Friday 29 June 2018

#CBR10 Book 50: "When Dimple Met Rishi" by Sandhya Menon

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

All Dimple Shah wants is to go to Stanford and become a web developer. She fights against her mother's expectations of her, that she wear girlier clothes and make-up and find a "nice Indian husband". When her parents agree to let her attend a web development seminar in San Francisco for the summer, she becomes more optimistic that they may in fact support her career goals.

Rishi Patel loves hearing the story about how his parents met and has no problem with the idea of his parents arranging his future marriage. Even if he knows nothing about programming, he will happily attend a web development seminar in San Francisco before going off to MIT, since that's where his intended is going to be, giving him the chance to properly woo her. Unfortunately, their first meeting is somewhat of a disaster, as it turns out Dimple has absolutely no idea who he is and what her and Rishi's parents have been discussing. While Rishi embraces his Indian culture and loves the ideas of the traditions and rituals, Dimple feels wholly American and fights her heritage tooth and nail.

Now she's teamed up with Rishi for the entire program, and she wants so desperately to create the winning app, so she can meet her role model and kick start her career. She wants to hate Rishi, but quickly discovers that he's actually a perfectly nice person and she can't deny that she at least wants to be friends with him. Of course, as the weeks pass and they spend most of their time together, Dimple grows closer to Rishi, and may be forced to acknowledge that her parents may have known what they were doing when they considered him as her future spouse.

I've seen this book raved about on a number of review websites since it came out and since I was in a bit of a reading slump and needed something sweet and cheerful, this book seemed to fit the bill. All those rave reviews were completely right, this is a delight of a book and a very sweet YA rom com in book form. While they're both from the same cultural background, initially at least it seems Dimple and Rishi couldn't be more different, both in interests and future plans and dreams. When Dimple allows herself to give Rishi a chance, she comes to see that it's quite nice to spend time with someone with the same kind of parental expectations and not needing to explain or give context to everything.

While Dimple feels entirely American and feels like her mother's expectations of her are stifling, her parents are actually very supportive of her wishes to be a web developer. She discovers that while Rishi is set to go to MIT after the summer, his true passion is art. He's a very talented artist and has developed his own comics character, but feels that pursuing a creative arts degree would be pointless as it's unlikely to lead to a long term career, and with his younger brother being an athlete, Rishi feels he needs to follow in their father's footsteps.

While Dimple and Rishi's parents are good friends and would love for their children to make a match of it, it's made very clear that none of the children are going to be disowned or shunned if they don't like one another. Rishi really has no interest in coding or programming and only goes to the summer program to get a chance to meet Dimple, and when he discovers that she has no idea who he is or that their parents are hoping they may fall for one another, he offers to leave. When he does stay and understands just how important winning the app development is to Dimple, he's very supportive and does all that he can to help her, including bolstering her confidence to help her during the more extroverted parts of the course.

Dimple and Rishi's parents aren't exactly in the book a lot, but when they do appear, you can tell how much they love their children. Rishi's younger brother becomes an important supporting character in the second half of the book, as does Dimple's party girl roommate Celia. I obviously have little personal experience with arranged matches, but the author, Sandhya Menon, is of Indian descent, and clearly wanted to make a romantic story between American teens with a different cultural background than a lot of their peers. In terms of representation, a brainy girl interested in tech and a sensitive boy with a passion for the arts are hopefully good things for other teens of South Asian descent.

This was a very cute and fun book and I'm already looking forward to Ms Menon's new book, which came out earlier this year.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover is cute and appropriate, with a sweet South Asian girl drinking iced coffee, as Dimple often does in the book. To fit even better, the girl should have been wearing thick-framed glasses as well (us bespectacled people would like to see our own on book covers on occasion too).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 24 June 2018

#CBR10 Book 49: "The First Time at Firelight Falls" by Julie Ann Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Ten years ago, Eden Harwood had a daughter, Annelise, and she has refused to tell anyone who the mystery dad is. Working as a florist, volunteering in the PTA, she's dedicated herself to being the only parent her daughter could need and giving her the best upbringing she possibly can, to the point where pretty much every moment of her existence is scheduled. She doesn't have time for anything except work and her daughter. Recently, though, Annelise has become more interested in the idea of a dads and what hers is like.

Gabe Caldera is used to the attention of the single women of Hellcat Canyon, but the only one he is interested in is Eden Harwood. She, on the other hand, barely seems to know he exists. Like Eden, most of Gabe's days are fully scheduled, with work, school board meetings, volunteering and soccer coaching, but he's determined to find time to woo Eden and after his time as a Navy SEAL, Gabe knows all about planning a successful campaign. He's well on his way to being successful when a certain someone from Eden's past comes to town and complicates things somewhat.

