Fangirling for FANGIRL, by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl-ftr

Once a friend told me that she measured how much a book meant to her by how long she attempted to prolong the reading experience after she’d finished a novel. This week, I’ve been thinking (and agreeing) with that assessment after reading Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, and finding myself completely unwilling to let go of the story. Instead of starting a new book, I’ve been rereading my favorite scenes and looking up reviews and author interviews on the Internet. And from these blog posts, reviews, and interviews I definitely get the feeling that I’m not the only one that’s reacting to the book this way.  Continue reading “Fangirling for FANGIRL, by Rainbow Rowell”

The Madness Underneath: A Strong Sequel

the madness underneath

*** This review contains no spoilers for The Madness Underneath, but does have spoilers for The Name of the Star (the first book in the series)

When I started The Madness Underneath, by Maureen Johnson (Book 2 in the Shades of London series) I knew the book wouldn’t be bad … but I also didn’t expect much. Maureen Johnson is definitely a good writer, as well as being one of Alison Lee’s favorite young adult authors. Still, the first book in the series, The Name of the Star, left me feeling kind of mehh about continuing the series.

Where the Name of the Star seemed to be doing too much and contained abrupt shifts between contemporary YA romance to paranormal historical paranormal, The Madness Underneath seemed to be as consistent as the wit of main character Rory  Devereaux.

Continue reading “The Madness Underneath: A Strong Sequel”

Marry Date or Dump: Beautiful Creatures

ridley-beautiful-creatures-11255539-324-2161We read “Beautiful Creatures” by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl for the blog last week, I just saw the movie (side by side reviews coming this weekend) and I’m quickly working my way through the sequels. Like any good young adult romance, the young men in the novels have been on my mind – even though that is beginning to feel creepy since they are like eight years younger than me.  In this world of southern manners, dark magic, and good intentions who would you marry, date, or dump? Let me know in the comments!

Continue reading “Marry Date or Dump: Beautiful Creatures”

The Matched Series: How Much Is True Love Worth?

matched series

Some people might say, if you’ve read one dystopian novel you’ve read them all. Those people (or even people who only think it) should probably not read the Matched series by Ally Condie. If you are only going to read one, or even two, young adult, dystopian series you should probably read The Giver or maybe Hunger Games. If you, like me, love dystopia and plan on reading a lot of them, then I can suggest you get your hands on these books.

Continue reading “The Matched Series: How Much Is True Love Worth?”

Double Review: Stephanie Perkins

In the spirit if summer beach reads, this week we read Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. The books are billed as flirty and fun, contemporary teen romances, and they did not disappoint. Where Perkins succeeds most is her ability to tap into the teenage girl psyche. She understands that to her readers platonically sleeping with a crush or having a boy brush your hair is sexier than, well, sex.

This companion set begins with Anna. She is forced to spend her senior year in a boarding school for American students in Paris. She wants no part of it. She misses her best friend, her mother and brother, and wants to be flirting with her crush who has only begun to notice her. Plus she doesn’t speak French. She is quickly absorbed into an existing friend group. As she slowly gets over her culture shock, the book follows Anna dealing with the dramas typical of a close-knit clique: jealousies, friends who move on, crushes with girl friends, family problems and more.

Perkins creates believable characters and manages to imbibe each episode with the right amount of importance. However, I felt some distance from the narrative. I couldn’t help thinking almost every chapter how much more I would have liked it if I had read it for the first time when I was in high school.  Despite the good writing and excellent pacing, I didn’t connect.

I had no such problem with Lola and the Boy Next Door. From the first page I loved Lola. Lola doesn’t wear clothes; she wears costumes. She lives in San Francisco with her two dads, dates a punk rocker in his early twenties, and has a serious grudge against her neighbors and childhood playmates, Calliope and Cricket Bell.  When they move back, Lola must sift through a lifetime of feeling for the boy next door.

For me, Lola was a more interesting and engaging character. Beyond her outrageous outfits, I found her funnier and more vibrant than Anna. Throughout the second book, I felt like there was more at stake. Both books have romance as the main plot, but while Anna spent most of her book trying to decide what boy she likes and what she should do about it, Lola deals with questions of her identity and struggles coming to terms with her birth parents.

Cricket Bell, boy next door and aspiring inventor, is probably my favorite character in the whole series. From the rubber bands he wears on his wrists to the detailed descriptions of the way he wears his pants, let’s just say that I have a serious crush … which feels a little creepy now that I am almost officially in my mid-twenties.

I suggest you read both books (not only because Anna pops up as a regular character in the second book) and decide for yourself. Both main characters are fantastic, because they each have distinct passions (Anna loves film, Lola sewing). They each have a strong sense of self, but remain vulnerable. If you want to travel back to the highs and lows of adolescence with two charmingly understated romances then these are the books for you. I can see myself rereading them when I want something like, and will definitely check out Perkins next novel, Isla and the Happily Ever After.

