Thursday, 18 May 2017

#CBR9 Book 49: "Burn for Me" by Ilona Andrews (re-read)

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This book originally came out back in 2014, but was re-released earlier this year, after the two planned sequels took longer to produce than planned. The second book in the trilogy will now be out at the end of May, while the third and final book comes out in July. I'm giddy with anticipation and have already pre-ordered the sequels. My first review of the book can be found here.

Spoiler warning! This review will mainly deal with my thoughts of re-reading it, and where I hope the authors will take the series in upcoming books. So if you haven't read the book yet, get to your online book store of choice and get it NOW, as the book is currently on sale prior to the release of the sequel. My musings will absolutely feature some minor plot spoilers.

I really liked this book, but I know that for several other readers, Connor "Mad" Rogan and his domineering, alpha-hole behaviour in this book was a deal-breaker. My friend Erica was absolutely appalled by his complete disregard for Nevada's wishes in a scene about mid-way through where Rogan clearly pushes the boundaries of Nevada's consent and doesn't seem all that bothered by it, because she's clearly attracted to him, where's the harm? She found him dislikable enough that it just broke the book for her, and as far as I'm aware, it's one of her lowest-rated Andrews' books. She has no intention of reading the rest of the series, because she doesn't care to see Rogan redeemed as a hero.

While I absolutely see her point and agree that Rogan in this book is no where near the hero he needs to be, I've also probably read too many romances with alpha-hole heroes and frankly, when Ilona Andrews writes them, I find even the evil guys attractive. I'm giddy as a school girl about the fact that they're writing a book about Hugh de Ambray, the absolute psychopath who tried to kill Curran and steal Kate away from him in the Kate Daniels series. If they're writing a romantic trilogy with Rogan as the hero, I also have complete faith that while he starts out somewhat problematic, there will be a redemptive arc, and he will prove himself worthy of Nevada, who is already a wonderful and extremely likable heroine from the beginning. She spends most of this book fighting her attraction to Rogan because she knows it would be a terrible idea on so many levels to get involved with him, and she's right. The man he is in this book is absolutely not the right one for her.

The kindly authors recently posted two scenes from the book from Rogan's POV (almost the entire book is seen through Nevada's eyes) and it confirmed my initial theory that Rogan really isn't as bad as he wants the world to believe him to be. The first scene (when Rogan abducts Nevada from the park) can be found here, and the second (when he questions her at his house with magic) is here. No one with an internal monologue like that is a complete psychopath.

But the man I suspect the extremely talented Andrews couple will mould him into - now that's a different story. Just as it is really quite obvious that Nevada is a Prime in whatever strange and rare truth-telling magic she possesses (Rogan hints at having figured it out when Nevada rants about the arrogance of Primes in this book), so at least magically, she's perfectly suited to being a mate for someone as powerful and influential as him, it's also natural that Rogan has a lot of changing and evolving to do. From this book, it's obvious that the magically powerful families breed extremely selectively and care more for power and influence than about inter-personal relationships. So it's no surprise that Rogan has never really cared for anyone and since all his magical powers seem destructive on a terrifying scale, that's going to warp him a bit.

Since he's decided he wants Nevada, and she's strong and determined enough not to give into him, he will have to change to become worthy of her. I have absolutely no doubts that he will become a better person, although I suppose it's unlikely to think that he will beg forgiveness for the rather callous way he treated Nevada for much of this book. A girl can hope, though.

As soon as I finished re-reading the book, I read what little is available in previews for the sequel, White Hot, out on the 30th of May. I'm not saying I'm going to count the days, but the book has been pre-ordered for months, and I don't care how much work I may have left to do, I am completely clearing my schedule to make sure I can focus only on the book when it comes out. The only good thing with having to wait so long for the sequels is that now I get two new Ilona Andrews books before the summer is over, rather than just the one.

