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.

#CBR8 Book 87: "Our Endless Numbered Days" by Claire Fuller

Page count: 396 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Peggy Hillcoat is the daughter of a famous German concert pianist and an English survivalist, who despite the disapproval of his wife keeps stockpiling supplies in a shelter in their garden and preparing for the worst. Only eight years old, she doesn't question what is happening when her father takes her away from their big house in London while her mother is away on tour. He takes her to the German countryside, to a delapitated cabin remote in the mountains, explaining that this is their home now and that there's been a terrible disaster, they are the only ones left in the entire world.

Peggy is distraught that she'll never get to see her mother or her school friends again, but soon settles into her new reality, helping her father as best she can to get the cabin livable and gathering the supplies that they need to survive. The book begins in 1985, nine years later, when Peggy has been returned to her mother and is trying to adapt to a very different life once more. Little by little the readers discover the reasons her father took her away in the first place, and the details of the years she spent in the lonely wilderness with only the woods and her imagination for entertainment.

Because the book begins in 1985, after Peggy is returned to her mother, the reader is never in doubt that she will survive, even when the story gets really tense and dramatic. Living off the land in a primitive mountain hut is not easy at the best of times, but Peggy makes it clear in her recollections that she and her father were badly prepared for their first winter and I had flashbacks to reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, when she and her family are trying their hardest not to starve to death.

While much of Peggy's adolescence is filled with whimsy and her frolicking in the woods, it is quite clear that her father is a seriously unstable man and that he truly comes to believe the lie he told his daugher. Even early on in the novel it is obvious that something really bad happened before Peggy was returned to civilisation and discovered that her father lied to her all those years. As the book progresses, the suspense increases and my sense of dread with it.

This is a really good book, already highly rated by five other Cannonballers. It's probably not the relaxing holiday read I was looking for, rather a haunting and suspenseful story that will stay with me for a long time.

Judging a book by its cover: The edition I read is pretty much black and white, and black is absolutely the dominant colour. The darkness is very suitable for the contents. The centre of the picture is a simple cabin, surrounded by spindly trees - probably Die Hutte, where Peggy spent most of her adolescence. Despite the picture being very simple, it conveys something ominous and sinister, which again is very apt for this book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday 20 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 86: "Roses and Rot" by Kat Howard

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Imogen and Marin are sisters, both very talented in their own ways. Imogen is a writer, while Marin dances ballet. They have both been accepted into the prestigious Melete artists' colony, where a select few get a full scholarship for a year and a chance to truly hone their art. The sisters became estranged after Imogen went away to college, leaving Marin alone with their absolute horror of a mother. Now Imogen writes an anthology of fairy stories, where even the most horrible of stepmothers can't hold a candle to the woman who gave birth to her and her sister.

Living in the same house, away from their controlling and manipulative mother, the sisters start to reconnect again. It doesn't take long before they discover that Melete is something very different from what they were expecting, and that there may be more truth to the fairy stories that Imogen loved growing up. Both want to succeed, so they can get away from their mother's influence once and for all, but the price of success could be higher than they imagined.

I saw this positively reviewed on Forever Young Adult and it has a cover quote from Neil Gaiman. I should have remembered that a blurb from Mr. Gaiman isn't always a guarantee of quality, after reading Queen of Kings a few years ago. Sisters with a troubled relationship, a mysterious artists' colony, fairy tales and possibly actual faeries as part of the story? It sounded better than I think it worked on the page. I love me a modern faery tale, especially with scary bargains and high stakes. Yet my favourite thing about this whole book were the snippets of actual fairy tales we got from Imogen. Sprinkled throughout the story, they give an idea of her writing that engaged me a lot more than the story of her and her sister.

While the stakes are high for the sisters, and they've clearly had an absolutely terrible childhood and adolescence, I didn't find myself caring much about them. I was completely unmoved by the romantic elements to the story, and it took me much longer to read the book than I was expecting, mainly because I kept finding things I would rather do than actually read it. It may have been that I just wasn't in the mood for it, but for a book that by its description contains as much personal catnip for me as this, it should have thrilled and engaged me more.

