Friday Book Whimsy: The English Wife

Everything seemed a bit more scandalous in the 19th century, and The English Wife, by Laura Willig, tells a great story that takes place in the 19th century, rich in interesting characters and a lot of unexpected twists and turns served alongside the scandal.

The novel opens as the rich New York City aristocrat Bayard Van Duyvil and his English wife Annabelle are found murdered in the garden outside their home the night of their Twelfth Night party. They are discovered by his sister and his cousin, who hear his last word: George. The crime is initially considered a murder/suicide. However, Annabelle’s body was nowhere to be found. Still, the rumors of her having an affair with the architect who is building their fancy new home continue to feed the flames of speculation.

Bay’s sister Janie is certain her brother would not have killed his wife, and she also doesn’t believe that Annabelle would have had an affair, and sets out to solve the mystery. Assisting her is a journalist who is interested in solving the murder to have the scoop of the century.

Via flashbacks, we learn that Annabelle met Bayard in London where she was working as a burlesque dancer. After a brief courtship, she and Bayard move back to New York City where they live a perfect life.

Or is it? As Janie begins to investigate, she learns more than she ever imagined about her brother, his wife, and she and Bayard’s mother, a woman who thinks so much of herself that she looks down her nose at the Vanderbilts!

Willig dishes out the twists and turns with subtlety and imagination. There were times when I would read something and have to stop to think, “Did I know that?” Little by little, the mystery is solved and I found the ending to be quite unpredictable and satisfying.

I enjoyed this story very much.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: A Drop in the Ocean

A Drop in the Ocean’s protagonist Anna Fergusson is a Boston research scientist who studies Huntington’s Disease. Or at least she did until she lost her grant money. She is 49 years old and needs to make big changes in her life. She learns about an opportunity to manage a campground on a small island off of Australia for a year. Despite the fact that it is completely out of her comfort zone, Anna accepts the challenge and moves to the island.

There she lives a life that most of us dream about. The temperature is almost always warm, there are beautiful ocean views and breezes and smells. The people are friendly and the job is easy.

Anna becomes involved almost immediately with a man who studies the turtles that make their home on the island. She helps him with his work and is almost blissfully happy.

There isn’t really a whole lot more plot about which to speak, but somehow it works out fine. Author Jenni Ogden has written a story that just moves pleasantly from one place to another without a driving story to tell. There is some drama when Anna learns a dark secret about Tom that changes their relationship.  For the most part, however, the stories are about the life on a beautiful tropical island. There is a bit of a backstory regarding Anna’s father, but it really is sort of random and completely unconnected to the main plot.

A Drop in the Ocean is truly a light read when you are looking for a pleasant distraction that involves romance, a desert island, and maybe a pina colada in your hand.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Address

Back in 2016 I read (and reviewed) The Dollhouse, the debut novel by Fiona Davis, and LOVED IT. In that novel, Davis told the story of the Barbizon Hotel in New York City, a hotel for single women in New York City that opened in the 1920s.

In The Address, the star of the show is the famous Dakota Apartments located on the upper west side of NYC, just a stone’s throw from Central Park. Unfortunately, one of its more recent claims to fame was that it was where John Lennon – a Dakota resident — was shot and killed in 1980.

In 1884, working class Sara Smythe manages to make it to head housekeeper at a famous London hotel. She so impresses one of their residents – wealthy Theodore Camden —  that he coaxes her into leaving London and moving to New York City to become the manager of an apartment building for which he is the architect. Theodore offers opportunities to Sara that were virtually unthinkable in that day and age.

This leads to that, and they become romantically involved despite the fact that he is unhappily married.

Fast forward a hundred years and meet Bailey Campden, who is a kissing relative to the Campden family because her grandfather was the ward of Mr. Campden. Bailey is fresh out of rehab and looking to get her life back together. She moves into the apartment of her cousin, who is a direct descendent of Theodore Campden and who is – along with her brother – in line to inherit his fortune. Bailey’s job is to oversee the modifications of the apartment which has fallen into disrepair.

