Book Review: The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight
by
Julie Clark

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Claire Cook wants out of her marriage to Rory Cook, a wealthy and influential Senate hopeful. After ten years, she’s tired of her endless obligations to the Cook Family Foundation, but mostly she’s had it with Rory’s hot temper and increasingly violent abuse. She plans an elaborate escape, with help from her friend, Petra, whose family is in the Russian mob. But a last-minute change in her work itinerary (orchestrated by her controlling husband) has her headed to Puerto Rico instead of Detroit. That’s bad, because Claire’s new identity, plus a lot of cash, are waiting for her at the Detroit hotel’s reception desk, where Rory is now headed instead.

At the airport, she meets Eva, who coincidentally, although headed back to her home in California, is desperate to escape her past. The two women trade plane tickets and identities and head to new gates. In a tragic development, the plane to Puerto Rico crashes, with no survivors. It’s possible, however, that Eva did not board the flight. Meanwhile, Claire lands in in San Francisco and, with nowhere else to go and only a few hundred dollars, heads to Eva’s house to start a new life.

This clever premise of this debut thriller caught my interest right away and I was eager to learn more about Eva and why she wanted to flee her life. In alternating chapters, Clark fills in the details of Eva’s past, with a lead-up to meeting Claire at the airport. In the other chapters, readers see how Claire manages at Eva’s house in Berkeley, a close walk from campus.

Readers get to know both women and learn of their intense need for friendship and belonging. Claire’s mother and sister died in a car crash and Eva, whose mother was a drug addict, grew up in an orphanage and various foster homes. Eva has led a secretive and solitary life and Claire, with no one to turn to, has suffered abuse in silence.

The tension in the story is driven by the dangerous life Eva longed to escape from as well as an emerging whistle-blower from Rory’s past, a threat to his campaign. In addition, as investigators piece together the events of the crash, Rory suspects Claire was not on the plane. Several unforeseen twists help explain the coincidence of Claire’s and Eva’s meeting as well as important relationships in Eva’s life.

It all comes together at the end, with a surprise explanation in the story’s epilogue.

I enjoyed reading this fast-paced thriller, although I recommend it with the standard suspension of disbelief as well as a willingness to accept that all males are evil. It would have been nice if a couple of the men in these women’s lives were decent people. A few plot holes and unresolved issues also left me a little unsatisfied. But, The Last Flight was a fun read and an nice escape and I would be interested in reading more by Julie Clark.

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Book Review: Woman on the Edge by Samantha M. Bailey

Woman on the Edge
by
Samantha M. Bailey

Rating:

The last thing Morgan Kincaid expects while waiting for a Chicago subway train is for someone to come up to her, thrust a baby in her arms and jump in front of a train. Nicole Markham’s last words to Morgan are, “I know what you want. Don’t let anyone hurt her.” And then she calls Morgan by her name.

Morgan, a social worker, could see desperation in the woman’s eyes. But who was she, how did she know Morgan’s name? What made her give up her baby and take her own life?

Those are the simple questions, believe it or not, but both women’s back stories complicate the investigation even more and soon Morgan is a person of interest. Morgan is determined to clear her name, at great risk.

What a great premise for a psychological thriller! This is a fast-paced read, with plenty of momentum. I don’t want to give too much away because these books are better to experience first-hand. There’s a good supply of suspicious secondary characters with questionable agendas that kept me wondering how the story would sort itself out.

The psychological aspect plays into Nicole’s story. She’s just had a baby and is having trouble remembering things. She’s also the CEO of a publicly-traded company called Breathe which sells yoga wear and mindfulness products. Her assistant is keeping things running while she’s out, but there’s a power struggle going on behind the scenes

I enjoyed reading this debut novel. I thought the plot was well-developed, and the author did a good job typing up loose ends at what was a wild finish, requiring the standard suspension of disbelief. I thought the details of Nicole’s work situation were a little silly, however, but that’s something readers need to go along with, rather than get bogged down by an unrealistic scenario.