Everyone knows that in historical romances, the majority of characters are titled and the hero is more often than not a duke, or at least a viscount or an earl. In contemporary romances, there are a lot of billionaires, film or rock stars - but you can also just get fairly normal people doing everyday jobs in small towns. Like this book, which has a single mum heroine who runs a flower shop and the hero, who is the principal of her daughter's elementary school (although he's also an ex-Navy SEAL, because his super fit body has to be explained somehow). While reading romance to me is a lot about comfort (it always ends happily, even when it gets really angsty there for a while) and escapism, it can be nice to read to read something slightly more realistic, with characters who hold down regular jobs and are good at what they do for a living.

Both Gabe and Eden are hard working, very busy people, neither of whom are entirely sure that they even have time for dating. Eden's first priority is always her daughter Annelise, who she's trying to provide the best possible life for. For ten years, the girl has been happy with just one parent, but she can't help but notice all the other children who generally have two parents, and she's curious about both her own dad and about what dads do, in general.

Having never really taken any time for herself since she became a mum, Eden needs to come around to the idea of herself as a woman worthy of love and affection, not just a self sacrificing mother. One of the things she finds so attractive about Gabe is his reliability and competence, not just his fine physique. Their initial courtship involves purposefully interrupted conversations, ensuring that they both keep thinking of one another until the next time they run into each other.

I don't think it's a big spoiler to say that the complication that comes between Eden and Gabe is the sudden reappearance of Annelise's father. By the time his identity is revealed, I doubt many readers are all that surprised, there are some pretty heavy hints dropped earlier in the book. While there is some jealousy and male posturing, I liked that Eden made it extremely clear that what she had with Annelise's dad was a one time thing, and she has absolutely no further interest in him, romantically or sexually. Gabe and her baby daddy just take a bit longer to realise this.

This is the second contemporary romance this year where the hero is named Gabriel. I don't know if I just notice it more because that's the name I chose for my own little boy, but it creates a strange disconnect, that's for sure.

While it took Julie Anne Long a while to find her groove in contemporaries (the first few of her Hellcat Canyon books are not as good as her historical romances), the previous one in the series and this one had her trademark wit and while they may not have stood up to the best of the Pennyroyal Green books, they certainly entertained me and kept me wanting to read more. Annelise, Eden's daughter has something of the plot moppet about her, but never gets too annoyingly precocious either, and a single mother heroine is certainly better than some wholly inexperienced virgin. This book was a fun read, and Ms Long keeps introducing new characters that can support upcoming sequels with each new book.

Judging a book by its cover: I REALLY don't like people kissing on my romance covers. It's bad enough to have a couple of cover models who look nothing like my mental image of the characters (also the woman looks a LOT like Isla Fisher to me, but that could just be because the husband and I have been watching a lot of the later seasons of Arrested Development where she's one of the supporting cast), but having them in full-on PDA is not ok with me. Leave something to the imagination, please.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Saturday 23 June 2018

#CBR Book 48: "Kindred" by Octavia E. Butler

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 5 stars

In what must be the most frightening birthday surprise ever, on Dana's 26th birthday, as she is moving into a new house with her husband Kevin, she suddenly feels dizzy and gets transported away from her safe and familiar surroundings in 1976. She comes to in the woods by a river, where a boy is in the process of drowning. Dana reacts instinctively and wades into the water, rescuing the boy. Faced with the boy's hysterical mother, and more terrifyingly, the boy's angry father, who points a rifle at her, Dana is suddenly back with her husband. She might have believed that she hallucinated the whole thing, except she's wet and muddy and bruised after being pummelled by the boy's hysterical mother.

It doesn't take long before it happens again. Now Dana is transported into an old house, and has to put out a fire in some curtains. While it's barely been a few hours for Dana in 1976, the boy she rescued in the river has clearly aged a few years. Not only that, he lives in the early 19th Century, in Maryland, long before slavery was abolished. While the boy, Rufus, gets increasingly older with each new encounter, barely any time passes in Dana's present between each new and terrifying time jump. She's unable to relax and enjoy her life, never sure when she may be suddenly dragged back through time. She begins keeping supplies with her in a bag, tied to her body, and her visits in the past seem to last longer with each new encounter.

At first Dana, who is a young black woman, cannot understand what connects her to this white man, but as she learns more about him and where he's from, she figures out that he must be one of her ancestors and something inexplicable is drawing her to him every time he is in danger. She needs to make sure he stays alive long enough to father the girl who will pass on Dana's family line. With each consecutive stay in the past, Dana's own life is further endangered, and there is the very real and scary possibility that she might die, trying to ensure that she ever gets born in the first place.

