Category Archives: Fiction

Virgin

Finished Virgin by Radhika Sanghani.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Okay, I admit it…I didn’t do it.

Yet.

This is normal, right?  I mean, just because everyone I know has talked like they’ve already done it doesn’t mean that they’re telling the truth…right?

It’s not like I’m asking for that much. I don’t need the perfect guy. I don’t need candlelight or roses. Honestly, I don’t even need a real bed.

The guys I know complain that girls are always looking for Mr. Right—do I have to wear a sign that says I’m only looking for Mr. Right Now?

Sooooo…anyone out there want sex? Anyone? Hello? Just for fun?

I am not going to die a virgin. One way or another I am going to make this happen.

Hey, what have I got to lose? Besides the obvious.”

I wanted so much to enjoy this book and I just couldn’t do it.

I expected to be able to empathize with Ellie because (true confessions time!) I lost my virginity at 20, a week before my 21st birthday.  I didn’t really feel like a freak, as Ellie does, but I was also one of the last people I knew to have sex.

Basically, I was just left very underwhelmed by this book.  I didn’t get a huge sense of Ellie as a person; it just seemed like all she wanted to do was have sex—and not because sex was great, but because she felt like the literal last virgin in the world.

Radhika Sanghani is definitely a good writer and (depending on what her next book is about) I would probably read something else by her.

It seems like a lot of people did enjoy it, though, so if you’re interested, definitely judge for yourself.

American Blonde

Finished American Blonde by Jennifer Niven.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A fearless and spirited pilot conquers Hollywood. Now can she survive movie stardom?

In 1945, Velva Jean Hart is a bona fide war heroine. After a newsreel films her triumphant return to America, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promises to make her a star. They give her a new life story and a brand new name. As “Kit Rogers,” she navigates the movie sets, recording sessions, parties, staged romances, and occasional backstabbing that accompany her newfound fame. She also navigates real-life romance, finding herself caught between a charismatic young writer and a sexy and enigmatic musician from her past. But when one of her best friends dies mysteriously and the most powerful studio in the world launches a cover-up, Velva Jean goes in search of the truth— risking her own life, as well as her heart, in the process.

Set during Hollywood’s Golden Age and peopled with a cast of unforgettable characters, American Blonde will mesmerize readers of The Chaperone as well as fans of the Velva Jean series.”

One thing you should know that the synopsis doesn’t make clear: this is the fourth book in a series.  It’s also the one I started with.  It works as a standalone, for the most part, but there are a lot of references to events from earlier books and I think I would have appreciated it more if I had read the other three books.

(Related note: so Velva Jean is a pilot during World War II and a spy.  And now a famous actress—and singer, because yeah, she can sing, too.  That is quite the life for someone who’s still, I’m guessing, only in her twenties.)

The first part of the story dragged a little for me, but I think that’s because I hadn’t read any of the others.  Once she got to Hollywood and we saw a little bit of the studio system, I liked this book a great deal more.

(Related note: I know it’s true, but I still can’t wrap my head around the studio system idea—stars used to be under contract with specific studios and if you were under an MGM contract, you were likely only going to be allowed to be in MGM movies.  You could be loaned to another studio, but it was very rare.  I think the way of doing things now is much better.)

This was a very interesting book and I enjoyed it, but I never felt like I connected to Velva Jean.  I do think she’s had a fascinating life, and I would like to read the third book, which deals with her time as a spy.

I did get Jennifer Niven’s 2015 YA release (All the Bright Places, which is not a Velva Jean book) and am very excited to read that.

Dear Daughter

Finished Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.

Oh, I thought I was so clever.

But you probably already know that I’m not.’

LA IT girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she’s been released on a technicality she’s determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America’s media on her tail, convinced she’s literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn’t like her mother. Could she have killed her?”

This is one of those books that’s nearly impossible to put down.   Be warned though that, like Gone Girl, the protagonist isn’t particularly likeable.  (Understatement.)

This book works on a variety of levels.  Like Janie, we’re not sure exactly who killed her mom (it could’ve been Janie.  We don’t know).  Honestly, though, that didn’t really drive the story for me.  I was more interested in Janie learning about who her mom was before she became a mom.  And I was also very curious about how long it would take for Janie to be found out.

In that particular way, it reminded me of Casey Anthony.  We don’t know where she is, but we know she’s probably somewhere in the US.  And that makes me wonder what kind of a life she has, because it seems like the whole country (justifiably, IMO) hates her.

How do you get a job or date or have friends when everyone knows who you are and thinks you killed your kid and got away with it?

At any rate, this book is very clever. I can’t wait to see what Elizabeth Little does next.  (This is her first novel.)

