The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer was a pleasant diversion from what I was expecting. I’ve read everything else Meyer has written (the Twilight series and The Host). I actually really enjoyed all her previous works and occasionally would re-read them when I needed a brain cleanse/a break from the heavy nonfiction I was reading. They fit my niche. I picked up The Chemist without really reading the blurb on the back and expected to have a supernatural and science fiction thriller on my hands. I was wrong. It was way more realistic fiction than I was expecting, but I was okay with it.

The Chemist is about an ex-agent who used to work for the U.S. government. She must do one last job in order to clear her name, but this job isn’t nearly as clear cut as she is led to believe. The agency she used to work with is so undercover and clandestine that it doesn’t have a name. People don’t know that the agency exists, but they have heard the rumors of the woman who works there. Being unable to discuss the nature of her work outside her lab, she formed a close relationship with her mentor Barnaby, another scientist. Her employers decided that changes must be made, that her area was a liability, and they killed Barnaby, the only person she ever trusted.

She finds herself on the run from her former employers who are still hunting her. People have been sent to kill her, but she’s managed to escape. After the last attempt on her life, she realizes that while she was working for the agency, she must have either overheard something she shouldn’t have or something she worked on has made her a liability. They have decided she must be eliminated.

After one of her former employers approaches her and offers her a way to get the agency off her back, she must weigh the consequences of taking the job vs. staying on the run. If she takes it, she will be uprooting her entire existence, the only way she has been able to keep herself alive. If she takes it, she will be putting herself both back on her former employers’ radar and, more importantly, physically back within their reach. If she doesn’t take it, she’ll have to stay on the run, continually changing her name and not forming bonds with anyone. She’s safer on the run and alive, but she’s not really living a life when she has to continuously look over her shoulder. This job is her only chance to get her life back and to get her former employer to stop trying to kill her. She decides to take it.

The information she learns while she is performing this job makes her question things she thought she knew as truths. Her life is now in even more danger once she figures out this job’s reality. She is forced to once again fight for her life and now the lives of the other people involved in this job. Even though this job was supposed to be her ticket to freedom, it has instead made her life infinitely more complicated. She quickly finds herself having to rely on others, something she would never even consider if her options weren’t rapidly shrinking.

Meyer has crafted a story that is true to her writing style. Her heroine is strong and fierce, willing to fight for what she believes to be her due. This novel is a highly suspenseful thriller, one that leads readers through a wild goose chase of sorts as the main character works to figure out exactly who is after her, what she is willing to do, and what she is willing to sacrifice in order to save herself. I greatly enjoyed this novel and I think that listening to it added to my suspense level and enjoyment. Meyer also adds a layer of separation between readers and the main character by hardly ever referring to her by name, something that is necessary given the fact that since she worked for such a clandestine agency, her whole working life was a secret and now she must keep things even more under-wraps in order to stay alive. I highly recommend this book.


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The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee

Books that deal with heartbreak seem to be my go-to listen lately. Maybe that’s just because I know the plot will be interesting and engaging, but nevertheless, I find myself gravitating towards heart-squeezing family dramas. The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee is full of devastating consequences, yet heartwarming relationships that make you yearn for each character’s eventual happiness.

The Expatriates is the inter-woven tale of three American women living in Hong Kong. Each woman is a part of the same very small expat community. Their reasons for coming to Hong Kong as well as their personal and professional lives may be different, but the situations that they find themselves in all become intertwined rather quickly, sometimes without them even realizing it. (I was constantly reminded of the idea that we are only separated from someone else by six degrees of separation throughout this book. And also by the fact that the smallest action can change our lives so drastically.)

Mercy is a young Korean American who finds herself in Hong King after her graduation from Columbia. She has moved to Hong Kong looking for a change from the normal and the promise of a more lucrative job. Marcy is haunted by a terrible accident that happened to her recently. Hilary is a housewife whose marriage is on the rocks. She gave up the bulk of her career to follow her husband, David, to Hong Kong, so he could further his career. Hilary finds herself thinking over and over about her inability to have a child and how if she was only able to conceive, her marriage problems would evaporate. Margaret is a married mother of three who is forced to deal with a shattering loss that has destroyed her life and her family. She is having to find a new normal, something she must survive even if she isn’t quiet sure how to do so.