For further reading and reviews:

  • Anna and the French Kiss review on The Book Barbies
  • Lola and the Boy Next Door review on The Book Sleuth
  • Review on both books on Rampant Reads
  • Interview with Stephanie Perkins

*Update from February 2014: I don’t know why I didn’t connect with Anna’s story the first time I read it, but I just wanted to say that I’ve reread both books several times since writing this review. My opinion now, is that they are both really captivating, riveting, top-notch contemporary YA romances. 

Ender’s Game: A Darker Side of Childhood

I obviously love to read. I think this love has defined most of my life choices and goals. Why? What is it about reading? It is books like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.  Which I read last Fall for the first time, becoming enthralled not only with the excitement, the high stakes, the inordinately thought out future landscape, although all of these things did hold my interest. But mostly, it was a deeply felt connection with Ender that I’m not sure I can or want to explain.

For me connection with a character is the biggest determinant on if I like a book. And I will search throughout a book for some way to connect with the main character. But this connection went beyond my usual surface connection, like the main character and I have never been in love before, or both have divorced parents, or both like to read. When a friend asked me this deeper connection, and I replied, “nothing good” I was thinking about a mutual hatred of change, constant evaluation of situation and plotting, and a feeling of isolation, all of which were present but did not define my childhood.

I think the book served to expose an often un-examined truth of childhood. In Ender’s Game, the adults manipulate every aspect of his environment in order to “train” him to be humanity’s savior. In doing so they take all illusion of control away from him and replace it with enormous responsibility. Not so different from the mandate children receive to grow up and “follow their dreams” and “change the world”. Being a child is in many ways perilous, in social terms, in terms of physical safety, but also in terms of holding the weight and promise of the future.

But enough about me, if you haven’t read it, Ender’s Game is one of the seminal science fiction works and follows young Ender Wiggin who, hated by his sadistic brother, over shadowed by his sister, agrees to go to Battle School where the Earth’s most talented children are placed into groups and participate in fight simulations.  The odds are stacked against him, and things get gruesome at times…but what holds the reader’s interest., as well as the adults observing Ender, is the question of his character and psychology.

The book received much praise and critical acclaim, but also has some strong objectors, primarily due to claims of glorified or excused violence. In fact, some have gone so far as to compare Ender to Hitler (now what does that say about my connection with the character!). The book was violent, in a way that I would never have read this during my teens. That seems true of more than half the successful YA books written today and forgiveness of a violent hero is nothing new. Think Richard III or Achilles or even Gilgamesh.

If you loved Hunger Games, you will love this book. But other people will probably love it to. If you read it, based on friends and the Internet’s reaction, you will probably love or hate this book. And you know how the song goes “love me or hate me it’s still an obsession.” I don’t exactly know why I’m trying to sell it though, since I think I was one of the last people to get around to reading it.

For further reading and reviews:

There’s a lot more on the internet. I promise.

The Night Circus: More Hunger Games than Harry Potter

When I started reading The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, in November I didn’t know the name of this blog or what it would look like. But I did know this would be a great choice my first review.  Why? Besides being written by a Smithie and combining several of our favorite literary themes and genres. I also was intrigued by the comparison to Harry Potter.

I see where the Wall Street Journal was going when they categorized these books together. Morgenstern received the holy grail of publishing advances with six figures from Double Day: an almost unheard of amount for a first novel. The novel also, especially in the beginning, centers around the secret magical training of two children, Celia and Marco, though it is more often referred to as illusion or manipulation.

Still, for me the comparison stopped at these basic similarities. The book seemed more closely related to fellow young adult blockbuster series The Hunger Games. Marco and Celia are raised for the sole purpose of a magical competition they have no choice but to participate in. The novel’s setting, the glamorous magic circus, was created for and exits only to serve the competition, similar to the Arena in Hunger Games. The questioned that ran through my mind throughout this book is what was the actual purpose of the competition?

The central issue of the novel, one present in all three, is control. Marco and Celia are in ways completely controlled by their guardians and the competition. They physically can’t abandon the game, yet they can’t choose to win or lose because they don’t know the rules. However, the crux of the competition is for each to use their magical skills to exert control over the setting, both audiences and performers, and  at times over each other.

While these similarities to both hugely successful fiction franchises no doubt are part of the reason behind this debut novel’s wide readership, Night Circus is more complex than either. It didn’t read as YA to me. Structurally,  it jumps forward and backwards through time and weaving together multiple points of view – including the best use I’ve second person I’ve ever read. Thematically, there is no good or evil. This is no Harry Potter where the reader is firmly on the side of Dumbledore and against Voldermort. There isn’t even the popularity contest of choosing Peta or Gayle of belonging to Team Edward versus Team Jacob.  You have to root for both Celia and Marco.

In my mind, Morgenstern accomplished a lot by presenting the theme of asserting independence in a world controlled by adults in a new and complicated way. The plot lagged at times, but I remained captivated by the characters and delighted by the circus descriptions. I wouldn’t expect any less from a Smith College graduate.

For further reading and reviews check out: