they were young children, and believes their mother has been lying to them) allowing the reader to better grasp, not only the secrets they all keep from each other, but also the different ways the same events can be interpreted and seen. Everett’s narration (also in the first person) joins later, giving us hints of more secrets to come,  allowing us a more rounded picture and offering us a male perspective.

I found the first person narrations served well the topic, and the voices of the three narrators were very distinct and fitted in well with their characters. Although personally, I can’t say I liked Everett very much, no characters are despicable and all of them love their family and each other, even if they might go about it the wrong way. Jenna’s strong hostility towards her father is easy to understand, not only because he cheated on her mother (and is still doing it after promising not to) but because she had idealised him when she was a child and he’s shattered that illusion. She is clever, challenging and reckless but with a great heart (she doesn’t care for rules or conventions but has no bad intentions) and her romance will bring warm memories to all readers who are still young at heart. Kate is a woman who is always at the service of others and makes big efforts to ignore what she feels she can’t cope with, even if it means living a lie. But she learns that she is stronger than she thinks and grows during the novel. She also gets to understand that her dreams of romantic love are unrealistic, and we feel optimistic for her at the end. Everett is a man who lost his way (it seems) when he left his job as a policeman. Now, to feel better about himself he’ll do almost anything, not caring what the consequences for himself and others might be, and he always puts his needs before those of the rest of his family. He does not understand his children but he loves them and tries to do what he thinks is best, within limits. JT is a wonderful character, well-drawn and realistic in terms of the behaviours he exhibits and his relationship with Kate, Jenna and the rest of the family is heart-warming and has the ring of truth.

There are many secrets, some that come from a long time back and some much more recent, and the narrative is good at revealing them slowly, even if we might strongly suspect some of them, partly because we have access to the thoughts of several the characters (as they don’t communicate with each other that well). There are also many love stories and many different kinds of love that are explored. Ultimately, love must be about more than just saying the words and looking into each other’s eyes. It isn’t something we should feel automatically entitled to; it has to be proven and worked on, as Cassey, a friend of Jenna and later Kate, explains.

The secondary characters are also interesting, mostly sympathetic (with the exception of Wells’s family, and Evelyn, who comes across as self-centered and domineering) but not drawn in as much psychological detail as the members of the family, but they are far from unidimensional. I really liked Cassey, the hospice nurse who understands all the females of the family and helps them without asking anything in return, and Phil, a good man who, like Wells, disproves Mildred’s generalisations about men. Mildred, the grandmother, can be at once annoying and endearing, but eventually, we get to understand her a bit better, even if we might not necessarily agree with her actions. I also loved the animals, especially Marco.

This is a well-written book, where plot and characterisation go hand in hand, that offers good psychological insights into the nature of family relationships and the games members of a family play with each other. It also will make readers think about what love means and will remind them of the risks of keeping secrets, not only from others but also from ourselves. The narration flows well and once you get to know the characters it’s difficult to stop reading and you feel bereft when you come to the end as they’ve become part of the family. A great read.

I couldn’t leave you without sharing a few of the sentences I highlighted.

Never break more than one law at a time.

Kate talking about JT, her son, with Asperger’s: but I focus on what JT can do, not what he can’t.

Kate again, wondering about her son’s inability to read other people’s expressions and know what they’re feeling or thinking:

Maybe it would be easier to sail through life unaware of the emotions of the people around you.

And Jenna, on one of her typical (and oh, so accurate, sorry gentlemen) pearls of wisdom (although this one she keeps to herself):

If men didn’t have penises, they’d probably be a lot smarter. 

Ratings:
Realistic Characterization: 4.5/5
Made Me Think: 4.5/5
Overall enjoyment: 5/5
Readability: 5/5
Recommended: 5/5
Overall Rating: 5/5
 Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Paperback:  $ 10.75 
Kindle: $ 8.95 
Audiobook: $31.86 

Thanks to all and remember to like, share, comment, click and to review all the books you read!

Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

 

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#Bookreview TRULY, MADLY, GUILTY by Liane Moriarty (@Flatironbooks) What does it take to shatter a life?

