Sunday, June 17, 2018

#CBR10 Review #30: Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

3.5 stars out of 5!

Round 3 of my adventures in hockey romance this year, and Him has definitely been the best one so far! Am I going to read the sequel for it, titled Us? Mmm, I'm not so sure yet. But potentially.

Him is a m/m romance between two long-time hockey bros, Jamie and Wes, who became fast friends over the years, spending their summers at hockey camp together, until after an awkward interaction things suddenly went cold between them. A few years later back at camp though, with one of the boys out and gay, and the other questioning, they find themselves drawn together in ways they never thought they would be.

The basic premise here is a story that I've read/watched a few times before, just in different circumstances (and usually in LGBT+ media, in fact). It's that of the good friends, one of whom develops feelings but doesn't think the other feels the same way, only to end up with them separating to meet again later and need to confront the dynamic once again at a new age. Actually, the movie Esteros (2016) which I watched recently had this same vibe to it, and it was quite good! But then again, I am an absolute sucker for those stories about friends pining for one another but not pursuing anything because they don't want to ruin their friendship, only to then find that maybe the other person also shares those feelings and so on and so on... you know how it goes.

What I loved in this novel was how close the two characters are over time, and how quickly they fall back into their friendship dynamic after being away for so long, as well as how they explore their feelings for one another. There is also some good introspection in terms of questioning how you may be pressuring someone into something they don't want, as well as the coming out process. However, these strong aspects are almost pushed aside for a lot of sex, which indeed is well-written and quite sexy, but I myself have realized that when it comes to romance novels, I'm in it more for the feelings aspect over the sexual aspect, so it maybe hinged on the side of a little too much sex for my taste in this novel, though of course that is a personal preference at the end of the day.

Something that was interesting here too was the way the homophobia in sports was addressed: the reality is that in the media when athletes come out, it is still usually seen as a huge deal. And in hockey in particular, despite the "Hockey is for Everyone" inclusions campaigns, I can't name a single out NHL player right now. But I would doubt that there are no gay players at all in there. There's still a stigma and while these issues are brought up in this novel, it's almost like they are too easily ironed out in the end as well, with Wes and his prospects for joining an NHL team in the coming years. It's almost like the authors were setting this up to be a bigger conflict than it ended up being. But then again, it seems like maybe it comes up more in the upcoming sequel novel?

In any case, Him was an enjoyable romance novel, despite a few aspects that maybe didn't quite hit my personal preferences of what I look for. But as I mentioned at the beginning, it was definitely my favourite of the three hockey romances I've read so far this year!

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Monday, June 11, 2018

#CBR10 Review #25-29: Hellboy volumes 5-9 by Mike Mignola

Book 5 - “Conqueror Worm”
Book 6 - “Strange Places”
Book 7 - “The Troll Witch and Others” with art by P. Craig Russell and Richard Corben
Book 8 - “Darkness Calls” with art by Duncan Fegredo
Book 9 - “The Wild Hunt” with art by Duncan Fegredo

A while ago I read the first 4 volumes of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy series and really liked a lot of aspects of it! I’m not sure why I ever stopped, but seeing as I was planning on making a Hellboy cosplay outfit for some expos/Halloween later this year, I figured I should get back into it! So these 5 volumes were the ones I managed to snag from my sister, and I have to say, I do still very much enjoy this character and his stories.

For the most part, these volumes all follow one major arc for Hellboy, coming to terms with his identity and various prophecies or roles people want him to play in their grand scheme of the end of the world. Yet there are also little side quests and adventures thrown in there too, which are always very fun yet all too brief. Most of the iconography and mythology within the Hellboy series comes from various myths and legends of different cultures around the world. I like these volumes that I have been reading, for before each new addition or story there is a little explanation of the inspiration and making-of from Mike Mignola, which is both interesting to see the process but also illuminates the inspiration for some of the stories and the original tale behind it.  

Overall the story is engaging and mystical: you never really know what’s going to come into play, and there are a few oddities to it too. Sometimes I get a little confused, partially because of the story itself and sometimes the artwork is a bit vague (though I do completely understand the difficulty in trying to visually tell a story and all the work that goes into its creation). But overall the art is really beautiful and has a particular dark but emotive style to it which always draws me in: the various artists who contribute all have their own little flavor and quirks, but in general it stays pretty consistent to the mood and characters.