Kindred was the June 2018 CBR book club selection, one of the most highly rated books in the history of the site (I suspect its average rating has gone up even more now, with more people reading or re-reading it). My copy was given to me during the CBR gift exchange last year, and I was very excited when it was picked for the book club. I've long wanted to read something by Octavia E. Butler, and this, while nominally science fiction, seemed a lot more like historical fiction with a twist to me. Readers of my reviews know that while I do occasionally find the odd sci-fi book that I really enjoy, it's still one of the genres I keep having to challenge myself to keep trying and more often than not, it doesn't entirely work. But historical fiction with some time travel - that's pretty much Outlander. In addition, I am always aware that I should read more diversely. I'm a middle class white woman, I need to read books by individuals from different cultural, racial and religious background than my own.

While I didn't classify it as such in my tags, this book could clearly have been tagged as suspense. Dana's initial jump into the past is quick and doesn't get too scary, but with each subsequent encounter between her and Rufus, the stakes get higher. By the second visit, Dana figures out that it's danger to Rufus that makes him call her to him in the past, but it takes her a bit longer to understand that it's danger to herself that sends her back forward to her own time. Interestingly, as she spends more time in the past and gets accustomed to the brutality then, it takes more and more to send her home, as she comes to learn just how resilient her body actually is.

It's never explained how Dana comes to be jumped through time, but she learns quickly that whatever she touches at the time is sent back with her and in one particularly dramatic incident, her husband Kevin is sent back with her. Because Kevin is white, everyone in the past (many of whom are not entirely sure what to think of Dana, who is certainly not like the other downtrodden black people - most of whom are slaves - and her strange comings and goings, appearing to barely age) believes him to be Dana's owner. While the idea upsets and disgusts both of them, they figure that it's just easier to go with that story than try to explain their real relationship. Shockingly, Dana is transported back to 1976 without Kevin and while their separation is "only" eight days for her, more than five years have passed for him when she returns. Because the whole story is told from Dana's point of view, we don't learn too much of what Kevin experienced in that long and no doubt harrowing separation.

Dana is an educated and enlightened woman in 1976. Both she and her husband are writers and think they are fairly well informed about history and slavery. Yet Dana quickly discovers that reading about her enslaved ancestors and observing, and in parts, living as a slave is something completely different. Then there's the horrible fact that she needs to ensure that Rufus lives long enough to father the child who will continue the line down to Dana herself. The woman who is to birth the child starts out as a free woman, Alice, who loves someone else, yet Dana needs to pretty much support the enslavement and subjugation of this woman, to ensure that she herself will be born in the future. It's an unthinkable dilemma and naturally does a number on her.

I couldn't quite read this book in one sitting, but every time I picked it up, I found myself reading for longer than I should because I just had to find out what scary and unthinkable thing was going to happen next. Dana is a very engaging protagonist and each of her involuntary visits to the past are contained in separate chapters. Neither she nor the reader knows how long it will be until she's called back and that provides extra impetus to keep reading. Dana's experiences in the past, observing slavery firsthand and coming to both understand and feel personally the effects it had on people, the sad corruption of Rufus (from a little boy who is friends with black children, both enslaved and free to a selfish, petty man who will willingly enslave one of the companions of his childhood) - it all affected me on a deep level. I understand now why this is such an acclaimed book, both among critics and readers in general. I will absolutely be trying more of Ms Butler's books in the future.

Judging a book by its cover: This is the cover of my paperback and as always, books done in black, white and red are very striking and eye catching. There's the hands reaching across the cover, one man's and one woman's. Do they belong to Dana and Kevin? Or Dana and Rufus? Or Rufus and Alice? Alice and her husband's? There are several possibilities. There's the white links, evoking chains. I like the cover a lot.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday 22 June 2018

CBR10 Book 47: "Chaos Choreography" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Verity and Dominic have left New York, and got married in Vegas while travelling with Verity's stuff cross-country. Verity has given up on her alter ego Valerie Pryor and her career in ballroom dancing and is fully committed to cryptozoology with her new husband and the rest of her family. Then she gets a call from the producer of "Dance or Die", the reality show that she came runner up in a few years ago and she's asked to return for a "former contestants" edition. While she's unsure of what to do, her family encourage her to go and make sure, once and for all, what career is the one she's meant to devote herself to.

Posing as Valerie again, with Dominic hiding out in a motel a ways away, Verity reunites with old friends and gets serious about dance again. Then she discovers that the contestants who have been voted off the show are being killed and their bodies used in some sort of sinister, arcane ritual. Verity is going to need help, more than just Dominic is able to give her. Luckily, her grandma Alice is willing and able to lend a hand, and together they start investigating, only to discover that the danger is greater and more immediate than they feared.

