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!

Friday Book Whimsy-Thursday Edition: Favorite Books of 2015

I am often astounded at how many books some book bloggers read each year. Some post a book review almost every day. Of course, their blogs are devoted to book reviews, so it is incumbent upon them to read, read, read. I think that I read a lot, and yet I never seem to break the 100-books-in-a-year mark. This year my total was 93 books.

Oh well, I’m telling myself. I do have a life beyond books. Say, friends and family. Oh, and now crocheting.

I post a book review every Friday, but I read many more books than those for which I post a review. For example, I generally don’t post books (almost always mysteries) that are part of a series unless I found the book particularly compelling or I’m begging you to read the series. And since I’ve already admitted that my reading motto is Life is too short to read a bad book, I start many books that I set aside because I simply didn’t like them. That is why most of my book reviews are positive. So, sue me.

Having said all of the meaningless babble above, here are my five favorite books I read in 2015 for which I posted a review.

5. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
An unexpectedly upbeat and pleasing read about a quirky family with an unhappy past joined together simply because they love one another. An interesting element of this book is that the mother is a hoarder, which definitely defines the family members and impacts the plot of the book. It isn’t, however, what defines this interesting story. I was surprised at how much I loved this book, which I wouldn’t have picked up if someone hadn’t so highly recommended it to me.

4. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Karon’s Mitford stories are like eating dessert first. They are simply delicious and not to be missed. The characters, the setting, the stories — all mix together to make for a wonderful read. Her latest novel involves the marriage of two favorite characters, and allows readers the opportunity to get to know better some who previously were only marginally present. Pour a cup of coffee or tea and settle down for a pleasant experience.

3. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
Talk about a book I can’t believe I liked so much! This story takes place in Cambodia, which is the only reason I read the book (a daughter-in-law is from Cambodia). Based on a true story, the family — mom, dad, and little boy — lives in a municipal waste dump in Cambodia and they survive on what they make from scavenging the dump each day and selling the wares. That’s the setting, but the story is about friendship and loyalty and what it means to love someone. It was a truly beautiful story that I highly recommend.

2. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My heart broke year before last when one of my favorite authors — Kent Haruf — passed away. Our Souls at Night was his final gift to those of us who love his writing. The book is once again set in the fictional Colorado town of Holt. Septuagenarian Addie Moore, a widow for many years, marches over to her equally-aged neighbor Louis Waters’ house and suggests they, well, hook up. Sleep together. Just see how it works out. The result is a surprisingly beautiful story about love and friendship. I enjoyed Haruf’s stories for his characters, and while not as good as his first novel Plainsong (nothing could be), it was a wonderful book.

And my favorite book of 2015…..

1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Dang, I hate being predictable. The Girl on the Train is likely to be the favorite read of 2015 of many book reviewers, but it’s for a good reason. I couldn’t put down this book. The author doled out the pieces of the mystery little by little, keeping the readers in constant suspense. The final pages were delicious. The characters were interesting, imperfect, multifaceted, and realistic. I can’t wait for Hawkins’ next effort. This one will be hard to beat.

I’m looking forward to many more good books in 2016. Maybe that will be the year that I finally beat that 100-book challenge.

This post linked to the GRAND Social 

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Friday Book Whimsy: The House We Grew Up In

searchThe stars of Lisa Jewell’s highly readable novel The House We Grew Up In are about the most dysfunctional fictional family I have ever come across in a novel. And I read a LOT.

But here’s the thing: Despite their ups and downs, you can’t help but like them all. Well, almost all of them.

Clearly the most interesting thing about this novel, and the thing that at least in part makes the reader unable to turn off the light and stop reading is the hoarding. Reading about hoarding is like having a scab that you can’t leave alone. It’s unpleasant but oh-so-interesting.

And yet there is so much more to the novel, and so much more to the characters.

The Bird family lives in a pleasant cottage in the Cotswolds in England. Lorelei Bird is a lovely, charming mother of four who wants nothing more than to provide a life of joy for her children. She loves pretty, colorful things, and likes to hang on to them like we hang on to memories. Her husband and children find her to be delightful and full of love. Easter is her favorite holiday, and her annual Easter Egg Hunt provides joy each year. Until it doesn’t. Because one year something particularly terrible happens, leading the family to slowly begin to crumble.

I enjoyed the way Jewell told the story, telling the tale from each of the characters’ perspectives, going so far as to use Lorelei’s online love relationship to fill us in even more, via her letters to her online friend.

There is so much more to the novel than hoarding, but as we undoubtedly all have a secret fear that we are hoarders, it is the most compelling part of the novel.  Let me assure you, this novel will put your mind at ease. We may need to send a few things to Goodwill, but most of us can get to our kitchens.

I particularly loved the way this novel ended, despite the distressing facts we learn about some of the characters. Jewell leaves us with the idea that families who love one another can get through unbelievable stress and tribulation and love will rise above it all.

The House We Grew Up In would be a WONDERFUL novel for a reading club. Please consider it. It will be one of my favorite books of 2015.

Now, excuse me while I go clean my basement.

Here is a link to the book.

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