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: “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: “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow

Ragtime by E.L. DoctorowEvery month, our club votes on which book we will read for that month. December’s winning book was E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime. The following review is based on an online discussion after Decemberr’s meeting.

Spoiler-­free Synopsis:

First published in 1975, Ragtime is an intricate tale of life in pre-World War I America. Expertly weaving together fiction and historical fact, Ragtime follows several seemingly unconnected characters. There is the “average” American family, only known as Mother, Father, Mother’s Younger Brother, Grandfather, and the little boy. The family lives in New York, in a three-story home at the crest of the Broadview Avenue Hill. Father owns a company that manufactures various “accoutrements of patriotism” such as flags, buntings, even fireworks. Next, we meet an immigrant family, also living in New York, sharing one room among the three of them – Mameh, Tateh, and The Little Girl. Tateh is an artist who tries to support his family as a peddler on the streets. Mameh and the little girl sew knee pants to make ends meet until they are informed that the little girl must attend school. Having lost the income the little girl provides, Mameh must find an alternative way to help her family survive. Other characters, both fictional and real, appear frequently throughout the book – a young African-American musician named Coalhouse Walker Jr. provides a detailed look at racial tensions in 1906. Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford are given fictional connections to the story loosely based on actual events of the time.

Fangirls’ Analysis:

December’s hostess chose this book because she just loves it. “I think that it is timelessly composed, and beautifully demonstrates what a reflection of any society should look like.” Club members voted for it because of an interest in historical fiction and its purported similarities to other works (i.e. Fiddler on the Roof).

What We Liked:

Doctorow’s writing style in Ragtime included simple, matter-of-fact sentences that were no less eloquent for their brevity. His words evoked powerful imagery and we appreciated his ability to let us see early 1900s America from varying perspectives. He allowed us to experience a story of working class success a la Harry Houdini. Through eyes of the unreliable narrator we see characters reaching for the typical “American Dream” and then watch the way those dreams shift and adapt to unexpected circumstances. During the discussion, several parallels were drawn to goings-on in the 1970s, when this book was being written, as well as current events (particularly regarding race and gender equality).

What We Didn’t Like:

While this book was enjoyed by most who read it, others found it difficult to get into. Those who had little interest in the historical aspects found their attentions wandering depending on the subject matter. A few members disliked the unknown narration and the fact that some characters were not given names.

This book bored a couple of members to tears but was largely enjoyed, even loved, by most.

Fangirl Rating: 4/5 stars

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