Audiobook Review: Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan

Title: Thank You for Listening
Author: Julia Whelan
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Publisher: Avon and Harper Voyager
Publication date: August 2, 2022
Print length: 432 pages
Audio length: 11 hours 16 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley (ebook); purchased audiobook via Audible
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From the author of My Oxford Year, Julia Whelan’s uplifting novel tells the story of a former actress turned successful audiobook narrator–who has lost sight of her dreams after a tragic accident–and her journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance when she agrees to narrate one last romance novel.

For Sewanee Chester, being an audiobook narrator is a long way from her old dreams, but the days of being a star on film sets are long behind her. She’s found success and satisfaction from the inside of a sound booth and it allows her to care for her beloved, ailing grandmother. When she arrives in Las Vegas last-minute for a book convention, Sewanee unexpectedly spends a whirlwind night with a charming stranger.

On her return home, Sewanee discovers one of the world’s most beloved romance novelists wanted her to perform her last book–with Brock McNight, the industry’s hottest, most secretive voice. Sewanee doesn’t buy what romance novels are selling–not after her own dreams were tragically cut short–and she stopped narrating them years ago. But her admiration of the late author, and the opportunity to get her grandmother more help, makes her decision for her.

As Sewanee begins work on the book, resurrecting her old romance pseudonym, she and Brock forge a real connection, hidden behind the comfort of anonymity. Soon, she is dreaming again, but secrets are revealed, and the realities of life come crashing down around her once more.

If she can learn to risk everything for desires she has long buried, she will discover a world of intimacy and acceptance she never believed would be hers.

I think I’ve found my favorite audiobook of the year!

Julie Whelan is a gifted narrator — according to her Goodreads bio, she’s narrated over 500 audiobooks! I’ve had the pleasure of listening to several of the books she’s narrated, and she is very, very good. But did you know she’s also an author? Her previous novel, My Oxford Year, was published in 2018 (and is one that I haven’t read yet, although I certainly intend to!). And now, in 2022, along comes her 2nd novel, and what could be more perfect than a story of an audiobook narrator?

In Thank You for Listening, main character Sewanee Chester did not intend to become a highly successful, award-winning audiobook narrator — but her Juilliard-trained acting career was cut short in her 20s, just on the cusp of break-through success, by a freak accident. It’s taken Sewanee years to recover — and emotionally, it’s questionable whether she’s actually recovered at all.

Sewanee is now the voice behind the scenes, incredibly gifted at bringing characters to life — so much so that clueless fans can’t believe what she can do, even when she states it plainly:

Roy peered at Sewanee, seeing her anew. “You crushed it! Wait, so did you meet the guy who played Butch and Sundance? Do you, like, record together?”

Adaku and Sewanee looked at each other, then back at Roy. Adaku said, “What guy?”

“The guy! The guy who voiced the guys.”

Adaku and Sewanee looked at each other again. Adaku said, “That wan’t a guy.”

“No, the Butch-and-Sundance-guy guy.”

“Ohhhh, that guy. Yeah, he wasn’t a guy.” Adaku was enjoying this a bit too much.

“Who wasn’t a guy?”

“The guy reading.”

“Wasn’t a guy?”

“Nope.”

When Sewanee and her best friend Adaku, a rising Hollywood star, share a celebration in Las Vegas that gets interrupted when Adaku has to leave early, Sewanee is left on her own… and meets a dashing stranger in a bar. After an intense connection and a one-night stand, Sewanee and Nick part without exchanging contact information, and Sewanee is left with amazing memories of a night that was very out of character for her.

Back in her real life, she receives an unexpected job offer: Although she’d long ago stopped recording romance audiobooks, which she’d done under the pseudonym Sarah Westholme, she’s asked to do it one more time. Bestselling romance writer June French, who recently passed away, left a final script, and she specifically wanted it read, in alternating voices, by Sarah Westholme and romance audiobook superstar Brock McKnight. While Sewanee is initially reluctant, the insane money on the table means she’d be able to maintain her beloved grandmother in comfort at her pricey but wonderful memory care facility, so she takes the job.

As she and Brock (a pseudonym, naturally) start recording their chapters and communicating via email and text about delivery, intonation, accents, and other details, a friendship develops. Their exchanges are funny, smart, and full of hilarious double-entendres and innuendos, and while not knowing each others’ true identities, they click in a way that’s unexpected and potentially more than just collegial.

This is a story that unfolds in lovely, unexpected ways, so I won’t go further into plot details (although I’m sure you can guess where certain elements are headed). What’s wonderful about this book is the character development, the chemistry, and the way the author, via her characters, deliberately plays with and acknowledges romance genre tropes, even while making these tropes fit and support such a thoughtful, funny, and emotionally rich story.

