Vicious Cycle

The Chain by Adrian McKinty is a page turner that I sped through in just over a day.  This book plays into one of every parent’s worst fears: losing a child.

Rachel is a single mom who has already had her fair share of trials in life when her fourteen-year-old daughter Kylie is kidnapped. This rockets her into a horrifying web known as The Chain. Now Rachel must pay a ransom and kidnap another child to continue the process.  Only when the next link is completed will the kidnapped child be safely returned to his or her parents. Getting the police involved or trying to outsmart the rules in any way will result in everyone’s death. Rachel reaches out to her former brother in law and ex-Marine Pete for help.  Readers follow the entire horrifying process by switching perspectives between Rachel, her daughter and Pete.

The trauma of the experience makes it impossible to truly overcome even after it’s supposedly over.  Rachel wonders if she can break the chain and its cycle of events?

Stepping Out

I’m finally back at it, and looking forward to getting my hands on as many books as possible this summer!

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling takes readers into thirteen-year-old Aven’s story. Life can be quite challenging for Aven as she was born with no arms. Her adoptive parents have pushed her to be self sufficient with the day to day tasks of eating, dressing and the like. Her biggest challenge is getting others to see and know her beyond her disability. This becomes extremely true when her family moves to Arizona to take over a failing tourist spot named Stagecoach Pass. She must start in a new school while adapting to their new setting. There is a lot to figure out about Stagecoach Pass and how her family ended up there.

Aven stays true to herself which allows her to befriend Connor, a boy with Tourette’s, and an overweight boy (forgetting his name). These friends support each other to be brave and to step outside their comfort zones. In the midst of their growing friendship is their work on solving the mystery of Stagecoach Pass, namely figuring out who the unseen owners (the Cavanaughs) really are, and more importantly, where they disappeared to.  

This is a sweet story of overcoming obstacles, the necessity of kindness and the power of friendship. 

Different Worlds

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett explores the extremely different experiences that can occur between races, in this case between biracial, identical twin sisters. Desiree and Stella Vignes were born in the tiny town of Mallard; a place in which lighter skin is prized.

Side note- I read this book about a month ago, so the details are a bit foggy. The story flashes back to events leading up to the teenaged sisters running away from home. The sisters were extremely close throughout this time, until eventually Stella abandons Desiree. It turns out that Stella met and later married a white man, and crossed over to be considered fully white. In making this decision she gave up all connections to her sister, mother and hometown. Meanwhile, Desiree marries a very black man who ends up being an abusive husband. Both sisters have daughters around the same age (of course with no knowledge of each other). Desiree’s daughter is dark-skinned like her father, while Stella’s daughter is blond and blue-eyed.

Desiree escapes her husband by moving back to Mallard with her mother and daughter. The story tracks Desiree’s progress as she moves back into her childhood home while also following Stella’s life as white housewife.

Eventually, the daughters/cousins randomly meet. The story gets interesting with the prospect of the sisters being reunited. But Stella’s life has been a lie, making it almost impossible for them to ever gain back the relationship they once had. White privilege is a central topic apparent through this book. It is also full of family dynamics, frustrations and important relationships. It kept my interest throughout, despite not having the ending I hoped for.

Lasting Impressions

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab spans 300 years of Addie’s life. Her story begins in a small town in France in 1714. In a desperate moment to escape a forced marriage, she promises her soul to a dark god, Luc, in exchange for a life of freedom. Her freedom is granted with a strange twist: no human remembers her past their first encounter and she remains the same age (23 if I’m remembering correctly). It’s the ultimate freedom and curse. Once someone walks away or falls asleep she instantly becomes a stranger to him/her. She is unable to leave a mark, have possessions, write or speak her name. Until she figures out some ways to bend the rules. 