Mercy, Hilary, and Margaret soon find their lives to be thoroughly enmeshed together in was neither of them expected. Each woman must deal with their own separate issues and struggles, but soon they fins that there are many common threads linking them together. Consequences run rampant through their lives, dictating their decisions, their lifestyles, and their relationships. This book was very moving and I found myself listening to it obsessively to try to figure out how their lives were going to unfold.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Bibliophilia

Bibliophilia, by N. John Hall, is an epistolary novel and, even though the correspondence is via email, it could just as well be letters that arrive by mail . Larry Dickerson develops relationships with Christie’s auction house staff, academics and other book experts as he educates himself about the art of book collecting. His enthusiasm is contagious; he isn’t afraid of appearing naïve or uneducated. He asks the questions that the reader would ask, and the answers he receives are a mixture of the personal and the professional.

Some of their respect and interest may be due to the fact that Larry is newly rich, having sold his great-great grandfather’s correspondence with some noted Victorian authors for  $400,000 – a portion of which he  plans to invest in collecting rare books. Larry always tries to tie his collecting to something he has an interest in, so he begins with Victorians such as Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope. Along the way, he learns about  printing and publishing history – in both the U.S. and England, condition, inscriptions and book jackets – all of which affect the value of  books, whether they are first editions or not.

Soon, his correspondence leads him to New Yorker writers and cartoonists; he begins to collect J.D. Salinger, Roth, Updike, James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, and others. It’s fun to get a quick overview of these authors, as well as famed New Yorker editors Harold Ross and William Shawn.

There is a subplot about fraud in the world of rare books – an entertaining way to learn about the underbelly of unscrupulous book dealers. Bibliophilia is an interesting mix of a sort of superficial, middlebrow learning and literary enthusiasm.

 

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler

For me, this was an ideal book-on-cd. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves  by Karen Fowler was an optimum balance between fascinating exposition – about animal behavior, the ethics of scientific theory and experiments – in and out of the lab, and novelistic appeal. Rosemary, the narrator, is an interesting mix of reliable (she addresses the reader and seems to be candid) but also unreliable (memories are faulty especially when critical parts of the story take place in early childhood).

I love to be lectured to, not in the you’ve-done-something-wrong sense, but in the academic sense, where you are given information in a logical and well-thought-out way. I learned a lot about psychology, and  primate and human behavior, as well as memory.

Sometimes this was difficult to listen to – Fowler does an amazing job of showing us our ability to minimize the pain of confusion of animals. The human and animal characters in this story are not abstractions; they are unique and complicated beings, and their pain is our pain. The humans behave in ways that are understandable but not always very likeable.

It’s also a mystery. Early in the book, Rosemary says that she’s lost two siblings. Little by little, she reveals who went missing and why. Even the title is a bit of a mystery, and there’s an a-ha! moment when you realize it’s significance. There’s so much to think about, and to talk about; I’m dying to discuss!

Joyland by Stephen King

Recently, I went on a road trip and I wanted to listen to an audiobook during the long drive. My travelling companion brought Stephen King’s Joyland. I was not thrilled. I have not read a Stephen King book for quite awhile and I imagined that I was going to listen to another book about some weird creepy monsters. As you might guess, books about monsters are not the books that I typically read anymore. So, as I put the CD in the car, I told myself to give it a chance. Maybe I would enjoy this book.

I’m glad that I gave it a chance.

Joyland is not a book about weird creepy monsters. Our narrator, Devin Jones, tells us the story of the summer when he was 21 years old. The year was 1973. Devin was a college student at the University of New Hampshire. While he was looking through the help wanted section, he saw a listing for an amusement park in North Carolina. The park was called Joyland. Devin’s girlfriend encourages him to apply for the job, telling him that it will be an adventure. So Devin takes the bus down to Joyland to apply for the job. One carny, Lane Hardy, has worked at Joyland for years. He gives Devin pointers on where to eat and tells him about a boardinghouse he can live at during the summer. Lane lets Devin ride the Carolina Spin (the Ferris Wheel). Devin enjoys the view of the beach and the ocean. He knows that he wants to work at Joyland. When Devin goes to the boardinghouse, his new landlady tells him about a ghost story at the amusement park. A few years earlier, a young woman named Linda Gray was murdered in the Funhouse of Fear. Some people claim that they saw her ghost while they were on the ride.

