In Pieces – Danielle Pearl


Fucking nineteen-year-old Beth Caplan (also known as ‘kid’, ‘Bits’ and ‘Bea’) and fucking twenty-one-year old David March have known each other their whole motherfucking lives because David is fucking Sammy ‘Cap’ Caplan’s bestie. These fuckers are players, but fucking David has secretly fucking yearned for fucking Beth for fucking-ever. The feeling is fucking mutual. Back in high school when she was dating Brian fucking Falco, David told Cap he was interested in Beth, but that was never going to fucking fly because Cap knew exactly what kind of fucking fucker David was. A fist-fight ensued and that was the fucking end of that. Until it wasn’t. Because now Beth is at the same fucking college and David is tasked with looking out for her fucking ass – and it’s a fine ass, trust me. Beth/kid/Bits/Bea is fragile because of Brian fucking Falco, and when he shows up on some sports scholarship, and some other dude from her Abnormal Psychology class seemingly starts to stalk her, well, fucking David loses his fucking shit and before you can say “hot porn sex” these two are having, well, hot porn sex.

Yeah. That’s annoying, right?

I actually started highlighting how many times the characters in Danielle Pearl’s NA novel In Pieces said the word fuck. (And it’s not NA really because this isn’t about navigating that slippery period between being a teenager and an adult as much as it is about having sex.) It was a lot. I stopped counting at 500. So much swearing that it distracted from everything else that was going on. I read a previous novel by Pearl, In Ruins, and I had the same complaint. Too much swearing. And I say this as someone who enjoys a well-placed f-bomb. It was grating, distracting and it made these characters, particularly David, sound like idiots.

Other things make these characters sound way older than they chronologically are. For example, David says “I’m a single, red-blooded, relatively good-looking guy who’s never been in a relationship. Who’s never even considered one. Relationships are for guys who want marriage and a mortgage and a nine-to-five.” Um, not sure there are many 21-year-old dudes like that out there. Is this supposed to count as character development, a reminder of how Beth is changing him?

These two crazy kids consummate their relationship while intoxicated. Remember, David is supposed to have feelings for Beth. What does he say to her?

“Fuck, you feel amazing,” David rasps, his words resonating in every part of me – even the one place it really shouldn’t – and I silently scold my heart and demand it make itself scarce. “So fucking tight,” he marvels. “So wet. Goddamn, beautiful girl…”

There are no words. Although post coitus, Beth decides that David is the smooth talker of her dreams and that even if he doesn’t have feelings for her, she definitely enjoys seeing him naked because he’s hawt, perhaps they could have a friends with benefits sort of arrangement.

After all sorts of stoopid miscommunications and other contrived plot twists, these star-crossed lovers end up together because of course they do. They’re a match made in fucking heaven.


In Ruins – Danielle Pearl

Carleigh (Carl) and Tucker have been friends since they’ve been kids. Then they fell in love. Now they’re barely speaking. This is the narrative of Danielle Pearl’s New Adult (but we’ll talk about that later) novel In Ruins. Told in the voices of both Carl and Tuck, the novel unravels scenes from the pair’s childhood, their tentative relationship, and their love story, but it leaves the details of their breakup – something big, something Carl feels she’ll never be forgiven for – until near the end.

The story begins when Carl starts her first year of college. Carl is feeling unsettled about being at school, mostly because Tuck is also there (on a lacrosse scholarship – I guess lacrosse is cool in the States) and their relationship had “implode[d] before summer was out.” Now, when she should be excited about her classes, and the parties and being away from her mother, Carl is walking “on eggshells, because Tucker knows my secret. He hates me for it, and he should.”

Tucker, for his part, is

angry that she’s here. I’m angry that she’s not who I thought she was. I’m angry that she’s beautiful, and that my teammates have already noticed her. I’m angry that she ran out of that bar alone last night when she should fucking know better. I’m angry that she still affects me – that my dick doesn’t seem to care whether or not she’s a conniving little liar.

Carl and Tuck are hoping to avoid each other, but they end up in the same Marketing class and before you can say “of course they do” they end up working on a group project. Their feelings are complicated and try as they might to bury them deep, it’s just not possible. But that’s how these stories work, right? And I think, overall, Pearl does a good job of stringing us along, even though we know the “will they won’t they” will ultimately be “of course they will”. There’s lots of other stuff happening here, too: family drama, absent parents, and even some fast-paced intrigue near the end. Overall, I did enjoy reading In Ruins and found it to be well-written and, on the Scoville scale of hotness, it’s about Trinidad Scorpion Butch T hot. I might have rated it higher except….I didn’t believe any of the sex scenes.

