Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “sonk”

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #36: The Likeness by Tana French

Detective Cassie Maddox is a recent transfer to the Domestic Violence unit of the Dublin police force after a horrific case in her old department (Homicide) shook her up so much that she needed to get out (this is the mystery in Into the Woods). She’s finally adjusting to her new position when she’s called to a murder scene in the countryside. The victim, a young woman, looks exactly like her. And to further complicate things, her I.D. identifies her as Alexandra Madison–the alter-ego Cassie created as an undercover cop at the beginning of her career.

I wasn’t kidding when I said Tana French is like crack to me. This was SO GOOD.

Read the rest of my review here.

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #35: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

I never thought I’d like a book based on Laura Bush’s life. I didn’t really know there was enough to say about her life to fill a whole book, to be honest. So kudos to Curtis Sittenfeld for making this book as poignant and compelling as it is.

Read the rest of my review here.

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #34: Broken Harbor by Tana French

This book was AMAZING.

I love mysteries, but I hate the fact that they’re usually poorly-written or too obvious. I dig the really twisty mysteries, the ones that are scary and confusing and utterly engrossing. I was not expecting this to be one of those, but it turned out to be one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read.

This is actually book #4 of a series, but don’t worry about that–I hadn’t read the first three, and it doesn’t matter. The main characters are all different; they all just happen to work on the same police force. I was a little nervous about ruining the other books for myself, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t make much of a difference what order you read them in.

Broken Harbor‘s protagonist is Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, a detective in the homicide unit of Dublin’s police force. He’s arrogant, but rightfully so–he has an extremely high success rate, and prides himself on his ability to solve murders without letting his emotions get in the way. Along with his new partner, Richie, a rookie cop, he’s assigned to a case in the beach-side housing development of Brianstown, in which a man, his wife, and their two children were brutally attacked. Initially, the family seems picture-perfect, but Kennedy soon begins to discover things that indicate that all was not well, including dozens of holes in their walls, video-monitor baby cameras placed around the house. Kennedy must confront the most difficult case of his career while also dealing with his pain and emotions involving Brianstown–the town where his family used to vacation, back when it was known as Broken Harbor, and where tragedy struck when he was a young boy.

I just can’t express enough how fantastic this book is. I was guessing right up until the very end, which almost never happens–I can usually call a mystery about halfway through. French is masterful, creating a story that never feels implausible, even as it ramps up the creepiness and chaotic confusion. I was absolutely glued to the page, and literally could not put it down. I was sneaking reading breaks in at work because I just had to find out what happened. This book was like crack, and I loved every minute of it.

It’s genuinely scary–this was problematic, because I read much of it when I was babysitting and got super creeped out and paranoid–and SO well-written. This was literary genre fiction, something that you don’t find too often, and that I appreciated so much. It felt great to read a mystery without groaning at the cheesy dialogue or cringing at the author’s terrible writing. French is a brilliant author who just happens to write mysteries, and there should be more authors like her.

Go read this, now. It’s new, so the wait at the library might be long, but it’s definitely worth buying (I’m weird about buying books unless I’m pretty sure I’ll love them, so I didn’t buy this, but I should have).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to track down French’s other books and go on a reading binge.

sonk’s #CBR4 Reviews #28-33

#28: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (4 stars)

#29: Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares (4 stars)

#30: God’s War by Christopher Tyerman (3 stars)

#31: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht (3 stars)

#32: The Servants’ Quarters by Lynn Freed (4 stars)

#33: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (3 stars)

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #27: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Well, this book just immediately catapulted itself to the very top of my list of best YA books of all time.

Seriously. This book is perfect.

Daniel Handler, you are a GOD. I loved your work as Lemony Snicket, of course (A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of my favorite children’s series ever). But this? This was just unreal.

Basic plot summary: Min, a quirky girl, falls in love with Ed, a jock. We know from the first page that they break up by the end; the question is, how? The story is told as a letter from Min to Ed, written as she goes through a box of mementos from their relationship. The book is gorgeously illustrated, with each little thing in the box getting its own picture. It’s beautiful, and it matches the stunning writing perfectly.

I just can’t even express how intense this reading experience was. I think it’s because everyone, male or female, has had an Ed. The circumstances might have been different, but the essence is the same: everyone had their heart broken at least once as a teenager. This book portrays that universal experience so well that it was like a punch to the gut to read. Never before have I read a book that captures the head-over-heels puppy love that only teenagers get, or the crushing devastation that comes with the realization that it’s not meant to be. Reading this was so raw and so real and so painful, but that’s what makes this book so beautiful. I knew what was coming–about halfway through, I could just sense the logical conclusion–but it still killed me when I got to the end, when it all comes crashing down around Min’s ears, and all I wanted to do was cry for her, because I knew exactly what she was feeling. It was a powerful experience and still gives me an ache in my chest when I think about it.

