Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “#novel”

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #53: The Boys of Summer by Ciarán West

The Boys of Summer
by Ciarán West

(This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.)

When some writers are busy procrastinating on the the projects they are “supposed” to be working on, they turn to the internet and instead write about, discuss, or shake a fist over the State of Publishing/Reviewing/Words. Many an article deals with the pros and cons of self-publishing, the pros and cons of negative reviews, or the pros and cons of reviewing the work of someone you know. We all get wrapped up in what we’re “supposed” to talk about, how writing is “supposed” to work, and often forget that, while a method may work for a large percentage of people, it is not the be-all, end-all of anything to do with writing.

See: MFA programs, large publishing houses, indie publishing, using social media, agents.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that what the crowd thinks is right may not feel right on a personal level. And that’s OK. So is changing our mind.

This is the part where I say I knew Ciarán West before he self-published The Boys of Summer, and while I’m not planning on self-publishing a novel, I have no quibble with other people doing it — as long as that book is really good. Once again, I found myself understanding why people do not want to review the books from people they know because, well, what if it’s awful? But West is a big boy, and he can presumably handle anything I have to say.

You know what? The Boys of Summer is really very good, better even than some novels I’ve read this year that were published in a more traditional manner. Is it perfect? No, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The book takes place in 1989 Limerick, Ireland, during a very hot week in which almost-twelve-year-old Richie South finds himself in love with the new neighbor girl, Marian, and sucked into the mystery of who killed five-year-old Tommy Kelly. Richie and his friends think they know who did it, but their investigation brings dredges up conflicting feelings of terror, responsibility, and a strain on their formerly close-knit group. Richie’s older brother Chris is the one who breaks the news:

‘Fuck off, really?’ Shane couldn’t believe what Chris was telling us. I couldn’t either, but I was keeping quiet; he’d know I was wrecked if I tried to talk; he’d tell Mam, straight away. The whitener was wearing off, but still.

‘Really, yeah. Fin was down in Frazer’s this morning with his da. Tony served him a Carling and everything; didn’t say nothing.’ Fintan Kelly was older than us, but he was still only fourteen. Tony Frazer wouldn’t sell you a pack of fags without a note from your mother.

‘Tom, though? Small little Tom. How? He’s only a toddler, shur.’ Dermot looked like he was angry; he was nearly crying. I wanted to be in bed. I was too young to be drinking or smoking gear, and I just wanted Mam. I kept looking at Chris, then looking away before he looked back.

From there, the speculation and rumors only escalate. Shane, the leader through a strong-arming personality, talks the others into investigating. Richie doesn’t know how to feel. Despite wanting desperately not to be seen as a little kid anymore, he’s not so sure he likes being thrust into the world of adults in this way.

When it comes to Marian, he’s also thrilled and confused by her attention. She’s a couple years older than him, yet is completely uninterested in his brother Chris. Richie tries to play it cool, but she takes an odd delight in exploiting his nervousness, his desire:

‘D’you want to do something naughty, Richard?’ She put her hand down the front of her shorts. Jesus Christ, she was going to take her fanny out and show me it and everything!

‘Sorry about the squashing, I had to find somewhere to put them.’ She’d pulled two fags out of her knickers. Thank God!

‘Have you a light?’ I did. I stayed standing up; she was sitting on the grass. The fag tasted gorgeous, cos I was smoking it with her.

‘It was funny when yer man in the shop asked was I your girlfriend, wasn’t it?’ she said, dragging on her fag.

‘Yeah.’ I said. No it wasn’t funny; I’d nearly gone purple.

‘Have you a girlfriend, no?’ she said, in a little quiet voice. I liked all of her voices.

‘Ah, not at the moment, no.’ Not ever.

‘Awww. Why not?’

‘Dunno,’ I said. I didn’t like how she’d said ‘Awww’. Like she was feeling sorry for me.

‘You never know, eh?’ she said, winking at me.

West rides the line of child/teenager well, and Richie’s voice doesn’t fall prey to “adult who thinks he’s writing in the voice of a child” that I’ve seen in other books. This isn’t “eleven and three-quarters” filtered through retrospect; it’s simply the voice of a kid who will describe himself as that age.

