What I Read in May 2016

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Blood Defense by Marcia Clark (Yes, THAT Marcia Clark)
Our main character, Samantha Brinkman, defends criminals. Sometimes she defends very bad criminals and this time she’s caught a grisly murder case involving a hollywood starlet, an LAPD detective, and the celebrity’s unlucky roommate. Of course that’s just the broad strokes. A number of bizarre, dangerous, and usually implausible (but they work in this context) events go down. Samantha is pretty badass and I grew rather attached to her. I really enjoyed this book and I was a tad disappointed when I realized that the next title in the series doesn’t come out until November.  I ended up impulse pre-ordering book two which is something I seriously never do. So, quick — go fetch a copy for yourself!

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson
If you’re squeamish, don’t read this book. If you live alone, don’t read this book. If you get goose bumps every time someone says, “put the lotion in the basket” — you guessed it — don’t read this book. That being said, I couldn’t put it down. The Butterfly Garden was an Amazon Kindle First selection and I rarely like or even finishing reading whatever free title I select each month. This creepy book ended up being an overwhelming exception to that rule. The story unfolds in a series of present day interactions between two FBI agents who are interrogating a survivor of a horrible crime. Essentially a very wealthy and powerful man has a thing for butterflies and kidnapping young girls to be his sex slaves. He then tattoos them with intricate butterfly wings and treats them as his own private harem. A few dozen girls exist in his revolting yet thoroughly well appointed prison. Inside his sinister dome you’ll find a waterfall, a garden, and a personal cook/nurse. That all sounds a little nice, right? Except for the fact that you get to walk by your dead friends every single day. You see, when a “butterfly” reaches the age of 21 they hit their captivity expiration date and get stuffed in a resin filled display case. I’m sure seeing that every morning on the way to breakfast is an awesome way to start that day. But is our evasive survivor, Maya, really what she seems? Hmm….

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
This is book six in The Outlander series and I’m exhausted. I absolutely loved the first four books. The last two have been a bit of a chore. I go back and forth between being hooked and bored in equal measures. I think that if I’d read them as they were published, with a few years in between each one, it would be easier. I’m starting to feel like Claire Frasier is the historical novel equivalent of Jessica Fletcher. How many times can a person really be kidnapped, put in jail, stab someone, and be accused of witchcraft? Could we just let the woman sit in peace for four or five chapters? Anyway, I’ve definitely overdone it a bit so I’ll be taking a break from our time traveling friends, Jamie and Claire, for a little while so I can eventually bring myself to find out what happens in books seven and eight. I feel like there’s very little I can write here specific to this book’s plot as, if you aren’t caught up, everything is a huge potential spoiler. However, please don’t let my current Outlander novel fatigue get you down! The television show on Starz is absolutely stunning and you have so many extremely cool adventures coming up.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
This is sort of like Mememto but with a middle-aged British woman and less tattoos. That being said I was incredibly into this book. I think I probably knew on some level who the actual “bad guy” was right from the start, but even so the storyline and characters were really tightly woven and extremely fascinating. The premise is also absolutely terrifying if you start to ruminate on it in the middle of the night (not that I’d ever do that, of course…). What if, every time you went to sleep your memories erased and you only remembered events that happened in your early twenties and prior? I guess on a personal level I’d be really annoyed that I couldn’t find my choker necklaces and chunky heeled shoes. This book has been out for awhile so it already has a film version starring Nicole Kidman and Mark Darcy — I mean Colin Firth. I haven’t watched it yet but you better believe it’s in my Netflix queue.

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter
*Sigh* OK. This new YA novel has a slew of rave reviews and I really wanted to like it but I unfortunately kind of didn’t. There were parts of the book where there were echoes of really excellent storytelling surrounding Cassie and her struggle with coming to terms with the realties of her extremely dysfunctional family, but much of the plot felt too hurried. I think this might actually have been a more appealing tale had it been longer. The themes of abuse, mental illness, self-esteem, breaking free from bad patterns etc… need a lot of space to be fully realized and Cassie’s healing process felt very forced and much too tacked on. Plus, there’s a “secret” throughout the book that we’re supposed to be uncovering with Cassie (as she’s blocked it out) but it was pretty easy to ascertain what this lost memory entailed. I don’t think it’s that I didn’t like the basic plot or the writing (let’s be clear, the writing is lovely) I just needed more development and time with the characters to really connect. Have you read this book? If so, I’d be curious what you thought.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
I listened to the audiobook version of this title and I just loved it. The reviews are all over the place. I think that people are being way to hard on it. Sittenfeld has written a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice that I thought was spot on. I’d rank this right up there with Clueless. The present day versions of the Bennet sisters have been updated as follows: Lizzie is a writer for a magazine in New York, Jane is a Yoga instructor also living in New York, Kitty and Lydia and obsessed with the Paleo diet and Crossfit, and Mary obsessively takes online classes and racks up degrees. Mrs. Bennet is a shopaholic bordering on hoarder, and Mr. Bennet is well…still Mr. Bennet. The novel mainly takes place in the Bennet’s hometown of Cincinnati and it’s here that they meet Darcy and Bingley. The dashing duo are doctors. Of course. There are many fabulous twists in the novel but a major one happens to be that Chip Bingley is famous for being on a Bachelor-esque reality tv show. I thought the entire story was heartwarming, hysterical, and very unique. People need to take a chill pill. Pick this up immediately for your next lazy afternoon at the beach, lake, or your back deck.