As far as the character of Hellboy goes, I really like him because, despite being the child of a demon and a witch and not-per-say human… I find his personality to be very relatable and real. He’s dry but funny, and reluctant to face his destiny. There is a lot of boom-crash-smash-smash which isn’t always my style, but I do love that he’s a no-holds-barred Nazi-puncher! (Just like one of my other favourites, Captain America! A trend?)

So at the end of the day, I know some people may not like the art style or the large focus on monster mythology that the Hellboy series engages in, but for me, it’s perfect. Definitely a story and character I will need to keep reading in the future.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

#CBR10 Review #24: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I’m a little late on boarding this train, aren’t I? So I’m sure most of you know the story already (mild spoilers abound in this review): I myself have seen the movie adaptation! But it was a conversation about said movie that made me want to actually read Gone Girl in the first place. Basically, the conversation boiled down to most people simply dismissing the character of Amy in the story as a “crazy bitch”. And while, no, I don’t agree with her actions and she does seem sociopathic, I thought… that’s so reductive: there’s so much more to it than that! Because while I do think she takes things too far and don’t agree with her actions, both after watching and reading, I felt like I understood why she as a character felt she should do the things she does. And so I thought, maybe the book will dive into this mindset more, because it sure is super intriguing, though completely unlikeable.

Actually, neither protagonist of Nick nor Amy is likeable, but you really get a sense of who they are and how they think in this novel with all it’s twists and turns. For those who haven’t engaged with the story yet, Gone Girl is about the mysterious disappearance of a woman named Amy. Her husband, Nick, is thought to have killed her, while he has a feeling that Amy may have more to do with her own disappearance than meets the eye.

Throughout the novel we get an engaging story, but also a deep look into the minds of two people who once loved each other, but now find themselves hating one another. Something that I love about this novel, in fact, is how Amy as a character examines what love means to her, but more importantly, how she sees gender-relations in the world. Her “Cool Girl” rant? I was squeaking with joy because she just hit the nail on the head in so many ways about how women are expected to perform for men’s desires but the men don’t really need to do the same in return. But then we also see Amy being resentful if not competitive with other women, just in the same way as society wants us to always be pit against one another. And yes, even at one point the idea is brought up that reducing her to a “psycho bitch” is just the easy way out, just like how I felt there was so much more to her character in the film than just being considered “crazy” and calling it a day. I hate Amy as a person, but I get her. Heck, I even understand her husband despite him coming across as exactly the kind of guy I try to avoid. As I said, neither of them are likeable, yet I still wanted to know more and just hear their thoughts in order to understand them.

However, I do have some sticking points with this novel, one of which is just a minor thing where some of the side characters come across almost like cartoonish caricatures. This came across to me most notably in the character of Desi, the ex-boyfriend. He is overly caring and possessive here in a very obvious way, but (of course I have to compare it to the movie), I think it’s all the more sinister when it’s more a more subtle control being employed, to the point where others would think it’s just kindness while really there are some darker motives.

But more than that, what killed my enthusiasm about this novel the most was how drawn out the ending felt. It was almost as if Flynn felt a need to over-explain why the end had to be the way it was: why they wanted to go back to one another and felt the need to stay there. In fact, the entire back third of the novel felt like it was dragging. While the internal aspects are a huge part of the novel, at this point it felt like they weren’t pairing up with any action, and ultimately the whole pacing just sputtered out for me.

In any case, Gone Girl is not a story about people you root for, but ultimately it is an engaging one. Flynn has a knack for writing unlikable, and angry characters, who you still get invested in and want to know the truth behind what’s happening and what they are thinking. And as I said before, there’s more going on here than is on the surface. That’s always the kind of story I can get behind.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

#CBR10 Review #23: A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck

I almost didn't read this book after the first couple of pages: I thought I knew where it was going, and didn't feel like I was in the mood for it. After finally giving in and actually getting through it, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised in some areas, while still being disappointed in others. It was partially what I expected, but not entirely. There are some fun characters in here, and a nice balancing act of flirting between the concepts of "friend zone" and "unrequited love" occurs, but more on that later...

