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The Family Upstairs - Lisa Jewell - Independent book review (Fiction) 3/5 Stars

'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.

The can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.'

This is the first book I have read by award-winning, bestselling novelist Lisa Jewell, and I have to say I was looking forward to it after hearing lots of good reviews of the author herself.

I didn't know what to expect, but the blurb had me intrigued. I must admit that I initially read two chapters, then put it down for about two months. Usually, when this happens, it's because I've lost interest. Generally, when I lose interest at the start of a book, it goes into an ever-growing pile of 'may finish one-day books' - or my MAYFOD as I like to call it.

However, I am glad I decided to pick it up and finish it. It is quickly evident that the book is written from the point of view of three different characters. The story's beginning is relatively weak in terms of characters and character development. In all honesty, I found the lead characters flat to begin with, which made it difficult to connect and empathise with them. The most well-developed character is the least likeable, making them hard to relate to. Although unpopular main characters are in short supply in the fiction world, so I didn't find this an issue. One of the characters often made decisions that made me angry and questioned the authenticity, particularly regarding her children. I also found the main character Libby's personality a little dull, to begin with. However, towards the middle of the story, the pacing picks up, and the twists and turns start to fit together, making it altogether more engaging to the reader.

From here, I began to understand why Lisa Jewell is such an esteemed author. The story flows better, becomes easier to follow. It is full of twists and turns that lead to a satisfactory ending. The relatively erratic and confusing beginning becomes apparent, and the characters' storylines all come together. However, a few plot holes, unanswered questions, and decisions still don't make sense. Perhaps some extra back story or more in-depth character development may have helped. I won't go into details as I don't want to reveal any spoilers. For me, it's a pacing issue, and in trying to be too mysterious with the details, the author ends up with some confusing chapters.

Overall, and in the end, I did enjoy this book; it will not go into my read again pile but the midpoint and ending saved it for me. I will happily recommend it to any Lisa Jewell fan. However, if you're new to her work, I wouldn't start with this one - I have since read another one of her books, 'Then She Was Gone' - which was an absolute page-turner! I will save that for another review but I would highly recommend it, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.

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