The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

birdSo this is actually the newest Lisa Jewell, not the previous one I just read, as I had thought at the time  (email from friend, we thought we were both reading the new one-what book are you reading? That’s not what’s happening in it.) The tone of this newest novel is nothing like Before We Met. I’d classify this as a pretty serious, somewhat dark novel. Parts of it are difficult, characters make terrible decisions, you keep thinking ‘oh she couldn’t possibly mean..”, and oh yes she does.  That said, this was wonderful and I gave it 5 stars. So beautifully written and constructed, and a fascinating story.

The Bird family had 4 children (Meg, Beth, Rory, and Rhys)  in it and they were all very happy in their charming Cotswald cottage with their merry, creative mother, Lorrie.  Lorrie was something of a quirky, free spirit.  The story is put together with alternating sections.  In the present day grown up Meg and her daughter have arrived at the Bird house after her mother’s death and are horrified by what has become of the house.  Lorrie was a hoarder. Mentally ill, unable to give or throw anything away, creating a dangerous prison out of the home.  Other sections tell about Meg’s teenage and young adult years, describing how the family fell apart.  And still other sections are emails from Lorrie to an online friend, where Lorrie spills out the family secrets.  It takes all of these sections together to fully tell the story of the Bird family.  I would say the “sad story” of the family, but I don’t want you to think the book is nothing but depressing. It was fascinating, especially as your perspective of Lorrie and the other family members changes (at least, mine did.)

I also liked how she kept returning to Easter. It’s the date of an original tragedy and the action keeps coming back each year to that day.

You can’t help but compare your own house when you’re reading about a hoarder.  My own house happens to have quite a lot of stuff in it, and I am sentimental, but I think I can safely say it’s not in danger of swallowing me up.

Step Back in Time by Ali McNamara

jojoA perfect time-travel treat! This caught my eye on the library bookshelf and it appears this author writes specifically for me. I was delighted to see she had a couple other books right up my alley, but foolishly left them on the shelf since I was already picking up two others. Anyway, this is not only time-travel, but also romance, and laden with Beatles allusions.

Jo-Jo (yes, almost every character has a name that is from a Beatles’ song or a real person connected to the Beatles) is a go-getter accountant with not much time for fun or love in her life. She does take the time to have a cup of tea from time to time with George, the owner of a record shop that has been in the same place on King’s Road since the early 1960s. While leaving the shop Jo-Jo gets hit by a car in the zebra crossing and…wakes up in 1963.  Throughout the book she wakes up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  In each place she meets George (who always knows she’s time-travelling), Harry, the guy she’s falling for, and friend Ellie.  Each time she has a different job, is a different age, and manages to have a positive impact on those around her.  But each time she wonders what it is she needs to figure out for herself so that she can make it home again.

In the beginning I felt this suffered from what I call “Forrest Gump Syndrome.” That is when a character is in a time period and the author tries to stuff as many iconic things about that time period into the story, including brushes with people who will be famous (e.g., a lad buying a record and saying someday he wants to own a record shop is Richard Branson.) But I quickly got over it because you know what? It was good fun. And I liked the pattern of Jo-Jo quickly figuring out the time by assessing the tv references, fashion, makeup, handbags, etc.  It was fun that every time she went into a pub the drinks were different (and now I must know what “babycham” is and if I can get some.)  And the fact that the Beatles were so omnipresent in the story was fun because Jo-Jo herself realizes it and starts looking for those things as clues. So it wasn’t like the author was trying to be subtle (and, in fact, at the end she provides a list of every reference.)

The author also says how she was inspired by Quantum Leap, which was a tv show I loved, and yes I could totally see that.  I love time-travel but don’t often read books like this one, and I think it was really fun how she set it up.  I really enjoyed this a lot and even though her other novels aren’t time travel I’m looking forward to them too!

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

pickleI loved this story. A bit of a mystery, two parallel stories, and I loved as the 1920 story plays out coming to an end, as the 1995 story unravels the mystery of what was happening then. Betty and Arlette live on the island of Guernsey, in the English Channel. Right there it was fascinating because I don’t think I even knew there were islands in the channel big enough for towns. And Guernsey is apparently so close to France that there’s quite a French influence.  In 1995 Arlette is aged and her step-granddaughter Betty cares for her until her death.  They were quite close and Betty was always fascinated by Arlette and her boudoir, filled with mementos and decorations that evoked a much more exciting life than the one they led on this isolated island.  It was Arlette who introduced Betty to glamour.  So when Arlette dies Betty takes her small inheritance and moves to exotic Soho of London.  She is on a two part mission-first, to begin a new glamorous life, and second, to see if she can track down the other woman named in Arlette’s will, whom no one has ever heard of before.  So now we have Betty’s story of a young woman in London trying to make it, making connections, doing detective work about Arlette, and unexpectedly forming a relationship with a massive pop star who happens to live near her.  In alternating chapters we have Arlette’s story, which is also of a young woman moving to London and beginning a glamorous life, which revolves around the burgeoning bohemian jazz scene in 1920, which includes a love triangle.
I love stories that are told in this way, and the whole 1920 jazz scene of London was fascinating.  It was amazing to think that Arlette’s family had no idea she had ever spent any time in London at all-she had an exciting, dramatic, heartbreaking story that almost died with her.

