Review: ‘The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky’ by Summer Heacock

A humorous novel about a cupcake shop owner with a physical ailment that’s kept her from having sex for two years, and the desperate antics that ensue as she tries to overcome it.

Having sex wasn’t a big priority while Kat Carmichael’s successful cupcake shop was taking off. But when she realizes that it’s been nearly two years since she and her boyfriend, Ryan, have been intimate, she makes a pact to break her dry spell-and cure her vaginismus, a muscular condition that can make sex physically impossible.

Out of guilt, Kat calls for a break in her relationship with Ryan, so that he can see other people while she attempts to fix the issue on her own. She throws herself into physical therapy, but soon discovers her solo mission is more complicated than she anticipated. Fortunately, Ben Cleary, the shop’s best (looking) customer, is also a physical therapist, and volunteers to help out.

As time goes on, however, the boundaries Ben and Kat have set between friendship and love quickly become blurred, leaving her more confused than ever about what to hang on to and what to let go.

I haven’t read a lot of chick lit before, so this book was a brilliant way to expose myself (har har) to the genre. It is hilariously funny, with a “what can go wrong probably will” vibe and a self-described Type A main character who doesn’t like to ask for help and regularly blurts out what she’s thinking and then regrets it later.

I love Kat. But I especially love her in the context of her friends/co-workers at the cupcake shop: feisty best friend Shannon, edible-glitter-obsessed bisexual Butter and shy bride-to-be Liz. The four of them are frequently bawdy and always frank with one another, and after Kat reveals her condition to the others in a truly giggle-worthy conversation, they band around to provide moral support and sex toys to help with her therapy.

The burgeoning relationship with Ben is adorable. He’s earnest and more than a little awkward, though he generally takes things with good humour. However, he’s not a doormat and when Kat crosses the line he isn’t afraid to tell her so. Despite everything, their romance is actually touching and sweeter than one of Butter’s cupcake recipes. I ship them so hard!

As for Ryan, I was prepared to hate him, as I assumed was traditional, but — although he’s not my type (or Kat’s, really) — he is good best friend material. It just takes both of them a while to figure that out.

Summer is great at setting up awkward situations and then letting the humour roll, but where she truly shines is in writing dialogue. Kat, Ben and Ryan are also all nerds, which warms my heart. This book is a great read for anyone who likes to laugh, isn’t too prudish, and wants to read about cupcakes all day.

It even comes with some of Butter’s recipes at the back, you guys. It’s basically perfect.

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Review: ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more — she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren, Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible.

I read my first Rainbow Rowell novel last year: Eleanor & Park is exceptionally well written, albeit darker than I was expecting. Maybe I was subconsciously misled by the fact the author’s first name was “Rainbow”? :p

Still, when I heard Rowell had written a novel about a girl obsessed with fan fiction (aka fanfic) about a series of books inspired by Harry Potter, I was definitely keen. Those are two brands of geeky subculture that I’m familiar with; I experimented with fanfic when I was in my 20s (although when I say it like that it makes fanfic sound like illegal drugs or something!) — and Harry Potter … well, duh! I haven’t been living under a bush.

Fangirl blew me away. I’ve really fallen in love with the subgenre of YA that is geeky contemporary over the past few years, and this book is another addition to that shelf. Rowell’s writing shines here, both in the day-to-day tale of Cath’s life and in the extensive excerpts of her fanfic. I was just as hooked by her take on her Simon/Baz fic as I was by her main storyline. Happily, Carry On, the fanfic story that Cath works on throughout Fangirl, is also now available as a novel — a fact so meta that it makes me grin. I’ll definitely be buying it as soon as I can.

As for Cath, it’s hard not to love her. She struggles with anxiety, which is made worse by her twin, Wren, effectively abandoning her as soon as they hit university. Her father is bipolar so Cath spends a lot of time worrying about him — and Wren has her own issues, which she seeks to forget about through her new party lifestyle. At times, as much as I understood what she was going through, I wanted to shake Wren till her teeth rattled; she has moments where she is particularly mean-spirited. The times that Cath stood up to her were some of my favourite parts of the book.

There is a romance here, though it’s hard not to name names without spoilers. There are a couple of different males on the scene, but this isn’t a love triangle in the traditional sense. One of the guys turns out to be a selfish a-hole and the other is a sweetheart. There’s no competition. And that’s all I will say about that.

As far as other characters go, I adored Reagan, Cath’s roommate. Despite how prickly she is, she takes Cath under her wing in a “tough love” way that it’s hard not to love. Also, Professor Piper receives a notable mention — she’s the sort of supportive writing lecturer I wish I’d had when I was at university. (And I love the way Rowell handled the storyline as it related to Cath and Wren’s mother. So realistic!)