I was very happy to spend time with Verity and Dominic again, and they are super cute as newly weds. We are also properly introduced to Verity's grandma Alice, who due to complicated reasons looks young enough to pose as Verity's cousin. She seemed no nonsense and absolutely hardcore. There's another mystery of people going missing and turning up dead, and yet another group of people trying to summon a snake god - this time people who seem to know what they're doing. Friends and acquaintances of Verity are in danger and she and her family have to stop the cultists before everyone on the show dies.

My biggest problem with this book came towards the end, when things suddenly seem to happen all too quickly. Several people Verity cares about are dead, yet she seems curiously unaffected by it. She also makes some poor decisions in one dramatic moment that I can't imagine won't have pretty serious repercussions in books to come. It seemed out of character for her, and I can't imagine any of her family members are going to be particularly happy about it. I'm assuming McGuire has some sort of plan going forward, but I think it may be time for me to take a break from these books for a while now - I think I've reached my limit for a while.

Judging a book by its cover: While you may be fooled into thinking this cover features a pair of blonde twins sporting guns, this is in fact supposed to be Verity (and I refuse to believe that a reality TV show that wanted viewers would put her in whatever the heck the woman on the cover is wearing here to dance - just nope) and her grandmother Alice, whose rarely if ever shows her true age, due to exploring a lot of strange dimensional portals looking for her missing husband. Her tattoos contain magic spells, which I also thought was pretty cool. So far, this is my least favourite cover in the series after the first one.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 46: "Pocket Apocalypse" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Alexander Price had an unusual upbringing and has been trained from childhood to deal with all sorts of dangerous situations. Nevertheless, one of the scariest things he ever had to face was a werewolf outbreak. So when his girlfriend Shelby asks him to come to Australia with him to help her and her family stop a werewolf outbreak there, he really really wants to say no - but of course he agrees. If werewolves were to get a proper foothold in Australia, it would be disastrous. Reluctant as he is to face any again, not to mention being nervous about meeting Shelby's family - he's a Price, and knows he has a duty to protect both humans and friendly cryptozoological species.

Shelby's family aren't exactly delighted to meet Alex and they are feeling extra on edge with this additional threat. It quickly becomes apparent that the werewolf infestation may be more severe than they first believed, and as Alex and Shelby, along with Shelby's family and friends investigate, signs seem to suggest that werewolves may be a lot more clever and organised than any cryptozoologist previously suspected. The threat just got a lot more serious.

This is the fourth book in this series, and I'm still not enjoying the books about Alex and Shelby as much as those about Verity and Dominic. Having most of the book set in Australia, with a whole new and different set of beasties was pretty cool. What got old really fast was Shelby's super judgemental and hostile family and the way they would just dismiss and/or distrust Alex constantly, even after he risks his life trying to save them. Although it was clear that Shelby wasn't going to give them up as a lost cause, so I suppose he had to find a way to try to understand them if he wanted to build a future with her.

The werewolves are really rather creepy and added a really tense element to the story. The fact that not only humans, but animals can get infected and become ravening terrifying beasts was a cool touch. The "surprise" twist that the Prices and other cryptozoologists may have underestimated just how much of their humanity the affected victims retained wasn't all that shocking to me, and again made the story more interesting than the "hunt for the basilisk" of the last book.

As always, the Aeslin mice continue to be pretty much the best part of the story. Part of me wants a little colony of my own, but another part would also be driven slowly mad by all their "HAIL!"s and constant devotion.

The next book is about Verity again and it seems that we finally get to spend more time with the mysterious grandma Alice. I can't say I'm too bothered if we get any more books about Alex. He's a bit meh.

Judging a book by its cover: The wolves on the cover look suitably creepy (although I'm not sure why it looks like there is yellow smoke coming out of their glowy eyes). I appreciate that Alex doesn't look romance hero handsome, but just like an ordinary guy. Paranormal fantasy always seems populated with super gorgeous people, a bit like on a CW show and it's nice that this series has some average people in it too.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday 18 June 2018

#CBR10 Book 45: "Hamilton: The Revolution" by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Page count: 285 pages
Rating: 5 stars

A quick search suggests that this book has been reviewed for Cannonball at least eight times already, so it's not like anything I say about the book is likely to be new or revolutionary (see what I did there). I don't think there was ever any doubt that I was going to love this book, considering just how much I love the musical.

