The First Family by Michael Palmer and Daniel Palmer

Medical thrillers can sometimes be overwhelming if the author focuses the majority of the text on intense descriptions of medical issues. One author that I feel has managed to successfully balance medical, suspense, and mystery is Daniel Palmer, writing a Michael Palmer medical thriller.

The First Family by Michael Palmer and Daniel Palmer is the latest book of theirs that I listened to. This book centers around the President and his family. President Geoffrey Hilliard and his family deal with everyday issues while under intense public scrutiny. The President and First Lady are growing increasingly worried about their only son, Cam, who keeps withdrawing into himself. 16-year-old Cam is experiencing moodiness, extreme fatigue, and recently had a violent outburst that Secret Service Agent Karen Ray was present for. The main White House doctor is quick to dismiss Cam’s symptoms by saying that Cam is a teenager growing up in the spotlight and thus has developed depression. Karen, after observing Cam, becomes convinced that his issues are more serious than depression. Because the original doctor dismissed Karen’s concerns, Karen reaches out to her ex-husband Dr. Lee Blackwood for a second opinion.

The President is not thrilled with Lee’s intervention and dismisses his concerns over Cam’s condition. Lee monitors Cam through Karen and grows increasingly more worried and concerned. The President and First Lady soon reach out to Lee again when it’s discovered that Cam is getting progressively worse. Cam’s symptoms puzzle Lee because their combination doesn’t make sense.

Lee is busy doing research and comes across the case of Susie Banks, a young musical prodigy who has the same symptoms and condition as Cam. Running across Susie’s case, Lee discovers that someone has tried to kill her and no one knows why. Looking at medical records, Lee hopes to find more connections between Susie and Cam to figure out what is happening with them. Similarities start to pop up and Lee starts poking around. The cause of their condition is unknown, but Lee and Karen both know that they are on a deadline to find a cure for Cam’s mysterious disease before it turns deadly.

This book had a little bit of everything that I love in fiction: romance, politics, family drama, medical issues, suspense, and military drama. I felt, as I was listening to this book, that there was something in this book for everyone. I’m excited to read another one of their books to see if they could become one of my favorites.


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The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

I’m a sucker for a book with a gorgeous cover and a British audiobook narrator. The Cactus by Sarah Haywood had both of these and I knew I was a goner. I mean, look how gorgeous this cover is!

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood tells the story of Susan Green. Susan is very particular in how she wants her life to run. Everything around her is perfectly ordered. Anything out of the norm presented to her must be weighed carefully by Susan to assess the pros and cons before she decides to either add it to her life or banish it completely. Emotions are one part of daily life that Susan just doesn’t see the point of because they are unpredictable and don’t fit into her perfectly ordered existence. They’re messy. Susan doesn’t like messy.

Susan has the perfect flat for one, a job that lets her logical side run free, and a longstanding, as she calls it, ‘interpersonal arrangement’ that has been going on for 12 years. This arrangement provides Susan with all the cultural and more intimate personal relations she feels she needs. With all this perfection and order, something is bound to go awry. And sure enough, Susan is soon faced with changing circumstances she can not control.

Susan’s mother unexpectedly passes away. Her mother’s will leaves Susan angry and confused as it details that Susan’s lazy and spoiled brother is given the larger share of everything. Susan also learns that her ‘interpersonal arrangement’ with Richard has resulted in her becoming pregnant, a fact that knocks her off course.

Susan is losing control. Despite her best efforts to curtail her brother’s efforts and to deal with her pregnancy, nothing seems to go her way. As her due date looms closer, the circumstances with her brother seem to be getting more complicated and do not clear up the way that she had hoped. Soon everything comes to a head and Susan finds herself looking for help from the most unlikely of people in the oddest of ways. Susan discovers things about herself that she previously didn’t know. This self-discovery amidst her mother’s death and unexpected pregnancy allows Susan to find the strength to move forward and create a different life.

This book reminded me a lot of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, so much so that I had to consciously remind myself that these were two separate books. If I had read them back to back, my confusion would have been great! Both main characters seem to have Asperger’s Syndrome, have difficulty relating to others, and have complicated personal and professional lives. Definitely recommend them both.

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert tells the story of three women whose families are all affected by the consequences of a local school district that loses its accreditation. The twelve miles that separate South Fork and Crystal Ridge may not seem like a long distance, but the conditions present in each area are drastically different. All three women and their families find themselves clashing with the difference in circumstances those twelve miles have thrust open them. With affluent Crystal Ridge resisting South Fork’s advance on their children’s education and sports prospects, parents in South Fork are fighting for the right to transfer their children to a better and more equal school district that still has its accreditation.

