"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review #38: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

It's no secret that Rainbow Rowell is one of the darlings of the Cannonballer Read crew, and now I understand why. I haven't gotten around to reading Eleanor & Park or Attachments, but after reading Fangirl, which I stumbled across quite accidentally on NetGalley, I've bumped them up to the top of my Goodreads list.

Cath and Wren are twins, off to their first year of college. For Wren, it's an exciting time, a time to reinvent herself, find herself, experiment with freedom, be independent. For Cath, it's a struggle. Wren doesn't want to be joined at the hip any more, and Cath isn't sure what to do without her. She throws herself in to the only thing she knows she can do - writing fan fiction. As it turns out, Cath and Wren are the anonymous authors of a very successful fanfic series starring Simon Snow, who, from the snippets Rowell gives us, appears to be a Harry Potter-esque character with a little bit of vampire love thrown in for good measure. Wren has abandoned Simon, but Cath can't leave him, not until she finishes writing his story.

I felt a strange sort of kinship with Cath. She is a reader, to the point of distraction. To the point of tuning everything else out. To the point of not seeing anything in front of her but her books and her characters. Who among us hasn't said they would just read one more chapter, only to realize it's three in the morning, the dishes are undone, the laundry is piling up, and you're sobbing over the end of a novel? Only someone who truly loves to read can write a character like Cath, and I think that's what made me fall in love with Rowell a little bit, that realization that she loves to read just as much as I do.

The secondary characters in the novel are superb as well. I want to detail them all, but I don't want to give anything away. Just know that everyone should have friends like Reagan and every girl should have a Levi at least once in her life. And every reader should have Rainbow Rowell in their library.

Review #37: True, by Erin McCarthy

I wanted to like this book. I really did, but I just couldn't. Maybe it's the genre - evidently there's a new category called "New Adult" - meaning things you should read as you leave your teens and enter your twenties. If this is what we're handing these "new adults", then... no. Just no.

The story is simple. Rory is a quiet college sophomore, reserved and shy. Her two roommates are definite party girls, and through a series of events, Rory meets Tyler, a tattooed older student who is in the EMT program. Rory's roommates discover that she's a virgin, and they pay Tyler to take her virginity. Tyler, of course, falls for Rory along the way. There are obstacles - Tyler's mom is a drug addict, Rory's father is not happy about the match, and there are a few breakups - but they chug along towards a predictably happy-ever-after ending.

Rory was a fairly unlikable character. There was nothing particularly wrong with her - other than her inexplicable sullen attitude - but I just couldn't like her. Her roommates were bubbleheads, sweet but cluelessly selfish, and not the kind of girls one wants in a crisis. Tyler was supposed to be the bad boy with a heart of gold, but I found him annoying and stubborn and I just kept thinking that he probably smelled bad. The characters were fairly one-note, and I wanted more depth, and without that, the story suffered.

Good news, though. There's a sequel, starring Tyler's brother and one of Rory's roommates,. And since Rory has two roommates, I'm guessing we're going to have a trilogy. I think I'll pass.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review #36: The Truth About You & Me, by Amanda Grace

"Dear Bennett," Madelynn begins. "You might not read this, but maybe they will, and maybe somehow that will help you. This letter can't help us, because there is no us, not any more."

What follows next is a love letter from Madelynn to Bennett. It's also an explanation, as she is trying to save Bennett from legal trouble. It's an apology, with Madelynn trying to make things right, to make him understand. And I think it's a little bit of a plea, one she knows even as she makes it is hopeless, that he will forgive her for her betrayal, and maybe even see his way back to her.

Madelynn is just sixteen when she dual enrolls at the local community college. She is a bright, straight-A student, struggling against the expectations of her parents and the constant push to do more, to do better, to be the perfect daughter. She lands in Bennett Cartwright's Biology 101 class, and is instantly smitten. Bennett is young - just 25 when the semester starts - attractive, and enthusiastic about his first year of teaching full time.

She falls in love with him in that desperate, all-consuming way that only a sixteen year old girl can. She keeps her age a secret, willingly lying to him, justifying it to herself, saying that she'll tell him once the semester is over. Of course the truth comes out, as it always does, and the fall out is far bigger than Madelynn ever thought possible.