Highly recommended.

Prototype

Finished Prototype by M.D. Waters.  I received a copy from the publisher on Edelweiss.  (Spoilers for its predecessor, Archetype, in this review.)

Summary (from Goodreads):

The stunning debut that began with Archetype— and has readers buzzing—concludes in Prototype, when a woman’s dual pasts lock onto a collision course, threatening her present and future.

Emma looks forward to the day when she can let go of her past—both of them. After more than a year on the run, with clues to her parents’ whereabouts within her grasp, she may finally find a place to settle down. Start a new life. Maybe even create new memories with a new family.

But the past rises to haunt her and to make sure there’s nowhere on the planet she can hide. Declan Burke wants his wife back, and with a little manipulation and a lot of reward money, he’s got the entire world on his side. Except for the one man she dreads confronting the most: Noah Tucker.

Emma returns to face what she’s done but finds that the past isn’t the problem. It’s the present—and the future it represents. Noah has moved on and another woman is raising their daughter.

In the shocking conclusion to M.D. Waters’s spectacular debut, Emma battles for her life and her freedom, tearing down walls and ripping off masks to reveal the truth. She’s decided to play their game and prove she isn’t the woman they thought she was. Even if it means she winds up dead. Or worse, reborn.”

I can’t even adequately express how much I loved this book and its predecessor, Archetype.  And I am very, very sad that the series is only two books, because I will miss Emma and Noah very, very much.

I read these two books almost back to back (thank you, Penguin!) and I recommend that very highly.  It was so fantastic to see and be able to really appreciate the growth of Emma’s character.

She went from a timid person to an actual warrior.  (The timidity is understandable, because she had no memories—can you imagine having to figure out everything about yourself?  Let alone learning that the person you were trusting to help you navigate everything was a liar and creep?)

And oh, Noah.  I loved Noah.  I pictured him as kind of a Michael Biehn-type, circa original Terminator.  And I love his relationship with Emma.  Those two are absolutely perfect together, and the love they have for each other is completely swoon-worthy.

I hope M.D. Waters continues to be this prolific, because I already need many more books from her.  Preferably within a month or two.  That’s doable, right?

Highly recommended.

Frog Music

Finished Frog Music by Emma Donoghue.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the author of the worldwide bestseller Room: “Her greatest achievement yet…Emma Donoghue shows more than range with FROG MUSIC–she shows genius.” — Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life

Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice–if he doesn’t track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue’s lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.”

This is another review where I can’t be very specific because the story reveals itself in a very specific way and I don’t want to ruin anything for you.

This book reminded me a lot of the other books of hers I’d read and is not at all like Room.  So if you’re expecting another Room, this is not your book.

But this is an amazing piece of historical fiction, which is how I originally know Emma Donoghue (I’ve read The Sealed Letter and Life Mask, in addition to Room).

These are based on real people and I enjoyed the afterword at the end of the book, which gave more information on those characters.

Highly recommended.

One More Night

Finished One More Night by Lauren Blakely.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Your presence is requested for another installment in the tale of Julia and Clay, two red-hot lovers. Come inside their world of passion and suspense once more for a deliciously erotic and heart-poundingly dangerous story of pearls, handcuffs, thieves, mobsters, poker and pleasure in the city of sin…

Happy endings don’t come easily. They’re hard-won and Clay Nichols is going to have to keep earning his…
Now living together in New York with her debt safely paid off, sexy bartender Julia Bell and hot-as-hell entertainment lawyer Clay thought their future was clear sailing.
But life doesn’t work that way and the fiery lovers run into a slew of new challenges as Clay tries to put a ring on it. Trouble looms in every corner–trouble from clients, trouble with timing, and, most of all, trouble from her past returns on their trip to Vegas. A dangerous man who knows much more about Julia than he should surfaces in Sin City where they’re supposed to be enjoying a weekend getaway. Following her in the casino, watching her every move at the pool, targeting her as she plays poker.
Too bad Clay is called away repeatedly, leaving Julia alone in a sprawling hotel full of dark corners, back rooms, and unsavory characters. Can Clay save her from danger one more time, and then finally get down on one knee? Or will he be too late for the woman he adores?
Read on in ONE MORE NIGHT, a novel in the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Seductive Nights series packed with more sex, more dirty talk and more danger. And per your request, the recipe for Julia’s award-winning cocktail, the Purple Snow Globe, has finally been revealed in this ebook!”

This was slightly different in tone than the earlier two Clay and Julia books.  They’re already much darker than most of her other books, but this is the darkest yet.  As the synopsis states, there’s a sense of danger all through this book, and while we know it’s coming, we don’t know who the danger is.

