First Friday

How Virginity Almost Killed Me

Fiction - Chick Lit
334 Pages
Reviewed on 10/03/2017
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite

If you’re a writer and aspire to one day pen a humorous novel or memoir, read First Friday by Tory Hartmann. If you were raised in a very religious Catholic home, especially an Irish Catholic home, and aren’t too hung up on someone having a fun poke at what you were taught to believe, read First Friday. And if you’re a fan of crime fiction and love following clues and solving mysteries, read First Friday. What? You mean readers will find all of that in just one book? Yes…and so much more.

What begins as a hilarious look at Agnes Anne O’Neill’s family gathering as they do on every first Friday of the month, for a pot luck dinner, which opens and closes with tons of prayers and endless supplications to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Agnes’ father, evolves ever so cleverly and gradually into a thriller, with Agnes Anne as one of the hapless victims of her nasty brother-in-law, Bruno. Hartmann brings about this evolution so skilfully that readers don’t see it coming while they’re smiling and anticipating more of the funny stuff. The funny stuff is centred on Agnes’ decision to reinvent herself, at least physically, when she is 28, a virgin and still living at home. She gets her real estate licence, goes blonde and gets a nose and chin job, much to the chagrin of her father who can’t quite forgive her for tampering with what God has made so perfectly. Suffering from insecurity after being the butt of the family’s jokes all her life, Agnes is determined to succeed. She prays fervently and incessantly to the BVM for guidance and signs she’s doing the right thing.

Mixing humor and mystery, Tory Hartmann uses the events in First Friday to examine other issues besides religious fervour. When Agnes tries to tell her sisters and parents that “Bruno-god-love-him” is trying to rape her, no-one believes her. After all, he is a doctor and devoted to his sickly wife, right? The family chooses instead to believe Agnes’ decision to change her looks means she’s chasing Bruno, and when she finally loses it, the family is convinced she’s become completely unhinged. This kind of scenario, of family members not believing what a child, an adult child in this case, is telling them, is far too common, as is denial. Alternately laughing and holding their breaths, readers of First Friday will barrel through this most engaging story to a very satisfying finish. This is top-notch writing from a former magazine editor.

Alyssa Elmore

A woman determined to heal from her traumatic past and move into a brighter future becomes the target of a psycho killer in the thrilling story, First Friday (How My Virginity Almost Killed Me) by Tory Hartmann. After suffering the ill effects of trauma as a teen, Agnes Anne O'Neil has lived with her deeply religious parents. Twelve years later, twenty-eight-year-old Agnes has created a plan. The strategy consists of five steps and proves to be more life changing than Agnes first imagined. When she announces to her father that she has earned her realtor's license and is ready to move from accounting into sales, Agnes discovers that she is in for the fight of her life. Struggling with a stutter, Agnes must force herself to no longer practice being invisible, proving that she has what it takes to be a realtor. Only, when she decides to finally step out of the role of a victim and stop living in the past, she unintentionally attracts the attention of the man who is the cause of her anxiety. Will Agnes be strong enough to confront her past and finally move forward? Will she allow a decade-old trauma to dictate her future?

First Friday (How My Virginity Almost Killed Me) by Tory Hartmann is an intense and breathtaking story of a woman repeatedly placed in abusive and life threatening situations. After years of hiding from her pain and holding her dark secret close to her, Agnes must face what happened at her junior prom. Coming to terms with her past might be difficult, but living in close proximity to the man that caused her to close down her life entirely could make it nearly impossible. I felt for Agnes, shamefully hiding her secret from her family, while the guilty person continued to live life as though nothing had happened. Although it took her a while, Agnes' self-love won out over her doubts, and it was inspiring to see how she started to transform her life. This book is an all too realistic story of a victim trying to make a stand for herself, intricately interwoven with a suspenseful subplot that will keep the reader glued to its pages right to the astounding conclusion. I would recommend this book to adults that love psychological thrillers laced with romance and drenched in suspense.

Ruffina Oserio

Fans of chick lit will be fascinated by First Friday: How Virginity Almost Killed Me by Tory Hartmann, a story that is as daring as it is entertaining. Born into an Irish family that is more Catholic than the Pope, twenty-eight-year-old Agnes Ann O’Neil grows up in strict discipline, in a home where her mother “only makes religious pancakes.” She is inhibited in the strictest sense of the word, but then suddenly, at twenty-eight, she breaks loose. Obtaining her real estate license, she dyes her hair, and meets a new guy, Sheldon Goldberg. She gets cosmetic surgery and insists her name be simply Anne. While Kate, her sister, is looked upon as a model sister, she has a life of hell at the hands of a husband who makes sexual advances to Anne and who will use anything to make her life difficult.