Judging a book by its cover: I hadn't started commenting on book covers when I first read this book, but oh man, is there a lot to take apart here. Ilona Andrews, amazing and talented fantasy writers whose work I adore and will buy and try to foist on anyone I meet who shows the slightest bit of interest, really have not been blessed by the cover design gods. With the exception of their self-published Innkeeper Chronicles books, where they get to commission their own artwork, all their books have varying degrees of bad covers. But none are as bad as the ones the Avon publicity team have managed to scrounge up for the Hidden Legacy trilogy. All three covers, in all their lurid glory, can be found on the authors' website. Three different female models, with varying degrees of blonde hair. Two different male models. Sooo much tackiness.

Seriously, there is so much wrong with the cover for Burn for Me. The way the blond lady, who's probably supposed to be Nevada is wearing what appears to be a shoulderless, sparkly evening gown. The way she is clinging like a limpet to the man she spends most of the book trying to keep away from her. The pouting pretty-boy model doing his best "Blue Steel" they've got to portray Rogan. You can tell that he's ex-military because of the dog tags. And while Adam Pierce, the man they are chasing for much of the book seems to have some sort of allergy to shirts, Rogan seems to spend most of the book clothed. The rubble and buildings coming apart in the background have plot relevance, I'll give them that. Also, while this is a bad cover, the one for the sequel is SO much worse. I'm going to have to save up all month to do it justice.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 48: "A Lady's Code of Misconduct" by Meredith Duran

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Jane Mason is an heiress, but her money is being slowly embezzled by her unscrupulous relatives to further her uncle's unscrupulous political career and she's being kept far away in the country, to make sure she can't meet anyone who might marry her. Her aunt and uncle plan to marry her off to her cousin, and eventually, Jane reluctantly agrees on the condition that she get a season in London first. She hopes to meet another suitable man she can convince to elope with her, offering him a share of her father's vast fortune as long as she is free of her relatives.

The only man not closely related to she's had much contact with during her near captivity in the country is Crispin Burke, another ruthless and self-serving politician, who nonetheless seems to be the only one to recognise that Jane isn't the meek and biddable young maiden she has pretended to be for years. He suggests that he may be able to help her procure a special licence, where she'd only have to enter the name of the groom to get herself a legally binding marriage certificate, but first he wants her to spy on her uncle for him.

When Jane discovers that her relatives want to move up her marriage to her spineless and cruel cousin, time is running out for her. She also overhears the news that Crispin Burke has been attacked and is unlikely to survive the week. He will therefore never be able to contradict her when she runs to his family and pretends to be his wife. Only, through some medical miracle (and to further the plot), Crispin survives and wakes from his coma, with amnesia. He doesn't remember the last five years, and when he is told by his family that Jane is his wife, he obviously believes them. Jane needs to stay "married" to him until her father's solicitors release her inheritance into her control, but lives in terror that Crispin regain his memory and discover the truth.

The weeks pass, however, and Crispin is still weak and disorientated because of his head injuries. He discovers that his "wife" is intelligent and well-informed on the issues he's been working on in parliament, and comes to rely on her completely to help him navigate both his private and professional life. Jane discovers that the post-injury Crispin is a very different from the cold, calculating man he was before, and can finally be herself, needed, valued and praised for her abilities, rather than having to swallow her pride and anger to avoid the abuse of her relatives. She knows that she is living a lie and that she will need to leave Crispin before he discovers the truth, but can't bring herself to leave or help herself from falling for her "husband".

With the notable exception of one book, I tend to really enjoy Meredith Duran's books. Her protagonists always tend to be rather flawed, and frequently often more morally complex than the characters you meet in other romances. There is usually a fair amount of angst involved before the couple gets their happy ending, but it feels all the more satisfying when you get to the end of the story.

Jane's father was involved in politics, but also made his fortune through excellent business sense and by taking good care of his workers and constituents. His brother, Jane's uncle, stepped into his political seat when he got ill and continued to hold it after Jane's father's death. Incensed that he didn't inherit much after his brother, thinking himself entitled to more after he gave his brother part of the initial investment he turned into his substantial fortune, he decides to get control of the fortune by keeping Jane away from society until she gives in and marries his son. Jane's parents were both progressive and believed in education for women. When she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Jane quickly learned not to speak her mind, or she would be badly beaten. She instead spends the next few years perfecting the persona of someone meek, bland and rather stupid, only concerned with her embroidery, while she plots for her escape.

