Book review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Series: Simon Snow #1
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Source: Purchased

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 starts 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 the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Fangirl was my first Rainbow Rowell book. I read it, I loved it, I’ve never looked back. Since finishing it, I’ve obsessively read everything that Rowell has ever written. I’ve recommended her books to my friends, to my co-workers, to my boyfriend (but he won’t read them). I love her writing style. I love her characters. I love everything about her books. So, in short: This book is by Rainbow Rowell, so of course I loved it.

And of course this book is connected to Fangirl. In that book, Cath writes Simon Snow fanfiction. But if you haven’t read that book, don’t worry about it. Prior knowledge of Fangirl is not necessary to read, understand, or enjoy this book. They are separate worlds. They are separate entities. So let me first start by saying this: put Fangirl out of your mind. Enjoy Carry On for what it is.

This book is, by far, one of my favorites in recent memory. I read the majority in one sitting, stopping only for my weekly phone call with my mom and a quick lunch break. I’m having trouble finding words to describe it. It’s everything I’d hoped for, and maybe a little more. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s whimsical, and it’s enthralling. It made me happy to be reading it, even when the plot got sad. I wish I could live in Simon Snow’s universe, because I could be friends with any of these characters.

Simon, the “worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.” A kid who’s jumped from foster home to foster home, who absolutely loves coming to school because it’s the one place he feels like he belongs.
Baz, maybe-probably-definitely a vampire. A kid from one of the Old Families (who used to rule the magical world). The biggest jerk with the biggest heart.
Penny, the smartest girl you’ll ever meet. Heart of gold. So clever. And she cares about Simon so much in a 100% platonic way.
Agatha, who’s actually kind of awful, but you can’t help but sympathize with her, at least a little bit. (I take it back, I couldn’t be her friend.)

And all the secondary characters, from the school staff to the family members to the villains. As you would expect from Rainbow Rowell, they’re all developed. They all have histories and motives and feelings.

As the story begins, Simon is entering his eighth (and final) year at Watford. His roommate Baz is missing, and although Baz annoys the living daylights out of him (and has actually tried to kill Simon a few times), Simon knows something must be wrong when he still hasn’t showed up several weeks into the term. He spends his days (and nights) prowling around the Watford campus, asking around about Baz, searching any and everywhere he thinks Baz could be hiding. His need to find Baz borders on obsession.

Eventually, Baz comes back, and the story kicks up a notch (or several). Simon and Baz aren’t at each other’s throats as much as they used to be. In fact, they team up (temporary truce) to achieve a mutual goal. Simon has never been able to control his magic, but amazing things happen when he works with Baz. The two of them are like a dream team. I was completely absorbed by their story.

And, oh… the romance. I wasn’t sure how Rowell was going to pull it off, but she did. She always does. It felt natural, and it wasn’t over-the-top. It was perfect. Much like this whole book.

I can see myself re-reading this one. That’s how much I loved it.

for my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #2: a romance

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How do you review an anthology like this? I can’t go into detail on each piece, because that would take ages, and you probably don’t care. So let me just keep my review short and to the point – I was pleasantly surprised by this collection of articles.

I didn’t know what to expect going in, because I haven’t read any of the previous Best Food Writing books. I love to cook, so I was thrilled to see articles about making a great bolognese, or how to make proper carnitas. Some were great life lessons too, like important things to know about cast iron pans. Others were great to think about, like why exactly people don’t cook when they easily could.

When I finished this book, I actually felt like I had learned something about cooking, and about food culture in general.

Highly recommended.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #12: a book of short stories. (These would count as short, nonfiction stories, right?)

Book review: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

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Confession time: I’m pretty sure I’ve had this book since I was in high school. Maybe even middle school. A long time, regardless. It was a gift, and I’m so, so, so sorry that it took me at least ten years to read it.

I read it for two reasons:
1) I’m doing this personal challenge where I “kill” my TBR pile by reading at least three books per month that I’ve had for over a year.
2) It’s Banned Books Week and I know this book has been challenged many times for its supposed atheist message, or whatever.

