The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

I took a trip to the library, checked out The Chemist, and then left it sitting around, waiting for it’s turn on the TBR pile. I finally got around to reading it, and it took me four days to devour the 500+ page book. I shouldn’t have waited to read it, because it has quickly become one of my top books that I’ve read this year!

The reader is immediately thrown into the action that is Dr. Juliana Fortis’ life. On the run for the past three years, she has shed her old name for unisex names like Chris, Casey, and Alex; lived in booby trapped hideaways; and driven in circles for hours in cars bought off Craigslist with cash. She’s extremely intelligent, and has successfully outsmarted the government officials that are determined to assassinate the escaped asset. What she never expected was the email she received- a plea from her old boss to help them solve a case, in exchange for her freedom.

Tempted at the thought of freedom but knowing what her old boss, Carston, is capable off, she decides to take his bait- her way. When she pops in for a surprise visit, they agree to work together this one last time. He sends her the information, and she gets to work. Kidnapping her new target, Daniel, is relatively easy. In fact, it’s almost like he wanted to go with her. When they make it to her newest designated hideout, she gets to work. Enter, the Chemist.

But of course, things don’t go as planned. Just as soon as she’s almost gotten the information she needs- though not exactly what she expects- from Daniel, someone literally drops in on their party. As “Alex” prepares to fight off another government lackey, she instead is surprised by her new guest… who just happens to be in the same boat as she.

Teaming up, Alex, Daniel, and their new guest decide to change the game and take out their pursuers in the hopes of finally being free from their previous lives. It’s absolutely thrilling, gripping, and full of plot twists. I also loved the sense of humor in the book- even in some of the most terrifying situations, there would be a line that would crack me up and give me a second to breathe. I may be a bit behind the curve on this one because it was published in 2016, but if you haven’t read this one, I give it a 100% recommendation!

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

I have a Facebook account. A Twitter. Two Instagram accounts. A WordPress, a Pinterest, a Snapchat. I dabble in it all; share, like, post, tweet, snap, blog… I’m a typical millennial living in a tech savvy, social media driven, practically transparent world. But what if all those social accounts became one? And what if they became mandatory? And what if they could control the influence on everything that surrounds you, including the government? Enter the Circle.

Image result for the circle book

Meet Mae Holland, customer experience rep for The Circle, age 25. She’s landed the dream job working for a company that is always ahead of the curve, on the scene, and leading in technological developments. She’s thrilled to be there, and her best friend Annie made it happen. Though slightly intimidated at first, Mae is determined to prove that she belongs there, yet her home life and privacy are getting in the way of climbing the social Circle ladder. Her father is living with MS, her mother is fighting with insurance, and her ex-boyfriend Mercer is constant appearance at her home- a reminder that she’s not there now to help her parents.

When all of these issues come to a head, Mae takes off on a rental kayak (a common way for her to de-stress) in the middle of the night, and gets caught. Instead of punishment, she decides to go fully transparent, wearing a video camera and promoting the Circle, and it seems like nothing could be better. She’s becoming a prominent figure within the company, practically famous among her viewers, and actually making Annie jealous of her success. However, her private life no longer exists. Though she feels better about the choices that she makes, knowing that everyone is witnessing what she does, her family has gone into hiding to get away from the outpouring of commentary on their lives, her relationship with Annie is in tatters, and Mercer…

Mae pushes on, practically drinking the Kool Aid with the Wise Men and helping plot the completion of the Circle’s transparency quest. Ignoring warnings from Mercer and the mysterious Kalden about the repercussions of the Circle’s goal, Mae innocently suggests that Circle accounts not only become the official government voting registration center, but that it become a mandatory law that everyone in the country must have a Circle account.