This is Kat Howard's debut novel, and I'm not ruling out that she can do great things in the future. I really wanted to like this book, but it left me unmoved. If the whole book had been an anthology of the fairy stories teased in the novel, I think I would have loved it more.

Judging a book by its cover: This cover is not only fairly boring, a stock photo of an old house, but fairly misleading. Imogen and Marin go to a fancy artists' colony in the woods and while there are a number of different buildings, none of them are described as the large, imposing mansion on the cover. For a book that deals with magical realism and fairy tales, the cover shoud have been something much more atmospheric. Bad choice, Saga Press. It's especially vexing as there is a discussion of cover design IN the book. Imogen is clearly much luckier with her designer than Kat Howard.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR8 Book 85: "Saga, volume 6" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Page count: 152 pages
Rating: 5 stars

July brought another volume of Saga and there was great rejoicing in the Patterson household (well, at least from me, the husband is still a few books behind. I honestly have no idea where his priorities are). The action has jumped ahead a few years since we last saw our band of plucky protagonists, and Hazel is now living with her grandmother in a detention centre on Landfall, and she's going to kindergarten and making friends her own age for the first time. She's becoming a proper little person of her own, fully aware that she is an individual with a unique heritage, that she needs to keep hidden. Keeping secrets all the time is very difficult, though, and after meeting a transgender prisoner in the camp's showers, she reveals her wings to her shocked kindergarten teacher.

Meanwhile, her parents, now reunited after a long time apart, are looking for her throughout the universe. Also reappearing in the story (missed by absolutely no one - feel free to kill of these two anytime, Mr. Vaughan) are the gay tabloid journalists, now freed from the embargo put on them by the Brand and off looking for the scoop of the century, namely Marko and Alana's star-crossed romance. We get to see the Will again (not in a good place), but sadly Lying Cat only appears in what could be called a cameo, it's really very blink and you'll miss it.

I've seen some reviewers say that this volume really is just filler and that it's not as satisfying as some of the ones that have gone before. I would say that in this, several of the story lines set up in earlier volumes finally pay off, and this isn't so much a filler book as a bridge, suggesting interesting (and no doubt dangerous things) to come for our favourite sci-fi family. Hazel is an utter delight, Marko and Alana reunited fills me with joy. I have high hopes that the Will can snap out of his gloom and reunite with Lying Cat and maybe the boring journalists will be murdered soon, so the stories can be more satisfyingly focused on people I actually care about.

The reveal on the penultimate page made me literally squeal and promises such exciting developments in the volumes to come. Sadly, I am unlikely to get more Saga until 2017, at the earliest. That's the absolute worst part of this great comic - that the wait between volumes is so interminably long. 

Judging a book by its cover: Simple and elegant, with a beautiful blue backdrop, the cover shows Marko and Alana finally together once more and it fills my heart with happy. Someone in a Goodreads review said they'd probably marry Fiona Staples' art by now, and I absolutely agree. So much of what I love about this series is the artwork.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read. 

Friday 19 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 84: "Red Sonja, vol 1: Queen of Plagues" by Gail Simone and Walter Geovani

Page count: 160 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Red Sonja, the legendary She-Devil with a Sword, returns to Corinthia, to repay the blood-debt she owes to its ruler. Facing a battle against impossible odds, Sonja nonetheless agrees to lead what remains of Corinthia's fighting forces against its enemies, and comes face to face with Dark Annisia, a woman from her past. Having to face crushing defeat on the battlefield, unable to keep her promises to a man who once saved her life, Sonja is exiled and doomed to die. Always a fighter, even the plague cannot stop Red Sonja, who returns from the wilderness to wreak her vengeance.

Red Sonja, created by Robert E. Howard in the 1930s, is pretty much the archetypal barbarian warrior woman now. Known for her mane of red hair, her chainmail bikini and her prowess on the battlefield, Red Sonja has been a pulp heroine in books, a really bad movie and several comic books. In this, Gail Simone's reboot of the character, we get her origin story, several blood-soaked battles and more than enough sword and sorcery. Simone's Sonja is a cranky loner with a serious drinking habit, who despite her ridiculous fashion choices is able to take down seasoned warriors with ease. The book balances several dark storylines with a fair amount of comic relief and while Sonja's costume may be exploitative, this is a feminist comic book with a lot of themes of female empowerment throughout.