We follow Addie through her experiences with numerous times, places and people. Addie is tempted to surrender to Luc numerous times. But her stubborn will and the promise of new encounters keeps her going. Everything changes when she meets Henry. He is a young man who actually remembers her. An intricate love story begins in which Addie feels truly seen. She finally can share her story. But things take a sad turn once she realizes that her relationship with Henry is all part of Luc’s plan. 

I found this story to be a satisfyingly steady and constantly intriguing read. One can’t help but think about the people that cross our paths and the impressions we make along the way. 

Scientific Love

I’ve been in a reading drought until finally reaching my April break! The One by John Marrs was a perfect remedy. 

This is a sci-fi book that follows several characters in pursuit of their perfect matches.  The Perfect Match happens to be the name of an app/site that asks users to send a DNA sample in order to find their one, guaranteed true love. Users pay a small fee if a match is found in order to receive his/her contact info. Amazing results are promised to follow. 

Nick and Sally are deeply in love and engaged to be married until discovering that they are not each other’s true match. Can a relationship survive the aftermath of this news? Mandy is already divorced and feels destined for loneliness until finding her match. Although, she may be too late once she discovers that her match was in a terrible hit and run accident. Christopher is a psychopathic serial killer; is it possible for true love to change him? Jade’s match lives across the globe from her. She needs to decide if meeting him face to face is worth leaving everything behind.  Ellie’s match seems perfect until she realizes he has a sinister plan. Each scenario includes plenty of interest and unexpected surprises. 

I was hooked from the beginning, and finished the book feeling that matters of the heart can’t be predicted or manipulated, even by science.

Secrets and Lies

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware is a reunion of sorts.  Main character Isa is beckoned by her former high school friend Kate along with the rest of their foursome: Fatima and Thea. The girls were inseparable through high school until being kicked out. 

Isa brings her infant daughter Freya along with her. The journey back to Salten has her reminiscing about meeting the girls and the relationships they built. Kate’s very easy-going dad (also the art teacher at the private school) allowed them to hang out at their house close to the school every weekend. Along with Kate’s stepbrother, the girls drank, smoked and pretty much did whatever they liked until the day that Kate’s dad was found dead. 

The girls devise a plan to hide his death so that Kate won’t be sent away from her home as she is just shy of her sixteenth birthday.  Now it’s almost twenty years later when bones are found in the marsh near Kate’s home. The women need to get their stories straight so as not to destroy their current lives. Or is the damage already irreversible? 

For me, this one is okay…

A Tasty Bite

The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell’Antonia was a fun brain break after my heavier reads of late. This book was recently introduced in Reese’s book club. 

Readers will feel hooked from the start comparable to watching a reality tv show (which is actually part of the story)!  It is about a family feud which started years ago between two sisters and their rival chicken restaurants, Frannie’s and Mimi’s.  The feud has lasted through generations. Amanda is one of two daughters of the current Mimi’s owner. She hasn’t been allowed back since marrying into Frannie’s family. 

Amanda contacted the show Food Wars to have the two restaurants filmed.  When they are chosen to be in the show all heck breaks loose. Her sister comes back from NYC to be part of the show. Old conflicts and drama resurface while new issues arise too. I was interested until the very end to find out who would win and if the family could reach any semblance of agreement.  While this is a “lighter” read, it definitely includes deeper topics around family dynamics, self-realization and mental illness. 

One book left from my holiday splurge, and then I really need to get back on track with my homework!

Intrigue

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a well-researched historical fiction story. Past and present(ish) characters connect in an unexpected and riveting way. 

The Alice Network is the name of a group of spies run by the incredible Lili (one of her aliases and based on a true person). This is not really Lili’s story, although she is an important figure in the book. Eve is one of the main (fictional) characters and her story is fascinating. She is discovered by a British officer who feels that her stutter combined with her innocent appearance and ability to speak three languages will serve them well. She is brought in for training and then is stationed at a French restaurant known for catering to German soldiers. She is an excellent spy willing to put herself at great risk for her country (and there is so much about how she does this). 