It is an interesting story line, and I loved learning about the Dakota. I was unaware, for example, that at the time it was built, it was flat out in the country. Residents looked out upon cows. It was a huge risk to build a luxury apartment in the mid- to late 1880s.

Having said that, I am quite frankly really tired of the back and forth between characters and time periods that authors seem to rely on these days. Not only that, but some of the story seemed quite a stretch, i.e. a period of time Sara spent in an insane asylum, where she is rescued by famous journalist Nellie Bly.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book enough to recommend it, especially for those interested in New York City as a story location. The history was interesting and I like the author’s writing style.

Oh, and the cover art is beautiful!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: I Found You

So many books these days purport to be the next great suspense novel, and Lisa Jewell’s I Found You was no exception.  If you like Paula Hawkins or Ruth Ware, then you will like……

Being a fan of suspense novels, I bit. And I’m so very glad I did.

Back in 2015 I read (and reviewed) The House We Grew Up In, and LOVED IT. However, for no particular reason, I never read another book by this author. But the plot of this novel caught my eye, and I gave it a go.

Single mom Alice Lake sees a stranger on the beach in front of her home in the English seaside village of Ridinghouse Bay. It is cold and raining, and though she tries to ignore him for a bit, she finally brings him a raincoat. She learns that he is suffering from memory loss. He doesn’t know who he is, where he’s from, or why he’s sitting on the beach in Ridinghouse Bay; what’s more, he has no identification. Against her better judgement, Alice brings him into her home.

Meanwhile, in London, Lily Monrose – a Ukrainian immigrant – becomes concerned when her husband of a very short time doesn’t come home from work. She is convinced that something is wrong because he has been a devoted and attentive husband. Being new to the country, she is frightened and confused. Initially, the police don’t seem particularly interested in helping her as they presume her husband Carl has just decided to leave her. However, when they finally begin investigating, they learn that there is no existing person with her husband’s name.

It seems obvious to the reader that Carl and the stranger, who Alice begins calling Frank, are one and the same.

But wait. Flash back to 23 years earlier, when teenagers Gray and Kirsty Ross travel with their parents to Ridinghouse Bay for vacation. It isn’t long before they meet charismatic Mark, who takes a liking to Kirsty, but who Gray immediately distrusts. It isn’t long before Kirsty is missing.

How are these storylines connected? I bet you can’t figure it out. At least I certainly couldn’t. There was one part of the book that caught me so off-guard that I feared I would have whiplash! The plot is suspenseful and unpredictable. The characters are flawed, but likeable, especially Alice. I remember thinking the same thing when I read The House We Grew Up In, so it must be the author’s strong point.

I really liked this book, and strongly recommend it for someone who enjoys suspense novels. This time I won’t wait so long to read another book by Lisa Jewell.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Goodread’s Books to Screen

Below is a post from the wonderful reading website Goodreads that I found interesting. It contains the name of books that will be shown on television, steaming, or the big screen in 2018. The list includes some of my favorite books, including Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple; and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. And, of course, I have every intention of recording The Alienist by Caleb Carr when it begins showing on TNT on January 22.

From Goodreads…..

Book lovers are about to see a ton of their favorite novels come to theaters and televisions in 2018. And some of the biggest stars will be in on the adaptation action, from Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling starring in A Wrinkle in Time, to Steven Spielberg directing Ready Player One.

This is also your chance to re-read Fahrenheit 451 before it comes to HBO or The Haunting of Hill House before everyone binges the Netflix series. Or catch up on newer beloved novels including Where’d You Go BernadetteAnnihilation and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda before they become films. We’ve included the release dates (where available), and for the television shows we’ve added the network or platform. The book covers will link you to more information about the adaptations.