I don't remember exactly when I first heard about Hamilton, but it's likely to be early in 2016 (I got this as a birthday gift that year from my best friend, and then postponed reading it until spring this year, in preparation for seeing the musical live in London). Enough people I know on the internets (it's where almost all my friends "live" now) were talking about it in such enthusiastic tones that I was curious. I discovered that the music was available on Spotify, and don't think I've been so immediately taken with a musical since I first heard Les Miserables (another musical where I'd listened to the music countless times before I actually got to see it on stage. The first time I heard it, it was the Norwegian translation - not as good as the English, but still great). I had shivers down my spine, I cried buckets, especially during the second act. I'd listened to it more times than I could count by the time the husband and I visited New York in the summer of 2016, so when I saw this book in a bookstore, there was no question it was going to go on my birthday wish list.

Yet when I finally had the beautiful hardcover, I didn't feel like starting it right away. Other things kept getting in the way, and once I secured tickets to the show in London, I made the conscious decision to wait to read it until our trip was getting closer, so the reading experience would be fresh in my mind. Of course, this spring, there's a little someone who takes up most of my time and also tends to wreck my concentration. I can get a fair bit of reading done, by either listening to audio books or holding my Kindle in one hand while nursing, but juggling a big hardback book and turning pages while also half-wrestling a rapidly growing infant (he's getting squirmier by the day) on my lap isn't the easiest. So I would usually get a few chapters read at a time while he was sleeping or being entertained by his father. I also listened to the cast recording on Spotify several times while reading the book, following along with the annotated lyrics for the songs included at the end of each chapter. In the end, I read the last two chapters the evening before we flew to London, once we were done packing, because the wee one was refusing to go to sleep. While reading a big hardback while nursing isn't ideal, it can be done and I was determined to get the book finished before we left.

Hamilton: An American Musical is a wonderful musical. It's a great show and seeing it on stage in London was a dream come true. While I pretty had all the lyrics memorised, seeing the actual staging and character interactions just blew me away. I was crying on and off throughout the entire show, much more so than when I just listen to it (and It's Quiet Uptown and Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story never fails to have me in tears). Having the back story of how the show came to be, with all the work and loving labour that went into it probably made it an even better experience.

It's a beautiful book, with so many behind the scenes pictures and I can't imagine any fan of the show wouldn't get a lot out of reading this book.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover of my hardback is very simple, with the now pretty iconic image promoting the musical at the centre. The background colour is chosen to bring to mind old paper or parchment, I suspect (the pages of the hardback are the same, it's lovely). Simple, yet elegant. I don't think they needed a flashy cover design for this book to sell.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 14 June 2018

#CBR10 Book 44: "Binti" by Nnedi Okorafor

Page count: 96 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Spoiler warning! In my explanation of what worked and didn't for me in this story, I will be going into plot specific details. If you want to approach this story completely unspoiled, you may just want to read the first few paragraphs.

Binti is the first of her people, the Himba, to be offered a place at the Oomza University, the finest in the galaxy. She pretty much runs away, knowing that her decision to take her place at the university might mean she is no longer welcome back with her family. While the prospect of going far away is daunting, the promise of using her skills and learning is a heady draw. On the space shuttle on the way to Oomza, she begins to make new friends, but then disaster strikes.

Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, a race of jellyfish-like aliens who are known throughout the galaxy as warlike and fearsome. Binti is in terrible danger and needs to find a way to communicate (and hopefully placate) these beings if she is to survive and make it to her destination.

In 2016, this novella won the Hugo, the Nebula and the Nommo Award and was nominated for a Locus. I had heard a lot about it and Nnedi Okorafor, so when this was the monthly pick in Vaginal Fantasy a while back, I figured it was finally time to read it (as is the case more often than not, I didn't actually get round to reading the book until after the hosts had discussed it, but the various hosts' enthusiastic responses to the story made me optimistic). Having heard so much about it and with it having won so many awards, I was expecting something more.

Spoilers beyond this point...

I get that this is a novella, so the author doesn't have the time to go into the depth that she could in a novel, but I've also read novellas that are pretty much perfect in the way they capture not only characters, but a specific time and setting. So it can clearly be done - and I found this story lacking. It felt like Okorafor spent a lot of time dealing with Binti's preparations for the journey and establishing a bunch of characters that are then just killed off. I'm still not entirely sure how Binti was the sole survivor of the Meduse massacre, but it seemed to have to do with her "magic clay". As far as I can tell, the Meduse have been at war with the people who run the Oomza University for some time and there's been a lot of killing (including the entire spaceship full of students that Binti was on), but then the situation is fairly rapidly resolved in the end, and lo and behold - one of the Meduse will even get enrolled as a student - no grudges held?

