Dark Horse by Honey Brown

Dark HorseDark Horse by Honey Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark Horse, which was recently named Best Adult Novel at the 14th annual Davitt Awards (held by Sisters in Crime in Melbourne, Australia), is a gripping and gritty tale, part survival story, part psychological thriller.
The story begins with our protagonist, Sarah, waking from unconsciousness on Christmas morning. We know little about Sarah, other than that she is recovering from losing her home, her marriage, and her business. Sarah packs a gun, pain pills, and a picnic, and sets off to ride up into the rugged Mortimer Ranges. On her ride, Sarah is caught in a sudden storm, and finds shelter in a ramshackle hut on top of the aptly named Devil Mountain. There, she meets a gorgeous, but mysterious, man named Heath. Together, Sarah and Heath must work to survive the storm. As they wait for rescue, they must also try to survive each other.
Without giving away spoilers, I can say that Dark Horse packs a few big twists which caught me completely by surprise.
As well as having a well-crafted plot, Dark Horse also has several other unusual elements which make it special. First, author Honey Brown clearly knows a lot about the Australian outback. Her descriptions of nature, of weather, flooding, storms, and survival in severe conditions, are detailed and fascinating. As a reader, I felt very close to the mud, muck, and fog that Sarah and Heath endure.
Second, Brown manages to pull off a novel in which 2/3 of the story contains just two people and a horse trapped in a hut. I am always impressed when an author is able to maintain tension and suspense in such a pared-down situation.
Third, Brown writes sex scenes that are actually sexy.
Fourth, Brown’s respect and care for horses comes through clearly.  As a reader living in the United States, I had a heck of a time getting ahold of Dark Horse. I’d like to thank Penguin Australia, who allowed me access to an arc through NetGalley.
I hope that with the recent recognition from Sisters in Crime Australia, Brown’s suspense novels will have the opportunity to reach the wider readership they deserve.

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The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Husband’s Secret is the first book I have read by Liane Moriarty, but it will not be the last. The immense popularity of this novel made me curious to see what all the fuss was about, even though books labeled as “chic lit” are not usually my favorite genre.
The plot of The Husband’s Secret is both simple and complex. It tells the story Cecilia, a wife and mother who derives a sense of control and satisfaction from being a superwoman at juggling her busy life. Cecilia accidentally discovers a letter from her husband, which is labeled “to be opened only in the event of my death.” The impact of this letter on Cecilia’s life, and on the lives of other characters from her past and present, is immense.
The Husband’s Secret has many strong points. First, the story itself is a complex one, with a plot that follows the lives of friends and family as they intertwine in life-changing ways. Liane Moriarty is able to weave the seemingly disparate plot threads of the lives of many characters into a satisfying, impactful conclusion.
Secondly, the author is a fluent writer; her characters are loveable, frustrating, and often laugh-out-loud funny.
But what impressed me the most about The Husband’s Secret is the unexpected insight into human nature that Liane Moriarty brings to what I had expected to be a light, easily forgettable read. There are a few authors whose emotional perceptiveness I deeply admire, such as Louise Doughty and Ruth Dugdall. After reading The Husband’s Secret, I would also put Liane Moriarty in this category.
First, just like Louise Doughty did in Apple Tree Yard, Liane Moriarty writes about the psychological and emotional reasons that married people have affairs. The author helped me to understand human friendship, love, lust, and what keeps couples together, in new ways. Moriarty does not provide easy answers, or pretend there is a simple solution to marital struggles. Instead, she demonstrates the complexity of human emotions.
The second thing that made this novel especially memorable to me, and which I think gives it universal value, is how Liane Moriarty demonstrates the labrinthine way in which all our lives intertwine, and how, as humans, we never know the full effects of our actions, or can understand what “could have been,” if something had happened differently.
To be more specific, one of the main characters in the story is Janie, the 17-year-old girl who was murdered years before, and whose killer has never been found. Although Janie is long dead, we hear about her from her mother Rachel, who still grieves and longs for justice, and from all the other people who are still alive, and who remember her. Throughout the novel, Liane Moriarty describes Janie’s life, and specifically, what happened on the day of her death. Moriarty recounts the choices Janie made, choices that were not right or wrong, but simply were facts which resulted in her murder. Moriarty also describes what would have happened to Janie if she had lived. And at the end of the novel, Moriarty describes, in an epilogue, how the lives of all the characters would have been different in ways they could never imagine if Janie had not been murdered.
The thing that makes the Moriarty’s descriptions especially powerful is that she does not pass judgment. She doesn’t suggest that things would have been better if Janie had lived. In fact, Moriarty shows that, because we are all connected, if Janie had lived, other people would have suffered, other people met, or married, or not been born. Moriarty shows, rather than tells us, how some secrets, the secrets of what would have been if we had made different choice in our life, are secrets that we will never know. And Moriarty’s story suggests that it is okay that we have limited knowledge.
What I loved about this is that the author never, never gives us easy answers, or writes in platitudes. She validates the idea that grief and loss are devastating. And she doesn’t give the simplistic reassurance that “the dead person is in a better place,” or “maybe she died for a reason.” Instead, Moriarty shows in the lives of her characters how people do not exist in a vacuum. A death, a marriage, a birth, any action we take…none of these are isolated events. All of them have ripple effects that are ultimately unknowable. All we can do is make the best choices we are able in a given moment in time, with the limited insight available to us. In that realization, Liane Moriarty offers the reader a sense of peace.
All that said, I loved this book. It deals with universal issues, those of family, friendship, love, guilt, forgiveness, and redemption. It is never saccharine, often sad, but also genuinely funny. In writing about Cecilia and her family and friends, Liane Moriarty also is writing about us all. I would recommend this book to everyone, and am so glad to have read it.

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