The science fiction series is based on Philip K. Dick’s short stories. Dick’s work has already inspired Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, The Man in the High Castle, among others. The series stars Bryan Cranston, Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin, and Terrence Howard.

 

An elderly couple seeking one last big adventure embarks on a road trip in the faithful old RV they call “The Leisure Seeker.” The film stars Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, and Kirsty Mitchell.

 

The true story of a Special Forces team that secretly entered Afghanistan after 9/11 and rode to war on horses against the Taliban. The movie stars Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, and William Fichtner.

 

In this romance, a famous musician returns home to the love he left behind a decade earlier. The movie stars Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, and John Benjamin Hickey.

 

In this historical thriller set in 1896 New York City, a crime reporter teams up with a psychologist to investigate a serial killer. The TV series stars Daniel Brühl, Dakota Fanning, and Luke Evans.

 

Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the “Flare.” This third movie in the series (based on the third book) stars Rosa Salazar, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Dylan O’Brien.

 

Morgan’s cyberpunk tale is set in a 24th-century world where consciousnesses can be downloaded into new bodies. The Netflix series stars Antonio Marziale, Chris Conner, and Hiro Kanagawa.

 

Want to Read
Book three of the steamy Fifty Shades trilogy is the source material for the third movie. It sees Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson reprising their roles as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.

 

The adaptation of this Beatrix Potter classic, about a rebellious rabbit’s plan to gain entry to a coveted vegetable garden, will be coming to the big screen. It features the voices of Daisy Ridley and Margot Robbie as well as Domhnall Gleeson as Mr. McGregor.

 

In this riveting science fiction tale, a biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition. The film stars Natalie Portman, Oscar Issac, Gina Rodriguez, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

 

Upset that he has to share the room he loves with his grandfather, Peter declares war in an attempt to get it back. The movie stars Robert De Niro, Jane Seymour, and Uma Thurman.

 

Every morning, “A” wakes up as a different person in a different body. Then, one day, “A” occupies the body of Rhiannon’s boyfriend, and “A” falls hard. The movie stars Justice Smith, Maria Bello, and Angourie Rice.

 

This new series is based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book that traces the rising threat of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s. The series stars Jeff Daniels, Sullivan Jones, and Kelly P. Williams.

 

A ballerina is recruited into a Russian intelligence service. Her first mission, targeting a CIA agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations. The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton.

 

Meg’s father is experimenting with a fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappears. Meg, her brother, and her friend must travel through the universe to find him. This Ava DuVernay film stars Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, and Chris Pine.

 

Simon’s love story is complicated: No one knows he’s gay, and he doesn’t know who the anonymous classmate is he’s fallen for online. The film stars Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, and Jennifer Garner.

 

In the dismal reality of 2044, the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS has died and posthumously released a video in which he challenges all players to solve his game—and win his fortune. This Steven Spielberg-directed movie stars Olivia Cooke, Hannah John-Kamen, and Ben Mendelsohn.

 

E.M. Forster’s classic novel is coming to the Starz network as a four-episode series which has already aired on BBC One in the UK. It stars Hayley Atwell, Philippa Coulthard, Matthew Macfadyen and Tracey Ullman.

 

When a high-ranking politician hires an ex-FBI agent to save his teenage daughter from a Manhattan brothel, our hero uncovers a web of corruption that even he may not be able to unravel. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, and Alessandro Nivola.

 

When Bernadette disappears from her upscale Seattle life, it’s up to 15-year-old Bee to track her down. Directed by Richard Linklater, this movie stars Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig, and Judy Greer.

 

Flynn is known for novels with shocking twists à la Gone Girl and Dark Places. This HBO adaptation focuses on Flynn’s debut novel and stars Amy Adams, April Brinson, and Violet Brinson.

 

An Asian American woman travels with her boyfriend to Singapore to find herself immersed in the world of über-rich Asians preparing for the wedding of the year. The film stars Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, and Henry Golding.

