Audiobook Review: The Stand-In by Lily Chu

Title: The Stand-In
Author: Lily Chu
Narrator: Phillipa Soo
Publisher: Audible Originals
Publication date: July 15, 2021
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 10 hours 55 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Audible Plus Catalog
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

How to upend your life:
–Get fired by gross, handsy boss
–Fail to do laundry (again)
–Be mistaken for famous Chinese actress
–Fall head-first into glitzy new world

Gracie Reed is doing just fine. Sure, she was fired by her overly “friendly” boss, and yes, she still hasn’t gotten her mother into the nursing home of their dreams, but she’s healthy, she’s (somewhat) happy, and she’s (mostly) holding it all together.

But when a mysterious SUV pulls up beside her, revealing Chinese cinema’s golden couple Wei Fangli and Sam Yao, Gracie’s world is turned on its head. The famous actress has a proposition: Due to their uncanny resemblance, Fangli wants Gracie to be her stand-in. The catch? Gracie will have to be escorted by Sam, the most attractive—and infuriating—man Gracie’s ever met.

If it means getting the money she needs for her mother, Gracie’s in. Soon Gracie moves into a world of luxury she never knew existed. But resisting Sam, and playing the role of an elegant movie star, proves more difficult than she ever imagined—especially when she learns the real reason Fangli so desperately needs her help. In the end, all the lists in the world won’t be able to help Gracie keep up this elaborate ruse without losing herself… and her heart.

The Stand-In is an Audible Original in which an ordinary woman suddenly gets the chance to experience the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It’s a fun Cinderella story, but it helps to suspend disbelief A LOT to truly enjoy it.

When we meet Gracie, she has a job she hates thanks to a boss who sexually harasses her constantly — but rather than making a fuss or going to HR to report him, Gracie tries even harder to blend into the background, dressing dully and using makeup that’s neutral and not the least bit eye-catching. Gracie’s mother, a Chinese immigrant to Canada, drilled into Gracie’s head that she should always try to fit in, not stand out.

But when Gracie is mistaken for Chinese actress Wei Fangli in a coffee shop, her world changes dramatically. Caught on camera by a paparazzo on a day when she’d called in sick, Gracie is fired by her creepy boss and plunges into despair. How will she afford the nursing home her mother needs if she has no income? With her mother’s dementia steadily progressing, Gracie feels the pressures mounting, and none of her daily planners and apps seem to help her get her life under control. (Remember the bit about the planners — this is important later.)

Gracie is approached by Wei Fangli and her super-hot costar Sam Yao with a proposition: Because of their similar looks, Fangli wants to hire Gracie — for a huge amount of money — to be her public double. Gracie will dress and act like Fangli and attend social engagements in her place, allowing Fangli to just focus on her theater performances and otherwise avoid the pressure of a public life.

Against her better judgment, Gracie accepts the offer. She needs that money! But she soon learns that she likes it, too. She gets to dress in gorgeous clothes, live in a luxury hotel suite, and spend lots and lots of time with Sam. Yes, she feels guilty for essentially lying to everyone she meets as Fangli, but she keeps reminding herself that she’s doing it for her mother.

The Stand-In is a fun fairy tale of a story, with echoes of The Prince and the Pauper too. Wouldn’t every “ordinary” person love the chance to walk in a celebrity’s (high-priced designer) shoes? I wouldn’t say the plot is believable — I mean, they can’t really be that identical, can they? But it’s certainly amusing to see Gracie trying to master the art of posing on a red carpet, being photographed from every angle, and speaking as if she’s used to being the center of attention.

There are some interesting ideas too about public personas and what it means to always be on, especially as compared with someone like Gracie who’s been taught all her life not to make waves. Additionally, Grace is a biracial woman living in Toronto who doesn’t speak Mandarin, yet is impersonating a Mandarin-speaking Chinese actress and is also trying to connect with a mother who slips more and more into the language of her youth. Gracie has to deal with issues related to identity and race, on the one hand being seen as Chinese rather than Canadian, yet being seen by Chinese people she interacts with as not Chinese enough.

There’s also a love story, of course, and while it comes across as absolute wish-fulfillment (the sexiest man in the world falling for an ordinary woman!), it does have some very sweet moments of flirtation, sharing secrets and wishes, and making connections. Also, Sam really is a great character, and it’s easy to see how some of his big romantic gestures might make anyone with a heartbeat swoon.

I really liked Gracie’s blossoming friendship with Fangli and the ways in which they end up helping and supporting one another. I wasn’t crazy about the plotline revolving around Gracie inventing a daily planner. While I suppose the point is to show Gracie finding a way to take control of her own life and make a splash as a businesswoman, there’s too much time spent on her figuring out ways to organize her tasks and to-do lists.

