Friday Book Whimsy: One By One

Agatha Christie’s mysteries were the first I read when I graduated from the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden level of the genre that I still love the best — mysteries. While I must admit that my favorite Agatha Christie book is and will always be Murder on the Orient Express, a close second is And Then There Were None. Imagine being in a secluded place with nine other strangers, having been invited by an unknown person. Imagine further how frightening it would be when one by one, they are being murdered.

Undoubtedly, prolific mystery author Ruth Ware had Dame Christie’s novel in mind when she wrote her spooky One By One. In this novel, a group of people working for a high tech start-up company that offers an app that allows you to not only learn what famous people are listening to at any point in time, but also allows you to listen to the music at the same time. The company — called Snoop — is led by a former couple who, while no longer a couple, still work together and are on the brink of great success.

The cofounders organize a company retreat at an isolated mountain lodge in the French Alps with all of the employees in attendance. It is a time for the employees to learn more about the company. More important, there will be team-building activities like snowing and snowshoeing. Things are going smoothly until there are whispers about one of the cofounders underhandedly trying to sell the company.

Adding to the distress, unexpected weather, including an avalanche that buries the nearby village, leaves the people helplessly stuck in a freezing cold lodge with no electricity or cell service. Still, the lodging is top-notch, and the food is delicious. Things aren’t looking too bad until people start dying, one by one.

Just as in Christie’s novel, they know someone among them is a murderer. No one is to be trusted. Who is the killer?

Ware provides just the right amount of tension as the people try to figure out who they can trust. In the end, this reader was caught off guard by the killer and the reasons for the murders. The book kept me up past bedtime as I tried to figure out who was next in line.

This is the best novel by the author that I have read. Agatha Christie would be satisfied.

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.


Friday Book Whimsy: The Death of Mrs. Westaway

When author Ruth Ware comes out with a new novel, I always get sucked in by the title. The Woman in Cabin 10; In a Dark, Dark Wood; The Lying Game. Her latest thriller caught my attention for the same reason: its title. The Death of Mrs. Westaway sounds like it could have been written by Agatha Christie.

I have always been somewhat disappointed by Ware’s stories, however. Her writing is respectable and the stories are always interesting enough that I keep on reading. It’s generally her characters that I find troubling. I have to find something in a protagonist to like or the book will leave me dissatisfied.

I found The Death of Mrs. Westaway to lean somewhat in that direction; yet, I found the main character — a young woman named Hal — to be a bit more likable and less one dimensional.

Hal’s life is at its lowest point. Her mother (she never knew her father) has died. Hal’s career as a tarot card reader like her mother barely covers her living expenses. In fact, she is in debt to a low-life lender who has threatened death if she doesn’t fork up the money in short order. Money she simply doesn’t have.

And then she receives a letter telling her that her grandmother has died and she has been left an inheritance. Voila! This could be the answer to all of her money problems. There is only one problem. Her grandmother died years ago. The letter must have come to her in error. Still, what harm could there be in playing dumb and going to the funeral and the subsequent meeting with the lawyer?

Well, it turns out things get more and more complicated when Hal finds out that she not only was mentioned in the will, but Grandmother left her the whole shooting match — most of her money and the estate in which she lives. The estate which is INCREDIBLY SPOOKY. Hal’s new aunts and uncles aren’t thrilled with this notion, though they try to be nice to her.

But not only is the estate spooky, there is a very creepy housekeeper who dotes uncomfortably on one of Hal’s new uncles. This could be Mrs. Danvers’ (of Rebecca fame) younger sister.

While Hal’s new family appears to be understanding, it quickly becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want her to be around. And why are there pictures of her mother — her real-life mother who by all accounts isn’t even related — around the house?

The story is tied up quite satisfactorily if somewhat predictably. Still, I found this to be my favorite of all Ruth Ware’s novels. Having said that, I must tell you that The Death of Mrs. Westaway is no Rebecca by a long shot.

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: The Woman in Cabin 10

imgresMurder on a cruise ship. It sounds very Agatha Christie, doesn’t it? All it needs is a small Belgian detective using his little gray cells to solve the mystery. Except about the only similarity between Agatha Christie and author Ruth Ware is their British background.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is Ware’s second novel. Her first, In a Dark, Dark Wood, (which I reviewed here) was a psychological thriller that took place in an all-glass house deep in the woods somewhere in England. Her second, The Woman in Cabin 10, is another psychological thriller, this one taking place on a cruise ship.