I would have liked a bit more elaboration and clarification on quite a few points. I never understood exactly what it is that Binti is so brilliant at, what made her get accepted to University in the first place. She does calculations at an advanced level? It wasn't adequately explained exactly why Binti would risk shunning by her family and culture for going away to University either. Then there is the fact that this inexperienced student from what appears to be a minority culture (on Earth - what planet is she from, really?) manages to convince this fearsome race of aliens not only to spare her, but to let her negotiate a peace treaty on their behalf? Which they allow her to do, after physically altering her forever, without her consent. This did not sit well with me.

Then there's the whole conflict between the Meduse and the people who run the University was started by the Meduse leader's stinger (I don't entirely remember, it's been a month and a half since I finished the book) being stolen, and everything was resolved by its return, miraculously negotiated by Binti. Cause it seems to me there must have been others more capable of sorting this out in the past, without so much blood probably being spilled on both sides? Also, after what seems to have been a long and aggressive conflict, it's totally ok to just enroll a Meduse student at the University, no more questions asked?

I liked Binti as a character - it's always to have science minded girls who defy expectations to pursue their interests, but I didn't feel I got to know her enough. She also seemed entirely too unbothered by the life-altering modifications done to her by the Meduse, but since everyone else on the ship was killed, maybe she feels that it's a small price to pay to still be alive?

I'm left with a few too many questions and niggles to really have been able to enjoy this story. Having not read any of the other novellas nominated for the awards it won, I honestly can't say whether it was a deserving winner - but I do have to question it. It seemed just a bit too simplistic to me. There are two more novellas in this series now, but I'm not sure I can be bothered to read them. That's not exactly good for something that won that many awards and so much critical acclaim.

Judging a book by its cover: I think the cover is quite beautiful, with a confident-looking woman of colour staring out at the reader. The colour she's rubbing over her face has significance in the story and is a big part of Binti's identity. I think I like the cover more than I do the actual book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 7 June 2018

#CBR10 Book 43: "Counting on a Countess" by Eva Leigh

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Christopher "Kit" Ellingsworth was given an Earldom for his bravery during the Napoleonic wars. It doesn't really bring in any money, though, so Kit is pretty much penniless and mounting up debts living the life of a libertine upon his return to London, everything to forget his time in battle. Hence he is surprised when he is told his mentor wishes to leave him a substantial long as he finds a wife within the next month. It doesn't leave him very much time to find someone willing to marry him.

Tamsyn Pearce has been an orphan since she was in her early teens and while her aunt and uncle seem to care very little about the lives and fates of the residents of the little Cornish village of Newcombe, Tamsyn feels differently. For the last eight years, she and the villagers have  run a successful smuggling operation, making sure the taxes could get paid and everyone would be able to feed themselves and their children. She's in London to find a buyer for her latest shipment of illicit goods, and if she could find a wealthy husband who won't ask too many questions as well, that would solve a lot of her problems. Her uncle wants to sell the family manor, Tamsyn's childhood home, and she needs enough funds to purchase it herself.

Kit and Tamsyn meet at a ball when he has a week left before the stated deadline. There's an instant spark between them and both need to find a spouse in a hurry, so they agree to marry. It's only after she is wed that Tamsyn discovers that her ex-soldier husband doesn't look kindly on law-breakers. Can she keep her handsome new husband from discovering what she and the villagers have been doing for the last eight years? Kit, on the other hand, discovers after signing all the legal paperwork, that he does have access to a substantial fortune, but his lovely new wife is the one who will be holding the purse strings. Kit wants to use the money to build a pleasure garden to help him forget about the horrors of war. Can he persuade his wife to surrender the funds?

Normally, I really like Eva Leigh's historical romances, but I'm not sure if it's because I just wasn't in the mood for it, or if this really was just a weaker entry of the author's. It's been over a month since I finished the book and I must be honest, I don't remember too many details about the plot. For readers looking for a lot of smexy times, it should be noted that it takes Kit and Tamsyn about two thirds of the book to finally consummate their marriage. So it's not exactly the raunchiest of reads.

Obviously, the big thing standing between the couple is Tamsyn's smuggling secrets. She needs to keep the truth from her husband, who while being an unrepentant rake before tying the knot, nevertheless risked his life in combat for king and country and doesn't look kindly on the law being broken through smuggling. Apart from that, the couple may have entered into a marriage of convenience, but both fall rather quickly for one another - I just didn't care all that much. Juggling reading, blogging and motherhood means I need something a bit more out of the ordinary to hold my attention. There is nothing badly wrong with this book, it just didn't wow me and has clearly not stayed very fresh in my memory. It's a fun enough, run of the mill historical. That is not to say others may not enjoy it more than I - but I would not encourage people to go out and pay full price for it either. I'll probably pick it up myself when I find it in a sale.