A Short History of the Girl Next Door is from the POV of a teenage boy named Matt, whose closest friend is a girl named Tabby who lives across the street from him, and has essentially been like a part of his own family since they were both young children. Matt's main focuses these days are on basketball and of course, his underlying romantic feelings for Tabby, as well as his overactive brain which won't let him get any rest in regards to any subject. But lo and behold, while Matt is harbouring feelings for Tabby that he's never told her about, she has developed feelings for someone else. So now what is Matt to do? (Keep being her friend and he sad about your broken heart on your own time, dummy! Okay okay, I know when you're feeling this, especially as a teen, it can not seem so simple...)

At it's heart, this novel is about enduring friendships, and how our feelings for people can change over time. But as I mentioned earlier, it's also very much about unrequited love, and how someone may choose to deal with that. Are you going to get angry? Tell them how you feel? Treat them differently? Pretend like everything is the same as always and continue to be their friend? Listen... there's a fine line between the Friend Zone which makes your feelings the other person's problem, and unrequited love which keeps your feelings as your own problem to deal with. And I think that in A Short History of the Girl Next Door, there is a slight lean towards the Friend Zone side of things, but this anger and potential ruining of a friendship because Matt isn't getting more out of it than he may want (after having been happy with this for years) and the selfishness behind it is addressed. Things don't always happen like in those rom-coms where the girl realizes she's in love with the guy who has been her friend this whole time after discovering that her new fiancé is actually a douche so it's not a hard choice to leave him or make a decision on which side of the love triangle to do for (but really, in all these cases, you wonder how the girl could have ever fallen for such a crappy guy in the first place? Come on now, sometimes it really is a hard choice or the new romantic partner really IS great for them!)

There is also, in this novel, a twist. Now, there really did need to be some change of pace or conflict introduced, as the novel seemed like it wasn't per say going anywhere anytime soon before this moment happened, but ultimately I was disappointed by the twist and drama created by it. It's something I have seen maybe once or twice before, so I won't say I should have expected it, but I did have an inkling about what was going to happen before it did. And on the one hand, this change of pace created an opportunity to bring in some more themes regarding deeper human emotions, selfishness, relationships, etc, but on the other hand it also served to reduce Tabby's voice and feelings even more in the overall arch of the story; she's been an idolized vision of imperfect perfection for Matt from the beginning, and it felt like in the third act even more so.

So ultimately, I don't know. There are some strong aspects to this novel, and it doesn't per say go the way that most YA romances do, though some common trope-following still takes place. This isn't per say a bad thing, but despite being pleasantly surprised by a few aspects, there were still a lot more that were very expected, and left me wanting more. Which is not to say that this novel wasn't enjoyable in any sense, but it never really grabbed my attention fully. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

#CBR10 Review #22: Game Play by Lynda Aicher

After being disappointed by the  hockey-themed romance Slammed by Victoria Denault, fellow Cannonballer, Emmalita, had some recommendations for me to check out! And this novel Game Play (first in a series called “Power Play” by Lynda Aicher) was definitely an improvement, and I liked the relationship in this one a lot more. But I was still very frustrated by a lot of aspects: the lack of communicating their feelings clearly and talking about things! Is this a common romance trope? Just talk to one another! (I say this as I am the worst for hiding how I’m feeling at times…)

The setup for Game Play is a little meet-cute banter between Dylan Rylie, a defenseman looking to get an extended contract on a local NHL team as his career begins, and Sam Yates, a star player on the US women’s hockey team who is finding her hockey career coming to an end. The two have some great banter and competition between one another, and I totally love that dynamic. After what is supposed to be a one-night-only thing, however, the two are torn between staying apart and letting their relationship grow, as Sam faces moving on to a new stage of her life in a new city.

There is some engaging wrestling between the idea of forging a new path and doing what is expected, following your dreams or finding new ones, and also some great commentary on the differences between opportunity in womens vs mens sports (though it is acknowledged that things are changing in some regards). And for the most part I like the dynamic between Dylan and Sam, as they both respect one another, their skills, and pretty much view each other as equals in all things.

