Tuesday, 23 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 94: "The Hating Game" by Sally Thorne

Page count: 384 pages
Audio book length: 11hrs 29mins
Rating: 5 stars

Lucinda "Lucy" Hutton is working her dream job. Well, sort of. Ever since she was a little girl, she wanted to get into the publishing industry, and she's currently assistant to the co-CEO of Bexley & Gamin, two smaller publishing houses with vastly different business ideas, who merged to save both of them. She would love to be more involve in the day to day process of publishing the books, but her boss considers her too indispensable. She is bubbly, charming and well liked by absolutely everyone in the building, with the notable exception of the man who shares her office.

Joshua Templeman is the other co-CEO's assistant and he is pretty much Lucy's polar opposite. Toweringly tall where she is petite. Coldly efficient, rather ruthless, with absolutely no cares about whether his colleagues like him or not. He dresses impeccably and could very well be a physically intimidating robot subsisting on breath mints, as far as Lucy can tell. He is the only one who doesn't seem to like Lucy, and she loathes him right back. All her passwords are variations on how much she hates him. The two spend their many hours in the office playing a series of games, the object of which Lucy thinks is to make the other one crack a smile, or cry. There's the mirror game, where they subtly mirror the other's movements exactly. There's the Staring Game, the "How are you doing?" Game and best of all, the HR game, where they both keep a comprehensive log of the other's infractions.

For all that they seem to spend much of their long work-weeks one upping one another, Lucy cannot deny that Joshua is handsome. She would find it easier if he looked like some sort of warty cave-troll. When the CEOs announce that they are creating a new position, and that they both consider their assistant the best person for the job, the rivalry between Lucy and Josh really escalates. Lucy is determined that she could never have Joshua as her boss, and will resign if she loses. She makes Joshua agree to do the same if she wins. After an afternoon of trading barbs in their new game: "If I were your boss", Lucy has an exceptionally vivid erotic dream involving Josh, and it throws her off. The next day, she dresses intentionally provocatively, making Joshua question whether she has a date.

Unable to let Josh win this new, strange game, Lucy manages to scrounge up a date. That evening, on the way to the bar where Lucy is meeting her date, they share an absolutely scorching kiss in the elevator. Joshua is mortified when he discovers Lucy wasn't in fact lying, and for a while they manage to pretend that nothing happened, but the edge is off a bit in their games. After Lucy pretty much collapses from flu after a company retreat (where they impress the entire company by how fiercely they defend each other during paintball), Joshua spends the next forty-eight hours nursing her back to health. Can Lucy really hate someone who spent so much time taking care of her? Why is Josh so adamant they can never be friends? Could it be because he wants to be more than just Lucy's friend and colleague?

This romance has a perfect example of the "enemies to lovers" trope, or the "I hate you, I hate you, I can't stop thinking about your hair/dress sense/eyes etc". The whole book is narrated from Lucy's POV, but it's obvious when you look for it that Joshua's feelings for Lucy, even early on, are not really antagonistic, just highly reserved and controlled. Based on what we discover later, with regards to his family life, his last romantic relationship and his personality, he's just built a cast-iron shell around himself, never letting any hint of his true feelings for Lucy show. From a family where everyone else is a doctor, he's made himself vastly successful in the business world instead, and he's much too qualified for the job he's doing - staying in a job he detests mainly so he can see Lucy every work day. He despises his boss and doesn't give a fig for the opinion about anyone else in the place, he just wants them to do their jobs efficiently. He despairs at how often Lucy's kindness is taken advantage of by other employees and a lot of his snark is clearly just to try to make her grow more of a back-bone.

Lucy is really a very lonely person. Her mother was a successful journalist until she met Lucy's father and they now run a strawberry farm (that, and the fact that she's tiny, are the reasons Joshua constantly refers to Lucy as "Shortcake" all the time. There is a third reason, but I don't want to reveal exactly why, as it's part of his extremely touching and heart-warming declaration of love at the end of the book), seemingly struggling to make ends meet. Lucy lost her one real friend when Gamin merged with Bexley, as her friend was laid off, and felt that Lucy (despite knowing nothing of it in advance and would have been unable to stop it either way) had nothing to do with it. Her flat is empty and impersonal and she pretty much lives for work. She's not had a romantic relationship for as long as she's worked with Joshua, and even though she asks another colleague (who'll be leaving the company shortly to go free lance), her heart is clearly not in it. After Josh kisses her in the elevator, the day after she had an extremely graphic sex dream about him, she starts to ponder whether her hate is in fact just her fighting her attraction to him.

