Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “First Grave On The Right (Charley Davidson #1)” by Darynda Jones

Every month, our club votes on the book that we will read for that month. August’s winning book was First Grave On The Right by Darynda Jones. The following review is based on a verbal discussion at August’s meeting.

Spoiler-­free Synopsis:

Charley Davidson is a private detective with a unique edge on her competition – she can see and speak with ghosts. Working alongside her assistant Cookie, and her police detective Uncle Bob (also known as Ubie), Charley has a reputation for closing difficult cases. She also has a reputation for talking to people that no one else can see, and for being a snarky, strange lady who gives nicknames to body parts and inanimate objects, but that’s beside the point. Life is business as usual until the case that she’s on takes an unexpected turn, bringing a mysterious savior from her past back into her world. Cue the sexy dreams and sexual frustration…

What We Liked:

We had quite the discussion about this book at August’s meeting. A few members had read this series before and enjoyed the chance to start it over. Most of those who read it for the first time were hooked and immediately hunted down book two, Second Grave On The Left, to continue the series. Fans loved Charley and her unfiltered snark, Cookie’s unflinching loyalty in the face of extreme weirdness, and the sexy times starring Reyes Farrow. The chapter headings were a huge hit, featuring hilarious quotes from t-shirts, bumper stickers, and Charley herself. The plot kept us interested by switching between the main case that Charley worked with the police, one of her own PI cases, and her personal dramas, sometimes intertwining in unexpected ways. Charley was engaging, charismatic, and someone that we wanted to be BFFs with. She was oddly relatable, with her humor, flaws, and coffee addiction. Her friendship with Cookie gave us definite Squad Goals. Several members reported reading parts of the book out loud to family members and laughing aloud frequently. The story went by faster than expected; once we began reading it was difficult to put it down again.

What We Didn’t Like:

As for the downsides, there were only a couple of issues that came up in the discussion. First, as it’s the first book in a series, there was a lot of information given to set the world up and some members felt like parts were rushed. There appeared to be some gaps in information as well, although those are likely cleared up in future books. The interactions between Reyes and Charley bothered a few because they felt forced and one-sided. Perhaps because so many members related to her on a personal level, we felt somewhat protective of Charley and concern was expressed at Reyes’ callous behavior. Our collective hope is that this changes in future books, and we are eager to keep reading to make sure that Charley gets a happy ending, no matter who she ends up with!

Fangirl Rating: 4/5 stars

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Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “Tempest Rising (Jane True #1)” by Nicole Peeler

Tempest Rising by Nicole PeelerEvery month, the Fangirls Read It First book club members vote on which book they want to read. May’s winning book was Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler. The following review is based on a verbal discussion between members at May’s meeting.

Spoiler-­free Synopsis:

Tragedy struck outcast Jane True as a teenager and she feels the ramifications years later. Her hometown of Rockabill, Maine, won’t let her move on, with several townspeople holding her responsible for the death of their golden boy. Jane deals in the best way she can – caring for her father, working at the local bookstore with two of her closest friends, and sneaking nightly swims in the frigid ocean waters. Everything changes when Jane stumbles upon a body and discovers a supernatural world existing alongside the regular folk. Has Jane, who has a supernatural secret of her own, finally found a place to belong?

Fangirls’ Analysis:

May’s hostess chose this book to be voted on because the main character has humor and positivity despite her difficult circumstances, the supernatural elements are refreshingly unique, and the story is a quick, captivating read.

What We Liked:

There was a lot to like about this story. Without exception, everyone who participated in this discussion chose Anyan as their favorite character. Several of us will continue with the series to find out more about the shaggy barghest. We also appreciated the sexy times between Jane and Ryu, especially the fact that Jane insists on Ryu wearing a condom every time – something that is often left out of romance novels. Jane’s reactions to seeing gruesome dead bodies were realistic, something else that is glossed over in other books. Her inner monologue kept our attention due to her snarky humor and on-point descriptions of such things as the type of books her nemesis Linda prefers to read. Ryu was sexy and charming and we enjoyed his presence as someone to jump-start Jane’s stalled love life, although we had a hard time seeing him as a long term lover. The town of Rockabill and it’s citizens, supernatural and not, were well-developed and full of life and character. Jane’s interactions with Nell, Iris, and Grizzie added richness to the story.