Sewanee’s past and present are shaded by sorrow and disappointment, from her parents’ failed marriage to worries over her grandmother’s dementia to her own tragedy and the self-doubts that have plagued her since. Sewanee’s pain and insecurities feel real and relatable. Would any of us be able to bounce back as far as she has? She doesn’t immediately, magically get better thanks to the power of love, either — instead, we see her process her past over time, and learn how to see a possible future that could include happiness. It’s not easy, but it does feel well-earned and fought for.

I loved not only Sewanee, but the supporting cast as well, including Adaku, the hilarious Blah-Blah (Sewanee’s outrageous grandmother, a former Hollywood starlet whose favorite name for her granddaughter is “Dollface”), Brock (of course), and even Sewanee’s mother’s new beau, who’s very funny in his own right, in a way that just needs to be experienced.

I also loved how each section of the book is introduced by both a “literary” quote (such as thoughts by Hemingway on pain and writing) and a quote from a (fictitious) June French interview with Cosmopolitan, where she’s brash, blunt, and incredibly funny:

It’s always the men, isn’t it, talking about writing from a place of pain. Maybe try writing from joy. We get it, the world is hard. Which is precisely why I write: to escape it. Calm down with this tortured artist shit already, my God.

I originally received an ebook ARC via NetGalley, and as wonderful as this book is in print, I simply had to take the audio path — so I treated myself to the Audible version as well. I’m so glad I did! The opportunity to hear Julia Whelan not only narrate her own book, but narrate a book about a narrator, seemed too good to miss! She’s just as amazing here as you’d expect: As a listener, I was never, not for a moment, confused about who was speaking, whether the lines were intended as spoken dialogue or a character’s inner thoughts, or what the mood or intent was. Dialogue snaps and crackles, chemistry blooms, and even when the characters are putting on their own fake voices, it absolutely works.

Beyond the central plotline, I also loved the behind-the-scenes view into the world of audiobook narration — how it works, how some narrators become stars in their own right, and what challenges the industry faces. Also wonderful is the power of non-romantic love — Sewanee could never have come as far as she does in this book without her beautiful friendship with Adaku, the care she and her mentor Mark share, or the family heartstrings connecting her to Blah-Blah and to her mother.

Thank You for Listening is a treat, start to finish, and I highly recommend it!



Book Review: Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson

Title: Love in the Time of Serial Killers
Author: Alicia Thompson
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: August 16, 2022
Print length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Turns out that reading nothing but true crime isn’t exactly conducive to modern dating—and one woman is going to have to learn how to give love a chance when she’s used to suspecting the worst.

PhD candidate Phoebe Walsh has always been obsessed with true crime. She’s even analyzing the genre in her dissertation—if she can manage to finish writing it. It’s hard to find the time while she spends the summer in Florida, cleaning out her childhood home, dealing with her obnoxiously good-natured younger brother, and grappling with the complicated feelings of mourning a father she hadn’t had a relationship with for years.

It doesn’t help that she’s low-key convinced that her new neighbor, Sam Dennings, is a serial killer (he may dress business casual by day, but at night he’s clearly up to something). It’s not long before Phoebe realizes that Sam might be something much scarier—a genuinely nice guy who can pierce her armor to reach her vulnerable heart.

You wouldn’t normally expect an obsession with serial killers to show up in a romance… but Love in the Time of Serial Killers is here to change all that!

Note: As the author makes clear in her forward, there is no actual murder or violence in the book; the story is about someone studying written records of serial killing, and does not include details of killings or anything graphic or gory.

In this new novel, Phoebe is forced to temporarily relocate to Florida to clear out her late father’s house and get it ready for sale, while at the same time trying to finish the remaining chapters of her dissertation. To say she has mixed feelings is to put it mildly — she’s been estranged from her father since her early teens, when her parents divorced and she chose to go with her mother (while her much younger brother Conner remained with their father.) Phoebe has no interest in a stroll down memory lane — but that’s hard to avoid while sleeping in her own childhood bedroom and sorting through the hoarder-level amount of stuff piled all over the house.

Phoebe’s doctoral dissertation is on true crime as a literary genre, and her singular focus on true crime affects her worldview to a huge degree. Yes, it’s good to be cautious, but her immediate assumption that every stranger is a potential serial killer definitely gets in the way of her ability to connect to other people, sustain friendships, or even accept help when she needs it.