I pretty much loved this book and read the whole thing in less than 24 hours. It was only released at the beginning of August, but I saw it enthusiastically reviewed on all the various romance review sites that I follow. Because the description reminded me a bit of Act Like It, still one of my favourite romances this year, I determined that I needed to take a break from the Captive Prince trilogy to devour this. As I was reading, I found several similarities. The initially fairly malicious banter turned more affectionate as the couple admits their attraction to one another. The fact that he takes care of her while she's sick. Joshua's fairly dislikable personality (which unlike Richard is actually more of a front to guard his emotions).

As with Act Like It, The Hating Game isn't perfect. I would have liked some more *insert funky bass line here*. I guess that because this is a book published by a mainstream publisher, marketed as more of a romantic comedy than a full-on romance (oh, how I hate that that term is so unfairly stigmatised), they felt that too much smexy times would be inappropriate? I also saw the reveal at the family gathering of Joshua's coming a mile away, and would have preferred to be a little bit more surprised. These are very small niggles, and my first reaction after finishing the book was actually to just start reading it again. Even now, ten days later, I still find myself thinking about it constantly. I've already re-read Act Like It, and might have to re-read this again to try to get it out of my system.

This should absolutely be the next book that a prominent part of the regular Cannonballers reviews. Sadly, this book costs a lot more, but it is totally worth your money. Otherwise, put it on hold at your library ASAP. It's a delightful book and it deserves a wide readership. It's Sally Thorne's first novel, but I will absolutely be keeping a lookout for more books by her. Now if you excuse me, I may have to start re-reading this book from the beginning.

Judging a book by its cover: I like the cover, but it is unlikely that the cover and title alone would have been enough to make me pick up the book if I hadn't seen it raved about on so many different review sites. This is a book published not by one of the major romance publishers, and it's described as a workplace comedy on Goodreads, hence the cover avoids many of the pitfalls so common with other romances. I love that what is basically a straight up romance, with a little bit less smexy times, is being advertised as a romantic comedy in book form. Although it would make a pretty great movie, if they could get the casting right.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 22 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 93: "Duke of My Heart" by Kelly Bowen

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Captain Maximus Harcourt, the reluctant tenth Duke of Alderidge, comes home after several years away in India to discover that there is a big ball at his house, his younger sister is missing without a trace, and there is a naked earl tied to his sister's bed with red ribbons. Oh, the earl is very much dead. Already in the room is Miss Ivory Moore, a society fixer working for Chagarre & Associates. She was hired by the duke's aunt and intends to make sure that not a whiff of scandal attaches to the duke's household or his debutante sister's reputation. Her first order of business is to get the earl dressed and placed in a different bed, so that his body can be found by a servant later in the evening, making it seem as if he was taken ill and died, completely unconnected to anything to do with the young lady of the house. She makes sure a double wearing a wig and the girl's dress is seen in the distance by enough people at the ball that her whereabouts will not be questioned.

Harcourt is appalled by Ivory's cold and business-like manner and he certainly doesn't enjoy being ordered around. He quickly comes to realise that she is his only chance at finding his sister, who may or may not have been taken from his house by force. Unlike other nobles who hire Chagarre & Associates, Harcourt doesn't intend to just sit back and let others do all the work. He insists on working with the exasperating Miss Moore, and the more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to get her out of his mind.

Ivory Moore was a singer, celebrated on stages all over Europe, before she became the elderly Duke of Knightley's second wife. When he died, his family made it clear that she was quite unwanted in their lofty circles, but left her with a financial settlement large enough that she could live out her life in a very comfortable manner. Not one to be idle, however, Ivory made sure to keep busy. Along with others at Chagarre & Associates, she makes sure that the same nobles that would shun her pay dearly to have difficulties go away. She's got secrets on practically everyone, and knows that no one is as good at problem solving as she. Born poor and pretty much sold to her manager as a teenager, there are skeletons in Ivory's closet, she's done many things to survive before she became a Duchess. She hasn't really missed male companionship, until she clashes with the Duke of Aldridge.

