Book: Carry On

"Carry On"

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right. Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here–it’s their last year at Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

This book left me breathless, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Rainbow Rowell first introduced Simon Snow in Fangirl as a fictional character within a fictional world. That means we should already know something about Simon Snow, right? Well, partly.

Thing is: Author Rowell isn’t writing the Simon Snow from Fangirl, and neither is she writing the “canonical” Simon Snow. The Simon Snow in Carry On is her own creation based on the foundation she built for his previous use. And, I might be wrong here, but I also felt like she was writing Carry On for readers who didn’t read Fangirl. Which would make sense. But I also feel like this is the reason why Simon Snow’s characterization felt rushed.

Simon Snow doesn’t earn his right to be a reader’s hero, because from the get-go, he reads like a whiny brat who always has to get his way. And I know that he’s supposed to be an amalgamation of every Chosen One we’ve met in the past decade, but those Chosen Ones had a number of books under their belt–they developed from naive innocents into saviors who had the right to whine. To feel bad about their destiny. To question their roles in the grand scheme of things.

Simon Snow had one chapter. And not a prologue at that.

It’s a testament to Rainbow Rowell’s ability to hook readers that one doesn’t just put down Carry On and move on to another book. Although Simon is an insufferable git, Rowell gives us two other characters who you would want to stick with: Penelope Bunce, and the mysterious Lucy. And it’s through them that I found a reason to continue reading.

Carry On is actually a masterful chosen-one story, with Rowell subverting tropes and writing amazingly flawed characters. The plot is well structured, and the big bad is threatening throughout–and even especially after the reveal of his identity and his role in the grand scheme of things. So I kind of feel bad that I’m not a hundred percent in love with the book.

Maybe it’s because of the love story. Because unlike in Eleanor & Park, or in Fangirl, or in Landline, or in Attachments–there’s nothing about Simon Snow nor Baz Pitch one would want to root for. Sure, it was obvious from the get go that they were into each other, but there was nothing about their romance that made me want to root for them to end up together.

I wanted them to solve the mystery, to save the world, and maybe have happily-ever-afters. But end up together? Why would I want that, when I’ve seen nothing about the growth of their relationship? Why would I want that when all I know about their relationship is told through anecdotes that does nothing to advance their character growth.

This is the first Rainbow Rowell book I’ve read where I didn’t fall in love with the love story. I just felt… nothing. No, that’s not true. I felt sorry for two supporting characters who were obviously in love but never got back together. But for the main couple?

I didn’t feel like Simon and Baz earned their happy ending together.

As a chosen-one story, I would recommend Carry On to fans of Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games trilogy, and especially to fans of the Inheritance saga. But as a love story? There are better books out there.

There are better Rainbow Rowell books out there.

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Book: Landline

"Landline"

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply–but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her–Neal is always a little upset with Georgie–but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal int he past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts…

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

A friend asked me to tell him what I think of Landline as soon as I finish. Thing is, when I put the book down, I couldn’t quite decide if I think the book is as good as Rainbow Rowell’s earlier efforts–or if I’m just being buoyed by good will from her better books.

Yes, I said better books. Because now that I have slept on it, I’ve realized that Landline isn’t as good, or as emotionally-gripping, as Eleanor & Park, or Attachments… Even Fangirl, with its over-long narrative is better than Landline. Why? Because in those books, more than the falling in love, we also get glimpses of our protagonists’ lives outside the love story.

With Landline, we begin with the problem. Georgie and Neal are married, but she could tell that her marriage is falling apart. And then it does. And then we go through the motions of their courtship through flashbacks, and the gimmicky premise of having Georgie talk to Neal from nineteen years ago. And she falls in love again. Until she realizes the gravity of talking to someone from so long ago. The power she has to change his future–her present.

The premise isn’t new, but the protagonist’s stake in it, sort of, is. You are giving a woman, who knows that her marriage is not working out, the power to change that. To see if there could be a better future for both her husband and her. And I feel like the novel wasted that potential by… Well, I won’t spoil the book for you. It’s still a well-written novel, even though I ended up not being a fan.

Landline is for the romantics. If you do not care about the characters’ backgrounds beyond how it affects the central love story, then this is the book for you. This is no Eleanor & Park. There is no epic love story that propels to teenagers to defy all odds. This is no Attachments, where our male protagonist is caught in a moral dilemma of how he fell for the love interest. This is no Fangirl, where, besides the love story, you have your female protagonist debating between the lifestyle she has and the lifestyle she thinks she ought to have. Landline just is.

It’s a simple story of falling in love all over again. And it can be enough.

Just not for me.

Now, let’s see what other people are writing about Landline:
Books and Swoons
Angieville
prettybooks

Book: Attachments

"Attachments"

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snider know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now–reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be ‘Internet security officer,’ he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers–not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained–and captivated–by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say…?

Reading this, I knew I was supposed to root for Lincoln and Beth to get together. But I didn’t. Because their romance bordered on creepy. How can a girl fall in love with a guy who has been reading her e-mails? And if she does, Lincoln would never merit her if he never reveals what he’s been doing… What he’s done. And by doing so, he will ruin any chance he has with the girl. So imagine my surprise when, with just a few chapters left, Rainbow Rowell changes my mind completely.

What I like about Attachments is that Author Rowell doesn’t shy away from the moral questions. She doesn’t shy away from confrontations that other writers would avoid because they’re not ready to deal with it yet, or because they don’t know how to write around it. (I’m looking at you, Nicholas Sparks.) Rowell uses said confrontations to further complicate the plot–while developing the characters into becoming real, and believable. She doesn’t write around the problems, she sees them through–with her readers.