Isolated on her uncle's estate in the country, the only unmarried man except her cousin that Jane ever meets is Crispin Burke, a young, handsome, but utterly ruthless politician, who will stop at nothing to to achieve his goal of becoming prime minister of Britain. When Crispin discovers Jane at an inn in the nearest village, where she was planning to meet an elderly groom she'd bribed to elope with her, he more or less blackmails her to spy for him, in return for him taking her back to her uncle's before anyone discovers she is missing. Realising that her life will be even worse if her uncle ever discovers the truth, Jane has no choice to agree, but once she's in London, she turns the tables on Burke and blackmails him right back, to get the special license she needs.

As she discovers once they are "married", Burke wasn't always a black-hearted villain and his family are appalled by his actions over the last few years. As he's trying to piece together his life over the years he's forgotten, he really doesn't like the person he's become, and he relies on Jane to help him undo some of the cruel and unscrupulous things he's been working on, beginning to work against his own proposed bill in parliament. Jane doesn't feel that she can lie about their feelings for one another, and claims their marriage took place shortly before his injury, and that it was one of convenience. She claims her fortune could help him further his career, a claim that is backed up by the many smug congratulations he receives from his former cronies, not to mention the enraged reaction of his former partner in crime, Jane's uncle.

The romance is a slow-burning one and Jane is more anguished by her actions the longer she stays in her sham marriages. Initially she fears what Crispin will do when he remembers because she fears he will report her to the authorities or force her back to her relatives, and as she begins to fall for him, she hates lying to him and fears that the truth will pain him.

Amnesia storylines, as everyone knows, are really rather silly, but there are so many ridiculous plot twists to make romances work that I didn't really care. Duran actually does spend quite a bit of time giving the reader enough back story into Crispin's past and family situation to see how he gradually became the really rather horrible individual we meet at the start of the book, so it's not as incredibly implausible that he's a completely different man afterwards.

Towards the last third of the book, I suspect Duran is trying to set up the plot of a book to come, when the story suddenly isn't so much about Jane and Crispin, or them trying to work together to undo some of the worst excesses of Burke's ruthlessness pre-injury, but starts being about a dark conspiracy, abducted noblemen and an implausibly evil villain who's behind all of it. She introduces the name of another man who I can only imagine will be the tortured and long-suffering hero of an upcoming book, but the whole thing felt a bit tacked onto the main story of this book. I did like what Crispin reveals to Jane once he finally admits he's had his memory back for some time, and confesses his love for her and they have the chance to have a proper future together, with all their dark secrets out in the open.

Check out my blog or Goodreads to find my reviews of Meredith Duran's previous novels. The only one I would strongly advise readers to stay entirely away from is At Your Pleasure, which is one of my least favourite romances of all time.

Judging a book by its cover: The designers of historical romance covers very rarely bother to check what era the book is set in, they just want a lady in a dress. This is really about as generic as romance covers get. In this case, a book set firmly in the Victorian era features a dress clearly from the Regency, which has one of those never-ending skirts that only romance heroines on covers wear. All I can say is, at least the back of her dress isn't half unlaced, displaying a sad lack of undergarments, which seemed to be so popular a while back.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 47: "White Witch, Black Curse" by Kim Harrison

Page count: 558 pages
Audio book length: 18hrs 31mins
Rating: 3.5 stars

This is book seven in an ongoing series. Not the place to start. The review will also contain spoilers for earlier books in the series. Begin with Dead Witch Walking, if you're interested.

For someone who was really rather sceptical to anything but earth magic, considering even layline magic a bit suspect at the beginning of this series, independent runner (think supernatural private detective/bounty hunter) Rachel Morgan has sure come a long way. Now she's not only a fairly adept layline witch, but her blood (thanks to a rare genetic abnormality) can kindle demon magic and because of this, she's got a standing appointment every Saturday as an apprentice to an actual demon. Having once shuddered at the mere thought of demon magic, she's now willing to use all manner of spells, so long as no one gets hurt in the process.