But the problem again is all the hot and cold, and rapidly shifting aspects of their relationship without much discussion or sharing of what’s going on. Sure, certain unexpected events can change things rapidly, but it almost felt inorganic how this happened. It made me wonder where the consistency was in the characters at times. I mean, I know I can be chaotic and unpredictable at times, but it made me a little confused. Oh, and the amount of times it mentioned the characters wetting their lips/licking their lips was totally off the wall in my opinion.

All that said, however, this was a pretty solid hockey-themed romance. Not too many surprises to be had, and some frustration on my part at understanding the characters and their motivations along the way, but really not too shabby in the end.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Thursday, May 10, 2018

#CBR10 Review #21: Slammed by Victoria Denault

A part of the “San Francisco Thunder” series by Victoria Denault, I admit I picked this one up because the title made me chuckle. I’m not usually one to read novels in this kind of romance genre (even though I’m a total romantic sap, so it’s surprising that I haven’t delved into this much before!) so the problem with my doing a review is that I don’t per say have a baseline for what to expect or what is good and/or different in the genre. That said, how very Canadian of me that a hockey-themed romance draws me in… and there’s a whole series of them from Denault? Hmm, I do like me a hockey player or two…

In any case, Slammed is about a young woman named Dixie, who is working her way up through the PR ranks of a professional hockey team called the San Francisco Thunder; her brother is a player on the team, and she wants to keep this a secret so that her coworkers don’t think her name or family ties led to her getting a job, rather than her actual ability. Dixie’s idol is the owner of the team, a successful woman who also had to break through quite a glass ceiling to be where she is. But to throw a wrench into the mix is Elijah (Eli), a brother of one of the players on the Thunder, with whom Dixie has a little meet-cute and initial chemistry with. Only she then finds out that he is being called up to the Thunder as a goalie, and romances between the PR staff and players is strict no-go area. And so… forbidden romance?? Maybe. Dixie is not only a career-driven girl, but also has some family drama happening with her ill father, and Eli himself is having trouble adjusting to playing on the team again after a life-threatening accident that he understandably is dealing with PTSD from.

There are a number of things going on in this novel subject-wise, and while these personal issues of the characters brought a certain depth to them, some of it also seemed to be established as a point of potential drama, only to not even really become a huge piece of it. Also, there is a lot of flip-flopping of characters and their motivations and wants, I found, that definitely could have been developed more so it didn’t feel so out of left-field when suddenly Dixie isn’t sure about her career anymore after having that be her defining trait the whole time, or how she suddenly acts like a knowledgeable psychologist on Eli’s issues after not showing this level of understanding before, etc. I did, however, like where the novel was going with the issue of double standards for women and men in their industry, but again, this was almost undermined by the actions of some of the other females in the end as well. That said, the attempt to bring more into this story than what is on the perceived surface was a good idea, and made the whole thing more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

But what about the romance as advertised in the novel’s description? Well… I can see why some people would be into it, and Dixie and Eli do have quite a bit of fun banter, but I guess I’d chalk it up to this kind of dynamic not being for me. You see, I’ve been watching a lot of rom coms lately, and in many of the ones with Matthew McConaughey (you know how he was in so many for a while, seemingly being the archetype for female desire during that period?), I find that his character is so greasy and unlikeable: way too smooth and focused on chatting women up in a blunt and over-sexualized way that I roll my eyes and ask why so many women in these movies are falling all over him. In this, Eli has a similar way to being with Dixie, and while it can be funny at times, it just seems so non-genuine to have a guy come straight out and do nothing but use corny pickup lines and sext you. But like I said, some people like that, and some women do just want that, it’s just that I am not one of them. I do understand how their relationship develops from being mostly about sex in the beginning to becoming more once they start to hang out and talk more, but there is still a lack of real depth shown on the pages. Also their communication about what their position and feelings really are in regards to work and their relationship, etc needs serious work and is the cause of most of the flip-flopping feeling I mentioned earlier on: hot then cold then hot then cold.

Yet despite all these complaints I have, Slammed and its characters are a fun at times, and it’s not like this was a taxing or completely unenjoyable read. I just wasn’t super drawn in because these kinds of interactions and relationships aren’t for me, though they may be for some others. What can I say, I’m a cutesy kind of gal ¯\_()_/¯ 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]