Release date: 14 June 2022
Rating: 3.75/5, only because of brilliant characters
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Synopsis: A woman returns to her small Maine hometown, uncovering family secrets that take her on a journey of self-discovery and new love, in this warm and charming novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Evvie Drake Starts Over.
Smarting from her recently cancelled wedding and about to turn forty, Laurie Sassalyn returns to her Maine hometown of Calcasset to handle the estate of her great-aunt Dot, a spirited adventurer who lived to be ninety. Along with boxes of Polaroids and pottery, a mysterious wooden duck shows up at the bottom of a cedar chest. Laurie's curiosity is piqued, especially after she finds a love letter to the never-married Dot that ends with the line, "And anyway, if you're ever desperate, there are always ducks, darling."
Laurie is told that the duck has no financial value. But after it disappears under suspicious circumstances, she feels compelled to figure out why anyone would steal a wooden duck--and why Dot kept it hidden away in the first place. Suddenly Laurie finds herself swept up in a righteous caper that has her negotiating with antiques dealers and con artists, going on after-hours dates at the local library, and reconnecting with her oldest friend and first love. Desperate to uncover her great-aunt's secrets, Laurie must reckon with her past, her future, and ultimately embrace her own vision of flying solo.
I know I mentioned previously (in my review for Book Lovers) that I would be giving cartoon covers a break for a bit, but this one didn’t cost me anything, and Julia Whelan narrates it, so I listened anyway. I’m happy to say this one pleasantly surprised me, with only a few disappoinments. Witty banter, fantastic one-liners, awesomely funny and cool old people, a heist, a caper, and a romance all roll into this nice little book. It read quickly, entertained delightfully, and went easy on the political commentary in favor of telling a nice story for a good escape from reality. Oh, and I love Maine. Haven’t been to the coast yet, but I’ll get there.
Flying Solo excels in characters. All of them, even the slimy, dodgy ones, are so well crafted and meshed together that if any were to be omitted, the narrative would suffer. Though Laurie occupies the spotlight of the main character, the secondary characters are what really take the cake in this book, particularly the old people in it. Laurie’s aunt Dot dies single (at ninety-three, not ninety), but she, as Laurie finds when cleaning out her house, lived a very full life of adventure and love.
Our love interest for this novel, Nick (librarian!), never quite got over Laurie after they broke up years ago, and he comes over to help Laurie clean up her aunt’s things and never quite leaves. The two navigate rekindling the old flame (I don’t think it ever went out), but the resolution for their romance in the end is the one drawback for me in the book. While the book’s feminism isn’t the man-hating kind, it feels a bit unequal, and their resolution feels hypocritical. If the roles were reversed, I don’t think the it would be acceptable. Also, Nick’s grandmother, arguably the best character in the book to me, steals the show when she arrives on scene. I couldn’t help but think about the grandmother in the ’90’s movie Now and Then, with her humor and her independence. She shows everyone that just because she has wrinkles doesn’t mean she’s useless and boring. I just loved her.
The outstanding characters really save the plot for me, as their absence would surely have made it exceedingly boring. The mystery and romance stay afloat only because the characters involved bring a sparkle to the story, like when movies are really bad but the cheesy one-liners come from stellar actors with the experience to make anything interesting. The duck mystery does not compel me enough through the plot as it stands, and the romance stagnates with Laurie’s inability to commit to anyone because she feels committed partnership with anyone romantically is tantamount to losing all freedom in her life. Freedom to Laurie is her own house made up of things that only she makes the decisions about. Her incessant whining about not being told what to do ruined the romance for me, and I think a man like Nick deserves better than someone who doesn’t want to share a life with him.
The duck resolution fizzled for me as well. Though I think the reveal origin of the duck brought a unique end to the mystery, the roundabout way of discovering it and the circumstances in which the duck was made were off-putting to me. I don’t like romances that spring from unfaithfulness, and unfortunately, this book romanticized adultery while one of the spouses was terminally ill. Some may not mind that, but it hit close to home for me, and I hated it. I just don’t think there’s anything romantic about cheating.
On a brighter note, as always, Julia Whelan does a fantastic job reading the book. She made it very bearable to listen to, and her voices for each of the characters always help me keep them sorted in my brain.
My thanks to Ballantine via Libro.fm for the ALC, for which I willingly give my own, honest opinion.