Books and Brownies

It’s winter – prime reading season, so time for a round up of some of the best books I’ve read over the past few months.  These are best savored with a cup of tea and a brownie…or two…..the kind with lots of icing.

Brownies

As I’m trying to practice an economy of words these days, I have condensed the summaries.   Click on the link for the full publishers blurb.    The list is in descending order of greatness. 

The Family UpstairsThe Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A page-turning jewel of a book, her best yet.

Libby Jones receives a letter from a lawyer on her 25th birthday,  telling her the identity of her birth parents and also that she is the sole inheritor of an abandoned mansion in one of London’s fashionable neighborhoods.  Young and struggling, everything in her life is about to change.   But others have been waiting for this day too.   Twenty-five years ago, police were called to the house with reports of a baby crying.   When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib.  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 there were gone.

Think your family is dysfunctional?   After reading a Lisa Jewell novel they might seem quite normal by comparison.   I find many of her books disturbing in a creepy psychological way – but this is the most bizarre yet.   There’s definitely an art to weaving a story like that, and she’s mastered it in her latest.        

Someone We Know

Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                     

“This is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too much. . . My son broke into your home recently while you were out.”   In a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses–and into the owners’ computers as well–learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too.   Who is he, and what might he have uncovered? After two anonymous letters are received, whispers start to circulate, and suspicion mounts. And when a woman down the street is found murdered, the tension reaches the breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they’re telling? And how far will all these very nice people go to protect their own secrets?

While this is obviously one of those you can’t trust anybody tales, Shari Lapena takes a simple premise, a snooping teenage hacker, and gives it enough twists and turns to make it an entertaining ride.   Having read all of her previous bestsellers (An Unwanted Guest, A Stranger in the House, and The Couple Next Door, I expected this to be good, and it was.   She used to be  a Toronto lawyer – I hope she never returns to practicing law.  

If You Knew HerIf You Knew Her by Emily Elgar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Emily Edgar is a new author and I hope this is the first of many.

                                                                                                                         

The perfect life, or the perfect lie?   Cassie had it all – the fairytale wedding, the stunning home, the perfect husband. But when she arrives on the intensive care ward in a coma it soon becomes clear that she has a secret.   Alice, the chief nurse on the ward begins to feel a connection with Cassie and can’t help but wonder if things are not quite as they seem.  Frank, another patient, can hear and see everything around him but cannot communicate. He understands that Cassie’s life is in danger and only he holds the truth, which no one can know and he cannot tell.

A first time author, Emily Elgar has another one coming out in 2020, Grace is Gone.  She wrote this book after taking a novel-writing course at the Faber Academy UK in 2014.   I enjoyed the medical background, although I did guess the ending.   Still, A for effort and for getting published in 37 countries.  A very auspicious beginning – I enjoyed it so much I ordered her new one.  

Grace is GoneGrace is Gone by Emily Elgar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meg and her daughter Grace are the most beloved family in Ashford, so when Meg is found brutally murdered and her daughter Grace missing, the town is rocked by the tragedy.   Who would kidnap a sick teenager? Who would murder a mother who sacrificed everything?    As the community come to terms with what’s happened, an unlikely pair start searching for answers: Jon, the most hated journalist in Ashford and Cara, the young woman who found Meg’s body. But once they start digging into the past, they will soon realize there’s no going back.

Her second book is even better, much more layered and complex.  In the jacket photo she looks about twelve, but is married and just had a baby so she must be older.   I hope she finds a good babysitter and continues to write.      

I’m wondering why all these psychological thrillers only have three or four words in the title?    I guess they’re trying to sum up the book in the fewest words possible.  

The Shape of FamilyThe Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the international bestselling author of Secret Daughter and The Golden Son comes a poignant, unforgettable novel about an intercultural couple facing a family crisis.   Jaya, the cultured daughter of an Indian diplomat and Keith, an ambitious banker from middle-class Philadelphia, meet in a London pub in 1988 and make a life together in suburban California. Their strong marriage is built on shared beliefs and love for their two children: headstrong teenager Karina and young son Prem, the light of their home.    But love and prosperity cannot protect them from sudden, unspeakable tragedy, and the family’s foundation cracks as each member struggles to seek a way forward. Jaya finds solace in spirituality. Keith wagers on his high-powered career. Karina focuses relentlessly on her future and independence. And Prem watches helplessly as his once close-knit family drifts apart.

A family drama about an intercultural couple, and while it might sound predictable, it’s not.   It’s also immensely readable.