But while there are a lot of tense moments, there’s also a lot of the romance (and steamy scenes) we’ve come to expect from Clay and Julia (and from Lauren Blakely’s books in general).

I’m hoping for more Clay and Julia, but I also can’t wait for every other book she writes.  I love that she’s very prolific.

Highly recommended.

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Finished Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The newest thriller from Michael Koryta, New York Times bestselling author

When 13-year-old Jace Wilson witnesses a brutal murder, he’s plunged into a new life, issued a false identity and hidden in a wilderness skills program for troubled teens. The plan is to get Jace off the grid while police find the two killers. The result is the start of a nightmare.

The killers, known as the Blackwell Brothers, are slaughtering anyone who gets in their way in a methodical quest to reach him. Now all that remains between them and the boy are Ethan and Allison Serbin, who run the wilderness survival program; Hannah Faber, who occupies a lonely fire lookout tower; and endless miles of desolate Montana mountains.

The clock is ticking, the mountains are burning, and those who wish Jace Wilson dead are no longer far behind.”

First to warn you, I don’t want to discuss the plot too much because it runs the risk of ruining it and you don’t want any aspect of this book to be ruined.

I absolutely loved this book.  I read it over the course of my vacation and it was the best/worst decision I could’ve made.  I didn’t have much free time for reading and it was so hard to walk away from these characters and plot (even though I had a great time).

So I would advise you to learn from my mistake and read this when you have time to read it all in one gulp, because that’s what you’ll want to do.

Like all of his books, this novel is completely intense and the last hundred pages especially are impossible to put down (that’s when I finally basically told Jen to do whatever she wanted to do and that I couldn’t do anything until I was done).

The easy comparison to this book is to The Client, but it’s a lot better.  (No offense to The Client, which I enjoyed when I read it.)  I think the main reason this book completely surpasses that one is the characters. I liked Mark Sway but I love Jace.  Everything about him is believable, including the fact that he’s so obviously a kid who’s way, WAY out of his depth.

But I love everyone—Ethan and Allison and Hannah and all the characters you’ll meet here.  Even the Blackwell brothers, who are the creepiest killers since Anton in No Country For Old Men—they’re unlike anyone I’ve ever seen and I guarantee they’ll give you chills, too.

Highly, highly recommended.

Landline

Finished Landline by Rainbow Rowell.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?”

I am so in love with Rainbow Rowell’s books.  I’ve read all four and they are all so different but all are excellent.

I could relate to Eleanor & Park and Fangirls, but this book was different for me.  I’ve never been married and I’m not anyone’s mother, so I was a little worried initially.  I shouldn’t have been.

This book is amazing and perfect and I didn’t need those relationships to appreciate it.

I loved Georgie and the fact that she had a career and a family and didn’t apologize for it.  (And I loved Neal and the fact that he was comfortable enough to be a stay at home dad and that the two of them were just this fantastic couple.  We didn’t see it so much in the present day but I loved the conversations between present-Georgie and past-Neal.)

And I love the fact that this book absolutely made sense and it didn’t feel cheesy or contrived (like, say, Peggy Sue Got Married).

Highly, highly recommended.

And Then There Were None

Finished And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Ten people, each with something to hide and something to fear, are invited to a lonely mansion on Indian Island by a host who fails to appear but leaves a recording accusing all of undetected murder. Cut off by his orders, one by one each die according to a nursery rhyme Ten Little Indians. A confession in a bottle solves how nobody remains alive.”

This was my first Agatha Christie novel, which—as a mystery fan—was a bit embarrassing for me.  I’m very happy that Harper Collins is doing this readathon (a re-readathon for most of the participants) so that I can catch up a bit.

I feel like this is definitely one of her more famous novels (this and Murder on the Orient Express were the two I had always heard mentioned) and I definitely think this is the best one to start with.

From this point on, expect spoilers.

I had read Gretchen McNeil’s Ten, which is a reimagining of this book and I had seen the Facts of Life episode that’s a takeoff on it, but all that really meant is that I knew that one of the characters was the killer and would fake their own death, but I didn’t know which character it was.

I love how everything tied in to the poem (nursery rhyme?) mentioned in the beginning and how the little toy soldiers disappeared as people died.  I thought everything in this book was incredibly clever, although I do understand the annoyance at how it is literally impossible to figure out what’s going on until you get to the epilogue and everything is spelled out.  (But this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.)

Now to the book club questions!

1-      When we first meet the “ten soldiers,” while they may not have been the best group of people, you don’t necessarily wish them ill will. As their pasts are revealed and their true personalities unmasked, did you feel any sympathy for them as a victim of the situation? Do you think that we, the reader, were predisposed to dislike certain characters more and feel sympathy for others?