I was eighteen about a million years ago – but eighteen-year-old boys like Tucker did NOT exist. I teach high school. There are zero Tucks. There are zero Carleighs, for that matter. Tuck is a gigolo-grade eighteen year old. He’s physically perfect (although I could have done with a little less of his army green eyes), but we sort of expect an idealized version of our main characters in this kind of story. The things I couldn’t get past were the dirty talk and just Tuck’s general skill, which is porn star amazing. I suppose this book counts as NA because of the age of the characters and the fact that it is set in college, but I wouldn’t put it in my classroom library, mostly because I don’t want to give teenage girls unrealistic expectations about what sex is like. There is also so much swearing. It’s irksome. I like a well-placed F bomb, too, but geesh.

Neverthless, if I was going to suggest a quick, decently written, smutty book to read In Ruins would probably fit the bill. It’s far better (by a country mile) than Corrupt.

College Girl – Patricia Weitz

There’s a scene in Patricia Weitz’s debut novel College Girl, when the protagonist, 20-year-old college senior Natalie Bloom cuts off all her hair. I don’t know if the scene was inspired by J.J. Abram’s character, Felicity, but it was the first thing I thought of when I read it.

Natalie makes the decision to cut off her hair after she loses her virginity.

…I wanted my reflection to be as ugly as I felt, but it wasn’t and it angered me. I was vile. Base. Life was traveling in a direction I had never wanted it to go in. I hd to stop it. I had to regain control. It scared me where this slippery slope might lead.

I am probably not the demographic for Weitz’s novel or Abraham’s show (which I love collegeand have watched straight through on more than one occasion.) Still, Natalie Bloom’s story resonated on so many levels for me. It shot me straight back to my university days; not the rose-coloured view I have now, but the awkard, muddled, feeling-my-way experiences I actually lived.

Natalie is the youngest of six; she has five older brothers, one of whom killed himself when she was just ten. On top of navigating her final year of college, it seems like the residual grief over her brother’s suicide is just now catching up to her. She has questions, but the answers are not forthcoming. Her older brothers mostly make fun of her; her father is a taciturn man; her mother, kind but flustered by talk of feelings.

Her family life definitely contributes to Natalie’s personality. She has difficulty articulating what she wants and people tend to walk over her. At school, she rooms with Faith, a “twenty-five-year-old college senior who looked like an eighties chick straight out of a Poison video.” The only person she is nominally friendly with is Linda who “liked everyone […] because she took it for granted that people were generally nice.”

Then Natalie meets Patrick Dunne. He figures larger-than-life in Natalie’s fantasies, but the reality of him is far less appetizing. This tentative first-relationship pushes Natalie firmly away from the shores of adolescence. It was frustrating to watch Patrick capitalize on her insecurities from this vantage point, but it also reminded me so much of my own experiences in my early 20s. I wanted to be liked, but I didn’t always know whose attention was sincere. I never trusted my own instincts.

I would certainly recommend this book to any young woman in her early 20s, but I also enjoyed this book. If nothing else, it made me happy that that part of my life is but a distant memory.


Breakable – Tammara Webber

Ohhh, Lucas. I still love you. Maybe you will remember a couple years back when I got all 17936925swoony over my  encounter with Lucas in Tammara Webber’s first novel, Easy. In that book we are introduced to sophomore music student Jacqueline Wallace who has followed her douchey boyfriend, Kennedy, from their hometown in Texas to a college somewhere else. (I want to say near Washington, but I am not 100% sure and it really doesn’t matter.)

Breakable is pretty much their story, only this time from Lucas’s point of view. And you might think, “Hold on, wait a minute. Why in the heck do we need to hear the same story all over again?” Trust me – you need to hear Lucas’s story because Lucas is that guy – you know, the hot one with a tragic backstory. Also, Webber can write and it will not be a hardship to plow through Lucas’s story. Did I mention he’s hot?