Anyway, I was really pleasantly surprised, because after a rather slow start, it got really exciting! I did watch the movie when it came out years ago, but I remembered almost nothing of the plot, except that I thought there was some kind of animal following Lyra around, and there was something about a polar bear.

So, anyway…

Lyra Belacqua, a young orphan, lives with the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College. She doesn’t much like it there, since there are few people her own age to play with, and her lessons are half-hearted and dry. One day, her uncle, Lord Asriel, shows up talking about Dust, and the North, and a bunch of people Lyra has never heard of before. Lyra is intrigued by this mysterious Dust, and even more intrigued when nobody will bother explaining it to her.

Shortly after, the beautiful and charming Mrs. Coulter shows up, offering Lyra an opportunity to be her assistant and travel around the world with her. Lyra, who has never had consistent attention in her life, jumps at the chance. It’s not long, though, before Lyra realizes that something is off with Mrs. Coulter, and she may be connected to mass kidnappings in the area.

With the help of her daemon, an armored bear, and some unexpected allies, Lyra must fight her way out of Mrs. Coulter’s grasp, rescue her imprisoned uncle, and save the kidnapped children from horrific experiments.

So, all the time I was reading this book, I had one thought running through my head – “I can’t believe this is for kids.” This book is so intense! It has horrific and terrifying scenes! I mean, maybe it’s like that scene in Toy Story 3, where the toys almost get shredded and they’re preparing to die, and I was basically sobbing on the edge of my seat. Maybe kids interpret it differently. Also, I’m really sensitive and emotional, like all the time. Especially when it comes to stuff with animals, but I legit almost cried when Lyra finds out what the Gobblers actually do.

But, since I was reading this book for Banned Books Week, I do feel like it’s necessary to point out that I still liked the book, despite my strong emotional response, and I in no way think it should be pulled from library shelves.

Let me get on to the things I really liked:

1) Lyra. What a spunky kid. She never gets discouraged, never gives up, never thinks she can’t do something because of her age or her gender or her status. She finds something that needs to be done and she does it. Just like that. This is such a great thing for kids to read about. It was inspiring to me, and I’m 25!

2) The daemons. I would love to have my own daemon! Of course, I really love animals, but the thought that an animal can be a physical representation of your soul, actually linked to you, with a deep emotional connection was just so great. When it was revealed that the Gobblers were experimenting to find a way to separate people from their daemons (not a spoiler – it’s in the blurb), I cuddled my cat because it was like I could actually feel Lyra’s daemon being torn away from her.

3) I loved how the plot just twists and turns and never slows down. Think you have it figured out? You don’t. Think Lyra’s finally safe? She’s not. Think you know who the good guys and bad guys are? Nope. Think again.

4) I loved the alethiometer/symbol reader/lie detector. Lyra is the only one who can read it, and even though she’s a “just a little girl,” as some might say, she understands the importance of it and doesn’t let anybody else take it away from her. The alethiometer helps her through a number of tricky situations and turns out to be an invaluable asset.

This book was such a pleasant surprise, and I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

 

Final rating: ★★★★☆

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #33: a book from your childhood.

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Frenchie Garcia is struggling.

She’s just finished high school, and nothing is going as planned. She didn’t get into art school. Her best friend constantly blows her off to be with his new girlfriend. Their plans to move to Chicago have imploded. And the cherry on top of this disastrous year? The guy she’s had a crush on for as long as she can remember committed suicide after spending the night adventuring with her.

She’s withdrawn, depressed, antisocial. Her friends don’t understand what her problem is, but then again, they don’t know what happened with Andy. Frenchie pushes everyone away with her snippy, snarky attitude. And here lies my biggest problem with this book: instead of reaching out for help, Frenchie pushes her friends away with well-timed, sometimes vicious jabs. And it didn’t feel necessary to me.

You know, sometimes when you’re reading about a character like Frenchie, you understand that they need to act out. You feel bad for them. You forgive their indiscretions. But that was really hard with Frenchie, because more than feeling her pain, I just felt like she was trying too hard to be edgy and mysterious.

