What’s Ashley Reading?: The Family Upstairs

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

First line: It would be inaccurate to say that my childhood was normal before they came.

Summary: When Libby Jones turned twenty-five she receives and envelope telling her that she has inherited a house from the estate of her dead parents. She never knew who she was or where she came from but the answers are finally being revealed.

Twenty-four years before the police were summoned to a mansion along the Thames. Inside were the three dead bodies and a baby girl in a crib. It appears to be a suicide pact as part of a cult ritual. But neighbors reported seeing older children in the house but none are found on the night in question. What happened at 16 Cheyne Walk that fateful night?

My Thoughts: I love Lisa Jewell! Every book I have read by her has been a lot of fun. This one is no exception. I really considered giving it a 5 star rating. It flipped between three characters. Libby, the baby, who recently inherited the house. Henry, who is telling the story of what happened in the house. And Lucy, who is struggling to keep her family afloat while living abroad in France.

Henry was by far my favorite chapters because we got to see how life at 16 Cheyne Walk changed over time. His story is told chronologically from the beginning to the end. It fills in the gaps that Libby is trying to uncover. But his narrative is much darker and more sinister than the others.

I struggled to understand that point behind Lucy’s chapters. It seemed like they were filler or a separate story. She lives in France with her children and is trying to find a way to get back to England. It just did not seem to fit with everything else.

But the ending. It literally gave me goosebumps and sent a chill down my spine. What a way to close a book. Great job again Ms. Jewell!

FYI: Perfect for fans of Shari Lapena and Gillian Flynn.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Wolf Wants In

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

First line: A bitter wind sheared through the darkness, biting into my exposed flesh and lashing my hair across my face.

Summary: Sadie Keller is determined to find out what happened to her brother on the night he died. She does not believe the story told to her by his wife, Crystle. But the police do not believe that there is enough evidence to allow them to look deeper into the events.

Henley is hoping to escape from her small Kansas town. Her family are involved in some dangerous activities and she wants to leave before she is sucked into them.

My Thoughts: I loved the author’s previous book Arrowood. It was thrilling. This was sold to be a thriller but it really fell flat. I was hoping for more but it took almost 60% of the book to get to the more interesting pieces. The beginning was about the town, its people and the life in small town Kansas. This made it easy to connect with at least, as a girl from a small town in Kansas.

I liked the characters but they needed something more. We got glimpses into Sadie’s past with her brother. I would have liked more of that. Henley seemed like a filler character. She did reveal some information that lead to big reveal but her story was blah.

FYI: Read Arrowood!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Turn of the Key

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

First line: Dear Mr. Wrexham, I know you don’t know me but please, please, please you have to help me

Summary: Rowan Caine stumbles upon an advertisement for what appears to be the perfect nanny job. It is for a family with four children, in a big house in Scotland, and a yearly salary of fifty five thousand pounds. When Rowan arrives for her interview she is blown away and a little intimidated by the house. It is a smart house. Everything is connected to apps that can be managed from a cell phone.

After her initial interview she is offered the job which seems like a dream come true. However, she does not realize that appearances can be deceiving. On her very first day she is left alone with the three younger children while the parents are at a weeklong conference. The adjustment for the girls is not going as smoothly as she had hoped but she is trying her best to befriend them.

When strange happenings start to disturb her nights she begins look into the history of the house and what could be causing these strange noises in the attic. With each new night she gets less and less sleep as the mysterious sounds gradually increase. Will she be able to make it through her first week or will she leave in the middle of the night like the other nannies before her?

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed Ruth Ware’s previous novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, but I think this one blew it out of the water. I seriously considered giving this 5 stars because it was very hard to put down. There was the perfect mixture of spookiness and suspense.

I love how the house appears to be a big old Victorian but inside it is very modern. I love the idea of a smart house but at the same time it is also a little scary. I completely understand Rowan’s unease with the cameras and app enabled features. And the fact that this house is basically out in the middle of nowhere. Anyone could easily be spooked by any sounds in the night.

