Saturday, 4 March 2017

'Unconventional' by Maggie Harcourt

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*This review will contain spoilers!*
'Funny things, words. Big words, small words; words that are bigger on the inside and packed tight with feeling. They can make us fall in love, and they can break our hearts and we're powerless against them.' 

'There is a very specific sensation, right in the pit of your stomach, that comes from realizing that because you sent that stupid confirmation email from your stupid phone on the stupid bus while you were thinking about the stupid history essay that was due yesterday, you put a hyphen in the wrong place... and now, instead of having a box of inflatable three-meter-high palm trees sitting on your doorstep, you have three boxes of inflatable meter-high palm trees.'
Tell me you don't have an instant image of Lexi in your mind, and you'll be lying.
This is such a powerful opener. The huge chunk of text written almost like a stream of consciousness shows you that Lexi's brain works a thousand miles a minute, and she still has time to make mistakes. She's only a teenager, not a professional assistant, no matter how much that fact seems to slip her father's mind!

Lexi is the daughter of Max Angelo - yes, THE Max Angelo, the one that's involved in planning the biggest conventions across the country! For Lexi, that means instead of spending her weekends worrying about her sixth form coursework, she's emailing the agents of famous authors and actors, arranging panels that can be fit into tight schedules, all while trying to keep her over-worked father calm.
Then Max announces that him and his fiancee, Bea, have set a date. Lexi can't believe it: the rule in the convention world is that nothing is happening until a date has been confirmed. She knew the wedding would happen eventually, but she didn't think it would be any time soon: she didn't think her dad telling her about their engagement was that serious.
This puts Lexi in a bad mood for the first convention of the season. It's great to be reunited with her best friends - she only gets to see Sam, Nadiya and Bede when they're working together, because they all live so far apart - but she takes out her frustrations on them. It's hardly like she can talk to her dad about it, especially not when he's so busy running the convention.
To make that first day worse, she finds a random guy in the green room. He doesn't have a guest pass and he can't even remember the name of his own agent, yet he has the sheer audacity to insult Lexi's clipboard. She's already in a foul mood, so kicks him out without a second thought.
She survives that first convention, but it's not time to have a break. The season is in full swing, so Lexi needs to make sure that all of the other conventions go off without a hitch. Her dad's wedding to Bea is looming, and it's not helping his stress levels - as well as needing to shout at people on the phone to make sure everything is in place for the convention, he needs to ensure his second special day will go perfectly.
Because Max is so busy, he doesn't have time to read all of the advanced copies that publishers send him in the weeks preceding an event. He passes one on to Lexi, certain that it's something she'll love: 'Piecekeepers', by Haydn Swift. She decides to give it a go, and it quickly becomes her favourite book, distracting her from everything that's going on and giving her a world to escape into.
So just imagine her dismay when she convinces her dad to invite the author along for a launch event at their next convention, and she discovers that he's the random interloper who insulted her clipboard. Awkward.

I adored this book.
I've only been to a couple of conventions, but this book perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of them. The camaraderie, the non-stop busyness, the potential of spotting stars in the most unlikely places (hi, Melinda Salisbury!)... All are represented, and every page made me want to go to more conventions in the future. It definitely gave me more respect for the staff, too: I'd never considered how many problems they could be dealing with behind the scenes, and I've never been less envious of a career.
There was only one reason this wasn't a five star, and that was the lack of a conversation between Lexi and Bea.
Lexi doesn't have a close relationship with her soon to be stepmum. Bea doesn't live with them, and because she also travels to work at conventions - just professional, business ones - she's never around. Lexi's mum tells her how much Bea appreciates her, but it would have been nice to see them bonding. I can only think of one conversation they have in the entire book, which seems like a bit of an oversight when so much of the book revolves around Lexi's feelings towards her father's impending nuptials.
That being said, Lexi's interactions with her father were very realistic. He works her too hard, forgetting that she has schoolwork and other commitments to juggle. Lexi feels quite bitter about that, particularly because she feels as though her dad doesn't appreciate everything she sacrifices for him, but they actually talk and try to come to a resolution that both of them are happy with. It's nice to see a family using compromise.
I particularly loved the relationship between Aidan and Lexi. If you prefer a slow burn romance, this is the perfect story for you. Lexi starts off hating Aidan, and it's only after months of conventions - and many different methods of communication - that they fall for each other. It's a genuine portrayal of long distance relationships: the paranoia, the nerves, the yearning, but has a more positive spin than other stories I've read. You need to prepare to be frustrated, though: even though the conventions are all hosted in hotels and the sexual tension is through the roof, Lexi and Aidan's relationship is completely innocent. They have far more self-control than I would...
I was glad this aspect was also dealt with in Lexi and Sam's friendship. Their lack of face-to-face interactions doesn't make their best friendship any less significant when compared to those who see each other daily.
I hope Maggie decides to release 'Piecekeepers', because the excerpt that was included at the end of the story sounded amazing! It's a unique concept, and if Maggie doesn't write it I might have to do it myself. (Kidding! Seriously, just kidding...)

This is totally worth the read. If you're a geek or love any part of geek culture, you'll relate to this book; there are lots of very clever cameos written into the background, and the cosplays are so brilliantly described that you'll be in awe of them despite not being able to see them.
I haven't read Maggie Harcourt's debut novel, 'The Last Summer of Us', yet, but I MUST. Her writing is a delight, and I just cannot wait to read more from her. If I hadn't borrowed Anya's (An Awful Lot of Books) copy of this book, I'd be rereading it immediately.
This gives me a good excuse to break my book buying ban again, though...

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