Of course, that cute guy next door is not actually a serial killer (although it takes Phoebe some time to believe it), and he’s understanding and helpful in an almost too-good-to-be-true sort of way. As the weeks go by and Phoebe reconnects with her brother as well as her former best friend, she starts to understand the reasons why she’s so drawn to true crime (for one thing, it usually has answers and cause and effect, elements she finds lacking in her own messy life), and realizes that maybe it’s time to let other people in… including her neighbor Sam.

I enjoyed Phoebe as a main character very much — she’s super intelligent, goes her own way, and is very body positive (she describes herself as fat and is comfortable with her body… which makes me question the cover art and why the woman shown does not appear to be fat herself). She can be frustrating too, clearly and willfully pushing away people who are well-intentioned and hiding behind her knowledge of serial killer habits as a way of protecting herself from real connection.

The romance aspects felt a little too easy in some ways — there’s instant chemistry, and Sam is hard to know other than as he presents — a sexy school teacher who’s good-hearted and supportive and always ready to help and understand. I mean, he’s pretty much flawless! Then again, since this is a romance novel, there has to be a falling out prior to the HEA ending, and the break-up here seems unnecessary — a bit more honest communication would have helped a lot.

I thought Phoebe’s dissertation sounded fascinating! I’m not a true crime fan — I don’t read books or listen to podcasts or watch Netflix documentaries on the subject — but I have to admit that after reading this book, I’m certainly more interested… enough so that maybe I’ll finally get to the copies of In Cold Blood or I’ll Be Gone in the Dark currently sitting on my shelves. Phoebe’s approach to the genre focuses on looking at who’s telling the story and what their roles in the narrative are, and honestly, I wanted to hear more! (And this book also reminded me that I’ve always meant to read Helter Skelter too, if I can psych myself up for it.)

I really enjoyed the tone and the writing throughout Love in the Time of Serial Killers. There’s plenty of humor in the dialogues and in Phoebe’s inner thoughts:

To encourage your cat to play, it said to stay on the floor, idly flicking a string or other toy while talking in a friendly manner. It didn’t specifically say to talk about your favorite true crime programming, but it didn’t say not to, either.

Phoebe’s younger brother is all boyish enthusiasm and silliness, and his lovestruck attempts to figure out the perfect way to propose to his girlfriend — to achieve that perfect balance of expressing the depth of his feelings while also going viral — are adorable. (Let’s just mention that one scenario involves a roller rink, and leave it at that.)

Silliness and laughter aside, the book also explores the lingering effects of Phoebe’s difficult family situation and her emotionally withholding father. Here’s where I wish the book had gone a little deeper, in fact. While we know that Phoebe carries inner wounds from her earlier experiences which have shaped who she is today and why she has such difficulty with intimacy, I would have liked more of an exploration of these experiences and what she went through as a teen, in order to better understand her as an adult.

Overall, though, Love in the Time of Serial Killers is a fast, engaging, entertaining read, with hints of greater depth to keep it from being too fluffy. And how amazing is that title??? This is a good choice for a quick summer read, and I ended up really enjoying it.

Book Review: Lucy Checks In by Dee Ernst

Title: Lucy Checks In
Author: Dee Ernst
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: August 16, 2022
Print length: 288 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dee Ernst’s Lucy Checks In is a delightful work of romantic comedy about a disgraced hotel manager who travels to Rennes to rebuild a hotel and her own life in the process…

Lucia Giannetti needs a fresh start. Once the hotel manager of a glamorous NYC hotel and intimately involved with the hotel’s owner, Lucy had her entire future planned out. But when the owner disappears, taking millions of dollars with him, Lucy’s life as she knows it falls apart.

Two years later, forty-nine years old and unemployed, Lucy takes a job in Rennes, France to manage the Hotel Paradis. She pictures fur quilts and extravagant chandeliers, but what she finds is wildly different. Lucy is now in charge of turning the run-down, but charming hotel into a bustling tourist attraction. Between painting rooms, building a website, and getting to know Bing, the irritatingly attractive artist, Lucy finds an unexpected home. But can she succeed in bringing the Hotel Paradis to its former glory?

Witty and heartfelt, Lucy Checks In is an inspiring and feel-good novel about reclaiming your life, finding love, and creating a home in places you never thought possible.

In Lucy Checks In, the title character is an almost 50-year-old woman who hit rock-bottom two year previously, when the man she loved embezzled money, left his hotel chain in ruins, destroyed her professional reputation, and left her the subject of an FBI investigation. Even after being cleared of any involvement in his schemes, Lucy’s life was still shattered, and she found herself with no prospects, and not even a roof over her head other than her parents’ — definitely not where she envisioned she’d be at this age.

