Saturday 25 August 2018

#CBR10 Book 63: "The Start of Me and You" by Emery Lord

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Brain Candy

A year ago, Paige's boyfriend died in a tragic drowning accident, and she is still suffering from nightmares and is known around town as "the girl whose boyfriend died". She hasn't been able to even get near a pool since it happened. It seems like everywhere she goes, she gets "the look" of people who don't really see her, but just associate her with the dead boy she'd dated for two months before his life was tragically cut short.

Determined that she needs to move on and reclaim her life, Paige makes a list of tasks to achieve in the coming school year. She discovers that Ryan Chase, the guy she's crushed on since childhood is suddenly single and with the support of her three best friends, she is convinced that she might have a chance with him. She also wants to become more sociable and go to parties, join some kind of school club, she wants to travel and scariest of all - she need to try to get back in the water and swim.

Of course, life doesn't really neatly a neatly numbered list, and Paige's plan soon takes a few twists and turns. Her grandmother, who has always been super supportive of Paige, and is the only one who knows about her screenwriting career dreams, is starting to take a turn for the worse. Her divorced parents (whose divorce was rather acrimonious) are now dating again - the twist - they are dating each other. While Paige's little sister thinks this is great, Paige, who is old enough to remember how bad they were before they split up, is both upset and worried. Ryan's cousin Max has joined their high school and convinces Paige to join the quiz bowl team, and before long, Paige is spending a lot more time with Max than with Ryan.

While this is yet another of FYA's Swoonworthy Summer Reads, the thing I liked the most about this book (which is one of the many e-books I've bought on sale over the years and then promptly forgotten about) was not actually the romantic subplot, but the close and supportive friendship between Paige and her three best friends. They have been friends since childhood and always have each other's backs, through thick and thin. Tessa, Morgan and Kayleigh were excellent supporting characters and there was never any sense of rivalry, jealousy or cattiness between them.

I found Paige's disgust about her divorced parents suddenly dating very amusing. My own parents decided to stay together "for the kids" for several very awkward years where both my younger brother and I would much have preferred them to live apart, then separated, yet stayed more or less friendly for ten years. The family always celebrated Christmases and other major holidays together, certainly. Then, after a decade of living separately, when my younger brother finally decided to move out, it seems Mum intended to mend things with my Dad (but told NO ONE about this). Dad, because they prior to my brother's decision to move out really had been drifting apart and rarely spoke anymore, took this as a sign that maybe it was time to actually get a divorce. He gave Mum divorce papers to sign, and she (convinced that he had met someone else) signed them (but was really depressed about it). Only after the divorce was actually official did they start communicating properly again and while they are still divorced (and currently live in different countries), now go on vacation together at least once a year and still spend all the major holidays together. So I know of strange parental relationships.

While I agree that both Ryan and Max were pretty dreamy, it would not have hurt the story for the romance subplot to be more prominent in the book. I would say this was a book about female friendships and overcoming grief and trauma, with some romance on the side. I discovered that Emery Lord has a sequel to this book coming out in 2019 though, so maybe I'll get more romance in that book. Fingers crossed.

Judging a book by its cover: I have no idea who chose and approved the cover for this, certainly not anyone who'd read the book. Paige's boyfriend drowned! She has a recurring nightmare about drowning and is terrified of getting near water. There's no way she'd be sitting gazing at the sunset at the side of a body of water - that would pretty much literally be her worst nightmare. Stupid, generic YA cover. Do better, publishers.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 62: "Love and Other Alien Experiences" by Kerry Winfrey

Page count: 269 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From Goodreads, as I'm once again reviewing books from over a month ago:

Mallory hasn't left the house in sixty-seven days--since the day her dad left. She attends her classes via webcam, rarely leaves her room (much to her brother's chagrin), and spends most of her time watching The X-Files or chatting with the always obnoxious BeamMeUp on New Mexico's premier alien message board.

But when she's shockingly nominated for homecoming queen, her life takes a surprising turn. She slowly begins to open up to the world outside. And maybe if she can get her popular jock neighbor Brad Kirkpatrick to be her homecoming date, her classmates will stop calling her a freak.

In this heartwarming and humorous debut, Mallory discovers first love and the true meaning of home--just by taking one small step outside her house.

