I Found You, by Lisa Jewell****

ifoundyouAlice has found a good looking man on the beach, and she’s brought him home. See what I’ve found! With just this much information, I am immediately engaged, wanting to have a conversation with this woman about risks, about dangers. For heaven’s sake, what about your kids? Friends, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Lisa Jewell’s hot new novel goes on sale April 25, 2017. I read mine free and early, thanks to Net Galley and Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.

The level of suspense is heightened by shifting points of view. We have the man himself, who has amnesia and doesn’t know his name. Alice has her children name him, and they decide to call him Frank. Her teenage daughter Jasmine rolls her eyes, and I want to grab Alice and say, “Oh no you didn’t!” But since I can’t do that, I read on instead.

Frank has nightmares and we are privy to them, as well as the fragments of memory that come home to him in shards and fragments, bit by bit.

We also have two other, separate story lines. One is that of Lily Monrose, whose husband Carl has vanished. She is just twenty-one years old and came with him to UK from Kiev. He showered her with affection and gifts, found them a home, set up housekeeping, and one day, he failed to return from work. What the heck?

And then we have a vacationing family with a narrative set in the past, featuring teenage siblings Kirsty and Gray, who fall into bad company one summer.

Naturally we wonder from the get-go how these disparate elements will come together at the end of the book. Is Frank really Carl? Is Carl really Gray? Is Frank…well, you see what I mean.

The thing that I love about Jewell’s work is that her dynamic characters are always women, and she develops them well. Alice isn’t always a lovable character; her impulse control and judgment are less than stellar. She tells Frank at the outset:

“I’m not the most together person in the world and it doesn’t take much to make all the wheels fall off.”

She promises her friend Derry, who has seen her through some dark times that were partly due to her own terrible instincts, that she is letting Frank stay in the mother-in-law apartment in back of her home. It has a separate entrance; she will lock the door to her home, and it will just be for one night. But then, the dog likes Frank, and so she takes down the safeguards—the locked door, the one night, the keeping him in a separate place from her family—in breathtakingly swift succession, and I am with Derry, who asks Alice to remember what happened before.

Before what? I turn the pages a little faster.

Meanwhile, the police are way too slow in trying to help Lily, who is isolated in her exurban apartment; she is frantic. Her mother wants her to stop looking for Carl and come home, and it sounds like a smart idea to me, but then I have never lived in Kiev, so who knows? The longer Carl is gone, and the more we learn about him, the more I want to take Lily to the airport. Fly away little bird, there’s nothing that is good for you here!

The hardest buy-in for me is at the beginning, because really, people don’t just get amnesia. Not from car accidents, not from shocking experiences, not from anything. It’s almost unheard of, the stuff of bad old movies. But a good author can sell anybody anything, and I want to know what happens next, so I tell myself, fine then. Amnesia it is. And the way the rest of it unfurls is fascinating. Flawed but appealing, believable characters combined with strong pacing make this addictive novel the one you want at the vacation cabin, the beach, or just for a rainy weekend curled up in your favorite chair.

Recommended to those that love good fiction.

Radio Girls, by Sarah-Jane Stratford*****

radiogirlsFearless women change history.

Radio Girls is a fictionalized account of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the remarkable women that shaped it. As we near the centennial of women’s right to vote in the USA and the UK, Stratford’s riveting historical fiction could not be better timed. I received my copy free and in advance thanks to Net Galley and Berkley Press in exchange for this honest review. I am overjoyed to be able to recommend this new release unequivocally. You have to read it.

Maisie Musgrave is born in Canada and raised in New York City. Tossed out of the nest without a parachute by unloving family, she makes her way to Britain, the place her heritage began. She wanders into the BBC half-starved and looking for an honest way to pay for her room and board, hoping in the meanwhile to meet a man she can marry for financial security.

At the BBC she meets supervisor Hilda Matheson, who fears nothing:  “Give that woman an inch and she takes the entire British Isles,” a colleague remarks.

Under the firm and commanding wing of Matheson, Maisie’s confidence and talent grow daily. It’s a very good thing, because over the course of time, more will be demanded of her than secretarial skills and errand-running.  My busy fingers marked one clever, articulate passage after another to share with you, but to enjoy Stratford’s fresh, humorous word-smithery, you really need the book itself.

Occasional historical figures drop in—Lady Astor, who was a moving force in the development of the BBC and a champion of women; Virginia Woolf, early feminist writer and crusader. Yet Stratford metes out these references in small enough batches that it’s clear she isn’t relying on them to hold her story together; rather, they are the cherry on the sundae.

Setting of time and place, pacing, and a million twists and turns in plot make this a good read, but it’s the character development that makes it a great one. I found myself wanting to talk to Maisie and cheering her on when she broke through to higher ground personally and professionally. I feared for her when she veered into dangerous waters and nearly wept with relief each time she was able to extricate herself and move forward. There isn’t a slow moment or an inconsistent one, and the protagonist is just the character women need to see right now as we move forward too.

How much of this is based on truth and how much made up for the sake of a great story? Read the author’s notes; she spills it all.

All told, Sarah-Jane Stratford’s historical feminist tale is perfect for today’s modern feminists—and those that love us.

This book is available to the public Tuesday, June 14. Change the screen and order a copy for yourself now. You won’t want to miss it!

