All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda (2016)

A review of Megan Miranda’s book The Perfect Stranger, can be found here: https://wp.me/p6N6mT-2oB

all the missing girls

Where are all the missing girls? Closer than you might think.

Nicolette Farrel left her small North Carolina town days after high-school graduation in search of a bigger life and has all but erased her time there from her memory. Living in Philadelphia and engaged to a wealthy lawyer, Nic is finally set to completely replace the girl she once was with a sophisticated woman.

Then, a letter arrives from Nic father — a man unraveling from his dementia — that changes everything. Her father mentions seeing Nic’s best friend from childhood, Corinne; a girl who went missing days before Nic left town for good and was never seen again. The letter unsettles Nic and she is haunted by the notion that perhaps her father’s dementia has shaken loose some memories of Corrine’s disappearance.

Baffling her fiance and even herself, Nic returns to her hometown and sets into motion a series of events that re-open Corrine’s missing person’s case. Things go from bad to worse when another young woman, Nic’s neighbor, goes missing under similar circumstances as Corrine.

Now Nic, her brother, her father, her teenage boyfriend, and cast of other characters are pulled into a new investigation and forced to relive the last days of Corrine’s life and what turned out to be the last days of their innocence.

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Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (2018)

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Willa Drake was the sort of child who excelled at smoothing ruffled feathers, at putting on a brave face, at accepting apologies without delay. She wanted calm routines and predictability and she worked to right the ship when things went wrong.

Willa grew into the sort of woman who married a man who called the shots, a man who was both tempestuous and selfish but whom gave her a comfortable, orderly life. When she was widowed, she ultimately married another such man, who demanded she erase his discomforts and fit herself into his life without fuss. She raised two sons who grew into indifferent and somewhat unkind young men who seemed to need little (if anything) from her: she told herself it was better than having children who would never give her peace. Even her once beloved sister had become a distant, rarely-seen stranger. It seemed that no one had time or interest in Willa, unless they had a problem for her to fix.

Then, something strange happened to turn Willa’s life around: she was called to travel to Baltimore, Maryland to care for an injured woman and her 9-year-old daughter. The pair were unknown to Willa, the distant girlfriend of her careless son and that woman’s daughter from a previous relationship. With no reason and little explanation, she accepted their call for help and flew to be their caretaker.

What happened is that Willa found a home, she found happiness and usefulness and community to be a part of…even though it made no sense to anyone but Willa. She grew to love the little girl and her slightly scatter-brained mother, as well the the motley collection of people who lived in their shabby and under-cared-for part of the city. Caring for people who needed her — but most importantly who loved and appreciated her — filled Willa with purpose and contentment. She stopped listening to the complaints and admonishments of people (mostly her husband) and, finally, starting to offering her gifts to people who valued them. And it changed her life.

 

Lie To Me by JT Ellison (2017)

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Despite their wealth, success, and beauty, Sutton and Ethan Montclair are locked in a marriage that is volatile and on the verge of collapse. The two famous novelists met and married after a passionate, whirlwind affair but as the years past, personal and professional disagreements and fiery arguments have worn their relationship thin.

When Ethan awakens one morning to find Sutton has left a note telling him she was leaving him and did not want to be searched for, he is shocked but not exactly surprised. Their tumultuous marriage has been worse then ever and the two just cannot seem to get past their hurts and jealousies. However, something about the note seems off to Ethan and he is haunted by worries that Sutton is in danger. Even without evidence of anything sinister, he starts to panic.

He involves her friends, family, and finally the police in the search for more information about Sutton’s disappearance. Instead of finding out more about why she left and where she went, he finds himself uncovering more and more secrets about his wife. And rather then being supported and helped by others, he finds they suspect he had something to do with his wife going missing.

Ethan maintains his innocence while the search for Sutton continues, but unexpectedly Sutton’s best friend identifies him to the police as an abuser and points a finger at him as a possible murderer. Ethan denies that he has hurt his wife but when her body turns up in a field nearby, he is arrested and charged with her homicide.

Nothing is as it seems. No one is telling the truth. More than one person has died and more will follow…

…and that is just the first third of the book!

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh (2018)

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The story of Ghosted begins by introducing readers to Sarah Mackey, a Brit who has lived most of her life in the US, where she has been distancing herself from a terrible tragedy that happened in her teens. During an annual trip home to visit family, she finds herself more emotionally wrought that usual, as she is coming to terms with the end of her marriage as well as visiting the countryside for a sad anniversary (which we do not yet know the details of.) It is during this stay she meets a man, Eddie, spends a glorious week falling in love with him, and feels her life just maybe getting better.

Then, Eddie ghosts out of her life. After a loving farewell and tender promises made, she never hears a word from him. No calls, no texts, no social media, nothing at all. Stunned, Sarah cannot understand what has happened. Despite her friends insistence that men do this all the time, she cannot shake the feeling that something terrible has happened to disrupt her blossoming relationship. She becomes obsessed with Eddie. She cannot sleep or concentrate, she extends her stay in the UK, ignores her work and family, and pursues him. No matter how hard she searches, or how desperate she gets, there is no sign of Eddie and there “romance” becomes a distant memory.