Because of that voice, and the speaking style of his friends, the text is very Limerick-slang heavy. Part of me says that some of it is overdone, and that readers could get a sense of it without quite as much “that’s pure rapid” and whatnot. A good editor would know the proper balance. Still, the other part of me says, Have you spoken to any kids lately? They fixate on words. Yesterday, my son sang a made-up song about pumas all goddamn day. And almost-teenagers are going to do up the swearing, the inside jokes and slang because they can. So without spending an extended period with this book in editor-mode, I can’t say for certain what the right level of Limerickness is, so to speak. On a side note, an editor would have also caught a few formatting and typo issues, but that’s a small complaint when compared to the effectiveness of the story.

The story, its pacing and content, is absolutely enthralling. Normally, I am extremely slow about reading e-books because I have no reader for them other than my laptop, so they don’t make for good before-bed reading. Instead, I tend to catch up on them while I’m folding laundry. I hate folding laundry, so I only manage a handful of pages at a time.

Reading The Boys of Summer, my laundry was exceptionally folded. The kids could find matched socks, and the mister wondered why he couldn’t find any clean workshirts, until he realized I’d actually washed, folded and put away all of them. Clothes not in a laundry basket? What is this madness?

So if you know me, you know that I’ve just given West a major compliment. He wants to make you uncomfortable, yet you want to press forward. The narrative speeds along breathlessly, all culminating in an ending that’s simultaneously inevitable and unbelievable.

If this book were published by Harper or some other big publisher, I am confident that it would get scores of attention. As a small release, I’ve seen it well-received, and I hope that my review directs at least a few more readers its way. Yes, I know the author, but I do pride myself in being fair. The Boys of Summer is worth your time and money.

(You can read the first chapter at Amazon, and the book is also available through Smashwords.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #51: Wayne of Gotham by Tracy Hickman

Wayne of Gotham (cover)Turns out that Wayne of Gotham is actually quite good, once I readjusted some of my expectations. I had to remember that certain over-dramatic language is traditional comic book storytelling and, well, Batman’s a dramatic dude.

Some of the gadget/tech talk can get a bit tedious and over-lengthy, if you’re not into that sort of thing, but there’s plenty otherwise to like here.

(My full review appears at Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #47: SPARK by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk

SPARK is a somewhat disorienting little book. What starts out as a fairly straightforward story — a woman takes in her pyromaniac brother after he is released from prison — turns into a darker, mysterious world.

The trouble I had with these mysterious occurrences was that I wasn’t entirely sure that they were real. Now, maybe the issue is that I was reading the book while tired, before bed, and maybe there were clues that I did not notice. If Mauk intended to makes these experiences surreal, I cannot say for certain if that’s how they come across.

I’d be curious to hear other readers’ impressions. SPARK is definitely a novel that merits discussion, and I hope that it gets it.

(My full review appears on Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #46: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith

Alison Wonderland
by Helen Smith

I do not pick up books I think I will dislike. Unlike some more traditional reviewing positions, I am not “assigned” books, and there are more out there that I want to read than I ever will be able, so every book I decide to read has promise. Something about it struck me as interesting, and in the case of Alison Wonderland, it was probably the London location mixed with a bit of mystery that made me open the cover. Unfortunately, this book turned out to be a hot mess. If it had been any longer than its 189 pages, I don’t think I would have finished. And while of course no author wants to hear that — and there are readers out there who think that unfavorable reviews of small press books are bad form — I think that Helen Smith is capable of a better book. I know she has others (I have not read them) and that this is an early book of hers, but Alison Wonderland suffers from a lack of focus both in character and plot. The writing itself is not bad, nothing extraordinary, but not overly cringe-worthy and cliché-filled either. Still, somewhere along the line, someone needed to say, “What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish here?”

