REVIEW: THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom.

Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

 

My Thoughts: Our multiple narrators capture us from the beginning of The Family Upstairs. From Libby Jones, presumably the baby found in the Cheyne Walk house, to Henry, the son who went missing, there are a few others whose bits and pieces of the story unfold. It takes a while to figure out who Lucy is, and what she might have to do with Libby.

The cultish story is creepy with Gothic overtones. Who are these people, and how did one man take over all the adults and children that surrounded him? How did any of them escape, and who ended the lives of the perpetrators?

I loved all the twists and turns, and how nothing was exactly as we expected. By the end, however, all the missing pieces have fallen into place. A brilliant 5 star read.

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BOOKISH FRIDAY: “TELL ME EVERYTHING”

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which we  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists! What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is Tell Me Everything, by Amy Hatvany.

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Beginning:  (Prologue)

The first thing you should know about me is that I love my husband.  The second is that I occasionally have sex with other men.

Here I am, on a Saturday night, in the arms of a man we found together.  He is smart, funny.  He understands our need for discretion.  He knows that he is only a visitor.

***

Friday 56:  Tiffany and Ben approached us on the deck, along with a woman I could only assume was her mother, whom I’d never met before.  At a dance competition last year, Tiffany told me that they hired someone part-time to take care of her mom when they couldn’t be home with her, but there were times when the aide wasn’t available and Tiffany would have to miss one of Lizzy’s performances on the team. (56%).

***

Synopsis:  A happily married couple. A dance with a stranger at a bar.

One night—one seemingly insignificant choice—can change everything.

Jessica and Jake Snyder love each other, and their life together. Successful in their chosen careers, they reside in the picturesque, though at times stifling, Seattle suburb of Queens Ridge as they parent teenagers Ella and Tucker.

As so often happens in marriage, their romantic life falls casualty to busy schedules and repetitive routine, until one night, a stranger asks Jessica to dance. On a whim, Jake urges her to say yes, saying that he wants to watch this other man touch her, something that surprises Jessica by arousing her like never before. A door opens for them then, into a realm of exploration neither of them knew existed.

They create rules to protect their marriage, and are thrilled when their relationship is strengthened and enriched by deeper levels of communication and trust brought about by this exciting, but taboo behavior. That is, until Jessica keeps a secret from Jake and embarks on a tryst with an intriguing man from her past, who, when she tries to end things between them, decides to seek revenge.

What happens after that will threaten to destroy their world—and them.

***

I’m eager to dive into this book from an author I really enjoy.  What do you think?

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REVIEW: JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT, BY CATHERINE RYAN HYDE

 

No longer tolerating her husband’s borderline abuse, Faith escapes to her parents’ California beach house to plan her next move. She never dreamed her new chapter would involve befriending Sarah, a fourteen-year-old on the run from her father and reeling from her mother’s sudden and suspicious death.

While Sarah’s grandmother scrambles to get custody, Faith is charged with spiriting the girl away on a journey that will restore her hope: Sarah implores Faith to take her to Falkner’s Midnight Sun, the prized black mare that her father sold out from under her. Sarah shares an unbreakable bond with Midnight and can’t bear to be apart from her. Throughout the sweltering summer, as they follow Midnight from show to show, Sarah comes to terms with what she witnessed on the terrible night her mother died.

But the journey is far from over. Faith must learn the value of trusting her instincts—and realize that the key to her future, and Sarah’s, is in her hands.

 

 

My Thoughts: As I began reading Just After Midnight, I was not quite sure if I would enjoy the journey. I was fascinated by what could happen for Faith as she moved on from a bad marriage. Her beach retreat intrigued me, and then I enjoyed the bond that started developing between Faith and the teenage girl Sarah.

The horse parts felt a little boring at first, but then I was able to focus on the relationship building between Faith and Sarah, and how helping the young girl move on in her life was a great gift for Faith, too. She now had a reason to go on, and by paying it forward for young Sarah she gave herself the gift of a new beginning. A book that I no longer could stop reading. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: LIFELINES, BY HEIDI DIEHL

 

It’s 1971 when Louise leaves Oregon for Düsseldorf, a city grappling with its nation’s horrific recent history, to study art. Soon she’s embroiled in a scene dramatically different from the one at home, thanks in large part to Dieter, a mercurial musician. Their romance ignites quickly, but life gets in the way: an unplanned pregnancy, hasty marriage, the tense balance of their creative ambitions, and—finally, fatally—a family secret that shatters Dieter, and drives Louise home.

But in 2008 she’s headed to Dieter’s mother’s funeral. She never returned to Germany, and has since remarried, had another daughter, and built a life in Oregon. As she flies into the heart of her past, she reckons with the choices she made, and the ones she didn’t, just as her family—current and former—must consider how Louise’s life has shaped their own, for better and for worse.

 

 

My Thoughts: Lifelines opens with Louise ready to board a plane for Germany to attend her former mother-in-law’s funeral. Her daughter Elke has begged for her to attend.