What We Didn’t Like:

Compared to other books that we’ve read and discussed, there are very few things that we didn’t like about this book. Chief among them is Jane’s experience at the compound. While Rockabill was grounded in reality, the compound felt shallow in comparison. A couple of members said that they lost interest in the story while Jane was there. Some also had trouble with Jane’s near-immediate acceptance of the supernatural, although others felt like she should have figured out her heritage sooner. Finally, while most members found Ryu to be charming, at least one felt like he was skeevy and had a difficult time enjoying the romance.

Fans of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse, Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson, or Jaye Wells’ Sabina Kane will enjoy Jane True.

Fangirl Rating: 4/5 stars

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Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl StrayedEvery month, our club votes on the book that we will read for that month. This month, the Fangirls Read It First book club voted to read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Spoiler-­free Synopsis:

Twenty-two year old Cheryl Strayed is struggling. Her overwhelming grief over her mother’s death, her family’s emotional distance, and her failing marriage have sent her to the brink of personal destruction. Four years later, she makes the impulsive, life-changing decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. More than a thousand miles of trail, crossing through California, Oregon, and Washington, the PCT is not for the inexperienced or the faint of heart. It is, however, just what Cheryl needs to get back to herself.

Fangirls’ Analysis:

March’s hostess chose this book for the club to vote on because it is an inspirational and true story about a woman confronting her demons and challenging herself both physically and emotionally. Club members voted for it because they had seen so much about the movie, because it had been on their TBR (To Be Read) list, and because they are fans of journey and travel stories.

What We Liked:

Club members enjoyed Cheryl’s no-nonsense approach to the gritty details of the hike – descriptions of her toenails falling off, for example. The author did not appear to sugarcoat anything about her experiences on the Pacific Crest Trail, or in her personal life that lead to her impulsive decision. The landscapes were brought to life vividly, and the story flowed well between past and present. We also appreciated that Cheryl didn’t live a “cookie cutter” life. She made a series of poor choices that led to her downfall. We find it admirable that Cheryl was able to recognize and acknowledge her mistakes and take drastic measures to correct her life. Her openness was refreshing and lacking the wallowing, pity-seeking tone that can be found in similar stories. There were several aspects of Cheryl’s life that members found themselves relating to, like the distance in her family after the loss of her mother, wanting to be alone with her grief, and the problems in her marriage.

What We Didn’t Like:

Some members felt that the story weighed too heavily on the physical journey. We would have liked to know more about Cheryl’s life leading up to her mother’s death and before her decision to leave on the hike. One member felt that Cheryl might have been more likable if they had gotten to know more about her.

Fangirl Rating: 4/5 stars

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Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “Darkfever” by Karen Marie Moning

Darkfever by Karen Marie MoningEvery month, our club votes on the book that we will read for that month. February’s winning book was Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning. The following review is based on a verbal discussion at February’s meeting.

Spoiler-­free Synopsis:

Darkfever is the first book in Karen Marie Moning’s bestselling Fever series. The series follows bubbly, spoiled MacKayla Lane from her idyllic home in Ashford, Georgia to Ireland as she searches for answers to her sister’s murder.

Mac’s perfect life was turned upside down after her sister Alina is killed while studying abroad. The police in Ireland have no leads and no suspects, which leaves Mac frustrated and grieving without hope of finding closure. The discovery of a voicemail, left by Alina moments before her death, spurs Mac into action. She travels to Ireland against her parents’ wishes, determined to do what the police can’t. Her investigation seems fruitless until a chance encounter in a bar leads her to uncover a gift that she didn’t know she had– she is a sidhe-seer. Mac is able to see into the world of the Fae. This rare power is more dangerous than she knows, for it allows her to see past the glamours that members of the Fae use to blend – and hunt – among humans. It’s likely what got her sister killed. With the reluctant help of the mysterious bookstore owner Jericho Barrons, who know much more than he admits, Mac is on the trail of Alina’s killer.