Fangirl is a story about stories, about getting out of your comfort zone, and about finding out who you are. I love it.

 

 


Review: ‘The Secret Science of Magic’ by Melissa Keil

Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?

In life and love, timing is everything.

I know I’ve said this before (possibly in my last review of a Melissa Keil book), but I want to be Melissa Keil when I grow up. She writes the most amazingly geeky and relatable (to me) characters.

In The Secret Science of Magic, we have Sophia, a maths genius and Doctor Who fan who has all the hallmarks of being on the autism spectrum disorder (although she is bafflingly never diagnosed), along with a massive helping of anxiety attacks and self-doubt (presumably from the lack of diagnosis and treatment). She’s also a POC, although her family is very “Australian” as far as I can tell — if there were any elements from other cultures in there I missed them.

Sophia is struggling through the last year of high school, trying very hard not to think about her only friend’s impending departure to study medicine in the US. She’s acing most of her classes and doing university-level maths on the side, but was pressured into doing drama, which she hates and is terrible at. She has fixated on a Russian maths genius who went off the rails, trying, in her methodical way, to figure out where he went wrong so that she can avoid it — a bit like Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars, but without the road trip.

Elsie, Sophia’s best friend, is from a largish South Asian family, with three brothers who look lout for Sophia the way her own brother generally doesn’t. But there is growing tension there, which Sophia doesn’t really understand. The clues are all there, not just for the reader (as is often the case) but for Sophia too — the problem is that Sophia simply doesn’t know how to recognise or interpret them.

(I’m so mad at Sophia’s counsellor, by the way. We never actually see said counsellor, but surely if they were halfway competent they could have recognised what was going on with her! Gah!)

Joshua, the other point of view character, has a long-standing crush on Sophia, a lisp that emerges when he’s anxious, and a talent for magic tricks. He decides to finally start wooing her, getting her attention with tricks that are mostly cute and motivated by a desire to help her with her various problems, but that sometimes cross the line for me (for example when he stole her watch; even though she did get it back later, that was uncool, Joshua!). Happily, he does grow over the course of the book and, by the end, he comes good. 😉

I really enjoyed this story, which — more broadly — tackles the YA issues of “coping with the end of school” and “what next”, as well as the universal human issue of self-acceptance. The romance was tentative and sweet, and my heart broke for Sophia and her confusion and social anxiety. The Doctor Who references made me happy, and Josh’s various magic tricks, while not really my thing, made me smile.

Melissa Keil’s books are ones I wish I’d had as a teenager; I’m totally buying copies for my friends’ geeky pre-teen when she’s a few years older.


My name is Cassandra, and I’m a Pokemon GO addict…

Vaporeon Pokemon GoI was on holidays when Pokemon GO came out. But I still had my smart phone, so I saw the flood of posts on social media. At first I was bemused by the idea, because I never really got into Pokemon as I was growing up. But my son is seven and a mad Pokemon fan; he got about 15 Pokemon plushies for his birthday (including the Vaporeon pictured above). He’s seen a lot of the TV show — like, a lot — and has some of the old games, though he hasn’t played them much due to the amount of fast reading required.

Anyway, I didn’t think much of the idea of Pokemon. How is going out and capturing wild animals and then using them in battles for sport a good idea? (Where is the RSPCA in this universe? Not to mention all the ten year old kids leaving home to go on adventures to catch said wild animals! And do the Pokeballs have toilets? So many questions!) Still, Pikachu was cute, and my boy enjoyed it and absorbed the various names and evolutions like a sponge.

On the other hand, once I learned more about Pokemon GO, I was fascinated. I found the idea of augmented reality games, something I hadn’t really encountered before, strangely compelling. So when my son came home after our holiday (via Sydney, where he stayed with his dad for a few days), I wasn’t exactly upset that he had a Pokemon GO account and was already level 14.

Of course, he doesn’t have a phone, so I have to play it with him. Right?

Seriously, this game is so much fun — and, more than that, I love how easy it is to get my couch potato of a child out of the house. On Friday I got a tip-off from someone at work of a good place to catch Pikachu. Normally my boy would prefer to sit at home and watch Pokemon on TV, especially after school, but instead we scooted down to the local lake and spent an hour stomping around, playing at the park and making friends with people’s dogs.

