Audiobook Fiction Pairings | Wellness Gone Wrong

These two books set within the beauty industry offer insight into consumerism, self-worth, and influencers.

Hemming, Deborah. Goddess. Tantor Audio. Feb. 2023. 8:43 hrs. ISBN 9798765066348. $19.99. F

In Hemming’s (Throw Down Your Shadows) bighearted sophomore novel, protagonist Agnes develops a serious case of imposter syndrome just as she finishes her book tour. As a child, Agnes escaped into the woods to avoid her dysfunctional family and now worries that her best-selling debut novel, a celebration of the natural world, might be the only book she has in her. On a plane trip, Agnes finds a welcome distraction from analyzing her writer’s block in Jack, a film director and ex-husband of Geia, the former actress and founder of the Goddess wellness brand (think Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop). Jack loves Agnes’s book, and the two develop feelings for each other, despite his awkwardly close relationship with Geia. Things get even weirder when Geia invites Agnes to a 10-day Greek island retreat celebrating all things Goddess. Narrator Ellie Gossage’s bright, expressive tones are a perfect match for this engaging story, and because she fully invests in each of Hemming’s well-drawn, quirky characters, listeners will be completely hooked as the retreat goes down the rabbit hole. VERDICT This playfully imaginative, enthusiastically narrated satire of influencers and the wellness industry would be a fun book club choice.—Beth Farrell

Huang, Ling Ling. Natural Beauty. Books on Tape. Apr. 2023. 7:46 hrs. ISBN 9780593671375. $66.50. F

Grammy Award–winning violinist Huang introduces an unnamed narrator, a gifted Chinese American pianist, whose childhood studies at a prestigious conservatory were funded by an anonymous donor. She learned her skills from her parents, who fled China during the Cultural Revolution. When an accident debilitates her parents, she leaves behind the piano to find work. She is offered a job at Holistik, a world-renowned high-end beauty and wellness company known for its ground-breaking products. There, she’s given supplements and beauty products, with regimens for every aspect of her life. As months pass, her body changes, and her features begin to resemble all the women at Holistik. As her life becomes more entwined with Holistik, she learns that beauty comes at a cost. Huang’s debut is a harrowing tale about the beauty industry, consumerism, race, identity, and self-worth. Carolyn Kang’s narration captures the narrator’s conflicted emotional journey, and her distinct voices for secondary characters make conversations easy to follow. VERDICT Recommend to those who enjoy social commentary and suspense combined with elements of science fiction and body horror. Listeners will have a hard time pressing pause, as each chapter reveals shocking twists and turns.—Meghan Bouffard

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