Lucas first spots Jacqueline in an introductory Economics class. He is there, not as a student, but as the tutor – taking notes so he can help struggling students. He observes Jacqueline from across the room noting

There was nothing in the room as interesting as this girl…This girl wasn’t tapping her fingers restlessly, though. Her movements were methodical. Synchronized. …and at some point,  I realized that when her expression was remote and her fingers were moving, she was hearing music. She was playing music.

It was the most magical thing I’d ever seen anyone do.

Lucas can’t stop watching her, but he also can’t do anything about it. For one thing – she has a boyfriend (the aforementioned douche) and for another, it’s against the tutor-potential tutee rules. And Lucas is not anything, if he’s not principled. Plus, the professor of the course is his de facto father and Lucas would never willingly do anything to disappoint him.

Except, of course, he doesn’t really want to stay away from Jacqueline. He can’t.

Avoidance would have been the smart thing, but where she was concerned, all logical thought was useless. I was full of irrational desires to be what I could never be again, to have what I could never have.

I wanted to be whole.

Anyone who has already read Easy will already know how Jacqueline and Lucas officially meet. They will also know how intense their feelings for each other are. What they won’t know is how Lucas came to build the walls around his heart or the horrible feelings of guilt he carries with him or why he and his father have such a strained relationship. Breakable will answer all those questions.

Breakable is a companion rather than a prequel or a sequel. It’s also a much racier book than Easy, which I had no qualms about putting on my classroom library shelves. I’ll probably keep this one here at home.

I am sucker for the bad boys. Lucas and Jacqueline 4eva!

Faking It – Cora Carmack

faking itOn Feb 16, I did a column for CBC about New Adult Fiction, a category of fiction which targets the 18-25 age bracket and tends to be slightly more sexually explicit than a YA novel, but nowhere near as pornographic as Fifty Shades of Grey. I’d only read a couple of books that I would consider New Adult before I did the column, one I liked (Easy), and one I did not (Ten Tiny Breaths). Cora Carmack’s NA novel, Faking It, falls into the latter category.

First we meet Cade. He’s pining over Bliss. (Yes, all the names are this bad.) Although they never actually dated she’s Cade’s best friend and Cade feels as though Bliss is the one that got away. Every time he sees her with her new boyfriend, Garrick (told you), it feels “like a rusty eggbeater to the heart.”

He’s meeting them for coffee when the novel opens. Apparently, he’s a sucker for punishment. It’s at this meeting that Garrick tells Cade that he’s going to propose and Cade’s world  falls apart.

Enter Max. And her boyfriend…wait for it…Mace. They enter the very same café where Cade has just had his heart broken. Max is on her cell phone and she’s just discovered that her parents are not calling from Oklahoma, but from across town; they’ve made an impromptu visit and that puts Max in a bind. She has to come up with a suitable boyfriend, someone to make her look sensible and subdued, when clearly she is anything but. I mean, she has red hair! And tattoos! And piercings!!! Mace, despite being “gorgeous and a killer drum player” is not mom and dad boyfriend material. Max gets rid of Mace (not all that difficult all Max has to do is mention “parents” and Mace departs). That just leaves the problem of what to do about the boyfriend. That’s when she spots Cade. Despite the fact that he was “gorgeous, in that all-American model kind of way” Max normally wouldn’t have given him a second glance “because guys like that don’t go for girls like” Max. Thing is, he’s staring right at her.

Faking It is told in alternating first person narratives, so we get Cade’s point of view and then Max’s. That’s how we know that Cade has been watching her and how we know that he thinks she’s “bright.”(Her personality/aura/looks, not her IQ.) He also notices “no real connection between [Max and Mace].” When her eyes meet his it makes Cade’s “mouth go dry and stirred something in [his] chest. Stirred up other things, too.”  Um, wait a minute, didn’t you just have your heart-broken by that girl, Bliss, like five minutes ago? We’re only on page 20!

I am all about the slow burn and Faking It doesn’t seem to care about that. There’s an instant attraction between Cade and Max and soon they are bantering like Tracy and Hepburn, like with nicknames and everything. He agrees to be her date to Thanksgiving dinner and has no trouble playing the part of devoted boyfriend. In fact, he plays the part so well that Max’s parents invite him to Oklahoma for Christmas. Oh, what a tangled web.

Cora Carmack is a very popular, best-selling author and I have no doubt that for its intended audience Faking It hit all the right notes. For me, though, everything happened way too fast  and the over-the-top reactions to relatively minor obstacles and set-backs were just too much. I guess in that respect Faking It perfectly captures the drama of youth.