I enjoyed the way that the novel was laid out. It is done in a series of entries in a letter from Rowan to a solicitor while she is in prison for the death of a child. She eludes to what happens but we do not get the full details until the end.

This is full of twists and turns. When you think you have had the big reveal another one appears. I loved every minute of reading this. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for something that they cannot put down. Trust me. I had to force myself to sleep instead of reading one more chapter.

FYI: Warning: a child does die in the book.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Recursion

Recursion by Blake Crouch

First line: Barry Sutton pulls into the fire lane at the main entrance of the Poe Building, an Art Deco tower glowing white in the illumination of its exterior sconces.

Summary: Barry Sutton is a New York cop who witnesses the tragic effects of False Memory Syndrome when a woman jumps from the forty first floor of a skyscraper.

Helena Smith is a researcher looking for a way to save and record memories to help Alzheimer patients.

As the world around them begins to unravel because of the mysterious FMS, they must team up to try and learn how to stop the phenomenon from continuing to plague the world. If they cannot not it can lead to the possible end of the world.

My Thoughts: From the very first page this story is off and running. There is no build up or major character development in the first twenty pages like most novels. Crouch puts us immediately into the story. This is by far one of my favorite parts of his writing. It is very easy to lose interest in a book that drags its story out too long.

When we meet Barry we also hear about False Memory Syndrome but it is not really explained. For a while it was difficult to understand what is happening to those that are affected. However, once I understood what the disease entailed it became obvious why it could be terrifying to contract.

There are several time hops which makes it very important to pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each new section.

I love how fast paced his story telling is. I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

I was never very good with science. Give me history or literature any day. Even though Recursion is very much a science fiction thriller it was not bogged down by the technicalities. When I tried reading The Martian by Andy Weir, the science is what killed the book for me. I just did not get it. But Crouch does a great job of having it as part of the story but not making it overwhelming for the everyday reader.

I cannot say enough good things about this book. Just give it a try. It is worth every minute you spend reading it.

FYI: Pick up Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It is just as thrilling!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Summer Country

The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

First line: “Emily!” Adam shouted.

Summary: Emily Dawson has inherited a plantation on the island of Barbados from her grandfather. When she arrives at Peverills it is far from what she dreamed. After the slave uprising forty years before it has sat in ruins. On the invitation of the Davenant family of Beckles, she and her cousin stay at the neighboring plantation while Emily decides what to do with her inheritance.

Forty years earlier Charles Davenant returns home to run his family plantation, Peverills. The home he knew as a child has changed and so have Charles’ views on life in Barbados. As tensions rise on the island he must decide where he stands.

My Thoughts: This is a what great family sagas are made of. Big family secrets with dark turns around every corner. I loved the intertwining narratives and how closely they connected. The characters are so well done. I went in expecting to like some and hate others but Willig does a great job of proving you wrong on your first impressions. I am not much for a romance novel but this was a beautiful love story in the midst of so many challenges.

And the history is fascinating. I had never read or heard anything based on the island of Barbados so the storyline was completely fresh for me. Lauren brings it to life. The heat, the smells, and the lifestyles come through in her writing.

FYI: I highly recommend Willig’s Pink Carnation series!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

First line: I’ve a thief to thank for finding the one person I need to see before I die.

Summary: Elise Sontag, a fourteen year old girl from Iowa, has her life turned upside down when her father is arrested on the suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas where she meets her best friend, a Japanese girl named Mariko. They spend several months together before Elise’s family is deported back to Germany. In the hopes of keeping their friendship alive the two exchange letters but it is difficult with the ongoing war. However, Elise keeps up hope that after the war ends she will be able to return to America and see her best friend again.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. The last several books have not been as good as Secrets of a Charmed Life which was my first book I read by Susan Meissner. It is a topic that has not been talked about much and it could be because it is embarrassing but it is our history and we need to acknowledge it. And learn from it too. I cannot imagine how shocking it would be to have everything taken from you and being forced to live in basically a prison. Then to be sent back to a land that they had left or never even lived before. Especially with a war on and cities are being heavily bombed. How do you rationalize that?

