Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

 

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell
Pages: 445 pp.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Published: Sept. 2013, St. Martin’s Press

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? [GOODREADS]

Oh gosh, where to start with this book. My first reaction is to dive right into fangirling (shameless pun) and gushing over how much I loved this book, but I feel like it deserves more than that… Then again, to hell with it —

*Kermit flail* I LOOOOOOOVED this book SO. FREAKING. MUCH.

kermit flail

You know the books where you just want to crawl between the pages and never leave? The kind where you’re so consumed by the story that you begin to take on the qualities of the main character? This was it for me. While Cath is certainly relateable as it is, I found myself becoming even MORE like here while I was reading the story — awkward, angsty, a hermit (more so than usual), and totally into fanfic (something I’ve never dabbled in). I relived my freshman year through her eyes, experiencing both familiar and new-found emotions that actually made me wish (if just for a moment) that I were in college all over again.

There was something about Cath that made me connect to her right away — some of which I could directly relate to (a combination of her love for writing & fictional characters as well as her social awkwardness), and some that I’ve never experienced but learned to appreciate while reading this book (her ingrained need to be the “caretaker” for her dad and sister).

Cath is worrisome, awkward, judgemental, creative, caring and REAL. I could both imagine myself AS her as well as someone I could be best friends with. As someone with an extremely small friend circle, this says a lot.

Also, can I just point out how adorable it was that she and Wren were named together? Cather & Wren… I love it! Speaking of Wren, I appreciated the fact that the story showed Wren wanting to branch out on her own. On the surface, it seemed like Wren was a reckless, stupid college student (which she was at times), but to me, Wren’s character was more of a vehicle to show Cath’s personal growth and the fact that she’s not defined by her twin — just like she’s not defined by Simon Snow.

The fanfic part of this story was one of my favorites, not only because I’m a huge Harry Potter fan (which I assume Simon Snow was based on), but also because it added another layer to the story as well as illustrated the author’s exceptional writing talent to write a genre aside from the one Fangirl is categorized as (though it was really “Cath” who was the author of the Simon Snow fanfic ^_^). I’m not familiar with online world of fanfic, but as an outsider, it seemed to me that Rowell did a good job of showing the art of fanfic, as well as the behind-the-scenes pressure and seriousness of it all. When you think about it, Cath was to Harry Potter as E.L. James was to Twilight… Ha! Wouldn’t it be something if she became an overnight sensation for publishing a book that was originally based on Simon Snow? How about a real life fanfic about her rise to fame? Talk about Inception: a fanfic about a character who writes fanfic about another character who’s based on another character? Eek!

mind blown

I digress…

So, Levi… Umph. I ADORED Levi!

adventure time love it

The fact that he WANTED Cath to read her fanfic to him like a lullaby and didn’t judge or make fun of her for it made my heart swell and my gut clench. What girl wouldn’t want that?? Even though it seemed as if he “had it together”, simply because he was older and he smoked and lived off campus, he was just as flawed and lost as Cath, which made him all the more endearing.

This is the first book I’ve ready by Rainbow Rowell and she’s already one of my new favorite authors. Her ability to write characters that are so inherently relateable, regardless of if you really share common traits, is a gift — one that I’m grateful to have experienced. When it comes to deciding if a book is a favorite, of course there’s more to it than simply the book — it’s the book, the mind frame of the reader, the setting and circumstances of how they came to read said book… in essence, it’s the entire reading experience that determines why a book becomes a favorite.

all the feels

Fangirl is one of those rare books where everything came together and made this a favorite that I was pulled into, obsessed with, and actually somewhat melancholy when it was over.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Gateway Books + Authors

TTT logo

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started by the lovely (and creative!) Jamie of The Broke and the Bookish. After following along since TTT’s inception (and because list-making is a die-hard hobby of mine) it only makes sense that I chime in with my own top tens. This week’s topic spotlights “gateway” books/authors that somehow led me to discovering a certain genre, book or author.

Check out my past Top Ten Tuesdays or head to The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten topics.

TTT-Gateway Books

1. Nefertiti by Michel Moran… gateway to historical fiction.

2. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri… gateway to literary fiction & short stories.

3. Mythology by Edith Hamilton… gateway to Greek/Roman mythology.

4. Majoring in Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain… gateway to Murder She Wrote series (HUGE fan of the show!).

5. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss… gateway to READING! This was the first book I learned to read all on my own.

6. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell… gateway to Rainbow Rowell. Also, this book got me out of a major reading slump!

