Newest review: The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

By Ekta R. Garg

July 21, 2021

Genre: Thriller

Release date: July 20, 2021

Rated: Bordering on Bookmarking it! / 3.5 stars

A man becomes a person of interest when his friend goes missing. He tries to balance his secrets with his own suspicions of what happened but gets the sense that a bigger game is at play. Author Louise Candlish takes just a touch too long to ramp up the mystery but keeps it rolling once it gets moving in her latest book The Other Passenger.

Jamie Buckby has made an amazing discovery: he can take the ferry to work and bypass the complicated tube system that runs under London. At one time, taking the tube was just another part of his day as he traveled to his white-collar job in security. Then he had a panic attack during his commute one day, and everything changed.

Now Jamie works at a coffee shop in Central London, which is quite the distance from his posh house in the suburbs. Well, not exactly his house; the deed says his girlfriend, Clare, owns it. But he and Clare have been together for more than a decade in a committed relationship. It’s not “Clare’s house” or “the place he lives”; it’s home.

It’s also the object of envy of Kit and Melia Roper. Gorgeous twenty-something Melia gets hired at Clare’s real estate company and Kit works in insurance, a job he complains about all the time. Kit thinks he’s too vibrant and interesting for the insurance world. Still, it’s a paycheck, and no one can turn that down.

Kit and Jamie start commuting on the ferry together and over time they become friends, or so Jamie thinks. Kit tends to be moody. Sometimes he’s chatty, other times not. Jamie hasn’t quite got a bead on him yet, other than the fact that Kit fulfills the stereotype of millennials with his attitude that he shouldn’t have to work so hard for the good things in life.

Melia, on the other hand, is a refreshing change for Jamie. So refreshing, in fact, that when they have an affair, he doesn’t fight it. Yes, he has Clare and a nice home to live in, but the house doesn’t even belong to him and Clare is constantly nagging him to improve his career prospects. Melia just wants him, nothing more.

Then Kit goes missing. The police don’t have enough information to arrest Jamie or even to file a formal report yet. Yet they keep hinting that another passenger on the ferry saw something to put Jamie on their radar.

Clare doesn’t know about Jamie and Melia, of course, and Jamie would prefer to keep it that way. But the entire situation with Kit sounds fishy. Then his problems get much bigger than trying to hide his mistress from his long-time girlfriend.

Author Louise Candlish takes her time building the story, which might leave some readers a little antsy. With the entire book told in first person, readers will spend a lot of time inside Jamie’s head with his own opinions and observations. The point-of-view choice slows down the narrative, and it keeps readers at arm’s length for the first half.

Once Candlish reveals one major plot point, however, the rest start lining up like bowling pins. Candlish knocks them out at a steady, even pace, and readers will have a lot of fun watching Jamie try to squirm out of the mess he’s created. Even with some events out of his control, he’s definitely responsible for his own actions. How those actions connect to the larger story at hand comprises the second half of the book, and Candlish uses a practiced hand to strike when readers least expect.

Jamie’s mid-forty-something self rings true to readers who fall into that age range. It’s easy to sympathize with his desire for more while also his hesitation to work for it. The greatest irony comes in how often Jamie blames Kit for self-aggrandizement when he does exactly the same, only with a few more gray hairs.

Readers who don’t mind being a little patient for the main part of the story to start moving forward will enjoy this one. I recommend that The Other Passenger Borders on Bookmarking it!

Newest review: Where It All Lands by Jennie Wexler

By Ekta R. Garg

July 14, 2021

Genre: YA fiction

Release date: July 6, 2021

Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars

A trio of teens navigate young love and personal challenges while trying to figure out how to balance their friendships with one another. Just as the culmination of their story is revealed, a coin toss changes the entire scenario. Author Jennie Wexler makes the subject of first love sweet and refreshing while navigating her plot in the most subtle yet dynamic of ways in her excellent debut novel Where It All Lands.

High school sophomore Stevie Rosenstein arrives in New Jersey knowing one thing for sure: being the new girl sucks. She’s lived in so many places and had so many friends that it doesn’t even seem possible anymore to become good friends with anyone. And she’s never sure whether the kids who do want to be her friends are sincere or trying to score tickets to football games, all because her father is a coach for the NFL. It doesn’t matter how good she is on the saxophone or that she loves music and is basically a normal teenager.

As she walks into her new school, her guard is up. Then Stevie meets best buds Drew and Shane, and all of a sudden she discovers that both of them know how she feels. Drew’s dad is a famous music producer, leaving Drew to struggle with the same questions about friendships. Shane is a talented musician, a beast of a drummer, and he knows how music is the one thing that can make the world seem all right for a little while.

The boys spot Stevie at band practice at the start of the year, and they’re both drawn to her. They know, though, that fighting about who’s going to ask her out is dumb. Their friendship has survived more than a crush—Drew’s dad had an affair with an assistant and is on the verge of moving out. Shane’s dad died, leaving Shane with a huge hole in his life. The friends have supported each other through the worst; they’re not going to let a girl come between them.