With two older brothers, Maximus Harcourt never expected to inherit a dukedom. He joined the navy at an early age and feels much more comfortable at sea than in opulent mansions or ballrooms. A part-owner in the East India Company and owner of several merchant vessels, he has a stalwart reputation for captaining his own ships. The responsibilities of the dukedom are delegated into capable hands, and his aunt has been there for his sister. Returning after years away, he is forced to realise that the many pleading letters his sister sent, about being allowed to join him in India, were not just the wishful longing of a young girl. His aunt sacrificed a life and happiness of her own to raise her niece and resents her nephew for running away from his duties. She feels that he is indirectly to blame for the possible scandal they are now facing and doesn't hesitate to tell him so.

As the captain of a fleet of ships, used to everyone obeying his smallest command without question it is very disconcerting to Max suddenly find himself helpless and having to rely on a bossy woman he knows nothing about. He does his best to discover Ivory's true identity, but doesn't find out the truth about her until she tells him herself. While he may be a big strong alpha man, it doesn't take him too long to admit when he's out of his depths and trust Ivory to take the lead in the investigation. He also apologises to his aunt and admits he may have been selfish in staying away from England for so long. He doesn't judge Ivory for her past, or treat his sister with anything but understanding and affection when Ivory finally manages to negotiate her return. He doesn't hesitate to act decisively when discovering what Ivory may have to do in return for his sister's safety, however, and uses not his brawn, but his cleverness and brains to ensure that Ivory doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to.

Kelly Bowen is a new author to me, but she is clearly someone whose books I will have to read more of. A hero who isn't afraid to take second place to the hugely competent and clever heroine? Not a whiff of slut-shaming, despite the heroine's dark past? A decidedly original meet cute? I like this book a lot and have heard very promising things about Bowen both on the CBR blog and other romance review sites. I always enjoy discovering new romance authors, and this is the first book in Bowen's second series, I can go back and read her previous books while waiting for sequels to this to come out.

Judging a book by its cover: Such a pretty dress! Gorgeous details and colours. So incredibly wrong for the time period! Gah! I hate it when the cover models on romances are dressed in blatantly the wrong costumes. While this cover is probably based on a photograph, how hard would it have been to put her in a Regency appropriate dress? It would have made the cover SO much better. Stupid cover designers.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 92: "The Unexpected Everything" by Morgan Matson

Page count: 528 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Alexandra "Andie" Walker is the daugher of a congressman who just had to go on sabattical because of some irregularities in his campaign funds. For the last five years, since her mother died of cancer, Andie and her father have only really interacted in the public eye and her father has been busy with his political career in Washington D.C. Andie had very specific plans for the summer. They involved a pre-med internship at Johns Hopkins, far away from her father. Due to the minor scandal involving her father, she finds herself stuck without any plans for the summer and having to learn to relate to a dad who's suddenly around constantly.

Andie's best friends, Palmer, Bri (Sabrina) and Toby (Tobyhana) are delighted that she'll be able to spend more of the summer with them. Maybe she'll finally meet a guy that she'll give the time of day for more than three weeks, max? It also means she'll be present for Palmer's epic annual scavenger hunt. Andie tries to adjust to her new, completely unplanned existence, and out of desperation gets a job as a dog walker. While walking other people's pets, she meets the enigmatic Clark, who seems to live alone in a huge mansion, without any idea what to do with the dog in his care. Their first date is an absolute disaster (because Andie follows the same script she always uses, and shares absolutely nothing personal about herself), but after his dog gets badly sick and they spend a night monitoring its vital signs (not a good excuse to bring to your worried father the next morning, having not actually let him know where you were in the first place and letting your phone run out of battery), they start to make a connnection.