In this book, Rachel and her roommate Ivy finally have some new leads on the individual who killed Kisten Phelps, Rachel's ex-boyfriend and Ivy's best friend (excepting Rachel). They are determined to track down the guilty party and get their revenge. In addition, thanks to the FIB psychologist, who can sense emotions, the residents of the little church discover that they have a ghost, and Rachel figures out who's been haunting them for more than a year. Not Kisten, but Gordian Pierce, a witch who Rachel temporarily summoned when she was 18, and helped get revenge on a child predator vampire. He was buried in their backyard, and has been stuck in the church since he was dislodged from his resting place after an altercation Rachel had with Al the demon. Rachel discovers she can see Pierce when they're both in the layline in her backyard, but Al comes and snatches the disembodied ghost with him to the Ever After, to use as his familiar. Rachel is livid, and decides that she's going to try to recreate the spell from when she was 18, to summon Pierce back and show Al once and for all that she is not to be messed with.

The ladies (and their pixie associate Jenks) have other serious business matters to attend to as well, after discovering that their friend, FIB Detective Glenn, the son of FIB Captain Edden, has been hospitalised after a brutal attack. Further investigation into the case reveals that the guilty party is a banshee and her husband. Banshees are pretty much the most dangerous supernatural Inderlander, because they syphon off people's life force to stay alive. Mia, the banshee in question, has a baby that she is willing to go to any lengths to protect, ad the supernatural branch of law enforcement, the IS, will do nothing to stop her. To complicate matters further, Ivy has a former connection to the lethal creature, and suspects that one of her actions is what enabled Mia to marry and have a child in the first place. Both Rachel and Ivy are determined to bring the deadly couple down, but Rachel quickly discovers that a toddler banshee is even more dangerous than an adult one.

Trying to avenge her ex-boyfriend's murder, capture a banshee and her serial killer husband, plus summon a ghost to prove to her demon teacher that she can't be pushed around is made even more complicated for a weakened Rachel by the fact that she's been shunned, because the Witch's Council for Moral and Ethical Standards believes she deals in black magic and is a demon practitioner. This means she can't buy supplies anywhere but the black market and anyone connected with her could get shunned as well. Her brother is appalled, her mother is sympathetic and understanding, but nevertheless decides to move across country to live closer to Rachel's brother. Marshall, the handsome witch she's been going on a number of platonic dates with for a few months can't handle the pressure. There is so much to deal with for Rachel in this book, possibly too much. With so may different story lines to deal with, it becomes difficult to know entirely what to care about.

I still enjoy the characters a lot, and Rachel has come such a long way. It's good that she finally gets closure on Kisten, and while Marshall turns out not to be strong enough to handle the chaos that is Rachel's life, a new potential love interest is introduced - or has Rachel finally learned from the mistakes of her past and learned to stay away from dangerous, morally ambiguous guys? There is very little Trent in this book, but quite a bit of Al.

This book is one of the bridging ones between the first half of the series, where all the characters are introduced and the second, where Harrison begins to reveal her end game. It ties up more of the plot strands left hanging from the last few books, and hints at interesting things to come. It's not one of my favourites, but it's still a fun read.

Judging a book by its cover: I really don't see why they keep giving the cover model portraying Rachel a gun, she's a witch and the only weapon she ever uses except her magic is a splat gun. In this, at least she isn't dressed all in leather in this cover. Not sure why there are cutouts on her elbows, that seems like a particularly bad fashion choice, even for Rachel. The gloomy green lighting and the creepy fountain seem appropriate, though.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

#CBR9 Book 46: "Alex, Approximately" by Jenn Bennett

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Bailey "Mink" Rydell and "Alex" have been chatting on a movie message board for months and both absolutely love classic movies. They have hit it off to the point where "Alex" invites "Mink" to his hometown to come see North by Northwest at an outdoor screening on the beach at the annual film festival being arranged in Coronado Cove.

