There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Alex Effect
Stephenie Meyer is best known for the hugely successful Twilight novels that were also turned into hit films. She was criticized for creating the character Bella Swan, the rather too passive teen, constantly mooning over the Edward, the Vampire, while Jacob, the hunky Werewolf stood by waiting for her attention..
The protagonist, Juliana aka Alex, in her new thriller The Chemist, is completely different. She is small built, but fiercely independent, totally capable of looking after herself as well as the guy she is compelled to protect.
Alex is a doctor and a specialist in chemicals—such a wiz that she is recruited right out of campus by a secret branch of the US government. The chemicals she and her mentor Dr Barnaby concoct, are used to torture terrorists. Then, her shadowy employers decide that the two know too much and try to kill them. Alex escapes by the sheer fluke of being in the bathroom when the attack takes place, but Dr Barnaby gets a painful death.
She runs and spends the next few years staying under the radar and deflecting further assassination attempts by being smarter than the hired killers, and creating an almost foolproof security system, that entails sleeping in bathtubs in a succession of nondescript motels, wearing a gas mask to protect herself from the toxic chemicals meant for the attackers. Her belt has syringes of poisons, even the jewellery she wears contains deadly chemicals. The woman who says of herself, “I am the bogeyman in a very dark and scary world… frighten people who aren’t afraid of anything else, not even death. I can take everything they pride themselves on away from them; I can make them betray everything they hold sacred. I am the monster they see in their nightmares,” is certainly not a sitting duck.
When she is tired of hiding and living like a gypsy, she contacted by the agency to take up one last job, because many lives are at stake. In spite of her caution, she finds that the man – Daniel—she I assigned to interrogate is innocent. Not just that, he is handsome and kind, and has fallen in love with her at first sight. He continues to be enamoured of her even she has had a face bashed up in a fight, and goes through most of the novel with a battered visage. She is baffled by his feelings for her and even more by the melting of her tough heart.
“I am intrinsically incompatible with being an object of romantic interest,” she says to him at one point.
“I understand you,” replies Daniel, “I just don’t agree.”
Due to a set of very complicated circumstances—and Meyer is adept at creating many such—Alex has to go on the run again, this time with Daniel and his over aggressive twin, Kevin, dodging a bunch of very bad people, who want to kill them all.
The book is fast-paced and has a lot of action sequences, which seem to have been written as set pieces for the movie that will invariably get made. Her last non-Twilightbook, a sci-fi novel called The Host was a bestseller, but not even close to her vampire and werewolf series. The Chemist is also a bestseller and with a protagonist like Alex, has the potential to be turned into a franchise, even though Meyer says she won’t write a sequel. What she has proved with this enjoyable book is that she is not bound to any particular genre.
By Stepenie Meyer
Publisher: Little Brown
Excerpt of The Chemist
Across the street was Carston’s favorite lunch spot. It was not the meeting place she’d suggested. She was also five days early.
She came at him from behind, taking the same path he had just a few minutes earlier. His food had arrived—a chicken parm—and he seemed to be totally absorbed in consuming it. But she knew Carston was better than she was at appearing to be something he was not.
She dropped into the seat across from him with no fanfare. His mouth was full of sandwich when he looked up.
She knew that he was a good actor. She assumed he would bury his true reaction and display the emotion he wished before she could catch sight of the first. Because he didn’t look surprised at all, she assumed she’d taken him completely unawares. If he had been expecting her, he would have acted like her sudden appearance had shocked him. But this, the steady gaze across the table, the unwidened eyes, the methodical chewing—this was him controlling his surprise. She was almost 80 percent sure.
She didn’t say anything. She just met his expressionless gaze while he finished masticating his bite of sandwich.
“I guess it would be too easy to just meet as planned,” he said.
“Too easy for your sniper, sure.” She said the words lightly, using the same volume he had. Anyone overhearing would think the words a joke. But the two other lunch groups were talking and laughing loudly; the people passing by on the sidewalk listened to earphones and telephones. No one cared what she was saying except Carston.
