REVIEW: LOCAL GONE MISSING, BY FIONA BARTON

Elise King is a successful and ambitious detective—or she was before a medical leave left her unsure if she’d ever return to work. She now spends most days watching the growing tensions in her small seaside town of Ebbing—the weekenders renovating old bungalows into luxury homes, and the locals resentful of the changes.

Elise can only guess what really happens behind closed doors. But Dee Eastwood, her house cleaner, often knows. She’s an invisible presence in many of the houses in town, but she sees and hears everything.

The conflicts boil over when a newcomer wants to put the town on the map with a weekend music festival, and two teenagers overdose on drugs. When a man disappears the first night of the festival, Elise starts digging for answers. Ebbing is a small town, but it’s full of secrets and hidden connections that run deeper and darker than Elise could have ever imagined.

 

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In the small village of Ebbing, we meet several characters whose lives are interconnected, and some of the layers are not known to us at first. But when a festival comes to town, several things happen that will shake everyone up. First, some teenagers are drugged, a man goes missing, and the residents begin to question what they know about any of them.

Local Gone Missing primarily features Charlie, an older man who seems well-liked, but for some reason, he appears to be completely out of it at the festival. As more people become aware of his disappearance, there are bits and pieces of information that are revealed, and the police detectives, including Elise, who is on leave at the time, begin to find strange little details about him that are puzzling. Alternating chapters bring in the voices of other characters, including Dee, a house cleaner who has access to all their homes, and who quietly seems to wrap herself around them through their habits and activities.

When more and more of the details are revealed, we learn that so much of each of their lives are twisted together, from the past and in the present, and it will take all of them to fit the pieces together. A 4.5 star read.

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REVIEW: FLY GIRL, BY ANN HOOD

In 1978, in the tailwind of the golden age of air travel, flight attendants were the epitome of glamor and sophistication. Fresh out of college and hungry to experience the world—and maybe, one day, write about it—Ann Hood joined their ranks. After a grueling job search, Hood survived TWA’s rigorous Breech Training Academy and learned to evacuate seven kinds of aircraft, deliver a baby, mix proper cocktails, administer oxygen, and stay calm no matter what the situation.

In the air, Hood found both the adventure she’d dreamt of and the unexpected realities of life on the job. She carved chateaubriand in the first-class cabin and dined in front of the pyramids in Cairo, fended off passengers’ advances and found romance on layovers in London and Lisbon, and walked more than a million miles in high heels. She flew through the start of deregulation, an oil crisis, massive furloughs, and a labor strike.

As the airline industry changed around her, Hood began to write—even drafting snatches of her first novel from the jump-seat. She reveals how the job empowered her, despite its roots in sexist standards. Packed with funny, moving, and shocking stories of life as a flight attendant, Fly Girl captures the nostalgia and magic of air travel at its height, and the thrill that remains with every take-off.

 

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As a fan of Ann Hood’s books, I was eager to read her memoir Fly Girl. Who hasn’t dreamed of a career as a flight attendant?

Ann describes her journey from training, with all the challenging restrictions and rules, to actually flying the skies, and shares interesting stories about travelers she meets along the way. And sad tales of tragedies that happen on the travels.

Her long term goal to be a writer plays into her travels, too, as she describes characters she meets on the trips, and dialogues that help her become adept at writing her stories and books later.

The ups and downs of a flight attendant’s career were challenging, but she did enjoy the people she met and the places she visited. And she lived in places that she loved, like San Francisco and New York’s Greenwich Village.

After reading this book, I was eager to reread some of her novels. This book earned 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY, BY LINWOOD BARCLAY

One weekend, while Andrew Mason was on a fishing trip, his wife, Brie, vanished without a trace. Most everyone assumed Andy had got away with murder—it’s always the husband, isn’t it?—but the police could never build a strong case against him. For a while, Andy hit rock bottom—he drank too much to numb the pain, was abandoned by all his friends save one, nearly lost his business, and became a pariah in the place he once called home.

Now, six years later, Andy has finally put his life back together. He sold the house he once shared with Brie and moved away. To tell the truth, he wasn’t sad to hear that the old place was razed and a new house built on the site. He’s settled down with a new partner, Jayne, and life is good.

But Andy’s peaceful world is about to shatter. One day, a woman shows up at his old address, screaming, “Where’s my house? What’s happened to my house?” And then, just as suddenly as she appeared, the woman—who bears a striking resemblance to Brie—is gone. The police are notified and old questions—and dark suspicions—resurface.

Could Brie really be alive after all these years? If so, where has she been? It soon becomes clear that Andy’s future and the lives of those closest to him depend on discovering what the hell is going on. The trick will be whether he can stay alive long enough to unearth the answers.

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As we follow the trail of Brie’s disappearance and the sightings of someone who looks like her six years later, we are thrust into a mysterious and convoluted tale that involves almost all the characters who have connections to Andrew and Brie.

There is no way that the events are coincidental, so obviously someone has gone to a lot of trouble to manufacture what we are seeing now.