 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave*****

everyonebraveisforgivenThis is one of those rare novels that I have passed by multiple times despite all the buzz it has generated, because it looked as if it was out of my wheelhouse. A socialite. Pssh. A British officer. Sure. But eventually the enormous buzz among readers and booksellers made me curious. The last time I had this experience, the novel was The Goldfinch, and once I had begun it I gasped almost audibly at what I had almost let slip away from me. And so it is with Cleave’s brilliant novel, historical fiction mixed with more than a dash of romance.  I was lucky enough to get the DRC free of charge in exchange for an honest review; thank you Simon and Schuster and also Net Galley. This luminous novel is available to the public Tuesday, May 3, and you have to read it. It is destined to become a classic.

Our protagonists are Mary North and Alistair Heath; she is dating his best friend, and he is dating hers.  The night before he is to leave to serve in the British armed forces, a moment flashes between them in which they know they want to be together; when he leaves, each grapples with issues of personal loyalty when thinking of the other.

If talent were a mountain, then Cleave would be Everest. If talent were an island, Cleave would not be Malta, but rather all of Britain. And Cleave’s use of word play, first to show how undaunted British youth were by the challenges ahead, and later in a sharper way as the characters learn terrible things and develop a new definition of what courage looks like, is bafflingly brilliant, the rare sort that makes lesser writers hang their heads and understand—this will never be you.

My primary reservation about this novel was that it dealt with the social elite, and my first thought was oh heavens no.  That poor rich girl is going to have to suck it up like everybody else. But I underestimated Cleave and what he was about to take on; Mary, Alistair, and the secondary characters around them begin with a set of assumptions that under his unerring pen seem not only reasonable, but the sort of normal to which their entire lives have accustomed them. Their cavalier approach to the war, from those that serve from those like Tom who at the outset, believe they will “give it a miss”, is the entitlement that has cradled and preserved them from the realities of the greater world all their lives.

And it’s about to change.

 

Any other city would be chewing its knuckles and digging a hole to hide in.    Alistair    wanted to yell at people: The bullets actually work, you know! What they did not understand was that the city could be extinguished. That every eligible person could die with the same baffled expression that he had seen on the first dead of the war, in those earliest shocking days before the men had learned to expect it. I’m so sorry—I think I’m actually hit.

 

In turns amusing, poignant, tender, and heartbreaking, this is a novel you will want to reserve hours of your most private moments to read. You may find yourself taking an unexpected sick day so that you can finish it. Based on the overall story of the author’s grandfather with changes, added details, and embellishments, all of which the protagonists would agree are first rate, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is an unforgettable story of love, war, and innocence lost.

 

Spill Simmer Falter Wither, by Sara Baume*****

spillsimmerThis novel defies genre, and if you read it, I defy you to ever forget it. Thank you to Net Galley and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the DRC. I received an advance copy free in exchange for a fair review, and I can tell you, this one’s a keeper, and it is for sale to the public today.

Our protagonist, who tells the whole story start to finish without any other significant characters apart from his memory of them, is “…not the kind of person who is able to do things.” He lives independently in a coastal village in England, subsisting on government aid, the rent paid by the tenants in the building his father left him, and the money he has tucked away, bit by bit, over the course of his fifty-seven years. There is black mold in his house, and plenty of grit and grime, but he is left alone and can fend for himself, eating from cans and frying sausages. His greatest fear is of children, because he was bullied as a child and is certain—correctly, perhaps—that if children were to see him now, they’d do the same. His loneliness is so intense that he has purchased picture frames and kept the inset photos of the models used to sell the frames. There they are in his living room, these strangers under glass. Faces to look at.

On one of his quiet trips to the neighborhood thrift store, he sees a sign offering a free dog; it’s to go to a home without small children or other pets. He thinks to himself that a terrier might help with his rat problem. As soon as he arrives, he hears the disparaging way the shelter employee refers to this dog, which would be put to sleep the following day if not adopted; the employee seems to think this might not be a bad plan, since the “little bugger” had nipped him. Our lonely man peeks in at the matted fur, the “maggot nose”, the missing eye, and he realizes he has found a kindred spirit.

The language with which the story is told reminds me of James Joyce in its luminous quality and word play, but is more accessible than Joyce, and friendlier toward its reader. Animal stories, which this partly is, are often overly sentimental, but the violins don’t wail at us here. It’s the story of One Eye, but it is also the story of our lonely man, whose history gradually unfolds as the story is told.

I cannot help but think that were this protagonist real, and were he in the USA instead of the UK, he would likely either be in prison or homeless.

I read a great deal, and the truth is, now that I am the same age as our protagonist, I forget more of the DRC’s I read than I remember. A few months after I’ve read them, most are a bit foggy. A year later, I may have to check my records to be sure I have even read this book or that one. But perhaps a dozen or so each year stand out in bold relief, stories that will make me tell friends and family, “Ohhh, you have to read that one!”

This is one of those.

I would qualify my recommendation to say that because of some of the terrible things that happen in our protagonist’s history, I would not offer this title to your precocious young reader without first reading it yourself. Also, of course, this might not prove a good choice to those that for personal or religious reasons, simply detest dogs.

Apart from these narrow confines, I recommend this book wholeheartedly to one and all. It’s absolutely matchless.