Anaya Jones grew up surrounded by the South Fork community. Her father even taught at the local South Fork school. Fresh out of college and the first college graduate in her family, Anaya wishes to teach at South Fork just like her dad did. She wants to show the families who attend South Fork that there are people who care for them, no matter what the public says about their town. With South Fork’s lose of accreditation for their school district however, Anaya finds herself instead working as the newest teacher at a top elementary school in the nearby affluent community of Crystal Ridge. Anaya is thoroughly unprepared for the tense situation she is walking into, even though her family’s situation has her slightly on edge around Crystal Ridge anyway.

Jen Covington has worked as a nurse her entire life, a career that she hoped would help her when she became a mother. Despite her and her husband’s intense desire to become parents, Jen’s history and physical body have resulted in a long, painful journey with no baby in sight. After realizing they were unable to have a baby of their own, Jen and her husband turned to adoption, hoping that process would be quicker. Adoption, however, took a long time as well, with Jen and her husband learning as much as they can to prepare themselves for their daughter’s arrival. Once their adopted daughter is home, Jen finds herself struggling in her new day-to-day life despite how much she prepared. Add in a move to Crystal Ridge and Jen and her new family soon find themselves dropped right into the Crystal Ridge and South Fork dilemma.

Camille Gray is the quintessential suburban mom. The wife of an executive, mother of three, PTA chairwoman, and master fundraiser for Crystal Ridge’s annual run, everyone assumes that Camille’s life is perfect. She thinks everything is perfect too. Everything changes when she learns that South Fork has lost its accreditation and that there is a possibility that Crystal Ridge could be affected by this. Students may be given the opportunity to transfer to a school decided upon by the administration. Once it is decided that Crystal Ridge will be the transfer school, the already unruly chaos taking over the community is ratcheted up. While Camille struggles to navigate the challenges presented by this school upheaval, her personal life is also undergoing major changes. Her strength is tested as she works to find a new normal for herself and her family.

What I enjoyed about No One Ever Asked is that the author chose to tell this story from three different points of view which really allowed the reader to understand each person’s motivations for their actions. This book will force you to challenge your perception of discrimination and prejudice right alongside each woman as they struggle with what they believe to be true.

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover is a twisted love story that had more depth than I was expecting. This begins with Lily escaping back home after her father’s funeral. Lily grew up in a very small town in Maine where everyone thinks that they know everyone else’s business, but as readers are quick to realize, Lily’s whole family has deep dark secrets that she can’t seem to escape from no matter where she goes. Back in Boston after her father’s funeral, Lily hopes to settle back into the life that she has made for herself since she graduated from college.

As she’s struggling to regain her composure, Lily has a run-in with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid. Lily’s life all of a sudden seems perfect. Ok, maybe. Maybe Ryle seems a little bit too assertive and arrogant and a tad bit stubborn, but if you were a neurosurgeon still in training, working insanely busy days and doing VERY long surgeries wouldn’t you act the same way?! Despite his flaws, Ryle is brilliant, knows exactly what he wants, is sensitive, and even though he doesn’t want a relationship, he still has a soft spot for Lily. If he only could get over his complete aversion to relationships, Lily thinks he would be the perfect man.

Flash forward some months and Lily finds herself bumping into Ryle again as she starts her new business. This second chance encounter ends with the discovery that both Lily and Ryle can’t get the other out of their heads. Ryle decides to make an exception to his ‘no-dating’ rule just for Lily, but Lily is left wondering why he had that rule in the first place.

Lily and Ryle’s new relationship, combined with Lily’s new business and Ryle’s crazy work schedule, leads Lily to reflect on her very first love – Atlas Corrigan. Besides being her first love, Atlas is a messy connection to her past that Lily was glad to escape. In her tumultuous past, Atlas was the one good thing that brightened up her depressing circumstances. Reading through old journals that she shoved in the back of her closet, Lily finds herself remembering things she wishes she could forget. She also keeps wondering while Atlas never came looking for her like he promised that he would. Lily believed they were kindred spirits and he was her protector.

As Lily and Ryle progress further into their relationship, Atlas suddenly reappears. This reappearance comes at a crucial time in Lily’s life and in her relationship with Ryle. Lily quickly finds everything she has worked with Ryle to build is threatened and is forced to think about what she really wants in life. Does she want to follow in her mother’s footsteps? Or break the cycle? Should she choose Ryle or Atlas? Or will she choose to put herself first?