The time spent in camp was actually a very small part of the book. Most of it took place in Germany after Elise’s family is repatriated. I liked listening to her story as she navigates this foreign land in wartime. She did not speak German which put her in a tight spot since the Germans were at war with America. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a story set during World War II.

FYI: Definitely check out Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Then She Was Gone

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

First line: Those months, the months before she disappeared, were the best months.

Summary: Fifteen year old Ellie is the golden child. Then one day she disappears without a trace. Ten years later her mother, Laurel meets a man in a coffee shop. He is charming and appears to be the perfect man. As her relationship with Floyd progresses she meets his daughter who bears a striking resemblance to her missing daughter, Ellie. What happened to Ellie? After all the years of wondering Laurel is determined to find out.

My Thoughts: Lisa Jewell is a new discovery for me. I recently read her latest book, Watching You, on the recommendation of Dawn (who writes our Lit Pairings blog posts). I was hooked immediately. Her novels are fast paced filled with lots of twists and turns. I was pretty sure I had everything figured out early on in the novel. However, I was wrong. Things continued to get more twisted as I read.

The book was divided into different parts with different narrators. As the story progressed we got different looks at the events of then and now. I was very shocked and little saddened by the ending. If you read it you may understand. There were lots of pieces that are very hard to read. But Jewell is an amazing writer. Even if the story had been less intriguing her writing would have saved it. I will definitely be on the hold list for any more of her upcoming thrillers.

FYI: This is perfect for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.

What’s Ashley Reading?: American Duchess

American Duchess by Karen Harper

First line: Everyone was calling it the wedding of the century.

Summary: Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American heiress to the railroad empire, is marrying the future Duke of Marlborough. However, she is in love with someone else and is being forced into the marriage by her strong willed mother, Alva Smith Vanderbilt. The marriage is an unhappy one but Consuelo hopes to use her influence as the Duchess of Marlborough to help the lower classes living around Blenheim Palace.

My Thoughts: I have been a reader of Karen Harper for many years. I really enjoy her historical fiction even though she seems to elaborate her narratives a bit. Her most recent novel was a fast read about one of the American heiresses whose money helped sustain the British aristocracy. Having recently read, A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler, I was familiar with the Vanderbilt family at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Alva was a force to be dealt with but it sounds like her daughter learned a lot from her mother. I loved hearing about Consuelo’s life and the way she tried to improve her circumstances and those of the poor. I cannot imagine living her life though. She was forced into a marriage, had unimaginable wealth and was very unhappy for many years. Harper does a great job of breathing life into her characters. I loved “meeting” Winston Churchill. As with most historical novels, I googled many of the locations and people to see what they really looked like. This was a fun romp through the Gilded Age and into the time of the world wars.

FYI: This is perfect for fans of Downton Abbey!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Marilla of Green Gables

As a kid I remember walking the one block down to our local library.  My sister and I would spend hours every week browsing the shelves and picking up more items.  One of my favorite items was Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Follows.  Anne was so imaginative and fun.  I wanted to be her or at least be her best friend.  I watched the VHS all the time.  I was so happy when I started working here that we have a copy on DVD, which I have checked out multiple times.

When I saw that there was going to be a “prequel” to the Anne novels, delving into the girlhood of Marilla Cuthbert, I was immediately interested.  I needed to read this!  I hope that if you love Anne as much as I do that you will enjoy this look into life at Green Gables.

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

First line: It’d been a rain-chilled May that felt more winter than spring.

Summary: Before Anne there was Marilla of Green Gables. Marilla is an intelligent and strong willed young woman. She is just starting to venture into adulthood and a budding relationship with the handsome, John Blythe. When her mother dies in childbirth Marilla is left as the matriarch of the Cuthbert home. Even with her new responsibilities, Marilla ventures forth into the world and sees that there is more than just Avonlea.