The book is fun enough, and the art is absolutely gorgeous, but I never really emotionally connected with the characters and even when the story was at its darkest and tensest, I wasn't all that bothered with how things were going to play out. Of the many Gail Simone comics I have read, this was one of the more forgettable. Maybe pulpy sword and sorcery wasn't exactly what I wanted at the specific time I read it? Who knows? If my budget allows, I may keep reading it, but it's not going to be lower down on my list of comics purchases in the future.

Judging a book by its cover: All the covers in the trade are done by Jenny Frison, who strikes an interesting balance between functional and exploitative. While she is wearing her trademark chainmail bikini (seriously, the chafing, why would you choose to fight in this?), she is also portrayed as decisive, strong and capable. On the red cross-piece, the readers get a glimpse of the two principal female characters in the book in a more action-packed part of the story.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR8 Book 83: "Ms Marvel, vol 2: Generation Why" by G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt and Adrian Alphona

Page count: 136 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Kamala Khan has gotten better at juggling her life as a teenage girl with her secret identity as Ms. Marvel. She shoulders her responsibilities as well she can, even when being inundated both in school and in the media that her generation of teens are really just parasites on society, draining it of precious resources and brainlessly just existing in a multi-media reality, without ever giving anything back or asking necessary and critical questions. She geeks out adorably when given a chance to team up with one of her heroes, fighting giant sewer alligators with Wolverine. Being a total fangirl doesn't mean she can't hold her own, though.

She discovers more about exactly how she got her powers from the mysterious cloud, is introduced to the Inhumans and (possibly temporarily) gets herself a gigantic, teleporting dog. The local supervillain, the bird-headed the Inventor, is still at large, trying to outmanoeuvre Ms Marvel and now there are more teenagers going missing. Kamala is determined to stop him, once and for all.

I thought Vol 1, No Normal was a very good introduction to the amazingly likable Kamala, her world, her friends and family and the new challenges she found herself with when given super powers. In Generation Why, she's clearly been superheroing for a while and getting better at balancing her dual identity. She takes her responsibilities very seriously, but finds surprising allies even in her imam (the conversation she was expecting and the one she ends up having are very different). Her team-up with Wolverine is a true delight from start to finish and I laughed out loud more than once. Her powers are clearly linked in some ways with the Inhumans (of whom I know little to nothing about, being fairly new to the Marvel comics universe - if it's not in a movie, I'm probably ignorant of it) and they are doing their best to keep tabs on her.

Sadly, there are only five issues in each of these trades, so I read through it quickly and will have to wait until my finances are better (or until after my upcoming birthday to see if I get some gift cards) to get more of Kamala's adventures.  Kamala is such an important role model for teens out there, regardless of gender, race or nationality. She's kind, competent, hard-working, loyal and brave. I am so glad that superhero comics are getting better at diversity and representation and continue to love the practical and completely non-gratuitous nature of Kamala's costume. I absolutely loved this book, and will continue to recommend it to anyone asking about comics.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover depicts a scene not actually in any of the comics (but which I would have loved to read), showing Kamala happily engrossed on her phone, while also using her amazing body-morphing powers to stop a bank robbery. The cover is bright, colourful and cheerful. It shows the reader Kamala in her excellent costume, being a teenage girl and a crime fighter all at once. What you see is exactly what you'll get. If the cover image appeals to you and makes you want to pick up the comic, you are not going to be disappointed with the contents of the book. It's also a cover that is unlikely to make any female reader depressed to wander through a comic book store, which is more that can be said for other superheroine comics I've seen in my day.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.  

Saturday 13 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 82: "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" by Winifred Watson

Page count: 256 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is a desperate, middle-aged governess, pretty sure that she's unlikely to find many more jobs, who by accident is sent to to the wrong address by the employment agency. Instead of a mother looking for a new child minder, she meets the glamorous and vivacious singer/actress Miss Delysia DeFosse (NOT her real name) and before she knows it, Miss Pettigrew's rather colourless and boring life is full of high drama and romance.