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Deadline by Sandra Brown

I love romance books. They are the perfect stress-free read. When I’m feeling anxious or need a break, I tend to gravitate toward the romance section in the library for a new(to me) romance read. I can usually fly through a romance novel in a day or two and get back to my other reading. I needed a good romance read recently and decided to look for one online. I checked out a copy of Deadline by Sandra Brown a week ago through OverDrive. I had just finished another book, saw Deadline, thought the cover looked interesting AND saw it was available immediately for checkout, so I decided to give it a listen. I had never read anything from Sandra Brown before, so I was expecting a regular suspenseful fiction read. Boy, was I wrong.

Deadline by Sandra Brown is a fantastically crafted piece of romantic suspense fiction that deals with family secrets, post-traumatic stress disorder, presumed deaths, missing persons, domestic terrorists, and a massive hunt for the truth. Dawson Scott is a journalist who has traveled the world writing stories. He just returned from Afghanistan after spending almost a year in combat conditions. Dawson is trying to cope with battle fatigue, but finds alcohol and drugs to be his only solace. He’s haunted by what he witnessed overseas and simply trying to get through his life one hour at a time. After being told by his boss that he is to fly somewhere less than desirable to cover a story, Dawson receives a phone call from his source within the FBI that has the power to completely change his life.

Amelia Nolan is struggling to get over the death of her ex-husband, former Marine Jeremy Wesson. Jeremy disappeared and was later presumed to have been murdered after the mutilated body of his married girlfriend was found eaten by dogs. Jeremy’s DNA was found on scene and authorities have presumed him dead. The woman’s husband is on trial for his murder and Amelia has been called to testify. Tackling this case while raising two very young children as a single parent, Amelia is working hard to keep her life together. With her nanny in tow, Amelia and the boys spend time on the beach, their safe haven from the craziness around the trial.

Dawson’s source has called to say that the DNA found at the Wesson crime scene has found a match. Jeremy is actually the biological son of a pair of domestic terrorists who have been on the FBI’s most wanted list for over 40 years. Pleading with Dawson, his source convinces him to cover the trial of Jeremy’s presumed murderer to try to find out more information about Jeremy’s life. Walking into the courtroom, Dawson plans on staying for a few days, writing his story, and moving on. The minute he sets eyes on Amelia though, his plan goes out the window. In an effort to learn more about Jeremy, Dawson decides to get closer to Amelia and soon finds himself developing feelings for her. Dawson has to stay focused, figure out who Jeremy Wesson really is, and if he is still in contact with his domestic terrorist parents. Could he catch them? Just how much danger are Amelia and her boys in?

This book is definitely a thriller with a bit of romance. Brown has crafted a book that is very suspenseful, but has some definite steamy scenes. This book is well-crafted with a plot that is quite twisty and chockful of red herrings. I was engrossed through this book as Dawson and Amelia worked to find out the truth. Highly recommend. I can’t wait to read more Sandra Brown!


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Mistress by James Patterson

James Patterson is an author that I recently started listening to quite frequently. One of my favorite things about James Patterson’s books is that he partners with a lot of different authors. Those partnerships mean that all of his books have a distinct feel to them and are not formulaic. With every Patterson book I pick up, I know I’m going to get something unique. I really enjoy that.

 Mistress by both Patterson and David Ellis was my latest listen and I enjoyed it. When this book first started, it instantly reminded me of You by Caroline Kepnes, a book I blogged about back in March. Both books begin with a noticeable creep factor. Mistress starts with the main character Ben breaking into a woman’s apartment and rummaging through her belongings. My mind instantly went, “Oh no! We’ve got another obsessed kidnapper/stalker love story.” I braced myself for that inevitability and kept reading. Boy, was I wrong! This book may seem like a creepy stalker story, but Ben is way more complex than I initially thought.

Ben is consumed by his obsessions and his racing thoughts. He may seem like he’s got it all together, but once you’ve been around him for a while, you notice that he has four major obsessions: motorcycles, movies, presidential trivia(which he spouts out frequently thanks to his father) – and the beautiful woman whose apartment he was in named Diana Hotchkiss. When Diana is found dead outside of her apartment shortly after Ben leaves it, Ben’s obsession spirals out of control. He must find out what really happened to this beautiful woman who was the love of his life.