In a sweeping style that takes us back and forth in time, we come to know these characters, with all their flaws and foibles. I enjoyed the peek back into the 1970s, with the cultural issues present in Germany heightened by the world known by Louise and Dieter…and then we see what happens when Louise returns to Oregon and meets Richard, who becomes her second husband. There is a push and pull between Louise, Dieter, and Richard as they struggle to set aside their past lives and move on.

In the present, Elke and Margot, children of the primary characters, show us how they try to find their way while attempting to understand what happened between their parents in the past. A saga that spotlights a time and its issues. 4.5 stars.

***

SNIPPETS FROM THE PAST…

 

Today has been filled with nostalgic moments.  On my Curl up and Read blog, I posted something from the distant past—from October 2009.  And that experience led me to searching the archives here.  Back when I featured excerpts from some of my own creations.

Here’s a snippet from An Accidental Life, a book I published in 2006.

 

As she considers going on the run, a pregnant teen ponders her options in this excerpt from An Accidental Life.

While the social workers had been planning her future, Savannah trudged along Clovis Avenue, staring vacantly into shop windows and wondering how she was going to get through the next five hours.  She had to wait until Blake finished up his classes for the day, and then they were going to meet at his apartment.

Last night as she’d left the mall, she was certain that she had only one option:  to run.  But when she reached the foster home, she had decided to put that particular plan on hold until the weekend.  With Blake’s help, she might be able to come up with a better solution.  But every time she thought she’d found a plan she could live with, she kept bumping up against the one major obstacle:  school.  How was she going to find a way to live on her own, or with Blake, while still continuing in school?  And without a guardian she couldn’t even enroll in independent studies.  Her age was turning out to be a major hassle. She and Blake couldn’t even get married, since she wouldn’t be sixteen for another five months.  Not that he’d even suggested that!

As the afternoon wore on, she found herself spacing out and realized that she’d forgotten to eat lunch.  She had totally blown off school today, even though it was such an important part of her life, because she couldn’t think.  Her mind wandered off, even in her favorite classes.  Now she searched through her pockets, finally glomming onto the handful of bills she had hidden there.  Blake had a habit of leaving money around and lately she’d been slipping the occasional stray bill into her pockets.  She knew he’d never miss it and rationalized that if she’d asked, he would have given her the money anyway.  Guilt plagued her sometimes, but she pushed the unwanted feelings away.

She slipped into a little café on one of the side streets, finding a booth in the rear.  She hid her face behind the menu and when the server arrived, her pencil poised above her little order book, Savannah asked for a bowl of soup and a large piece of pie.  While she waited, she nibbled on the crackers and sipped the glass of water.  She had started feeling a little better by the time her food arrived.

Glancing at her wristwatch…the very large masculine one that Blake had loaned her…she saw that it was already three o’clock.  No wonder she’d been so famished!  Two more hours until she could meet up with Blake.  She would hang out here for awhile and try to read the book she had stashed in her backpack.  They’d refill her coffee cup for awhile and when they started hinting around for her to leave, she could head off toward the campus.  Blake’s apartment, which he shared with Scooter, was across the street from the college.  If she timed it right, she’d arrive there about the same time that he did.

***

Perhaps I will now return to the present, but I enjoyed my moments back in the past.  Do you ever revisit old blog posts?

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BOOKISH FRIDAY: “THE TESTAMENTS”

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which we  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood.

 

***

 

Book Beginnings:  (The Ardua Hall Holograph)

Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive.  Already I am petrified.

This statue was a small token of appreciation for my many contributions, said the citation, which was read out by Aunt Vidala.  She’d been assigned the task by our superiors, and was far from appreciative.

***

Friday 56:  I went into the kitchen and sat down at the island.  Melanie’s back was to me; she was looking out the window.  From the window you could see our yard—round cement planters with rosemary bushes in them, a patio with an outdoor table and chairs, and a corner of the street at the front. (p. 56).

***

Synopsis: More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
 
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.
 
As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

***

I can’t wait to read this one.  What do you think?

***

REVIEW: NANAVILLE, BY ANNA QUINDLEN

 

“I am changing his diaper, he is kicking and complaining, his exhausted father has gone to the kitchen for a glass of water, his exhausted mother is prone on the couch. He weighs little more than a large sack of flour and yet he has laid waste to the living room: swaddles on the chair, a nursing pillow on the sofa, a car seat, a stroller. No one cares about order, he is our order, we revolve around him. And as I try to get in the creases of his thighs with a wipe, I look at his, let’s be honest, largely formless face and unfocused eyes and fall in love with him. Look at him and think, well, that’s taken care of, I will do anything for you as long as we both shall live, world without end, amen.”

Before blogs even existed, Anna Quindlen became a go-to writer on the joys and challenges of family, motherhood, and modern life, in her nationally syndicated column. Now she’s taking the next step and going full nana in the pages of this lively, beautiful, and moving book about being a grandmother. Quindlen offers thoughtful and telling observations about her new role, no longer mother and decision-maker but secondary character and support to the parents of her grandson. She writes, “Where I once led, I have to learn to follow.” Eventually a close friend provides words to live by: “Did they ask you?”

Candid, funny, frank, and illuminating, Quindlen’s singular voice has never been sharper or warmer. With the same insights she brought to motherhood in Living Out Loud and to growing older in Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, this new nana uses her own experiences to illuminate those of many others.

