Online Match

Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger is a fictional work exploring the potential dangers of online dating sites. You never know who someone truly is…

Wren makes a match using the Torch dating site, which her friend pushed her to try. After several quick flings, she makes a meaningful connection to Adam. They spend several wonderful weeks together before he suddenly ghosts her. All traces of him lead to a dead end. She may have eventually moved on, except a private detective approaches her about him. It seems that this behavior is a repeat offense for Adam, and the girl before Wren is still missing.

Wren can’t help but get involved in trying to locate Adam and the missing girl. In doing so, we discover that there are plenty of secrets in Wren’s past.

Adam finally reaches out to lure Wren back. Will she go to him and will doing so give her the same fate as the girls before her? This is a decent read for some drama and suspense.

Drive Away

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-first Century by Jessica Bruder is the author’s account of years experiencing life on the road.

Bruder expertly weaves informational background to better understand how today’s economy has impacted many to make the brave choice to simplify and reduce their possessions down to what they can fit in a vehicle. One subject in particular is Linda May, although there are many others given page time. This is not about living in a fully equipped RV, but about converting a larger vehicle such as a van into livable space. It is about living as a workamper, which means following good weather and seasonal work opportunities. These opportunities include working for Amazon during the holiday season, and as a camp host(ess) for parks during camping season.

While this lifestyle doesn’t appeal to me personally, I can’t help but understand the desire to leave all the pressures of “regular” life behind and the appeal of bonding with like-minded people. It is incredibly well-written with countless conversation starters.

Double the Deceit (Two to Review)

First, I have been slacking a bit by forgetting to put in a finished book from a while back, and reading my most recent book very slowly (unusual for me!). This will be a bit choppy, but here goes…

First and most recent is The Club by Ellery Lloyd. This book is about the exclusive, world-wide celebrity clubs named Home with a large cast of characters to follow. First, there are the primary owners and brothers Ned and Adam Groom, their right-hand woman and publicist Annie Stark, and Nikki is the young woman who was taken under Ned’s wing starting as a coat check girl and moving her way up to his first assistant. Then there is Jess, new head of housekeeping with an ulterior motive for wanting to work among this exclusive set of celebrity clientele, one couple in particular. There are several fictional celebrities involved in the plot as well.

The story centers around the grand opening of the newest addition to the club, Island Home. Guests are secluded on the island for a weekend, and all sorts of craziness unfolds. The chapters transition between different character perspectives, revealing back story and drama for each while also jumping to the aftermath of opening weekend. Spoiler ahead…

We discover that Ned has been blackmailing his top clients for years in order to finance his clubs, and readers find out just how he is able to uncover their darkest secrets. There are multiple murders, motives and deceit taking place from all angles throughout this book, making it tricky to follow at parts, but definitely entertaining.

Second, and going further back, is The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda. The story’s main character received national attention as a child, when she was discovered in a drain pipe days after going missing during the night. Now many years later, she feels that she escaped her highly publicized childhood by changing her name and moving several times. Her mother has passed away as well, severing all connections to her past… or so she thought.

Suddenly, strange events begin taking place. First she finds a dead man in her yard, and then one of her friends/coworkers goes missing. Once the identity of the dead man is revealed to be her childhood rescuer, she knows that she can no longer deny her past. The story continues with discovering the real story behind her disappearance and the crazy aftermath it created for both her and for all those involved.

Enjoy the Ride

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey is an outlier from my normal reading list. It was recommended by a trainer during one of my Beachbody workout sessions. I consider myself a MConaughey fan, so I decided to give it a go.

The recommendation did not disappoint. McConaughey tells his life story through a series of anecdotes, photos and inspirational notes and musings. There are countless interesting moments in this book, such as his year abroad in Australia, his career switch into acting and his travels both domestic and international (to name a few). His incredible acting legacy seems a fortunate outcome to being in the right place, at the right time with the right people (and of course, having the necessary talent/state of mind in these situations).

I found myself living vicariously (and a bit jealously) through his courage to follow his truest self (living in a camper and grabbing the right opportunity as it comes along), while feeling intimidated by the uncertainty of this lifestyle.

Listening to and following your heart/gut leads to hitting those greenlights in life. This book helps readers give pause and reflect on these times in our own lives, while going along for the ride in Matthew’s.

Trick or Truth

Lucky by Marissa Stapley tracks Luciana “Lucky’s” life from the time she is picked up as a baby from a church doorstep to her adulthood. I waited a while after reading this one to type up my post, so names/details are a bit fuzzy!

The man who claimed Lucky is a professional swindler, and she is brought up to join him in this lifestyle from an early age. As much as she wants normalcy, she can’t seem to get away from a life of lies and trickery. Especially when she falls for the son of a powerful, mob-connected female. This woman’s dealings end up landing Lucky’s dad in prison for years.

In the meantime, Lucky and her boyfriend follow a similar path, resulting in them both being wanted criminals. Lucky’s boyfriend ditches her, prompting her to find out more about her past. Lucky takes on several identities in her quest to stay hidden, as she heads back east to finally confront the mother she never met. Through her travels, she protects a winning lottery ticket that she is unable to cash in while questioning if there is anyone that she can trust.