(The rest of my review can be found on Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #42: The Girl Below by Bianca Zander

The Girl Below (cover)Honestly, I expected something far more sinister than what actually transpires. All of these objects are affecting her, and the reasoning behind it — without completely ruining it for you — didn’t feel like enough for me. I kept waiting for more progress, for the plot to pick up the pace and for Suki to get more of her shit together, but instead the bewilderment keeps carrying on. I found Suki’s background interesting, but the stakes of her situation weren’t so clear, other than to say, “I’m a damaged person who would like to know why creepy stuff keeps happening.”

(My full review appears on Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #38: The Starlite Drive-In by Marjorie Reynolds

The Starlite Drive-In (cover) My review of Marjorie Reynolds’ The Starlite Drive-In is now up over at Persephone Magazine. A good book to read while on vacation.

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #37: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: Beautiful Ruins is an absolutely perfect book, and if you read any review that claims otherwise, then that reviewer is trying too hard to be a smug killjoy and they should not be trusted. You should perhaps ask them if they also enjoy popping children’s balloons and talking on their phone during movies because only a jerk would hate on this book.

In Sara-parlance: I wanted to hug this book’s face off.

If you would like to know why, head on over to Glorified Love Letters for the rest of my review.

ElLCoolJ’s #CBR4 review #4: This is where I leave you: Jonathan Tropper

It’s not often that you get to read a book that deals with death and broken marriages, that actual makes you laugh out loud. Sure, John Irving makes you chuckle a bit, maybe even a head nod, but This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper makes you laugh.out.loud.

One of the opening scenes has the narrator, Judd, surprise his wife on her birthday by coming home early with a cake from her favorite bakery. The surprise is that when he walks into the bedroom he finds her “…lying spread-eagle on the bed, with some guy’s wide dough ass hovering above her, clenching and unclenching to the universal beat of procreation, his hands jammed under her ass, lifting her up into each thrust, her fingers leaving white marks where they pressed into his back, well, it took some time to process.” This is a typical sentence for Tropper (although not all sexual), where he gives a long run-onny description and then ends it with a zinger.

Judd learns that his father’s dying wish is that his family sits shiva, i.e. they will be forced to sit together as a family for a week. Judd’s older bother Paul is the high school jock who took over the family sporting good buisness from his father. His sister Wendy is married to a bluetooth wearing buisness big-wig who largely ignores her and her growing brood. His much younger brother Phillip is a Porche driving playboy or is that boy-toy. His mother, Hillary, is a child therapist/author who published all her parenting tips/blunders from raising this family. Needless to say it is a screwed up bunch to be thrown together for a week.

Judd is dealing with two losses, the loss of his father and his marriage. The book begins with him being lost in both regards and he is not sure how to process, as he is armed with the tools his screwed up therapist mother left him. Anger, humor, sex, frustration, sarcasim, hatred, confusion, drifitng… these all happen to Judd as he stumbles through the book.

At one point the three  brothers are in temple (it is not an overly Jewish book by the way…) and sneak into one of the classrooms to smoke a joint. As a result they set of the sprinklers and get soaked as they try to rush back to rejoin everyone else.

“Just act casual,” Paul says. “Blend in.”

It seems easy enough, only because we’re too stoned to realize that three men dripping in their suits might stand out.

All in all I am going to go find more Tropper to read as I can’t get enough!

4 1/2 stars

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #21 – The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper

My review of Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm is now up on Persephone Magazine. It’s is a rather strange novel that I described as a combination of “Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut, and then added cannibalism and a dollop of Hostel.” Yeah. It’s an “experience.”

Katie’s #18 #CBR4 Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows Francie Nolan as she grows up in Boston as part of a poor, second-generation, American family.  A major theme running throughout the book is Francie’s mother’s focus on seeing her children educated and giving them a better life than she herself had.  Francie’s own love of reading and education was to me one of the most endearing parts of the novel.  As a bibliophile, it’s hard not to fall in love with a precocious little girl who’s decided to read through every book in her library – what she thinks is every book in the world.  This is a small spoiler, but I think the fact that Francie eventually got her education was crucial to my enjoyment of the book.  I’m someone who prefers happy endings any way and to have someone so in love with learning be stuck working menial jobs forever would have just been too heart breaking.

Read more here…

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