I knew that someone unexpected would turn out to be the one who had hired Brie’s killer, and someone equally surprising had also brought in the look-a-like person. But we are not sure who those individuals would turn out to be until the very end of Take My Breath Away. Another brilliant 5 star read.

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REVIEW: THE ROAD TRIP, BY BETH O’LEARY

Four years ago, Dylan and Addie fell in love under the Provence sun. Wealthy Oxford student Dylan was staying at his friend Cherry’s enormous French villa; wild child Addie was spending her summer as the on-site caretaker. Two years ago, their relationship officially ended. They haven’t spoken since.

Today, Dylan’s and Addie’s lives collide again. It’s the day before Cherry’s wedding, and Addie and Dylan crash cars at the start of the journey there. The car Dylan was driving is wrecked, and the wedding is in rural Scotland—he’ll never get there on time by public transport.

So, along with Dylan’s best friend, Addie’s sister, and a random guy on Facebook who needed a ride, they squeeze into a space-challenged Mini and set off across Britain. Cramped into the same space, Dylan and Addie are forced to confront the choices they made that tore them apart—and ask themselves whether that final decision was the right one after all.
 
 
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The Road Trip is a journey toward a wedding, but it turns out to be much more. The characters are each dealing with issues, some of them with others traveling along to that wedding, so we follow them from the past to the present. We learn about past behavior and how the present is finally allowing for some changes.

I really rooted for Dylan and Addie, especially since one character was constantly trying to break them apart. I really hated that character, and even though he seemed to be making changes, eventually, I never really warmed up to him.

One of the other characters was hilarious in his attempt to crash the wedding, taking drastic steps to accomplish his goal.

A delightful journey overall, earning the book 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: THE ACCOMPLICE, BY LISA LUTZ

Owen Mann is charming, privileged, and chronically dissatisfied. Luna Grey is secretive, cautious, and pragmatic. Despite their differences, they form a bond the moment they meet in college. Their names soon become indivisible—Owen and Luna, Luna and Owen—and stay that way even after an unexplained death rocks their social circle.

They’re still best friends years later, when Luna finds Owen’s wife brutally murdered. The police investigation sheds light on some long-hidden secrets, but it can’t penetrate the wall of mystery that surrounds Owen. To get to the heart of what happened and why, Luna has to dig up the one secret she’s spent her whole life burying.

The Accomplice brilliantly examines the bonds of shared history, what it costs to break them, and what happens when you start wondering how well you know the one person who truly knows you.

 

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Our story takes us back and forth in time, exploring the connections between friends Owen and Luna, and slowly digging up the secrets that bind them. Meanwhile, people keep dying around them, and when the suspicions grow, I began to doubt them.

Eventually they doubt each other. But as we peel back the layers, we finally see which characters are tearing away at the fabric that has kept them together.

The Accomplice had me rapidly turning pages, and my only quibbles with the story were how the time travel was sometimes confusing. Eventually, as we reach the end, I had a blissful feeling of knowing. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: GHOSTED, BY ROSIE WALSH

Seven perfect days. Then he disappeared. A love story with a secret at its heart.

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

 

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In the beginning, Ghosted seemed like a typical story about a fling that dropped off with no explanation.  But our protagonist was so convinced that she and Eddie had so much more in that one week together that she couldn’t give up.  She sent numerous messages, did deep searches, called upon the help of friends…and wouldn’t give up.  She even seemed to catch a glimpse of him here and there, even after she returned to the U.S.

What did it all mean?  Why does Sarah feel such a deep connection to Eddie?  As time passes, we see a few tidbits from his side of things and the details begin to fill in.  There was more to the story, but not all of it was good.  The past had come back to haunt them!

I kept turning the pages, hoping for more answers, and when I finally knew the whole truth, I held my breath, waiting to see what Eddie and Sarah would do.  A story that brought me to the edge…and then left me smiling with a very warm feeling.  4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: FRENCH BRAID, BY ANNE TYLER

The Garretts take their first and last family vacation in the summer of 1959. They hardly ever leave home, but in some ways they have never been farther apart. Mercy has trouble resisting the siren call of her aspirations to be a painter, which means less time keeping house for her husband, Robin. Their teenage daughters, steady Alice and boy-crazy Lily, could not have less in common. Their youngest, David, is already intent on escaping his family’s orbit, for reasons none of them understand. Yet, as these lives advance across decades, the Garretts’ influences on one another ripple ineffably but unmistakably through each generation.

Full of heartbreak and hilarity, French Braid is classic Anne Tyler: a stirring, uncannily insightful novel of tremendous warmth and humor that illuminates the kindnesses and cruelties of our daily lives, the impossibility of breaking free from those who love us, and how close—yet how unknowable—every family is to itself.

 

 

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Our story begins in 2010 as a couple starts a train journey from Philadelphia back to Baltimore. Serena Drew is having mixed feelings about her boyfriend at this point. French Braid takes us from this journey to many others, and we follow individual members of this family over the years. From 2010, we jump back to the late 1950s and a week-long family vacation, in which we meet several characters and get to know them a little.

