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: “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan

"The Forest of Hands and Feet" by Carrie RyanA review written/summarized by Amanda.

Every month, our club votes on the book that we will read for that month. August’s choice was The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

Spoiler-free Synopsis:

Mary’s village is isolated in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, so called because of the masses of once-living creatures, the Unconsecrated, who seek human flesh. Protected by Guardians and guided by the Sisterhood,the villagers lead simple lives, routines occasionally disrupted by the Unconsecrated. Mary tries to be content with her fate; someday soon she will join the Sisterhood. Her only other option is to hope that a boy will speak for her. They’ll be betrothed and then married, and then expected to provide children to build up the dwindling population. Neither of these options appeal to Mary, who longs for the ocean in her mother’s stories, a fairy tale according to everything they’ve been taught. A terrible secret leads to a horrible tragedy and sends Mary and her friends on an adventure that they never expected, one they might not survive.

What We Liked:

The book is full of amazing imagery. The author did an excellent job of describing the landscape with just enough detail to bring the pictures to life, but not so much that we felt compelled to skip ahead. Many of us appreciated that Mary comes across as a typical teenager. She is occasionally ruled by her hormones and is overwhelmed by her emotions. She gets passionately angry when things don’t go how she thinks they should. Her romantic feelings waffle back and forth and she doesn’t always know what she wants. It was refreshing to read about a normal teenager who happens to be living in the midst of a zombie horde. We also liked Mary’s refusal to settle for less than exactly what she wants. Even when she gets what she thinks she wants, she still isn’t content. We also enjoyed the relationships and dynamics between Mary’s friends, particularly Harry and Travis. This book is full of emotional moments, both joyful and tragic. We applaud any author who can make us feel so much, good and bad, in the span of a few hundred pages.

What We Didn’t Like:

Mary was not the most sympathetic of characters. Her behavior was often frustrating, much in the same way that adults are frustrated by the actions of teenagers. It was difficult to root for her as the protagonist when you also wanted to metaphorically slap her upside the head. There is a lot of tragedy and sadness in this story, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but made it difficult for some readers to get through. The book also ends on a cliffhanger, leaving the fates of several characters unknown.

There are two sequels to this book (The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places), both with different narrators. Readers have found that they relate better to the new protagonists and are able enjoy those stories more.

 

Fangirl rating: 2.7 out of 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: “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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