The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Grownup CoverAfter reading plenty of negative reviews, I was expecting a bit of a let down with this novella, originally published in George R.R. Martin’s Rogues anthology in 2014. However, since I’ve devoured every other book by Gillian Flynn, I decided to read The Grownup as a standalone book anyway. I surprisingly and happily enjoyed this creepy little treat quite a bit.

As usual, Gillian Flynn creates an in-your-face, kickass female protagonist–this one reads auras and gives hand jobs for a living. I loved the up front way the narrator (her name is never given) discussed men and what they desire, while also being a little disturbed by it. Though that frankness IS what appeals to me in every Gillian Flynn novel. She gives just enough polish to allow for surprise at the dark and disgusting undertones. More

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In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood is a 352 page thriller/mystery published by Harvill Secker in July of 2015. I listened to the audiobook read by Imogen Church.

In a Dark, Dark WoodFirst, I must note that Church is a FANTASTIC narrator. I will definitely seek out other work she’s done. A large part of what I loved about this story is the suspense she created.

As for the plot: When Nora receives an email requesting her presence at Clare’s weekend-long hen night (a sort of bachelorette party?), she is shocked. Nora makes a pact with her friend Nina to go together to avoid the awkwardness guaranteed from not having spoken to Clare in a decade. More

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl Alive CoverLuckiest Girl Alive is a 352 page thriller/mystery published by Simon & Schuster in May 2015. I listened to the audiobook version, read by Madeleine Maby.

Since this book is considered a mystery, I’ll avoid too much summary to prevent spoilers. Ani (Tifani FaNelli) is an editor at a well known women’s magazine looking forward to marrying Luke, a man of status and old money. She wants to forget about her dark past at school and mediocre status so she attempts to create an entirely new personality for herself, known as Ani. Besides flashbacks, that’s pretty much the entire plot of the book.

Considering half her time is spent fretting about which expensive outfit will make her look the most ragamuffin or how best to starve herself and how much she wants to binge eat, it might not seem like Ani cares to think about her past. But once a man from her days at school appears, More

Slade House by David Mitchell

Slade House by David Mitchell, of Cloud Atlas fame, was published by Random House in October of 2015.  I received the novel from NetGalley.

Slade House CoverAlthough I’ve never read a David Mitchell book–apparently this novel fits into his established fictional universe–Slade House works perfectly well as a standalone novel.

While the plot surrounds weird occurrences down the street from an everyday pub, the history and appeal of the Slade House is anything but usual. More

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation is a sci-fi/supernatural/horror novel by Jeff VanderMeer, published by FSG Originals in February of 2014. The other two novels in the Southern Reach Trilogy were both released in 2014 as well.

Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1)

A journal belonging to a woman who was part of the twelfth expedition to mysterious and dangerous Area X–a place where no one has ever truly come back alive from–is found by an unexpectant reader. Myself. I personally adore novels written in the form of a journal and Annihilation only served to reinforce that adoration.

The main character, a biologist, set out to Area X with a psychologist, surveyor, archeologist, and lingiust. They’re charged with exploring the walled off Area X but things don’t go the way any of them planned. More

Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich

This is, quite obviously, the tenth book in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. It is a 319 page mystery-comedy novel that my Grandma lent me a while back. I started it last year, and just decided to finish it since she gave me the 18th one, and I realized I was falling behind a bit on the books she has lent me.

Ten Big Ones (Stephanie Plum, #10)

Right at the beginning of the novel, Stephanie witnesses a robbery and identifies the robber as the Red Devil, a member of a vicious gang. The entire novel pans out with her trying to find out his real identity, which causes his gang, the Comstock Street Slayers, to pursue her with a vengeance. Stephanie has to battle them with her sister’s impending wedding. She also has to juggle the two men that are interested in her and her safety. They attempt to keep her locked up behind their safe doors, but stubborn Stephanie won’t stand for it.

Originally, I stopped reading after the first 50 pages. The whole Red Devil thing didn’t really interest me, and I was a little bored with reading the Stephanie Plum books –I had just read nine of them in a row! I eventually picked up the book again, if only to finish it quick in 2012 to reach my reading goal. Unfortunately, I failed that goal because I lost interest again at about 150 pages. After another month, I picked it up again and finished the book.

