Friday Book Whimsy: Big Sky

Way back in 2007, I first met Jackson Brodie in Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson. Formerly a police officer, Jackson was a private detective living in Edinburgh, trying to make a living working with insurance companies and helping people find missing animals. Brodie is a complex man who hasn’t had an easy life. He is divorced and struggles with a troubled past life.

Over the next few years, the author offered a three more Jackson Brodie novels, all of which I enjoyed very much. And then the books stopped coming. I missed the somewhat introspective and morose detective.

Finally, over 10 years later, Atkinson offered a new Jackson Brodie novel, Big Sky. It was worth the wait. Lots has changed for Brodie, but lots has stayed the same.

The detective has retired and moved to a small village near the sea. He spends most of his time with his teenaged son and a very old lab. He is separated from Julia, whom he met and with whom he fell in love in the first novel. They are still friendly, however. She is the mother of the teenager Nathan. Brodie was hired for a boring case involving a cheating spouse. From this seemingly boring case, he becomes involved in a sex trafficking scheme. Like her other books, Brodie meets people along the way who somehow end up being involved in the case, tying everything together.

The wait for an update on Jackson Brodie was worth it. The books offer some dark comedy and some low-key drama, but mostly some interesting perspectives on people and life from Brodie’s perspective.

The ending seemed a bit rushed and confusing. The stories were all wrapped up, but somewhat haphazardly. Still, it was a great read, and a pleasant reconnection with one of my favorite detectives.

By the way, Case Histories became a PBS series, and a very good one. If you can find it, watch it.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Little Comfort

How can you not love a mystery story in which the protagonist is a librarian? I mean, who else would be better at locating a missing, well, anything?

Little Comfort, by Edwin Hill, is the first in a series that features Hester Thursby, a librarian at Harvard University, who recognizes her skills even in the digital age. She finds herself suddenly fostering a little girl when her best friend decides she needs her space and is forced to take a leave from her job. She begins being paid for finding people, using her research skills. She is a little bit of a thing, just this side of being a clinically-diagnosed little person. But she is mighty.

Her latest case involves locating a missing brother named Sam, who disappeared years ago along with his best friend Gabe. Now his sister wants to sell the land that belongs to both of them, and she needs his permission in order to sell.

As for Sam, he has spent the missing years meeting wealthy women and becoming just who he needs to be in order to reap the benefits. He doesn’t particularly want to be found.

The story touches on the need we have to be loved, the definition of evil, and how to define family. Hester was an interesting and complex protagonist, who you couldn’t help but root for because her small size didn’t stop her from pursuing her leads while protecting those she loved the most.

I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Giver of Stars

Jojo Moyes has written a good number of books. A couple have been made into movies, I believe. I, however, have read nary a one nor seen any movie made inspired by the author. Maybe I live on a desert island without any kind of media.

At any rate, I am not ashamed to say that I read The Giver of Stars because it was a Reese Witherspoon book club choice (what can I say?) and because it takes place in the hills of Kentucky and has strong women characters. Boom.

Alice Wright — born and brought up in England — married Bennett Van Cleve for two reasons: to escape her boring life and because he was a hunk who happened to be visiting England with his father from the United States. Some of us have married for worse reasons.

Anyway, following the marriage, they move from England to the small town in the hills of Kentucky where Bennett’s father owns and runs a coal mine. Much to her surprise, Bennett has no interest in consummating the marriage and obeys whatever orders his father gives — and there are some doozies.

So when Alice learns that President and Mrs. Roosevelt have started a program where library books are delivered on horseback to rural, backwoods areas, she is immediately on board. Volunteering would provide some interest in her otherwise dull and sad life. There she meets a group of women who become her friends and give her the necessary backbone to withstand her miserable life. The book is all about friendship.

I enjoyed this novel so much. I loved the characters and the story, which is based on a real program that existed for a short time in the 30s following the Great Depression. I will admit that the controversy regarding whether or not the story was plagiarized gave me pause and impacted my opinions. I don’t know the truth of the matter. What I do know is that The Giver of Stars was a wonderful book from which I learned something new that took place in U.S. history.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsey: Top Five for 2019

In 2019, I read 84 books out of my 100-book yearly goal. I feel like I read a LOT, so perhaps my goal is too high. Nevertheless, I’m going to keep challenging myself.

Out of the 84 books I read, I would like to present my five favorite books. They weren’t all necessarily published in 2019, but I read them all this past year.

So, in no particular order….

1. Watching You, by Lisa Jewell
Tom Fitzwilliams is hired by schools in trouble. He is handsome and charismatic. There is a murder, and there are many folks who could be the killer, including Fitzwilliams. The author provides readers clues a little at a time, keeping us all guessing. Jewell is one of my favorite authors.

2. November Road, by Lou Berney
Maybe I liked this book so much because I am so familiar with the time period that this took place, right around the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Mobster Frank Guidry realizes that he inadvertently played a part in the assassination, and knows the mob will be coming to get him to keep him quiet. At the same time, housewife Charlotte leaves her husband taking her children, heading for L.A. The two meet, and despite the fact that Guidry initially only is interested in them as a cover, he finds real happiness, at least for a time.

3. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
Kya is abandoned by her family when she is 6 years old, and is left to take care for herself in the marshes of the southern Carolinas. As she faces the obstacles of life, she learns what is important and what isn’t. The story involves a delicious mystery as well.

4. The Chelsea Girls, by Fiona Davis
All of the author’s books to date have involved well-known places in New York City that add to her stories. The Chelsea girls takes place in the 1950s during the McCarthy period. The characters, who live in the historic Chelsea Hoel, represent several sides of the issue, and I not only found the book highly entertaining, but I learned a lot from reading it. Win-win.

5. Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes
I loved this book. It might have been my favorite of 2019. Evvie is literally packing up her car to leave her abusive husband when she learns that he has had a massive heart attack which eventually kills him. Evvie feels so guilty and distraught that she can scarcely get on with her life. She meets a professional baseball pitcher who has suddenly and inexplicably tanked. The two fall in love, and save one another.

Happy reading in 2020.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Cutting Season

Caren Gray grew up on Belle Vie, the Louisiana plantation where her mother worked as a cook and her great great great grandfather was a slave. The home has been in the Clancy family since the days when they owned slaves. Now she lives there with her young daughter, a single mother who manages the antebellum home which is now an historic venue.

One night a young Mexican woman who works cutting sugar cane for the Groveland Corporation next to Belle Vie is found with her throat slit. There is no apparent reason, and blame is quickly placed on one of the Belle Vie workers who is putting together a film documenting a murder that took place during the days of slavery. Caren is caught in the middle as it appears that her 9-year-old daughter might be a witness.

I have never read anything by the author, Attica Locke, but The Cutting Season won’t be the last novel of hers that I will read. She tells a good story, and I rather wish that Caren Gray would be an ongoing character, as I found her to be multidimensional and intensely interesting. I can’t imagine working someplace that had once owned my ancestor as a slave.

There were twists and turns in the storyline, and the ending was quite unexpected. I liked the joining of a mystery with a book with historical background.

This is the author’s second book, and I look forward to reading more.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Family Upstairs

It isn’t often that I can say that I simply can’t put a book down. I read The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell, in bed until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I read the next day as a Lyft driver took me downtown. And I read on my way home as well. I had to know — HAD TO KNOW — what happens to this oh-so-complicated-and-disturbed family.

Libby Jones finally receives the letter she knew would be coming when she turned 25. She rips it open and learns that her birth mother and father who had died years before in an apparent suicide pact left her their mansion in the Chelsea neighborhood of London that is worth millions of dollars.

She had a brother and sister, who vanished after their parents’ death. Libby, then only an infant, was found happily playing in her crib. What happened to her siblings and why did her parents commit suicide?

Meanwhile, while Libby is digesting her newfound wealth, Lucy is barely surviving, trying to provide food and shelter for her two children. She hasn’t forgotten that  the baby is 25, a reminder she sees every day in her diary.

And then there’s Henry, Lucy’s brother. Is he still alive?

I love author Lisa Jewell. Her novels never fail to keep me glued to the stories, which always take unexpected twists and turns. The Family Upstairs is dark, even for this author who takes the reader places you will have bad dreams about that night. Some of the twists didn’t surprise me, but others caught me off guard. Jewell’s characters are always interesting and often have dark sides. Libby and Lucy and Henry and Phin were no exception.

I really enjoyed The Family Upstairs, and give it a big thumbs up.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Turn of the Key

Author Ruth Ware specializes in thriller novels with twists and turns, generally with protagonists who are troubled and often with questionable pasts. I will admit to always looking forward to her next novel, and I will also admit to almost always wondering why I was so eager to read the book when it often leaves me troubled or dissatisfied by either the characters or the ending, or both.

Unfortunately, The Turn of the Key, Ware’s latest thriller, left me feeling the same as I felt with the others. Unfulfilled and somewhat disappointed.

Rowan Caine stumbles across a help wanted ad that seems too good to be true. She has been working for terrible pay at a daycare center, and would like to make more money and be more fulfilled. Here is an advertisement for a job that not only pays well, but meets all of her other needs — some independence, darling children, an extremely nice employer. She applies for the job and is quickly hired.

That, of course, is when all hell breaks loose. The children’s father almost immediately makes a pass at her. The mother seems too good to be true. The caretaker is tall, dark and handsome. Before long, one of the children is dead, and the nanny is the prime suspect. She knows she didn’t do it, but who did?

The author must have a fascination with houses. The house in her novel In a Dark, Dark Wood was made entirely of glass, which added to the creepiness of the wooded setting. In The Turn of the Key, the house is “smart,” operating using technology.Though the creepiness of being watched by cameras and operating all of the systems using voice or touch technology could have — should have — contributed to the creepiness of the book, it missed its mark. As did the references to spiritual activity, which were just silly.

I will admit that the twist towards the end of the book caught me by surprise, but by that time I had lost interest in all of the characters. The ending was completely unsatisfying.

I can’t recommend this novel, despite the potential it offered.

Here is a link to the book.