Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is not what I thought it would be, but I was pleasantly surprised! (To be honest, I picked this book purely based on the cover, something I’m guilty of doing a lot.) This book is a literary thriller that tells the story of the far-reaching consequences of identity theft. Await Your reply begins by introducing the three main characters: Miles, Ryan, and Lucy.

Miles is on a mission to find his missing twin brother, Hayden. Hayden disappeared over ten years ago, leaving Miles desperate for clues. His search takes him everywhere and has Miles deciphering letters and clues that will hopefully lead to Hayden. The brothers’ relationship and their shared childhood is a major driving factor in Miles’ concern over where his brother is.

Ryan is struggling in college and basically in his life in general. He doesn’t know what to do. Add in that he just realized that he’s adopted(how could his parents hide that secret from him his whole life?!) and Ryan is even more lost than before. His desire to learn more about his past and figure out what he wants to do with his life lead him down a dark road.

Lucy is completely over her small country hometown. She wants to escape, travel the world, and find her purpose. Lucy is presented with a way to leave her hometown in the dust, something that she jumps on! Lucy’s escape quickly proves more dangerous and mysterious than she initially thought. The consequences of her rash decision will leave her reeling and confused over just who she should trust.

I found the plotlines and each character’s timelines to be a little tricky to follow at first. If you decide to read this book, I urge you to not give up because everything becomes clear towards the end. I honestly was very surprised about some of the connections and the twists/turns that the author came up with. I didn’t see them coming! Highly recommend (If you can listen to this book, do it! The narrator was very good.)


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I spend a lot of time reading review journals, magazines, and online blogs about books. This helps me to order the most current books for my sections and keeps me aware of other books that are coming out across the whole library. The Hate U Give came across my radar as a book to recommend to teens about gun violence. Based on all of the talk going around about this book and its relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement, I knew I needed to read The Hate U Give if just to try to understand the power this book has.

The Hate U Give is a MASSIVE New York Times and Amazon bestseller. If the title drives you grammar nerds a little crazy, Thomas has reasons for it. The Hate U Give comes from the acronym THUG LIFE that Tupac Shakar had tattooed across his abdomen. It stands for “The hate u give little infants f**** everybody”. (If you’re offended by that word, I strongly suggest you don’t read this book. It doesn’t shy away from violence and language.) That acronym runs rampant throughout The Hate U Give and the main characters keep returning to it. It’s important. Now let’s get down to what this book is about.

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr.  By the time she is sixteen, Starr has seen both of her best friends die as a result of gun violence: one by a gang drive-by and the other just recently fatally shot by a cop. Starr was out at a party, something she never does, when shots rang out. She and her friend Khalil took off running to his car. On their way home, they are stopped by the police, pulled over, and Khalil is shot and killed. (Obviously there’s more to the story, but I don’t want to give too many spoilers!) Starr is the only witness to Khalil’s fatal shooting by that police officer. This fact causes her a great deal of agony. Does she speak up? Obviously her parents and the cops know that she witnessed his death, but does she tell her friends? How will she react when the story is plastered all over the news? What will she do if the district attorney contacts her or if the cops want to interview her? Starr wants to stand up for Khalil, but she is afraid. How will she react if people start telling lies about Khalil? She just doesn’t know what to do.

Starr has grown up in the rough area of Garden Heights, but with a solid family backing her up. Her mother works as a nurse in a clinic and desperately wants to move away to protect the family. Her father, known as Big Mav, is a former gang-member who took the fall for King, a notorious gang lord in the community, and spent three years in prison when Starr was younger. Now Big Mav owns the local grocery store and is working to make the community better. Starr doesn’t go to the local high school; instead she goes to Williamson, a private school in a more affluent neighborhood where instead of being a black majority, she’s one of only two black kids in her school. Starr constantly talks about her Williamson self and her Garden Heights self. They’re kept separate and each Starr acts different. Her Williamson friends and her Garden Heights friends hardly ever mix. This is a life that Starr has kind of adjusted to, but the slightest bump to her normal life could cause her world to come crashing down. Khalil’s death rocks her world and Starr soon finds herself and her family the target of the police and King, the local drug lord, as everyone puts pressure on her and intimidates her in order to figure out what really happened the night that Khalil died.