I’m blown away at the prospect of such an organization, and that so many seem to opt for the monopoly of the Circle, yet I can also see that we are probably not that far from such a circumstance. Those that wish to keep their privacy are deemed “hiding something”, yet they are still under surveillance and easily convicted with “evidence”. To me, that’s like blackmail. Privacy is important- it’s why there are privacy laws, after all. The world isn’t a robotic black and white- it’s human shades of gray. And I don’t think I could trust anyone if they were “completely transparent” or under constant surveillance. Who’s to know what they are really thinking? Who’s to know if they are just acting for the cameras? In the book, the reader is allowed to see what the audience members can’t, and that shows the real Mae- however it’s terrifying to note that she completely feels that transparency is for the greater good.

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Trying to grasp a complete picture, I also rented the movie based on the book, which stars Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Many things were skipped over and changed in the movie, and I had intended to write a movie comparison but so much was different that I decided to write the book review. Overall, I thought it was an interesting movie, but I couldn’t stop focusing on Emma’s “introspection” (which honestly came off as her trying to concentrate on her American accent…which was bad… Sorry Emma!), and how slow the movie pace was, and how many things were changed in the movie.

Overall? Completely frustrated with both mediums. There was so much hype with both and the plot was promising to be a good thrill, but the book left me disliking the main character (which I really dislike in general) and the movie fell completely flat. Is it a great look into a brainwashing, totalitarian society? Yes. Should you read it? For the premise of understanding exactly why humans have a right to privacy, yes. But would I recommend the book for a bit of light reading? Absolutely not.

 

 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I’m just getting around to reading the Hunger Games series (I know, I know, but I like living under a rock!) and decided that since they were so popular and such major movies, I’d do a book/movie comparison! I mean, we all know the book is going to be much better because Hollywood likes cutting the good stuff for movie length reasons (just give us the 4 hour movie, seriously!) but I like being able to remember what really happened vs what happened in the movies.

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  • The introduction of the movie sums up the first few chapters of the book fairly well, though there is far more background in the book. And the relationship between Gale and Katniss isn’t as defined at the start of the movie as in the book.
  • How Katniss got the Mockingjay pin is far more meaningful in the book than in the movie. For a mayor’s daughter to give away a pure gold pin versus being handed it by a Hob woman without much insight on the pin doesn’t give the audience much information about the state of the district and the worth of the pin to Katniss. Though they add sentimentality in the movie- where Katniss gives the pin to Prim to protect her, and then she gives it back after the reaping- it still doesn’t do the book justice, in my opinion.
  • Katniss doesn’t put on as much of a show in the opening ceremony in the movie, and it’s Peeta’s idea to hold hands and not Cinna’s. Truthfully, this carries throughout the movie, and it makes their romantic interest in each other hard to believe in the movie. In the books, you really think there could be something mixed in from what the reader gathers from Katniss’ internal conflict.
  • Katniss’ display to the scoring panel- way more thrilling in the book than the movie- although, seeing her hit the apple was pretty cool!
  • The constant surveillance isn’t as apparent in the movies as in the book. The things that Peeta tells Katniss the eve of the Games in the movie is less censored than the book. The surveillance in general during the games is also lesser than the book portrays. Katniss doesn’t act up or hide her emotions in the movie as often as the book says. In the book, they seem to be constantly aware of the cameras.
  • The relationship between Katniss and Rue wasn’t as developed in the movie as the book. You get that they admire each other, but you don’t see Katniss’ soft side, the part that makes Rue remind her of Prim.
  • Katniss didn’t stay hidden after blowing up the cornucopia in the movie, nor did they explain her hearing loss.
  • The uprising of District 11 in the movie wasn’t talked about in the book. None of the underlying Gamemaker/Capital business is truly revealed, only speculated by Katniss, until the end of the book. Even so there wasn’t any mention of any district outside of the capital being upset about the Games ending the way that it did.
  • The love story is definitely not played up as much in the movie, making the whole “Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers” death threat at the end a lot less believable, and the whole end of the book is Katniss trying to sort out her feelings in the Games vs her reality.
  • There is no mention of the separation of the two main characters at the end of the movie, and Peeta finding out about Katniss’ not reciprocating the same feelings for Peeta. This obviously is supposed to set the reader up for the following book in the series, and therefore should also be done in the movies- but it wasn’t.