There’s no denying that they both like her, though, and they both want to ask her out. In a moment of inspiration, Drew suggests flipping a coin for it. Shane is reluctant at first, but even he can’t argue with the logic that it’s basically the way they decide everything. They know it might seem a little skeevy, but Stevie never has to know.

As they call heads and tails, the boys have no idea just how their lives are going to change. Life is about to challenge each of them and the strength of their friendship. Both of them want to get to know Stevie better. Both of them have a fair reason to ask her out. But none of them will ever be the same again.

Debut author Jennie Wexler manages to navigate the tropes of YA romance without falling into a stereotypical plot. Telling the story first from when the coin lands on heads and then when it lands on tails, Wexler gives each of the boys an opportunity to explore a relationship with Stevie. In the hands of a less confident writer, the result might have felt caricaturish or melodramatic. Instead, Wexler provides depth and heft to the storyline both times she tells it.

Moreover, she’s able to find new details to share about all three of her main characters in both storylines, no easy job at all. As readers progress through Stevie’s budding relationship with one, they might think they’ll find out everything there is to know about Drew, Shane, and Stevie. Yet Wexler manages to hold back several surprises, both in terms of character development as well as the plot.

The biggest surprise may come in the fact that the stories with each of the boys ends in the same climactic moment, yet here too Wexler wields a deft hand that allows her to navigate possible story traps with ease. There’s no doubt readers will be reading as fast as possible to find out what actually happened.

Those who enjoy YA novels about first love and solid friendships that don’t follow the stereotypes will definitely want to check this out. I recommend readers Binge Where It All Lands.

Brand new review: Falling by T.J. Newman

By Ekta R. Garg

July 7, 2021

Genre: Thriller

Release date: July 6, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

When a pilot’s family is kidnapped, the kidnapper forces him to choose between the family or his passengers. As the pilot does his best to maneuver the situation, he’ll have to rely on a trio of flight attendants and the goodwill of law enforcement on the ground to keep everyone safe. Debut author T.J. Newman relies heavily on her personal experience as a flight attendant for her fantastic first novel Falling.

Bill Hoffman is a veteran of his airline. He was there in the early days when no one knew if the company would survive. Now, more than two decades later, he enjoys a fair amount of seniority…except when it comes to the boss. When Bill gets the call to fill in at the last minute for a flight from L.A. to New York, he doesn’t think twice about saying yes.

His wife, Carrie, isn’t thrilled. Bill promised to spend his days off with the family. His 10-year-old son, Scott, is playing in the Little League season opener. Between managing Scott’s baseball schedule and taking care of their surprise baby, Elise, Carrie’s hands are full. Although she’s grumbling when they say goodbye, Bill knows he’ll find a way to make it up to Carrie when he gets back.

Minutes after Bill leaves home, however, Carrie and the kids are taken hostage inside their own home. The hostage taker calls himself Sam and seems to know where Bill is headed. He waits until Bill is in the cockpit and pushing back from the gate to get in touch with his one demand. Bill will have to make a choice: his family or his passengers. If he doesn’t crash the plane into a location yet to be revealed, his family dies.

Bill’s mind begins to race. He’s bound and determined to land the plane safely, and he knows he can’t let anything happen to Carrie and the children. Despite Sam’s warning against it, at the first available opportunity Bill tells the head of his flight crew, Jo, about what’s going on.

He and Jo have flown together for almost their entire careers. They’re coworkers and friends, and he needs someone he can trust. Sam refuses to tell Bill where to crash the plane, but he does let Bill in on the fact that someone else on the flight is working with him. If the terrorist can have an accomplice, Bill can have one too.

As the flight travels the five hours between the two major cities, Bill, Jo, and a whole host of other people fight to keep everyone on the plane and the ground alive. Bill’s adrenaline is running at a permanent high, but he knows one thing for sure. No one is going to die on his watch today.

Author T.J. Newman worked for 10 years as a flight attendant and wrote Falling while she spent time in the air. Her experience shows in the lingo she uses that all real-life flight crews will surely recognize. Newman keeps a balance, though, between the authenticity of that language and making sure readers know what they’re talking about.

She also builds realistic characters. Bill’s fear and his helplessness ring true as does his resourcefulness. Like other people trained in high-risk jobs, Bill leans into his training to help him figure out the problem.

As the senior-most flight attendant, Jo is ready-made for these types of crises. Readers will hope for attendants like her on their future trips. Like Bill, she’s three-dimensional and relatable.

The made-for-the-movies climax and ending might seem a touch corny, but these types of stories almost require an ending where readers and/or viewers are cheering and teary-eyed by the end. Newman picks her terrorists’ cause with care, making it feel relevant to today’s world. She also doesn’t hesitate to give her terrorists some sympathetic qualities. What they did was wrong, as Carrie asserts at one point, but it’s easy to understand why they did it.

The book fits squarely within its genre and as a movie would be instantly rewatchable. Readers who enjoy a fun thriller with unexpected story twists will definitely enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark Falling.