Delysia has not one, not two, but three suitors that she appears to be juggling and she's absolutely terrible at confrontations and making up her mind about what she really wants. Miss Pettigrew can't stand to see her being upset or bullied, and steps in to help whenever she can. While she may have been sent to the wrong address, she can't stand by and see a beautiful young woman in distress. Delysia is delighted, and insists on Miss Pettigrew coming along on new adventures throughout the most exciting and eventful day the lonely spinster has ever experienced.

One of the last few times I was in the US (not this summer), I watched the movie adaptation of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day with my best friend. Such a wonderful cast, with Frances McDormand absolutely perfect as Miss Pettigrew, Amy Adams absolutely radiant as the bubbly Delysia, Ciaran Hinds (the only Captain Wentworth worth mentioning) as the man Miss Pettigrew finally experiences romance with, and the stunning Lee Pace as Michael, the suitor it's clear Delysia must end up with, as they are perfect together. I was so charmed by the movie and in preparation for this year's US trip, I decided to read the book to remember the fun time I had watching the movie.

The book (and film) very much has the elements of a screwball comedy or a farce. There's a lot of people being pushed out doors just as others are entering and tons of drama and complications, before everything sorts itself out in the end. Poor Miss Pettigrew has lived a life of drudgery, mostly overlooked and unappreciated. She clearly doesn't particularly enjoy taking care of other people's children and in the late 1930s (when the book is set), with war looming, she's quite aware that she may be out of employment permanently soon. She keeps getting swept along in Delysia's drama, postponing her confession that she's there for a job interview (and the scatter-brained young actress never seems to question why Miss Pettigrew shows up on her doorstep in the first place), because she doesn't want her exciting interlude from real life to end too soon.

Anyone expecting deep and profound revelations or in-depth explorations of the various characters in this book are going to be disappointed, as they are really more generally sketched. The whole book does (as the title promises) take place over the course of a day and we get a snapshot into these people's lives. There is not a lot of time spent dwelling on the inner life of Miss Pettigrew or her previous life as a governess, but we are given enough to understand that she is a good and decent woman, who is deeply alone and desperate for a change.

One of the things I really liked is that despite Miss Pettigrew being from a conservative family and strict upbringing, occasionally briefly shocked by a few things, she firmly refuses to judge any of the people she meets and there is absolutely no slut-shaming, despite Delysia clearly struggling to get rid of a one night stand in the morning, before the (somewhat scary and very wrong for her) man who basically keeps her housed and in expensive clothes and jewelry returns to discover he's been cuckolded, plus has a dashing third man wanting to marry her. I also liked the mental image Miss Pettigrew builds of Michael, until the man actually appears in the latter half of the book and it's obvious to everyone that he's perfect for Delysia (who really isn't great at standing up for herself).

After a lifetime of being ignored, Miss Pettigrew is seen, acknowledged and appreciated, not just by Delysia, but as the day progresses, several of her friends. She drinks quite a bit of alcohol, she smokes a cheroot, she receives a make-over, she goes to a night-club, she dances with a handsome man and she gets to witness a punch-up. How can she ever go back to a life of raising other people's children? I don't want to spoil the ending, but I am happy to reveal that Miss Pettigrew gets just as happy an ending as Delysia eventually does, with the promise of more days truly worth living in her future.

If you haven't read this book, do yourself a favour. Read the book, then see the film - they are both so worth it. You'll have a delightful time.

Judging a book by its cover: Not really much to say here. It's grey. With a little with square letting you know the title and the author of the book. This may be the most depressing packaging of classic books I've ever seen. How in the world is this going to inspire people to pick up and read these books?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday 12 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 81: "The Complete Maus" by Art Spiegelman

Page count: 296 pages
Rating: 4 stars

 The two volumes of Maus are Art Spiegelman's attempts to document the struggles of his parents before and during the Second World War, as well as his not always harmonious relationship with his elderly father. The framing narrative shows Art interviewing his father Vladek about his recollections of the time before and during the war, as well as trying to deal with his temperamental parent, despite their many differences. The illustrations are famous and the subject matter is, of course, very worthy.

