Monthly Archives: January 2015

2) Fangirl

By: Rainbow Rowell

Date Finished: 01.16.15

by Rainbow Rowell

While most teenagers look forward to their independence, Cath dreads going to college, especially after her twin sister, Wren, says that she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is uncomfortable with change and uncertainty — more so than most people — and so she retreats to a world that she knows intimately, the world of Simon Snow. The Simon Snow book series started when Cath and Wren were kids, not long after their mom left. It became a cultural hit, and both Cath and Wren grew up as devoted fans. They wrote Simon Snow fanfiction together until Wren moved on to other things, but Cath didn’t give it up. And even when the new rhythms and influences of college life wrap around Cath, she can’t bear to let go of Simon.

This book is the real deal. It’s a celebration of life in all its messiness and of fiction in all its iterations. Rowell paints a positive picture of fanfiction and fangirling, but doesn’t let Cath off the hook for burying herself in Simon’s world at the expense of the real one. There is a time for fiction, and a time for living; this book covers both.

I really enjoyed the experience of reading this book because I had no idea how things were going to play out. I could guess where some of the threads were going, but Cath, despite her aversion to change, was rather unpredictable. She didn’t respond to every trigger, but when she did engage, she committed completely. I liked that about her. But she made me nervous too, when she ignored the good things in her life. It was difficult to watch Cath’s world crumble, but it was that much more satisfying to see her rebuild. I was always rooting for her.

The book is divided into two parts — the fall semester where Cath is almost paralyzed by discomfort and the spring semester where she really begins to grow. While Cath’s transformation is gradual throughout the course of the book, there is a distinctive shift in tone for the second part. The spring is more hopeful, and, in a way, more active. Between each chapter, Rowell includes snippets of Simon Snow stories — never more than a page. Some vignettes are from the Simon Snow books and some are from the fanfiction that Cath (with or without Wren) wrote. I enjoyed this feature at the beginning because it gave more context to what Cath was obsessing over (Rowell also helped give context by starting the book with a fake Wikipedia article on the Simon Snow series). Further into the book, the snapshots started to feel repetitive since they were too short to give much information. Even though these scenelettes lost their potency as the book went on, I was still grateful to have them.

All in all, it’s a fascinating read. Rowell doesn’t hold back from the pain in these characters’ lives, yet the story is always hopeful. Consider me a fan.

At the end of the day: Really for me

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1) House of Ivy and Sorrow

By: Natalie Whipple

Date Finished: 01.13.15

by Natalie Whipple

Josephine Hemlock lost her mother when she was young to a curse that had followed their family for generations. Several witching families suffered from the same threat, but with her mother’s death, Josephine and her Nana are all that remains of the Hemlock bloodline. They live a pretty quiet and normal existence, all things considered, until a man shows up at their door — a door that he shouldn’t even be able to find. Although he means them no harm, he carries with him the darkness that they have been running from for decades. It’s the end of the line for Josephine: either fight or succumb to the curse. There’s nowhere left to run.

This was my first Natalie Whipple book, and even though it technically falls in my preferred genre, it’s a slightly different flavor of YA fantasy than I’m used to. The witches in this world are your traditional Halloween fare — potion-brewing, black-cat-owning, and loudly-cackling. But their type of magic doesn’t come cheaply. The bigger the magic, the bigger the cost (the more serious the magic, the more seriously disgusting the cost — like, cover-your-eyes-so-you-can’t-see-what’s-happening-but-it-doesn’t-work-because-it’s-a-book-and-not-TV-cost). (Okay, so yes, one of the scenes included a personal horror, and yes, it was completely scarring, but I liked the rest of the book. And it only made me squirm because it was so realistic, so at least that’s good writing, right? Right?) The point is, this magic isn’t a simple superpower; this magic requires intelligence, precision, and personal sacrifice. I respect that.

It has a great mixture of characters, from Josephine who is a worthy leading lady and pretty great at thinking on her feet to her eccentric and protective Nana. Her friends are a great match, funny and passionate and every much as protective of Josephine as she is of them. The relationships feel very natural and they all play a role in the final showdown. It even had one of those characters that could be either a devious villain or a surly anti-hero. Granted, Josephine was pretty hard on him, so I saw more of the ambiguity than she did. I don’t blame her for thinking the worst of him though when he was remarkably gifted at being creepy and saying the exact wrong thing. Better safe than coughing up black blood.

There’s not a lot of glitz in the storytelling — it’s a book that knows what it wants to say, and just says it. I don’t mean that the writing is bland; on the contrary, the writing has momentum. Even in the quiet moments, the story is always going somewhere. It’s a promising start to a new year of reading, that’s for sure.

At the end of the day: For me

2014 Year in Review

Three years completed and it just gets keeps getting better. I surpassed my goal for the first time, ending the year with an even 30. Yay! Mixing in the re-reads definitely helped — they cleansed the palate after heavier reads and allowed me to keep up momentum. Plus, I enjoyed reacquainting myself with these past favorites.

So, statistics:

*22 new books
*8 re-reads
*11 new authors

There weren’t any resounding disasters among this year’s books — the ones that didn’t suit my taste were impeccably written. Here’s a rundown of the more dazzling discoveries:

*Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein broke my heart in all the best ways. It’s probably the purest historical fiction I’ve ever read and devastatingly beautiful.

*Unnatural Creatures, the short story collection curated by Neil Gaiman, proved to be entirely magical. Despite the numerous authors and settings, the spirit of the book remained cohesive.

*Shannon Hale’s Dangerous defied the boundaries of genre to create an absolutely thrilling contemporary-superhero-sci-fi.

*The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress) by Marissa Meyer blew my mind. The characters, the world-building, and the sneakily logical use of fairy tale elements all combined in a deeply complex and connected manner. Cress in particular was a marvel and a delight.

*Shonna Slayton’s Cinderella’s Dress was a lovely debut novel that blended historical fiction with fairy tale. I hope there are many more books to come.

*E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars was an off-the-beaten path gem. I found it absolutely compelling, and could use more of this type on my reading list.

*I fell head-over-heels in love with Bridget Zinn’s Poison for its charm, wit, and levity.

*Kiersten White’s Illusions of Fate captured my heart with its brilliant characters and complete fearlessness. I will quickly snatch up her subsequent novels.

This year I added a rating system which is, at least in my brain, more quantifiable than the standard one to five stars. Technically, it is as arbitrary and subjective as anything else, but it eliminates gray area by asking how much would I be willing to invest in each title? Would I buy the full-price hardcover, new paperback, discounted e-book, borrow it from the library, or just walk on by? This list is a good place to get an at-a-glance look at my recommendations.

So, what’s in store for 2015? Well, since I breezed past my goal, I suppose it’s time to raise the bar. Next year, I’m aiming for 35 books, and will still keep it a mix of new and old. Four of the series I love get new books within a six week period so prepare yourself for some sequels, especially early in the year. I will probably keep exploring the work of authors I discovered this year, but will try to keep adding new authors. Although my to-read list is pretty long, I always welcome suggestions! Chime in if you have any requests 🙂

May your new year be full of grand adventures!