Mallory has developed severe anxiety and agoraphobia after her father left without any explanation. She feels severely ill if she even goes to check the mail. As there's no way for her to get to school, she attends via web cam, and her mother has software on her computer to make sure she doesn't spend too much time on non-school related activities. While her mother and younger brother seem completely unconcerned (and actually rather relieved by her father's absence), Mallory can't get it out of her mind, and wants to find him, so she can discover why he just disappeared like that. Of course, she will need to conquer her anxiety enough to let her leave the house.

Unsurprisingly, since teenagers aren't known to be super empathetic or all that kind, she's pretty much seen as the town freak, and no one is more surprised to discover she's been nominated for homecoming queen than Mallory. While she would love to ignore the whole thing, there's a $500 cash prize for the winner, and Mallory needs that money to sign up for a bird watching trip she's sure her father will be on. So with the help of her best friend Jenni, her brother and the boy next door, Brad Kirkpatrick, she sets out to win the homecoming crown (even though she's still feels sick leaving the house).

Mallory spends most of her spare time watching The X-Files and discussing aliens on "We are Not Alone", an online message board. Recently, she seems to be hitting it off with another user, BeamMeUp, while in her real life, she keeps getting into embarrassing situations or arguments with Brad Kirkpatrick's half-brother, who's also right next door. I don't want to spoil things for anyone, but you haven't really experienced a lot of narratives if you're in any way surprised by the last minute reveal of BeamMeUp's real identity.

This was a sweet book, which as far as I can tell deals pretty realistically with severe anxiety disorder and agoraphobia and features characters that feel like realistic teenagers. The sibling relationship between Mallory and her brother (who came out as gay a year ago, and gets his first boyfriend over the course of the book) is lovely and her friendship with Jenni is also sweet, while there are some complications as the story progresses (stemming in large part from the fact that it would be super difficult if your best friend never actually showed up at school or left her house, and you were stuck defending her to everyone gossipping). The sibling relationship between Brad and his brother (while not dwelt on as much) also seems very supportive. Brad is one of those "most popular guys in school", who also turns out to be genuinely sweet guys, which is always a nice twist.

This is Kerry Winfrey's debut novel. Goodreads tells me she has a new book out this summer, and I am probably going to check that out too, because this was a quick and entertaining read.

Judging a book by its cover: I really don't have a lot to say about this cover. It's not hideous, it's not great. It gives the reader very little idea of what the book is about, but the colours are nice enough, I guess?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Friday 17 August 2018

#CBR10 Book 61: "Someone Else's Summer" by Rachel Bateman

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Anna was only about a year younger than her sister Storm and spent much of her childhood tagging along after Storm and the boy next door, Cameron. When she started high school, Anna finally find her own friends and became involved in cheer leading, but when Storm dies in a car accident on the evening of her graduation, Anna is left confused and adrift, and Cameron seems to be the only one who understands and who knew Storm as well as her.

When they were children, Storm used to make up summer "bucket lists", although the three of them never properly completed any of them. Looking through Storm's things, Anna finds a notebook with a new list, of things Storm was probably planning on doing that summer. She becomes obsessed with completing this list and persuades Cameron to come along with her. While Anna's aunt warns her that completing the list won't bring Storm back, Anna feels that this is the best way to truly honour her sister's memory.

Turns out that a whole bunch of FYA's swoony beach romance recommendations are also about processing grief or dealing with loss in some way. A full six out of the eight books I've read this summer has one or several of the protagonists getting over the death or loss of (or abandonment by) a loved one. You wouldn't think situations like that would be the best for starting romances, but in these books, that's exactly what happens.

Having lost her beloved sister, Anna sets off on a road trip to complete her sister's "bucket list", accompanied by said sister's very best friend. As they travel to the various locations that Storm wanted to visit and complete the many tasks (all the while documenting every new event with Polaroid pictures to put in the notebook as proof), Anna and Cameron both reminisce and mourn Storm, while growing ever closer romantically. It seems that while Cameron and Storm were inseparable best friends, they were never in love, and Cameron has clearly carried a torch for Anna for a long time.