Crushed, Sarah returns home to California determined to put her crumbling life back together. Then, she gets one breadcrumb — a message that Eddie has searched for her online — then another — a friend of Eddie’s telling her he is alive but uninterested in her pursuing him. Beyond devastated by this development, Sarah falls into a deep depression. It was one thing to think he had been prevented from contacting her, but another to know he wanted nothing to do with her.

This heartbreak dislodges the walls Sarah has so painstaking built around her heart after the (still unexplained) accident in her past. She cannot help but relieve the other most devastating moment of her life. But, something else emerges as well, by reliving the tragedy of her childhood Sarah comes to a terrifying realization…Eddie was, in fact, a part of that heart-break as well.

The ghosts in this novel are the plentiful: remnants of a relationship found and lost, longing for a life that seems out of reach, and of course the one of actual ghost whose death is still haunting the living and preventing them from having real lives.

 

Adele by Leila Slimani (2014)

In this slim novel by Moroccan-French author, Leila Slimani, we watch the rapid disintegration of the life of a woman named Adele. Despite appearances that she is living a good life with her wealthy husband and young son in Paris, Adele is hiding many dark and dangerous secrets. Swinging wildly through episodes of mania and anxiety, Adele tries to quell her demons with dangerous sexual encounters. (Note to sensitive readers, this book contains graphic material.)

When her malaise strikes, Adele becomes quietly disgusted with her life (marriage to a boring man, the endless drudgery of motherhood) and she tells outrageous lies to cover up her rendezvous with strangers. When these encounters inevitably go wrong, she returns to her normal life disgusted and ashamed of her sexual addiction. Promising to atone, she temporarily behaves herself and acts the happy wife and mother. But it is never long before another mood-swing has her searching alleys and seedy bars for her next affair.

As the book progresses, Adele spirals further and further of out control: she abandons work, uses friends for alibis, passes her son off to sub-par caregivers, over-draws her bank account, and lies to everyone. All of this risk for sex that never satisfies her for long and leaves her terrified of being discovered.

When her husband is in a car accident and confined to their apartment, dependent on Adele for all his care, he can no longer ignore her lies and soon finds out about her double life. He is filled with rage at her deception and becomes grotesquely obsessed with the (many, many) men she has cheated on him with. However, he does not throw her out. He needs her to care for him and he decides that he can move her away from the city,  lock her in a country home and control her every move. She agrees to this because she has no money, family or friends left, the alternative is too grim to contemplate.

How long can she last? Alone with nothing but her manic thoughts and her barely controlled addictions? It remains to be seen.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell (2017)

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Laurel Mack was living an ordinary life, one she openly admits she took for granted, until the unthinkable happened: her beloved teenage daughter Ellie disappeared. For several agonizing years, Laurel was lost in a endless maze of grief, guilt, and desperation. Her search for where Ellie went and why no trace of her was ever found spelled the end of her marriage and led to a quasi-estrangement from her other two children.

Ten years pass. Laurel has hollowed herself out, put her head down, and lived a numb existence. Suddenly, a call from the local police department delivers the most unimaginable news… they have found her daughter’s body and its location and state confirm the police’s long held belief that Ellie ran away. While she is shocked and horrified to have to bury Ellie, Laurel feels something else…relief. She is freed from the constant search, the constant wondering, and that small shift allows some opportunities for happiness to creep back in.

Enter Floyd, a man Laurel meets through a chance encounter and with whom she feels an instant attraction and kinship. The two move from first date to weekends together in no time, and Laurel is giddy to have intimacy and romance back in her life after so, so long.

There are problems that arise almost immediately and that Laurel ignores. Floyd’s nine-year-old daughter, Poppy looks and acts exactly like her beloved, dead Ellie. She dismisses her unease as a side effect of grief. Furthermore, Poppy and Floyd have a relationship that is so close and so strange, that Laurel must fit in wherever she can; it is clear that the two of them will always be closer than she and Floyd. These two factors are manageable, Laurel thinks, but soon more and more red flags appear: she learns that she knew Poppy’s mother…a woman now missing without a trace. She learns Floyd’s oldest daughter has real fears and misgivings about Poppy’s mother; and that Floyd may even have ties to Ellie’s disappearance.

Slowly, Laurel starts to look closer at the overly simplified explanations offered by Floyd about his life over the past ten years. One thread at a time, one small bit of evidence at a time, she begins to solve two mysteries that the police never could…and she begins to wonder if what she uncovers will mean that her life is also at risk.