 

Here’s one for those of you scared of the ocean: A gigantic and prehistoric shark terrorizes Ruby Rose, Robert Taylor, and Jason Statham.

 

In this creepy historical thriller, a country doctor visits a patient in a crumbling mansion where the inhabitants are haunted by the past. The film stars Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, and Will Poulter.

 

After a disease kills 98 percent of America’s children, the survivors develop superpowers and are sent to internment camps. The film stars Gwendoline Christie, Mandy Moore, and Amandla Stenberg.

 

An orphan goes to live with his uncle and discovers that both his uncle and his next-door neighbor are witches on a strange quest. The film stars Cate Blanchett, Jack Black, and Colleen Camp.

 

In this memoir, the son of a baptist preacher is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program. The film stars Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Joel Edgerton.

 

Computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals, and corrupt government officials. The movie stars Claire Foy, Cameron Britton, and Sylvia Hoeks.

 

This horror drama series is a modern reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s classic 1959 novel. The series stars Van Marten, Selena Anduze, and Katie Carpenter.

 

This memoir of meth addiction and recovery is told through the eyes of a father who watches his son as he struggles to break away from the drug. The movie stars Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, and Maura Tierney.

 

A young man is paralyzed after a car accident and turns to drawing as a form of therapy. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, and Rooney Mara.

 

The magical nanny Mary Poppins returns in this sequel to the classic film, based on the popular children’s series of books. The film stars Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Meryl Streep and Colin Firth.

 

A writer bonds with the residents of Guernsey Island in the aftermath of World War II. The film stars Matthew Goode, Lily James, and Jessica Brown Findlay.

 

HBO is adapting Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel about “firemen” who spend their time burning books. The movie stars Sofia Boutella, Michael Shannon, and Michael B. Jordan.

 

Three brothers tear their way through childhood and push against the volatile love of their parents. The movie stars Raúl Castillo, Sheila Vand, and Evan Rosado.

 

A famous opera singer performing for a wealthy industrialist and her audience become hostages. The film stars Julianne Moore, Christopher Lambert, and Ken Watanabe.

 

Seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland, the surviving people live on a gigantic moving train that circles the globe. Jennifer Connelly is set to star opposite Daveed Diggs.

 

This ten-episode series is based on the stories of Stephen King, with J.J. Abrams serving as executive producer. It stars Melanie Lynskey, Mickey Gilmore, and Scott Glenn.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Unquiet Grave

The best thing about most of author Sharyn McCrumb’s books are the ghosts. They’re never scary or murderous. They’re not generally out to do anyone harm. The ghosts are just a part of Appalachian mythology. Like Cole in The Sixth Sense, Nora Bonesteel, featured in many of the books in McCrumb’s Ballad series, sees dead people. She has the sight.

Nora Bonesteel is not in McCrumb’s newest offering, The Unquiet Grave, but a ghost does play a key role. The book, unbelievably enough, is based on a true story in which an accused murderer is brought to trial based on evidence supplied by a ghost. The Greenbriar ghost, to be exact. The murder took place in West Virginia in 1897.

The reader first meets James P.D. Gardner, an African-American lawyer who has been confined to a segregated insane asylum since attempting suicide following the death of his wife. He begins to be treated by Dr. James Boozer, who is trying out the newfangled practice of treating mental illness by conversation rather than lobotomy or electric shock treatment. In the course of their conversation, which is woven in and out of the novel, we learn that Gardner was involved as an attorney in the Greenbriar murder case. The story is told through these conversations.

Back in 1897, beautiful and willful Zona Heaster marries Erasmus Trout Shue, a blacksmith who has been married twice before. His second wife died under mysterious circumstances. It isn’t long before Zona’s family starts to notice that things aren’t as they should be in the Shue marriage. Zona rarely sees her family, she is skin and bones, and she is isolated from the entire community. Within a short period of time, she dies from a fall down the steps. The fall is determined to be an accident.