There is a spectrum of people who play Pokemon GO, as there is in any other endeavour, but for the most part I’ve found them to be friendly and open. Sure, we’ve come across the occasional pack of swearing teenage boys (something I wouldn’t have an issue with if my boy weren’t listening), and after we captured a gym the look on one young man’s face as he stormed up gave me pause. Boy, was he pissed!

But there have been a lot of people like me, taking their kids out for a stroll and catching Eevees. We’ve seen a lady taking her parrot out for some air, randomly met some kids my boy knew from school, and commiserated with strangers when their Squirtle ran away. We’ve also been out to a lot of local tourist attractions, hunting for Pokemon. (If you’re visiting Canberra, get a friend to drive you around all the Poke-stops in the arboretum. Wow!)

I’m not a Pokemon expert yet, by any stretch of the imagination, but luckily I have a small consultant to hand. I’ve finally figured out how to throw a decent curveball, and we’ve evolved a Raichu. I’m still not 100% sure about the “wild animals battling” thing, but it bothers me less in game form, where they are impersonal elemental forces, rather than in the TV show, where they can emote, and snuggle their owners. (I am suspicious of what the professor needs all those spare Pokemon for. Is he feeding them into a compactor to make candy? Building a Pokemon army?! Again, so many questions!)

Do you play Pokemon GO? Have you found it a positive experience overall?

Pokemon


Review: ‘The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl’ by Melissa Keil

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends. 

The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:

Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails.
And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.

Also, the world might be ending — which is proving to be awkward.

As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.

When I grow up, I want to be Melissa Keil.

Cinnamon Girl is her second young adult novel, and I’ve adored both of them. She has this knack for capturing the issues that your typical teenager goes through (what will I do when I grow up, how do I handle this new relationship) while adding a touch of geekery that appeals to my nerdy heart. ❤

I gobbled this book up while I was on holidays, and I adored it. At just shy of 300 pages, it’s a shorter book, making it the perfect holiday read — and it left me with a goofy smile on my face afterwards.

As is obvious from the blurb, Alba’s primary form of geekery is comic books. She’s a talented artist and wants to go to university to do a fine arts degree, but is in that end-of-year limbo where she’s finished high school but doesn’t yet know whether she made it into the course she’s after. This, combined with her friends’ different plans for what they want to do, leaves her with a panicked “live in the now” mindset that is echoed in the world around her, with its whole pending apocalypse vibe. That last part aside, the rest is something I could really relate to.

The relationship she has with her best friend, Grady, is basically the cutest. It’s pretty obvious from the start that he has a crush on her, but although she is attracted to him she also has a massive blind spot as far as he is concerned — probably because they have been friends since they were toddlers. Although I was cheering for them to get together, I didn’t find the delay as frustrating as I have in other books, I suspect because there were a lot of other interesting things going on.

As far as the apocalypse itself goes, Cinnamon Girl is a young adult contemporary, not a dystopian — it’s clear from the start of the book that the person forecasting the end of the world is a TV hack. But it’s really interesting to see the kaleidoscope that is the doomsday enthusiasts through Alba’s eyes.

Also, a special mention needs to go to all the food in this book. Alba lives and works in a bakery, and I spent the entire time I was reading this hankering for an apple danish or chocolate croissant. Mmm.

Cinnamon Girl is suitable for any age group from maybe mid-teens. There isn’t actual swearing or anything beyond kissing, though there is mention of sex and drug use. It’s the end of the world; of course stoners show up for a party! 😉

Seriously, you guys, read this book.

CinnamonGirl2

Five stars


Adventure Time: geeky, wonderful storytelling

Fiona

Fiona is the gender-flipped Finn. (The books are there because they look good together!)

(Note: If you’re new to Adventure Time and care about spoilers for kids TV, this post is not the one for you.)

I don’t normally blog about TV shows, mostly because I watch hardly any TV these days, aside from Doctor Who. (I used to watch Castle, but the most recent series lost me.) The shows I do see tend to be kids shows, because that is what my seven-year-old is watching.

I got into a discussion with some other parents of kids who are a similar age to my boy about appropriate television, and there seemed to be a consensus that Adventure Time was not appropriate television for pre-teens. The arguments mostly revolved around the violence — the main characters, Finn and Jake, do spend rather a lot of time beating up bad guys, and occasionally said bad guys can be hella creepy and kind of gross.

However, the stories that this strange little cartoon tells are geeky, complex and deal with real-world issues in a fictional way, providing a great opportunity for kids and parents to discuss them. There are gender-flipped episodes (featuring Fiona and Cake rather than Finn and Jake), and so many Dungeons and Dragons-references that this is basically my favourite show too.