A page turner that I could not resist finishing in one night…even as the fire burned out, the house grew cold, and my family went to bed, I stayed on the couch under the covers reading ever last word.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (2000)

During the past week, with its snow and rain and cold, everyone in my house has been reaching for cozy, comforting books to read in front of the fire. My youngest son wanted to listen to an audio-book as a whole family and he picked Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire read by the incomparable Jim Dale, in my opinion the best audio-book narrator of all time. This review was originally posted in February 2017, but it bares re-posting. Enjoy!

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For those of you who might not have read the Harry Potter books yet I must ask: what in the world are you waiting for? Go out right now and read the first book and have the second book ready…once you finish Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone you will want to immediately begin the second book. However, if you have not read the books yet, read no further as this post contains many spoilers from the book!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth book in the seven-book series in which the wizarding world that Harry Potter has become a part of expands exponentially — in size, in scope, in complexity, and in danger. The events that unfold in the fourth book force Harry to look beyond the small corner of the wizarding world that he has inhabited for the past three years and begin to seen just how vast it really is. Over the course of the year, Harry comes to understand that Hogwarts and the UK represent only a fraction of the global wizard and witch community, along with a menagerie of magical creatures that exist as well. There is an entire universe of magic — with its differing customs, laws, and practices — that exists and Harry’s world-view bursts wide open.

This expansion of knowledge begins in the opening chapters with Harry’s trip to the Quidditch World Cup Finals; an international sporting event (with wizards flying on brooms scoring goals) that witches and wizards from across the globe come to England to attend. His experience at the match — both traveling there, attending the game, and the experience of being around 100,000 wizards — reveals the complex underpinnings of the wizarding bureaucracy which, until that point, Harry had only a vague sense. He realizes that the Ministry of Magic has a huge job keeping the wizarding world a secret from muggles under ordinary circumstances, and it faces an almost impossible challenge of keeping their world a secret under extraordinary ones. Harry is amazed the learn of the magic needed to make the Quidditch World Cup happen — to build the stadium, to repel muggles from the area, coordinate visitors from around the world — and is thrilled by the new kinds of magic he sees while at the World Cup.

The events that take place during and after the Quidditch World Cup match also expose Harry to the complexities within the Ministry of Magic. Various departments exist with unique and difficult jobs — from regulating magical creatures to enforcing laws to protecting muggles — that are all critical to keep the world Harry loves so much running smoothly and safely. The Ministry is revealed both through its successes and its failures during the novel and Harry learns that while it is a necessary institution, he cannot rely on its officials to always act in his best interest — he must do that for himself.

Also of note in this installment is the expanding world of magical creatures that co-exist with the wizards. Not only does Harry meet more magical creatures than ever, he also learns about the complicated relationships many of them — house-elfs, goblins, giants, and others — have with humans. Exploitation, racism, ignorance are all very real threats for these non-human creatures and Harry must face the fact that wizards often chose to oppress their counterparts, rather than embrace them.

When the action moves back to Hogwarts castle the spirit of international competition continues when it is announced that the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a seven-hundred year old tradition, will be held at the school. Immediately, Harry and his classmates embark on a year that is unlike the previous three. Not only will castle host students and teachers from two other European schools for the duration of the year; but the three tasks of the Tri-Wizard Cup competition will be a central focus for students. These disruptions seem thrilling at first, but when Harry is chosen — in violation of all the rules — to be a fourth champion in the Cup, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of an international scandal. Soon Harry is caught up in whirlwind of espionage, cheating, deception, and danger.

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Tri-Wizard Cup at HP World @ Universal Orlando. (My photo)

Harry’s world, although never ordinary or boring, suddenly becomes much more sinister and the distant threat of death at the hands of his enemy, Lord Voldemort, grows into a much more real possibility as the year passes. Book four marks the first time that Harry must face his battles — real and imagined — on his own. As a Tri-Wizard cup competitor he is barred from receiving help from anyone and he must compete alone. It is brought home for Harry that he must shoulder the very real, very adult responsibility of taking care of himself and those around him. He must be careful not to reveal his godfather’s whereabouts to the Ministry; he must reach out to the other competitors to warn them of danger; he must represent his school and his country in the competition; and he must protect the relationship he has built with his best friend Ron when it is threatened by rumors and jealousies. All of that pales in comparison, however, to the responsibility Harry must face in the book’s concluding chapters: he must face Lord Voldemort and his supporters and fight for his life. When he is successful, he must shoulder the burden of telling the world of the Dark Lord’s return…even when no one wants to believe it can be true.

I would be remiss in not adding one more concluding sentiment: Hermione Granger once again establishes herself as one of the most influential characters in the series. Her role as an advisor, an advocate, a caretaker, a researcher, and a brilliant teacher is critical to Harry’s success in the tournament and, it has to be argued, his ability to escape Voldemort with his life. Although Harry, as the titular character, is alone when he battles hand-to-hand with Voldemort and his supporters, it is the knowledge he learns from Hermione that allows him to survive. She is, in my opinion, the single most important factor in Harry’s many successes.