Carry On (CBR11 #52 – Cannonball!)

This review is a group review completed by myself and my fellow reviewers and friends Ale and Crystalclear for Cannonball Read bingo. Enjoy!

Ale:

I very much enjoy that Rainbow Rowell did the most meta thing ever and basically wrote a fan-fic about her own characters that were characters in a fan-fic created by her own characters. I’m still wrapping my own brain around that sentence. But I think it’s a testament to her craft that she had characters that were so nuanced from Fangirl that she could expand them into another two books (note from faintingviolet – Rowell has announced that this will officially be a trilogy). She’s also totally fanning on Harry Potter, and yet even though I knew that all the way through, I didn’t want to do anything but read this book (and I’m already halfway through Wayward Son).

Crystalclear:

Yup, this… is Harry Potter.  I mean, not really, and it’s not a fanfiction fanfiction, but it’s a fanfiction.  To make the worst possible comparison, it’s an actual good and not dirty 50 Shades to Twilight, but Harry Potter.  That’s bad.  That’s not what this is at all.  This is taking the ideas and characters of Harry Potter and changing them and creating other plotlines. Simon Snow is the Harry Potter character (but blond!)  Baz is the Draco Malfoy (but with black hair!) Penny is the Hermione, and Agatha is the Ginny, I think. (faintingviolet – yep the Ginny comparison works for me.) The Mage is Dumbledore, but more obviously shitty. Simon has a deep well of power that he can’t quite control (a fanfiction trope).  Baz is *spoiler* a vampire (another fanfiction trope.) The Mage has an agenda involving politics and does not have Simon’s best interest at heart and is against Baz’s family (which is pretty spot on with Harry Potter, actually.) Knowing this is a fanfiction, you still get to the reveal at the end of Chapter 32 and it’s the big “Yes!” moment.  

Rowell definitely takes the story in different directions than Rowling was able to.  Then again, Harry Potter was written for kids, and Carry On is not.  There are real dangers and real consequences of people’s actions here.

Faintingviolet:

Maybe it’s because we just did an adaptation/retelling book club but this fanfictioned Harry Potter sticks in my brain as a remix. We’ve got all the component parts that Crystalclear has laid out, but this feels inspired by, not traced. It should be noted that I expected no less of the fantastic Rainbow Rowell. She is using  meta-textual interaction with Rowling’s series to pull apart and turn Chosen One tropes on their head, and then goes ahead and gives us a yearning gay teen romance for the ages. It’s more than I dared dream it would be. 

Ale: 

I think Rowell’s able to take the story to new places because she’s starting her story where Rowling left hers. Rowell alludes to the seven years of Simon’s adventures, but they’re all in the past and we get to focus on how a lifestyle of ‘being the hero,’ has affected Simon (mostly for the worse). Rowell also offers us a window of humanity into the ‘bad’ magicians since not only is Simon forced to share a room with Baz, but in her usual style, Rowell passes the story between her characters, letting us hear from Baz’s point of view. We understand his motives and the reasons his family and the other old families are opposed to the changes being made. They may be wrong (because they are), but we get to understand why they believe what they do, which goes a long way to humanizing the supposed enemy.

Faintingviolet: 

Rowell’s ability to build strong characters, and then give them the space to present their worldviews is on full display here. We obviously get it with Baz, but I knew right away that we were in for a very specific kind of reading experience with Penelope’s first chapter. The compassion, love, and fear were palpable in a few short lines. I was invested in a way that I hadn’t been just pages before, and I was pretty invested to start with. 

Ale:

It’s an interesting world that Rowell’s building here in that it’s less like the all encompassing world of Harry Potter, with aurors and a ministry, etc, and more like a big dysfunctional family. All the major families are inter-married in some way, and magic is a purely genetic thing. There are no Hermionies in this world – no magical kids sprouting from non-magical parents. Magic begets magic, and only the wealthy matter. It’s about power and class. So maybe there are magical kids out there with Normal parents, but this society would never know because they don’t acknowledge that it can happen.

Crystalclear:

I like how we both immediately latched on to the part where they say they have no magical law enforcement.  In Harry Potter they at least tried.  The Mage has a goon squad, and that’s about it.  Then again, The Mage is kind of a crazy garbage person.  If something goes wrong, who would anyone report anything to?  The Coven? That wouldn’t work very well, seeing as they’re government and probably work at a glacial pace to get anything done.

Ale:

I was also intrigued by the creatures of this world: vampires, goblins, and numpties, etc. Like in Harry Potter, Magicians are at the top of the hierarchy, the only thing standing between the Normals and their abject destruction at the hands of the ‘dark’ creatures. But their society’s hero-complex is always a little vague… like it’s the lie they tell themselves to validate their superiority complex. This is shown specifically through Agatha’s character, whose own parents don’t seem to understand her wish for a normal teenagehood. 