The author, Angie Thomas, began writing in response to the fatal shooting in Oakland, California in 2009 of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. She quickly found the subject too painful, so Thomas set the book aside. After the stories of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice broke the news, Thomas knew she had to start writing this book again. Thomas had to voice her opinions, had to acknowledge the neighborhood where she grew up, and needed to shine a light on Black Lives Matter. The themes of social justice, opinion, responsibility, existing in two worlds, and violence are so prevalent and deeply explored in this book because Thomas knows what she is talking about. She lived it.

This book has been optioned for a film and is in development. I can only hope that the movie is just as moving as the book was. The movie has the opportunity to further change the world.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter is the story of the Kurc family and their experiences  during World War II. This novel is actually the story of her family, and she uses the real names of her grandparents, mother, aunts, uncles and cousins.

I was struck by the similarity of phrase, when reading an account in the April 24th issue of The Dispatch  and The Rock Island Argus  of a speech by Doris Fogel.  During Holocaust Remembrance week,  Ms. Fogel, a Chicago resident who spent years in a Shanghai ghetto during World War II, said: “No one could have foretold the horror and hardship the coming years would bring to millions of Jews and others,” … “Every day, I realized I was one of the lucky ones.”

The Kurcs are from a small town in Poland, and as the war goes on they see their lives and homes disintegrate. Some are forced to live in ghettos and  concentration camps, some are sent to a Siberian gulag. The “luckiest”  is Addy who is living in Paris when the war starts, and he cannot get back home to Poland, and he can’t let them know where he is. Finally, he gets a visa to Brazil. After the war, the Red Cross is able to connect those who survive and the extended family emigrates to Brazil, where Addy can help them rebuild. They’ve lost their homes, identities, friends, belongings, savings, and occupations, but in the end they still have their family and faith.

Survivors were left in limbo after the war. Hunter describes in realistic detail the rules, regulations and laws involved in getting visas, and the rigors and dangers of travel – both during and after the war. I was unfamiliar with the level of atrocity in Poland and how, even after the war, Jews were still  persecuted in Germany.

Hunter personalizes the horror of what so many suffered. It’s hard to comprehend the scope of what happened and how many millions of stories there are that have been lost. The reader gets a small sense of this by following the members of the Kurc family as they, incrementally, have everything taken from them. Another tragedy is losing so many stories – as the last several generations pass away, along with their first-person accounts.

 

 

 

 

Woman of God by James Patterson

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, I’m slowly making my way through big name authors in adult fiction. There are so many books available to read that I know I will never have time to read them all, so I have been utilizing my driving time by listening to audio books. By doing so, I can listen to one book while I’m driving and read another one when I’m not! Two books at once!

Woman of God by James Patterson was my latest listen. I checked this book out based primarily on the description that I read in OverDrive. The summary listed details the selection of a new Pope in Rome, an occurrence that would normally garner major attention on a normal day, but this time there are rumors that the new Pope could be a woman. This news rocks the world as the woman candidate is not like any other priest in the Catholic Church’s history. Sounds interesting, right? I thought so and then promptly checked it out.

This book made me cry and I’m not talking about little tears escaping from the corner of my eyes. I’m talking about crocodile tears and heartbreak. Woman of God begins with a prologue. Brigid Fitzgerald is rumored to be the new pope, a fact that has led dozens of reporters and thousands of people to descend on her doorstep and her church. She is worried about the safety of her daughter and given her tragic past, Brigid knows that people are capable of anything. Weaving her way through the massive crowds and to her church to do Easter mass, Brigid mentally prepares herself to speak to everyone. Once before her congregation and after her initial talk, a man shouts at her from the crowd. Brigid feels sharp pain across her body and her world goes dark.

The book then flashes back to the beginning of Brigid Fitzgerald’s remarkable adult life. She graduated young from college and headed to the front lines of Sudan to work as a doctor in refugee camps. Working there earned her the adoration of her coworkers and the refugees, but also targeted her as the enemy of many powerful people. The Sudan was the first in a traumatic series of trials that prove to test her faith in humanity and in God at every single turn. Just when her life seems to be going well and God has decided to bless her, Brigid is tested again and again in a number of ways that had me wondering where she even found the strength to get out of bed every day.