 

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Quindlen’s novels and memoirs. She has a unique way of voicing our own concerns and helping us find those life moments that reveal so much.

Just as parenting has its own special moments that resonate with all of us who have lived through the challenges, grandparenting brings another dimension to our lives. So in Nanaville, we are offered a time in which we can step back, observe, and decide how to cautiously move forward into the sometime worrisome waters. We learn that our adult children and their chosen partners must set the guidelines, and if we want to benefit from a good relationship with the grandchildren, we must follow their lead.

Anecdotes and chapters designated “small moments” offer us that very insightful guide to a wonderful journey in the Land of Nanaville. 5 stars.

***

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “SECRETS OF THE TULIP SISTERS”

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which we  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is a book that has been hanging out on my Kindle for a while:  Secrets of the Tulip Sisters, by Susan Mallery.

***

Beginning:  Kelly Murphy was willing to accept certain injustices in the world.  That brownies had more calories than celery.  That wearing white pants meant getting her period—regardless of where she was in her cycle.  That her car would be low on gas only on days when she was running late.  What she did not appreciate or accept was the total unfairness of Griffith Burnett not only returning to Tulpen Crossing, Washington, nearly a year ago, but apparently waking up last month and deciding that stalking her was how he was going to spend his days.

***

Friday 56:  He reached for his coffee.  Now that he’d defined the problem, he had to figure out how to solve it.  He knew he was in way over his head, but hey, he knew all the stages of female arousal, so that was something. (56%).

***

Synopsis:  Kelly Murphy’s life as a tulip farmer is pretty routine—up at dawn, off to work, lather, rinse, repeat. But everything changes one sun-washed summer with two dramatic homecomings: Griffith Burnett—Tulpen Crossing’s prodigal son, who’s set his sights on Kelly—and Olivia, her beautiful, wayward and, as far as Kelly is concerned, unwelcome sister. Tempted by Griffith, annoyed by Olivia, Kelly is overwhelmed by the secrets that were so easy to keep when she was alone.

But Olivia’s return isn’t as triumphant as she pretends. Her job has no future, and ever since her dad sent her away from the bad boy she loved, she has felt cut off from her past. She’s determined to reclaim her man and her place in the family…whether her sister likes it or not. For ten years, she and Kelly have been strangers. Olivia will get by without her approval now.

While Kelly and Olivia butt heads, their secrets tumble out in a big hot mess, revealing some truths that will change everything they thought they knew. Can they forgive each other—and themselves—and redefine what it means to be sisters?

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

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REVIEW: CALIFORNIA GIRLS, BY SUSAN MALLERY

 

Finola, a popular LA morning-show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by the news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancé sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

 

My Thoughts: California Girls swept me up into the sisterly world of three women, and it didn’t take long to feel like I was connected to each of them.

Finola ‘s life in the spotlight as a TV host intrigued me…and then I felt sorry for her as she became part of the tabloid stories. Her husband was easy to hate because of the timing and the way that he informed her of his actions. But I did like that she was able to use their time apart to do some soul searching.

Zennie’s world turns upside down when she makes a choice to help her friend, and in the end, she learns a lot about herself.

Ali was my favorite character. Who doesn’t love the girl who goes through a horrific break-up only to find a great new friend to help her along? You know right away that the friendship will turn into something else at some point.

A predictable story that delighted me along the way and earned 4 stars.

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BOOKISH FRIDAY: “MY EX-BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING”

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature:  My Ex-Best Friend’s Wedding, by Wendy Wax.

***

Beginning:  (Prologue)

Kendra:  What can I say about the wedding dress?  I can tell you it’s been in my family for generations.  That after all these years it’s still beautiful.  And what happened the day I wore it wasn’t the dress’s fault.

***

Friday 56:  With a groan I reach for what I’m pretty sure is my fourth cup of coffee, though I know from years of experience that while caffeine can help you stay awake it doesn’t make you more talented or creative any more than alcohol makes you wittier and more entertaining.

***

Synopsis:  Prized and stored away for safekeeping, the timeless ivory wedding dress, with its scooped neck and cleverly fitted bodice, sits gently folded in its box, whispering of Happily Ever Afters. To Kendra, Brianna, and Lauren it’s a reminder of what could have been, the promise of a fairy tale, and a friendship torn apart. But as Kendra knows firsthand: it wasn’t the dress’s fault.

Once closer than sisters, Lauren and Bree have grown up and grown apart, allowing broken promises and unfulfilled dreams to destroy their friendship. A successful author, Lauren returns home to the Outer Banks, fiancé in tow, to claim the dress she never thought she’d wear. While Bree, a bookstore owner, grapples with the realities of life after you marry the handsome prince. As the former best friends wrestle with their uncertain futures, they are both certain of one thing: some betrayals can never be forgiven.

Now on the eve of her daughter Lauren’s wedding, Kendra struggles with a secret she’s kept for far too long. And vows to make sure the dress will finally bring Lauren and Bree back together—knowing they’ll need each other to survive the coming storm.

***

I do love books by this author, so I’m eager to immerse myself in this story.

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