Title:   Truly, Madly, Guilty
Author:   Liane Moriarty
ISBN13:  978-1250069795
ASIN:  
Published:  26th July 2016
Pages:  432
Genre:  Contemporary (Thriller and suspense although I wouldn’t say it is either)

Body of review:

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Entertainment Weekly’s “Best Beach Bet”

USA Today Hot Books for Summer Selection

Miami Herald Summer Reads Pick

The new novel from Liane Moriarty, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies, and What Alice Forgot, about how sometimes we don’t appreciate how extraordinary our ordinary lives are until it’s too late. 

“What a wonderful writer―smart, wise, funny.” ―Anne Lamott

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Here, my review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK- Michael Joseph for providing me with a free copy of the novel in exchange for an unbiased review.

I confess to having checked some of the reviews of the book and noticed that many of the comments compared this novel to some of this Australian writer’s previous work, particularly The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies. This is the first of Moriarty’s novels I read and therefore I don’t know if this might be a disappointing read for those who have read the others.

The novel is clearly set from the beginning around something that happened at a barbeque (this being Australia, I guess it’s to be expected). The chapters alternate between the aftermath of the said barbeque (weeks later) and events that happened at the time, although we’re not told exactly what that was until half way through. It is evident that it was an event that affected everybody involved, but the author cleverly (although perhaps annoyingly for some readers) circles around the details and the circumstances of what happened without quite revealing it (and no, I won’t either).

The story is narrated in the third person from the various characters’ points of view, mostly those who were present at the barbeque (that includes Dakota, the young daughter of the couple who had invited the rest to their house), but also some that we only later realise were either involved in the incident or know something about it others don’t. I know some readers don’t like too many changes in viewpoint, although in this case the characters and their voices are sufficiently distinct to avoid confusion.

The three couples present at the incident are very different from each other. Erika and Oliver are a perfectly matched couple. Both grew up with difficult parents and survived disrupted childhoods, although not unscathed. They are organised and methodical and they do everything by the book (or so it seems). Clementine and Sam are the ‘opposites attract’ kind of couple. She is a musician, a cellist, and he doesn’t even like classical music. She is the artist and he is more down to earth. They have two daughters and they are impulsive, free for all and relaxed (although perhaps not as much as they seem). Camilla and Erika are childhood friends, although their friendship was instigated by Camilla’s mother, who became Erika’s heroine and role model, perfect motherhood personified.  Camilla feels guilty for resenting Erika’s interference in her childhood because she’s aware of her family circumstances. But she still feels put upon. Erika’s feelings towards her friend are also complicated, mixing envy, disdain and some true affection.

The third couple, Vid and Tiffany, are Erika and Oliver’s neighbours, very rich, very loud, and seemingly perfect for each other. They enjoy life to the full and don’t mind bending the rules for fun or to get their own way. Although on the surface they seem harmless and good fun, they represent temptation and we later discover they might be darker than they appear. They don’t know the others very well but even they are affected by what happens.

The novel shows how a seemingly unimportant oversight can have an impact on many people’s lives, putting an end to innocence and burdening all with guilt, and how we all keep secrets, sometimes even from ourselves. The guilt we carry, justified or not, can put a terrible strain on relationships and lives and can affect people’s mental health.  The story builds up slowly and perhaps because of the emphasis on the event (that is not easy to guess and is kept under wraps for very long) it might result somewhat anticlimactic once it is revealed. For me, it works like a puzzle where the pieces are being fitted together slowly, with an insistence on fitting first the outskirts of the picture rather than the centre of it. How much of the detail is necessary is debatable, and it also depends on how much you care for the characters, that are interesting but perhaps not that easy to identify with. There were flashes of humour, but very few and I understand from comments that the author’s previous books were funnier.

I enjoyed the ending that I found unexpectedly positive, although it is not earth-shattering. Some of the couples learn from the event and move on, but not all, although we get to understand the microcosms and all the characters much better by the end of the novel as they have grown more rounded and human . Although I don’t think this is a novel for everybody and it is not a page-turner, I hope to get to check the author’s previous work and I appreciate the quality of her writing, which is descriptive and precious.

Ratings:
Realistic Characterization: 3.5/5
Made Me Think: 4/5 
Overall enjoyment: 3.5/5
Readability: 4/5
Recommended: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
 

Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Paperback:  $16.99
Kindle: Not available in  Kindle format on Amazon. com yet
Audible: $39.54
Hardcover: $ 16.19

I shared this review on my own website and there was plenty of interest. I must admit the style of the writer interested me more, as a writer, than the story itself, but…

Thanks so much for reading. Remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!