For much of the book, we spend time only with Anna and Cameron, but there is a supporting cast just "off screen", so to speak, connected to Anna through phone calls and texts. Her best friend is initially very upset that she just up and leaves on the road trip, while her ex-boyfriend is a lot more supportive. Anna's dad gives his blessing for Anna to go on the trip, all the while keeping it from her mother as they go away to a retreat for grieving parents. It's Anna's aunt who is responsible for her while her parents are away, and she has to check in daily by phone. Anna's aunt is very cool and has more insight than Anna is frankly entirely comfortable with.

I didn't know what to expect from this book, but it turned out to be sweet, as well as a bit sad (naturally) and I can't say that I was terribly surprised to discover the big secret that Cameron has been keeping that ends up causing complications for him and Anna towards the end of the book. This is the first book of hers I've read, but based on this, I would not be averse to reading more of Rachel Bateman's YA fiction.

Judging a book by its cover: Before I read this book, I didn't think much of the cover, a slightly blurry photo of a girl on a beach with the title a bit haphazardly scrawled in sharpie. However, considering Anna and Cameron's goal in the book, to capture the memories of their road trip in Polaroids, with this cover clearly a perfect representation of one of the photos, I now take back my early misgivings and give kudos to the publisher instead. This is the opposite of generic "haven't read the story" cover art. This is spot on.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Thursday 16 August 2018

#CBR10 Book 60: "Let's Talk About Love" by Claire Kann

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Alice's girlfriend dumps her because she can't really handle the fact that Alice is asexual and while she's perfectly willing to engage in sexual acts to please her girlfriend, she herself doesn't really get much out of it. Dumped and heartbroken, Alice swears off dating entirely. She moves into the spare room at the apartment of her two best friends (who are a couple) and is determined to power through the summer enjoying good food, binge watching TV and working at the library.

The only problem? There's a new guy, Takumi, working at the library and he makes Alice feel all sorts of new and unwelcome things - especially since she's sworn off dating. Convinced any non-asexual potential partner is likely to be as put off by her asexuality as her ex-girlfriend, Alice is adamant that she and Takumi should only be friends. Because they really do click pretty instantly, and she starts spending a lot of time together. Enough time that Feeney, Alice's BFF is beginning to feel jealous. On top of all her confusing new feelings and having to find time for Takumi, Feeney and Ryan (Feeney's boyfriend and Alice's other flatmate), Alice wants to change her major at college and her parents do NOT approve. Everyone in Alice's family has studied law, and her parents see absolutely no future in studying interior design, which is Alice's passion.

I picked this book for the "Underrepresented" square in the CBR10Bingo because it fits into the category in SO many different ways. The author is a woman of colour, sadly a very underrepresented group among romance writers. The heroine is an asexual (but not aromantic) and bisexual black woman. The hero is a handsome Asian guy. Also, unlike a lot of New Adult books featuring college students, Alice actually seems to struggle with her course load, not to mention financing her studies - issues that rarely seem to actually feature in these stories.

What I liked: 
- The characters. Alice is a wonderful protagonist, but she's by no means perfect. She's young and inexperienced in many ways. She loves her two BFFs, but is also jealous of their relationship and frequently feels like a third wheel. She may overreact a bit in throwing herself into her new friendship with Takumi, pretty much ignoring her old friends entirely. Feeney and Ryan, her two besties, both feel real and are both supportive, but sometimes disagree with her. It's clear that Feeney, especially, has quite the volatile personality and for quite a bit of the book, she and Alice stop speaking, because of foolish decisions made on both sides. Finally, I'm not sure Takumi is created entirely to prove that Asian men totally can be convincing and very attractive love interests, but he's almost too good to be true. Handsome, charming, thoughtful, works to become a teacher, good at cooking, a talented photographer.

- A book about asexuality that doesn't feel like "a very special episode". This book is clearly in part supposed to help romance readers get an understanding of what asexuality actually involves, but is a very satisfying and well written story, not just a PSA about this one thing. Alice craves love and is very tactile. She loves cuddling and has no problems with romance. She just doesn't care for sex. It does absolutely nothing for her, and being dumped by Margot (on top of having had some less than great dating experiences in the past), Alice is beginning to worry that she's doomed to spend her life alone.

- Fandom. Alice is a big old nerd, who writes articles about various "ships" and is generally the sort of person I suspect I would love to hang out with.