When Devin comes back to North Carolina for the summer, he meets the other boarders at the house. Tom and Erin are also college students working at Joyland for the summer. The trio quickly become friends and they work on the same team at the park. Devin’s girlfriend breaks up with him and he is heartbroken. Devin drops a lot of weight and the staff at the park become concerned about him. Lane Hardy tells Devin that he needs to eat. Devin finds that Lane is a helpful guy and the two have many positive interactions. Lane may be carny and Devin a greenie, but it is clear that Lane likes the kid.

One day, Devin, Erin and Tom have the day off. They decide to go to Joyland to check out the Funhouse of Fear and see if they spot the ghost of Linda Gray. Devin and Erin have a good time on the ride but Tom does not. He reveals that he saw Linda Gray and refuses to speak about it. Devin asks Erin to research Linda Gray when she goes back to college. Devin decides to stay at Joyland and mend his broken heart. Erin comes back to visit Devin in October. She reveals that there were other murders at other amusement parks. She finds pictures of Linda Gray and her killer at Joyland. Something about the pictures bothers Devin but he cannot figure out what is troubling him.

After the amusement park is closed for the summer, Devin meets a woman and her son. They live in a large house on the beach. At first, the woman, Annie, is distant even though Mike tries to engage Devin. One day, Annie and Mike are struggling to fly a kite. Devin offers to help and is able to get the kite in the air. Mike is overjoyed and Annie warms up to Devin. They develop a friendship. Devin quickly figures out that Mike has some psychic abilities when Mike is able to answer Devin’s unspoken questions. The fortune teller at Joyland had told Devin that he would meet a kid with the Sight. This ability proves to be useful to Devin.

Joyland was not the typical Stephen King horror story. If you were a fan of Stephen King’s novella, “The Body” in the book Different Seasons, you will like Joyland. If you do not remember the story, “The Body”, then you might remember the movie that it was based on, Stand By Me. Joyland is full of mystery and suspense and the tone is nostalgic. The audiobook narrator, Michael Kelly, has a great voice to listen. I highly recommend listening to this one.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star continues my journey back into young adult fiction. I used to exclusively read only young adult fiction, but about five years ago, I decided that I needed to read outside my comfort area (and to read books with people my own age in them). Starting to read in a new area can be daunting, so I recommend looking at award-winning book lists and even articles with lists of books on different subjects. That is how I stumbled upon The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

Nicola Yoon had already been on my radar because of her book, Everything, Everything, but I had never actually read it. When I found an article that was talking up The Sun is Also a Star, I decided to give it a go and try to see what everyone was getting so excited about. (I was also slightly obsessed with making things using yarn when I saw this book cover, so I figured I needed to read it!)

The Sun is Also a Star takes place all in one day. Natasha is a girl who loves everything that is based in facts. She adores science and has a list of facts for almost any situation. She lives with her parents and her younger brother in a one bedroom apartment. Natasha’s life had been going along perfectly until one day when her father makes a mistake and ruins everything for the whole family. Her life could implode around her. Daniel is a boy who never messes up and is therefore seen as the good son at home and the good student at school. After his older brother messes up in college, the pressure on Daniel to be perfect becomes even higher.

When the two meet, Daniel finds himself questioning what his parents have always told him and just how he lives his life. He is a poet and a dreamer, but must live up to his parents’ high expectations. Daniel must find a way to be around Natasha more than he probably should. Natasha is more hesitant than Daniel and finds his exuberance about their “relationship” daunting and more than a little off-putting. Daniel feels that there is something magical and extraordinary between them, if only he could get Natasha to feel the same way. Daniel reaches out into the universe to try to convince Natasha that their futures can change, but he has trouble believing he can change himself.

This book, while taking place in one day, shines through a series of flashbacks into each character’s life. Minor characters that Natasha and Daniel come in contact with have their own sections within the book as well. The tiny snapshots into daily life show the effect a short interaction with a complete stranger can have on both your life and the other person’s. The ending left me wondering what had really happened between the two. Long after I finished reading this book, I found myself thinking a lot about fate, how even the smallest and inconsequential of our actions can greatly impact our lives and the lives of others, and how our attitudes and thoughts can influence our futures as well. The Sun is Also a Star had more of an impact on me than I thought it would. I’m glad I decided to pick it up and give it a try.

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

In high school and college, I read romance books as a way to escape from all the stress of school and work. Light, fluffy, sweet reads where the main characters end up together were my favorite. Add a little miscommunication into the mix with just a shadow of doubt that the main characters may not end up together, and I’m hooked! When I discover an author who fits my criteria, I gobble up the rest of their books until I’m finished. Mary Kay Andrews has hit the sweet spot for me recently.

