Nine perfect strangers, Liane Moriarty, author; Caroline Lee, narrator A Russian immigrant, Masha, has a near death experience which changes her life. The man she believes saved her life, Yao, becomes her partner and they establish a health retreat called Tranquillum House. She transforms from an overweight, corporate executive to a stunning worshiper of yoga and health food. She trains her partner to become more mindful and he now practices yoga and concentrates on wellness. His background, as an EMT is medical. Hers is business. Together they lead health seminars and other programs at the resort. When nine people head off to a health retreat, to be transformed in some way, they wind up getting a lot more than they bargained for when they made their reservation. There is one couple, one family and four single people of various backgrounds. At first they size each other up and are not too happy with what they find. Soon, however, they find that first impressions are often incorrect. They all question some of the demands of the resort, but soon all willingly participate in the odd requests of the staff and management. As each goes through their individually designed healthcare program, they complain but also have revelations which, surprisingly, enlighten them and give them insights they had not thought of before. Will each of them be transformed which is Masha’s hope? Each of the guests has brought their own personal baggage with them and it is a diverse list from marriage problems to menopause, from drug issues to suicide issues, from ego issues to money issues. Some suffer from feelings of guilt, some from shame, some from grief, and some from a lack of confidence and/or self esteem. Some are simply searching for alternative ways to solve their problems. As each reveals their innermost secrets, as each reveals they are suffering in some way, it becomes apparent that Moriarty has a talent for understanding what motivates and frightens her characters. The drug theme is front and center. Is illegal and/or legal drug use beneficial? In some cases, the legal use of drugs seems far more dangerous than its counterpart. Because a doctor prescribes a drug, often its dangerous side effects are ignored and the consequences are as lethal as it is for those who overuse illegal drugs. Drug induced states produce odd interchanges and reactions. Some see more clearly, some become more anxious, some are euphoric, some have a bad trip. Are these results good or bad, when carefully monitored, even when illegal? Can a drug be harmful even when it is being monitored by a doctor and or parents? Do we, when following a doctor’s advice, make ourselves fully aware of the dangers of the side-effects of the drugs given to us or simply trust the “higher” authority? The theme of twinship and its bonds was particularly emotional for me since I lost a twin brother and so did one of the characters. I, personally, am aware of the effect of losing a sibling with whom you shared everything from the very beginning of time. The interpretation of the relationship and the loss was insightful. The feelings of the surviving twin were genuine. The theme of madness is dissected and the reader witnesses the different levels it ascends and descends to through the interactions of the characters. What drives people to thrive and achieve success as well as what drives people to fail is also examined very well by the author as she presents her characters and their responses to life’s dangers and moments of joy. Some bear the strain and some crack under it. The theme of relationships is very diverse. The relationship between a man and his dog, a man and wife, same sex couples, and parents and children are very minutely explored and the reader is witness to the complexities in each situation that is revealed. They share grief, loss, blame, guilt, along with the praise and pride that interplay in each of the character’s lives. The theme of loss seems to be in everyone’s life, to some degree or another, and the type of loss and how each character deals with it is really illuminative. Everyone, in the beginning, sees something else in each other’s personality, and often the first impressions made are incorrect and are based on faulty assumptions. Getting to know more about each other, changes the perceptions. The theme of stress and its effect on the lives of each of the characters veered off into many different directions, some common and some unusual, as they are in real life. The consequences were mental and physical, emotional, and painful. They were authentic in interpretation and explanation. The mounting stress made the guests begin to wonder if they were being manipulated and why. Their feelings were soon on high alert. My favorite character is Frances who is a naive woman who writes romance novels. She interprets most everything at face value, rarely looking too deeply into the problem. Her solutions are often simple. She may jump to conclusions, but she readily alters them. She tries to look at the bright side, in the face of darkness. She gave several of the characters humorous nicknames to define their qualities. Some of the dialogue was indeed chuckle inducing and I often even laughed out loud. But then, the novel also briefly took a dark turn which unsettled me. The author played both emotions well. Arrogance and fame are explored along with the effects of great wealth and success. My least favorite character was Masha, the obsessed woman who ran the wellness facility. Although her methods were extraordinarily unconventional, in most ways, the results she achieved were often positive, encouraging the characters to get more in touch with their feelings and to understand each other more completely. So, although there was a strange, mad dichotomy between the means and the ends, they did work. The characters, for the better part of the book, are authentic, and although the life of each character is followed until all the loose ends are tied up neatly, the conclusion seemed to fall a bit short. It teetered on the theme of believability. As each character is forced to experience their sorrow, their joy, their fear and their relief in different ways, intuitively, imaginatively and in reality, each comes out changed in some way that was beneficial. Each learns to control their emotions and reactions in ways that are helpful to them. They learn to accept themselves more positively and to be more open and honest in relationships. The reader is fabulous, using alternate accents and expressions which clearly define each character and scene. The book was made more enjoyable by her presentation. It made me laugh, and it made me cry, but it also made me think.