Bailey's parents got divorced a few years back, and now that Bailey's mother seems to be divorcing her new husband as well, Bailey has chosen to go stay with her father, who coincidentally lives in the same little surfer town in California as her online friend, "Alex". While she really wants to meet up with the guy she's pretty much developed a crush on, Bailey isn't stupid, and knows that people you meet online may not always be who they appear to be. So she doesn't want to let him know she's in Coronado Cove and she intends to track "Alex" down in the months before the film festival, to make sure he's actually a good guy.

While still keeping up her online conversations with "Alex", never letting him know that she's moved from New Jersey to California, Bailey also gets a summer job at the local museum, a huge mansion devoted to Golden Age Hollywood memorabilia, where she makes a friend in Grace and an enemy in Porter Roth, the sarcastic security guard who seems to delight in making her life a living hell. While she wants to hate Porter, Bailey can't deny he's pretty hot, and as the weeks pass, their enmity seems to be turning into something else. In her free time, she's still trying to track down "Alex" based on clues she's gleaned from their online conversation, but as the summer progresses, her quest gets side-tracked as her relationship with Porter keeps changing into something a lot more interesting. What Bailey doesn't know, of course, is that her erstwhile tormentor and enemy turned enigmatic love interest and her online movie buddy are one and the same. What will she do when she discovers that Alex and Porter are in fact the same person?

This book takes inspiration from The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail, with two people who are more or less falling in love online meeting in real life without knowing each other's true identities and initially absolutely hating each other. As the relationship progresses, they more or less feel like they're cheating on their online crush because of their real life romance, while in fact, it's the same person.

I've never seen The Shop Around the Corner. Unlike Bailey/Mink and Porter/Alex, I really am not usually a big fan of classic Hollywood movies. There are obviously exceptions, but I frequently find them frustrating and many of them have not aged well. I have watched You've Got Mail more than once, but am not a big fan, because while Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks may be worried about how they're sorta-kinda cheating on the person they're e-mailing with, they seem entirely unconcerned about the fact that they ARE cheating on their significant others. Both are in a relationship as the movie starts, and while they've never met the person they're so frequently corresponding with online, there is, to me, absolutely an element of emotional infidelity going on there. Then they meet in real life and start arguing, only to get more and more attracted to one another, just sort of ignoring their current partners. Plus there's the whole Tom Hanks is trying to run Meg Ryan out of business - it's not a great romantic comedy, guys. It's just not. While You Were Sleeping is tons better.

In this book, on the other hand, neither Bailey nor Porter are in a relationship, and Mink and Alex, while they've clearly flirted a bit while sharing their passion for classic movies have never made any declarations or promises to one another. Alex' invitation to Mink to come watch North by Northwest with him on a beech is clearly worded in such a way that Bailey/Mink knows it's intended as a date, all the romantic possibilities are sub-textual.

When they meet in real life, their initial animosity comes a lot from a series of misunderstandings and misconceptions about each other the first few times they meet. He believes her to be a privileged rich girl pretty much slumming it with her job at the museum, she thinks he's a bully and a thug, with some deeply unsavoury friends. Of course, her new friend Grace, who's known Porter for a long time, can tell that they're both off to a bad start and does her best to help clear up some of the skewed first impressions. Both realise that they may have been a bit harsh at first, and their relationship turns more friendly, and then begins to evolve into mutual attraction.

I read this book during the Spring Readathon, and it was a wonderful choice, as it was a fun and light-hearted read that kept me turning pages and kept me going late into the night. Each chapter starts with a quote from a film, and while I may not have the same movie tastes as Bailey and Porter, I very much approve of all the movies Ms. Bennett chose to include as chapter openers. So many of my favourites. Bailey and Porter are both good protagonists and seemed like pretty realistic teenagers to me. Both have some fairly traumatic events in their past, and one of the things Bailey, who calls herself the "Artful Dodger", needs to learn to deal with over the summer is how to actually communicate clearly. She has a tendency to just deflect when she's uncomfortable (which is also why she chose to move to her Dad's when her mother's new marriage was getting rocky). In the long run, that is clearly not a good coping strategy.

