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Rape

REVIEW:  Falling by E.K. Blair

REVIEW: Falling by E.K. Blair

FALLINGDear Ms. Blair,

I read and reviewed the first book in this series, Fading last year. When I heard that there would be a sequel from Ryan’s POV, I was intrigued. I am a bit cynical about romance sequels that tell the same story over from the hero’s perspective, but having liked Fading so much, I was interested enough to want to know what was going on in Ryan’s head during the events in that book (particularly because the storyline had Ryan keeping a secret from Candace for the better part of Fading, albeit one that was pretty obvious to the reader).

The story opens with a prologue; Ryan Campbell is still a teen, and though he doesn’t know it yet it’s the last night of his despised father’s life. Ryan leaves a party where he has taken drugs and hooked up with a random girl and rushes home; he feels that it’s his responsibility to protect his mom from his abusive dad. When he arrives Ryan finds his father beating his mother; in the ensuing altercation, Ryan is actually stabbed and ends up in the emergency room. His drunken father flees in his car, drives into a tree and dies.

The story proper opens on Ryan in the present day – 28 years old and a successful club owner in Seattle. While his career is going great, Ryan’s personal life isn’t so hot – while he has given up his teenaged drug habit, he continues to engage in random hookups with women he doesn’t care about and has only superficial friendships. He’s only too aware of his fear that he might turn out like his father. It’s why, even though he’s close to his married cousin Tori and dotes on her children, he can’t imagine settling down and having kids of his own.

Ryan’s world is upended the night that he hears a woman screaming in the alley outside his club, long after it has closed. He rushes to the alley and finds a man assaulting a naked, bleeding woman. He fights off the attacker, who escapes, and calls 911. The victim is unconscious at this point; Ryan covers her with his shirt and waits for paramedics to arrive.

In the weeks after the attack, Ryan is shaken up by what he’s witnessed. It makes him rethink the meaninglessness he perceives in his own life. He even fears that he is similar in some ways to the rapist; after all, he just uses women. He finds himself halting a quickie with a pretty bartender when memories of the assault flash through his mind.

While he’s working his way through these feelings, Ryan meets Candace, who is working at a coffee shop he stops by one night (the Seattle setting is well represented – everyone drinks a LOT of coffee). He is struck by the barista’s superficial resemblance to the alley rape victim – both are small and brown-haired – but shakes off the eerie feeling, telling himself that it would be too much of a coincidence.

Ryan meets Candace again after he develops a friendship with Mark, whose band plays at Ryan’s club. Candace is best friends with Mark’s newish boyfriend, Jase. Ryan finds himself inexorably drawn to Candace, in spite of the fact that she’s very self-contained and even skittish.

From there, the two develop the same very slow, tentative relationship that readers of Fading will recognize. Honestly, the story is not hugely different as told from Ryan’s POV. The reader does get an insight into what Ryan is thinking during this slow semi-courtship, but none of the thoughts are radical or unexpected.

As he indicated in the previous book, Ryan only became aware that Candace *was* the same person as the alley rape victim when he recognizes the small heart tattoo on her hip. Which may or may not be credible; on the one hand, I understand that it seems like an unlikely coincidence. But on the other hand, so much about Candace – particularly her fear of intimacy and Jase and Mark’s repeated warnings to Ryan that she’s “been through a lot lately” – should spark Ryan’s memories of the initial connection he made between Candace and the rape victim. His inability to make that connection made very little sense. I finally had to put it down to a subconscious refusal to even think about the possibility on Ryan’s part.

Anyway, the discovery that Candace was raped causes Ryan, understandably, a lot of anguish. Not only the knowledge of the trauma that the woman he’s falling in love with has suffered, but his uncertainty about whether to tell Candace who *he* is, and that he was there in the alley. He feels stuck between a rock and a hard place – he knows he’s lying to her (if only by omission), but he also knows that telling her the truth will hurt her.

I could understand why Ryan was so unsure about what to do. It wasn’t like Candace was even remotely open about the rape; when she does eventually tell Ryan about it, he’s only the third person in her life (the other two being Jase and Mark) that knows.

I recall kvetching about Ryan’s attitude towards women in Fading, and it’s an issue for me here, too. Early on, before he meets Candace, he flip-flops between being not too bad, for a lothario, and really kind of ugly. On the one hand, he does show concern about the possibility of a casual hookup becoming too attached; he doesn’t want to lead anyone on. But at other times he characterizes the women he sleeps with as “ditching (their) self-respect”, which I think goes too far. He doesn’t know these women well enough to know why they are having sex with him (maybe they just want sex), so he really doesn’t need to be making moral judgments. He has some crappy, outdated ideas about women and sex that are never really examined, and I wish they had been.

I can often accept ugly attitudes better from a first-person perspective than a third-person one; even if it’s the same character’s POV, first person reinforces for me that it’s a flawed, fallible human being with baggage whose opinions we’re getting, and so I’m a little more forgiving. Third person feels more like the author is making those judgments, and that sometimes bugs me.