Andie discovers that Clark is in fact hugely popular best-selling fantasy novelist C.B. McCallister, who is staying at his publisher's house over the summer in the hopes that he'll finally get over his crippling writer's block and finally deliver the manuscript for the third and final volume in the trilogy. Palmer's boyfriend Zach is a huge fan and geeks out most adorably when he gets introduced to Clark. Andie's loyal friends are delighted to realise that Clark has a huge house at his disposal and no parental supervision. Since he was home schooled, Clark's never really had friends his own age and it doesn't take long before the gang is hanging out at his place all the time. As Andie and Clark spend more time together and grow closer, might Andie finally have found a guy she's developing real feelings for? What's going to happen at the end of the summer, when Clark (hopefully) finishes his book and goes home to attend college?

I've never read anything by Morgan Matson before, but her books are all very higly rated on Goodreads and the fact that this had a college age fantasy author as the love interest intrigued me. Andie's a fun protagonist, if a little bit too emotionally guarded. She's very much a victim of her circumstances, becoming emotionally closed-off after the death of her mother and the virtual abandonment she's suffered from her father. Being a politician's daughter, she has learned never to set a foot wrong and to always appear clean-living, hard-working and virtous. She knows how to spin any situation, because her father's political advisors have spun her whole life since as long as she could remember. She has a very clear idea of what she wants for the future, and when suddenly those plans might be disrupted, she has trouble adjusting and dealing in a good way.

Luckily, she has a loyal group of friends to support her, but as the summer progresses, some dramatic personal developments could cause the unbreakable foursome to fracture irrevocably. Having always dated unobjectionable high school guys who've known her for a long time, Andie has never really had to give much of herself and she's certainly never let the relationships last long enough to even begin to matter. Her longest-lasting relationship, if you can call it that, is with a fellow politician's son, who she meets occasionally at parties. They fool around, then go their separate ways. Nothing meaningful is ever exchanged, only kisses.

With Clark, things are different pretty much from the start, and because he was home-schooled, he doesn't always react the way Andie expects or wants him to. She's prepared to completely write him off after their first, catastrophic date, but after being forced to spend the night at his house, working frantically to save his publisher's dog, she can no longer deny that she really likes him and that the thought of actually connecting more deeply with someone might, in fact, terrify her.

The book is a too long and the final third gets bogged down in a bit too many melodramatic storylines. I liked that not all of the difficulties resolved themselves neatly, without any repercussions for everyone involved. The snippets of Clark's books that are sprinkled throughout are also a nice touch. I'm always a sucker for fiction within fiction, and Andie and her dad bonding further over the cliff-hanger ending of Clark's second novel really amused me. This is a fun book, with a cool cast of teenagers and anyone looking for a light and entertaining read would do well to pick it up.

Judging a book by its cover: So many doggies! As Andie spends a lot of her time walking various dogs in this book, the cover is pretty much spot-on. I think the cover model's hair could have been blonder based on Andie's description, but I could be wrong. The big fluffy white dog could easily be Bertie (his full name is Bertie Woofter - how CUTE is that?) and the bright colours make the cover nice and inviting. Considering how bad some YA covers is, this is a pleasant exception.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR8 Book 91: "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" by Becky Albertalli

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Simon Spier, middle child in a very close-knit family is sixteen years old and gay. Not that anyone but his pen pal Blue knows this, until class clown Martin looks over his shoulder at the library and discovers his secret. Simon suddenly finds himself blackmailed. Help Martin get a chance with his friend Abby, or Martin outs Simon to the whole school. This might also mean that Blue's identity is in some way compromised. Simon doesn't want to help Martin, but feels he doesn't have any other choice.

Simon doesn't really do drama, except in the sense of being part of the school musical. The fact that there are tensions among his life-long friends after Abby was added to the mix, and he's slowly falling more for Blue, who he's falling for, even though he doesn't know which of the boys in school it is, means Simon's life is becoming a lot more eventful and constantly pushes him out of his comfort zone. Will Simon continue to let Martin blackmail him? Will his friends Nick and Leah adjust to the fact that Nick is in love with Abby? Will Simon ever discover the true identity of Blue, and do they have a chance as a couple if he does?