One more note: it’s biceps, people, even just in the one arm. Geesh.

Off the Shelf – February 16, 2015

First of all, I don’t really believe in putting books into categories. I don’t believe in book shaming – that is – judging someone for reading something they enjoy just because it doesn’t fit into someone’s preconceived notion of what a person should be reading. So, for example, adults reading Young Adult lit. I read it because I teach teenagers and in order to do that well, I think I have to be on the same page as them (pun intended.) But I also read it because a lot of it is really good.  I guess categorization is useful for finding books – but I always tell students it’s important to read outside their comfort zones every once and a while.

When I think back to my days as a young reader, it was really before such a thing as “Young Adult” literature. You read kids’ books like Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew and then you just graduated to the rest of the books. So, when I stopped buying books from the Scholastic book flyer I graduated to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I can also remember reading my mom’s bodice rippers, books by Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss. Now, of course, young readers have a lot more choice and one of those choices is New Adult.

New Adult (NA) fiction is a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18–25 age bracket. St. Martin’s Press first coined the term in 2009, when they held a special call for “…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult‘.”

So – it’s sort of like the protagonists have graduated high school and gone off to college.

Remember being age 18-25? It is a tricky time in the people’s lives – sometimes juggling new responsibilities and freedom is harder than it looks so some of the tropes in new adult fiction include personal issues like anger-management, family difficulties and expectations, abuse, alcohol and drugs and sometimes the plots are soap-opera-esque. Often the narrative is told in the first person. The other thing people will likely notice in NA fiction is that the romantic scenes are just a tad racier than in YA fic – not of course 50 Shades racier, but still.

<insert rant about how crappy 50 Shades is>

OK – I am not a book snob and I read 50 Shades of Grey and laughed hysterically at all the hype it got as the book that revved up the libido of women all over the planet – 100 million copies, people. But that book has a very peculiar pedigree, right – started as fanfiction based on Twilight. So Anastasia is Bella and Christian is Edward. E.L.James wrote as Snowdragonprincess and posted the story in installments on Twilight fansites. Her fans (yep, fanfiction writers have hoards of fans) encouraged her to change the names and publish it as original fiction. My issue isn’t with the content or even that it started as fanfic – my issue is that it’s just BADLY WRITTEN. Here’s my review of the book.

But I digress

If you are interested in checking out some New Adult fiction, here are a couple titles in the genre.

easyEasy  – By Tammara Webber

So Easy is the story of Jacqueline Wallace, a second-year university student who is leaving a frat party and attacked by someone. She’s rescued in the nick of time by Lucas. He’s a Harley driving, pierced and tattooed artist-type who is also smart and awesome. Although their relationship is not without its problems, these are characters readers will fall in love with and root for. There’s a sequel of sorts for Easy, it’s called Breakable and it’s Lucas’s story. I really liked this book.

tentinybreathsTen Tiny Breaths – by K.A. Tucker

I didn’t like this one as much as I liked Easy. Kacey and her kid sister leave Michigan where they’d been living with their aunt and uncle after the death of their parents in a drunk driving accident. Kacey decided it was time to go after her uncle was getting a little too hands n with her little sister. They arrive in Florida where Kacey gets a job and meets Trent, the hot guy next door who has his own dark past. This one was just sort of ‘meh’ for me.

If you are interested in checking out other NA writers here are some of the names to know: Cora Carmack, Colleen Hoover and Jamie McGuire.

Ten Tiny Breaths – K.A. Tucker

tentinybreaths“New Adult (NA) fiction is a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket. The term was first coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009 when they held a special call for “…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult’.”[1] New Adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices,” says Wikipedia.

K.A. Tucker’s novel Ten Tiny Breaths ticks all the New Adult boxes. Protagonist Kacey Cleary’s life is irrevocably  altered at sixteen when her parents, best friend and boyfriend are all killed in a drunk driving accident. Kacey is spared and so is her younger sister, Livie. Flash forward four years and Kacey and her younger sister, who is now fifteen, have left their aunt and uncle’s home in Michigan and headed for Florida. They had to go: Kacey had seen the looks Uncle Raymond had been giving her sister.