So when an offer come through to spruce up and manage a charming family-owned, historic hotel in the French town of Rennes, there’s no way Lucy can pass up the opportunity for a fresh start. When she arrives, however, she discovers that the “hotel” hasn’t actually operated as one since before World War II, the building itself is in terrible shape, and it’s currently inhabited by a motley crew of assorted oddballs who, improbably, are all investors (one way or another) in the project to rehab and reopen the hotel.

Lucy wants to turn and run, but where could she go? She has a contract for six months of employment, and decides to make the best of it — although even this decision is quickly called into question when she discovers that rather than hiring people to do things like painting and building a website, she’ll have to do it herself.

Eventually, though, Lucy warms to the task, and as she digs in to the work and at the same time gets to know the hotel’s owner and the other residents, she begins to feel hopeful and even cautiously optimistic that (a) they can really pull this off and (b) she may have found a place for herself, where she might even have a future.

Lucy Checks In is charming in many ways, from the description of Rennes and the hotel itself, with its vivid history, to its quirky cast of characters and the different talents and obstacles they each bring with them.

I really appreciated having a more mature woman as the lead, particularly once Lucy gets a chance to explore romance as well as professional redemption. Her love interest, a sexy American painter and children’s book author, is supportive, kind, and encouraging, and seeing them together really reinforces that love stories, romance, and a healthy sex life are not just for people in their 20s and 30s.

I did feel as though the book could have used a bit more meat on its bones (not sure why I’m going with a meat metaphor, but that’s what keeps coming up in my mind). I’m not usually one to complain when a book is on the shorter side, but here, I wished the characters and plots had been given more room to expand.

A great deal of the plot has to do with hotel renovations, and while I’m happy for Lucy and the rest of the hotel folks that their grand project worked so well, I’m not sure we readers need quite that much space devoted to plastering, painting, decorating the lobby, and selecting colors and fabrics.

On the other hand, I would have welcomed fuller development of the supporting cast. The various residents of the hotel are introduced, often with thumbnail backstories, but we don’t get to know most of them very well beyond the basics. That’s a shame, because many are funny or eccentric, and I would have liked to know more about how they ended up at the Hotel Paradis and how they live their lives.

Overall, Lucy Checks In is a sweet, non-demanding read, with a bit of an armchair travel element to it (yes, I do want to go hang out at the hotel, explore Rennes, and eat all that amazing food). I was moved by Lucy’s story arc, including some unexpected twists concerning her family back home in the US, and was very happy to see her finding her way toward happiness and new beginnings.

Last year, I read and really enjoyed Maggie Finds Her Muse by the same author. Lucy Checks In, while engaging and sweet, feels a bit slighter than the previous novel, but I’m still glad to have read it. And as I mentioned, I truly appreciate seeing an older woman in the lead romantic role! Here’s hoping the author brings us many more delicious European adventures with women of a certain age front and center!

Shelf Control #330: Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Pandemonium
Author: Daryl Gregory
Published: 2008
Length: 288 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

It is a world like our own in every respect . . . save one. In the 1950s, random acts of possession begin to occur. Ordinary men, women, and children are the targets of entities that seem to spring from the depths of the collective unconscious, pop-cultural avatars some call demons. There’s the Truth, implacable avenger of falsehood. The Captain, brave and self-sacrificing soldier. The Little Angel, whose kiss brings death, whether desired or not. And a string of others, ranging from the bizarre to the benign to the horrific.

As a boy, Del Pierce is possessed by the Hellion, an entity whose mischief-making can be deadly. With the help of Del’s family and a caring psychiatrist, the demon is exorcised . . . or is it? Years later, following a car accident, the Hellion is back, trapped inside Del’s head and clamoring to get out.

Del’s quest for help leads him to Valis, an entity possessing the science fiction writer formerly known as Philip K. Dick; to Mother Mariette, a nun who inspires decidedly unchaste feelings; and to the Human League, a secret society devoted to the extermination of demons. All believe that Del holds the key to the plague of possession–and its solution. But for Del, the cure may be worse than the disease.

How and when I got it:

I bought a paperback over five years ago, most likely at a library sale.

Why I want to read it:

I think this book initially made its way into my hands based on a friend’s enthusiastic review. And given that she’s both a huge horror reader and someone who knows my tastes, I tend to pay attention when she insists I need to read something.

I love the sound of these possessions, and think it’s hilarious that Philip K. Dick is one of the people possessed in this story! The premise sound weird and original and truly engaging, and I do intend to read this book… now I just need to make time for it.

