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.

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center is a book about starting over. Helen Carpenter is thirty-two years old and has been divorced for a year. She is just fine with how her life is going, thank you very much, but if she actually thinks about it, she really needs to take a break to try and put herself together again. Her much younger brother, younger by ten years, mentions off-hand about a wilderness survival course. Thinking that this is exactly what she needs, Helen decides to sign up and give it a try. Right when she’s getting ready to leave, her brother’s best friend, Jake, tells her that he is also coming on the trip and just so happens to need a ride. Great. This life-changing journey has turned into a cross-country trip with her younger brother’s annoying best friend. Not what she wanted at all.

The wilderness survival course that Helen has signed up for is three weeks long and puts her and a group of people smack dab in the remotest part of a mountain range in Wyoming. Her fellow survivalists are nothing like what she was expecting. Instead of the hippie folks and rugged back-packers she was envisioning, Helen finds herself at orientation with a group of college students all significantly younger than her and who are basically doing this course as a way to get college credit. The person in charge doesn’t even look like he’s out of high school, for goodness sake! Helen is clearly out of her element. This point is further emphasized when the instructor lays out a series of very strict rules. Helen is in way over her head.

In order to begin this course with a clean slate, she tells Jake to pretend like he doesn’t even know her. She wants to begin anew. This sort of backfires on her when Helen realizes that Jake has become the popular guy and also that no one else in her group really likes her that much. Such begins Helen’s road to rediscovery, a wilderness survival course that is nothing like she thought it would be with people she wasn’t expecting. With sore, blistery feet, a medical emergency, a summer blizzard, and love blooming on rocky trails, Happiness for Beginners is a breath of fresh air as Helen works to remake herself into the new person she wants to become.


This book is also available as an Overdrive eAudiobook, which is how I listened to this book.

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.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Brothers by Da Chen

Brothers by Da ChenDo you like historical fiction? Try Brothers by Da Chen. The book takes place in China during the Cultural Revolution and concerns two brothers, Tan and Shento, one born to wealth and privilege , the other to poverty and shame. The story follows their lives as they grow to manhood and fulfill their destinies. Though a work of fiction, the author has also written memoirs of his life in China, and this book draws upon his experiences during those tumultuous times.