- Showing the value of therapy. Alice is young, inexperienced and conflicted on a number of levels. She's encouraged to see a therapist (even though she's reluctant at first) and her sessions help her become more comfortable, not only with her own sexual preferences, but with standing up to her parents and taking a stand about her future plans.

Unlike a lot of NA romance, this book doesn't really feature sex, what with the heroine being asexual, but there is plenty of swoon and a very satisfying romance between Alice and Takumi nevertheless. I'd seen this book recommended in a bunch of places before I saw it on the FYA list, and can see why so many people have responded so enthusiastically to it. Well worth a read.

#CBR10Bingo: Underrepresented 

Judging a book by its cover: I love this cover, even if the heroine is described as most often having her hair carefully braided rather than in a big afro like here. Having a beautiful, confident looking and happy black woman gracing the cover, with the pretty purple letters of the title catching the reader's attention - it's a nice cover and it makes me smile when I look at it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 59: "A Million Junes" by Emily Henry

Page count: 398 pages
Rating: 4 stars

From Goodreads:
Romeo and Juliet meets One Hundred Years of Solitude in Emily Henry's brilliant follow-up to The Love That Split the World, about the daughter and son of two long-feuding families who fall in love while trying to uncover the truth about the strange magic and harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations. 

In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O'Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn't need a better reason than that. She's an O'Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O'Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.

But when Saul Angert, the son of June's father's mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can't seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn't exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe. 

Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it's finally time for her—and all of the O'Donnells before her—to let go.

First of all, must all forbidden love between the children of antagonistic families be compared with Romeo and Juliet? Will this play always be the template for forbidden love, no matter how different all other aspects of the stories being compared? It annoys me. Anyway, about this actual book. The comparison to One Hundred Years of Solitude is more accurate, although I wouldn't say that they're very close either. But this is a story that features magical realism, and the story of several generations of two families, plus a lot of odd and inexplicable behaviour from local animals.

Our poor heroine, who is in fact the fourth Jack O'Donnell of her family, despite being a girl (and mostly goes by June) has always been told that she must stay away from the Angerts. However, her best friend has a crush on Saul Angert, who has recently returned after three years away, and insists on dragging June along on a strange sort of double date. While both June and Saul know from their family history that they should stay away from one another, there is undeniable attraction between them.

One of the aspects of the "family curse" that the O'Donnells experience seems to be that they can't really travel too far away from their home and the apple tree there. So while June's mother and supportive stepfather (her dad is dead) would like her to think about college, June hasn't really considered this to be an option for her. Yet she signs up for a creative writing class run by a new teacher and becomes almost obsessed with doing well in it, trying to write down the family legends, told to her by her father before she died. While her stories clearly have promise, her writing teacher wants her to improve her craft, and Saul, whose father is a NYT bestselling author (and constantly sarcastically referred to as such by Saul) offers to tutor her to make her writing better.

Both June and Saul have been told to stay away from each other their entire lives (because the O'Donnells and Angerts have been enemies for four generations, and that's just the way it has to be) and that they must never go to the waterfall in the woods. June keeps seeing visions of her dead father, and after a while, she and Saul discover that they can both see pieces of their pasts (he sees his dead twin sister) and they start to piece together what actually happened way back in the past that led to the generations long feud and cursed both families. They are both very invested in getting to the bottom of the curse's origins and figuring out a way to break it, so they can have the possibility of a future together.

I really liked June (she also goes by Jack and Junior, what with being Jack O'Donnell IV) and Saul, as well as their sidekicks (June's BFF Hannah is especially great), not to mention June's family. The first three quarters of the book were engaging and kept me entertained, but in the final quarter, where the mystery finally starts to unravel and June and Saul work to break the curse, the storytelling became a bit of a mess and the whole dramatic resolution to the story went a bit off the rails. Overall, the book was a nice, quick read, though and a lot of the writing advice that June gets from Saul and her creative writing teacher is stuff that I may shamelessly steal and use when trying to coax my own future students into becoming better and more entertaining writers. This is my first book by Emily Henry, but I doubt it will be my last.