Judging a book by its cover: While the book was so so, and didn't really stick in my memory all that much, this cover is lovely. The cover model is very pretty and has the correct hair colour for Tamsyn. The dress is period appropriate (even though it's unlikely anyone on the windswept Cornish coast would show off that much naked skin) and the colour is gorgeous. The backdrop evokes a romantic sunset - I really like this a lot. Eva Leigh frequently has excellent covers - this is another to add to the list.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 42: "Leah on the Offbeat" by Becky Albertalli

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

While this book can be read as a standalone, it is a sequel of sorts to Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and I suspect you might get more out of it if you read that one first. The movie adaptation of said book; Love, Simon is currently in cinemas now (and it's just as delightful as the book it's based on).

Leah Burke has a big secret and she doesn't really feel comfortable telling anyone apart from her Mum, even her best friend Simon. Leah's bisexual, but doesn't really know how to tell even her openly gay BFF. Simon was involuntarily outed online for their entire high school to see, but it all ended well for him and he's been soppily happily in love with his boyfriend for most of senior year.

Leah is different from most of her friends - she lives with her single Mum and they certainly don't have the same amounts of money everyone else in her friend group has. With their high school graduation and prom coming up, Leah's previously so tight knit friend group seems to be fracturing and her home life is also changing in ways she's not sure she's ready for. Her Mum seems to be getting serious about her new boyfriend, and Leah's not really certain how she feels about that. She is pretty sure that she's in love, but she's also pretty sure the object of her affection is straight, not to mention still dating one of Leah's closest friends. Should Leah act on her crush, or stay silent?

While I didn't read this book during Pride month, it seems suitable that my review of it comes out during - considering the subject matter of this book. You don't often see confident and clearly out bisexual characters in YA fiction (or other types of genre fiction for that matter), but Leah is bi and proud and has both a female and a male love interest in this book. Her female love interest (the name of whom I don't want to disclose - because I don't want to spoil anything) is in a relationship with a boy at the start of the book and isn't entirely sure of her own sexuality to begin with - but Leah's never been in doubt about liking both genders, she just hasn't told anyone except her Mum about it.

About a month ago, I went to see Love, Simon in the cinema and Leah's character was played by the excellent Katherine Langford. The actress gets thanked in Albertalli's acknowledgements at the end, and I can see why, she seemed like a perfect choice (although the actress may be a bit too thin) and was pretty much my mental image while reading the book. When I read Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I pretty much loved Simon from page one. He's just so earnest and adorable. Leah is a slightly tougher nut to crack and while she lightens up on her Mum and her Mum's boyfriend eventually, I thought she was being generally bratty and unfair. Leah's Mum was great, so supportive and has clearly worked so hard to provide for her daughter - I wished Leah would show a bit more gratitude and acknowledge that her Mum deserved some happiness too.

There's a fair amount of teen drama in this book, with break-ups, conflicted feelings about the future and college choices, old friends coming to unpleasant realisations about each other, and obviously various characters crushing on each other. One of her male friends is clearly interested in her and wants to take her to prom. Leah finds his attention flattering, while also feeling guilty, since she fancies a girl more, but is unsure if said girl even vaguely returns her interest. It's a cute book, with a fun cast of diverse characters and absolutely in the vein of what Albertalli has written in the past, but it didn't give me the same happy feels as both Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited. Even ranked lowest of her three books, this is still a good read with a lot of nice role models for teens and I can't wait to see what Albertalli is doing next.

Judging a book by its cover: I don't know if it's the mustardy yellow top on the cover model that clashes with the teal background, or the fact that this cover just seems a lot more haphazardly thrown together than the ones for Albertalli's previous two books, but I really don't like this much. Two thumbs way up for a plus-size model on the cover - body positivity is very important, but I wish the cover designers had given Leah's book more care and consideration.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 6 June 2018

#CBR10 Book 41: "After the Wedding" by Courtney Milan

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

I was very kindly granted an ARC of this book in return for an unbiased review. I had already pre-ordered the book when I was given the ARC. The book is on sale now, and I recommend that you buy it.

This is the second novel in The Worth Saga. While it might work fine as a stand alone book, I would recommend beginning with the first book in the series, Once Upon a Marquess, to get a better idea of whom all the various supporting characters from Camilla's family are.

