Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “contemporary fiction”

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #102: Easy by Tammara Webber

When Jacqueline is dumped by her preppy boyfriend two months into her sophomore year at college, she’s suddenly forced to re-examine her life choices. She has no friends outside the circle of their mutual ones (, she’s stuck at a university she followed her now ex to, and she’s failing a class for the first time in her life because she’s gutted after the breakup and can’t stand the thought of seeing her ex several classes a week. After a party, not long after the dumping, one of her ex’s frat brothers try to rape her, and would’ve succeeded if she hadn’t been rescued by a mysterious stranger, who luckily happened to be crossing the parking lot and witnessed the assault.

Jacqueline manages to get her econ professor to let her make up the missing midterm, and promises to attend tutoring sessions to catch up on the missing work. She doesn’t tell anyone about the attack, not wanting to make a fuss. While she’d never really noticed the cute guy who rescued her, she now seems to run into him everywhere. He works at the campus Starbucks, he sits in the back row of her econ class, more busy sketching than taking notes. Her roommate designates Lucas the mystery man as the perfect rebound guy. Jacqueline strikes up a flirtation with Lucas, but is also trading bantering e-mails and texts with her new econ tutor. Is she really ready for a new relationship at all, and which guy is the right one for her?

Another one of the Young Adult nominees for the Goodreads Choice 2012 awards, this one caught my eye because my friend Erica read it and rated it highly. As one of the subplots deals with sexual assault and the aftermath of that, this could be a difficult book for some to read. The frat boy who attempts to rape Jacqueline continues his threatening behaviour, and spreads lies about her alleged promiscuity following her breakup. He also goes on to rape another girl, and Jacqueline has to decide what to do about coming forward so he can be charged with the attacks.

Having defined herself almost entirely as Kennedy’s boyfriend since early high school, Jacqueline is forced to take a long hard look at her life after he suddenly dumps her, and she doesn’t like what she sees. With the exception of her room mate, most of their mutual friends take his side, as he is the handsome, popular frat member, while she is the independent, arty girl who never quite fit in. Jacqueline is very good at double bass, an unusual instrument for a woman to play, and tutors local high school kids as a part time job. She could’ve applied to a music conservatory, but followed her boyfriend to university instead. Lonely and adrift, things get even worse when she’s attacked. She doesn’t want to tell her room mate, who’s dating the attacker’s best friend. The description of Jacqueline’s loneliness and self doubt is very well done. You kind of want to slap her for being so trusting, naive and oblivious that she meekly followed her douchebag boyfriend to college, but you also feel sorry for her, and can’t help but want her to succeed in turning her life around, preferably with a hot new boyfriend and some new, better friends.

Once her attacker actually rapes someone else, Jacqueline has to come forward and admit that she was attacked as well, and the book deals with the difficult situation many rape victims find themselves in, trying to prove that the sex was not consensual. Jacqueline and her room mate start taking self defence classes, and all the things they do to help her feel more empowered and safe again were very well done.

Jacqueline’s struggle to become a stronger, more independent person were in many ways more interesting than the romantic subplot. To begin with, Lucas is pretty much the hot, dashing stranger. She’s not sure if she likes him because he rescued her from a traumatic situation or whether there’s something more there. He’s very secretive about his background and past, and to begin with there’s a few complications and misunderstandings, that thankfully get resolved fairly quickly. The romance angle is good, but the main reason to read this book is for the character growth in the protagonist. Although if rape and sexual assault are bad triggers for you, it might be best to give it a miss.

3.5 stars

Cross posted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #101: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Echo (named for a Greek nymph) Emerson used to be one of the popular girls in school, dating one of the stars of the basketball team. But one night two years ago, her life changed drastically, leaving her nearly dead in the hospital with horrific scars all down her arms and she doesn’t even remember what happened, only that it has something to do with her mother, who is now kept away by a restraining order. She hates going to therapy, she hates that her father is having a baby with her step-mum (who used to be her babysitter). She desperately misses her older brother, who died on a mission in Afghanistan two years ago, and now her father is threatening to sell the car he wanted to restore. She needs to get a job, so she can make enough money to complete her brother’s project, she wants to discover what happened to her, and she wants everything to return to normal.