#CBR10Bingo: Listicles. From FYA's "Swoony YA books for your next Beach Vacation"

Judging a book by its cover: In the acknowledgements, Emily Henry thanks the cover designer for doing a great job. I cannot say I agree with her. This appears to be a blurry stock photo of a waterfall in the woods, with a badly cut out silhouette of a girl awkwardly stuck on top of it. This is not a cover that would make me want to pick up a book, rather the opposite.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 58: "Not That Kind of Girl" by Siobhan Vivian

Page count: 338 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Natalie Stirling wants her senior year to be perfect. She wants to be elected student council president and feels the weight of responsibility on her shoulders to do the best job possible. She also believes herself to be feminist and supportive of her fellow female schoolmates, but when a group of freshman girls, led by Spencer Biddle, a girl Natalie once used to babysit, starts running around, encouraging senior guys to sleep with them, Natalie's carefully laid plans for the school year start to unravel.

While Natalie tries to take Spencer under her wing and show her "the error of her ways", she begins to lose touch with her bestie of several years. Natalie is also extremely concerned with her reputation, so when she starts having pants feelings for Connor Hughes, one of the most popular guys in school, she's not averse to hooking up with him, but only if they do it in secret, keeping their relationship hidden from everyone else in school.

This was one of the books recommended on FYA's "25 Swoony YA Books for Your Next Beach Vacation". Now, I wasn't going on any kind of beach vacation, but we had a heck of a heatwave here this summer, and I am extremely romance of all kinds. When it came to this book, the FYA reviewer certainly rated it highly, and while I can't deny that there really was a fair bit of swoon in the relationship between Natalie and Connor, I kept being annoyed with Natalie and very quickly felt bad for Connor about being treated as a dirty secret and having to meet up in a shed in the woods, far away from gossip or prying eyes. The fact that Natalie, even when she started having actual feelings for Connor beyond lust, was so concerned about her pristine reputation that she refused to acknowledge him in public made the whole thing less swoony.

As far as I can tell, Ms Vivian wants to explore young female sexuality in its various permutations and the various ways in which young women in high school can be viewed by their peers, not to mention parents and staff. The book starts with Natalie recounting the story of a girl whose reputation was completely ruined because a guy she was dating spread false information about her, making the girl a victim of bullying and more or less a social pariah. We find out quickly that this is Natalie's best friend. Natalie seems to think that the only way to retain a spotless reputation is to avoid boys altogether and judges those of her female schoolmates who seem interested in boys, dating and sex very harshly. Hence the complete secrecy when she herself starts feeling lustful, because Natalie is nothing if not hypocritical.

The flipside to Natalie is Spencer Biddle, who is completely unashamed about her wants, needs and sexuality. She dresses provocatively, she tries to get older guys to sleep with her and doesn't see this as anything wrong or worthy of judgement. She flirts a lot and many fellow students and the faculty at the school clearly find her behaviour inappropriate. There's a whole lot of slut shaming going on.

Towards the very end of the book, nearly in the final pages, Ms Vivian finally has Natalie start coming to some much needed and hard earned realisations about herself and her previously narrow minded opinions. The problem is that this is too little, too late, and the overall message of the book, which I think Vivian wants to be "young women should be in control of their own sexuality and no one has the right to judge them or abuse them because of it" never comes across as clearly as it should.

That Natalie is pretty much a grade A b*tch for most of the book doesn't help. She starts out as prudish and judgemental and proud of it, and is so very self-righteously pleased with herself that she's protected her best friend, while clearly rather disapproving and outraged that her friend was weak enough to fall for a guy who in turn took advantage of her and ruined her reputation. She's very holier than thou and as previously mentioned, not very supportive of her fellow lady students. Even when she starts to soften and change, I didn't like her much.

Connor, the guy she starts fooling around with, is one of the most popular guys in school, but unlike a lot of the other popular kids, he's clearly a genuinely nice guy and I felt bad at the way Natalie treated him. He deserved a lot better.

I'd read six books on the list before this summer (and liked all of them a lot - hence I decided to work my way through as many of the rest as possible). Of the eight books I read from this list over the summer so far, this was by far my least favourite. I enjoyed the supporting characters, but with Natalie being such a downer, this book was only ok, nothing more.