The GuardiansThe Guardians by John Grisham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the small north Florida town of Seabrook, a young lawyer named Keith Russo was shot dead at his desk as he worked late one night. The killer left no clues behind. There were no witnesses, no real suspects, no one with a motive. The police soon settled on Quincy Miller, a young black man who was once a client of Russo’s.  Quincy was framed, convicted, and sent to prison for life. For twenty-two years he languished in prison with no lawyer, no advocate on the outside. Then he wrote a letter to Guardian Ministries, a small innocence group founded by a lawyer/minister named Cullen Post.   Guardian handles only a few innocence cases at a time, and Post is its only investigator. He travels the South fighting wrongful convictions and taking cases no one else will touch. With Quincy Miller, though, he gets far more than he bargained for.

One of his better legal thrillers, but his books often make me wonder about  the US justice system, especially in small sleepy southern towns. 

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true?   Gladwell also revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath.   While tackling all these questions, Malcolm Gladwell (The Tippling Point, Outliers), discusses the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.

This book was such a mish-mash of seemingly unrelated chapters, including the bizarre one on Sylvia Plath, that I was left wondering – what was the point of it all.   Unlike his previous books (Outliers, The Tipping Point), it didn’t seem to have a cohesive theme.    I’m not sure what the type of gas stove sold in Britain in the 1960’s has to to with talking to strangers, but maybe anything related to Sylvia Plath sells.   Why not a chapter about Jane Austen’s romances, or a Bookshop in Paris?  (All references guaranteed to sell a book no matter what).   While it could have used more editing, it was an interesting read anyway, and helped to pass the time (6 hours) in the ER dept with a sick family member.   Sometimes that’s the best thing about a good non-fiction book –  you can read a chapter here or there, no need to stay up late to see what happens next.   

I hope you have enjoyed my winter selections, but you’re on your own for the brownies!   Have you read any good books lately?     (1500 words – most of them not mine)

  

20 thoughts on “Books and Brownies

  1. Dave says:

    I had a difficult time scrolling past your first photo. Thank you for that decadent image. Otherwise, I’ll say Shari Lapena’s “The Couple Next Door” was a really disturbing story (not that I regretted reading it). I agree with your comment she combines simple premise with twists/turns for a can’t-put-it-down read. I also enjoyed The Guardians (and I’ve read almost every Grisham). His more recent books tend to highlight the flaws of the American justice system. Perhaps this is Grisham’s way of releasing the frustrations he experienced as a lawyer in his former career.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I was trying to find out if Grisham still practiced law or how long he did, as he seems to have a new book out every year and I wonder how he would find the time to write….maybe he hangs out with lawyer friends?

      Like

      • Dave says:

        Wikipedia says Grisham hasn’t practiced law in over twenty years. What I didn’t know is he was also a politician back in the day, serving in the Mississippi House of Representatives for six years. It’s been all books ever since.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jo Shafer says:

    Ah, Joni, you just sent me off in search of the last chocolate cookie studded with broken pecans, metaphors for the themes of the books you reviewed. Yes, it really was a cookie, the last one, and just right for this late afternoon in late winter. Along with a cup of English Breakfast.

    Of the books you reviewed, I think I’d enjoy the first two or three best. However, I’m about to order a copy of the sequel to THE REVOLUTION OF MARINA M. by Janet Fitch which I reviewed recently. Another blogger says it’s out, now, and I’ve been looking forward to it. Marina is a Russian aristocrat caught in the Bolshevik revolution and subsequent civil war. Let’s see how far events take her into the Stalinist era.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I’m dying for some chocolate too…..the brownies were from an old photo. I haven’t been baking lately as I’m in the middle of a cleaning out purge in my basement and hate to stop the momentum. Plus it’s snowing again so a good time to get it done. I hope you enjoy your Russian book. I read a few in high school but nothing since.

      Like

  3. lindasschaub says:

    A plethora of good books to read and “Grace is Gone” looked very good to me and I always like Grisham but I’ve not read him for years. I would have liked to reach across the screen and swipe one of those chocolate lovelies Joni … aah … brownie bliss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I’m dying for some too….but my cleaning is going so well I hate to stop. Today I did the laundry room, the Xmas storage cupboards and started in on the furnace room – at least there’s now a path to the furnace should it need fixing! Snowing again, so stuck inside for a few days anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        Well I am commending you from afar – I should get crackin’ here because I will just be shoveling and running the car then going back in the house. Were I not wanting to do a few posts this week, it would be a good time, but with Windows 10 to be implemented in a matter of days, I have to figure out how to use my spare time this weekend and perhaps I once again will pick a bad choice for the house. I am heading out to shovel momentarily.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        Yes, three inches Sunday night and a little more tonight. Winter has kicked that nice weather to the curb – there goes our nice walks. Bake more brownies and sip hot chocolate and stay put. Thank you – I will follow your suggestion. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Ally Bean says:

    Grace Is Gone and The Family Upstairs sound like two books I’d enjoy. I read a review of Gladwell’s latest book in Arts & Letters Daily [I think] and it was almost exactly what you said, too. Think I’ll give it a pass. Now as for brownies, I haven’t made any in a good long times. You inspire me.

    Liked by 1 person

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