Pandemonium is author Daryl Gregory’s first novel. I’ve read two other books by this author (We Are All Completely Fine and The Album of Doctor Moreau, both terrific), and I’m very up for reading more. If you’ve read any other of his books, please let me know if you have a favorite!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

The Monday Check-In ~ 8/8/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Photo by Avinash Patel on Pexels.com

On the road again! By the time this post goes up, I’ll be on day 2 of a 3-day mini-road trip with my husband. Nothing too fancy, but I couldn’t let the month of August go by without attempting to squeeze in one more little getaway. We’ll be spending time in the Carmel/Monterey/Big Sur area of California, not too far from home, but with some beautiful sights to see — and (we hope) yummy food, great hikes, and pretty places to just spread out on a blanket and relax!

Blogging.

I had an unusual couple of days this past week, in terms of blog stats. Out of nowhere, I had about 3 days in a row with over 2,000 views — and believe me, that is exponentially much more than my normal traffic! What’s behind the big bump? Virgin River! I published a post with my thoughts on season 4 of the Netflix show, and for whatever reason, it got a huge number of views!

My takeaway, after looking at my stats in general, is that in-the-moment Netflix-related posts seem to get much, much more traffic than any book-related posts… but I’m still a book-woman at heart and will always focus on writing about what I read (despite the allure of a spike in blog visits).

What did I read during the last week?

Upgrade by Blake Crouch: Fascinating, scary sci-fi! My review is here.

The Comeback by Lily Chu (narrated by Phillipa Soo): So much fun. My review is here.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: 3.5 stars. The setting makes for an engaging, unusual backdrop, but I felt oddly unengaged by this retelling of a classic. My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

I finally got out to a movie! Making a date with a friend helps — I’ve been wanting to see the new Thor movie since it came out, but kept procrastinating… until my friend insisted we commit. It was fun! The screaming goats may have been my favorite part…

In home viewing, I watched The Summer I Turned Pretty over on Amazon Video, which was sweet and nicely done, and very faithful to the Jenny Han book (as far as I recall). Weirdly, I know I read the full trilogy (the first season corresponds to book #1), but I have zero memory of what happens in the other books. I guess I’ll have to wait for season 2 and 3 to find out!

I also started Paper Girls (also on Amazon), but haven’t had time to get very far. I read 3 or 4 volumes of the graphic novel series and really liked the story, and the show seems to be doing a great job of adapting it so far.

Fresh Catch:

One new book! I did in fact read this book via Kindle pretty much the second it came out last fall, but it was just released in paperback and I had to have a copy of my own. Plus, with the next October Daye book coming in early September (this will be #16 — can you believe it?), it’s time for a reread!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

These are the two books I have queued up on my Kindle for my road trip — I’m pretty close to finishing Lucy Checks In, and then will be starting Love in the Time of Serial Killers. I’ll share my thoughts when I get back!

Now playing via audiobook:

Thank You For Listening by Julie Whelan: A novel about an audiobook narrator? How could I not listen to the audiobook version, especially when it’s narrated by the author, who is herself an outstanding audiobook narrator! I’ve been loving it so far (at about the midpoint currently), but had to take a break while on my trip. (My husband DOES NOT appreciate my attempts to get him to listen to audiobooks while we’re driving!)

Ongoing reads:

These books will be on my plate for months to come:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’ve started our group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: My book group’s current classic read. We’re reading one scene per week, and we’re close to the end. This week, we’re starting Act V.
  • Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb: I’ve been trying to read one or two tales per week, and this week read A Winter’s Tale. Really fun project!

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: July 19, 2022
Print length: 320 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a lavish historical drama reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction.

For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

Doctor Moreau is certainly having a moment!

Originally introduced in the sci-fi classic The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells, published in 1896, this character has remained in the public imagination ever since, as shown by movie adaptations across the years as well as more recent novels that put various spins on the original story. (See my links/notes at the end of this post for more).

In the original, Doctor Moreau works on a remote island, where he uses the practice of vivisection to surgically transform animals into humans. Here in The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, the story is set in the Yucatan, against a backdrop of a Mayan uprising against the colonial landowners.

The main characters are Carlota, the doctor’s daughter, and Montgomery, the new majordomo of the estate, a broken man who drinks to forget, but develops a strong loyalty to both Dr. Moreau and his unusual, beautiful daughter.

Through their shifting perspectives, we follow Carlota over the years as she grows from a young teen to a young woman, obedient to her father and dedicated to caring for the hybrids, whom she sees as family rather than as creations.

Despite the estate’s isolated location, the outside world intrudes, precipitating events that endanger the hybrids and Carlota herself. Secrets are revealed, and Carlota and Montgomery are forced into a battle for survival.