Fangirls’ Analysis:

February’s hostess chose this book for us to vote on because she “absolutely loved it” when she read it several years ago.

What We Liked:

Club members liked Mac’s stubbornness and determination, and the way the author showed her personal growth throughout the book. She goes from acting entitled and somewhat bratty to grieving and then to determined. We appreciated seeing the main character gain perspective and maturity in the face of tragedy and disappointment. This book focuses on the human aspects in a fantasy-based world, which was refreshing. Members also enjoyed the descriptions of the dark Fae and Mac’s encounters with various races, both dark and light.

What We Didn’t Like:

Some members found Mac to be too whiny in the beginning. It made it difficult for them to sympathize with her. She seemed to be perpetually stuck as a teenager, instead of a twenty-two year old woman. Mac also had a habit of giving the Fae silly names that made her seem flighty when things were getting serious.

Overall, we really liked the first book and many of us plan to continue the series.

Fangirls’ Recommend:

Fans of this series might also enjoy the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, The Hollows series by Kim Harrison,  The Others series by Anne Bishop, and books by Keri Arthur.

Fangirl Rating: 4/5 stars

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Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “Dorothy Must Die” by Danielle Paige

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle PaigeA review written/summarized by Amanda.

Every month, our club votes on the book that we want to read for that month. October’s winning book was Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die. The following review is based on a verbal discussion at October’s meeting.

Spoiler-free Synopsis:

Amy Gunn is a typical teenage girl, living in present-day Kansas with her mother and their pet rat Star. Like the rest of the world, she grew up with stories of Dorothy Gale and her fantastical trip to the Land of Oz. She saw the movie, read the books, heard the famous song about the rainbow over and over. Also like the rest of the world, she believed that it was all make believe, until a tornado (yes, a tornado) picked up her trailer from the park that she calls home and deposited it in – you guessed it – Oz, where Amy quickly discovers that the legendary land is not at all like it was supposed to be. It turns out that Dorothy returned to Oz and was still there, wreaking all kinds of havoc. Oz is not what it used to be. Good is wicked. Wicked is good. And it’s up to another girl from Kansas to put things right… if she can figure out what “right” really is.

Fangirls’ Analysis:

October’s hostess chose this book because she thought the premise sounded promising and that the club would enjoy it. She also liked “the unique take on Oz”. Club members voted for it out of love for fantasy stories and because an “original viewpoint of a familiar story was compelling”.

During the discussion, comparisons were drawn to a book that the club read earlier in the year, John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things. That book is also a retelling of classic tales, many that were darkly twisted and very different from what we are familiar with. Particular attention was drawn to Connolly’s version of Snow White, now portrayed as a cruel and grotesque woman who uses the dwarves as her personal slaves.

What We Liked:

Amy is a headstrong young woman who doesn’t fit in at her school. She even has an archenemy. She doesn’t have any friends and her relationship with her mother has deteriorated over the last few years. Despite all of this, she is determined to graduate high school with top grades and escape Kansas for good. She isn’t without bitterness but she doesn’t let it affect her long-term goals, which is admirable. The individuals that she meets in Oz are unique creatures with serious issues of their own – Indigo, a Goth munchkin with a BIG attitude, and Ollie, a flying monkey who wishes to change his species’ fate. And then there’s Nox, the handsome, solemn boy who only seems to add to Amy’s confusion – and Pete, an eccentric boy who claims that Oz needs Amy’s help, but disappears at inopportune moments. YA skeptics shouldn’t worry—Paige doesn’t follow the usual YA romantic tropes with this story, which is much appreciated.

What We Didn’t Like:

The story ends on an extremely abrupt note. Even knowing that a sequel is in the works, the ending seemed to come from nowhere and didn’t feel like a natural stopping point. While the majority of the story moves quickly and keeps the reader engaged, there are some scenes in the middle that drag on a bit too long. Amy also has a tendency to swear but the profanity doesn’t sit right with the overall style of the story, or with Amy’s character.