There was quite a bit of sadness to Arlette’s story, and some elements of the mystery are not resolved, which I think is realistic.  This was overall a terrific story.  I haven’t read Lisa Jewell for a really long time (possibly since the days when ML and I used to order books from amazon.uk of authors we couldn’t get here) and I think I need to go back and read a lot of her other titles.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

hp2See everything I said about Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone for the set-up of rereading these books.  Ditto the pleasure of the re-read and getting to read from the beginning when you know some things about how it all turns out. I read this one in the two days following seeing the movie, so I was really doing a lot of movie/book comparison as I read.  I loved the movie, but it was very satisfying to read the book right after because I found the book had a much better timeline. Which, it would because she has many pages to write in while a movie only has about 2 hours. So, lots of events that happened apparently quickly in the movie, were very drawn out in the book. Sometimes weeks would go by.  It definitely added to suspense, a build up of emotions, and the boarding school/school year aspect.  One important aspect that was in the book that they really overlooked in the movie, was Ginny’s role in helping Tom Riddle gain his strength.  Fantastic and I’m looking forward to continuing on the series. (I love being able to just go grab the next book! The first time I read these  it was as they came out-a suspenseful wait!)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

hpIt almost seems silly to write my thoughts about this here and now. I mean, don’t we all know what it’s about? What happened? But, the series has been on my “to re-read” list for this year. I haven’t read the books since they came out, it was just this year that my son read the first four books in the series himself, and last week we all watched the first two movies together for the first time. (Well, Paul and I have seen all the movies, but the kids hadn’t.) While Clark was reading the books I was dying for him to share some excitement with me about the stories, but he really couldn’t say much about what he liked or didn’t like, just that he liked them.  So, it was very satisfying to watch the movie with him and see his excitement, and also see, as he obnoxiously kept saying “oh I know what happens…”, that he did remember a lot of the books. Anyway, it made the time right for me to pick up the first book and begin my re-read. And o! what a delight it was! You know, when they came out (and I was working as a librarian at the time) and the crazy phenomena swept the world I did often wonder why so many people loved them. It was clear to me why I loved them: boarding school + magic=something I like. But, guess what? There are plenty of other very good magical boarding school, orphans and adventures, magical fun, etc. books out there. (that then people “discovered” afterward.) Well whatever.  I found it just as delightful the second time around and was quite swept away into the world of Hogwarts and getting to know Harry and all the Weasleys and the professors and so on.  This time around I had the added satisfaction of knowing that there would be a big story arc and which relationships would be important and so on. And of course there’s more in the books than the movies, so that was fun to remember and rediscover those things.  Super fantastic, and I have extra added pleasure of having all the books published already so I can read the series not spread out over years.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

islaFantastic! (Or should I say “fantastique”?)  It’s hard to believe that Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After are Perkins’s first three books. They are terrific. Though not a series, they are connected by characters and the boarding school in France.  In this one the boy love interest (Josh) was the best friend of the boy love interest in the first book (St. Clair), so there are references to what St. Clair is up to now and how his and Anna’s romance worked out.  Once again we are in Paris with teenagers such as I’ve never known.  This time it is acknowledged (I feel like it wasn’t before) that everyone there is very rich and privileged.  Isla has a French mother and two sisters who also attend/ed the school.  She’s been in love with Josh for a long time and can’t believe when they are finally getting together.  Obstacles include Josh’s apparent desire to get himself kicked out of school and worries about what it might do to Isla’s best friend, a boy with Asperger’s.  A delightful romance and also a wonderful conclusion to the three books as we get to find out what happened to the characters from the other stories.

The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen

bestofThere’s so much about this story that is so obviously the kind of fantasy people like to have.  College friends, now adults, gather together to celebrate the nerdy one’s birthday. But the thing is he so wealthy that it’s an all expenses paid extravaganza for everyone.  I feel like the author wrote every detail she could think of while daydreaming about winning the lottery. Or wondering what it might be like to be Jay-Z level rich.  Which isn’t to say the book is bad because, yeah, it is kind of fun to imagine that. So the friends and spouses come together and of course nobody’s life is quite what it seems on the outside  and during this lavish week together facades slip, secrets come out, and so on. A good vacation book.