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews is a solid fiction/romance read. Even though this book is considered fiction, there was definitely a strong romance feel to it and I quickly kept reading to see what would happen to all the love interests. I also really enjoyed the fact that there were multiple storylines running concurrently and they were not all mushy, gushy love. I could actually imagine a story like this happening in real life!

Cara Kryzik is a florist in Savannah, Georgia. Having been sold the shop by the previous owner for just $1, Cara is struggling to make ends meet and to break into the wedding scene in this tight-knit, high society area. She even had to get a loan from her father in order to keep the store open, something he brings up in every conversation she has with him. Coming off a fresh divorce, Cara is determined to keep her shop up and running. She may not believe in love, but she believes in beautiful flower arrangements. Cara realizes that it’s all about who you know in this town and keeping those important people happy will lead her to more and more business.

Cara’s luck begins to change once she scores the account to do the flowers for the wedding of a lifetime. She has become the go-to person to do flowers for any society wedding. Everything is peachy! Even though she desperately needs money, Cara still finds the time to help out her high society clients sort of pro-bono and even does flowers at a big discount for some of her poorer clients. She’s even dabbled a bit in wedding planning, helping make sure everything is together and ready for her clients’ big days.

Planning this almost million dollar wedding has put her in the sights of a rival florist who resents Cara for taking what he considers to be his. Add in a man who has stolen her precious goldendoodle, Poppy, and a bride who doesn’t seem all that invested in either planning her wedding or having a huge wedding despite what her step-mother and father want, and Cara finds herself struggling to make sure everyone is happy this wedding season. She must confront her own feelings about love, while working with so many demanding brides and mothers-of-the-bride. This book had me rooting for Cara to finally have no worries and to be stress-free. It’s a great read. Check it out and let me know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I’m a cover girl (not the make-up kind of cover girl), but the kind of person who is intrigued by book covers and usually picks her next read based on what cover catches her eye. That’s how I started my latest read. In my latest fit of boredom in a doctor’s office, I was scrolling through OverDrive trying to find something new to listen to. I stumbled upon Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, an author whose book covers always caught my eye, but also an author that I had never read. The book blurb sounded promising(“Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?” – provided by publisher), so I decided to give it a go.

I loved it. Truly Madly Guilty is a domestic fiction romp into the lives of three different families: Erika and her husband Oliver, Clementine and her husband Sam (and their two little girls, Holly and Ruby), and Tiffany and her husband Vid (and daughter Dakota and their dog). Tiffany and family live next door to Erica and Oliver, while Erika and Clementine have been friends since childhood. Sam and Clementine seem to have everything together. Clementine is a cellist preparing for a new audition and Sam just started a new job. They are also busy parents to two adorable daughters.

Erika and Clementine have been friends for so long that they can have whole conversations just by looking at each other. Their friendship is immensely complicated though. The real story of Erika and Clementine’s friendship unfolds throughout the book. I was reminded of unpeeling an onion or a head of lettuce. There are so many layers to their relationship that just when I thought I had them figured out, I didn’t really know anything at all.

One day, Vid, Erika’s boisterous neighbor, invites everyone over to his house for a barbecue. Clementine is delighted because that means that Vid and Tiffany will be able to be a buffer between her and Erika. Erika and Oliver are the uptight, childless, responsible, and type-A couple, while Sam and Clementine are more care-free and go with the flow. Plus Clementine has always felt an obligation to Erika, due in part to the fact that her mother always forced her to hang around Erika even when she didn’t want to. This barbecue is just what they all needed: a chance to relax and enjoy good food, good company, and good music. A series of unfortunate events both leading up to that day and the events of the day of the fateful barbecue changes everything for all three seemingly perfect families. They are left reeling and feeling guilty for their actions.

Truly Madly Guilty is told from multiple characters’ points of view, as well as by switching back and forth between present day and the day of the barbecue. Readers are given crumbs of information throughout the book, but what really happened at the barbecue isn’t revealed until towards the end of the book, about 3/4s of the way through. I really liked all the background information that was given before we found out what happened the day of the barbecue. I’ve read reviews that disliked all the build-up, but I really enjoyed being able to guess what could have possibly happened.