Do yourself a favor and go get a copy of this. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Sonk’s #CBR4 Reviews #21, 22, 23, 25

Catching up on reviews!

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie (3 stars)

Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund (1 star, if that)

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling (2.5 stars)

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott (3 stars)

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #24: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

This book. Oh my god. This was one of the most incredible reading experiences of my life, and I’ve read a lot of books.

Blonde is, appropriately, about Marilyn Monroe. Or rather, Norma Jeane, a woman (although really more of a girl) who has almost nothing in common with the sex kitten movie star we all know so well. This is a fictionalized account of her life, although Oates pulls a lot from fact. We follow Norma from her childhood in a foster home to her torrid past as a soft-core picture model to her rise as the most famous starlet in the world, all the way through to her downfall and, inevitably, her death. Along the way, we meet the people most important to Norma—lovers, anonymous father, absentee mother, agents and photographers and the people responsible for creating a celebrity.

First of all, I just have to say that Oates is an absolutely phenomenal writer. I was introduced to some of her essays this past year and loved them, but this novel is on a completely different level of brilliance. She is Norma. She inhabits the character like I’ve never seen an author do before. She captures the neuroses and paranoia and joy and child-like innocence and love and fear and power of the most famous woman in the world, rendering her as a person, not simply a gorgeous face and simpering giggle. Norma is hers, completely, and I often had to remind myself that I wasn’t reading her diary, that she wasn’t real (or, at least, that these were not her real thoughts). Oates brings you almost uncomfortably close—even when I put the book down, I felt haunted by Norma Jeane’s voice. The writing is very lyrical and free-flowing—there is little structure in a traditional sense. It’s almost poetic in a lot of places, stream-of-consciousness and completely absorbing. It got overwhelming at times, so much so that I’d have to set down my book and come up for air, reminding myself that the world I’d just been inhabiting wasn’t the real one. Norma broke my heart. I fell in love with her—it would have been incredibly hard not to.

This book isn’t real. I have no way of knowing if this portrayal of Norma even came close to the real woman. But it’s so convincing, so affecting, so powerful, that I choose to believe it is. Oates sees a woman often dismissed as a simpering bimbo as, instead,  a powerful performer, an intelligent mind, a fundamentally complex and misunderstood being. Her Norma is perfectly written, and 100% believable.

This was easily the best book I’ve read all year. Put down what you’re reading right now, and go get yourself a copy. You’ll thank yourself.

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #20: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I generally try to avoid depressing books. Obviously some books are sad and make me sad, but I try to avoid the ones where the overall tone is essentially bleak. Because of this, I never, ever read apocalyptic novels. They freak me out and make me anxious and depressed and so I generally just choose not to read them. The last time I read an apocalyptic-esque novel was my sophomore year of college, when I had to read Don DeLillo’s White Noise for a class. It freaked me out so badly that I skipped class on the two days we were discussing it, just because I couldn’t handle even thinking about it.

Anyway, the point is, The Age of Miracles is not a book I would have chosen to read on my own. I read a description of the plot a few months back, noted the rave reviews, and decided I’d pass. But then my book club chose it as our next read, and so I had to try it. Let me just clarify again that I do not like these kinds of books, so my opinion of this book is clearly influenced by that preference. But if you do, or at least don’t have a problem with them, you will like this book a lot.

Julia is a typical eleven-year-old in a typical suburban American town living an all-together ordinary existence. Her life is turned on its head, however, when a shocking news report changes everything: the world is slowing down. While the implications of this discovery are initially unknown, it soon becomes clear that the world as she knows it is changing in drastic ways–and quickly. Juxtaposed with the world’s slow destruction is Julia’s development from a child into a young woman, which is marked by normal pre-teen problems including drama between best friends and budding relationships with boys.

This is a beautiful book, and Julia is a really great protagonist–she’s smart and perceptive and completely believable. It was so smart and so well-written that I’d sometimes forget that it was supposed to be YA. I thought that Walker did an excellent job of creating a plausible apocalyptic scenario without going over the top; having a child narrator did a lot to ground the narrative, I think. I appreciated that Walker avoided dramatics: her portrayal of the end of the world is quietly horrific, and she lets the events speak for themselves.

HOWEVER. This meant that the book was bleak as hell. To be fair, Julia’s innocence balances out the despair that sort of permeates the narrative–there’s some hope, even when there shouldn’t be. This made it a little easier to read, but not much. It was simply too close to reality for me, and the fact that Walker held back so much definitely contributes to that. It just was a little too plausible, and that made me uncomfortable (which is probably the whole idea).

Anyway, I’m not the best judge of this book. Objectively, it’s very good. But I didn’t enjoy reading it.

Random, interesting note: I looked at Walker’s acknowledgments page and it turns out one of her mentors was one of my professors last semester. Pretty cool!