While Ben digs into Diana’s death, the truth of his life begins to leak out. The origins of his obsessions, how he makes his living, and his reasons for behaving the way that he does all start to be revealed.  Ben discovers that Diana has been leading a double life, something that he never expected and she never mentioned. He doesn’t know how to handle that information. The more secrets he uncovers, the more he realizes that he really didn’t know Diana. Someone doesn’t want Ben digging into Diana’s life and sets out to stop him. Ben has to decide what he’s willing to risk to find out the truth about Diana and what he is going to do to ensure that he and his sources stay safe and, most importantly, alive.

I’m glad I decided to stick with this book. I was tempted to give up at the beginning because I assumed I knew what the book was going to be about, but I was wrong. Part of my enjoyment of this book was the narrator. He did an excellent job describing Ben’s eccentricities and differentiating between the present and past. James Patterson has yet to let me down!


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Little People, Big Dreams

I happened upon a charming series of books for children called Little People, Big Dreams. (Not to be confused with the TV series Little People, Big World.) These are picture book biographies of notable figures from different parts of history. I loved reading them and learning more about the protagonists along with my children. The depictions of the heroines are captivating and, although they do not all have the same author and illustrator, they share an endearing similarity in style – large, round faces and colorful attire and settings.

I first read Frida Kahlo to my kindergartener. He came up with so many follow-up questions, I soon realized I didn’t know as much about this famous artist as I would like. I mentioned this to a friend and she insisted I should see the 2002 film Frida starring Salma Hayek as the title character and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera. I did (alone), and enjoyed the sensual interpretation of the artist’s life.

Then an idea occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be nice to read a bedtime story for the kids and after they are fast asleep, read or watch something more adult on the topic? You know how a wine will sometimes be suggested that pairs well with your food? Couldn’t we do that with the books we read, as well? With that thought in mind, here are some recommendations you might want to try.

In Maya Angelou, author Lisbeth Kaiser and illustrator Leire Salaberria present to children the difficult topics of racism, domestic and sexual abuse, and mental health sensitively. Don’t let the fact that this book covers a difficult childhood deter you from reading aloud to your little ones what is a very inspiring story. Angelou’s story is, ultimately, one of hope. Most of us are aware of Angelou’s prolific career as a writer and civil rights activist, but how many knew her as a cook, streetcar conductor, dancer, singer, and world traveler? Share this inimitable woman’s story with the children in your life. Then on your own, read her classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings if you haven’t already done so (or even if you have, it may be time for a re-read). Also, listen to Angelou read her poetry in the book on CD entitled Black Pearls: The Poetry of Maya Angelou. I’d recommend the kids not be within listening range of this one, as there are vulgarities in it.

 

I will be the first to admit I am not a couture kind of gal (my style would more aptly be described as thrift store eclectic). Still, I enjoyed learning about Coco Chanel in the book written by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Ana Albero. Tired of seeing her contemporaries unable to breathe in their tight corsets, she designed clothing that was looser and easier to wear while dancing. She also designed hats and, of course, let’s not forget about the perfume. For more on the life of the woman once known as Gabrielle Chanel, you may wish to check out the 139-minute DVD Coco Chanel, a 2008 made-for-TV movie starring Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel and Shirley MacLaine as old Chanel. You may also enjoy the coffee table style book Chanel: Collections and Creations by Daniele Bott. With 159 illustrations, it goes into delightful detail on Coco’s unique styles. My favorite was the chapter on the Camellia flower, which is pictured on the cover. Other chapters detail ‘The Suit’, ‘Jewelry’, ‘Fragrance & Beauty’, and ‘The Black Dress.’

All the suggested children’s books are from the Little People, Big Dreams series.There are more books in this series and you can find all the ones the library owns by doing a series search for Little People Big Dreams. If you have favorite books or movies that you think go together like Chardonnay and Gruyere, please let us know.

 

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

I am obsessed with female comedians. I recently stumbled upon Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which I listened to on OverDrive as an audiobook one summer day when I was hiking and I. FELL. HARD. I then branched out to Amy Poehler and a whole slew of other famous women comedians. I personally love listening to these book as audiobooks because it feels like I’m getting my own private comedy show, plus the authors 1)usually narrate their own books and 2) bring in famous friends and family to read sections. Plus there is usually awesome bonus content. If that’s not enough of a reason for you to run out to the library and pick up some audiobooks, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, back to the topic: my recent, yet hard-hitting love of female comedians. When I discovered Amy Schumer and Anna Kendrick were each coming out with new books, I immediately put the respective release dates on my calendar and started scouting for information about their audiobooks. When I saw copies of both books in print on the new shelves, I knew I should just pick them up, read them, and then listen to the audio later. I started with Amy Schumer. (I have Kendrick’s book at home in my TBR pile).