As well as giving the reader a very satisfying enemies to lovers scenario for YA readers, this book also has a good cast of supporting characters. Having moved several times since her parents' divorce, combined with the "Artful Dodger" thing that Bailey developed after the harrowing event in her past, means that she didn't leave behind any friends and hasn't really been close to anyone for a while, so getting to know Grace and Porter requires work and effort on her part, which again, seems very healthy for her. I really liked Grace, as well as the various parental figures (with the notable exception of Bailey's mum, who seems to completely forget about her daughter after she moves to California).

This book made me happy, but also a bit sad that they don't really make good romantic comedies anymore. As I said, I liked it a lot more than You've Got Mail, but if you are a fan of that film, you're sure to like this clever YA re-imagining. If you don't, well, this is way better, so you're likely to like this anyway.

Judging a book by its cover: Love the book, deeply dislike the cover, which just seems to portray a very impractical and slightly inconvenient way in which to view movies. Also, all those lights would make it impossible to see anything. I know this book is set in California, but at no point do people float around in a pool and try to share popcorn. Bailey and "Alex" have talked about meeting up for a film festival, where one of their favourite films is screened on a beach - that is NOT the same as this. I would hope both the film buffs in this book would reject the so-called movie watching experience on this cover.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

#CBR9 Book 45: "Saga, vol 7" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Page count: 152 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is volume 7 of an ongoing series. It's not the place to start. There is no question that any person of good taste should be reading Saga, but you should start at the beginning with volume 1.

I suppose that because the last volume made me very happy, this one was going to make me sad. Damn you, Vaughn and Staples and the emotional roller coaster you send me on. Temporarily stranded on Phang, a tiny comet that Wreath and Landfall have been battling it out over (like they battle for everything else), Elena, Marko and their little family are trying to find enough fuel to get away from their pursuers, they just need to to find some fuel.

Their brief stay extends to more than six months, and Hazel and her parents and their strange extended family make new friends and form new bonds. We meet The Will, Gwendolyn and Sophie again, and I'm happy to report that Lying Cat has a much more prominent presence in this volume than in the last. Gwendolyn is getting more actively involved in politics, and Sophie is faced with a difficult choice. As the tension on Phang escalates, our little band of refugees have to fight for their existence once more, and sadly, their interlude on Phang does not come without casualties.

I'm always excited when there's a new volume of Saga, the wait in between is always so very long. Due to a massive work load, I didn't actually get the chance to read this immediately after its release, having it lying on a shelf taunting me for a few weeks. Had I known about some of the developments, I may not have read it during my most recent Readathon, as it was really quite an emotional read, which I've already mentioned affected me. Still, it's not the first time this comic has made me cry, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I just hope the next volume is a little bit more upbeat again.

Judging a book by its cover: Fiona Staples' art is so good, you guys. I don't really have a lot more to say about the cover than that. I absolutely love the way she depicts the characters and this cover shows our beloved protagonists in the middle of a tense action sequence, defending their family.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

#CBR9 Book 44: "The Upside of Unrequited" by Becky Albertalli

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Sixteen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso has had a crush on twenty-six different guys (number twenty-six is Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I share your infatuation, girl!), but these crushes have never really developed into anything and she's never kissed anyone. Molly's twin sister Cassie is very encouraging and tries to get her to just "go for it", but Cassie has had flings with a number of girls, and is a lot more outgoing and confident than Molly. While they are twins, the sisters have vastly different body types. Cassie is tall and svelte and graceful, Molly is introverted, quiet and what their tactless grandmother refers to as "zaftig". Being awkward, constantly infatuated and terminally unkissed was bad enough before, now Cassie has her first proper girlfriend, whom she is absolutely gaga about, and Molly feels more alone than ever.

