So here we go with my initial reactions to these books.
Let's talk about Fangirl first.
FANGIRL (2013) A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 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 fan fiction, 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 on 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 fan fiction 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? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
I hardly ever read contemporary fiction, but because I wanted to read Rainbow Rowell's Carry On I decided to start with Fangirl as it's where Carry On originates as a fictional book series in the world of Fangirl akin to Harry Potter in ours (though Harry Potter is mentioned in Fangirl which kinda threw me off). Oh my goodness I was wonderfully surprised by how easy Fangirl is to slide into! The writing is the style I love; concise, no filler or frills, conveys the point perfectly, great pacing, no dragging, genuine and interesting characters with flowing, no-nonsense dialogue (this is really the strong suit of Rowell; the dialogue).
I love that the chapters are interspersed with appropriate bits of fantasy story (Simon Snow, which is what Carry On is). Of Fangirl Rainbow Rowel said it is her "love letter to fandom and fanfiction and fiction". The book places the fictional fiction ;) Simon Snow into the role and immersive phenomenon of Harry Potter that was the childhood and growin-up years of so many. It had and still has such pull and sway in the media world and in the personal lives of people all over the world. It's just incredible to think of, impossible to fathom, and Fangirl touches on just a little part of this with the main character. It is an intriguing exploration of what it means to be a fan, and a creator–a writer in this –and how fandom influences that. It's all woven together with family issues, first love, the opening of self, and letting go, or letting evolve perhaps is better to say.
AND I want to mention the cover artist Noelle Stevenson, the creator of the award-winning graphic novel Nimona & co-creator of the also award-winning comic series Lumberjanes. The artwork lends its own flavor to the story, especially if you're familiar with Noelle's Nimona characters ;).
And now on to Carry On! *squee!*
CARRY ON (2015) 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 the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up. Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.
It's really difficult to get over Carry On. I mean it's that good and I think it may have ruined me for all other books. That's exaggerating of course, but I think I have yet to really come off of it; that the Carry On reading experience is shading my other reading experiences. What I mean to say is that the story is so well crafted that the other books I've picked up since finishing it are feeling so much...less. *sigh* It was all I could do not to flip the pages back to the front of Carry On and start reading it again once I got to the end. *sigh, sigh, sigh*
The characters are just—wow. The story is compiled of alternating sections of first person perspective and it really drives the story forward in an interesting way and gives secondary, and sometimes tertiary, characters their say, plus depth. At times it somewhat glosses over situations in which I want to read more depth, but it serves it's purpose well. It does get the reader to put more of themselves into it to imagine the situation and feelings of the characters. It's actually kind of ingenious; making the readers more connected to the story. And the romance is adorable (that's not really the right adjective...sweet?). It definitely does not feel pushed or forced or strained; it feels natural, and not trashy. I just wish there was more snogging (or more detailed snogging. Oop. Did I just say that? ;), more description of the characters feelings during those tender moments. I also appreciate the way in which the main threat (one of the main threats...) is dealt with. There's a lot of under-meaning wrapped in this book and it weaves in well. I want to read this book again to really get everything and because the world and characters are so good!
Edit: It's been several days since I finished Carry On and I CANT STOP THINKING ABOUT IT!! And I made sour cherry scones :). This recipe uses canned sour cherries, but stay-tuned for my recipe using dried sour cherries. I just need to post it! Edit Edit: Well, it's been several months now, AND I STILL THINK ABOUT IT OFTEN! (And I made bacon butties!)
I did read it again (in preparation for the Fiction Kitchen Podcast episode) and loved it just as much, if not more. I felt like I grasped more of the story and emotions this time around, and gained a greater understanding of the characters. This book is highly re-readable, that's for sure ;). And the story is still happening technically. The bulk of the events took place in the Fall and especially December of 2015, but Baz is currently still finishing up the school year at Watford so...the dancing ending scene hasn't happened yet! I'm assuming sometime in June... ((eeeee!))
I recently started a youth book club in my community, and this past weekend we had a party for The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands! TBK was my first read of 2016 (published Sept. 2015) and I absolutely loved it (you can read my Goodreads review here). It's a historical fiction that tastes like fantasy and is full of interesting characters, meaningful relationships, mystery, murder, secret codes, near escapes, and science! Alchemy to be precise. The main character is an apothecary's apprentice and his best friend is a baker's boy. They are awesome together. And the science and history in the story seem well researched, but are woven so well into the engaging narrative that they in no way feel like an info. dump. Generally I'm not interested in non-fantasy, historical fiction, but I'm so glad I gave in to this one (the cover and summary were so intriguing!). Now I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel.
For activities (aside from eating ;) ), each club member found an envelope under a chair that contained a piece of paper drawn on in lemon juice. We held the papers carefully(!) up to a torch (or you could use a candle, or better yet; an iron!) to heat (oxidize) the juice and reveal the symbol, and then the kids found the matching symbol drawn on another envelope somewhere in the room. Inside the second envelope was a message encoded in the Caesar, or shift cipher (a type of substitution cipher), identical to the one found in the book (where M is 08 and you read to the right and down). There were also a few alchemy symbols mixed in with the cipher. To decode the message, they looked in The Blackthorn Key to see how the main character did it (they found both the Caesar cipher and the alchemy symbols, used in two different scenes in the book). The message revealed a list of ingredients for two separate recipes; one to make vapor rub using coconut oil, peppermint oil, and eucalyptus oil (the apothecary part; to help one breathe easier), and the other for gooey slime using glue, water, and borax (the alchemy part – well, chemistry; chaining together the molecules to create a polymer). There was a lot of happy, messy experimenting ;).
Members also each received a bookplate autographed by author Kevin Sands (thank you again, Kevin!), along with a TBK bookmark and magnet.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments. If you're considering starting a youth book club, or already have one and are looking for ideas, I hope this post is helpful! We had a lot of fun and I can't wait for our next meeting! Stay tuned!
I just finished reading Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery for the first time, and I bawled like a child. It took me a lot longer to get through than I anticipated, I didn't realize it was so long and full, and it was descriptively tedious in a slight few places when I wanted to get on with what Anne was up to, but it completely won me over near the beginning and I loved the characters like they were close friends. Part of the pull on me was remembering being a child growing up on the Farm way out in the country and the sights and smells and peace there and making me miss it and wanting to spirit away there that very instant. What a good book this would be to read up in the barn loft on a Spring or near Autumn day! Now I understand the popularity and timelessness of this classic and I am looking forward to the day when my daughter reads and experiences it. I'll have to make sure she has plenty of Farm time before then ;).
We're still new to this whole podcasting thing and are giggly at times and sometimes forget what we want to say, etc., etc, but it's been a ton of fun nerding out with Carrie, talking about works of fiction we like and FOOD, of course. I hope you'll give an episode a listen and enjoy!
Got another recipe and giveaway for ya! A couple years ago I posted about Kathleen Duey's award-winning YA novel Skin Hunger, first in the trilogy A Resurrection of Magic. Since then I've also read the second book, Sacred Scars, and was absorbed in it, but book three is still being written. The series features several different foods, all significant in their own way, and I chose one that appears a few times in both Skin Hunger and Sacred Scars. I imagine it'll be mentioned in book three as well. The dish is fish stew from a secondary character named Gerrard, along with baked and buttered yams that were introduced in book two as a side to the stew. Click the image below for the recipe.