I don’t think it speaks well for a novel when you have to force yourself to finish it. Near the end (pages 200-316), it finally got interesting. That was, until, Evanovich decided to wrap up the whole gang mystery in about the last ten pages. I was extremely disappointed with the ending of the novel. Of course everything was going to work out okay, because Stephanie goes on to more adventures in following books, but I feel Evanovich just gave up in the end of the novel and just decided to basically write, “Stephanie gets kidnapped again, and in even bigger trouble, but the men in her life rescue her and everything turns out fine. The end.” I swear the ending felt almost that short.

One of the redeeming qualities of this book is that Stephanie manages to find her way into Ranger’s apartment while he’s away for a few weeks. To me, Ranger is the most interesting character in the series, and getting even a little perspective into his life was really fun. But then again, the whole indecisive, “I can’t choose between two men so I’ll just keep them both hanging” plan she’s got going is getting just a bit annoying. Since the overall story of Stephanie Plum doesn’t involve needing to read every book, I would recommend skipping this one in the series. I’m going to take another break from it, and just hope that when I give #11 a chance, it will have a more satisfactory ending.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I’ve had this on my reading list for  a while, but decided to move it up both because I enjoyed my last murder mystery so much and so I could finally watch and compare the Swedish and English versions of the film. I haven’t watched them yet, but I may do a comparison review once I do. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a 590 page mystery novel.

I really enjoyed the way this book started out — with the mystery of receiving a pressed and framed flower every year on the receiver’s birthday. Was it a taunt? Was it a hint or secret? I couldn’t tell, and so it was a great way to get me interested in the mystery.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)

I felt like there were two simultaneous plots going on in this book. The first and most (?) important was that of the mystery of Harriet Vanger and Henrik Vanger’s searching for her. The Vangers live on an island and were having a reunion of sorts one day when suddenly people start noticing that Harriet has been missing all day, and no one knows where she has gone. Due to a convenient accident on the only bridge leading off the island, many are led to believe she has been murdered and the body hidden.

The second main plot is that of Mikael Blomkvist and his vendetta through the Millenium (his paper) against Erik Wennerström. In the beginning of the novel, he publishes a piece accusing Wennerström of financial misdealings, and is slapped with a libel suit and loses. So his acceptance of taking on the Harriet Vanger case rides heavily on his need to get away from the paper for a while.

After everything to do with the mystery is solved or tidied up or has at least of semblance of being so, they finally take care of Blomkvist’s Wennerström problems. The last 90 pages of the book were probably my favorite. Although the murder mystery was interesting, I did not feel like I could have solved it (though my vague guesses in the beginning weren’t too far off the mark). So the parts dealing with Wennerström, who was a frustrating character, were really satisfying.

One thing I don’t really understand is why most of the ‘strong’ female characters want to have sex with Blomkvist. I really just don’t get it. They are all really frank and open about their sexuality, which is great, but I didn’t see it as very plausible. Or maybe I just wanted one strong female character who was satisfied by someone else or by other interests. This isn’t a major issue, but I feel it’s worth mentioning.

Although I did enjoy most of the characters and felt the narrative really fit their personalities, the story moved a little slowly for my tastes. It was by no means a hassle to try to finish the book, but I was also not riveted into staying up all night to finish it.  Overall, this was a solid book, and I can definitely see why it was adapted into multiple films. It was interesting, and I will probably end up reading the rest of the trilogy at some point, but I’m not so invested in the characters that I feel I have to read them any time soon. If you’re a big fan of mysteries, I would feel comfortable recommending this to you… but then you’ve probably already read it, eh?

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

I read this book on a suggestion from a good review from Adam over at Reviews and Ramblings and borrowed it from Liz over at mylivereads. I don’t read mysteries often, and it has been years since I’ve read an Agatha Christie book, though I can’t remember one that I didn’t enjoy.