Obviously, as the first in the series, the movie left the audience curious about what might happen next, but the book left the reader rushing off to the store in search for the next one. Now, if you’re like me and haven’t read or seen the movie, I suggest you check them out, because even though I found the movie lacking in comparison, both the book and movie are thrilling and keep their respective audiences wanting more.

Saratoga Payback by Stephen Dobyns

When I checked this out of the library, I thought there was something familiar about it. Turns out, I’ve read another of Dobyns’ books, called Saratoga Backtalk. Both are ‘Charlie Bradshaw’ mysteries, where we follow private investigator Charlie as he tries to solve crimes in the horse industry. I know that the horse connection had a lot to do with picking them both out, but in all honesty, while reading these novels, you don’t care much about the horses. The reader is too wrapped up in the suspense of the mystery!

In Saratoga Payback, Charlie is officially a retired PI (something tells me there is more to that story but it isn’t discussed in depth in this novel), yet he can’t help getting involved in the murder mystery that actually drops on his doorstep. Mickey Martin is found dead on Charlie’s sidewalk outside his home with his throat slashed and his tongue cut out. Charlie can’t quite figure out why, but he has a hunch that someone wanted Mickey to stop running his mouth, and wanted Charlie to know it too. So, trying his hardest to not meddle in police business, being that he no longer has his PI license and could go to jail for investigating, he takes on the “concerned citizen” role and tries to figure out why Mickey was brutally murdered.

It’s a quick paced novel, and very funny despite the scary situation, what with all the vicious slashing going on. As I was reading Payback, it made me recall why I liked Backtalk. Dobyns’ character driven plots make it easy to follow along but leave enough mystery to keep you turning the page. Charlie’s easy going personality and witty banter with his clients, friends, family, and informants make these novels an enjoyable read.

 

Burn Town by Jennifer McMahon

“There is no someday. We spend so much of our lives waiting for someday, don’t we? There is only right now. This is our someday.”

Burn Town just made one of my top favorite books of the year so far. When I read ‘Winter People’, I remember liking it but not enthralled, but I’m glad I decided to try again with McMahon, because WOW.

Burn Town had me hooked in the first 10 pages. HOOKED. By page 35, I had a running list of questions, and by page 50, I couldn’t take my eyes off the page. There are very few books that I’ve read in one day, yet here I am, adding this suspense thriller to the list. I could not put it down.

The whole story starts with the murder of Elizabeth Sandeski, the grandmother of the main character, Necco (Eva). Necco’s father, Miles, witnesses the murderer take his mother’s life, and years down the road attempts revenge. Thanks to a machine that links the living with the dead, Elizabeth reveals who killed her, and Miles takes matters into his own hands- or so he thinks. Years after that, Necco’s mother has a sort of premonition that the family is in danger again, and Necco learns that she’s in danger just before things get foggy and her memories fade to black.

Now, Necco is on the run again with the help of a high school drug dealer, a circus-crazed cafeteria lady, and a part-time private investigator, trying to figure out who is after her and what happened to her family after “the Great Flood”. Everything Necco though she knew is nothing compared to the truth she uncovers.

Absolutely recommend the read, as long as you can handle the thrill of it!

 

Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach

I’ve been wanting to read Wild Ride for almost four years now. Maybe three months after I moved to Lexington, a friend and coworker was reading it and said it was really good. Fast forward four years, and I finally got the chance to read it, and I honestly think that I wouldn’t have appreciated the book as much as I do now.

See, being in the Bluegrass has really broadened my Thoroughbred knowledge, and I’ve gained a deeper respect for the industry in the area. Despite what you read in the media- because there is always a dark side of each industry- it is truly regarded as the Sport of Kings for good reason. Generations of families taking the chance on the next superstar, and pouring hours, years, lifetimes of dedication (and money) into their horses. Not only have I gained a deeper understanding of the industry, but I’ve also learned my way around (for the most part) Lexington and the surrounding area. I haven’t gone full local (because I still can’t stop acting like a tourist or shake my New England accent), but while reading Wild Ride, I could easily picture the locations mentioned, or the events occurring.