Noah Hutchins had a stable and loving family, until his life changed drastically when his parents died in a fire. In school, he’s known as a girl using loner, a stoner kid with no prospects. Only his closest friends know that he’s been in and out of a series of shitty foster homes, and desperately wants to be reunited with his two younger brothers, who he barely ever sees, because he was judged emotionally unstable when he punched his abusive first foster father. If he’s to have any hope of gaining custody over his little brothers when he turns 18, he needs to improve his grade point average drastically, get a good job, a place to live and  hopefully discredit the foster parents now raising his brothers. He would give anything for his life to go back to some kind of normal.

The new school therapist, Mrs. Collins, decides to give Echo a job tutoring Noah. She promises Noah increased visitation with his brothers if he promises to shape up, and despite his deep mistrust of social workers and authority figures, he has no choice but to agree to his plan. Unfortunately, because of some misguided verbal exchanges with Echo, the tutoring job might not be something she’ll feel comfortable sticking with. Both teenagers are deeply vulnerable and very wounded, extremely mistrustful of the adults around them after facing bitter disappointment again and again. On the surface, they have nothing in common, but once they start talking, they’re drawn to each other like moths to a flame.

The book is written in alternating points of view, so the reader gets to follow both Echo and Noah closely. While the book blurb made me expect a fairly run of the mill high school romance, where now outcast good girl loses her heart to the resident bad boy, the book proved to be a lot more than that, and a lot better than the back cover makes it sound. Katie McGarry writes very believable teenagers, and both protagonists have gone through hell. It’s completely understandable that they feel angry, and helpless and desperate, and long for a return to the pleasant, normal lives they used to have.

The full back stories for both characters are gradually revealed, and it keeps the suspense up. Noah and Echo team up to try to get access to their files in Mrs. Collins’ office. Echo can barely sleep and is plagued with horrific nightmares every time she does sleep. She wants to know the full story behind her “incident” without having to gradually remember it through therapy, convinced that if she just knows the whole truth, she’ll find peace. Noah wants the name and address of his brothers’ foster parents, convinced that they’re being mistreated, and determined to prove it, so he can win custody over them as soon as he comes of age. It’s obvious to the reader that these are dreadful plans, but you still go along for the ride, hoping that the characters find closure and some sense of relief towards the end.

I received an ARC of this from Mira Ink through NetGalley, and am sorry that I didn’t read it sooner. Not at all the cliched teen romance I thought it at first, it’s a beautiful story of two damaged people finding each other, and helping each other through a difficult time. It’s currently a finalist in Young Adult Fiction in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012, and available in hardcover or e-book.

Cross posted on my blog.

BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #47: Heller’s Revenge by JD Nixon

Heller’s Revenge is the second book in the Heller series by JD Nixon and it is the book where I really started to dislike the character of Heller.  Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the books, but Heller is a major dick.  For basic info on the first book, see my review BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #46: Heller by JD Nixon

In the second book, the protagonist Tilly Chalmers is continuing in her new career working for a high end security service run by Heller.  Per Heller’s requirements, she lives in a flat in the company building, drives a company car with a license plate that says ‘Heller’s,’ and isn’t supposed to leave the building except for work, for any reason whatsoever without checking it with Heller first.  She has a new boyfriend, but can’t bring him to her flat, and Heller won’t let her stay overnight with him.   Controlling much?

He’s a pretty crappy boss, too.  When things go awry during a job, he blames Tilly, even though a. the client is happy, b. Tilly did nothing wrong and c. if the other security men had been acting professionally, it wouldn’t have happened.  And this is typical.  He gets angry even though he is the one that has put her in the situation against her protests.   If Tilly was a friend or relative of mine, I’d be telling her to get the hell away from the controlling, psycho who kills people, no matter how sexy he is or how much he says he cares about you.  He crazy, girl, and he ain’t going to get better.

For instance, a major event in the book is that Tilly is hired to “bear witness” for an environmentalist who knows that some big businesses are trying to kill him and doesn’t want to die alone.  Tilly falls for the environmentalist, they wind up sleeping together, he dies (as expected) and Tilly is injured.  Heller asks who instigated the relationship, and when Tilly says the environmentalist, Heller’s response is that it’s a good thing the guy is dead, because he would kill him otherwise!