7. Truly, Madly Yours by Rachel Gibson… gateway to the romance genre (aka The One That Started It All).

8. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer… gateway to paranormal fiction.

9. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich… gateway to cozy mysteries.

10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins… gateway to the dystopian genre.

 

 

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent series, Book #1
Pages: 487 pp.
Genre: Dystopian YA
Published: Apr. 2011, Harper Collins

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her. [GOODREADS]

 

I admit, I jumped on the Hype Train with this one, since I didn’t really have an inclination to read it on my own. After downloading Divergent on a whim when it was on sale, it sat for months on my Kindle before I finally decided it was time to see what all the hoopla was about.

I finished it in less than a day.

When I first started reading, the similarities between it and The Hunger Games were glaringly obvious (dystopian setting, teens forced to make a life-altering decision), but it only took a few chapters before Divergent started branching off into its own adrenaline-pumping storyline. When it did, my fingers were swiping as fast as I could read!

Like Katniss, Tris is a strong female lead, but I found her a bit more compassionate and a lot less self righteous. Unlike Katniss, she wasn’t a natural fighter and not the best at combat — I actually appreciated this because it made her character more believable. Not to say she was weak — girlfriend was scrappy! — but it’s refreshing to read about a heroine who isn’t perfect at everything right off the bat. Plus it gives her character room to grow as the series progresses.

I could go into the whole “Divergent” aspect, but I don’t feel like it was the real crux of the story (at least not yet) — this book was more about character development. Which leads me to… Four. Oh, Four. So brooding & deep. There’s just something about him… I already know he is a reader favorite and rightfully so! I haven’t gotten around to them yet, but I will be reading the Four novellas because he’s got a complicated history that I’d love to learn more about. His feelings for Tris were swoon-worthy but I have to say, I didn’t quite get WHY he was so drawn to her so quickly. Luckily, Tris doesn’t either, which makes this subplot easier to follow along with, since both readers and Tris get an explanation as to why Four is so smitten.

One thing that really stood out to me was how violent this book is. Between the hand-to-hand combat and the multiple shoot-outs, I found myself cringing while reading at times. As someone who watches gory crime dramas (Dexter, Criminal Minds, etc.), I’m pretty immune to stuff like that, but Ms. Roth is one hell of a writer if she can make me squeamish with just words. I’m counting that as a plus.

Obviously Divergent is part of a trilogy — one that I feel obligated to see through. I mean, I owe it to Four, right? ;)

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Hex Hall

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Series: Hex Hall series, Book #1
Pages: 323 pp.
Genre: Paranormal YA
Published: Mar. 2010, Hyperion Books

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father–an elusive European warlock–only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire student on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her. [GOODREADS]

 

After a particularly LONG (a near eternity, it seems like) reading hiatus, I was in the mood for something different than my usual romance-genre trope. Enter Hex Hall, an captivating read about a young witch sent to a magical boarding school that I gulped down in one evening.

The story’s first person point of view is its greatest appeal — Sophie is cheeky but flawed, just how I’d imagine a teenage girl coming into magical powers would act. She may only be 16, but her individuality and the way she doesn’t care what others think about her is truly commendable. My 16-year-old self definitely could have taken a page from Sophie’s book!

I’m a sucker for boarding school settings and Hex Hall makes an excellent backdrop to a unique cast of characters. From hot-headed werewolves to stuck-up faeries to ghosts roaming the halls (à la Hogwarts), the magical student body runs the gamut and I wanted to learn more about them and their backstories as well. Because this is the first book in the Hex Hall trilogy, the story did end on somewhat of a cliffhanger, but I guess that’s okay since I was pulled in enough to want to read the rest of the series (as evidenced by my next day trip to the library for books two and three).

In some ways, Hex Hall is your quintessential paranormal YA/magic school trope, but Sophie’s voice is really what makes this story stand out from other stories like it. The twist at the ending will convince readers to stick around for book two, which, if it’s anywhere near as engaging as Hex Hall, will be just as unputdownable!

Review: Born at Midnight by C.C. Hunter

Born at Midnight (Shadow Falls, #1)Born at Midnight by C.C. Hunter

Shadow Falls #1 // 398 pp. // Paranormal YA // St. Martin’s Griffin // Mar. 2011

After a ridiculously long reading slump, I picked this up on a whim from my local Barnes & Nobles. To be honest, prior to this the only paranormal I’d ever read was the Twilight series, which I surprisingly enjoyed loved. Though this isn’t exactly like Twilight, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

SUMMARY: Born At Midnight is the first book in the Shadow Falls trilogy and tells the story of 16-year-old Kylie and how she’s shipped away to a camp for “troubled teens” after being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. There she discovers the camp is actually for teens who are supernatural, not delinquent, though she she’s convinced she still doesn’t fit in there, either.