So why didn't I love it? It's a graphic novel depiction of the persecution of the Polish Jews and their trials during the Holocaust, which also deals with the difficult aftermath and the struggle of the survivors' offspring to understand the trials of their parents. Art wasn't born until after the war, always extremely aware of his elder brother, who died, even as his parents tried to save him by sending him away. His mother Anja seems to have been mentally fragile, even before the war, and committed suicide. His father Vladek remarried, but seems to have made strange demands of both his new wife Mala and his son, and doesn't exactly seem like the easiest of people to live with or relate to.

I really liked the historical parts that dealt with Art's parents' lives before and during the war. The framing narrative worked a lot less well for me, mainly because Vladek was such a pain! Moody, crotchety, mean to his second wife (and occasionally his son). At the same time, it seems as if the son could absolutely spend more time with his father NOT constantly badgering him to recall painful memories so said son can turn it into an award winning graphic novel - there's just a lot of people here who I don't particularly like, even though their lives have clearly been tough and full of suffering.

These two graphic novels, collected in the one volume I read, are hugely acclaimed and have won tons of awards (including the Pulitzer), so it doesn't really matter what I think, one way or another. I wanted to love this, but found a lot of it hard going to read, not mainly because of the depiction pre- and during the Holocaust, but because I just couldn't really connect with the main characters. The art is very well done (while some might say that the portrayal of the Jews as mice and the Germans/Nazis as cats is overly simple, the way other humans are depicted, like the non-Jewish Polish being pigs, or the Americans being dogs is clever, I think. I also loved that when the Jews were trying to pass for non-Jewish, they wore little pig-masks over their faces) and I recognise the importance of the work, but it really wasn't entirely my cup of tea.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover of this is as iconic as the book itself, with Spiegelman's parents as the mice and the swastika and stylised Hitler-face (the Nazis all being cats), looming in the background. The red splash of the heading, bringing to mind both spray paint and blood.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

#CBR8 Book 80: "Locke & Key, vol 3: Crown of Shadows" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Page count: 140 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is volume 3 in an ongoing story arc and really won't make much sense to anyone beginning the series here. Start at the beginning with Vol 1: Welcome to Lovecraft.

The three half-orphaned Locke children, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, have already gone through so much horror and heartbreak, and it doesn't seem to be letting up any time soon. Their mother is becoming less dependable, as she's gradually descending further into alcoholism and madness, aggravated by the evil spirit haunting their lives.

Kinsey is closer to shaking off the malicious influence of Dodge when she meets some new friends, including Scott Cavanaugh, who clearly has a crush on her. After some truly reckless behaviour in the water-filled caverns under Lovecraft House, she and her new gang bond after escaping possibly hypothermia and drowning and she doesn't really seem to interested in her older brother's moody, mysterious friend.

Dodge still wants the Omega key, though, and after gaining possession of the Shadow key takes full control over all the shadows around the mansion, but is dealt a setback once Tyler Locke fights back in a truly spectacular fashion. At the end of the issue, he makes a startling discovery, which I'm sure will have repercussions further on in the story.

The poor members of the Locke family have already been through so much horror, and with each volume, it just gets worse. I am by now so very attached to the three siblings, and even their poor, beleaguered mother, even as I wish she'd try to snap out of her self-pity and misery, stop drinking and help her already struggling children. The Locke kids have been given a bad hand, and while they occasionally seem to be managing to fight back against the malicious spirit who wants the strange and magical keys littering their house, I can't help but think any small victory is only temporary. There are three more books to come, after all (and I bought them all in the US, so I will be reading them soon).

While I didn't much care for the Joe Hill novel I read, I am still completely engrossed in the story of these graphic novels. The reason I rarely read horror is that I immerse myself so much in the things I read, and my poor emotions just can't deal with too much torture and death and anguish in one go. These books are just so addictive, though, and the storytelling and art keeps being top-notch. I'm hooked and have to stay with it until the end now, even as I worry about how many of my beloved characters are going to make it out safely, or even alive.