“That was never me, Juliana. You must know that.”
It was her turn to act unsurprised. It had been so long since anyone had addressed her by her real name, it sounded like a stranger’s. After the initial jolt, she felt a small wave of pleasure. It was good that her name sounded foreign to her. That meant she was doing it right.
His eyes flitted to her obvious wig—it was actually quite similar to her real hair, but now he would suspect she was hiding something very different. Then he forced his eyes back to hers. He waited for a response for another moment, but when she didn’t speak he continued, choosing his words carefully.
“The, er, parties who decided you should…retire have…fallen into disfavor. It was never a popular decision to begin with, and now those of us who were always in disagreement are no longer ruled by those parties.”
It could be true. It probably wasn’t.
He answered the skepticism in her eyes. “Have you had any…unpleasant disturbances in the past nine months?”
“And here I was thinking that I’d just gotten better at playing hide-and-seek than you.”
“It’s over, Julie. Might has been overcome by right.”
“I love happy endings.” Heavy sarcasm.
He winced, hurt by the sarcasm. Or pretending to be. “Not so happy as all that,” he said slowly. “A happy ending would mean I wouldn’t have contacted you. You would have been left alone for the rest of your life. And it would have been a long one, as much as that was in our power.”
She nodded as if she agreed, as if she believed. In the old days, she’d always assumed Carston was exactly what he appeared to be. He had been the face of the good guys for a long time. It was almost fun now in a strange way, like a game, to try to decipher what each word actually meant.
Except then there was the tiny voice that asked, What if there is no game? What if this is true…if I could be free?
“You were the best, Juliana.”
“Dr. Barnaby was the best.”
“I know you don’t want to hear this, but he never had your talent.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Not for the compliment,” she explained. “Thank you for not trying to tell me his death was an accident.” All of this still in the lighthearted tone.
“It was a poor choice motivated by paranoia and disloyalty. A person who will sell out his partner always sees the partner as plotting in exactly the same way. Dishonest people don’t believe honest people exist.”
She kept her face stony while he spoke.
Never, in three years of constant running, had she ever spilled a single secret that she’d been privy to. Never once had she given her pursuers any reason to think her a traitor. Even as they tried to kill her, she had remained faithful. And that hadn’t mattered to her department, not at all.
Readers who like humour might want to try The Bogus Read. The synopsis says,”“In a galaxy far, far away from Earth there were two countries. India and Pakistan. Both countries somehow remained in a perennial state of conflict since their independence. After badly losing thrice to India, Pakistan has now come up with the ultimate conspiracy – attack the minds of the Indian masses and capture the nation. In a partially successful attempt, it captures some portion of India. The Indian Government, led by its highly patriotic PM, Narendar Mody and His Royal Highness, Arnub Gooswamy, takes charge of the situation and comes up with a master plan of defeating Pakistan, using some of India’s most potent weapons – corruption, political-hooliganism and annoying celebrities. They are supported by five engineering students who, inspite of their otherwise mundane lives, get embroiled in the mess. They set themselves on a perilous journey only to discover how deep the whole conspiracy is and how dangerous are the brains behind it. Will they succeed in revealing the conspiracy to the Army? Will the lost territories be recaptured by India? To find out read The Bogus Read, an illogically-logical take on Indian politics, mainstream media, cinema and the television industry.”
The Bogus Read
For fans of the paranormal, there’s 7 Days—according to the synopsis, “All that Apurva wanted was to live a happily married life with the woman he loved the most, but what he didn't expect to face was a drastic and dangerous challenge on the first night of his honeymoon. He woke up the first morning and discovered his wife to be affected by something he didn't have any clue about. He was faced with two options, either leave her and save himself or stay and find a solution. What will Apurva choose to do? Will he be successful in his decision? 7 days is a romantic, psychological thriller with paranormal element in it."
By Stanish Gill