Lady Camilla Worth was twelve when her father and oldest brother were convicted of treason and her family lost their money and social standing. Her father committed suicide in prison, her brother Anthony was transported to Australia, but there was a big storm and a shipwreck on the way and he is believed to have died on the journey. A family friend offered to take in the remaining Worth siblings, with the exception of Camilla's younger sister, Theresa (who could most kindly be described as difficult). Judith, the eldest remaining Worth, promptly refused, and when Camilla wanted to stay, because she wanted "pretty dresses and lemon cakes", very harsh words were had, then Judith took her other two siblings and left. Camilla has never been able to forget Judith's angry words, and sadly didn't get to stay with their "uncle" for many weeks before he shipped her off to some friends, unable to care for a moody young girl. Camilla never gets to stay in one place for very long, getting sent on whenever she is deemed too difficult or whomever she ended up serving (usually unpaid) died and after eight years, believes she is being punished for having chosen material comfort over love all those years ago. Now she's working for a pittance for a minister who claims he's saving her soul. This is where she meets, and is married at gunpoint to Adrian.

Adrian Hunter is the grandson of a duke. His mother married a black abolitionist, and as a result, some of her family don't really want to acknowledge her or her family. Three of Adrian's brothers died fighting in the American Civil War, so now he's desperate to prove himself in some way and one of the ways in which he tries to do that is by getting his uncle, Bishop Denmore, to publicly support Adrian and his remaining brother. His uncle just needs a teeny tiny little favour first - which involves Adrian posing as a valet for a rival bishop, and finding proof of said man's corruption. Once he obtains this proof, Denmore promises to openly acknowledge his nephews and sister. Adrian is not a very good valet and before he has any chance of finding anything incriminating, he finds himself married at gunpoint to Camilla, a flirtatious housemaid in the house Bishop Lassiter is visiting.

Camilla just wants someone, anyone, to love her or even like her. She hasn't had anywhere to call home for so long and never had any responses to the letters she sent her family, so she assumes they still want nothing to do with her. While she is rather taken aback by being forced to marry a near-stranger, she's also briefly hopeful that at least she'll finally have someone - a hope that dies when Adrian insists they need to get an annulment. Ms Milan is really good at writing characters whose suffering break your heart, and Camilla's loneliness and hopes for belonging are truly heart-wrenching. Unbeknownst to Camilla, however, her family haven't actually given up on her. Her sister Judith and her new husband have spent massive resources trying to track her down, only to fail, and her younger siblings, Benedict and Theresa, are determined to find Camilla, as a gift for Judith. While Theresa may have annoyed the crap out of me in Once Upon a Marquess, she's so much better written in this book, and I am very much looking forward to seeing where her story goes in future books.

I felt a lot more for Camilla than for Adrian in this book, but that's probably also because of my anxiety and being left without anyone is literally one of the biggest fears I have, so our poor heroine having suffered abandonment after abandonment, without ever giving up that last sliver of hope really got to me. The main theme of this book is the importance of consent and choice and how no one should have to settle, but be allowed to choose who they spend their lives with. Adrian wants their marriage annulled because he wants what his parents had, a slow falling in love and a mutual choosing of each other. As the story progresses, Camilla comes to realise that even though she loves Adrian, she also deserves someone who chose HER, whose fondest wish is to share their life with hers. It's not her fault that she's been abandoned so many times and it's simply bad luck and a series of unfortunate circumstances that's caused her to be so harshly punished for a moment of youthful bad judgement.

There is a need for added diversity in romance and Ms Milan has proven before that historical England really wasn't as white-washed as a lot of books would like you to think it is. In this book, we get a bisexual heroine marrying a biracial hero, while there is a large cast of diverse supporting characters from a number of countries and cultures making a difference, without it ever seeming forced or like she's trying to prove some sort of point. Adrian's brother is going to be the hero of the next book, if I'm to believe Ms. Milan's website and this will be the last book in the Worth Saga set in England. She's moving the action into the big wider world instead.

I'm sorry if this review is disjointed and a bit incoherent. I'm desperately behind on my reviews as my now four month old little boy is spending more of his days awake and demanding a lot more of my attention. My brain goes a bit muddled, and this was the best I could do under the circumstances. TL, DR - this is a moving and engaging romance, well worth your time, and you should consider buying it. I'm already looking forward to seeing what the next book holds, and hope the wait for it will not be as long as for this one.

Judging a book by its cover: I keep looking at this cover and trying to understand what in the world is going on. There's the strangely yellow sky, the random field of red flowers (poppies maybe?) and our poor cover model, obviously supposed to portray Camilla, with some sort of hazy lace tablecloth stuck to her head at an implausible angle. There's the voluminous purple ballgown the woman is wearing (resembling nothing like I recall Camilla wearing at any point in the book - certainly NOT when she is being forced to marry), but it's the awful veil that gets me every time. I've seen a lot of bad book covers over the years, this is near the top.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.