Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dust by Jacqueline Druga (CBR-V #40)

Cannonball Read V: Book #40/52
Published: 2002
Pages: 288
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

Dust follows a group of people in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Jo has been preparing for this most of her life by stockpiling supplies into her basement and encouraging her friends to do the same. Still, she never actually expected it to happen. When the bombs hit, she takes her teenage son and her young nephew she is babysitting into the basement cellar. Her daughter, Matty, is at the school a few miles away. While waiting out the initial few weeks until she can safely go upstairs, Jo makes a list of her close friends and family and it becomes her goal to try and find them.

This book was unique in that it wasn't a YA book. I can't remember the last time I read a post-apocalyptic book that wasn't teenage based. I like YA, but this was refreshing. I also thought it was unique that it followed a woman who had prepared for this scenario. Most of the book took place in her basement or within a few blocks of her home -- no traveling across the countryside or anything. The characters were great. I liked that there was a pretty wide variety of people's reactions to the bombs. Some went psychotic, some stopped talking, some pretended nothing happened, and some simply used sarcasm to make it through the day.

One of the things I didn't like was the ambiguity of some of the characters ages. Initially, I thought Jo was in her 20s. Then she has a teenage son so she must be closer to 40, although she acts more like a 20 year old (such as leaving her children to go off with a new love interest later in the book). I'm also not sure how old her daughter Matty was. She supposedly goes to a school that has lockers (so she must be 13+ or so) but she acts more like she's 7-8 years old most of the book. I'm still confused as to why she kept drawing pictures of one guy as satan throughout the book. I kept waiting for the explanation that he did something awful to her (he found her and brought her home), but they never said anything about that.

Overall, I think it's a pretty solid book, especially if you're tired of exclusively reading YA dystopian fiction. Beware: there is a sort of cheesy love story thrown in towards the end, but it's not too bad. 

Memoirs Aren't Fairytales: A Story of Addiction by Marni Mann (CBR-V #39)

Cannonball Read V: Book #39/52
Published: 2011
Pages: 256
Genre: Fiction

First of all, this book is not an actual memoir, contrary to the title. It's the fictional account of a young girl's descent into drug addiction. Nicole was sexually assaulted her freshman year of college and decides to flee her home in Maine and make a new start in Boston with her friend Eric. They both experiment with other drugs before eventually becoming hardcore heroin addicts. 

This book is dark and ugly. If you've ever read anything by Ellen Hopkins, this book is very similar to her books (minus being written in verse form). It's just one horrible thing happening to these people after another. It's also beautifully written and you can tell the author did her homework. It was very hard to distinguish between this novel and an actual memoir. 

The characters seemed so real. The people that flow in and out of Nicole's life are just as broken as she is. There's Sunshine, the prostitute who teaches Nicole how to make some extra heroin cash and my favorite, Claire, the elderly lady who lives in the same building as Nicole and forms a peculiar friendship with her. Their relationship is so heartbreaking to watch as Nicole tries and fails again and again to get clean for Claire. 

The ending is bittersweet. Don't read this book if you're expecting a nice, wrapped up ending where everyone goes to rehab and has a happy rest of their life. There's plenty of death and heartbreak. Like the title says, memoirs aren't fairytales. 

Abandon by Blake Crouch (CBR-V #38)

Cannonball Read V: Book #38/52
Published: 2009
Pages: 452
Genre: Thriller

 Abandon is a thriller that is told in two parts. Half of the book is set in the present day and follows a group of people who on an expedition to explore the old abandoned mining town called Abandon. The other half is set in the late 1800s and tells the story of how Abandon became, well, abandoned. 

I had a really hard time getting into this book. I thought the two stories meshed well together and I really liked how they paralleled each other, but I just couldn't get into the characters. I finished this book a week ago and can't recall a single character's name. I could barely keep track of who they were while I was actually reading the book. I know there was a father/daughter duo in the present-day exploration, but I thought their rocky relationship could have been fleshed out more. 

I also thought the missing gold storyline was sort of cliche -- complete with bad guys and old west saloons. It did start getting interesting towards the end (the reasoning behind the mysterious disappearance of everyone in Abandon was original and I definitely didn't see it coming), but by that point I had zero investment in the characters and didn't really care that much.

However, I'm not one for historical fiction, so I may not be the target audience here. I don't like westerns or books set in that time period, so those sections really dragged on for me. At least the ending was decent.

Not Without My Sister by Kristina Jones, Celeste Jones, & Juliana Buhring (CBR-V #37)

Cannonball Read V: Book #37/52
Published: 2008
Pages: 432
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

Like other people have said, the title of this book is a little misleading. The book does follow three half-sisters who grew up in the Children of God cult. However, they are in and out of each others lives and barely know each other, much less refuse to leave without each other. The first half of the book is divided into three large chunks with the background of each sister - Celeste, Kristina, and Juliana. The second half weaved the sisters' stories together and quickly changed narrators every few pages. I found the second half was really hard to keep track of everyone because their backgrounds, childhoods, and family members were very similar. 

The content of the book itself was horrifying. All three sisters were subjected to all sorts of abuse, from sexual to emotional to physical. This particular cult is notorious for it's validation of pedophilia (they believe humans of any age should be free to express their love sexually with anyone else). It's very hard to read at times what they girls went through and how they struggled to adjust to normal society after being brainwashed their entire life. 

The book gave a great overall history of the girls' lives from childhood to adulthood, but my only complaint was that the three girls all had very similar stories. I still can't tell you which things happened to which girls - they all just sort of blurred together into one single story. I'd recommend this book if you want a more personal memoir of the Children of God cult, and The Nameless by Natalie Sauret if you want a memoir with a more in-depth background of the cult itself.

Locked Up in La Mesa by Steve Peterson & Eldon Asp (CBR-V #36)

Cannonball Read V: Book #36/52
Published: 2011
Pages: 230
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

In the 70's, Steve Peterson got arrested for smuggling marijuana across the Mexican border. He ended up in a notoriously bad Mexican prison for almost a year due to the large amount of pot he was smuggling. La Mesa reminded me of the South American prison in the tv show Prison Break. Inmates were sort of thrown in there and left to their own devices. Some inmates had their entire families living in there with them. A hierarchy was structured with the "leader" of the prison living in an onsite house with a jacuzzi. The inmates could buy property from him (Peterson bought a small cell with cardboard walls for a few hundred dollars) and he controlled all the buying/selling/trading that went on within the prison.

The prison system itself was really interesting, but I felt like the author was focused more on telling a bunch of random crazy stories rather than giving us a good background on the prison or even himself. You know how you go to a party and there's that one guy who dominates the conversation with his crazy stories? It's interesting at first, but after a few stories your eyes sort of glaze over and your mind starts wandering - that's sort of what this book was like. Every chapter was a different story and nothing was really cohesive besides the fact that they all took place in this prison. It was just a collection of outlandish stories. I have no doubt that they really happened, but I would have preferred a little more background and cohesiveness overall.

Another sort of nit-picky thing was the overuse of certain words or phrases. Almost every page had a sentence that ended with "...or whatever." and it got really old after about the first chapter. The whole book was a very conversational style, but maybe a little TOO informal (like I said above, it was really like listening to a guy tell you stories at a party, complete with common oral sentence fillers). But it was a quick and easy read if you're at all interested in the Mexican prison system of the 1970s, just don't expect a thought-provoking novel.