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 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: Watching You

Before sitting down to write this review, I tried to think how to describe Watching You, the newest novel from author Lisa Jewell. I finally decided it’s like eating some kind of complex meal in which the flavors combine to create something wonderful and oh-so-satisfying.

Tom Fitzwilliams is a handsome and charismatic educator who has traveled from school to school, “fixing” them. He is successful, the husband of a beautiful young wife and the father of a gifted — if voyeuristic — young son.

But there is something a bit off about Fitzwilliams, starting with an interaction 10 years earlier with a mother who attacked him, shouting that viva was her life, her everything. Who or what is viva?

The novel includes a variety of characters, including recently-married Joey, who moves to the neighborhood to live with her brother, but is immediately obsessed with their neighbor Tom. There is Tom’s son Freddie, who sits in the window and watches everything that goes on in the neighborhood, and knows there is something a bit off about his father. Nicola, Tom’s adoring wife; Bess and Jenna, two high school students, one of whom is infatuated with the teacher, the other of whom distrusts him from the get-go.

The author doles out the information piece by piece, little by little. The reader knows from the beginning that a murder has taken place. What we don’t learn until the end is just who was murdered, and why. And, of course, the name of the murderer.

I loved this novel from beginning to end. I read it in a day-and-a-half, and was satisfied with how the novel wrapped up.

Great read!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Then She Was Gone

I can’t believe that there are books written by author Lisa Jewell that I haven’t read, because every time I pick one up to read, I can’t put it down. She’s that good.

Then She Was Gone is no exception.

Laurel Mack’s 15-year-old daughter Ellie disappeared 10 years ago on her way to school. Laurel has been unable to get her life back into order following her disappearance. She is mentally unavailable for her other children and she and her husband eventually split up.

One day at a coffee shop, Laurel meets Floyd, and the two hit it off. He is handsome, kind, and funny, and seems to be the perfect man with whom Laurel can get back into the saddle. Except, when she meets his 9-year-old terribly precocious daughter Poppy, Laurel is amazed to see that she looks exactly like Ellie.

Nevertheless, the two become close, and Poppy grows to love Laurel. But is Floyd too clingy? And why-oh-why does Poppy look so much like her long-missing daughter?

In typical fashion, Jewell doesn’t try to fool the reader. We know pretty early on who kidnapped Ellie. However, I dare the reader to figure out why,however. Jewell hands out the books’ secrets little by little, like candy on Halloween.

Then She Was Gone was creepy and suspenseful, with lots of curve balls. I found the ending to be satisfying, if not exactly what I’d hoped for.

Highly recommend.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Third Wife

Adrian Wolfe has been married three times. Twice divorced with children from each marriage, he has maintained friendships with all of his wives, and they with each other. The third try, however, doesn’t end on quite as positive a note. His third wife is hit by a bus one night after spending the evening drinking. Did she commit suicide? Was she pushed? And why was she out drinking anyway?

The author of The Third Wife is one of my favorite writers – Lisa Jewell. Her puzzlers are always truly puzzling and her characters are all realistic and flawed, but mostly likeable. This book was no exception. It was interesting to look at Adrian and his big, supposedly happy extended family and imagine that anyone could be so clueless as to think that all of this was as it appeared. It isn’t hard for the reader to put his or herself in Maya’s Third-Wife shoes and realize that it wasn’t all fun and games to be part of this whole scenario.

The author kept me wondering throughout the book. Who was sending Maya such mean emails? Do they all like each other as much as it seems? Did Maya jump or get pushed? I kept thinking that the answer was obvious, and yet again and again it became apparent that things weren’t always what they seemed.

I loved the ending of the book. It felt realistic to me and boded well for the future of the entire Wolfe clan.

Thumbs up on this book.

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: Best Reads of 2017

My reading goal each year in terms of quantity is 100 books. I never make it, despite the fact that I think I read a LOT. In 2017, I read 91 books (and am in the process of my 92nd as we turn the pages of the calendar to 2018). That is three more than I read in 2016, and two fewer than I read in 2015. I abandoned a number of books this past year, however, which may account for fewer total books. I also had more books to which I gave a bad review than I usually have, and I don’t know exactly why that is. Generally, operating under my standard reading rule which is Life is too short – and there are too many choices – to read a bad book, I don’t finish books I dislike. This year, however, I did that on a number of occasions. Maybe I’m finally getting more mature!

I read a number of new books, but as usual, I also read a number of books published prior to 2017. So a couple of my favorite books of 2017 which are listed below were actually not published in 2017.

Having given you all of this useless background, here are the books I most enjoyed reading in 2017, with a link to my review…..

The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn
Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and stories about strong women are always of interest to me. The Alice Network is based on the true story of a network of women spies during World War I. It is 1947, and New York City socialite Charlie St. Clair begins searching for her beloved French cousin whom she doesn’t believe perished in World War II as most assume. In the course of her search, she meets Eve Gardner, who was a member of the Alice Network during WWI. The two stories intermingle, and a great novel is the result.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate
Speaking of historical fiction, this excellent novel was based on a fact so horrifying that I almost couldn’t believe it was true. In 1939, five children who live with their parents on a riverboat in Tennessee are left alone one night when their father is forced to take their mother who is having a dangerously difficult labor into town to the hospital. While they are gone, a group of people, claiming to be government officials, enter the boat and take the children to an orphanage. Run by real-life Gloria Tann, poor children were kidnapped and then sold to rich people unable to conceive. Decades later, the daughter of a United States senator, comes across the practice and learns her family’s part in it. Great storytelling by the author.

I Found You, by Lisa Jewell
I just finished this book and haven’t yet reviewed it. Nevertheless, it is definitely one of the best books I read this past year. Jewell is the author of another book I liked – The House We Grew Up In – one of my favorite books of 2015. Single mother, somewhat bohemian in her lifestyle, Alice Lake comes across a man sitting on the beach in front of her house. She greets him only to learn that he has no memory – he doesn’t know his name, his background, or why he is sitting on the beach in this little English village. The book is a combination of three story lines that connect in a way that I dare you to predict. The story is so clever that at one point, I was so taken by surprise I thought I might have whiplash.

The Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
Speaking of clever, this murder-within-a-murder mystery is one of the more interesting books I have ever read. The charm of Hercule Poirot meets the serious police business of Harry Bosch. The author is the creator and writer of Foyle’s War, one of my favorite PBS mystery series. His writing is outstanding and I’ll bet you can’t figure out the ending.

The Tumbling Turner Sisters, by Juliette Fay
This novel is a delight from beginning to end. The father of four girls in the early 20s finds himself unable to work when he is seriously injured on the job. The family is in despair when the mother decides that the girls will learn to become acrobats and work the vaudeville circuit. Part love story, part adventure novel, part history lesson. I loved these characters and nearly everything about the story.

Happy reading in 2018!