While there are interesting twists to this interpretation of the Doctor Moreau story, I did not find myself particularly absorbed or invested in the story. The narrative feels very episodic and exposition-heavy, and while I enjoyed the descriptions of the natural world of the Yucatan, the characters and the plot did not pull me in to any great extent.

The hybrids remain mostly in the background — unfortunately, since they’re the most interesting part of the story — and Carlota’s secrets, when finally shared, didn’t surprise me at all.

After a very slow start, the book takes a turn for the better and picks up the pace by the mid-point, but overall, for reasons I can’t quite define, I always felt at arms-length from the characters and the story. I wasn’t bored exactly, but I also felt that I could have put the book down and walked away at any point without experiencing much curiosity about the rest of the story. Despite the potential of the overarching story, this book felt a little too flat for me, which was disappointing.

As for Doctor Moreau having a moment — I’ve read two other books in the past couple of years that use The Island of Doctor Moreau as a jumping-off point:

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss is the first book in a very creative YA trilogy, which stars the daughters of famous (fictional) scientists as the central characters — including a very different version of a daughter of Doctor Moreau.

And for something truly different, bizarre, and totally amazing, there’s The Album of Doctor Moreau by Daryl Gregory, which centers on a pop music boy band made up of animal/human hybrids. It’s so weird… and I loved it.

Audiobook Review: The Comeback by Lily Chu

Title: The Comeback
Author: Lily Chu
Narrator: Phillipa Soo
Publisher: Audible Originals
Publication date: July 14, 2022
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 12 hours 14 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Audible download
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Who is Ariadne Hui?

• Laser-focused lawyer diligently climbing the corporate ladder
• The “perfect” daughter living out her father’s dream
• Shocking love interest of South Korea’s hottest star

Ariadne Hui thrives on routine. So what if everything in her life is planned down to the minute: That’s the way she likes it. If she’s going to make partner in Toronto’s most prestigious law firm, she needs to stay focused at all times.

But when she comes home after yet another soul-sucking day to find an unfamiliar, gorgeous man camped out in her living room, focus is the last thing on her mind. Especially when her roommate explains this is Choi Jihoon, her cousin freshly arrived from Seoul to mend a broken heart. He just needs a few weeks to rest and heal; Ari will barely even know he’s there. (Yeah, right.)

Jihoon is kindness and chaos personified, and it isn’t long before she’s falling, hard. But when one wrong step leads to a world-shaking truth, Ari finds herself thrust onto the world stage: not as the competent, steely lawyer she’s fought so hard to become, but as the mystery woman on the arm of a man the entire world claims to know. Now with her heart, her future, and her sense of self on the line, Ari will have to cut through all the pretty lies to find the truth of her relationship…and discover the Ariadne Hui she’s finally ready to be.

I enjoyed last year’s The Stand-In, Lily Chu’s debut, released an Audible Original (and later, as a paperback) — so when I saw that a new Audible novel was being released this year by the same author, and once again with the amazing Phillipa Soo as narrator, naturally I had to grab it! \

The new book, The Comeback, brings some of The Stand-In‘s elements to a fresh story. Once again, we have an ordinary Canadian woman who ends up in the ultimate wish-fulfillment scenario of finding love with one of the world’s biggest stars — in this case, a K-pop idol.

Ariadne is a work-obsessed lawyer whose sole focus is making partner with her conservative, almost-all-white law firm. (She’s dismayed to overhear a coworker describe her as the firm’s “diversity hire”). Ariadne is Canadian born and of Chinese descent, but she constantly finds herself having to explain where she’s from and that no, she doesn’t speak Chinese and was actually born in Toronto. Her father, also a lawyer, is overly invested in Ari’s career and sends her link to business articles on how to impress the boss and how to get ahead.

Ari tells herself that she’s fine and happy. So what if she never actually takes any of the amazing vacations she fantasizes about? Making partner is all that matters!

Or so she thinks… until her orderly life is disrupted when she comes home to find a strange man in her apartment. After a comical misunderstanding (kitchen knives are involvled), she learns that this is Jihoon, her roommate Hannah’s cousin from Korea, who just needs a place to get away and be quiet for a while after a bad break-up. He seems nice enough, and Hannah is her best friend, so Ari agrees, so long as she can keep working around the clock.

But Jihoon is hard not to notice, from the expensive skincare products spread out all over her bathroom counters to the ramen in her kitchen, and their brief daily encounters turn into texting GIFs, sharing food, and eventually, exploring Toronto together. And the more time Ari spends with him, the more they seem to connect. Okay, yes, he’s super hot, but he’s also kind, intelligent, supportive, and interested in Ari in a way no one else has ever been.