Faintingviolet:

See,  I was intrigued by the way the magic worked – both in the ways in which characters felt their magic (which I don’t think we ever got in HP) and also in the mechanics of its functioning. That magic is found in repeating common phrases or lyrics grounded what we were reading while also providing a nice little mental soundtrack. 

All I can really say is that this lived up to my hopes. I let this book sit unread on my shelf for years because it was the only unread Rowell novel I had left (it didn’t hurt that it drove Crystalclear nuts). Then this year we got Wayward Son and Pumpkinheads and the promise of more on the way. I’m glad we got Ale on the bandwagon, because sometimes the best part is experiencing things with your friends, and I think the characters would agree with that. 

Pumpkinheads (CBR11 #43)

I was always going to love this book. If there was a book created for me, this would be it. All its missing to make it absolute perfection is a focus on the color purple. Its set in my favorite season, specifically on my personal high holy day (Halloween), featuring an adventure, some unrequited/unacknowledged love, pumpkins, and a goat on the loose.

Seriously, Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks nailed this delightful story of two friends spending their last night at work together before they head off to their own futures, unsure of what that really means.

Pumpkinheads reminds me in the best possible way of my favorite short story from the collection My True Love Gave to Me by Stephanie Perkins and two of Rainbow Rowell’s previous short stories (one that featured in that collection as well). The Perkins short story, It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown, told the story of Marigold and North and featured a Christmas tree lot and two teenagers who might mean more to each other than they want to admit. On the surface there’s big similarities with Pumpkinheads, we have two teenagers (seniors in high school) working at a Pumpkin Patch whom have a deep and abiding friendship. Rowell has previously explored the themes of capturing an adventure to know you’ve lived (Kindred Spirits) and friends who could be more (Midnights). She revisits those themes here and married with Faith Erin Hicks’ beautiful graphic design, panel layout, and ability to capture moments as each character expresses themselves beautifully without words and we are treated to an exquisitely told story.

Go get this immediately and celebrate the best time of year.

Almost Midnight (CBR9 #75)

happy new year

Happy New Year! As a treat to myself I purchased this sparkly-covered illustrated version of two of Rainbow Rowell’s short stories which I have already read and reviewed. I love Simini Blocker’s art (I have two of her posters at home) and I love Rainbow Rowell so this was a bit of a no brainer for me.

For those of you unfamiliar, these are pretty good gateway drugs to Rainbow. Midnights is very much like her novel length works. We experience four new years’ eves with two teens who are clearly in love with each other and don’t necessarily know what to do with those feelings. I am fond of proselytizing the good word of Rowell’s ability to craft delightful, wonderful characters and these two are no less delightful and wonderful than her others.  I first read this story three years ago and they are firmly lodged in my memory the way few other story’s characters are. Also, it pulls at the heartstrings, the watching the one you want not quite manage to want you as well.

The second story is Kindred Spirits which focuses on Elena and her excitement to experience The Force Awakens,  her first true Star Wars theatre experience. We spend a few days in her company as she endeavors to have the line experience the original series and prequels audiences had. Hers isn’t like those, exactly, but she does come away with an experience all her own and a new friendship which helps her unpack the relationships she and others have to nerd culture. For me, I didn’t see The Last Jedi until just a few days ago and have watched certain sectors of fandom expose themselves as not being ready for where the movies are taking them. Rowell isn’t necessarily anticipating that, but this is a nice companion read to any viewing of a new Star Wars movie.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, my last for CBR9. At Cannonball Read we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society. Registration for our 10th annual read is open through January 2018. 

Attachments (CBR9 #62)

Merry October everyone. (Shhh… I know its November, but it’s still October in my heart.)

I love Rainbow Rowell, and I love the characters she creates. I also love how much she loves my favorite month of the year.

This is my second time through Attachments and while looking back I can see all the ways in which Rowell has grown as an author but my affection for this story has only grown. I rated this one 4 stars when I last read it for CBR5, but I’ve gone ahead and rated it five stars this time.

The first time through what sold me on this book and Rowell as an author was the characterization. I could not help but fall in love with each of our leads as they navigated their various life struggles. Rowell delivers honest character reactions and flaws in everything she writes. This time I noticed the pacing. In the beginning of the book things move slowly, reflecting the status of the lives of Beth, Jennifer, and Lincoln. As each character’s arc progresses the pace picks up in concert with it. The end of the novel appears to come to a halt, but instead it is fast-forwarding towards the earned resolution.