Once again, I'm not the first of the Cannonballers to review this, and I'd also seen it very favourably written-up over on Forever Young Adult. I liked this book a lot, but I didn't absolutely love it, which I've seen some people out there do. The blackmail aspect really did make me uncomfortable, especially after SPOILER! Martin actually goes through with the threat of outing Simon on the high school Tumblr blog after it becomes obvious that Simon is never going to be able to make Abby really notice him (super d*ck move, Martin). I felt so awful for Simon and because I have been lucky enough to grow up cis-gendered, white and heteronormative, if severely geeky and a most definitely on the social outskirts, I never needed to worry about hiding parts of who I am/was. Simon and Blue discuss coming out at some length in their e-mails and the fact that Simon didn't get to choose when and how he told his family, friends and the rest of the world made me so upset.

When I read books like this, I hope that adolescents and teens today are aware of how incredibly lucky they are. I know that lack of representation and diversity is still a big problem in literature in general, but at least there is more of it out there than when I was a teen. There is such a vast variety of genres and so many topics being discussed, nothing like the fairly dour socially lecturing fare I grew up with, where everything written for teens seemed to be warning them off drugs, eating disorders, teenage pregnancy or HIV/AIDS. There wasn't really fantasy and sci-fi written specifically for teens. There certainly wasn't all these great books about contemporary teenagers and the issues they go through, which may seem trivial to many adults (like romance, most favoured genre of my heart, the YA category (it's NOT just one genre) is so often derised by literary snobs.

This was not one of the books in the Cannonball YA poll for the upcoming book club (because too many people had recently reviewed it, I think). It's still highly recommended to anyone who's looking for more contemporary YA to check out, where there isn't a chosen one fighting a dystopian regime or trying to single-handedly conquer a fantasy kingdom or something, but just trying to get by in their hormone-fuelled daily existence and trying to survive until adulthood. As far as I'm aware, this is Becky Albertalli's first novel, but I've already added her next book (out in April 2017) to my TBR list, because she is clearly one to watch.

Judging a book by its cover: I don't entirely know what I think about this cover. I can see why you'd want the headless body, so the reader can more easily insert their image of the character, but it also looks a bit creepy. Red is a nice, bright and noticeable background colour, though, and it would stand out if placed face forward on a shelf.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR8 Book 90: "Frozen" by Meljean Brook

Page count: 192 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

Olivia just wants to go home to her family for Christmas, preferably before the snow hits, but her boss has made her go out of her way to deliver some important papers to his son, a man she's been studiously trying to avoid for over a year, after they kissed and he declared it a big mistake. Turns out that dear old dad had ulterior motives, and while Erik Gulbrandr does his best to get Olivia far away from him (even though he seems to be brewing on a fever or something), she's not going to be able to go anywhere, as something has torn her car to pieces.

Erik is forced to admit why he wanted Olivia to leave and while he's been avoiding her so aggressively. While it tends to skip every other generation, the men of the Gulbrandr family are under an ancient curse. When Erik kissed Olivia, he discovered that she was his fated mate and the curse makes him lose complete control during the Winter solstice. He'll do anything to get to her and won't exactly treat her gently. There is also a paranormal aspect to the curse, but I won't reveal what exactly happens to Erik, because it's a pretty cool reveal. They are trapped in the house, because rival paranormals have some sort of blood feud going and know that Erik is on edge just before the Solstice. They want to try to kill him, and keeping Olivia snow bound in the house with him provides them with more distraction. Erik wants Olivia to shoot him point blank in the head if the curse takes over (it's the only way he can be stopped, he is otherwise invulnerable). She is naturally sceptical and wants to find a different solution.

Since I stopped reading Kresley Cole books (I just could not anymore, I had completely run out of could's), I don't think I've come across a lot of fated mate pairings in my books. This novella, which I think Meljean Brook may have self-published certainly gave me something different from just your standard vampires, shapeshifters or fae. There's an element of Norse mythology involved, which I liked a lot, but the main problem with the story is that the curse didn't entirely seem to make sense. Still there's a couple threatened by dangerous beasties, all sorts of moral qualms, followed by quite a lot of bonking towards the end of the story. I was not very engaged with the story, and Olivia sure is going to have an awkward time the next time she faces her potential father-in-law, after the situation he knowingly sent her into.