Brigid began life as the daughter of drug-addled parents and her childhood was rife with drama. Going to the Sudan and then traveling around the world helping others gives meaning to her life. Brigid’s own convictions and callings differ from those of the mainstream Catholic Church, a fact that puts her at odds with and makes her a target of those who believe adherence to tradition is of utmost importance. Despite the threats and the immense loss she goes through, Brigid is forced to rise above and find a way to rally people behind her, so she doesn’t lose her faith or her life.

I greatly enjoyed this book, even though it made me a bucket of emotions at times. There are so many intricate pieces that fit into making Brigid the woman that she is.  10/10: would recommend.


This book is also available in the following formats:

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber was a delightfully powerful read. Beth Prudhomme has been living under her mother’s thumb in Chicago for the last 25 years. Her mother has decided what she wears, who she dates, where she works, and frankly, Beth is beyond tired of this. After squirreling away money to run away, she finally talks to her father (the more level-headed parent in her family) and he agrees to talk to her mother. Beth’s mother is broken-hearted to find out her daughter wants to move away and to Portland, no less! Portland is where Beth’s aunt Sunshine lives. Sunshine and Beth’s mother don’t get along, the result of a massive fight over thirty years ago. Beth doesn’t know the reason for their fallout as neither sister will discuss it. Nevertheless, Beth decides to move to Portland to restart her life after securing a promise from her mother that she will not contact or visit her for six months after her move. It sounds perfect!

In Portland away from her mother, Beth finally lives the life she wants. She lives close to her aunt in a one bedroom apartment that she is paying for herself by working as a music teacher at a local high school. Through her job, she meets Nichole Nyquist, a teacher who quickly becomes Beth’s friend. The two begin hanging out and Beth quickly finds herself absorbed into Nichole’s family. Nichole decides to set Beth up on a blind date and invites Beth over to dinner where she meets Sam, one of her husband Rocco’s friends. Sam is a tattooed mechanic who is guaranteed to send her severely conservative mother over the edge. He curses, has long hair, and a big bushy beard. Sam and Beth could not be more opposite. Beth has no desire to anger her parents more after her big move away, so she decides to steer clear of Sam. Sam is completely fine with that because the minute he sees Beth, he decides he wants no part of that prissy music teacher. (Kinda obvious where this is going to go, right? I thought so too.)

After their blind date, Beth gets into a horrible car accident and Sam visits her in the hospital at first because Nichole can’t come and because he doesn’t want her to be stuck there alone with no family or friends to visit. Sam soon finds himself unable to stay away, but there are barriers to the two getting together. Sam has massive skeletons in his closet that have proven to be huge trust barriers, Beth’s mom is largely against their relationship, yet the two of them are drawn together. In the end, Sam will have to figure out if he really fits into Beth’s life, whether or not he feels worthy/is wortty of her love. and if he is willing to fight for the two of them to be together.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It wasn’t as fluffy and formulaic as I was expecting, which I really appreciated. Each character had their own separate backstory and concurrent running story that fit in perfectly with Sam and Beth: Sunshine and her art, Beth and her volunteer work, Sam and his past, Sunshine and her sister’s messy separation, Nichole and Rocco’s relationship, and so so much more. I highly recommend this.

(Side note: This book is actually part of Debbie Macomber’s ‘New Beginnings’ series, a fact I didn’t realize until after I read If Not for You. All of these books read perfectly as standalones. I wasn’t left wondering about any plot point in If Not for You, so go ahead and read it by itself.)


This book is also available in the following formats:

Memory Man by David Baldacci

Memory Man by David Baldacci is the very first Baldacci book that I have ever read. His books have never caught my eye before, ie. the covers just don’t appeal to me, but I decided to give one a try. Looking through OverDrive, I found Memory Man. The premise was intriguing and seemed to be marginally similar to author Robert Galbraith’s Detective Cormoran Strike series.

Memory Man grabbed my attention with this tagline from the publisher: “A man with perfect memory…must solve his own family’s murder”. Interesting premise, right? I thought so. The idea that someone with a perfect memory would have difficulties figuring out who murdered his family had me instantly thinking about how frustrating that must be. I knew I had to read it. (And bonus: It’s the first book in a series!)