Adventure Time is set on Earth, in what I suspect is continental USA, though the land is called “Ooo”. A thousand years ago there was the terrible “mushroom war”, when mutogenic goo was spread across the land and and civilisation as we know it was wiped out.

Finn the Human is one of the only humans in the show. He was raised by his adoptive family, that of Jake the Dog. Finn is a traditional D&D paladin — he is honourable and defends the weak, something that often gets him into trouble. He spends a lot of time trying to find himself and figure out the complexities of love. At one point in the show he struggles with depression, after he meets his real father and discovers said father is an amoral, hardened criminal.

Jake the Dog is Finn’s adoptive brother and best friend. He has “stretchy powers”, meaning he can change into whatever shape he wants. His D&D alignment would be true neutral — he tries to do the right thing because of Finn, but is largely in it for fun. He’s lazy and has a criminal past that Finn doesn’t know about. He has children with his girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn.

Princess Bubblegum is one of the main characters; she is ruler of the Candy Kingdom. She’s a loner, mad scientist and genius, and has a complicated friendship with Marceline the Vampire Queen. (Almost all the kingdoms are ruled by princesses, to the point where, when Bubblegum is temporarily ousted from rule by a pretender calling himself the King of Ooo, he declares himself princess and stars wearing her clothes. Marceline is an exception, but she’s also the only vampire. The Ice King calls himself a king but only rules over penguins.)

The Ice King is the original villain of the show; he likes to kidnap princesses and wants to marry one. However, as we get to know him, we discover he has a tragic past (there’s one particular episode that makes me bawl every time I see it). His overall storyline is a parallel for dementia: he has forgotten who he is and his princess obsession is his subconscious mind’s way of trying to reclaim what he once had.

Lumpy Space Princess is homeless (she lives in the woods, in boxes or hollow logs) and looking for love. Marceline is so old that she struggles with morality, often acting like a selfish teenage girl. BMO, the robot who lives with Finn and Jake, has a vivid imaginary world and is gender fluid (though uses the male pronoun).

Other examples of geekiness include the Prismo wish spell alternate reality plot; discussion of Flame Princess’s alignment (and how acting out of alignment will affect her experience); and a dungeon-crawl episode where Finn gets lost, seeking more and more powerful loot. It’s glorious!

I guess for parents who won’t get the geeky references and would prefer their children experience a more Disney-like world, I can see why Adventure Time wouldn’t be their thing. But I for one love it. ❤


Review: ‘The Summer I Became a Nerd’ by Leah Rae Miller

The Summer I Became a Nerd

On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleader—perky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she’s a nerd hiding in a popular girl’s body isn’t just unknown, it’s anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way.

Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop’s counter uncovers her secret, she’s busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie’s whisked into Logan’s world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become … and the more she risks losing Logan forever.

I can’t remember how I stumbled across this book, but I know that I bought it for the title — because obviously! Maddie’s a different variety of geek/nerd than I am; I’ve only got a handful of comics and graphic novels, and those I got as an adult. Logan’s geek experience is a lot closer to mine.

Yes, I have LARPed. I’ve never thrown ping pong balls at anyone, though. :p

This explanation is my way of saying that some parts of Maddie’s experience getting to know Logan and his world are eerily familiar to me. But other parts of her world are very unfamiliar, mostly the “American teenager” thing. Maddie is pretty much pathological about keeping her secret identity as a geek, well, secret, basically because she’s worried about toppling from the top of the popularity tree. Maybe time has fuzzed my memories of high school; maybe in Australia it’s a different social structure; or maybe because I was never popular I never realised how much those girls had to work to stay there. But I found the whole thing a bit baffling. Maddie’s woes are definitely self-inflicted, and at times I lost patience with her because of it.

That being said, I quite liked her voice when she wasn’t having a pity party, and I definitely liked Logan and the fact he and his hilariously brash best friend, Dan, don’t put up with her trying to keep them in the role of dirty secret. Logan is a bit of a teenage dreamboat for the geek set; his parents own a comic book and he’s snagged himself a summer radio show at the local college. I also liked what we saw of Terra, Maddie’s country-music-loving best friend; she’s another one who doesn’t take Maddie’s crap lying down.

I enjoyed spotting the various nerdy references, some of which were made up for the story (I assume; see previous comment about not having read that many comics) but some of which were real-world references. The romance between Logan and Maddie is sweet. The plot is a tiny bit predictable, but The Summer I Became a Nerd was a fun read and easily digestible, with a very clear “be true to yourself” message.

The Summer I Became a Nerd

Three-and-a-half stars