As if trying to convince everyone she doesn’t have supernatural powers wasn’t enough, she also has to juggle a creepy ghost who keeps popping up, a narcissistic best friend, her parent’s divorce, AND two hot guys who both have supernatural powers and are both into her (oh, the agony!).

Kylie starts off stubborn and judgmental — albeit in a relatable, I-was-a-teen-once kind of way — but she does mature and progress as the story unfolds. Her refusal to accept the fact that she was supernatural was at times frustrating and borderline annoying, but she came through in the end — go girl!

What I found most interesting was the side characters (Kylie’s roommates were wittier than I was at that age!) as well as the explanation of supernaturals. I like the mix of traditional paranormal history with a twist, like when the author explains the origin of vampires or how shapeshifters turn.

Overall, it was a good book that was interesting enough to hold my attention and make me curious to read book two while at the same time still being a quick, lighthearted read.

Waiting For The Veronica Mars Movie? Try These Series!

Veronica Mars is one of my all-time favorite TV shows and when it was (unjustly) cancelled, the world weeped. Okay, a bit overdramatic, but I was seriously bummed. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about a high school/college girl named Veronica who has a penchant for sarcasm and solving crimes. Adding to the mix are awesome side characters, which include smouldering bad boy Logan, faithful sidekick Wallace (who was always my favorite) and Veronica’s dad, a sheriff-turned-detective who I always thought was one of the most laid-back parental units on TV at the time.

Talks of a movie have been circulating around for years and thanks to a Kickstarter project spearheaded by the show’s creator, fans finally got their wish. In less than 24 hours the $2M goal was met surpassed, ensuring a movie to be made sometime later this year. Talk about a SQUEE moment! With more than 40k backers and counting (including myself!), this trumped the news of a new Pope (sorry, Francis), making it the most talked-about topic around the interwebs yesterday.

That said, now comes the waiting game. Even though the WB has made all three seasons available online, that still leaves a lot of downtime before the movie’s release. So to pass the time — and keep excitement levels at a steady high — I’ve listed a few series that encompass similar traits to the show for those moments after you’ve exhausted all the episodes (which I realize may hard to do). I chose series because not only am I a sucker for ’em but also because that means there’s more to gobble up while you wait — and more characters to become emotionally invested in, mwahaha!

On the off chance you’re in the minority and are not a fan (don’t even tell me if that’s true) or have never seen the show (which, if that’s the case I demand you click on the link above, STAT!), you can still enjoy these books on their own for the following qualities.

If you like Veronica Mars for the…

Mystery-solving:

Witty banter:

Kickass heroine:

Smouldering bad boy:

Now, excuse me while I shut the world out and have a VM marathon attempt to be productive for the rest of the day…

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games #2 // 391 pp. // YA Dystopian // Scholastic Press // Sept. 2009

GOODREADS SUMMARY: Suzanne Collins continues the amazing story of Katniss Everdeen in the phenomenal Hunger Games trilogy.Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

After feeling less than amazed by the first book, I was reluctant to continue with the series, but decided to continue on and give Catching Fire a chance anyway. In book two of the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss and Peeta have returned home after winning the Hunger Games and being the first duo to ever survive. As a Hunger Game winner, Katniss is moved into a new home in Victors’ Village and given enough food and money to last a lifetime. However, her nightmares aren’t over just yet. Because of her defiance — causing the Capitol to choose both her and Peeta as winners — she must now face the repercussions. Katniss expects death or torture, but what she gets is far worse: being sent to the Games again! This time around, fighting to survive is even more difficult, as Katniss has to go against past winners (young and old alike), and there’s no way she and Peeta will be able to both survive together again. Things are changing, though, and the spark of revolution is slowly kindling, on the verge of a full-blown firestorm. Will she be able to beat death — and the Capitol — a second time?

Catching Fire hooked me a lot more than The Hunger Games. Perhaps it’s because the initial explanations are out of the way or because we get to see more character development in Katniss, Peeta and the other characters — regardless of the reason, I found myself enjoying this book a lot more than the first. The twist of having to return to the Games, while predictable to others, totally threw me for a loop (in a good way) and I was curious as to how it would be portrayed without seeming like a repeat of the first Games. Katniss’ character is tragically complex, and I admired her inner struggle between doing what she thought was right and doing what she had to to survive. Peeta, of course, is still a do-good boy-next-door, whose steadfast loyalty and love for Katniss is at times down right heartbreaking.