Meljean Brook has written some excellent paranormal fantasies, I can highly recommend her historical Steampunk series, the Iron Seas, which begins with The Iron Duke, also has one of my favourite adventure novels, Heart of Steel, and another great entry (set in Iceland), Riveted. Unless you can get this on sale (like I did) or free, I would skip it and read something else by Ms. Brook instead.

Judging a book by its cover: So many different shades of blue. An otherwise fairly generic cover. You've got your pretty lady in a state of partial undress. Woods in the background. This cover says little to nothing about the contents, which is not unusual for some paranormals, actually. Only the tag line gives you some impression of what the story is about. I don't hate it, I don't love it. It's a cover.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR8 Book 89: "Exit, Pursued by a Bear" by E.K. Johnston - BLOG POST NR 1000!

Page count: 254 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Because I'm not sure I'll be able to properly summarise this book without getting all teary-eyed (the hormones I'm currently injecting daily make my moods a bit of a roller-coaster), I am resorting to the blurb:

Veronica Mars meets William Shakespeare in E.K. Johnston's latest brave and unforgettable heroine. 

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this does not mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don't cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team - the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team's summer training camp is Hermione's last and marks the beginning of the end of...she's not sure what. She knows this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there is a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They're never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she's always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn't the beginning of Hermione Winter's story and she's not going to let it be the end. She won't be anyone's cautionary tale. 

The first line of the cover blurb puzzles me slightly. I can see where the Veronica Mars comparison comes in, as both Hermione (yes, her parents are Harry Potter fans) and Veronica were drugged and sexually assaulted and struggle to get to the bottom of who did it, but I'm not entirely sure where the Shakespeare comes in, except in the title. That's pretty much the only Shakespearean thing here (he really is not known for treating his women all that greatly). Poor Hermione would have faced a very different reality in a Shakespeare play, just look at how badly Hero is treated in Much Ado About Nothing, for instance.

E.K. Johnston admits in a note at the end of the book that she set out to make sure Hermione had an excellent support system. There is never any doubt that Hermione's been raped. Her team, her coach, her teachers, parents, minister and local community all stand by her and even though there is some malicious gossip, she is never disbelieved by anyone who matters. She gets excellent medical care, her case is taken seriously by the police. As the highly publicised Stanford rape case this summer showed, this is certainly not the case for a large majority of rape and sexual assault victims.

I don't normally put trigger warnings on my reviews, but really, this book is about rape. Because Hermione was drugged, she doesn't remember anything about the attack in question. She wakes up in a hospital bed and is told about the assault after the case. We don't get any graphic details of the actual rape, but I still cried when she is forced to acknowledge what happened to her, supported by her best friend and fierce defender, Polly.

The majority of this book is Hermione learning to pick herself up and continue living after the assault that she doesn't even remember. Not a single one of the guys on her cheerleading team hesitate for a second about giving DNA samples, so she doesn't need to worry that one of them was the culprit. But she still needs to get to a point where she feels safe being touched, and even man-handled, by the young men on her team. There is the terrifying few weeks while waiting to see if she's pregnant (if she is, they may get DNA evidence against her attacker, but she also has to deal with that revelation). There's the questions about whether she did something at the camp that led the rapist on - NOT that there is ANY victim-blaming in this book.

More than a book about assault, this is a book about friendship, love and community. This is another of the books that ended up as runner up in the upcoming Cannonball Book Club. Because of several glowing reviews by other Cannonballers, it was already on my radar, but I'm really glad that the Book Club made me pick it up sooner than I might otherwise have done. I really hope that it's a book that a lot of teenagers get to read, as while a horrible thing happens to Hermione, she at least doesn't have to go through the aftermath alone, without help and support, mistrusted or disbelieved. Hermione is determined not to be remembered as a victim and the book ends with the hope that she can transcend the bad thing that happened to her, letting her move on to a brighter future.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover features a cheerleader thrown into the air, soaring over the supportive arms of her teammates, waiting to catch her. The sky in the background is in beautiful shades of pastel, giving the cover an almost dreamy feel. Considering the strength and support given to Hermione by her cheerleading team, not to mention the rest of her little town, I think the cover is very appropriate.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR8 Book 88: "The Rest of Us Just Live Here" by Patrick Ness

Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Growing up in a small town somewhere in America (schools, family-themed restaurant, lots of cars, a bunch of huge churches, a Wallmart, a couple of multiplexes, so many trees), Mikey and his sister Mel (don't call her Melinda) are just trying to get through their final year of high school, hoping that something so momentous happens that the indie kids have to blow up the school gym again. Who are the indie kids, you ask?