Judging a book by its cover: Dark, atmospheric and suitably spooky, the cover of volume three is all blacks and greys and blues, with the Shadow key (the most prominent key in question in the book is always featured on the cover) front and centre, eerily surrounded by a blue light. The same key is featured in the title heading too, for those who pay attention and the background of a windswept sea and a light-house hint at some of the action of the book taking place by the water.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

Thursday 11 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 79: "Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon" by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Javier Pulido

Page count: 136 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

I didn't know a whole lot about Hawkeye outside of the Marvel comic book movies, where he's clearly an excellent bowman and reclusive family man, but also Black Widow's wise-quipping sidekick. I've heard good things about Matt Fraction's run on this comic for years, and since it was on our shelf, this summer seemed like the right time to finally check it out. I'm so glad I did.

In the comic, Hawkeye, or Clint Barton as he's known when he's not a part of the Avengers, is not a family man. In the first issue of this trade (the first five issues and a special of Young Avengers, showing how Kate Bishop and Hawkeye first met), he gets a dog, but he appears to live alone and be quite content with that. The closest thing he has to a family is Kate Bishop, his young protegee, who may be the only one in the world as good as (or even better with) arrows than he is.

In my review of the first volume of Captain Marvel, I complained that I didn't really find out much about who she was as a person, or what the exact nature of her powers were (I found out later that apparently while it is labelled as volume 1, it's strictly speaking more like volume 4 in the ongoing Kelly Sue DeConnick-written adventures of Captain Marvel, which would probably explain why it felt like I was missing a LOT - bad marketing move there, guys). This is more what I expected from the first trade about a superhero (albeit a human one with no actual superpowers, just a dedicated training regime and amazing archery skills).

Matt Fraction writes a very likable Hawkeye, who will risk his own safety to rescue a dog in traffic, spend a lot of his own money to save the people in his neighbourhood from being evicted, who will team up with his teenage sidekick to outsmart a circus full of bad guys, can easily escape car chase with his quiver full of seemingly useless novelty arrows, is quite the ladies man, and occasionally a very decent secret agent and decoy. I loved the action and humour, the easy-going relationship between Clint and Kate (although the Young Avengers story at the end was my least favourite of the issues in the trade) and seeing some of the stuff Barton might get up to when he's not one of the more physically vulnerable of the Avengers. The writing is clever and fun and the art was also very well done. With a colour palette of mostly dark colours, the comic gets a noir aesthetic which adds to my enjoyment.

Sadly, because the Oslo public library system seems to mainly prioritise NORWEGIAN books (strange that) and not really American superhero comics of any kind, the husband and I have to buy all the comics and graphic novels we read. So while I really want more of this, I suspect I'm going to have to wait a while (as we've spent well over our summer budget already while in New York).

Judging a book by its cover: I think the mostly black and white, rather stark cover, with the purple (Hawkeye's signature colour) details in the form of bullseyes (cause he's an archer, see what they did there?) is really eye-catching and cool. The art style mirrors that inside the comic really well and while the use of arrows in the font can be a bit seen as a bit hokey, I like it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read. 

Monday 8 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 77-78: "Chew, vol 2: International Flavor" and "Chew, vol 3: Just Desserts" by John Layman and Rob Guillory

Total page count: 256 pages
Chew, vol 2: 4 stars
Chew, vol 3: 3 stars

Chew is a truly strange comic book where a lot of the characters have abilities out of the ordinary with regards to food and drink. Tony Chu, our hero, is cibopathic. This means that he gets a psychic impression from everything he ingests. This can mean that he can picture the tree an apple came from or see the field a vegetable was grown in and how it came to be harvested, or he can experience the last moments of a pig before it's slaughtered and turned into sausage. The only thing that doesn't give off a psychic impression? Beets. Tony eats a LOT of beets.

Because of his unusual powers, Tony is a detective with the Special Crimes Division of the FDA, which is the most powerful law enforcement agency in the world in this comics universe. He can get psychic impressions by taking a bite of anything left at the crime scene (very often dead bodies). A few years ago (in this world) a bird flu pandemic swept the world, meaning that chicken has been totally banned for human consumption. As a result, people do the craziest things to get some. There are chicken smugglers, underground chicken restaurants and all sorts of shenanigans.