This story is read in OverDrive by one narrator who manages to change her voice subtly for each character she is voicing, so much so that it seems at times that there is more than one narrator for this book. I was easily able to keep all of the characters separate in my mind, a feat I was amazed at given how many different points of view are represented within. I enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty and am looking forward to reading more Liane Moriarty books in the future.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult fiction in my spare time. A vast majority of them have dealt with sad topics: mental illness, suicide, death, endings of relationships, abuse, homelessness etc. These are all topics that teens deal with on a daily basis, so I appreciate the fact that there are resources out there that teens(and their parents/guardians/loved ones) can turn to if they need some help. However, reading all these angsty books with no break and with no happy ending in sight is throwing me down a rabbit hole of sadness. I needed a break or a book with a happy realistic ending, not a sad realistic ending. Enter Jennifer Niven.

I’d read All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven last year and had loved her work (fair warning though: this book has a sad realistic ending dealing with mental illness and suicide). Flipping through a review magazine, I found Holding Up the Universe, also by Niven. The premise sounded like it could possibly end well and I was willing to risk it because I had loved her previous book so much.

Holding Up the Universe tells the story of Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. It is told from both of their points of view, alternating chapter to chapter. Libby Strout was once known as “America’s Fattest Teen”, a teen whose house had to be partially demolished in order to get her out of it. Back in school for the first time in years, no one can see past her weight. She’s still just the fat girl even though she’s lost 300 pounds. After her mom’s death, Libby is left picking up herself, her father, and their grief. She is ready for the new start high school has to offer.

Jack Masselin is the quintessential high school popular boy. He has swagger and the ability to give people what they want. He is able to fit in. While he seems like he has it all together, Jack has a major secret. He cannot recognize faces. Jack has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize people by their faces. Everyone he meets, he has to try to figure out who they are by their identifiers: big hair, beauty mark, Mohawk, etc. Jack gets through life by being the funny, charming guy, but doesn’t let people get close.

Jack and Libby’s lives become entangled together in the aftermath of a cruel high school game. Sitting squarely in community service and group counseling together forces them to make a connection. This connection changes both of their lives, forcing them to confront issues that neither of them realized they are carrying. Will their connection change their world for the better or for the worse? Add in cruel high school students, family issues, obesity, brain injuries, and the possibility of love and Jack and Libby are in for a crazy ride of self-esteem, self-reliance, and teenage angst. Holding Up the Universe was the exact book palette refresher I needed.

Tippi: a Memoir by Tippi Hedren

 

If you do not know the name Tippi, you probably know her face. Tippi Hedren starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s,The Birds, playing the character Melanie Daniels. The role was Hedren’s film debut in 1963. Previously, she had modeled and starred in commercials. It was a television commercial that caught the eye of the famous director. Hitchcock told his staff to find the girl in the advertisement and they did what they were told. Tippi received a phone call letting her know that, “a famous director was interested in her”. No one would tell her who the famous director was but she was thrilled to find out that it was Alfred Hitchcock. Tippi signed a contract with him and starred in two of his films: The Birds and Marnie.

You may have heard that Tippi Hedren has said that Hitchcock sexually harassed her. And that he sexually assaulted her. While Tippi goes into some detail about the harassment, she will not reveal the full story of the assault. So if that is your only interest in the book, then you will be disappointed. There is a movie about Tippi and Hitchcock working together and there are scenes where Hitchcock is being inappropriate. The Girl (which was Hitchcock’s nickname for Tippi) was a HBO movie that is now on DVD. And if you don’t subscribe to HBO, you are in luck. You can check it out from the library. I watched the movie before I read the book ( I know, I know. Bad librarian!) and it made me interested to learn more about Tippi Hedren. Hence, that is why I read the book and why I am now writing this blog.

So even though Tippi went through a difficult time being an actress for Alfred Hitchcock, she continued to work in other films. But the big story in Tippi is that she ended up being the caretaker of several large cats. I do not want to tell the entire story, or how Tippi and her husband, Noel Marshall, thought it would be a great idea to have their own pride of lions to make a film about. The stories about her adventures in raising lion cubs are quite funny (and sometimes scary). Tippi also had tigers, cheetahs and leopards. There was also a Liger. Eventually they were forced to move out of Hollywood so they could live somewhere large enough to take care of all the big cats. They even acquired an elephant. Now the place is called Shambala. You can learn more about the place and the ROAR foundation at Shambala. Or read the book, Tippi: a Memoir.

The Birds
Marnie
The Girl