And Then There Were None

The basic premise of this novel is that ten strangers (well, eight strangers and one married couple) are invited for various reasons to come to the infamous Indian Island. The island’s owner, U.N. Owen has sent personal letters to these people asking them to arrive on the same date. Once the ten guests get to the island, they find that their host is absent and they have to entertain themselves. Early on in the story, a gramophone is played, and the voice on it announces that each person on the island is guilty of murder.

Even though each character got a little unique description in the beginning, and their murders are described through interesting internal monologue, I had a hard time keeping them straight. Lucky for me, they started dying off pretty quickly. After it got down to seven people alive, everyone had pretty well-developed personalities, and I started trying to figure out who the killer was. Agatha Christie is a master of suspense in this novel. She heaps suspicion on everyone, so even though I picked one person who I thought was the culprit, I was always suspicious of at least three other people at the same time.

I never thought I would claim a book to be a fast-paced murder mystery, but this novel definitely fits that description. It only took me a couple days to read because the mystery was set up extremely well, so I was always kept guessing. I feel comfortable saying that I did NOT guess the murderer’s identity correctly. Once the number of guests dwindled, I got to learn more about each guests personality, which was fun and added a strong human element to the story, and also made it that much more difficult to guess who the killer was. If you enjoy murder mysteries (and really, even if you don’t), I highly recommend reading this novel.

The Constant Gardener by John le Carré

For my film and literature class this week, we read The Constant Gardener by John le Carré. The majority of the book happens in places surrounding a British High Commission in Nairobi, with a little bit written in Canada and Germany, as well. There are two main characters (and some minor ones) that the narrative follows at separate times. Sandy Woodrow, an older ‘gentleman’ who works at the High Commission, is the opening main character and Justin, a career diplomat similar to Sandy, is the later main character.

The Constant Gardener

This book is basically a murder-mystery story. Justin’s (attractive!) wife, Tessa, has been murdered and her travelling aid partner, Arnold Bluhm, has gone missing from the scene. Though we find out relatively early on what is going on and at least have an idea why Tessa was killed, Justin must go follow her steps to find out for himself.

I felt this book was hard to get into… I did not like Sandy Woodrow, and also did not especially enjoy his narrative. However, once the narrative started focusing on Justin’s continuance of Tessa’s cause, the book really picked up. Of course, I’ve always been a sucker for documents in books — emails, interviews, notes, etc. It is fun when an author includes things of that nature.

Both main male characters dealt with two side characters — Rob and Lesley, who were interviewers. I really loved these two characters, and am glad they had a part in finding out the ‘mystery.’ They were probably the most ‘pure’ characters besides Justin, who was a bit of a bore until the second half of the novel. I don’t want to spoil the ending… so I will just say that I did not approve of it. It wasn’t how I saw the book ending, or how I saw Justin dealing with the events as his character was progressing.

Although this was not in any way a bad book, I would not have picked it up on my own, nor would I have finished it if it wasn’t required for class. I welcomed Justin’s part of the story, and was quite happy to get away from Sandy, and so I did like the second half of the book. I appreciated the controversy surrounding pharmaceuticals in Africa, but the book felt overly long. Once I had picked up what was going on, I still had to wait for Justin to catch up. Overall, it was a decent read. We will be watching the movie on Monday, so look forward to reading about it!

Hard Eight, To the Nines by Janet Evanovich

Hard Eight (Stephanie Plum, #8)In this adventure, Stephanie is once again looking for someone outside of the regular FTAs. Her neighbor/family friend, Mabel, has asked her to find her daughter and granddaughter, who have skipped town on a child custody bond. Evanovich describes this as money put forth by divorced parents, who either chose or were court-ordered, to ensure that they would not kidnap their own child… or something like that.

Unfortunately, Eddie Abruzzi has his own interests in finding Evelyn and Annie (the missing persons) and is determined to scare off Stephanie to do so. She fights …. A new character appears in this book in the form of a very young, nervous lawyer named Albert Kloughn (and that is K-l-o-u-g-h-n, not c-l-o-w-n, which he manages to point out an annoying number of times). He tags along with Stephanie and Lula and generally gets in the way whenever he can. I was not too fond of him.