I read the first volume of Chew, Taster's Choice back in December 2012 (it was a Christmas present from the husband). In that book, Chu is recruited into the FDA and paired up with a cibopathic partner. After a lot of bad (and occasionally disgusting) stuff goes down, Tony's partner reveals himself to be rather unstable, and goes rogue. Tony's former partner from the Philadelphia PD, John Colby, is hit in the face with a large meat cleaver. At the start of book 2, International Flavor, we discover that John didn't die, but instead had state of the art surgery and thanks to several bionic upgrades is not only still alive, but now also works for the FDA. He is, in fact, Tony's new partner!

Tony's boss, Captain Appelbee, hates him (I suspect the reasons for this are made obvious in book 1, but I can't remember). He keeps trying to send him on any assignment that involves Tony having to ingest something truly disgusting. At the beginning of book 2, Colby saves Chu from having to taste a sample from a very large pile of poo found at a crime scene, by insisting on using good old-fashioned detective work (and his new bionic upgrades) to solve the case. This also leads to their discovery of a new fruit, which tastes just like chicken when cooked.

Tony takes a holiday and travels to the island paradise of Yamapalu to find out more about this mysterious new product. Also on the island is his brother, Chow Chu, a five star gourmet chef, recently hired by a new resort hotel. Once on Yamapalu, Tony meets a rival cop, from the USDA. She is investigating the disappearance of several world class chefs and Tony starts getting worried about his brother's safety. The USDA agent thinks the missing chefs are somehow connected to the recent discovery of the fruit, called Gallus Sapadillo or 'galsberry', on the island. Since it was found, the governor of the island has banned chicken of all kinds, in his attempts to make the fruit a viable chicken substitute. The USDA agent suspects foul play of some sort.

Then she turns up dead, and Tony was seen very publicly fighting her shortly before her death. Chu is arrested, but once his name is cleared, he teams up with police chief Raymond Kulolo. While imprisoned, Tony (after biting one of his fellow cell mates in self defence when said goon tried to beat the crap out of him) discovers that several of the recent deaths on the formerly peaceful island are because of people trying to locate a very special fighting rooster, Poyo, used in an underground cock fighting ring on the island. Chu and Kulolo team up to track down the mighty Poyo, while Tony also tries to prevent something sinister happening to his brother.

Book 3, Just Desserts, is a lot more episodic and therefore read as a lot more disjointed. Tony Chu is now dating Amelia Mintz, a food writer who is a Saboscrivner. She can write about food so accurately that people get an actual sensation of taste when reading about the meals she describes. For Tony, who is overwhelmed by psychic sensations every time he eats or drinks anything that isn't beets, Amelia's writing is his only way to experience food like normal people. The first issue is them going on their first date, undercover at an exclusive dining club, where the members try to eat as many endangered species as possible. The book also sees the return of former police chief of Yamapalu, Raymond Kulolo, although this time, he's dead. We also meet Poyo the battle rooster again. Finally, in this book, we get to meet more of Tony's family. We discover that he's a twin, whose sister is known as Toni (I loved this) and that there are a whole host of different family members, not all too happy with Tony's job. His rogue former partner also makes an appearance, setting up for things to come in later books, I suspect.

I really like the strange and oddball characters and the really unusual world building in this comic. Tony Chu is a really nice protagonist and his special power is both cool and a bit depressing. Being able to eat nothing but beets seems pretty dreary, even if it gives him a unique edge at work. He can identify a murderer easily enough, but it means resorting to actual cannibalism. The writing is witty and fun, and the art by Rob Guillory is absolutely excellent. While things can get a bit disgusting at times (seriously, some of the stuff Chu has to eat), the stories are mostly very entertaining and I can't wait to see what comes next for Tony, John, Amelia and the others.

Judging a book by its cover: The covers of these two trades will give you some impression of the artwork inside. Book 2 shows Tony and his new partly bionic partner, John, while also showing us the island of Yamapalu, depicted in exactly the same shape as the pile of dung that Tony's boss hopes he'll be forced to take a bite of to solve the first crime of the book. The third book shows Amelia and Tony at dinner in the first story, with Tony's first cibopathic partner looming ominously over them behind the table. I really like these covers, just as I love the in-comic art.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read