The Fireman by Joe Hill
The amazing Kate Mulgrew is the narrator for the audiobook version of this novel. I’m not usually a traditional “horror” novel fan but I really enjoy Joe Hill’s books. If you haven’t read any of his work before then I’d definitely recommend picking up his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts. The Fireman takes the whole a plague hits and the end of the world is nigh trope and gives us some rather unique twists. This plague isn’t zombies, or ebola, or Donald Trump. This time humanity is faced with a disease called “Dragonscale” that marks people with swirly, black and gold designs and eventually causes them to spontaneously combust. Cool! As the disease progresses and the world starts burning down, Harper, our heroine, takes shelter with a group of fellow infected people hiding at a summer camp in New Hampshire. Things get weird fast. What makes me chuckle though is that 80s MTV VJ Martha Quinn is an integral part of the book. She’s mentioned so many time that if you made a drinking game for the book she’d definitely be on the list and you’d be drunk. I also learned that even though I grew up in Maine I’ve been pronouncing the Town Machias incorrectly my whole life. Here’s how you’re supposed to say it. Thanks Kate Mulgrew!

Erin’s YA Addiction – The April Edition

I have a not-so-secret addiction to YA Novels. I used to be embarrassed to purchase books from the Young Adult section of bookstores, but not anymore. Over the last few years I’ve come to terms with my love of all things not rooted in the “grown-up” world. Besides, I live that reality every day of my life and I’d much rather escape with a narrator that houses a completely different set of issues and tribulations. A common misconception held by many readers is that YA novels are somehow lowbrow knockoffs of adult titles. This is so absolutely not the case. I can honestly say that many of the YA novels I’ve read over the years have been head and shoulders above some of the popular adult fiction that so often finds its way onto various bestseller lists and then become critical darlings. Just because 14 people in your subway car are reading the same book doesn’t mean that you have to. Below are some of the excellent YA titles I’ve read recently that I think will also serve to convince you that there’s nothing wrong with loving YA.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games is a brilliant character driven tale by Suzanne Collins that takes place in a distopian version of America called Panem in the not-so-distant future where a rather Shirley Jackson type lottery is held each year that forces two adolescents from each of the country’s twelve districts to compete on a vicious reality television program where only one survivor can win. And by survivor they mean you have to be alive at the end, none of this “silly” you’re voted off the island and go back to civilization and a segment on the Today Show business. These young men and women are expected to fight to their deaths under harsh conditions and artificially manufactured scenarios. In the story we follow, Katniss, a young woman from one of the poorest districts in Panem, who volunteers for the games after her younger sister’s name is drawn to be a participant. Katniss takes her sisters place and is then forced to participate in some of the most horrific mentally and physically challenging tasks one can imagine. The horrible irony of the novel is that there are several secondary characters that Katniss meets and interacts with that you will inevitably grow to love, including the endearing young baker’s son whom she grew up with, Peeta, and an intriguing young girl named Rue who will steal your heart, but The Hunger Games insist that there can be only one winner so please prepare yourself for a bit of heart wrenching grief. I found this novel to be incredibly addictive. I couldn’t put it down and honestly I’m beside myself with the thought that I have to wait until September to read the next title in the series.

Graceling by Kristin CashoreGraceling is hands down the best book I’ve read in the last 6 months. I’m not generally into fantasy novels. I’ve never really cared about magical worlds with mythical creatures and dastardly bad guys riding horses to storm cold stone castles but since reading Kristin Cashore’s amazingly plotted first novel I have to say my mind has been thoroughly changed. Graceling is the story of Lady Katsa who lives under the command of her not-so-nice uncle King Randa in the kingdom of the Middluns. In the world of this novel certain individuals are born with special abilities called graces. These “gifts” range from the mundane, such as being an amazing cook, to the extreme such as being able to read minds or, as in Katsa’s case, the ability to kill. Men and women who are graced are marked by having two color eyes. Suffice to say, her henchman-like reputation precedes her and Katsa, with her stunning green and blue eyes, is both revered and feared by the people she encounters. When Katsa meets Po, a fellow graceling with whom combat skills have been bestowed upon, things start to get very interesting. It appears that not everything is as it seems in the kingdom and Po and Katsa set out on an eventful journey to uncover the truth. Long days on horses and even longer nights by the fire allow for a burgeoning romance between the two which plays off nicely with the continuous swashbuckling adventure that ensues. You will not be disappointed with this story. The prequel to Graceling, Fire, is set to be published this fall. I suggest that you get it on your pre-order list immediately. In the meantime, you can keep up with all of the author’s going ons at her blog: This is My Secret.

The Luxe by Anna GodbersenFor all of my fellow Gossip Girl addicts I implore you to check out the Luxe novels by Anna Godbersen. The first novel opens with a quote from The Age of Innocence so I’ve always thought of these novels as Gossip Girl meets Edith Wharton, which is even more funny as Gossip Girl just recently aired an episode where our favorite Upper East Siders put on a play of The Age of Innocence. Truly escapist in nature and dripping in romance and intrigue these novels trace the daily activities of the beautiful Holland sisters, Elizabeth and Diana, and their eccentric circle of equally rich and troubled friends. Instead of chauffeured cars, Manolo Blahniks, and iPhones we have horse and buggies, Parisian seamstresses, and calling cards but the effect is still quote similar. The third title in the series, Envy, was just released in January and I’m impatiently waiting for my friend Anna to finish reading it so I can curl up in my favorite chair and devour it.

Some additional upcoming and currently available novels on my “to read” list include:
Jumping Off Swing by Jo Knowles (scheduled to be released on August 11, 2009) 

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Along for the Ride by Sarah Desen (scheduled to be released on June 16, 2009)

The Kings Rose by Alisa Libby