I didn’t feel much better about her friends. Joel keeps secrets from Frenchie. He tosses his long time best friend aside for his new girlfriend. Her other friends aren’t much better, insisting that she drown her sorrows in the bar’s cute bouncer, Colin, without even asking her what’s wrong. (Not that she probably would have answered truthfully.)

Strangely, the only character I felt a semblance of connection with was Colin – the one character who doesn’t back away from the barbed wire fence that Frenchie has constructed around herself.

As for the topic of suicide, I felt that it could have been dealt with a lot better. I remember reading 13 Reasons Why while I was working a college job and struggling to hold in the tears as students and their parents swirled around me. That is a book that properly deals with suicide. It’s more of a plot point here than anything else. “This guy died; how is Frenchie going to handle it?”

I can’t fault the writing style, but I had trouble getting into the book, and most of the characters fell flat for me. Honestly, I’m really disappointed, because this book has been on my list since it came out and I didn’t win a free copy. This book could have been so much better than it was. 

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #28: a book with antonyms in the title.

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For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m supposed to read “a popular author’s first book.”  I’ll be honest – I had some trouble finding a popular author.  Because if it’s a popular author that I actually like, I’ve probably already read their first book.  I thought about John Green, Marissa Meyer, Libba Bray, Colleen Hoover.  I thought about Chuck Palahniuk, Meg Cabot, Judy Blume, Tamora Pierce.  I looked through lists of books by Sarah Dessen, J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Perkins, Cassandra Clare. Nothing really spoke to me.

Then, on a whim, I realized I had ordered Wicked Lovely, which just so happens to be Melissa Marr’s first book.  At 30 distinct works and almost 320,000 ratings, I think she qualifies as a popular author.  At least according to Goodreads.  Anyway, on to the review.

Aislinn has always been able to see faeries.  It runs in the family.  And since she was a little girl, her Grams has always reminded her of the rules.  Don’t attract the faeries.  Don’t look at the faeries.  Certainly don’t speak to the faeries.  And Aislinn has always followed these rules… until Keenan, the Summer King, starts courting her, and turns her life upside down.

This book came out when I was in high school.  (I feel really old saying that.)  Back then, the praise was incessant.  "This book is so amazing,“ they said.  "Aislinn is so feisty and awesome,” they said.  "It’s such a great story,“ they said.  I was so excited to read this book, but for some reason, it took me eight years.

And, now that I’ve read it, really none of those things are true.

At best, this story is mediocre.  It’s not well-developed.  The plot just kind of meanders along, dragging around the possibility of romance between Aislinn and her best friend, Seth, while the possibility of Keenan ruining everything never quite goes away.  It’s actually painfully obvious that this is the author’s first book.  That, and the fact that nobody wanted to polish this story to be the gem it could have been – with a little more effort.

I was more or less indifferent to Aislinn and her struggles.  I wasn’t swayed by Keenan’s supposed charms.  (Possibly because the only Keenan I’ve ever known was something of a jerk?  That and shiny, superhumanly beautiful men are not a weakness of mine.)  I saw all the plot twists coming.  Aislinn’s friends and their drinking, drugs, piercings, and sexual exploits didn’t excite me the way they might have when I was 17.  In fact, it kind of made me sad.  Kids throwing their lives away because of too little supervision, and all that.

The thing that got to me the most, I think, was Aislinn’s mortality being casually taken away from her.  Sure, she’s a little miffed, but she basically accepts it without too much of a fight.  She actually accepts most everything without much of a fight.  Oh, my whole life is about to change.  I won’t die.  Okay… if you say so… as long as I can keep Seth…

There’s so little conflict, so little angst, so little of any emotion other than teenage hormones in this book that I had trouble connecting with the characters.  Even when Aislinn panics, thinking she might have unknowingly lost her virginity when drunk on faery wine, there’s a sort of blasé attitude about it, like well, things happen and I’d hoped my first time would be special, but oh well.

All in all, it’s just disappointing, and I wish I’d read the mountain of negative reviews before diving headfirst into this book.  It’s a quick read, but I can’t say that it’s worth the time, and I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #15: a popular author’s first book.