“The Girls” by Emma Cline

I’m really obsessed with cults. I know, I know, that makes me sound like the ultimate emo creep. But it’s true. They’re just so fascinating! I’m really intrigued as to how someone gets sucked into the commune lifestyle, abandons their family and friends, and blindly follows a savior, who inevitably is a decently attractive, charismatic, middle-aged white man. It’s just so hard for me to wrap my brain around, which makes it all that much more interesting. Thanks to my slightly sociopathic obsession, I’ve seen my fair share of cult documentaries, shows, books, etc. and I was super pumped to get my hands on one of the summer’s trendiest books, The Girls, by Emma Cline.

The Girls parallels the story of Charles Manson and his family almost to a T. I think maybe this is why I didn’t love this book as much as I had expected. I was hoping for a more imaginative story, or at least some great insight as to the secrets of the family and their lifestyle. But, being already pretty familiar with the Manson case, I didn’t find this storyline especially shocking.

Evie Boyd opens the novel in modern day, reflecting on her former life as a part of the “family.” She flashes back to age 14 where she is living a life pretty typical of a teenager in the late 60’s. Her parents are divorced, she is an only child, and she spends her days in suburban California drinking beers in her best friend’s basement, gossiping about girls at school and crushing on the upperclassmen boys. There is nothing especially remarkable about her life, but also nothing horrendous enough for me to buy her slipping into the claws of a murderous cult.

Evie happens upon a group of hippie older girls, with whom she is immediately infatuated. The center of her obsession is Suzanne, the 17-year old female leader. She develops what can only be described as a massive crush on Suzanne, hanging on her every word, doing everything she says. Suzanne and the girls bring Evie back to “the ranch,” where she meets, and, unsurprisingly, hooks up with Russell, aka Charles Manson. Evie becomes a daily fixture at the ranch, and gets away with always  being gone from home by telling her mom she’s sleeping over at her best friend’s. This is another thing that didn’t really make much sense to me in the book; even a somewhat absentee mother would start to think it odd after not seeing her daughter practically the entire summer. And the author does nothing to make us think that Evie’s mom is abusive, an alcoholic, plain old horrible, etc. How does Evie become a full fledged member of a cult with her normal-ish mom not even realizing she’s missing? Anyway, I digress.

Evie’s story continues with the family slowly unravelling, eventually to the point of homicide, just as we know to be true in the case of the Manson followers. Sans Helter Skelter. And then that’s just kind of the end. (Did I just ruin it?)

While the literature and prose of this book was gorgeous, I just didn’t love the story nearly as much as I wanted to. And I desperately wanted to love it. I was expecting this book to be one of my favorites of all time, but I found myself struggling to push through certain dry parts. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t amazing. Now, if you’re looking for a stellar first-person life-in-a-cult account, check out Holy Hell on Netflix. One of the best cult documentaries I’ve seen (and again, I’ve seen a lot.) Hours of footage and testimonies from folks actually living inside a cult (for 22 years!!!!!) I’ll let you have that nugget of info for free.

3 out of 5 stars.

http://www.emmacline.com

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The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre

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Take 50 Shades of Grey, marry it to The Girl on the Train and you’ve got A.R. Torre’s The Girl in 6 E. I thought this was one of the most imaginative and brilliant stories I have read in a while. The author combined two of today’s hottest genres, thrillers and borderline erotica, into this un-put-down-able page turner. I really don’t know why I haven’t heard more rumblings about this book, it was one of my favorites of the past year. While it’s pretty heavy on the (webcam) sex, it’s not sleazy or cheesy (cue, 50 Shades) and it has a really fresh and intriguing plot.

Deanna Madden is young, beautiful and rich. Filthy rich. She also happens to be single, an agoraphobic hermit, and a wildly successful live webcam solo porn star. Oh, and she’s also a virgin.