I absolutely loved the romance between Ranger and Steph in this book. She and Morelli had a bit of a falling out in the previous book, and Ranger sort of takes his place (in a non-boyfriend, much more mysterious way). Of course, Evanovich had to create a Terry Gilman equivalent (I forgot to mention her… she used to date Morelli and is involved with him through the police dept. these days), with Jeanne Ellen Burrows, who the blurb coins, “Rangerette.” She’s better than Stephanie at bounty hunting, and has been linked to Ranger… I’ll just say now that I think she was professional and interesting, but Steph just gets jealous of her past with Ranger.

I really enjoyed Hard Eight. Of course, I love Ranger as a character, but because of his romance and Eddie Abruzzi scaring the crap out of Stephanie the whole book, the laughter was scarce. It felt more apart of a series, where the rest of the books almost had a standalone feel.

To the Nines (Stephanie Plum, #9)

In this adventure, Vinnie posted bail on an immigrant, Samuel Singh, granting him three months of legal stay in the United States. With just a couple weeks left on his ticket, Singh goes missing. Vinnie puts both Stephanie and Ranger on the case. Unfortunately, the first lead Stephanie gets winds up dead WHILE talking to her.

She starts receiving red roses, white carnations, disturbing notes, and pictures that put the notes to shame. Ranger and his posse take turns watching her back, and though she manages to keep the car explosion numbers down, she has no problem having Ranger’s ‘Merry Men’ get injured (a lot) while protecting her.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Steph, Lula (who is a better character now), and Connie end up going to Las Vegas to search for Singh. Also, Albert stops being annoying and starts being a lovable guy. Steph’s sister Valerie also is living with their parents with her two kids, so everything is hectic and wild and fun.

I laughed a lot in this book… At one point, Stephanie beats the crap out of some guy who was trying to kill her. After Ranger finds out, of course, all he does is grin and congratulate her. The scene made me laugh for probably a straight minute. Finally, she’s starting to hold her own!

Another part that made me laugh for a while was when Ranger and Stephanie went to pick up an FTA, and he decided to shoot at them. While still standing in the doorway, Ranger ‘instinctively’ pushes Stephanie off the stoop into a bush, and later said he was just concerned for her safety, while really he was just getting back at her for a joke she played on him.

Overall, this book was good, the writing was excellent, and the plot was decent. I really like that Evanovich started working more on her character dynamics. It makes the books feel more a part of a series rather than just mystery novels that happen to have the same names in them.

Hot Six, Seven Up by Janet Evanovich

Hot Six (Stephanie Plum, #6)

In Hot Six, Stephanie’s bounty hunting mentor, Ranger, has been seen on camera walking out of a meeting with Homer Ramos, who is found minutes later with a bullet in his head and his body burnt to a crisp. Although the blurb makes it sound like it’s up to Stephanie to find him, she refuses to look because she knows he’s much better than she is at the bounty hunter business.

Joyce Barnhardt, Stephanie’s arch nemesis (haha), is the woman who was caught on the dining room table with Steph’s now-ex-husband, Dickie Orr, and she is the one who takes the FTA on Ranger. In the meantime, he charges Stephanie with keeping surveillance on the gun-running Ramos family to help find out who really killed Homer. Stephanie manages to kill four cars in this book, and it is pretty funny. She has many people following her, including  a guy who is constantly escaping her, and two hit men who are determined to follow her everywhere to get a lead on Ranger.

This book was a nice change in pace, as rather than having Ranger help Stephanie, she got to help him. There’s just something about most books with romance in them that makes the female character seem weak and passive, and this book definitely helped to fight that. Other than that, not much else stands out. It was almost as enjoyable as High Five.

Seven Up (Stephanie Plum, #7)

In Seven Up, Stephanie has to bring in semi-retired bail jumper Eddie DeChooch. Although he’s old, I guess you could say he’s wily. She finds a course riddled with bullets in his garage, and every time she gets close to capturing him, he easily manages to get away. He ends up riding around town in a white Cadillac and stops to talk to Stephanie many times, including once at a funeral viewing, and yet neither she nor the cops can get a hold of him. Ranger makes a deal with Stephanie that if she finds DeChooch, she can call him to help bring her in… but then she has to spend one with him.