In fact, for the most part, The Woman in Cabin 10 is simply The Girl on a Train, except on a cruise ship. I found myself alternately at the edge of my seat because of gripping tension, or screaming out loud, “Oh for heaven’s sake, don’t have another drink!”

I found the book frustrating.

Laura Blacklock (called Lo) is a writer for a London magazine. Circumstances result in her getting a coveted assignment – reporting on the inaugural cruise of a very fancy schmancy small cruise ship on some rich-and-famous people will be traveling. This is her BIG CHANCE. DON’T. SCREW. IT. UP.

Unfortunately, at the very beginning of the book (and shortly before she leaves on this business cruise), Lo’s apartment is burgled while she is home. The burglar, though he has a gun, does not kill her, but instead leaves with some of her belongings. The incident shakes her up so much that she pretty much is a wreck for the rest of the book.

Already freaked out because of her own personal incident, the very first night on the cruise ship, she borrows some makeup from the woman in the next room, and later on witnesses a body being thrown overboard from that same room.

Well, it turns out no one else has seen that particular woman – EVER – and no one else heard a body being thrown overboard. And since Lo has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder for which she takes antidepressants, and since she is already freaked out by her own scare prior to leaving, no one believes her.

So what does she do? She drinks too much, takes too many prescription medications, and tries to solve the mystery herself.

The main problem with the story, at least in my opinion, is that the character of Lo Blacklock is so inherently dislikable. I wanted to not believe her myself. She seems to be paralyzed with fear – something that might be realistic, but doesn’t make for a very interesting novel. And I seriously got so very tired of her being drunk and overmedicated. Just say no to drugs, Lo.

And yet, just as with Ware’s first novel, the writing is quite good. Good enough, in fact, that I continued to read. And while the ending didn’t blow me away with surprise, I found it to be fairly satisfying and somewhat unpredictable.

Overall, I can recommend this book for people who like thrillers such as The Girl on the Train. Just be prepared to understand that this novel, readers, is not the next The Girl on the Train, as hard as the author might try and as strongly as the publishers might try to sell the idea that it is.

Here is link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: In a Dark, Dark Wood

searchYou’ve got your cabin in the woods, a gathering of friends, loss of cell service, thunder storms, and the inevitable murder, creating quite an unnerving tale of jealousy and insecurity.

What I found particularly disturbing in Ruth Ware’s creepy In a Dark, Dark Wood was the cabin itself, which for me provided the utmost in scariness. Smack dab in the middle of a deserted wooded area sits a house made entirely of glass. The trees provide the only cover, but also the spookiness. There is no privacy and no protection.

Nora is a 26-year-old writer who is invited to a friend’s bachelorette party that is being held in the glass house in the dark, dark woods. Though she has literally not spoken to her friend in over a decade, she agrees to attend. I admit I found that premise to be suspect. Why is she invited, and why on earth would she accept?

Upon arriving at the glass house, Nora learns that the man to whom her friend is engaged is none other than her old boyfriend, someone who broke her heart years before and for whom she has pined ever since.

The gathering includes a decidedly unsettling group of friends, particularly the woman who has put the weekend together. She seemed to come straight from a Stephen King novel.

Somewhere in the middle of the book (yes, it takes that long), the groom-to-be is murdered right there in the house. Why was he there and guess who all clues point to? Yes, the murderer can only be Nora herself.

Except we know it’s not her. But the reader really doesn’t know who the murderer is until the very end because the book has a multitude of red herrings.

I’m sounding cynical, but I actually liked the book a lot. It was spooky enough, but not enough to keep a reader awake at night. The setting and the author’s descriptions provide a sinister element that is suitably spooky.

My main complaint is the lack of a realistic premise. I can’t see any reason why Nora agreed to attend, nor does Nora’s fixation with the groom, with whom she had a brief high school relationship, seem convincing.

Still, I recommend the book. I am looking forward to reading Ware’s newest book The Woman in Cabin 10. It is reported to be the next The Girl on the Train. That’s a shock, isn’t it?

Here is link to the book.