There is so much to enjoy in this debut novel, which comes across well-accomplished, a succinct and unmitigated satire directed at the idiosyncrasies of some Catholic practices and beliefs. The conflict is firmly grounded in religious beliefs and it is interesting to watch how the protagonist evolves and claims her inner freedom. Tory Hartmann’s masterful use of satire combines with the economy and precision of her prose to offer awesome entertainment to readers. The humor is strong and it is scattered throughout the story. First Friday: How Virginity Almost Killed Me is hilarious and the reader meets a new form of seduction on every page. This is a beautifully told story with a lot of entertainment for readers.

Gisela Dixon

First Friday: How Virginity Almost Killed Me by Tory Hartmann is a thriller that starts off as a women’s novel with an introduction to Agnes Anne, a 28-year-old woman raised in a strictly Catholic house. She still lives and works for her parents and wants to get out and be independent. So, the story begins and initially we learn about her transformation into an independent real estate agent, along with managing her stutter and boosting her confidence. We also learn about Bruno Stark, her brother-in-law and husband of sister Katie, who is also the man that Anne dated in school and who had tried to rape her. Things slowly but surely turn darker in this novel as Bruno makes sexual advances toward Anne while his wife, Katie, is still recovering from her miscarriage and depression. As Katie’s health deteriorates and Bruno turns more violent, Anne finds herself in more and more difficult circumstances until things come to a head.

First Friday starts off as a women’s novel or even a romance novel, but quickly morphs into a dark thriller. The writing is engaging and Anne’s Catholic upbringing and influences of her family are quite accurately portrayed. I thought the plot was a bit unrealistic and seemed a stretch, but the fast-paced writing style and steady pace make this a good read. I liked the character portrayal of Bruno the best, Katie seemed believable and relatable, while Anne’s portrayal was a bit of both: some clichés and some realism. Anne’s Jewish boyfriend, Sheldon, has a consistent but minor role to play in the plot. Overall, this is an interesting read for fans of thrillers.

Christian Sia

A rollicking tale of a woman’s journey to freedom, First Friday: How Virginity Almost Killed Me by Tory Hartmann is a wonderful blend of satire and humor, a well-plotted and fast-paced story that is as entertaining as it is mind-boggling. The reader is introduced to a Christian family where the Catholic faith seems to flow in their veins. In this family, Agnes Anne O’Neil grows up under strict discipline with a lot of “can’t dos” so that she becomes utterly repressed. But she suddenly wakes up at twenty-eight, deciding it’s time she lives her own life. She goes for facial surgery to enhance her nose — something that shocks the entire family — then falls for a Jewish accountant, and embarks on a journey of self-transformation. While the family watches in shock and disdain, there is Bruno, her brother-in-law, who wants her so much that his jealousy drives him to devise a horrible scheme against her. Could it be that her grasp for freedom is too late?

Tory Hartmann is a great storyteller and she has the ability to plunge readers into the heart of her characters. Her use of humor is masterful and it comes across in the situations she describes in a way that is dramatic and enticing. Her prose is tight and crisp and readers will enjoy her excellent choice of words, dialogues that punctuate the intense action. Her characters are real and they come from a world readers are familiar with. First Friday: How Virginity Almost Killed Me will have readers laughing out loud. This is a conflict-driven story with powerful lessons on love, family, and freedom, a story that is as entertaining as it is perceptive. I couldn’t put it down.

Michelle Randall

Agnes Anne has a plan, it's a five-step plan, and it will take her over a year to accomplish, but she is determined to break free of her nutty uber-Catholic Irish family. She is twenty-eight years old and still living at home with her parents, working for her father in the back office, with no career aspirations and no boyfriend. Not to mention that she has a tendency to stutter when she is nervous or put on the spot. First Friday follows Agnes Anne on her adventure to put her plan into action and the reactions her family has to some of the changes that she makes. Author Tory Hartmann has woven a complex story of family, faith and change together to create a believable yet humorous story of finding your own way in life, even at an age when the rest of your siblings are married.

First Friday really revolves around a large Irish immigrant family that is devoutly Catholic, in fact maybe a little too devoutly Catholic. As a reader, knowing nothing about being Catholic, some of the things I found hilarious and some I found to be truly scary in that they hammered Agnes' ability to have a normal relationship with a guy. Author Tory Hartmann has created an amazingly complex story with many layers in the family and a number of stories going on around Agnes. In parts I felt sorry for her in that her family seemed to dismiss her so easily and she felt she couldn't he honest with them about some of the things going on; and in other ways I found myself rooting for her to break free and become her own person. This is a very clean book, there is some language and brief mentions of intimate moments, but they are so much less than anything I've read lately. I think this would be a great book for young adults and teens as well as older readers.