As a group, we really enjoyed this story and are looking forward to reading the next book!

Fangirl rating: 4/5 stars.

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Fangirl Book Club Pick of the Month: “Timeline” by Michael Crichton

Timeline by Michael CrichtonA review written/summarized by Amanda.

Every month, our club votes on the book we will read for that month. September’s winning book was Michael Crichton’s Timeline. The following review is based on a verbal discussion at September’s meeting.

Spoiler-free Synopsis:

Timeline, published in 1999, reaches across multiple genre lines (namely mystery, romance, history, and science fiction). It tells the story of a group of young historians and archaeologists who travel to 14th century France to rescue their boss, Professor Edward Johnston.

The book began in the middle of the New Mexico desert, where an incoherent man was found by a married couple. He had been wandering miles from the nearest town, with no discernible means of transportation. The couple brought him to the closest hospital, where an MRI scan revealed several physical anomalies, such as blood vessels that don’t line up. It’s discovered that the man was a physicist in the employ of a powerful company called ITC.

Meanwhile, in the Dordogne region of France, Professor Johnston and his team of archaeologists and history students were uncovering the ruins of two medieval towns, Castelgard and La Roque. Their study was funded by ITC and its founder, Robert Doniger. Suspicions were aroused when ITC’s lawyer, Diane Kramer, revealed more knowledge of the site than she should have had. The professor decided to go to ITC and find out how they came by their information.

Soon after, the team, consisting of Chris Hughes, Kate Erickson, Andre Marek, and David Stern, made an unexpected discovery at the research site – a lens from a pair of glasses and a parchment written in modern English that seemed to be a request for help from the professor. Tests were run and repeated multiple times before it was determined that both items had inexplicably been in the ruins for 600 years. A phone conversation with Doniger’s right hand man confirms their suspicions. The team members pack their bags and travel to ITC.

Surprises continue once they reached ITC and it is revealed that time travel not only exists, but had been happening in relative secrecy for several years. Upon his arrival, Professor Johnston insisted on going back in time to see for himself, but didn’t return when he was expected. Doniger and Gordon train the professor’s team to go back to 14th century France and bring him back to the present. From that point, hijinks and adventures ensued.

Fangirls’ Analysis:

September’s hostess chose this book for us to vote on because “the description sounded bad-ass and I thought it would be interesting to read about time travel stuff.” When asked why people had voted for Timeline, the overwhelming response was “I remember liking the movie!”

Like many of Crichton’s works (Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain, Prey, etc.), Timeline was co-opted by Hollywood. The movie stars the late Paul Walker, as well as Billy Connolly, Frances O’Connor, Neil McDonough, and Gerard Butler. It was released in 2003 and has its own discussion-worthy issues.

What We Liked:

There are several strong female characters in this novel, all of whom are successful, intelligent, and driven (without coming across as man-haters). The action picks up once the team goes back in time. Well-crafted twists keep us guessing and interested in the outcome. Crichton’s use of circular time (rather than linear) in regards to the time travel aspect, made us think critically about quantum mechanics and multiverses. The transitions between medieval time and present day include juxtapositions that help bring readers firmly into the relevant time period.

What We Didn’t Like:

The first third of the book mostly consists of explaining the various scientific processes for time travel. While some of this information is helpful and rounds out the story, most of it is tedious and dry. Several of us found ourselves skimming over these parts and still had little to no difficulty understanding the concepts. Crichton also has a habit of introducing one-off characters as though they are integral to the story and will appear more than once. He includes details about their relationships and back stories that would be useful to know about main or even recurring supporting characters.

With as many people as he introduces throughout the story, Crichton adds to the confusion by using first and last names interchangeably, to the point where it distracts from the plot. And although he made his female characters well-rounded, his physical descriptions were centered on their beauty and desirability as though their value is increased solely because they are attractive.

As a group, we ultimately enjoyed the story but didn’t LOVE it.

Fangirl rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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