For the last several years, Deanna has not left her apartment. At all. She has also not had human contact with anyone, because of her fantasies. Not sexual ones, but ones of killing. So, like any good hearted psychopath, she keeps herself deliberately separated from the prey she so desires to hunt. While this idea sounds crazy, she actually seems to make it work without going completely insane, hungry, or disconnected from the outside world. It is the sacrifice she feels she has to make to contain her monster inside.

But when Deana suspects one of her webcam clients of committing a crime against a  young girl, she must make the decision to keep her suspicions to herself, or tear down all of her safety walls and face the outside world. In her mind, someone will get killed either way.

I’ll leave it there, not wanting to give too much away.It’s really not a smut novel (believe me, I hate those) and I wish Amazon, Goodreads, etc. would stop classifying it that way. Seriously, if you want a good thriller with a different, spicier flavor, check out this series.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Eeeny Meeny by M.J. Arlidge

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I’ve recently gotten into crime stories, mysteries and thrillers, and M.J. Arlidge is a fantastic new breakout author on the scene. His books follow DI (Detective Inspector, for us Americans) Helen Grace as she leads her police unit through gruesome crimes and battles her own inner demons. There are currently four books in the series, with a fifth releasing stateside next month. I’m working on catching up so I’m ready to read the newest installment when it comes out. So far, two down, two to go.

Eeny Meeny opens with a ghastly scene that grabs your attention right from page one. A couple awakes in an unfamiliar setting, held in captivity, with no way out. They have no food, no water, nothing to keep them warm; a cell complete bare, except for a gun. A phone rings and tells the couple that only one of them will make it out alive–the only way for one to escape is to kill the other. Hooked yet? Yeah, I was too. I was also having nightmarish flashbacks of Saw, but luckily this book never gets quite that gorey.

Similar situations begin popping up all over the city, and DI Grace’s team finds themselves hunting a serial killer who never actually does the killing himself. Along the way, skeletons from DI Grace’s past begins to pop up, a past she has worked hard at burying. She fights to keep her life from interfering with her work, but soon finds it all completely interwoven.

I thought the storyline was exceptionally dark and twisted, the kind that makes you think “what is wrong with this author????” in the best way possible. However, it also never veered into wildly unbelievable territory and stayed fairly realistic (cue, extra creepy.) It did take me some time to figure out the UK vocabulary. After lots of Googling British police lingo and abbreviations, I was able to match the characters up with who would be their equivalent in Law & Order SVU, and finally started to finally understand who was who in the investigative ranks.

I really enjoyed this book, have already finished its sequel, Pop Goes the Weasel, and plan to read The Doll’s House as soon as I can get my hands on a free library copy. This series isn’t for the faint of heart, but I would recommend for someone looking to get into a new, fresh crime collection.

4 out of 5 stars.

“The Hopefuls” by Jennifer Close

I was super excited to read The Hopefuls because it’s all about life in Washington, D.C. I live about 70 miles northwest of D.C.,  or “over the mountain,” as us Shenandoah Valley folks call it, so I was looking forward to reading something about a city with which I’m somewhat familiar. The vast majority of people with whom I went to college moved to D.C. after graduation, mainly because of the multitude of jobs, but I always had the feeling I’d despise living there. This book absolutely reaffirms that!

Now, let me be clear: the author certainly never bashes D.C. whatsoever, and neither am I. But, her story vividly describes the intense political and social scene, which really just isn’t my cup of tea. I’ve never been into social status, who’s who, or what’s next on the ladder of success. And I could really give a shit about your impressive sounding title or where you rank on the GS pay scale. But, for the movers and shakers of politics, I guess there is no place quite like “The District!”

I checked this book out from the 7-day rental collection at the library on Saturday. I was so paranoid that I wouldn’t finish by the time it was due, that I spend most of my weekend reading. I ended up finishing in two days! Which is pretty successful for me, as I don’t consider myself the fastest reader. That, in itself, is a testament to how enthralled I became in this book. No library fines for me!

