The Bees by Laline Paull (2014)

beesThis story is charmingly told by Flora 717, an exceptional bee having capabilities in the many skills needed to sustain a hive. A Sister Sage (philosopher bee) says Flora has the hive mind. Trouble comes when Flora discovers she also produces eggs and she regards her offspring with great affection. But only the Queen should produce eggs and Flora must hide this wonderful gift from the hive police.

I particularly enjoyed listening to The Bees by Laline Paull as the accents and tones bring out the character and mood of the speaking bee (of course bees cannot talk but the author has skillfully translated their communications from noise, dance, and scent into English). One can speculate as the story moves along as to what will become of Flora and who will be the next Queen. Read a review of The Bees in the New York Times.

Red Means Run by Brad Smith (2012)

redmeansrunWhen successful criminal lawyer Mickey Dupree is found dead on a golf course in upstate New York, all fingers point to ex-baseball player turned farmer Virgil Cain as his killer. Several weeks earlier, Cain had spouted off in the local bar that “someone ought to blow Mickey’s head off.” That statement alone is sufficient evidence for police detective Brady to place Cain in custody for Dupree’s murder.

When Virgil realizes that Brady is not interested in looking for other possible suspects, he breaks out of jail to prove his innocence. Attractive and highly capable police Chief Claire Marchand has her doubts that Virgil is the murderer and she finds herself helping Cain search for the killer. Great characters, an interesting plot, and the interactions between Claire and Virgil make for a great story in Red Means Run by Brad Smith.

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler (2013)

callingmehomeI listened to the audio version of Julie Kibler’s debut Calling Me Home and loved it. The narration alternates between Isabelle, an 89-year old white woman, and Dorrie, an African American woman in her 30s. These two women have an unlikely friendship, which started many years earlier when Dorrie became Isabelle’s hairdresser.

At Isabelle’s request, they embark on a road trip from Texas to Ohio to attend a funeral. En route, Isabelle tells the story of her life during the 1930s. As such, the storyline alternates between late 1930s and the present day. Since I listened to this book in my car, I felt as though I were on the road with them, sitting in the back seat, eavesdropping on their captivating conversation.

The characters were so real to me that I felt the whole gamut of emotions while listening to this book. I think the book could be turned into a great movie!

The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch (2014)

lastenchantmentsIn 2005, having somewhat of a quarter-life crisis after working as a staffer on a failed presidential campaign, former Ivy leaguer Will Baker leaves New York City and his long term girlfriend for a yearlong English graduate program at Oxford University in England. Will quickly falls into an eclectic group of friends – and in love with smart and elegant British student Sophie. As his year at Oxford progresses, Will increasingly questions his identity and his future. Charles Finch, who himself spent time at Oxford, infuses the campus with love and nostalgia, and the setting is a character in its own right. The Last Enchantments is a must for fans of the movie L’Auberge Espagnole.

A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (2009)

beautifulplacetodieWhen an Afrikaner policeman is murdered in a remote area of South Africa, detective Emmanual Cooper is brought in to investigate. It is 1952, and the Apartheid system has recently become the law of the land. How does an honorable policeman investigate when not all witnesses are considered equal and people of different races are only allowed to associate in very proscribed ways? What is most intriguing in this story is the application of “race laws” that overrule family relationships and human behavior. Check out Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die; for more mysteries set in Africa, see our book list.

Reality Boy by A.S. King (2013)

realityboyWhen Gerald Faust was a small child, his home was invaded by television cameras and the overdone star of the reality TV show, Network Nanny. Now in high school, Gerald has to live each day being tormented by his classmates and knowing everyone he meets saw him on national television, acting out by pooping on the kitchen table…in his mother’s shoes…at the department store…

While the “episodes” from Gerald’s stint on Network Nanny are entertaining, the real story here is what happened to this family behind the scenes. As he starts to reconcile with his past, readers are given glimpses into Gerald’s dysfunctional family, starting with his mother who openly favors her firstborn and never wanted her two other children, down to Gerald’s sister, Tasha, who has made his life a living hell since the day he was born. Equal parts horrifying and sympathetic, A.S. King’s Reality Boy provides a realistic look into the life of one teen as he learns to start trusting people and get out of a bad home situation.

Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany (2013)

heartlikemineGrace, a career woman in her mid-thirties, enters into a relationship with Victor, a divorced workaholic with two children. After Victor’s ex-wife passes away suddenly under mysterious circumstances, Grace is thrown into all the turmoil that unfolds. Heart Like Mine is narrated by three different females. The character development is really good. I’m looking forward to reading more books by Amy Hatvany.

Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo (2005)

actsoffaithPhilip Caputo sets this fascinating tale of aid workers against the background of Sudan’s civil war, where the Muslim government in the north fights the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) for control of the Christian and animist south. Acts of Faith presents multiple stories of a group of men and women who confront their own individual moral crises and fears as they work to alleviate the suffering caused by civil war in contemporary Sudan. Reporter, novelist, and nonfiction writer, Caputo has produced a compassionate and dramatic novel.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan (2014)

oppositelonelyIn 2012, Marina Keegan’s final essay in the Yale Daily News went viral after her sudden tragic death five days after graduation. In The Opposite of Loneliness, her teachers and family compiled a selection of her writings, both fiction and nonfiction.

I enjoyed listening to Emily Woo Zeller’s narration – she captures the wry humor in Keegan’s writing. The title essay – “The Opposite of Loneliness” – is powerful, relatable, moving. “Against the Grain,” which tracked her life with celiac disease, brought tears to my eyes. And while I particularly enjoyed her nonfiction work, her short stories were lovely as well.

Check out a review from The New York Times.