At times the stereotypified gender roles aggravated me. Ryan’s Thanksgiving with his family features the women cooking and the men watching football. Later the ladies excitedly get together to plan their Black Friday shopping. Ryan just shakes his head in amusement. Seriously? In any news coverage of Black Friday shoppers I’ve ever seen, men are just as prominently represented as women. But in the somewhat black-and-white world of gender roles in Fading, women just love to shop.

Also, Ryan does go on at length about how tiny and fragile Candace is. Now, this makes a certain amount of sense and is sort of relevant – Candace is a ballerina – but, still, I didn’t need to hear about it all the damn time. She’s small; I get it.

Though I was interested in Falling for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I was also a little hesitant about reading the same story over from a different POV – might it be boring? I would say no, but honestly it did lag a bit in the middle. Once Ryan’s personality and thoughts are established, and the reader gets a sense of what he’s feeling at some of the key moments we’ve already read once in Fading (and again, there weren’t really any surprises there, not that there had to be), then there isn’t a lot to look forward to.

Events in Falling do extend beyond the ending of Fading, and that was both a good thing and a bad thing. It wrapped up Ryan and Candace’s romance with a definite HEA, and that was fine (there’s even a probably slightly-too-saccharine, kids-and-all epilogue). It showed us the development of Candace’s career, which was nice given that I had some reservations about the choices she made at the end of Fading. After feeling conscious, for much of the book, of the fact that we were treading familiar ground, it was nice to read new material. But it goes on for a bit too long and features what feels like several natural stopping points, only to continue on.

Ultimately, this was a satisfying companion piece to Fading, but not one that I think I just *had* to read. My grade for Falling is a B-.

Best regards,

Jennie

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REVIEW:  Running on Empty by Colette Ballard

REVIEW: Running on Empty by Colette Ballard

running-on-empty-ballard

Dear Ms. Ballard,

For the past few months, I’ve been dabbling in the older YA/new adult subgenres but I find myself looking for something a little different from what’s out there. I like tattooed bad boys as much as the next person but there is such a thing as too much. When I read the premise of your debut novel, the suspense aspects sounded right up my alley.

River Daniels is a girl from the poor side of town. But she’s dating the star quarterback darling of their high school. She should be glad, right? Everyone wants to be Cinderella.

Except her boyfriend is controlling, jealous, and violent. When he gets tired of River’s refusal to have sex, he tries to force the issue and River accidentally kills him in self-defense. Unfortuantely, her boyfriend is the son of a rich and powerful family and there were no witnesses. Knowing no one will believe her, she goes on the run. But there’s only so much one 17-year-old girl can do on her own.

While I admit I scrutinize the use of sexual assault in novels, its inclusion here didn’t bother me. Maybe it’s because of recent headlines like the Steubenville case, but the execution rang very true. It’s a sad fact of life that society generally blames the woman in situations like this. River didn’t mean to kill her boyfriend. She was just trying to fight him off. But because of her background and her boyfriend’s identity, none of that will matter. I can’t blame her for running. Who’s going to believe “trailer trash” over the son of a rich family?

I loved that River’s friends, Kat and Billie Jo, stuck by her side. That they, in fact, chose to run with her when she left town. Even when their relationships later become strained due to the stress of being on the run and in hiding, I thought it was well done. These are girls who may not have perfect families and backgrounds but they stick with each other through thick and thin. They are each other’s family, when their own families have checked out. Their friendships are multilayered — not always rosy and sometimes contentious, they always do their best to help each other when things get tough.

The romance with Justice was also well done, in my opinion. This isn’t just because I have a soft spot for the friends become more trope. Justice was River’s first love and she never really got over him. But she did her best to move on, though that unfortunately led her to Logan. She was ready to accept that they may only ever be friends for the rest of their lives. The River and Justice romance is a perfect example of friends to lovers: how they don’t want to mess up what they have and yet how they have a hard time struggling to see the other person with someone else.

While I enjoyed the story, there are some plot contrivances that fall apart upon further scrutiny. Of course the girls run into an old man with a heart of gold, willing to help the and overlook that one of them is plastered all over the news and accused of murder. Of course this man has connections that conveniently help them in their moment of need. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Charlie a lot, but it was too neat and pat.

The storyline involving River’s biological father at times seemed tacked on. In many ways, it was almost as if his presence was necessary for no other reason than to help River in the end. And that the only way to explain his presence in the book was because he was River’s dad. I simply wasn’t sold on this part.

Overall, though, I liked this book. The relationship between River and her female friends, and the romance between River and Justice, kept me reading even when certain aspects failed to hold up under further scrutiny. Dare I ask if a sequel featuring Kat is in the works? (I loved Kat.) B-

My regards,
Jia

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