The indie kids are the ones that all the YA paranormals are usually about. They have names like Finn (there are several in this book), Dylan, Kerouac, Satchel or something else unusual (Joffrey, Aquamarine and Earth are also mentioned) and they are bound to attract whatever new threat is coming, be it sparkly vampires, aliens, faeries, contracting cancer so they can all die beautifully together. Currently, something or someones called the Immortals are looking for human vessels and looking for a portal through to our world. Their first victim is one of the Finns, but Mikey, Mel, Mikey's gay linebacker best friend Jared and Mikey and Mel's best friend Henna (her father is Finnish) don't really care about that. They see Finn running into the woods, but don't give it much thought, as they are unlikely to be directly affected.

Mikey and Mel have more than enough to worry about in their own lives. Mikey has a pretty serious case of OCD, while Mel is in the same year as the others (despite being a year older) because she was hospitalised with anorexia for a long while. Mikey is hopelessly in love with Henna, despite the fact that he knows that for most of the time he's known her, she's been with someone else. Even now that she's single, he's afraid to confess his true feelings for her. After graduation, her parents (who are missionaries) are taking her to some war-torn corner of Africa to do aid work, so he's running out of time if he wants to have a chance with her before she leaves. The Mitchell siblings' father is an alcoholic, while their mother is a State Senator, busy running for re-election and desperate that no one sees any flaws in their family dynamic. Only their ten-year-old sister Meredith seems to be entirely normal and not overly bothered by anything, except whether she'll a) get tickets for and b) permission to go see her favourite band play live.

Mikey struggles with his anxiety and his OCD getting increasingly worse. Henna needs to decide whether she's going to stand up to her parents and refuse to go to Africa. Jared, who could easily have been an indie kid with the heritage he has (there is a reason all cats are absolutely mad for him) has weighty decisions of his own to make, and doesn't really feel that he can talk to his other friends about them. Mel still needs to be reminded to eat regularly and chafes under the concern from her mother. All the while they each have their own private little crises, the Immortals are causing havoc in the little town, causing accidents, disappearances and more indie kid deaths.

This is my first Patrick Ness book (I've heard so many good things about so many of his novels) and I decided to read it as it was one of the runners up in the YA Cannonball Book Club poll. Since I'd already read (well, listened to in audio) the winning book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, earlier this year, I wanted to see what other options we might have ended up with.

I'll give Patrick Ness this, his characters pretty much tick off every single square on a diversity bingo card. There is no danger of bland white-washing here. Eating disorders, mental illness, homosexuality, racial diversity (Henna is half African American, as well as being half Finnish). There's bad parents, so so parents and some really very great ones. These kids felt fairly real, which I guess is the point, as the whole book is a bit of a satire on all the melodramatic YA fantasy and sci-fi novels so popular right now. I'm such a sucker for those kinds of books though, and I think my favourite bits of the whole novel were the little snippets at the beginning of each chapter relating what was happening to the indie kids - I'm not ashamed to say I'd happily read a whole novel about Satchel and her struggles to save the town.

I liked this book, but I didn't love it. As I have at least four other Ness books waiting on my bookshelves, this will absolutely not be the only book of his I'll ever read. I think the conceit of the book is more clever than the execution, but your mileage may vary.

Judging a book by its cover: I really love this cover, done in mostly blues with just a few characters in full colour (obviously our protagonists). The very skinny Mel, Jared with a cat at his feet, the neurotic Mikey and finally Henna, while all the others are the indie kids that these YA books are normally about. Interspersed between them are what I'm assuming are the Immortals, the creatures threatening the town, always in the background of our main characters' lives.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.