When gay marriage is made legal, Cassie and Molly's mothers resolve to finally get married. Molly throws herself into the wedding planning with gusto, but it doesn't exactly make her want someone of her own to love. Mina, Cassie's new girlfriend, is nothing if not supportive of Cassie's plans to get Molly a boyfriend. Mina's cute hipster friend Will seems like a very likely prospect, especially because then Molly and Cassie could double date with Mina and her bestie. Molly may have a different candidate for crush number twenty-seven. however. Reid, her lanky, fantasy-loving co-worker, makes Molly feel tongue-tied like no other. Two cute boys - will one of them finally be the one to give Molly her first kiss?

Last summer, I read Becky Albertalli's debut novel, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. There were so many things to like about it, but I was uncomfortable about the aspect where (SPOILER) the protagonist, Simon, is outed on social media by a classmate, and it ruined some of my happy when reading it. In this book, there wasn't anything of the sort and the teens in this book (Molly and Cassie are cousin's with Abby, one of Simon's best friends - there are tiny cameos from the first book in the latter half of this one) are just as delightful to read about as the ones in Albertalli's first book.

Lack of diversity is still a huge problem in fiction, yet a book like this should be held up as a glowing example of how easily diversity can be done, because it shouldn't have be some sort of "issue", for a huge amount of people, this is just their life and it's important that they can find this reflected in the fiction available to them. Cassie and Molly are twins born by one mother. They have a younger brother, born by their other mother (who is African American), but all share the same donor father. They are all Jewish, as is Reid, Molly's co-worker. Mina, Cassie's girlfriend, is Asian. Molly is straight, Cassie is gay. One of their mothers is bisexual. None of this massively impacts on their characters or who they are.

Molly is a hugely likable protagonist and one of my favourite things about this book is that while there are two boys as potential boyfriends for her, there is no sign of a love triangle. There are no scenes where these two boys fight for her attention. The one vague hint of one actually involves some adorable cluelessness on Molly's part, one of her newly single female friends and one of the boys (who is clearly only speaking to her friend to find out more about her, it's painfully obvious to everyone but Molly).

Being artistic as well as a talented cook/baker, Molly had so many skills that I envied her. I also wish the book had included a recipe for Molly's egg-less cookie dough, because I'm pretty sure I want to make it and eat until I'm sick. That Reid is a young man who clearly appreciates the culinary arts, as well as all things epic fantasy, endeared him greatly to me.

If you liked Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, you are sure to like this one a lot too. I read it during a few happy hours during this Spring's 24-hour Readathon and the reason it doesn't get a full five stars is that I wanted there to be more of Molly in an actual relationship, not just building up to it. This book stands perfectly well on its own two feet, despite the connection to Albertalli's last book, but I absolutely encourage you to read both if you haven't.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm not entirely sure what I think of the cover. I like the bold colours, the bright blue, the stark black and white. I like the emoji and that they've kept the same font style as on Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Since the books are loosely interconnected, it's a nice touch.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 43: "Weird Girl and What's His Name" by Meagan Brothers

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lula and Rory are basically the "Weird Girl and What's His Name" of the title. Odd-ball teenagers in the little town of Hawthorne, North Carolina. They are best friends, sharing an interest for fantasy and sci-f, but their deepest and most abiding love is for the TV show The X-Files, being active in the online fan community and writing a joint blog where they analyse and comment on the episodes. Both have been abandoned by parents. Rory lives alone with his alcoholic mother, while Lula is obsessed with her missing mother, who at least left her to be raised by her supportive grandparents. That Lula's grandfather refuses to ever speak of his absent daughter or even allow her name to be spoken in the house doesn't dampen Lula's desire to find out more about her missing parent.

They share everything with each other, or so Lula believes. When she discovers that Rory tried out for the high school football team without telling her, not to mention the much bigger secret that he's been having an affair with his much older, divorced employer, she starts to question not only their friendship, but her own judgement and identity. Lula suddenly disappears, without a trace, leaving Rory to fend for himself - desperately wondering where his friend has gone, or whether she's even still alive? When Lula eventually returns, everything is different. Her grandparents no longer trust her and Rory won't even acknowledge her existence. Can they ever repair their friendship?