Stephanie’s sister, Valerie, also shows up with her two kids. Her husband ran off with the babysitter, and now the Plum house is much too full to feel comfortable. There are also a bunch of kidnappings and break-ins in this book. Two older gentlemen who are also looking for DeChooch break into Steph’s apartment many times, and are actually pretty funny, nice, guys.

Seven Up was decent. I liked the added romantic interest of Ranger, who is much more mysterious than the cop, Joe Morelli. It was a nice change-up from the rest of the books, where she was only frustrated by one man, rather than two. Although the romance was more fun in this book, I feel like the mystery suffered a bit. Maybe it was meant to be this way, but it only took about 100 pages to figure out the majority of the mystery. Usually, it takes me until they reveal the answer to the riddle of the mystery to figure out whodunnit, and in this book, that wasn’t the case. Again, I suppose it was a nice change, but reading the book after I figured it out felt rather pointless.

Four to Score, High Five by Janet Evanovich

I have decided to combine the rest of the Stephanie Plum reviews into two books per review, due to the fact that the characters generally stay the same and only the crime/FTAs change.

Four to Score (Stephanie Plum, #4)

In this adventure, a waitress, Maxine, desires revenge against her no-good ex-boyfriend. She steals his car, he calls it in, and Vinnie posts for bail. When she skips her trial date and no one knows where she is, Stephanie has to talk to her creep of an ex-boyfriend and her coworkers. Unfortunately, people who know things about Maxine are ending up with missing fingers and other injuries. There seems to be a conspiracy going on, and it’s up to Stephanie to unravel it.

When they finally dig up a clue, it really is that… a clue. Maxine is leaving clues for her ex and Stephanie has to figure them out. Fortunately, she’s got Sally Sweet, a cross-dressing puzzle-master to help her out. In the beginning of this book, Stephanie is mad at Morelli because he skipped town for a few months and didn’t bother to call. However, being the hunk he is, she forgives him pretty easily.

I enjoyed Four to Score a lot more than Three to Get Deadly, so if you skipped that one… feel free to jump back in on this one. The romance is actually existent and therefore better than the last three books.

High Five (Stephanie Plum, #5)

In this adventure, along with a bringing in FTAs, Stephanie is charged by her family to find her Uncle Fred. He disappeared during his daily errands, leaving his car intact with dry cleaning in the back. No one has seen him since the day he disappeared, and Stephanie has a hard time knowing where to start.

If Four to Score has you doubting, this one definitely brings it back up. After One for the Money, High Five comes in as close second to my favorite in the series. There’s just something about the supporting characters that really works for me. I loved Randy, who ends up camping out in Stephanie’s house for a while, and the RGC (trash company) mystery. And of course there is hunky Joe Morelli who makes Stephanie go crazy.

Three to Get Deadly by Janet Evanovich

I don’t really want to describe the book, so I’m just going to give you the blurb.

A “saintly” old candy-store owner is on the lam–and bounty hunter extraordinaire Stephanie Plum is on the case. As the body count rises, Stephanie finds herself dealing with dead drug dealers and slippery fugitives on the chase of her life. And with the help of eccentric friends and family, Steph must see to it that this case doesn’t end up being her last…

Three to Get Deadly (Stephanie Plum, #3)

After reading the blurb, I wasn’t too excited about this book as I had no interest in an old candy-store owner. As I read the book, that didn’t change. I really didn’t care for most of the plot, which mostly entailed looking for the beloved Uncle Mo and avoiding Morelli like the plague. I only started enjoying it about 50 pages to the end. However, the writing was as enjoyable as ever, and I found myself writing down more quotes from this one than from the earlier two, so I thought I would share.

When a man’s got a nose looks like a penis he’s likely to do anything. It’s the sort of thing makes serial killers out of otherwise normal people.

That’s from Lula, Stephanie’s new partner-in-bounty hunting. She is an ex-ho who worked on Stark Street in One for the Money. She talks the talk, and although it was nice to see a new main character, I didn’t much like her. She isn’t too bright, but she’s plenty loud. These two other quotes are good descriptors of Stephanie’s personality.

I thought of Mary Lou’s kid with the graham crackers smeared in his hair, and felt better about being a bounty hunter. You see, it could always be worse, I thought. I could be a schoolteacher.

I might not be the most patient woman in the world, or the most glamorous, or the most athletic, but I’m right up there at the top of the line when it comes to resiliency.

Stephanie was as ‘good’ as ever, though her bounty hunting hasn’t improved much. Steph was afraid Morelli wanted to arrest her for her involvement in finding some dead bodies, so there wasn’t too much romance in this one. Morelli does stop over for dinner with her parents, and they assume he and Stephanie are dating.

Overall, if you’re not too committed to reading every book in the series, which is by no means necessary, I would say you could skip this one. It was good, but it definitely wasn’t great.

Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich

This series is about Stephanie Plum. After losing her job, she decides to go to her cousin Vinnie’s bond company and try to make some quick cash catching fugitives, or FTAs (Failed to Appear). She gets her FTAs from Connie, the office manager for Vinnie, who has big hair, big boobs, and a big, Italian mouth.

Two for the Dough (Stephanie Plum, #2)

In this novel, Stephanie is looking for Joe Morelli’s cousin, Kenny Mancuso. He recently shot his friend in the knee. Shortly after that, his friend winds up dead. Morelli ‘helps’ after being reinstated into vice, though he is running his own investigation and is hesitant to share information with Stephanie.

Things get crazy when a possible conspiracy starts unraveling, and it is a blast to go along for the ride. Stephanie also has to deal with a psycho  who is sending her body parts. Two for the Dough is probably one of the creepier of the Stephanie Plum novels.

My favorite part of this novel was getting to learn more about the Burg, where Stephanie grew up. This had to do with Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur enjoying going to funeral viewings to see how well the funeral parlor does the deceased’s makeup. The head of the parlor had a back injury, and his step-son Spiro has been running the place. Stephanie has to deal with him, and I’ll be the first to admit he gave me the creeps.

I liked Two for the Dough almost as much as One for the Money. If you liked the first book, you’ll probably enjoy this one, too. The writing is still nice and snappy. Now that Morelli is a bigger character, we’re getting closer to the romance, which may or may not be a good thing. Let’s read and find out.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

This series is about Stephanie Plum. After losing her job as a lingerie buyer for E. E. Martin, which by no means was her fault, she decides to go to her cousin Vinnie’s bond company and try to make some quick cash catching fugitives, or FTAs (Failed to Appear). She gets her FTAs from Connie, the office manager for Vinnie, who has big hair, big boobs, and a big, Italian mouth.

One for the Money (Stephanie Plum, #1)

This book is about Stephanie’s first FTA, Joe Morelli, a cop who has been accused of murder. His bond was out for $100,000, which puts Stephanie at a cool $10,000 if she can bring him into the police station. Joe Morelli does not have a great reputation when it comes to women, which Stephanie knows firsthand, having lost her virginity to him when she was 16. They have an interesting past, and it keeps being brought out on their occasional meetings. These meetings are pretty funny, because Stephanie is new to this whole bounty hunter thing, and she does not have the best luck capturing Morelli. Luckily, her mentor in bounty hunting, Ranger, is there to help her along the way.

 I got the recommendation to read this book from my mom, and pretty much all the other women in my extended family. Since we don’t generally see eye-to-eye on reading material, I was weary before starting. I was pleasantly surprised at how well written it turned out to be. Although it gets my mom to laugh out loud on many occasions, I was still surprised that I found myself chuckling now and then, usually when Stephanie is at home, conversing with her hamster, Rex.

I really enjoyed this book. Evanovich has a way with phrasing, and I found myself mentally making notes of phrases that I really enjoyed — I physically wrote down some from the later books that I may share. Also, Stephanie Plum is a pretty strong female character who is fun to read about. Perhaps this just came at the perfect time in my life, or perhaps it really is as good as it’s cut out to be. Either way, One for the Money is a quick read and is definitely worth your time.

Also, every book in the rest of this series kind of spoils the ending of this one, so if you care to find out on your own what happens, read this one before you read the rest of my reviews. If you don’t mind spoiling a little bit of the fun, you can still get enjoyment out of this book knowing what happens in the end. I did, anyway. After reading a few of the other books in the series, this is still easily my favorite.