Zona’s mother Mary Jane is suspicious from the get go. Though not a bit superstitious and deeply religious, she claims to see the ghost of her daughter, who tells her that she was murdered by her husband Trout Shue. Despite Mary Jane’s husband’s misgivings, Mary Jane pleas her case to the county prosecutor, who agrees to have the body exhumed. Upon examination, the doctor determines that Zona was indeed killed, likely by being strangled and then pushed down the stairs. Unlikely though it would seem, Mary Jane manages to convince him to bring the case to trial. Even more unlikely, Shue is found guilty.

All of the above characters are apparently real, and the case is genuine.

While The Unquiet Grave is nowhere near the best McCrumb novel, the story was fascinating nevertheless. The book is relatively short and the ending was extremely unexpected (and unable to be verified in any way as fact). It satisfied this reader. I also enjoyed learning the story through the conversations of a very interesting character, Mr. Gardner. It was a clever story-telling technique on McCrumb’s part.

The Unquiet Grave is not a scary ghost story. Instead, it’s more of a history lesson.  The Unquiet Grave is not part of McCrumb’s Ballad series, a series, by the way, I highly recommend.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Y is for Yesterday

I don’t make a practice of reviewing mystery books that are part of a series. In many cases, to enjoy the book, it is important that you have read the previous books for context and understanding of the characters. This isn’t always true, and I have made exceptions in the case of particularly good stories.

Author Sue Grafton’s alphabet series (beginning with A is for Alibi through Y is for Yesterday) is familiar to mystery readers and probably many other kinds of readers as well. Sadly, Grafton passed away a couple of weeks ago from cancer. I was unaware that she had cancer and her death caught me by surprise, especially since I had recently completed her most recent offering, Y is for Yesterday, published in August 2017. So, despite it being part of a series, I am going to review the book in honor of private eye Kinsey Millhone and her creator, Sue Grafton.

Millhone lives in the fictional town of St. Theresa, California, supposedly modeled after Santa Barbara. She is single after two unsuccessful marriages, and is fiercely independent. She lives in a little bungalow next door to her best friend, an 80-something man named Henry. Constants in all of the books are Henry’s delicious cinnamon rolls, Millhone’s ever-present glass of Chardonnay, and dinner at the Hungarian restaurant down the street which, according to Millhone, serves terrible food. When the series began, it was 1982. As of Y is for Yesterday, it was 1989.

Unfortunately, though I think Y is for Yesterday was better than the past couple of books (V is for Vengeance and the book she called X, thereby answering the question I had since reading A is for Alibi as to what her X book would be called), I didn’t find it to be nearly as enjoyable as her earlier books.

As I mentioned, it is 1989. Kinsey is contacted by the parents of a young man recently released from prison, where he served a sentence related to the murder of a high school classmate. He and some of his buddies had filmed a violent rape (which they swore was consensual sex) and the death of the classmate was related to this tape. The parents had been contacted by someone demanding lots of money or they would release the tape to the public.

At the same time as this is happening, Kinsey realizes that the serial murderer who nearly killed Kinsey in the book X but escaped was back and looking for revenge.

As usual, Grafton’s characterizations of Millhone and her peeps are excellent. These are people with whom I would like to spend time. The story, too, was well executed. My major complaint is that there were times in the book that I wanted to yell out, “For crying out loud, Kinsey, you’re seriously going to go for a walk without taking your gun?” Given Kinsey’s history, it just didn’t ring true. I also felt the men involved in the rape and murder didn’t seem realistic. The serial killer, however, was fascinating and TERRIFYING.

If you have never heard of, or read, this series, start at the beginning. You will become friends with some worthwhile characters. And don’t look for Z is for Zero, because Grafton had apparently not written a word yet, and forbade her children to hire a ghostwriter to continue the series. She also nixed (and always has) a movie based on the books.

Sue Grafton, rest in peace.

Here is a link to the book.