It's never easy being a teenager, what with all the hormones raging and the changes you have to go through. Working with teens, I thank my lucky stars regularly that I never have to go through adolescence again. For kids like Rory and Lula, who have a number of additional challenges on top of just being teens, it's extra difficult. Rory is gay in a small Southern town and it's not like there are a lot of guys lining up for him to date. Hence his boyfriend, who he genuinely seems to believe he has a future with, being his middle aged, recently divorced. They meet in secret, what with the statutory rape aspect involved and it's clear that deep down, Rory isn't as secure in the long-term viability of his relationship, or I think he would have confided in Lula. He clearly feels guilty about keeping secrets from her.

For all of Rory's difficulties, at least he's relatively secure in his own identity and sexuality. Lula is a lot more adrift, nursing more than one unhappy infatuation and questioning whether she's straight, bi or queer in some other way. The same night she discovers that Rory was keeping secrets, she has a series of unfortunate episodes that culminate with her disappearing from Hawthorne, without anyone who cares about her knowing where she's gone or why. As we find out in the second half of the book (the first is told from Rory's POV), it's not calculated callousness that causes Lula to leave town without leaving any hints of where she went - it's more the thoughtlessness and obliviousness of youth. She is in turmoil, desperately needs a change and goes about making that change for herself, without considering the long term consequences or those she leaves behind.

The second half of the book, from Lula's POV, alternates between her time away and her new life back home in Hawthorne. Upon her return, she obviously has a lot of trust to rebuild with her grandparents and she's literally friendless for a while, as Rory has been forced to adapt to a life without her and is not interested in letting bygones be bygones. Lula hurt him deeply by running away and it's understandable that they can't just pick up where they left off. Because she missed a great deal of school, Lula opts to take her GED rather than having to retake a whole year of high school. She makes a connection with a girl in one of her classes at community college, but it's nothing like the friendship she had with Rory.

This has been reviewed by several Cannonballers, including Narfna and Baxlala, both of whom tend to share my taste in books. I must admit that I did not have the same X-Files obsession as these two ladies, but I was a pretty fantatical follower of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (true story, I just this weekend unpacked the last few boxes after our move more than a year and a half ago, and in one of them, I found a large file folder full of printed copies of episode scripts for seasons three and four. I suspect I will have printed those out while at University and have moved at least five times since then (including to a different country) and yet I still had them after all this time) and while the exact details of the fandom may differ, I suspect the general idea is the same. I absolutely remember the intense devotion, almost counting the hours between episodes, the plot speculation, the anticipation, the shipping.

Reading about these LGBTQ teens, I once more feel my extreme privilege of growing up cis-gendered and straight. Being an awkward, socially inept teenager whose interests mark you as an outcast is bad enough. I was really never a "popular" girl, but I was lucky enough never to be that much of a target for bullies either. Nor was I ever alone in my weirdness, I always had a little group of oddballs to be unpopular with. We didn't care that we weren't invited to parties or whether boys liked us, we wanted to stay at home and read our massive fantasy tomes and discuss our TV shows instead. As long as you're not entirely alone, being seen as weird and being largely ignored by the crowds can be quite nice. But Lula and Rory really only have one another and when that friendship fractures, they are both helpless and adrift. It was all rather heart-breaking to read about.

As with the best YA fiction, the characters in this book all felt like they could be real people. There are no Mary Sues here, both Lula and Rory and the people around them are actual characters with a number of flaws. There were times when I wanted to shake either or both of them (especially Lula, that running away stunt was NOT well thought out), but mostly I wanted to hug them and I am glad that both of them, while they don't exactly start out with the best of support networks around them, end up in a better place than they began.

I apologise for the rambling nature of this review. I liked the book, and really think more people should take notice of it, especially anyone who's been part of any kind of fandom or felt like an outcast for one reason or another while growing up. I'm glad I took the time to read it.

Judging a book by its cover: I must admit that if I saw this in a bookshop or on a library shelf (do the young 'uns use libraries any more? I hope so), I'm not entirely sure I would pick it up. The silhouette of a girl's face with what appears to be smoke inside it isn't exactly all that inviting - there is very little to draw the eye here. That seems like a poor choice on the publisher's side.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.