Their time together is cut short, first by the early return of Hannah, and then by the arrival of two of Jihoon’s friends, come to bring him home. They’re not just any friends, though — they’re two of the five members of the enormously huge K-pop group Star Loon (Star Lune? Starloon? Can’t tell from listening to an audiobook!). And guess what? It turns out Jihoon is actually their lead singer, stage name Min, whose video Ari had just watched a few days earlier.

Ari is devastated by Jihoon’s lies (lies of omission still count, especially when the truth he hid is “oh, by the way, I’m an idol with millions of obsessed fans”). Although on the verge of falling in love (who is she kidding? she’s already fallen!), Ari is terrified by Jihoon’s fame and lack of privacy, and breaks off their growing relationship as he departs for Korea.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there, and we get to see what happens when Ari travels to Seoul for a work trip, reunites with Jihoon, attends a VIP Starlune concert, and eventually, gets spotted in an intimate moment with Jihoon. Can their love survive her “outing”, especially when “Starries” brand her a “sasaeng” (stalker/obsessed fan)?

This may all sound rather silly, but it’s actually got quite a bit of emotion and thoughtfulness, and is a very engaging, absorbing listen. Ariadne is a wonderful main character, talented and smart, obviously, but with plenty of blind spots. Her single focus on work keeps her from examining just why she wants so badly to please her father, why she’s never reconciled with her free-spirited older sister, and why she wants a career in law in the first place. Once she opens herself up to love and all the messy emotions that go with it, she starts to see how many limits she’s imposed on her own life through her strict devotion to meeting other people’s expectations, and it actually starts to free her enough to consider what she really wants out of life and how she wants to live.

Jihoon is, perhaps, too good to be true. Because yes, he’s a pop idol with his face on everything from cereal boxes to bottled water, and a video of him taking a nap for five minutes has millions of views, but he’s really just a nice, sensitive guy who wants to experience true connection with someone real. He loves his bandmates and his fans and appreciates all of the advantages he’s gotten from becoming an idol, and yet he also yearns to write the music that matters to him, and to spend time with a woman who loves him for himself, not for his manufactured image.

The Comeback is sweet and entertaining, and even thought-provoking. We can dream of a gorgeous celebrity falling for us, but would we really want the constant surveillance and online criticism (which is putting it mildly) that goes with it? Ari’s dilemma and heartache feel real, because yes, she’s fallen for this man, but she’s nowhere near sure she can handle the demands of his public life — not to mention the public shaming that seems headed her way once the company that controls Starlune gets involved in managing the messaging.

As with The Stand-In, the audiobook narration is a treat. Phillipa Soo is terrific voicing Ariadne, and captures the other characters really well too. I have the same complaint here that I did with the previous book, however — this is a first-person story, and in scenes with dialogue, it can be very difficult to tell whether Ari is saying something out loud or whether certain lines are asides that she’s thinking to herself. I’ve heard narrators who’ve managed to change up the delivery/intonation enough to make it clear, but here, it can be confusing, and there’s not always enough context to tell the difference.

Other than that, though, the audiobook is delightful. This is not a heavy story by any means, but it definitely kept my attention — enough that I found myself driving the longer way to my destinations just to get a few more minutes of listening time into my day!

PS – I am not a K-pop fan… but after listening to The Comeback, I think I may need to expand my horizons!

PPS – If you’re as ignorant of K-pop culture as I am (was), check out some basics:

Kpop Idol – Life and Career of Korean Music Artists
2022’s Top K-Pop Artists
50 Most Liked Kpop Videos of 2022

Enjoy!



Shelf Control #329: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: 2016
Length: 221 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.

Sepetys (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.

How and when I got it:

I have a paperback edition on my shelf, which I think I bought at a used book store at least 3 or 4 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

This book had so many great reviews when it came out! I remember reading newspaper reviews (all positive) at the time, plus so many bloggers talked about how powerful it is.

I’ve read one book by Ruta Sepetys before — Out of the Easy — set in 1950s New Orleans. I liked it, but not as much as I’d expected to, and while I’ve heard good things about other books by this author, I haven’t gotten around to exploring any other of her works.

I’m drawn to Salt to the Sea based on the premise — because yes, while I’m quite familiar with the Titanic and the Lusitania, before picking up this book, I’d never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff. There’s something so awful about ships sinking — the idea of it is absolutely terrifying to me, and the scale of this particular tragedy is so huge that it’s hard to comprehend.