I like the double play of the title, too. And, while not a heavy book, the author touches on important themes of marriage, betrayal and most importantly, postpartum depression. I recommend Woman on the Edge to readers who like quick thrillers and look forward to reading future books by Bailey.

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient
by
Alex Michaelides

Rating:

Alicia Berenson does something strange after she kills her husband. She stops talking. Not another word. Nothing to the London police, to her lawyer, and still now, years later, nothing to the doctors at the Grove, the psychiatric ward where she lives. Before the murder, they lived the good life. Alicia was a well-known artist and her husband, Gabriel, was a famous photographer. Now she sits silent. The only clue to explain her actions is a self-portrait, painted a few days after the murder.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist and he’s been obsessed with Alicia’s case from the beginning. So he jumps when a job opens up at the Grove. The doctors have given up on her, but Theo is determined to get Alicia to speak. Despite warnings from his boss, Theo digs so deep into Alicia’s psyche he may not be able to free himself.

What a great set-up for a suspenseful psychological thriller! I tore through this fast-paced story because I was both engrossed in the plot and anxious to see what Michaelides’ characters would do. The story is told from both Theo’s and Alicia’s perspectives, with Theo as the narrator and through Alicia’s journal entries. Readers will need to do some work, however, because they won’t get the full story from either, not until the finish where a final and unexpected twist explains it all.

Although plot driven, The Silent Patient is also a look at different psychologies and how vulnerable children are to their circumstances, especially in relationships to their parents and other family. Both Theo and Alicia suffered miserable childhoods and were subjected to pain and rejection. Through his story, the author asks important questions about nature versus nurture. Would his characters be different people if they’d had better childhoods?

Michaelides also cleverly ties The Silent Patient to the Greek play, Alcestis and the tragic choices that are made between Alcestis and her husband. I enjoyed this parallel very much and how it explains Alicia’s behavior.

The Silent Patient is the author’s debut novel and the type of book you want to start and finish in the same day. I recommend it to readers who like the fast pace of a thriller with the bonus of interesting characters and ideas.

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Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder picWonder
by
R.J. Palacio

Rating:

Here’s a book you just have to like for its feel-good story and important message. Fifth-grader Auggie Pullman has been born with a severe facial deformity, one that has required many surgeries. Previously home-schooled, his family enrolls him in a private middle-school in New York City, and that’s where the story begins.

Not many people can say how a child like Auggie feels to be so disfigured, to be stared at, made fun of, and worse. He has felt it all, yet he remains remarkably upbeat, even when he’s sad. Palacio does a nice job presenting Auggie’s character, through his own words. She continues the story through other characters’ narrations, giving us a wider perspective. Most interesting of these points of view is that of his older sister, Olivia, who has always loved and protected her brother, but begins to push away from that role. She is someone who has lived in the background at home, with necessary attention being given to her brother.

There are some stereotypical characters meant to underscore the author’s message. Julian the bully, Summer, the good-hearted friend, and Jack Will, whose character is the most developed of August’s friends. Jack is an on-the-fence kind of friend who is forced to choose between the popular kids and Auggie.

This is not a complicated story. The characters are simple, the plot somewhat predictable and the ending is neatly tied. I think it’s important to try to read this from a fifth-grade point of view because that is the intended reader. I don’t think it is meant to be completely realistic because its overall message of kindness would be lost to the reader if presented in the messier world of middle school, high school and parent dynamics.

I was a little disappointed, however, that Olivia’s story was not developed more. I think there’s the potential to write a great deal about the sibling who has to grow up with less attention. In addition, I read a review on Amazon that suggested Julian’s point of view would have been interesting to read. I agree with that, but maybe the author thought it would make the book too negative.

Someone else commented that there are two kinds of children’s books: the kind that are meant to entertain and the kind that send a moral message.

If you’re not sure which one Wonder is, Mr. Tushman, the school principal, caps the story with this: Quoting J. M. Barrie in The Little White Bird, he tells the children, “Shall we make a new rule of life…always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”

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