Plotwise, The Stand-In really is more romantic fairy tale than real-life contemporary drama. A lot of the developments are ridiculous if you think about them too hard. If you can put aside the need to say “but this could never happen!”, it’s still a fun listen. I would also add my main quibble about the plot — the old “listening through a doorway and jumping to conclusions” romance trope. This makes me batty — a character overhears a conversation, immediately misinterprets what they hear, and then take dramatic action based on this misinterpretation. It’s just so dumb. At least verify what you think you’ve heard!! Sigh… but then where would the drama be?

In terms of the audiobook narration, it’s a treat to listen to Hamilton star Phillipa Soo. This is her first full-length audiobook — you can read more about her experience recording it here. Overall, I think she does a good job voicing the different characters and making them distinct. The one complaint I have is that in dialogue scenes, it can be hard to tell whether Gracie is thinking a response to herself or saying the response to the other person — her voice isn’t actually different for asides, so it does get confusing.

The Stand-In is an Audible Original and is available (free) as part of the Audible Plus Catalog. For those who have access, I recommend giving it a listen. The story is sweet and engaging, and despite the fairy tale-esque twists and revelations, the characters are really special and will stick with you.

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy now at Amazon

Check out video interviews and more about this book at Audible



Book Review: Skye Falling by Mia McKenzie

Title: Skye Falling
Author: Mia McKenzie
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: June 22, 2021
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A woman who’s used to going solo discovers that there’s one relationship she can’t run away from in this buoyant novel from the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of The Summer We Got Free

Twenty-six and broke, Skye didn’t think twice before selling her eggs and happily pocketing the cash. Now approaching forty, Skye moves through life entirely–and unrepentantly–on her own terms, living out of a suitcase and avoiding all manner of serious relationships. Her personal life might be a mess, and no one would be surprised if she died alone in a hotel room, but at least she’s free to do as she pleases. But then a twelve-year-old girl shows up during one of Skye’s brief visits to her hometown of Philadelphia, and tells Skye that she’s “her egg.” Skye’s life is thrown into sharp relief and she decides that it might be time to actually try to have a meaningful relationship with another human being. Spoiler alert: It’s not easy.

Things gets even more complicated when Skye realizes that the woman she tried and failed to pick up the other day is the girl’s aunt and now it’s awkward. All the while, her brother is trying to get in touch, her problematic mother is being bewilderingly kind, and the West Philly pool halls and hoagie shops of her youth have been replaced by hipster cafes.

Told in a fresh, lively voice, this novel is a relentlessly clever, deeply moving portrait of a woman and the relationships she thought she could live without.

Main character Skye is definitely an acquired taste in this funny yet touching novel set in West Philadelphia. Skye is a loner by choice, always fleeing before friendships, relationships, or family can make too many demands on her. She’s abrasive and off-putting, and has basically one friend left who puts up with her selfishness and unreliability.

Skye runs a tour company that specializes in international experiences for Black travelers, and she’s wildly successful. It not coincidental that leading tours around the globe pretty much nonstop means she never has to stay put for very long in any one place. Her life is filled with adventure and one night stands, and she prefers to keep it that way.

All this changes when 12-year-old Vicky shows up in Skye’s life and reminds her of that time way back when, when Skye donated eggs to Cynthia, a former friend from summers at camp. Cynthia has recently passed, Vicky is being raised by her aunt Faye, and guess what? She’s Skye’s egg. Initially, Skye’s reaction to this news is to both vomit and then try to climb out a window to escape (seriously), but she starts to come around to the idea that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have a connection to someone — someone who’ll maybe take care of her in her own age. (Once again, Skye’s selfishness is front and center — it’s about her, not about Vicky.)

For once, Skye decides to stay put in Philly and get to know Vicky, and as she does, a new bond starts to grow between the two. And staying put, Skye is forced to start dealing with the trauma and bad memories of her youth, rather than always running away at the first hint of having to be serious.

Complicating matters too is Skye’s growing attraction to Faye, which may or may not be reciprocated, her long-ignored relationships with her mother and brother, and confronting memories of past rejections that may not be as clear-cut as Skye would like to think.

It’s really hard to like Skye, and at first, I absolutely didn’t. She’s mean to people, irresponsible, and doesn’t seem to care about anything or anyone. Gradually, though, we get to see how much of her personality and her actions are defense mechanisms based on escaping her past, and as Skye starts to (finally) mature, she slowly starts to become a person who gets involved and actually cares.

Vicky is a terrific character, and she’s not all sweetness and light. She’s dealing with her own set of traumas, including losing her mother, having a stepmother she hates, and living in a gentrifying neighborhood where the newly arrived white neighbors feel the need to call the cops on the long-term Black residents over so-called noise infractions. While the book focuses on the personal relationships, it also pays great attention to the world around the characters,

Overall, Skye Falling was a quick read, and I while I always felt at a bit of a distance from Skye, I did enjoy the relationships and getting to know the characters and the neighborhood.

**********

Through affiliate programs, I may earn commissions from purchases made when you click through these links, at no cost to you.

Buy now at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org