The only one I really didn’t like was Emily Brent.  I liked Vera, even though her crime was arguably the worst.  (Incidentally, her character and situation reminded me of Marion Crane in Psycho—in love with someone she can’t have, due to circumstances beyond her control.  That scenario led both to do something horrible, and both ended up paying for their actions.  So I guess the moral here is don’t fall in love, right?)

But yeah, I hated Emily Brent.  She was so holier-than-thou and definitely enjoyed her perceived status as being better than everyone else.  I have to say of all the deaths in the book, I felt the best about hers.

2-      Each soldier was initially defined by their stature or position in life, did that change for any of them as the story progressed, or did they rely more on their roles off the island for survival?

I think everyone stayed incredibly true to who they were off-island.

3-      One of the themes present throughout And Then There Were None is guilt and the effect it can have on a person. How did each character deal with the guilt of their past crimes? Who handled it the best? And who was the most torn up from it?

I think Vera was the most affected by what she had done (and understandably so).  I think the others were all more or less okay with what they had done (especially Emily Brent, who never seemed to feel at all guilty for what she had done).

4-      What did you think of the use of “Ten Little Soldiers” throughout the book, both the poem posted in the bedrooms and the little disappearing figurines on the dining room table? How do they both figure into the story? Do you think the reminder of the “Ten Little Soldiers” poem was necessary throughout the story?

I don’t think they were necessary, per se, but they were definitely very, very creepy.  It was fun to guess how the next death would occur, and the mental picture of the figurines disappearing one by one was very unsettling.

5-      If you were trapped on Soldier Island, which character’s behavior would you most identify with and why? If not, what would you have done differently?

Ideally I would have been able to figure out a way to escape.  (But I probably would’ve freaked out like Vera.)  I do think I would’ve followed through with her idea to just lock herself in a room and not leave until help came.  The pantry was apparently very well-stocked and I would’ve just grabbed some tin cans, an opener and just holed up until everyone else was dead.  (The hermit’s guide to surviving a murder mystery!)

6-      From the very beginning certain characters are drawn to each other to form alliances in their strange situation—at first Vera and Emily, later Blore, Armstrong, and Lombard, Armstrong and Wargrave, and then Vera and Lombard. What do you think brought them together? How do these alliances affect events?

I think desperation was behind all of the alliances.  Initially, I think they were formed out of a need to feel safe and the whole safety in numbers idea.  Obviously, though, the alliances didn’t change any of the outcome because “Unknown” has clearly planned for everything.  (Obviously he’s not a great person but I do admire anyone who plans like this.)

7-      Did you have your own theories about who Unknown was before getting to the “Manuscript Document” and if so, at what point?

I didn’t think it was one of the women or Rogers.  I knew that the person was going to fake their death, so the fact that someone died didn’t get them off the hook for me.

8-      It’s widely commented that Christie “violated the standard rules of mystery writing” by making it nearly impossible for us to solve the mystery before she explains it to us. How did that make you feel as a reader?

I understand the annoyance as I said earlier, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.  I don’t read a book to see if I can figure things out before I’m told.

9-      As Agatha wrote in her author’s note, the plot was so simple, yet so baffling, that she herself was most pleased with the outcome for having done it. Are there any mysteries from recent years that you think come close to what she accomplished here?

I agree with Jenny’s assessment that it’s similar to Gone Girl. I feel like they’re both two of those books where you go along with it and the writer reveals thing in their own time.

Poll

I feel like I always complain about having too many amazing books and not enough time, and yet I keep acquiring more.  (Book blogger problems!)

So here are some of the books I have but haven’t read.  Which ones should I move up?  Which ones can wait a bit?

NONFICTION:

1)  Books, Movies, Rhythm, Blues by Nick Hornby

2)  Young Money by Kevin Roose

3)  Carsick by John Waters

4)  The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

5)  A Year and Six Seconds by Isabel Gillies

ADULT:

1)  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

2)  Never Tell by Alafair Burke

3)  The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

4)  Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

5)  The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

NA:

1)  The First Comes Love trilogy by Katie Kacvinsky

2)  Caught Up in Her by Lauren Blakely

3)  Frenched by Melanie Harlow (a recommendation from a friend)

4)  Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

5)  The Marked Men series by Jay Crownover

YA:

1)  Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

2)  The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

3)  The His Fair Assassins trilogy by Robin LaFevers

4)  Every Day by David Levithan

5)  The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson

MG:

1)  Ida B by Katherine Hannigan

2)  Escape from Mr. Limoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

3)  Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan

4)  Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

5)  May B by Caroline Starr Rose