Book Reviews

Big Little Lies

By Liane Moriarty                           Pan Macmillan Australia 2015                  Adult Fiction

Score: 10/10                                                    Genre: Australian suburban drama/suspense

book shorts blue (2) This is part of Shorts Series of book reviews (skimping on all aspects except Use for Writers)

There is death and mayhem at the primary school trivia night. Big Little Lies deals with the circumstances leading up to this tragic event. There is school-yard bullying, over-involved parents, dark secrets hidden behind closed doors, fraught relationships and firm friendships.

My first 10/10 book for the blog!

This book deals in part with dark subjects of domestic and sexual violence. But, like real life, these don’t exist in isolation. The farcical ‘mummy wars’ and the cringe-worthy helicopter parents are both humorous and all too familiar. The mystery is suspenseful and teased out in chapters in varying POV’S. But above all the dialogue and characterisations sparkle with authenticity and wit.

Use for writers: Liane Moriarty depresses me. Sometimes when I read a good novel I can convince myself of one of two things:

– I couldn’t write it because I don’t have the life experience or the time/resources to research the subject material.

– I think I can emulate aspects of the novel.


-Moriarty doesn’t write about the unfamiliar – this is suburban coastal Australian. It could’ve been set at my local primary school, in my suburb. So, the first excuse is null.

–  And for the second: Moriarty so deftly handles structure and characterisation that it would be easy to try and do what she does, and fail.

The structure of both, Big Little Lies, and her novel, Truly Madly Guilty, follow the pattern of: A terrible event has taken place. What are the things that lead to this event (flashbacks and forwards). The who, how, and exactly what of the event. The fallout from the event.

Moriarty reveals each part of the mystery and each character’s secrets just at the right time. The changes in points of view enhance the pacing and add to the suspense. The dialogue and inner thoughts of the main characters are so witty that I wanted to reread sections just for fun. I particularly loved the use of the humorous snippets (flash forwards) of the police interviews for the minor characters. If you are thinking of writing a Multiple POV novel it would perhaps pay to do a table/map of POV changes and time shifts throughout Big Little Lies to get a sense of its structure.

Multiple POVs and fragmented timelines have the potential to make for a confusing read but not here because:

-We are kept orientated with statements about the length of time till the trivia night eg FIVE MONTHS BEFORE TRIVIA NIGHT.

– The voices and the houses/circumstances of the main characters are so different that you never lose track of where you are and whose head you’re in.

Madeline, the sassy older mum with fierce loyalty to her friends is a wonderful character. In this excerpt she is with her new friend, Jane and older friend, Celeste – on her birthday, feeling sorry for herself due to an injured ankle. The last passage shows how Moriarty cleverly segues into the future police interviews.

‘Let’s have some now!’ Madeline lifted the bottle by the neck suddenly inspired.

‘No, no,’ said Celeste. ‘Are you crazy? It’s too early for drinking. We have to pick the kids up in two hours. And it’s not chilled.’

‘Champagne breakfast’ said Madeline. ‘It’s all in the way you package it. We’ll have champagne and orange juice. Half a glass each! Over two hours. Jane? Are you in?’

‘I guess I could have a sip,’ said Jane. ‘I’m a cheap drunk.’

‘I bet you are, because you weigh about ten kilos,’ said Madeline ‘We’ll get on well. I love cheap drunks. More for me.’

‘Madeline,’ said Celeste. ‘Keep it for another time.’

‘But it’s the Festival of Madeline,’ said Madeline sadly. ‘And I’m injured.’

Celeste rolled her eyes. ‘Pass me a glass.’


Thea: Jane was tipsy when she picked up Ziggy from orientation… Young single mother drinking first up in the morning. Chewing gum too. Not a good first impression. That’s all I’m saying.

Footnote:  After this I read Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty – also brilliantly structured. I give it 9/10. I favour Big Little Lies because the overwhelming feeling when reading Truly Madly Guilty was one of dread (it involved the possible drowning of a young child). This dread keeps you turning pages but perhaps not as entertaining as the mystery and humour which infuses Big Little Lies.

I am currently reading the, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, also by Liane Moriarty.



Book Reviews

We Were Liars

By E. Lockhart               Allen and Unwin 2014           YA fiction

Score: 8/10                             Genre: Dark teen romance, Suspense

Cadence spends her summer breaks on the Sinclair family’s private island along with her mother, her grandparents and the families of her two aunts.

Cady her cousins Johnny and Mirren and the intriguing, handsome Gat form the band of summer friends called ‘The Liars.’ As they spend lazy summers swimming, boating and playing tennis Cady falls in love with the outsider Gat. Together the Liars observe the so-called ‘beautiful’ Sinclair family implode. Rivalry between the adult sisters spurred by the manipulative elitist grandfather turn family gatherings into ugly feuds.

Cady’s fifteenth summer will change everything. An accident, a head injury, and amnesia leave her grappling for answers. She aches to see the ‘Liars’ again and begs her mother to let her return to Beechwood island in her seventeenth summer. Will the Liars help her unravel her confusion? Will Gat still love her?

It is hard to discuss this book without giving spoilers – but I’ll try. Lockhart plays with language form, timelines, and character voices in such a clever way that the pages fly by. The setting of Beechwood Island with the four houses for the four families (map included) is a fantastic claustrophobic space to tell a dark tale. So why didn’t I give this 9 or even 10? Possibly because I felt a bit too manipulated by the plot twists. Also, I’m not one for ‘happily ever after’ but this ending is gut-wrenchingly irredeemable. I’m not sure I liked the feeling (call me a wuss) even though I appreciated the writing that led me to despair.

Recommend for: YA writers and teenagers. This may seem self-evident – it is YA fiction, but some YA’s have more general appeal. I think I would have appreciated this book more if I was an angsty teenager.

Use for writers: Where do I begin?

Creative sentence/paragraph structure: Occasional short repetitive sentences pack emotional punch. Particularly when describing the facade of the Sinclair clan. “We are Sinclairs. No-one is needy. No-one is wrong.”

Authentic and interesting teen voices: Cady’s feelings of love, pain and bitterness are shown in a raw and poetic voice. Johnny is flippant and likeable, Gat is serious and brooding and Mirren is sweet and insecure.

Setting: atmospheric, confined but never over-described.

First person present tense: creates intimacy and tension.

Changes in text form: emails, lists and my favourite; Cady’s increasingly bitter fairy-tale retellings – very clever and ominous.