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer is way more than your standard autobiography. Schumer makes it clear in the beginning of the book that this is not a memoir or an autobiography; she says she’s way too young to be writing either of those types of books. Instead, she has collected a series of essays that detail the many different experiences that have made her the woman she is today. Throughout this book, Schumer says over and over that she didn’t luck into her career. She worked insanely hard and even though now some people think she has made it, she still has to hustle to get what she wants. Developing new material and testing it out hasn’t changed. She still tries out material on friends, performs in comedy clubs, and is constantly mining her daily life and interactions for humorous material for her work.

Schumer pulls stories from her past and nothing is off limits. She talks about relationships, her father’s battle with multiple sclerosis, her family, her awkward teenage years, her work, and sex. Schumer is not afraid to strip down and bare her soul in order to make sure readers understand what she is talking about. I was thoroughly impressed with this book. I was expecting something hilarious all the way through. Don’t get me wrong; this book had me laughing out loud, but Schumer gets down and talks about very serious topics that I wasn’t expecting, but those sections were so well-worded, I found myself unable to put it down. I recommend you give it a try and let me know what you think below.


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Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

vinegar girlVinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a modern retelling of the classic Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. Initially I picked this book to listen to through OverDrive for two reasons: the cover looked interesting and it was available for checkout. I’m glad I checked this out. This was very quick to listen to, the characters are all excellently developed, and the narrator hooked me in.

In this retelling, Kate Battista lives with her father, Dr. Louis Battista, and her younger teenage sister, Bunny. Kate works as a nursery school assistant, takes care of the family house, and has watched her younger sister ever since their mother’s early death. Dr. Battista, a research scientist studying autoimmune disorders, is eccentric to sat the least. His compulsiveness shines through in his work and the way he wants Kate to run the house. Everyone’s laundry is done on a different day of the week, Bunny has to follow her father’s behavior rules 100%, and meal prep is down to a specific science. Kate follows her father’s computer-generated grocery list and makes the family’s “meat mash” at the beginning of the week, a less-than-appetizing-sounding food concoction that contains all necessary nutrients that they then eat for the rest of the week.

Dr. Battista has gone through a number of different lab assistants, the current one, Pyotr Shcherbakov, being his favorite. Pyotr is apparently a star scientist from Russia that Dr. Battista, who is equally famous in Russia, was lucky to get. Unfortunately for everyone, Pyotr’s three-year work visa is about to expire, meaning he will be deported back to Russia unless he marries an American girl. Dr. Battista has the perfect girl in mind for Pyotr: his oldest daughter, Kate, who has never turned down any of his crazy schemes before. This retelling of Shakespeare’s classic veers from the powerful emotions in the original, but is a delightful and positive retelling that leaves readers wondering what will happen between Kate, Pyotr, and her father? Will his research be successful? Will Kate and Pyotr get married? Will the meat mash ever change? Tyler’s quirkiness adds a new level to this classic Shakespeare, something that will have readers clamoring for more.


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There are many other clever adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, some of them you may not realize. Check out this list of my favorite adaptations (and call the library for more suggestions!).
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Faith, Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage

faithFaith, Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine is a refreshing step back from the traditional female superhero tale. This first volume introduces Faith Herbert, a woman orphaned at a young age who has always wanted to do something great. Faith is a psionically gifted psiot, which basically means that Faith can fly and has telekinetic powers. She’s a body positive plus-size superhero known as the Zephyr. Pretty cool.

Now Faith is striking out on her own, having broke up with her superhero boyfriend and her crime-fighting superhero group all at almost the same time. She has decided to take control of her life and live how she’s always wanted to be: in control of her own destiny. This means that Faith is working a day job as a reporter with a secret identity and a group of colleagues who have no idea that she is Faith Herbert OR the Zephyr.

Patrolling at night, Faith stumbles upon a conspiracy revolving around the disappearances of multiple psiots around the city. Her private and public lives come to a screeching collision at her work place, where Faith is forced to mesh her two worlds together and hope things work out. The missing psiots occupy Faith’s mind, leaving her to patrol more and ask questions. She uncovers a mysterious plot to use the psiots by aliens. Of course it’s aliens. This conspiracy is deeply-rooted in entertainment, politics, and regular societies. Faith uses her superhero savvy to save the world, but finds she may need help.