Grace's prose is spare, aching, and delicate. I devoured this over a matter of hours in one day. This is the first work of Grace's that I've read - I stumbled across this quite accidently on NetGalley - but this will definitely not be my last.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review #35: Ten Tiny Breaths, by K.A. Tucker

Ten Tiny Breaths is the story of a young woman and her even younger sister, who leave everything behind in Michigan to start over in Miami after a tragic drunk driving car accident takes the lives of her parents, her best friend, and her boyfriend. Kacey is damaged beyond repair - her scars are on the outside and the inside - and she's become a hardened shell of her former self. Her only goal is to take care of her sister Livie, keep her head down, and survive. When she meets Trevor, the handsome neighbor next door, her shell begins to crack, and she wonders if maybe she can learn to open up again. But Trevor has baggage of his own, and the weight of his secrets threaten to tear them apart.

The book isn't bad, but it's not fantastic either. There are a lot of holes in the story, and Kacey is hard to like. I admired her, though; she's written as a strong woman who clearly has had a lot on her plate. And Tucker writes her as a flawed character, which is a nice change from the typical sainted main character, but sometimes Kacey is too flawed, and it turned me off from her, and worse, it made me not care what happened to her. But Tucker's secondary charcters are where it's at. I cared more about the woman living next door (even if she had the dumbest name ever: Storm), her young daughter Mia, Livie, Officer Dan, and the guys at the strip club where Kacey ends up working, than I did about Kacey and Trevor.

I was dissatisfied with the ending. This novel is going to be marketed as YA fiction, and I really didn't like the message the ending sent. It's hard to talk about this without spoiling the plot twist (even if you do see it coming), but Trevor's secret means that he and Kacey can never be together. No amount of therapy, no amount of time, nothing can resolve this in to a happily ever after ending, and that's where Tucker lost me. It's hard enough for young girls - young boys, too, but as the mom of a girl, I plug in more to the girl issues - to recognize unhealthy relationships and avoid them. They don't need the books they read to perpetuate that unhealthiness.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review #34: Lies You Wanted to Hear, by James Whitfield Thomson

Lies You Wanted to Hear is the debut novel from James Whitfield Thomson, who I hope doesn't make us wait another 67 years for his second book.

The story begins with Lucy reflecting on the last several years of her life, years without her two children. "Six years, seven months, and fifteen days gone," she writes. "Happy birthday, Nathan!" We quickly spin backwards to the late 70s, to Lucy's fateful meeting with Matt, the man who is to become her husband and the father of her children.

Thomson alternates chapters: Lucy narrates, and then Matt steps in, often retelling the same story in his own words. It's interesting to see two different perspectives, and Thomson gives them each a very unique voice. We see Lucy and Matt meet, we see Matt fall in love with Lucy, and we see Lucy realize that Matt is a better choice than Griffin, the other man who has a habit of disappearing on Lucy when she needs him most. Lucy and Matt marry and have two children, Sarah and Nathan, and with Nathan's birth and Lucy's subsequent post-partum depression, their marriage starts to disintegrate. Eventually, they divorce, and one weekend, Matt and the kids disappear.

What follows is Lucy's heartbreaking self-reflection. Is she responsible for the end of their marriage? Could she have loved Matt more? Could she have been a better mother? Was Matt right to take the children and start over? She lied to Matt; does she deserve this? How long is he going to punish her?

Lucy and Matt are deeply flawed characters. In many ways, they are horrible people and they do horrible things to one another, to their children, and to themselves. But they are human, and Thomson draws them imbeccably. Lies You Wanted to Hear explores what happens when we lie to the ones we love, and even more, when we lie to ourselves.

Review #33: White Trash Beautiful, by Teresa Mummert

I pulled this off of NetGalley because, well, I liked the title. I was looking for something mindless and kind of fluffy, and clearly, a title like White Trash Beautiful was going to deliver.

Except it didn't.

Cass is stuck in a dead end job at the local diner, living in a run-down trailer with her drug addict mother and boyfriend Jax, when Tucker White, the lead singer of an up and coming band, wanders in to her life. Tucker has Knight in Shining Armor Syndrome, which means that he must save Cass from her horrible life. Cass evidently has no brains left in her head, because despite the fact that she says she has to save herself, she turns to Tucker time and again.

There are backstories and conflict and lots of motorcycle rides on dark country roads, but I'm not going to recount any of it. None of it serves to make the book any better, or the characters any more redeeming. The writing isn't great, but it's better than some of the other stuff I've managed to find this year. With a lot of editing (and I mean a lot), and a little bit of a conclusion change, this could have been a good story, but instead it was just another trashy romance novel, with not a lot of romance.

I was hoping for some campy fun, and instead I got a dark, depressing "romance" novel that just reinforced the Guy Saves Girl plotline, which I'm kind of tired of. Just once I want to see the girl save herself.