Judging a book by its cover: I don't know why, but the strange closeup of these two young people (I bet the cover models aren't actually teenagers, just like any cast member on the CW who plays a teen) about to kiss makes me slightly uncomfortable. As I have mentioned before, while I accept clinch covers and embraces on romances, I really don't want to deal with people full on kissing, and I think this gets just close enough to cross the border into what I don't want to deal with.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday 7 August 2018

#CBR10 Book 57: "The Truth About Forever" by Sarah Dessen

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Macy used to love running and was very good at it, until one morning, her father (and coach) had a heart attack, and now, Macy doesn't do that anymore. Instead, she keeps her life strictly regimented and works very hard at her school work, so as to not have to think too hard about her feelings. This summer, her boyfriend Jason is going away to "brain camp" and she will fill in for him at the library helpdesk. She will study for her SATs and help her realtor mother with open houses.

After Macy sends Jason an e-mail where she tells him that she loves and misses him, he responds by saying that maybe they should take a break. Jason's two friends at the library help desk pretty much treat her like a halfwit, if they even vaguely acknowledge her, so Macy pretty much hates her job there. On impulse, she takes a second summer job with Wish Catering, where chaos pretty much seems to reign during every job, but the staff have fun together and everything always seems to work out, no matter how disastrous things seem along the way. She makes a friend, the outspoken Kristy, and starts developing a crush on the quiet and mysterious Wes, who understands her grief after losing his mother to cancer.

Macy's summer turns out rather differently than she was expecting and her mother is not very happy once she discovers just how much time Macy is spending with the crew at Wish. When she tries to forbid Macy from working there, the cracks in their already strained relationships start showing.

On pretty much any list of YA recommendations there will be one or several books by Sarah Dessen. This book will probably feature, which is why it's been on my TBR list for so long. I bought a copy in an e-book sale over three years ago, but still didn't actually sit down and read this (or Just Listen, which I also got). So this is my first Sarah Dessen book, and I can absolutely see why she comes so highly recommended.

Forever Young Adult, one of the many review sites I follow online, made a list of their 25 swooniest beach reads earlier this summer. As the harrowing news cycle keeps reminding us that every day is a step closer to post-apocalyptic dystopia, I find that a lot of books, movies and TV is too much for me to handle right now. I gravitate towards light, fluffy and easily digested fare, such as romance. Jane the Virgin is fine, when we watch The Expanse, my husband (who has already seen season two with a friend) has to browse the episode summaries to warn me, lest I get too upset by the show. As it turns out, now that I've read quite a few of these books in July, not all the books, while swoony, are as fluffy and light-hearted as you might think at first.

At the core of this book is Macy and her mother's need to process the death of Macy's father. Neither of them speak about it or have in any serious way dealt with it, they just keep to strictly regimented schedules and keep busy, busy, busy, so they don't have to contemplate it at all. Macy's older sister Caroline tries to get her mother to work less and for Macy to lighten up more and have fun, but has a hard time of it, at least early on in the book. Obviously, this situation is untenable and as the book progresses, cracks start to show in the perfect facade Macy and her mother show to the world.

There is absolutely a pretty swoony romance featured in this book, but the main story is really Macy coming out of her shell and learning to process her grief. She doesn't really have any friends of her own any more, since she's avoiding anything to do with running. Her horrible boyfriend Jason seems to view her more as some sort of assistant, and his friends clearly all despise her (or are jealous of her, it's never really answered). Macy desperately needs the fun crew at Wish Catering (with a lot of loss and grief in their own past) to take her under their wings.

I'm so glad I finally read this book, even if it was a more serious and different book from what I was expecting (several of the books on the "swoony beach reads" list turn out to focus on grief and loss, make of that what you will - maybe loss leads to greater romantic potential?). Now I need to track down more Sarah Dessen to see if they're all this good.

#CBR10Bingo: White Whale - was on my TBR list for more years than I can count

Judging a book by its cover: I'm not wild about this rather generic cover. There's nothing even vaguely resembling a "he loves me, he loves me not" scene in the book, which this cover seems to want to evoke - couldn't they have chosen something to represent Macy better, or something like a piece of Wes' art or something? This is blah.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 56: "My Plain Jane" by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This review will contain spoilers for Jane Eyre, but that book is more than 170 years old, and therefore, if you don't know the gist of the plot already, that's really not my fault.