That may be why I find these books so fascinating.   We all wonder why people in abusive relationships don’t just leave.    These books are about a strong, smart woman, who doesn’t realize what a terribly screwed up situation she is in, who keeps rationalizing why she needs to stay and that Heller really does care for her.  No matter what he does to her, she forgives him and jumps back in the rooftop hottub with him.

rdoak03’s #CBR4 review 32: These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen

These Girls chronicals the drama of Cate, Abby and Renee, who all face their own battles as single women in New York City. All the drama was a little unbelievable, but the girls are likeable. I was expecting more focus on the women’s friendship, and there is some of that, but they are just really getting to bond and know each other towards the end of the book. Read my full review here.

lyndamk #cbr4 review #15: The Lower River by Paul Theroux

Snakes and one naive American hanging out in Malawi. Read more at my blog …

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #56: Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty

Cassie, Em and Lydia are best friends and go to Ashbury High. Because their English teacher is all about forging friendships across school boundaries and The Joy of the Envelope, he makes his class write letters to pupils at the nearby Brookfield high school. While and Lydia appear quite lucky with their pen pals, and strike up tentative friendships and even flirt through their letters. Em tries to help the boy she’s writing impress a girl he likes, and as their letters progress, she even offers to take him on practise dates. Lydia and her pen pal give each other secret missions and challenge each other to perform dangerous and even borderline illegal feats of daring.

Cassie, whose father died the year before, and who is still grieving, is less lucky with her pen pal. What starts out as abusive messages and threats that she refuses to respond to with anything but sunny cheer, take a turn for the dark and sinister when the boy she’s writing to seemingly warms to her, and suggests they meet. When Em and Lydia finally find out what Cassie has been hiding from them, they are furious, and soon the two schools are in all out war against each other.

Just as Feeling Sorry for CeliaFinding Cassie Crazy is an epistolary novel, made up chiefly from the letters between the Ashbury girls and the boys of Brookfield. However, the story also unfolds in diary entries, e-mail, notice board announcements at the two schools, reports and Lydia’s creative interpretations of the “lessons” given in the So You Want to be a Writer journal her father gave her for her birthday

Jaclyn Moriarty is brilliant at depicting teenagers, and the seemingly mundane realities of their lives. The previous book centred on only girls, whilst in this book, the Seb and Charlie (the two boys who write to Em and Lydia) are just as important, and as fully realized as the female characters. This book’s got a larger cast of characters, but you feel deeply for all of them, and the growing unease Moriarty develops through Cassie’s diary entries and correspondence makes it even more satisfying when her loyal friends finally discover the truth and utilise everything at their disposal to find out the true identity of the creep who hurt her, and in getting revenge.

While I didn’t adore this book as much as Feeling Sorry for Celia, possibly because this book didn’t quite so much remind me of my own teenage years and writing to a best friend, it was still a book that I had trouble putting down. I’m very glad I have the final two Ashbury/Brookfield novels lined up on my reading list.

Crossposted on my blog and Goodreads.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #55: Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Elizabeth Clarry is a pupil at the posh Ashbury Academy, where her new English teacher has decided that the pupils need to be introduced to the fine art of letter writing. Each of the pupils are to write letters to a pupil at the neighbouring Brookfield school, in order to improve relations between the schools (Ashbury students think that the majority of Brookfielders are delinquents and drug-dealers, while Brookfield students think the Ashbury kids are spoiled, vacuous and snooty).

Elizabeth lives with her mother, who is absent a lot, but communicates with her through the medium of hilariously written all-caps notes that she leaves around the house. Elizabeth also seems to receive a large amount of snarky letters from her own subconscious, addressed from the Cold Hard Truth Association, or the Association of Teenagers (who feel that she is a dismal failure, both in her lack of rebelliousness and never having had a boyfriend and it would be easier for everyone if she just climbed into a fridge and died). Elizabeth’s parents are divorced, and her father used to live in Canada, but has now moved back to Australia temporarily, and keeps wanting to see her and spend time with her. When Elizabeth isn’t worrying about her distinct lack of coolness, her non-existent love life or her missing friend Celia, she tries to keep both parents happy, and she also enjoys long distance running.