The byline of Wild Ride is “The Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty”, but Auerbach doesn’t just rehash the demise- she delves into the history of Calumet from the very origins of it’s founder, William Monroe Wright.

The reader learns about the self-made businessman who eventually decided to move from Chicago to the Bluegrass and start his own harness horse breeding operation. From there, his son Warren takes over the family operation, despite being at odds with the way his father ran the place. He converts what becomes Calumet Farm into a thoroughbred operation, and an empire is born. Though strong in business practice, the younger Wright had a lot of horsemanship skills to learn, but his progress turned out derby winners and two Triple Crown winners. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse, and when he passed on, his wife and son became benefactors of his estate, and his wife Lucille inherited the farm, along with gigantic sums of money.

Lucille decides to keep the farm, and in doing so blossoms into one of the social elite. She meets Gene Markey and remarries, and the Markeys, adding a touch of glamour that the Wright men did not achieve, take Calumet to up the social ladder. While Lucille enjoyed being  Lady of Calumet, her son Warren Jr. was moved to the wayside. He didn’t care for the farm life, and had many peculiarities that made him difficult to work with. On top of that, there was some discrepancies about him being the legitimate son of Warren Wright Sr. Lucille did very little to defend her son because he was seen as an embarrassment in her circle. This feud caused much heartache for his wife and four children, and eventually the Wright family became estranged to the Markey family, most so after Warren Jr. succumbs to an early death.

Knowing fully about the family feud, Warren Jr.’s eldest daughter, Cindy, marries a man named J.T. Lundy. Determined to run Calumet, he pressures and fights with Lucille to run the farm. Lucille and Lundy stubbornly spar, neither one giving up, until Lucille’s age catches up to her. Through the will of Warren Sr., the farm is finally turned over the Wright children, and because of their disinterest in the farm due to all the past heartache, Lundy takes over in care of the Wrights. From here, as secretary Margaret Glass notes, Armageddon begins with the fall of Calumet.

If you live in the area, you can still drive past the farm, and see for yourself the images that Auerbach describes- the white double fencing, the devils-red trim on white washed barns, the acres of famous Kentucky bluegrass dotted with horses. But the Calumet you see isn’t the dynasty that existed prior to 1990, and reading about the fall brought chills to my spine.

If you’re a horse junky like me, or interested in historical novels (Kentucky history in particular), horse racing and breeding, or crime novels, Wild Ride is a must read.

Abigale Hall by Lauren A. Forry

Alright… there are days where I think I’ve landed a great random pick from the library, and then end up 50 pages in and questioning what I was on when I made my selection. Abigale Hall is a prime example. I’ll be brutally honest: I’m 20 pages in, and I knew this was a supposed to be a Gothic thriller but I really didn’t think much about what that meant.

Gothic thriller = Horror story

I’m the kind of girl who can’t watch scary movies alone because I get nightmares, let alone read and MAKE MYSELF IMAGINE SCARY STUFF.

So, 20 pages in, I’m struggling. The main character seems alright, but she’s got a miserable aunt and a sister who seemed to have some type of OCD with her counting and obsession with repetition. And there’s a lot of repetition with the use of onomatopoeia, which is a fine literary device, but it really drags out the scene- something someone as impatient as me would have a hard time tolerating. And the biggest turn off for me is the diction is heavy… simple sentences made complex for effect in strategic places is enough for me, but I don’t really care to read a paragraph that I have to practically interpret with a thesaurus.

Fed up, I googled other reviews of this book. Most are positive reviews, given between 3 and 5 stars, but the negative notes in the reviews are saying the same things I figured out in 20 pages- that the book drags, lots of repetition, and heavy plot. Those who stuck with it, I applaud you and thank you for the spoilers, because now I don’t feel bad about not having nightmares of…. well, I won’t do that to my readers if I can help it. But needless to say, I’m taking this one right back to the library. It’s just NOT my cup of tea.