In this slightly alternate universe, King George III of England was not actually mad, he just saw ghosts and could talk to them (making others believe he wasn't quite right in the head). He founded a society "for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits", led by none other than the Duke of Wellington himself. By the time of William IV, the Society was no longer receiving proper patronage from the king any longer, and they're down to only a few trusted ghost hunters. Alexander Blackwood is Wellington's trusty favourite, and when he's not hunting down ghosts for the RWS, he's trying to avenge his dead father.

While trying to relocate a ghost near Lowood School, Alexander comes into contact with two young ladies. One is the intriguing Jane Eyre, the other her friend Charlotte Brontë (who wishes to become an author, of course). Alexander discovers that Ms Eyre can see ghosts, and while the RWS in the past did not employ women, Wellington is getting desperate, and insists that Alexander recruit her into the Society post haste. Yet Jane Eyre is terrified that the Society will "relocate" her best friend and ghost companion, Helen Burns, so she wants nothing to do with Alexander. She is adamant that she wants to become a governess above all else. Charlotte cannot understand why her friend would give up a life of excitement and adventure, not to mention a very extravagant salary and tries to persuade Alexander to take her in Jane's stead (her brother Bramwell is Alexander's apprentice, after all).

Jane (and Helen) go off to Thornfield Hall (where very strange things are afoot), while Alexander and the two eldest Brontë siblings accompany him, trying to aid in recruiting Jane into the Society. While at Thornfield Hall, Alexander also begins to suspect that Mr. Rochester may in fact have something to with his father's death. While Jane is strangely smitten with her broody new employer (and he with her), and soon (despite ghostly Helen's warnings and misgivings, not to mention very much alive Charlotte's), they are engaged to be married. The dramatic scene in the church, where it is revealed that Mrs Bertha Rochester isn't dead at all, but has been locked in the attic for years, plays out rather differently here.

The final third of the novel, after the disastrous wedding, plays out rather differently than the source material. The true reason for Mr Rochester's strange behaviour and his imprisonment of his wife is revealed, Alexander eventually discovers the true culprit behind his father's murder, the Brontë siblings discover a new and benevolent relative and Jane (and Helen) look to get their own happy ending too.

This is the second book in The Lady Janies series, where Ms Hand, Ashton and Meadows irreverently play with English history and/or literature to create their own thing. I really enjoyed My Lady Jane back in 2016 and was very excited when I heard that their second book would be a Jane Eyre retelling, as I love that book. I fully understand that it is not for everyone and that from a modern perspective, there are a number of very troubling elements to the grandiose and Gothic romance between poor, plain, yet resilient Miss Jane Eyre and her much older and broody employer, Mr Edward Rochester. The age difference, his strange treatment of her, his mind games and his attempts at manipulation are not cool, but the book is, as I pointed out earlier, 171 years old and it was a different time. Besides, it's not like Charlotte Brontë doesn't make Rochester suffer for his early arrogance and attempts at bigamy. He is thoroughly punished, while unassuming, kind and oh so virtuous Jane Eyre is rewarded (after much suffering and nearly dying on the moors). She may start the book poor and without any kindly relations, but at the end of the novel, she has inherited a fortune, discovered long lost cousins and finally, in a position of power, gets to the man of her choosing, when she is suddenly his social superior.

In this book, due to the presence of ghosts (and their ability to possess people), we get a story that seems similar on the surface, but goes somewhere rather different in places. Both Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre get happy romantic endings, with men who are closer to them in age than was often the case in Victorian England. There is danger and intrigue and several dastardly villains along the way, but all comes right in the end. This was a fun enough book, but I think overall, I preferred the first one. I was excited to discover that there will be a third book in the series, out 2020, about Calamity Jane (who I only really know from the Deadwood TV series). With the two books in the series so far, I've been very familiar with both the historical (the Tudor era is my favourite) and literary (see my aforementioned love for the source material) background. With Calamity Jane, I'm more in the dark.

#CBR10Bingo: So shiny

Judging a book by its cover: I'm not sure if the cover model is supposed to be Jane Eyre or Charlotte Brontë (or someone completely different), but while the collar of the blouse/dress may be suitable for a Victorian lady, this girl is wearing way too much makeup (and while her brow game is excellent, it's also anachronistic). Nor do I like the bright yellow or the font used for the title. Not a great cover, guys.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.