Amos Decker is a big man, not just personality wise, but size wise as well. In college, Decker played football. He was so good that he was able to go pro. Decker was the only person from his hometown of Burlington to ever go pro, a fact that everyone in town was proud of and something that Decker cherished. His life was changed because of football though. Decker’s very first pro football game, his very first play on the field, he was the victim of a violent helmet-to-helmet collision that destroyed his chances of ever playing ball again. It also left him with an extremely rare side effect: Decker never forgets anything. His mind seems to record everything.

Flash forward twenty years and Decker’s life is about to change again. Now he’s a police detective married with a young daughter. Returning from work late one night, he discovers the murdered bodies of his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law in his house. Decker is broken, his life is destroyed, and he quickly spirals out of control. He quits the police force, ends up losing his home, and finds himself living on the street. He ends up doing odd jobs as a private investigator, just enough work to provide him with a place to live in a somewhat seedy motel.

Over a year after his family’s murders, a man walks into the police station and confesses to the murders.  At the same time, Burlington is rocked by a catastrophic event that has the ability to cripple the town. Decker’s old partner comes to him seeking his help. He soon finds himself investigating his family’s murders and helping with the other police investigation. In order to get to the truth though, Decker must rely on his perfect memory, something that he has tried to manage and get control of over the years.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced, dealt with sticky subjects, and had me wondering who the bad guys were the whole time. I sometimes find thriller plots to be convoluted and even predictable, but Memory Man was a blessing. It is a thoroughly engaging, mysterious, suspenseful thriller that had me on edge until the very end.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

Do you like reading screenplays? Poetry? What about novels that aren’t written in the traditional sense? I’ve read many novels-in-verse, but the author has to really bring their A-game if I’m to be impressed with a novel-in-verse. Books written in a different way than I am used to take me a little while to get invested in and as a result, I usually avoid them. My latest listen, however, was not done in a traditional format and I loved it.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger was a whim of a book to listen to. I was searching through OverDrive having just finished my previous book. With none of my holds available for check-out, I honestly picked The Divorce Papers because the title sounded interesting, the cover was intriguing, and I knew it would be ripe with family drama. Had I clicked through and read the blurb provided by the publisher, I probably would have skipped reading it. I’m glad I impulse checked this audiobook out.

The Divorce Papers is not told like your traditional novel. Instead it’s told through a series of office memos, news articles, emails, legal papers, and personal correspondence. While you may think that this storytelling style leaves readers with the task of filling in much of the plot, you would be sadly mistaken. Each section is so detailed that while there may be gaps in dates, there are no gaps in plot and detail. You also benefit from a very precise timeline since everything in the book is dated. I greatly enjoyed that.

This book is the story of a messy divorce of two very high-profile members of a close-knit community. Sophie Diehl, a twenty-nine-year-old criminal law associate at a New England law firm has been dragged into doing her very first civil lawsuit. She was asked to do the intake interview for Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim, the daughter of her firm’s most important client. The only reason Sophie was asked to do the intake interview was because the partner who would have handled it was out of town. Having been promised by her boss that she would only have to do the intake interview and nothing more, Sophie went on with her regular criminal law work.

Nothing is ever quite that simple. Mia requests Sophie to be her lawyer, a request that the partners can’t turn down because she is the daughter of such an important client. Mia is a Mayflower descendant whose father runs a company and whose mother was an heiress. She was served with divorce papers at a popular local restaurant by her husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology. This will be Daniel’s second divorce, Mia’s first, and Sophie’s first one to handle as well. Despite that fact, Mia is insistent that Sophie be the one to handle her divorce. What follows is a tense battle between Mia and Daniel for custody of their 10-year-old daughter Jane, for control of their assets, for alimony/child support, and a myriad of other issues that pop up in a divorce. While Sophie is handling Mia’s divorce, other letters, emails, and office memos show how this divorce is affecting her specifically. Readers get a look into her relationships with her work colleagues, her family, her friends, and her lovers.

To be honest, my mind faded out through some sections when the narrator read the legal papers. If I want to read this book again, I will definitely pick up a physical copy. Because this book deals with a divorce, there are many sections talking about alimony and the division of assets, aka lots of numbers. Luckily each section of legal documents was usually followed by a personal letter or email that broke down the dense talking into something I actually understood. Don’t let the lawyer talk throw you off reading or listening to this book though. The storyline and interpersonal relationships more than make up for the lawyer speak. I greatly enjoyed this book, more than I expected.


This book is also available in the following formats:

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:

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: