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!]

Friday, May 4, 2018

#CBR10 Review #20: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

"For eighteen years I've believed what other people told me about what was right and what was wrong. From now. I'm deciding.” 

I have seen a few very favorable reviews of this YA novel already, and I must say that I too really liked it for both the clear writing style, but also the handling of the serious subject matter therein, though I do think that perhaps one side of the story was much stronger than the other.

Lies We Tell Ourselves shifts between the perspectives of two different students during integration in 1959 Virginia, named Sarah and Linda. Sarah is one of the first black students to attend an all-white school in their town along with her sister and a few fellow classmates, while Linda is a white student who opposes integration and whose father is a loud media voice against it. Sarah and her fellow black classmates endure daily harassment and violence, while Linda believes this is just a problem for her and her fellow white students as those who to “force” integration are “agitators”. Of course, the two opposing students are soon forced to interact… and from there we get our major story of the two sides resisting to come together at first, but then finding some understanding. There are some interesting plot points here, but some of them you really can see coming quite early on. I wouldn’t, however, say that this predictability ruined my enjoyment of the story in any way.

There is a lot to unpack in the complicated subject of integration and race, and while at first I didn’t want to know what Linda thought of it all, it was interesting to see just where certain ideas can come from and how they may change: she herself has personal struggles though they may be different from those of Sarah. But ultimately, it is Sarah who is the star of this story in my opinion, as her dialogue centers more firmly on the narrative of integration, but then also incorporates so many other themes and layers of sexuality, the idea of wrongness and sin in the self, the roles and expectations of women during this time period (Linda also touches on this), etc etc.

The subject matter here is important, and it is clear that Talley put in research to try and create a very real sense of constant impending threat that the black students experience. While this book does contain violence, the author’s note at the end illuminates that some schools during this time integrated without much incident, while others had much more violence and even deaths that occurred from it.

Given that this novel is aimed at young adult readers, I am not surprised nor too disappointed in the way things wrap up seemingly happily and without much incident at the end. Though, the pacing was a little odd as it almost seemed like a climactic point was reached just after the halfway point, then the novel began to introduce all new plotlines which then had to be wrapped up quite hastily before the end, in my opinion.

Yet, despite this one major qualm for me, and a resistance at first to want to see Linda’s side of the story (I think I’m just getting so tired in real life listening to someone I see every day just be so stubborn in their closed minded ideas and try to claim that they have “facts” to support them, yadda yadda, we all know the types and it’s exhausting), Lies We Tell Ourselves is powerful, important, and would be a great novel to be introduced into high school English courses.

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