Overall, I was glad I decided to continue with the series and give book two a chance. I was not at all disappointed, and the cliffhanger ending was definitely one that made me rush to get book 3 immediately.

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games #3 // 390 pp. // YA Dystopian // Scholastic Press // Aug. 2010

GOODREADS SUMMARY: Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

Wow, this book took me on one heck of a ride! Mockingjay was without a doubt my favorite book in the Hunger Games series. It was the perfect fusion of action and emotion, a culmination of what happens when poorly treated citizens reach their breaking point.

In the final book, Katniss agrees to become the “Mockingjay,” the spokesperson for District rebels who plan on overthrowing President Snow and the Captiol. This time around, we get an even more thorough glimpse at character personalities and motives, as everyone plays a key role — from Gale and Finnick, to Prim and Peeta. All thirteen — yes, I said thirteen — districts come together to fight as one in order to win the war.

Though Katniss reluctantly agrees to serve as the Mockingjay, she is still last to realize just how much of an effect she has on people, something I found a bit hard to swallow, given her self-absorbed behavior. At first I was frustrated by her arrogance and flagrant disregard of authority and couldn’t get over how incredibly self-absorbed she acted at times. But then I realized that that’s a fairly accurate depiction of what most 16 year olds are like — regardless of if you’re middle of war — and cut her some slack because, while flawed, her reactions are realistic. The best kind of heroine is an imperfect one — and Katniss was most definitely imperfect.

The twists were even better than those in the previous books and did an excellent job at keeping me on the edge of my seat, chomping at the bit to find out what will happen next. Initially I found the descriptions of the Captiol and the war scenes too hard and jumbled to follow, but that’s probably because I was so enraptured in the story that I was reading faster than my brain could visualize the setting and paint a picture of what was going on.

Mockingjay is a lot deeper than I expected (especially from a YA). The raw, gritty portrayal of war is brazen and doesn’t shy away from what I’m sure is an accurate depiction. I can honestly say that I choked up more than once over the inevitable deaths that are a consequence of war. In the end, this book moved me, got under my skin, and had me reflecting on both dystopian life and the effects of war.

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games #1 // 374 pp. // YA Dystopian // Scholastic Press // Oct. 2008

SUMMARY: Written in first-person POV, the book tells the story of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take her little sister’s spot in the “Hunger Games,” an annual competition which teens from each of the 12 districts compete to the death against each other. Also headed to the Games is Peeta Mellark, Katniss’ male tribute counterpart. Going in, Katniss’ only goal is to survive, but her simple plan becomes complicated when Peeta declares his love for her on national television and her mentor suggests Katniss and Peeta pretend they’re in love as a strategy to win. Katniss isn’t sure she can trust Peeta, but has no choice if she wants to survive — guilt-free, at least. The only thing is, only one person can win the Hunger Games, which means that in the end, if it comes down to just her and Peeta, one of them will have to die…

After no longer being able to ignore all the hoopla surrounding this book, I decided it was high time I read it to see for myself what all the hype was about. Plus, with the movie coming out, I wanted to be able to read the book without any film influence after it was released. To be honest, I was skeptical about even reading the series because from what I’d heard, it seemed like a rip from the Japanese book/film Battle Royale. But, hey, peer pressure got the best of me and I decided to give The Hunger Games a shot anyway, despite my reservations. Upon reading The Hunger Games, I realized that the main difference between it and Battle Royale is that while Battle Royale focuses on the physical violence of vetting teens against each other, Hunger Games gives prominence to character development — mostly that of main character Katniss Everdeen.

Technically there was nothing wrong with the book; it was interesting, hooked me right away, and had its fair share of tear-jerking scenes interspersed with creative descriptions of the strange apocalyptic world of the future (i.e. the “fashion” of the Capitol and the unique evolved wildlife). However, it just didn’t quite make me squeal with fangirl glee like I thought it would. I’m not sure if it’s because it was too hyped-up, or what, but after I finished the story I just felt… meh. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t DISLIKE the story — in fact, I can see why other people are so smitten with the book and I would definitely recommend it to others — but it didn’t leave me hanging on the edge of my seat, anxious to find out what happens RIGHT THIS INSTANT. Despite my blasé attitude, I told myself I’d read the rest of the series to finish it out as well as give myself time to get more into it.