Her story is gradually told to the other main character, Charlie.  Charlie is traveling overseas from the States with her mother to hide her unplanned pregnancy. Being overseas pushes Charlie to rebel against her parents in order to investigate the disappearance of her cousin Rose (who was like a sister to her and who lived in France). She is determined to find out what happened to her, and Eve was the last person to fill out some paperwork about Rose. 

Eve and Charlie make an unlikely connection  in their quest to both find Rose and to avenge wrongs. This becomes a story of unexpected friendship, rebellion, adventure and strength. Eve’s story is what kept me turning pages. The author’s attention to detail around the time period and the people (explained in the author’s note at the end of the story) is evident and appreciated.  

Touring the Multiverse

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig continues my philosophical reading flow as Nora is caught between life and death following a suicide attempt. She finds herself in a massive library where she is assisted by her former school librarian.  After reviewing her massive book of regrets, she has the chance to undo a regret by selecting another life choice.  Each book represents an opportunity to experience other paths her life may have taken, and there are infinite possibilities. She arrives in each new life at midnight and may stay in that life for minutes or days.  The moment she feels unsatisfied she is transported back to the library where she can choose another book/life to experience. 

Nora encounters interesting situations and people along the way, in one case another “slider” such as herself.  She joins her life in numerous scenarios that address her long list of regrets or what ifs, including: if she moved to Australia with her friend instead of staying in her hometown, married her fiancée instead of backing out two days before the wedding, pursued swimming and became an Olympic medalist, became a glaciologist or a famous musician instead of studying philosophy (there are many pertinent philosophical quotes scattered throughout the story).  Some experiences are better than others, but even the best one doesn’t seem quite right. Time is critical because in reality she is close to death.  This leads to Nora’s final takeaway; she wants to live her own life.

I love the premise of this story. The concept of how a different choice might alter our lives is one I imagine most of us ponder from time to time.  There is a strong theme of appreciating life and making one’s own happiness which is so true, but may strike some as obvious or preachy.  Luckily, Nora learns this lesson before it’s too late.

Tragic Knowledge

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a philosophical treat. Four siblings (Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya) visit a fortune teller who is known for her ability to tell people the day they will die. We then follow each character in their death order from first to last which also coincides with the youngest to oldest child. Spoilers abound in this review which only glosses the surface of the story’s depth.

After their father’s death, Simon and Klara run away to San Francisco while Simon is only sixteen. Simon rapidly falls into a gay lifestyle, becoming a dancer in one of the many clubs and also pursuing ballet. Readers follow his escapades which ultimately lead to his death at a very young age.

Klara has always been fascinated by magic. Inspired by a grandmother she never met, she pursues the Iron Jaw act, which involves using her mouth to swing from a rope. She is a talented magician, but sick. Her life revolves around small time shows and alcoholism until she meets her eventual costar, husband and father of her daughter Ruby. He pushes them to take their act, The Immortalists, to Vegas. This leads to her death right before their first big show.

Daniel is full of anger toward the fortune teller. He feels that his siblings’ lives may have gone differently without her interference. He also feels guilt since it was his idea to go to her in the first place. Daniel ends up seeking out the woman which leads to his death.

This leaves Varya. She is the oldest sibling and her lifespan is predicted to be the longest, but her portion of the story is the shortest, and in my opinion, the saddest. She has spent her life with OCD and a fear of building relationships with anyone. Her only family interactions are with her mother and brother Daniel. She gave away a child for adoption following a one-night stand. Her main focus is on her work. She works with lab animals to discover how to lengthen one’s life through a limited diet. This part of the book was tough for me because of the animal involvement. Varya ends up working her way through her deeply psychological issues, but it takes a rough awakening.

Is there any benefit to knowing one’s own death date? Would knowing it shape people differently and lead them to make different choices than they would without knowing? I think the answer to the latter question is probably yes. This story is a tragedy with some glimmers of light through the strength of love and family. Unfortunately, this discovery is too late for most involved.