I’m glad I stumbled across my copy of Salt to the Sea while thinking about what book to feature this week! It sounds like an emotional read, and I’m interested in the historical aspects as well as the stories of the individual characters.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Title: Upgrade
Author: Blake Crouch
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: July 12, 2022
Print length: 352 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The mind-blowing new thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Dark Matter and Recursion

“You are the next step in human evolution.”

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential. 

Upgrade is a fast-paced science fiction tale set in a not-too-distant future, in which genetic engineering is tightly controlled after the global disaster known as the Great Starvation. Logan Ramsay, once an aspiring genetic engineer, is now an agent with the GPA (Gene Protection Agency), whose mission is to stop illegal gene tinkering and prevent the next genetic disaster.

Logan is also the son of the brilliant scientist whose genetic enhancements inadvertently caused the Great Starvation. His family heritage haunts him, and while the raids and arrests he participates in make him physically ill at times, he sees he work as a penance for his mother’s legacy.

But after a raid gone bad, during which Logan was injured, he begins to feel… not himself. At first, he’s not sure, but eventually, the intense body aches, combined with the undeniable increase in his mental capacity, lead him to suspect that someone or something has tinkered with his genomes.

Things only get more terrifying, as he’s whisked away to a GPA black site for study and interrogation. At first, he’s suspected of self-editing, but even once this is shown not to be the case, the questions are enormous: What exactly was done to Logan? By whom? And the biggest question of all — why?

The action becomes intensely suspenseful, as Logan must evade capture, discover the mystery of his enhanced genetic make-up, and figure out how to stay alive when someone close to him ends up on the opposite side of his mission.

Blake Crouch excels at creating terrifyingly plausible worlds and memorable characters (as in Recursion and Dark Matter), and Upgrade is yet another scarily tangible story. The world in Upgrade is within a century of complete disaster. Humanity faces extinction, not at some far off point in the future that scares those paying attention but can otherwise be ignored, but within a few generations’ lifespans. And yet, people still don’t seem to be mobilized to do anything about the looming catastrophe. As the characters note:

One child dies in a well, the world watches and weeps. But as the number of victims increases, our compassion tends to diminish. At the highest number of casualties — wars, tsunamis, acts of terror — the dead become faceless statistics.

Simply put, humankind can’t internalize and comprehend the scale of loss that looms, and therefore, can’t be made to care enough to do something about it.

While Upgrade is clearly set farther in the future than our own reality, the scenario depicted seems frighteningly possible. Climate change and out-of-control genetic manipulations are driving forces behind Upgrade‘s awful world situation, but neither are unimaginable.

I found myself on the edge of my seat while reading this book, invested in Logan as a person (and oh, how he suffers!) as well as in the action-adventure elements and the futuristic fate of the world. While the science terminology sometimes went completely over my head, I could understand it enough to be both scared and fascinated.

Upgrade is a terrific race against time as well as a cautionary tale, and an altogether exciting and unputdownable read. Don’t miss it!

The Monday Check-In ~ 8/1/2022

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My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Wait… how did it get to be August already? Summer is zipping by!

I made a quick trip to Seattle this past weekend to attend a family wedding, and it was lovely! A truly joyful, loving occasion, plus a wonderful chance to spend time with family I haven’t seen in a long time. What a treat!

Blogging.

I didn’t see a note from WordPress on this (although maybe it happened during a busy week when I wasn’t online much)… but I believe July 2022 marks my 10-year anniversary of blogging! I’ll need to double-check (maybe I have my dates wrong) — but in any case, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long! What a blast it’s all been.

What did I read during the last week?

Heat Wave by TJ Klune: I love the entire The Extraordinaries trilogy, and book #3 is an epic, awesome finale! My review is here.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck: A surprisingly enjoyable treat! This was my Classics Club spin book for the summer, and I’m so glad I had a challenge to motivate me to read this. My thoughts are here.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch: Finished on the plane home — review to follow. (Short version: Fascinating and impossible to put down).

Pop culture & TV:

Oh dear… I finished season 4 of Virgin River and shared some thoughts, and my post has (I think) become my most-viewed post ever! Not everyone agrees with me… but that’s what blog post discussions are for!

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Just getting started, but I’ve yet to be bored by one of this author’s books!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Comeback by Lily Chu (narrated by Phillipa Soo): I’m loving this audiobook! Only about an hour left to listen to — it’s really fun and engaging.

Ongoing reads:

These books will be on my plate for months to come:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’ve started our group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: My book group’s current classic read. We’re reading one scene per week — almost done with Act IV.
  • Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb: Progress, finally! I read one more story this week — A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sweet! I’m going to try to read a few each week from here on out.

So many books, so little time…

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