Highlights: I recently read the books for the first time and enjoyed following Anne through her imaginative life.  McCoy’s book is a perfect companion to the original story. We get to know Marilla in a completely new way. She was young and was in love. I remember hearing Marilla talk about how John Blythe was her beau, which always made me wonder what happened. I am so happy that I was able to take a look into her past.

The writing was very well done. The author stayed true to the times and added little details to flesh out the Cuthbert’s lives on Prince Edward Island. I never realized how much Canada was involved in the Underground Railroad and the path to freedom for so many escaped slaves. As a narrative and a historical fiction book, this is a fantastic read!

Lowlights: It was so short! I could have read so much more in this world. Maybe it is time to revisit Anne and Gilbert?

FYI: Perfect for fans of Anne of Green Gables!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Time’s Convert

The last several months have been filled with the project of weeding and shelf reading the juvenile non-fiction books.  This is quite a daunting task since there are TONS of books!  I was ready to take on the challenge though.  As I have been working my way through the Dewey decimal system I have found some very interesting books.  Even though they are titles geared towards children there is so much good information to be found here.  And the fact that kids LOVE to check these out is wonderful!  If you have not browsed our children’s non-fiction titles you definitely should.

I am someone who likes to learn a little bit while I read.  Before I started working at the library I read mainly historical fiction.  I love learning about the history of people and places.  Deborah Harkness’s newest book, Time’s Convert, is my latest historical fiction but with a fantasy twist.

*May contain spoilers if you have not read the All Souls Trilogy!*

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

First line: On her last night as a warmblood, Phoebe Taylor had been a good daughter.

 Summary: In continuation of her best-selling series, Deborah Harkness takes us on an adventure spanning from the American Revolution to modern day as we follow the early days of vampires, Phoebe Taylor and Marcus MacNeil.  Marcus grew up in time of great change.  He saw the birth of a new country but when he meets Matthew de Claremont on the fields of battle his life was changed forever.  Phoebe, an art dealer and Marcus’s fiancé, has made the decision to become a vampire.  In the early days after her rebirth, she learns that her journey to immortality is not any easier than it was for Marcus.

 Highlights: I love Harkness and her writing.  It is immediately engaging.  I read the All Souls Trilogy several years ago which made the details of the story a little fuzzy.  However, as I started this newest installment she gave tidbits that helped me remember more of the previous novels storyline.  I was worried that in this new book I would not get to revisit characters like Matthew and Diana because the story focused on Marcus and Phoebe but Harkness must have known I would always want more of them.  She alternates her chapters between the characters and plot lines.  We jump from eighteenth century to the twenty-first and back again.

I have been fascinated with the American Revolution since middle school.  I was pleased that Marcus’s story took us back to the American colonies and the fight for liberty.  I enjoyed reading as Marcus met famous people of the time including the Marquis de Lafayette.  After seeing Harkness at a Watermark event a few years back, I learned that her focus of study is on the history of science.  It really comes through during this time when Marcus, as well as the nation, is dealing with a small pox epidemic.  The history of inoculations for the disease was fascinating and fit perfectly into the story.  I am so glad that small pox is not something that we have to worry about now because it looks truly frightening!

Phoebe is a character that I vaguely remember from the trilogy but I cannot say that I felt too strongly about her.  In this book, she has a fascinating story.  I loved seeing her progress as she fought her urges and dealt with the new strengths.  Her first night out in the world interesting.  In addition, her preference for the blood of middle-aged white women definitely made me laugh aloud!

Matthew and Diana’s twins were probably my favorite part of the story.  Each of them have their own traits from both their mother and father.  Watching their parents try to figure out how to deal with a daughter who drinks blood and son who can weave spells was entertaining.  I do not want to give too much away but I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

 Lowlights: I wish I could get more Gallowglass!  He makes a few appearances but not enough for me.  Maybe the next book?!  Please Deborah!!

 FYI: Lots of blood, violence, magic and some sexual situations.

*I do not think it is a must but I would recommend reading her All Souls Trilogy, starting with A Discovery of Witches before picking this one up.*