Elizabeth’s best friend Celia is clearly a rather unusual person, and in her letters to Christina, Elizabeth talks about the many different antics Celia has got up to in the past. This time, she’s gone missing, though. Celia’s mother seems to think everyone around her is overreacting, and that it’s perfectly natural for a teenage girl to want to spread her wings and find herself. After a while, Elizabeth starts receiving post cards from Celia, who’s run away with a circus.

Christina comes from a big family, and confides in Elizabeth about her wish for some privacy on occasion, which is difficult when you share a room with your younger sister, and her boyfriend troubles. While Elizabeth has little experience in the romance department, she advises Christina as best she can, and the two strike up a close friendship through their correspondence, encouraging each other, comforting and helping each other, without ever meeting face to face.

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that all is not well with Celia on her circus adventure. Elizabeth, with the the help of a boy she’s been running with, goes to rescue Celia, but their friendship isn’t the same anymore, for a number of reasons, and Elizabeth really struggles to come to terms with this. When she and Christina finally meet, it’s under fairly dramatic circumstances, where several story line threads have come to a head.

This is a really difficult review to write, because when trying to describe the plot of the book, not that much seems to happen, but it’s an absolutely delightful novel, made more interesting because of the epistolary device. All the characters are incredibly well fleshed out, even the supporting characters like Elizabeth’s parents, or Christina’s boyfriend Derek, and the two main characters are both wonderful girls, who you’d be lucky to have as friends in real life. There are also several unexpected twists in the narrative (which while a bit dramatic, nonetheless seem plausible), the first being the reveal that Celia’s run off to join a circus.

I absolutely loved this book, probably not helped by the fact that I got to know my best friend Lydia through old timey correspondence (back in the days when we didn’t really have regular access to Internet and e-mails), and the entire book made me miss the joy of writing letters. I’m just not very good at writing about books I feel really strongly about (I never seem to get across exactly what’s so great about them), but take my word for it, this book is a complete delight, and I will try to get as many people as possible to read it.

Crossposted on my blog and Goodreads.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #48: Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Brooke Berlin, daughter of famous action movie actor/director/producer Brick Berlin, is determined to become a star, and she wants her birthday party to be the event that launches her on her way to stardom. So when she discovers that she has a long lost half sister, who’s coming to live with her and Brick in Hollywood, but that Brick feels that the birthday party would be the perfect way to welcome Molly to their home (and introduce her to the world in a carefully orchestrated media event), she is less than pleased.

Not that being Molly Dix is easy. Having grown up in the Midwest with her mother and grandparents, she finds out her father’s true identity on her mother’s deathbed (cancer). Suddenly she has a super celebrity as her dad, and a sister she never knew about. Determined that her grandparents should get a chance at their around the world trip, she leaves her best friend, and small town boyfriend behind, to face the adventure that is Hollywood. Brooke seems super friendly and helpful at first, until Molly learns the hard way that her sister only really cares about herself.

Brick is determined that his daughters become friends, and orders them to share a room, and drive to school together every day. Brooke and entourage try to make Molly’s existence in school as difficult as possible, but not everyone is wanting to side with Brooke. Teddy, the easy-going son of the principal, and his opinionated and rebellious little sister Max both seem to want to help Molly, and then there are Brooke’s enemies, who are only too happy to offer Molly assistance in the escalating sibling feud.

I’ve been a huge fan of Heather and Jessica’s work on Go Fug Yourself for years and years, so when I discovered that they’d written a YA novel, I didn’t really hesitate to get it as soon as it was released in paperback. The book is funny, silly and just the right amount of over the top melodramatic (both the Fug girls are after all huge fans of soap operas). There’s a ton of pop culture references in there, and one of my favourite things was all the various mentions of Brick Berlin’s various movies over the years. As long as you’re not looking for something deep and meaningful, Spoiled is highly entertaining, and I will be checking out the sequel when it’s out in paperback next year.

Crossposted with my blog and Goodreads.

BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #21: Born in Ice (Concannon Sister, Bk2) by Nora Roberts

 Second in a trilogy about 3 Irish sisters, Born in Ice tells the romantic tale of how Brianna finds true love.  Younger sister of glass artist Maggie (of Book 1 Born in Fire), Brianna runs a B&B in the house the two grew up in.  They had a somewhat difficult childhood due to their parents’ unhappy marriage.  Their mother was hateful and their father loving but a ne’er do well.  Since their father’s death, they are left to cope with their bitter, hurtful mother as best they can.