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #19: Arcadia by Lauren Groff

This was one of the best books I’ve read this year. I’d vaguely heard of Groff before (I’m pretty sure she’s had work in The New Yorker, but I can’t remember anything specific that she’s written), and didn’t know anything about this book when I picked it up. I devoured it though–it is SO good.

Arcadia is a hippie commune in upstate New York in the 1970′s. It’s an idyllic place, at least at first, based on the concepts of free love and hard work and community. Bit, the novel’s protagonist, has been there all his life–his parents, Abe and Hannah, joined when he was a baby. The Arcadians are like his family; the originals, led by Handy, their charismatic leader, are all he’s ever known. The book follows Bit through childhood into his adult life, tracing the rise and fall of Arcadia in an increasingly hostile world.

This book reminded me of two others: Drop City, by T.C. Boyle (another book about a hippie commune, this one set in Alaska–it’s very good) and Room, by Emma Donoghue (plot-wise, it’s different, but the naive and sheltered narrator reminded me a lot of Bit). Arcadia is better than both of those, though. Bit is a fantastic narrator–he’s sweet and observant and completely lovable. It’s always a challenging task for an author to take on a child narrator, because of the inevitable sense of unreliability that comes with these characters. It works here, though. Bit’s innocence and lack of knowledge of the world outside Arcadia are compelling, and I think the novel wouldn’t have been as strong if it had been narrated by an adult Arcadian. The fact that Bit has only ever known this world is fascinating, and his perspective is really powerful. I really cared for Bit–he was such a real character that it was easy to form an attachment to him.

The rest of the characters are great as well, and Groff deftly avoids hippie stereotypes. There’s certainly a lot of pot-smoking and unattached sex and unsupervised children, but it’s all organic to this world and doesn’t feel excessive. Her implicit criticisms of Arcadia (and other such well-intentioned utopias) are made clear, but Groff also allows you to see the allure of such communities, and does a good job of highlighting the positives along with the negatives. She doesn’t condemn these ways of life; she thoughtfully presents why they don’t work, and how (potentially) they could.

I really don’t have any criticisms of this novel–it was brilliantly written, engaging, and just flat-out awesome. Go read it. You won’t regret it.

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #18: The List by Siobhan Vivian

I love YA fiction. Adore it. I am constantly on the lookout for really good YA books. My tastes vary: I really appreciate and cherish the wonderful, complex literary YA fiction out there (example: The Book Thief [which, if you haven’t read already, you should drop everything to go out and buy]). I also love more typical YA fiction–chick lit, the fluffy stuff, the kind I’m embarrassed to read in public.

This book is definitely on the chick lit side of that spectrum, but it was surprisingly deep. I was not expecting it to be as good as it was–based on the plot description and the cover, I was anticipating a poorly-written and fairly standard/cheesy book (note: that would still be completely enjoyable for me, but I like having my expectations exceeded).

The plot comes down to a list, one that comes out every year, that names the four ugliest and the four prettiest girls in school, one each in every grade. The book follows each of these eight girls in the aftermath of the list being published. There’s Abby, a freshman trying to escape her nerdy older sister’s shadow; Danielle, a jock with an older boyfriend whose friends don’t like her; Lauren, a new girl who’s been homeschooled her whole life; Candace, a girl with a pretty face but a nasty personality; Bridget, an anorexic girl; Sarah, a pseudo-punk rebel; Margo, a beautiful senior and front-runner for homecoming queen; and Jennifer, who’s been on the list for all four years of high school. Each of these girls deals with her placement on the list differently; it soon becomes clear, though, that it’s a negative thing for each of them.

I liked how distinct each girl was–each is fairly complex, and transcends the stereotypes that other authors might resort to. That being said, all of these girls are very unlikeable (maybe with the exception of Danielle and Lauren). They’re selfish and self-centered and destructive to those around them. That was kind of realistic, though, because really, that’s how teen girls are. I think that any teen girl reading this will find someone to identify with, which is good. The book also promotes the idea of different kinds of beauty, and internal vs. external beauty, which is important, but doesn’t hit us over the head with it. Vivian also captures the dramas and pain of high school (insecurity, friendship, relationships with boys) so well–it felt really realistic and having such different characters helped create a really representative and fleshed out portrait of adolescence.

I think that it was ambitious to take on eight different main characters, and to show us each of their points of view, but the result is that it feels a bit rushed and we don’t get much character resolution at all. I guess we are meant come to our own conclusions, but I wish the endings had been a bit more firm.

Despite my complaints, I seriously couldn’t put this down. I read it in a few hours because I was just hooked on the story–I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. Vivian’s writing is addictive–slightly fluffy, not especially literary, but compulsively readable.

Overall, it’s a really enjoyable way to spend a few hours. It doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression, but if you like good chick lit/YA fiction, check this out!

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