And that’s what makes Attachments such a good book. It draws you in, makes you care about the characters, sets you up for a twist you want to see coming, and then actually surprises you by making the apparent feel brand new.

The fact that readers will root for Lincoln and Beth by the end of the book isn’t the twist you’ll be watching out for. Spoiler alert–it’s that Lincoln and Beth will find other people to fall in love. And Rowell sets this up nicely. And up to a certain point, this is a possibility you will come to embrace, because it would be better for the characters–morally. You want Lincoln to end up with a nice girl who he has no idea about. A girl who likes him despite of who he can become around other people. And you want Beth to end up with the other two guys that the book is obviously ready to have her end up with.

But Rowell says ‘screw you’ to plot twists people will see coming. The twist is that there is no twist. Lincoln and Beth is end game. And I may have already spoiled that, but I will not spoil the journey that takes the readers (not just the characters) from the falling in love stage–to realizing that these characters were made for each other.

Rainbow Rowell is one of the few authors you can claim to be worth all the hype. And I can’t wait to read her new novel that’s coming out in a couple of months.

In the meantime, let’s relive Attachments again through these online reviews:
Nose Graze
The Lost Entwife
Lost in a Great Book

Book: Fangirl

"Fangirl"

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life–and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is o n her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction 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.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

What I like most about this book is how vastly different it is from Eleanor & Park. It’s not a love story… Well, it’s not just a love story. We actually get two in this book, but the story is bigger than that.

This is Cath’s story about growing up.

Now, I didn’t have expectations when I started reading the book. Wait, that’s not true. I had a bit of expectation. I loved Eleanor & Park, and I was hoping for the same magic when I started reading this book. But, alas, the magic wasn’t the same. But that’s better than getting the exact same story with just the names of characters changed, right?

Cath was neither Eleanor nor Park. She was her own person, flaws and all. Which reminds me–that’s another thing I liked about Fangirl. Author Rainbow Rowell doesn’t shy away from making Cath unlikeable in some of the chapters. Instead of turning her into an dream girl or a blank slate, Rowell shows us, the readers, Cath’s family background instead. She gives us history. So instead of hating on Cath’s unlikeable traits, we understand her instead. We don’t judge.

And we do the same with the other characters. Well, with most of them anyway. Two characters are written to be completely antagonistic, I don’t think Rowell expects anyone to actually like them. But the thing is, we all know people like them. They aren’t just stereotypes or cutout characters…they’re people who populate real life.

I can go on and on about Rowell’s characters. But I won’t. Let’s get to the point–the reason why I wasn’t as happy with Fangirl as I was with Eleanor & Park. The stories didn’t align.

Fangirl isn’t a romance novel. The love story is part of the main story arc, but it’s not the be all and end all. But it runs its course too early, and it starts to feel tacked on in the latter parts, as Rowell wraps up the other story threads.

And, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t a fan of the love story. I was more invested with the story about the sisters, the dad, and the missing mom… and I thought the love story took up too much space. Rowell writes wonderful family dynamics, and I felt the love story distracted us from the better half of the story, the part where Cath deals with her family issues.

Fangirl‘s premise, of Cath’s fascination with the world of Simon Snow and her resistance in leaving that phase of her life behind, parallels better with the family story. The love story should’ve been just a side show to the main attraction.

But I would still whole-heartedly recommend the book to anyone. Now, if I can’t convince you, maybe these other bloggers can:
Chicago Now
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
It Was Lovely Reading You

Book: Eleanor & Park

"Eleanor & Park"

Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabbier and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds–smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

You know how movies get novelizations that either take away from the action of the book, or give so much more than what the movie already offered? Eleanor & Park is not like that.

Eleanor & Park is a movie in book form; with no additives, and with nothing taken away.

I think I can safely say that no other book has affected me this much. I can’t stop feeling. There is so much feeling in this book, and I’m already on the part where I’m trying to analyze what makes the book good, and tears are still falling.

No, I’m not bawling my eyes out. I’m just tearing up. My heart has been torn out, torn down, and I’m tearing up. And I can’t stop.

This is the first time I’ve read anything from Rainbow Rowell. A few friends I’ve met through this book blog thing have raved about her books. Fully Booked sold out on her books back in December. Eleanor & Park was hyped too much. And I expected too much. And the book still exceeded those expectations.

I understand that I’m not making much sense at the moment. It’s only been minutes since I put the book down.

But I will say this: I think I already found the book that will define my 2014. Much like David Levithan’s Every Day became the benchmark for 2013, all the other books I’m going to be reading this year will have to contend with Eleanor & Park.

The funny thing is, when I started reading the book, I thought it was just an ordinary Young Adult novel about love and how we don’t see what’s really in front of us when we’re in love. And in a way, that remains true up to the end. But somewhere past the halfway mark, something changed. Suddenly, I cared that Eleanor & Park might not have a happy ending. And although the first page already warns us of this, you will hope that that event happens soon–and that they will be able to resolve whatever it is that will separate them.

And then the book ends. You’re just left crying your eyes out. And you’re left not knowing what hit you.

It’s perfect.

Now, excuse me while I go and let my heart bleed.

Go and check out what other people have to say about the book in the meantime:
Pretty Books
Cuddlebuggery
It’s All About Books