The Hopefuls, by Jennifer Close, begins with Beth and Matt Kelly’s move to D.C. from New York City. Matt is a former employee of the Obama campaign, trying to make a political name for himself and eventually run for office. Beth is an unemployed journalist yearning for her life back in the Big Apple. Not having a career in politics makes Beth feel like an outsider in the District, and she is struggling to find her place to fit in, both socially and professionally.

When Beth and Matt meet Texas-born Ashleigh and Jimmy Dillon, it instantly seems like a match made in double-date heaven. Jimmy works for President Obama’s “advance team” and Ash is somewhat, casually, not really looking for a job herself. Beth and Ash quickly become best friends, despite their many differences and in light of their mutual exclusion from “The Hill.” The women pass their days lounging poolside and exploring the Smithsonian, while Matt and Jimmy rise through the ranks together in the White House.

However, Jimmy’s star soon begins to rise faster than Matt’s, leading to increased pressure amongst the foursome and strained relationships all the way around. The tension reaches its explosion point when Jimmy runs for office in Texas and hires Matt to be his campaign manager.

The Hopefuls was vivid peek into life in the cutthroat world of politics and the emotions of the family members of politicians, who are often unwillingly thrown into the public eye.

While in some places void of true action or drama, The Hopefuls kept my attention and interest throughout with its humor, candor, and relatable characters. I recommend this for a quick and easy read, especially for those of us wanting to know a little bit more about life on “the other side of the mountain.”

4 out of 5 stars.

www.jenniferclosebooks.com

An Appreciation for Reading

I’ve always considered myself an avid reader. One of my favorite things to do as a child was to go to our local library with my parents and pick out my weekly limit of seven books. My typical lot included plenty of Curious George, Jan Brett, Eric Carl, and Shell Silverstein. I adored the library and was in awe of the millions of books on the shelves, the glass floors, and beautiful spiral staircases leading up to the famous copper dome. Mind you, my local library is probably prettier than yours. Like, unless your public library is That of Congress, I’m willing to put money on mine winning in a beauty contest. See for yourself how easy it is to fall in love:

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I know, right? Who wouldn’t want to get lost in those stacks for hours? The Handley Library in Winchester, Virginia, was built in 1913, thanks to an endowment from Judge John Handley, and is, rightfully so, one of the crown jewels of my small town. Judge Handley also endowed my high school, appropriately named John Handley High School,which is pretty darn impressive itself:

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Anyway, back to my point:

I’m extremely grateful to my parents for instilling in me the value of language and literature at a young age, and encouraging this passion throughout my teenage and early adult years. My grandmother has audio tapes of me reciting original poetry from times she babysat me, before I even knew how to read. I remember being enrolled in half-day kindergarten, but some weeks staying the whole day with first-graders, just to have extra reading time. My parents would read to me every single night before bed, without fail, a tradition we kept up through middle school. My dad and I read the first few Harry Potter books together when I was in the 6th and 7th grades, and to this day I am still awaiting my invitation to Hogwarts.

As I grew older and matured, so did my literary taste. I went through years where I was obsessed with The Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins and The Boxcar Children. Then in high school I grew fond of the YA genre, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Angus, Thongs & Full Frontal Snogging” being some of my favorites. Early college brought about exploration into chick-lit authors such as Sophie Kinsella, Jane Green, and Emily Giffin (many, of whom, I am still big fans today.)

These last few years, I’ve really gotten into thrillers and crime stories, as well as hot titles on the Best Sellers list. I’m really into Karin Slaughter, MJ Arlidge, Laura Lippmann, Jodi Picoult, and the oh-so-hot-right-now Gillian Flynn.

I’ve found myself getting oddly sentimental writing this post, truly appreciative for the many lives that books have allowed me to live. There really is nothing like getting lost in a good story, completely detached from the worries of reality, even just for a few moments.

Throughout this past year, I’ve probably read more than I ever have before. I recently went back into the Handley Library for the first time in about four years, having gotten caught up in the ease and accessibility of the Kindle instant download. And immediately upon walking in the doors, I was filled with a feeling of belonging, contentment, and gratitude. I had come back to my happy place.