So now Kacey and Livie are in Miami. They’ve got enough money to pay for a skanky apartment they found online (luckily their superintendent has a heart of gold). They move in and meet the stripper and her daughter who live next door (luckily the stripper has a heart of gold and also gets Kacey a good gig bar-tending at the club where the owner and all the bouncers have hearts of gold). Then Kacey meets the too-hot-to-be-believed guy who lives in the complex (also with a heart of gold…and a big ol’ secret).  So, yeah, New Adult, sure since there’s a teensy bit of not-very-graphic sex, some swearing and a main character in the 18-25 range…but none of her story is plausible. None. Of. It.

Okay – it’s completely believable that Kacey would be messed up after losing her parents.  Kacey had “spent a year in physical rehabilitation to repair her shattered body, only to be released with a shattered soul…sank into a world of drugs and alcohol for a year to cope…doesn’t cry, not a single tear.”  I get that. Kacey doesn’t like physical touch, that Livie’s hand is the only one she can hold because it “doesn’t feel dead.”

The problem with Ten Tiny Breaths isn’t the writing; it’s the plot and the characters – all of whom seem to have completely altruistic motives. Kacey’s messed up, no question. And sure, Post Traumatic Stress can do some wonky stuff…but the last third of the book is just overwrought and unbelievable and saccharine.

If you want to give the New Adult genre a try, I recommend you check out  Easy. That’s a New Adult novel with some meat on its bones.



Easy – Tammara Webber

easyEasy was easy to love. So easy, in fact, that I started it and finished it in pretty much one sitting – abandoning all else yesterday after I got home from school and fed my kids –  reading until I’d turned the last page…about midnight. This novel by Tammara Webber hit all my guilty-pleasure buttons and a few others besides.

I think Easy is one of those novels that belongs in this New Adult category I see everyone talking about.  I actually wish we didn’t spend so much time shelving books into these categories  but, anyway, I can see how this book just crosses over the line from YA. For those of you unclear about the New Adult designation, Goodreads defines it as ” fiction [that] bridges the gap between Young Adult and Adult genres. It typically features protagonists between the ages of 18 and 26.” I also think that New Adult is a little more forthcoming with details of a sexual nature. (I should also add that at Indigo, this book is filed in the Adult section.)

Okay, so now that we’re all on the same page with regards to New Adult, let’s get to the good stuff.

Easy is narrated by Jacqueline Wallace,  a sophomore (for Canadians who don’t know what that means because we don’t use those terms it’s 2nd year) at an unnamed university. She’s there because she followed her high school sweetheart, Kennedy.  He’s just dumped her. She’s heartbroken. But that’s not how Easy starts.  It starts with Jacqueline leaving a frat party and getting jumped by someone she knows and always considered benign. Buck has other things on his mind, though, and the relatively graphic nature of the attack is an early indication that we’re leaving strictly teen fiction behind.

Jaqueline has a knight in shining armour, though. The stranger, Lucas,  pulls Buck off Jaqueline before he actually rapes her and beats the crap out of  him. After Jaqueline declines a trip to the hospital or police station, he whisks her to her dorm and safety.  I pretty much fell in love with Lucas from this moment on.

I stared back into his clear eyes. I couldn’t tell their color in the dim light, but they contrasted compellingly with his dark hair. His voice was softer, less hostile. “Do you live on campus? Let me drive you. I can walk back over here and get my ride after.”

Easy is a lot of things, but what it isn’t is the clichéd bad boy, good girl story we’ve all read a thousand times. Yes, Lucas has a pierced lip and lots of tattoos and a body to die for (I wish Ms. Webber’s editor had told her it was biceps not bicep though – even when referring to one) but anyway – that’s beside the point. He’s HOT. Smokin’ hot. And smart. And kind. And mysterious. And tragic. And sometimes, when he speaks, there was swooning – and I’m not just talking about Jaqueline’s reaction.

There’s more than just a love story going on in this novel. To Ms. Webber’s credit she’s created several other compelling minor characters including Jaqueline’s roommate bestie, Erin, and, Benji,  a boy in Jacqueline’s Economics class. The book offers lessons about personal safety and girl power without being didactic. In addition, there’s enough push/pull between Jaqueline and Lucas to sustain Easy through its 310 pages and I never once found myself screaming “just get on with it.”  If Lucas sounds just a tad too mature for his age – his childhood experiences will explain all. He’s a keeper and Jacqueline deserves him.

Will it go in my classroom library?  Yep. I can think of a dozen girls who will love it as much as I did.