I liked learning about the family members, many of whom were quirky, while others were ordinary. Ordinary moments in a family life illustrate how much families are alike at the core. I liked this description of the book title’s significance stemming from a discussion between David and his wife where he explains that families are like French braids. When you undo the braids, the hair is still in ripples, leftover squiggles, like families are. You’re never really free of them; the ripples are crimped in forever.

The tale unfolds until the year 2020 and how the Pandemic changes their family, even as they still hold onto each other and memories of life before. And the ripples are crimped in forever. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE PARIS APARTMENT, BY LUCY FOLEY

Jess needs a fresh start. She’s broke and alone, and she’s just left her job under less than ideal circumstances. Her half-brother Ben didn’t sound thrilled when she asked if she could crash with him for a bit, but he didn’t say no, and surely everything will look better from Paris. Only when she shows up – to find a very nice apartment, could Ben really have afforded this? – he’s not there.
The longer Ben stays missing, the more Jess starts to dig into her brother’s situation, and the more questions she has. Ben’s neighbors are an eclectic bunch, and not particularly friendly. Jess may have come to Paris to escape her past, but it’s starting to look like it’s Ben’s future that’s in question.

The socialite – The nice guy – The alcoholic – The girl on the verge – The concierge
Everyone’s a neighbor. Everyone’s a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.

 

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Jess is trying to find her brother Ben, after she arrives at The Paris Apartment and finds him missing. She is amazed at how big and beautiful it is, and she is curious about how he can afford it. She is also curious about the people living in the apartment complex, who appear to be part of a dysfunctional family.

As she follows the clues, she learns that Ben was on a quest to find answers to what was happening with this strange family.

But what happened to him? Was Jess able to find him, or will he be lost to her?
A story that could have been compelling but was not. There were too many strange twists in the road. 3.5 stars.

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REVIEW: WITH LOVE FROM LONDON, BY SARAH JIO

When Valentina Baker was only eleven years old, her mother, Eloise, unexpectedly fled to her native London, leaving Val and her father on their own in California. Now a librarian in her thirties, fresh out of a failed marriage and still at odds with her mother’s abandonment, Val feels disenchanted with her life.

In a bittersweet twist of fate, she receives word that Eloise has died, leaving Val the deed to her mother’s Primrose Hill apartment and the Book Garden, the storied bookshop she opened almost two decades prior. Though the news is devastating, Val jumps at the chance for a new beginning and jets across the Atlantic, hoping to learn who her mother truly was while mourning the relationship they never had.

As Val begins to piece together Eloise’s life in the U.K., she finds herself falling in love with the pastel-colored third-floor flat and the cozy, treasure-filled bookshop, soon realizing that her mother’s life was much more complicated than she ever imagined. When Val stumbles across a series of intriguing notes left in a beloved old novel, she sets out to locate the book’s mysterious former owner, though her efforts are challenged from the start, as is the Book Garden’s future. In order to save the store from financial ruin and preserve her mother’s legacy, she must rally its eccentric staff and journey deep into her mother’s secrets. With Love from London is a story about healing and loss, revealing the emotional, relatable truths about love, family, and forgiveness.

 

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From the very beginning, With Love from London captured my obsession for books and romantic settings. Our narrators are Valentina and Eloise, and they alternate between the past and the present. As we turn the pages, we gradually learn about the characters and how their lives have been torn and twisted by events out of their control.

I couldn’t help but feel the pang of lost love and a broken relationship between mother and daughter that was abruptly torn apart by serendipitous events. We gradually learn more about those choices, and Valentina finally has her answers by the end, aided by a Scavenger Hunt designed by her mother. A beautiful story that was heartbreaking and satisfying at the same time. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: FINLAY DONOVAN KNOCKS ‘EM DEAD, BY ELLE COSIMANO

Finlay Donovan is—once again—struggling to finish her next novel and keep her head above water as a single mother of two. On the bright side, she has her live-in nanny and confidant Vero to rely on, and the only dead body she’s dealt with lately is that of her daughter’s pet goldfish.

On the not-so-bright side, someone out there wants her ex-husband, Steven, out of the picture. Permanently. Whatever else Steven may be, he’s a good father, but saving him will send her down a rabbit hole of hit-women disguised as soccer moms, and a little bit more involvement with the Russian mob than she’d like.

Meanwhile, Vero’s keeping secrets, and Detective Nick Anthony seems determined to get back into her life. He may be a hot cop, but Finlay’s first priority is preventing her family from sleeping with the fishes… and if that means bending a few laws then so be it.

With her next book’s deadline looming and an ex-husband to keep alive, Finlay is quickly coming to the end of her rope. She can only hope there isn’t a noose at the end of it…
 
 
 
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As we dive into Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead, we are rapidly turning pages and trying to keep track of all the twists and turns.

As usual, Finlay is funny and a character we want to root for. I am not so sure about her nanny Vero, however, and hope that whatever she is up to doesn’t ruin things.

A unique website offers some answers about what might be going on with some of the characters. But will Finlay figure things out so she and those she cares about can be safe? I liked how the ending wrapped up, so I give this one 4.5 stars.
 
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