I love Beth and Jennifer’s emails, I love Doris, I love Lincoln’s sister rebelling against their mother by being “normal”, I love Lincoln’s loyalty and bravery as well as his inertia. I love Mitch who falls in love with a Jennifer who still all these years later doesn’t know how she got so lucky, I love Chris being so stuck in what it takes to be an artist that he loses how to be a person. I love it all so very, very much.

And I’m incredibly thankful that Hasen Klub tracked down a hardcover copy of this book for me to round out my Rainbow Rowell collection.

 

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it as we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

Kindred Spirits (CBR8 #21)

I am the World Book Day Book Fairy.

I thought I ordered one copy of the book; I actually received closer to 4 dozen from the book depository. I am not the only person this happened to, as the internet has let me know, and somehow I think it was on purpose, that we were led to believe we were getting one, and got so many more so that we would have the opportunity to send the book further out into the world. I had a blast mailing the book to Cannonball friends and foisting piles of books on my local friends who have taken them off further into the world including school libraries (crystalclear for the win!).

The joyful spirit of World Book Day was matched in Kindred Spirits and Elena’s hunt for the line experience for The Force Awakens. Elena is all about Star Wars and this short story focuses on the few days and few new faces Elena encounters along the way. While the line isn’t anything like what Elena expected based on the prequels or the original releases (what have you done to us online preordering?).

The book is very much a meditation on what our particular pop culture preferences. Elena’s love of Star Wars is shared with her family, but not her friends so she is out on her own for the line. Gabe and Troy are the others in line, and each brings their own particular fan experiences. Maybe my favorite part of the novella was the discussion between Elena and Gabe about girls and nerd culture, and with the mainstreaming of nerd culture if it really exists anymore.

Not my favorite Rowell work, but certainly enjoyable for the Rainbow fans out there.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

My True Love Gave To Me (CBR6 #56)

I am not one, normally, for short story collections. Inevitably there are some which are too long, and some which are too short. And some that are just, well, terrible. My True Love Gave To Me is no exception to these general rules of short story collections.

I should backtrack to say that I enjoyed the majority of the stories in this collection. The authors in question are generally well liked and reviewed (as best I can tell/remember I have only read one of the authors before) and the collection is buoyed by their collected strength. Here’s what I thought of the individual stories, and why I give the collection 3.5 out of 5 stars:

Loves:

The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link – a story of what happens with a little holiday magic, a little good luck after lots of bad luck, and a boy seemingly caught in time and space. This one leans towards Fantasy and is exquisitely well paced.

It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins – My favorite of the bunch, this story tells the tale of one evening with Marigold and North as they fall for each other while literally unpacking Marigold’s baggage. A laugh out loud funny story.

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell – Rowell is the only author I’m sure I’ve previously read. This short story is very much like her novel length works. We experience four new years’ eves with two teens who are clearly in love with each other and don’t necessarily know what to do with those feelings. This one is another outing of pitch perfect characterization for Rowell.

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – perhaps the least Christmassy of the twelve stories in this collection, it is however the most romantic. In a post-apocalyptic future (I think) Neve is about to come of age and the tradition is that suitors leave tokens for their chosen wife during advent and marriages are made on Christmas Eve. In fear of her suitor, Neve calls out to the old gods, and awakens the Dreamer, who in turn falls in love with her spirit. This one is absolutely fantasy. The language is gorgeous and sumptuous, much like the Dreamer’s gifts.

Likes:

Angels in the Snow by Matt De La Pena – Our protagonist, Shy, is trapped in a blizzard with next to nothing to eat, leaving him with nothing but time to dwell on his issues. Luckily for him there’s an interesting girl in the apartment above, but she’s not going to let him off easy. The pacing came and went, but this is a good story.

What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth by Gayle Forman – the Hannukah tale of the bunch, Sophie Roth has ended up at college in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and its making her feel very much the big city fish out of water. Until, she meets someone else who may just be the fish she needed to meet. I really like Sophie as a character, and I liked that she screwed up as much as she got things right. I just didn’t love it.

Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan – When his boyfriend Connor asked him to dress up as Santa Claus to convince Connor’s younger sister that there is a Santa Claus for one more year. But in the process he learns more about his boyfriend’s family and his place in his life. This one was good, but left me wanting more.

Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire – Vaughn has a reputation for causing trouble, and its just one of those instances that lands him serving community service helping to repair the Christmas Nativity that he (accidentally) burned down. Hilarity, hijinks, and love, ensue.

Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White – this one was saved by its ending. Maria lives with her mom and her boyfriend in Christmas, CA. She works at the Christmas Café, and life is pretty miserable. Until Ben shows up as the new cook and things take a turn for the strange.

Letdowns:

Krampuslauf by Holly Black – This one is like the photo negative of The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer. What Laini Taylor go right in bring the fantastical to life Holly Black does wrong in this story which seemingly never ended.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter – This one had such potential, but was given short shrift. Lydia changes tickets with Hulda, a foreign exchange student, and finds herself in Oklahoma instead of New York. She’s running from a big bad thing, but this short story doesn’t give it, or her growing feelings for Ethan, enough time to evolve.

Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han – this story made me angry. So angry. Santa adopts an orphan from South Korea 15 years ago, and now she’s growing up in the North Pole and falling in love with an elf. There is so much teenage angst and so little payoff. And the ending is sad.

This review was completed as part of the Cannonball Read.

Landline (CBR6 #52) (Cannonball!)

As we approach Thanksgiving here in the U.S. I’m reminded of the things I’m thankful for, and in the last several years Cannonball Read is one of the things I am extremely thankful for. It’s helped reignite my love of reading, its introduced me to a group of people who also love to be bookish readers and talk about what they’re reading and why it’s affecting them the way it is. And its helped pull me outside of myself in my real life as whole new conversations are starting with coworkers and friends about what we’re reading, and what they think I should read next, and just how scathing or bonkers a particular review of mine has gone.

But perhaps most importantly it’s exposed me to authors and books I may have otherwise missed. The prime example of that are Rainbow Rowell and her four books (so far!). I have loved them each individually and I love them as a group. I have bought copies for family, will begin pushing them on friends immediately, and generally sing their praises. Not every book or author is for everyone, but Rainbow Rowell and her books are for me.

Landline, my 52nd book this year, is definitely a book for me even though I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I certainly don’t have a magic phone that lets me talk to the love of my life 15 years ago. But, these characters jumped off the page, dug down into my soul and meditated there for a while letting me I think about the big idea. The plot (minus the magic phone, seriously don’t worry about the phone, accept the timey wimey-ness and move on) is relatively standard in adult fiction. What happens to your life when you take for granted those you love and who love you and you make not good decisions? What is the consequence? How do you make it right? Can you make it right? Should you make it right?

Georgie McCool, our protagonist, ruminates on just those points for the majority of the 300 pages of this book. She seemingly has made one poor decision too many, she sees herself as the nexus of her husband’s unhappy life. So when the opportunity to speak to Neal in the days leading up to his proposal 15 years ago happens, she must decide whether she’s trying to make it happen, or trying to spare him the pain that binding his life to hers will cause.

I was able to relate to the self-doubt Georgie feels, and also the perceived lack of career trajectory that she sees in Neal. Georgie has a problem I think a lot of super career driven people have – they don’t see that for many people their job isn’t what gives their life meaning. In my reading of this book it comes across that family and kids are what give Neal’s life meaning, and therefore it doesn’t matter to him that he left a relatively dead end science job to stay home and be a dad, a position he tells Georgie is absolutely necessary when they are first married, when she thinks they’re optional because she was raised without hers. But it’s this perceived slight, that Neal gave something up so that Georgie could do the thing that drives her (being a comedy script writer for television) causes Georgie nearly as much strife as the possibility of Neal walking away from their marriage.

This isn’t necessarily a happy read, even at the end, but the language and word choice keep you on your toes and enjoying the read. Rainbow’s characters sound like real people. Rainbow’s writing isn’t the big sweeping bold word choice that generally accompanies the classics of American literature, but its so precise, and rings so true that it just sits with you. She plays with form and function, and in Landline parenthetical phrases are used to clarify Georgie’s inner dialogue and if you’re a reader of my reviews, you know I love a parenthetical phrase. (I really, really do). Rainbow’s used other things in each of her books, and they each add a layer of meaning, a layer of depth, to the proceedings. They are the icing on a superbly baked cake.

You may ask yourself if I am so obviously in love with the book, its author, and its sibling books why am I not rating it 5 stars. The answer is simply that while I know Georgie at the end of this book, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got Neal nailed down, I don’t really know the other characters. This one doesn’t have the beautifully fleshed out supporting cast of characters that other Rowell books have. That slides this one firmly into 4.5 stars for me. But, I’ll let you know that if you saw my meltdown at half-cannonball time about wanting more, more, more at the end of Fangirl that I loved the Easter egg in Landline and it gave me enough closure to go ahead and rerate that a 5 star book, since I was being silly abut withholding it in the first place.

Read this book, and everyone in the pool, I made my cannonball goal!

Now off to book 53…

This review is part of the Cannonball Read.