Cursed

This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno is a creepy story. It begins with Thiago at his wife Vera’s funeral before flashing back to the events leading up to her death.

Strange events started happening shortly after they moved into their apartment. Itza is the equivalent of an Alexa, and it is one source of some odd occurrences. It makes random comments, song choices and delivery of odd items that nobody ordered. In addition to this are the strange scratching noises and Thiago’s odd nighttime wake ups in which he sees a glowing door. Vera’s death is blamed on an illegal immigrant who ran by and knocked her down a flight of stairs (of course, there’s more revealed about this moment as the story progresses).

Thiago decides to leave all of the attention behind, and moves far away from neighbors and concerned “friends.” Unfortunately, strange events keep happening, and they seem to be increasing their intensity. With moments reminiscent of “Pet Sematary” and other classic horror films, Thiago must face an otherworldly entity which seems intent on driving him to his own death. There are several uncertainties in the story, such as the origin of this entity (my daughter and I had different understandings), but it all contributes to a chilling read.

Dance Family

The Turnout by Megan Abbott is a dream-like story incorporating ballet, childhood trauma, and peculiar family relationships.

Sisters Dara and Marie along with Charlie (their unofficially adopted brother who is now Dara’s husband) have been running their mother’s ballet school ever since both parents died in a fatal car crash. Dara is the more stern, serious sister in charge of the older students, while Marie is the quieter, flighty sister in charge of the younger students. Charlie takes care of the business side since his body suffers from the extreme demands of competitive dance.

The story hints at something unseemly from the girls’ past. Their lives have been consumed with ballet and sexual innuendo since early childhood. Their secrets begin to surface once Marie’s space heater starts a fire in the studio’s attic. This event introduces contractor and swindler Derek on scene. Derek is the ultimate con artist, using Marie to get closer to their family secrets and possessions. Dara discovers that Derek’s presence is more than a coincidence.

It is Nutcracker season, and the novel’s momentum builds alongside the show’s production. Plenty of drama, jealousy, secrets and a murder are scattered throughout the story.

Boulder Therapy

Wink by Rob Harrell is an Intermediate Nutmeg nominee, and the most recent of three books finished during my December break.

Ross is a seventh grader who strives for normalcy and not standing out, but this becomes impossible once he finds out that he has a rare, cancerous tumor near his eye. The book follows his journey from his diagnosis through his treatment. All the while he meets some interesting people who make a major impact on his life, while finding out who his true friends really are.

His radiation technician introduces him to rock music, and begins teaching him how to play guitar. Meanwhile, his best friend Abby is supportive while their friend Isaac completely ghosts them. Ross faces undesired attention once he has to start wearing a hat, rubbing “goop” on his damaged skin, and losing his hair. The attention turns negative when someone begins circulating cruel memes about his situation.

Events build toward the big school talent show before their December break, in which Ross will perform alongside Abby and unexpected new friend (former bully) Jimmy. This event is momentous as it marks the end of Ross’s treatment and Abby moving away.

This story is full of raw emotion and fun additions in the form of Ross’s sketches and “BatPig” comics throughout.

Natural Art

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi is such an interesting read! Lakshmi ran from an abusive arranged marriage. Doing so permitted her the freedom to build her own living as a successful henna artist with a secretive side business. Her actions left her family in shame which passed down to an unknown younger sister who was born after her escape. Lakshmi had no contact with her parents other than sending updates and money that were never acknowledged.

After time, younger sister Radha is orphaned and decides it’s time to look for Lakshmi. She has watched their mother throw away Lakshmi’s letters for years. Radha and Lakshmi’s husband (they are technically still married) find her, which completely derails Lakshmi’s lifestyle. Her work pivoted on maintaining a good reputation with the upper class of Jaipur as she worked toward her main goal of building her own home. However, once Radha becomes pregnant with an important client’s son, everything begins to change.

Lakshmi’s keen business sense is put to the test as she tries to maintain her work and personal relationships. She finds herself wondering if everything she has worked for is really for the greater good or was it all selfishly motivated?

This story was gripping in so many elements: plot, setting and character development. It’s also full of cultural education, including a glossary of terms at the end of the book (I wished they were footnotes to make reading a bit smoother), recipes and more information about the art of henna.

Critical Change

The Last Flight by Julie Clark was a pleasant surprise that I read pretty quickly during Thanksgiving break.

Claire has an elaborate plan to escape her politically powerful, abusive husband while taking a work trip. Her plan is completely derailed when her husband changes her flight destination. Miraculously, a stranger named Eva comes along at just the right moment to help Claire escape. The two women exchange plane tickets, which sends them off on very different paths.

One plane crashes, but it’s unclear whether Eva boarded or not. Meanwhile, Claire finds herself in Eva’s life, which is nothing like what she had explained in the airport. Eva was part of a drug ring which was being heavily investigated. There are numerous flashbacks to explain why/how Eva decided to leave everything behind. In the present, Claire’s secret (she wasn’t in the plane crash) doesn’t stay hidden from her husband for too long due to a viral social media post. Claire must decide whether to risk publicly outing her husband’s shady dealings in order to potentially save her life.

Supportive female relationships that overcome intimidation and abuse are at the core of this novel with great twists that I don’t want to spoil!