 Brianna is doing well – her B&B is successful and she is happy and reasonably content.  Love seems a thing of the distant past, since she was left at the altar 10 years before by the one man she loved.  A new love interest shows up in the form of Gray Thane, a mystery writer looking for a temporary base to write a new book in.  Gray was an abandoned child and  teenage con artist, who has no intention of ever settling down and planting roots.   Of course, the love of a good woman such as Brianna changes his heart (strings swell in the background).

I didn’t like this book as much as the first one in the trilogy.  For one thing, there were a few characters and subplots that were introduced and resolved with head spinning speed, leaving me wondering to what purpose.  Page filler, perhaps?  For instance, an old con artist is thrown into the mix but rather than providing tension, just morphs into a family friend, basically because he and his wife are cute.  But very unnecessary to the story.

A subplot about some letters to their dead father is introduced, to provide the reasoning for the third book, but again,  treated more as filler than real plot.

 However, despite my complaints, I did enjoy the book.  Like most Nora Roberts, the scenery and setting is lovely and the characters are blessed with a bit more common sense than in most romance novels.

ElCicco#CBR4Review#12: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

White Teeth was published in 2000 and won several prestigious writing awards for Zadie Smith. Smith, like the character Irie in this novel, was born in London in 1975 to an English father and Jamaican mother. White Teeth, her first novel, examines race and family relations in a witty and often hilarious way.

White Teeth opens in 1975 with Archie Jones’ failed attempt at suicide. Saved by a Muslim butcher put out because Archie has parked his car in front of his loading zone, Archie has a new lease on life. He promptly meets and marries a much younger Jamaican woman and renews a wartime friendship with Samad Iqbal, a Bangladeshi Muslim newly married to a younger woman and moved to London. The story goes back in time to the war and the circumstances surrounding Archie and Samad’s friendship, and into the family histories of both men, their wives and extended family. The story also follows the children of these men — Irie, daughter of Archie and Clara, and Samad’s twin sons Millat and Magid. As second generation, the children are stuck in a tug-of-war between traditional and modern culture. Samad especially wants his children to take pride in their family history, be devout Muslims and not become Anglicized. To this end he makes a horrific choice that divides his family, causes his bitter wife Alsana to become even more angry and vindictive and has an effect that is completely opposite of his intention.

White Teeth puts a spotlight on race relations, particularly the tensions that seem to be cyclical and involve majority white populations harassing minorities — within the military, in former British colonies, in the neighborhoods of North London. It also looks at the conflict immigrants face in new countries — whether to try to be fully assimilated and lose one’s identity or to fight to hang on to one’s past through the generations. While this is pretty heavy stuff, the novel itself is one of the funniest and most cleverly written and engaging stories I have read in a very long time. It’s full of unforgettable characters like Abdul Mickey, the proprietor of O’Connell’s billiard hall, which is neither Irish nor a billiard hall; Clara’s mother Hortense — a Jehovah’s witness who anticipates the end of the world and convert’s Clara’s first boyfriend; Alsana’s “niece of shame” Neena who is second generation and a lesbian; and the Chalfens — an obnoxious overbearing family of white middle class intellectuals who take on Irie, Millat and Magid as “special projects” in need of their care, attention and correction.

One of my favorite scenes comes near the end of the novel as Irie, her parents and the Iqbals ride the bus into London on New Year’s Eve. After listening to the adults bicker, 17-year-old Irie lets loose with this: “Just shut up. In case you didn’t notice… not everyone in the universe wants to listen to you lot. So shut it…. Try it. Silence. Ah.” Irie then imagines out loud what it must be like for families not like theirs: “What a peaceful existence. What a joy their lives must be. They open a door and all they’ve got behind it is a bathroom or a living room. Just neutral spaces. And not this endless maze of present rooms and past rooms and the things said in them years ago and everybody’s old historical shit all over the place. They’re not constantly making the same old mistakes.”

The scene that follows this involves every character from the book in one room for what is sure to be an explosive event, including the making of same old mistakes. Apparently, White Teeth was adapted for British TV a few years ago. I would like to see it for that final scene alone. Zadie Smith provides a clever, funny and appropriate ending for a brilliant, intelligent novel that addresses serious topics.

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