“Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl

asteriaiconThis book was on my radar for quite a long time. I have heard great things about it, and enjoyed Eleanor and Park by the same author, so I decided since I am on a YA kick it was the perfect time to pick this up.

Cath loves fanfiction. She is a Simon Snow fan, and loves writing fanfiction about the characters, and has a huge online following. It was something she shared with her twin sister Wren, but while Wren has grown away from it, Cath just can’t seem to let it go. Cath and Wren are now in their first year of college, and everything is different. Wren feels college is a time for new experiences, and does not want to room with her. Cath’s new roommate Reagan is a little abrasive, and her maybe boyfriend Levi is always hanging around. Her classes are not going as expected, and the crush she has on one of her classmates just does not seem to be going anywhere. As Cath struggles with everything going on, her sister is partying a little too often and her dad is struggling mentally with work and having an empty nest. Cath throws herself into her fanfiction rather than her homework as a way to cope with everything going on around her.

I really enjoyed Cath’s character. As a socially awkward introvert, I understand her desire to hole up in her room with fictional characters and protein bars. I enjoyed the friendship Cath and Reagan created, and it reminded me a lot of being in university. I liked reading about a teacher who is so invested with the success of her student, and I remembered having a few of those rare and amazing teachers in school. I found Cath’s awkward relationship with Levi lovely, and it made me appreciate my fiancé just a little bit more.

I had a few criticisms. One was the character of Nick. I was as confused as Cath was trying to understand their relationship and what he brought to the story. He seemed so interested in her, but was really just using her (which I understood), but I didn’t understand his reappearance at the end. I appreciated the love the character had for fanfiction, and understood that as her fanfic was blazing towards its ending, so too was Cath’s story, but I really didn’t find the written aspect into the story relevant. I found I skipped the fanfiction parts entirely. I appreciated the story behind what happened to their mother, but found the reappearance of her rather irrelevant as well. I found the only thing that it did was illustrate how good the girl’s boyfriends were, which could have been done in other ways.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed this book. I liked that Simon Snow was a very thinly veiled Harry Potter, mainly because as an HP fan I get how strong the love for it can be. I enjoyed reading about the friendships made during that first tumultuous year of college, and could have read about Cath and Levi forever. I did not feel it was as good as Eleanor and Park, but it was still a nice story and one I would recommend giving a try, especially if you appreciate fanfiction!

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“Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet” by Joanne Proulx

AnthemProphet

asteriaiconThis was another one of those books I had read that was going into movie this year, so I picked it up at the local library as well. The author is a female from Canada, and I always like to try to support Canadian female authors.

Luke Hunter is a pothead teen hanging out with his pothead friends one night when he foretells the death of one of the boys. “Tomorrow morning at 8:37am. The red van with the out-of-state plates? You go head to head. You lose. You die.” Luke even knows the license plate number (BLU 369). The next day as he is heading to school on his skateboard, he is knocked off his feet by a strange feeling, the feeling of his friend Stan passing through him…at 8:37am. Luke becomes a sensation in town as the boy psychic who can foretell death, and he tries desperately to keep everyone at an arm’s length until he can understand what is happening to him.

I liked the idea of this book more than I liked the actual book itself. I wanted to like this, I really did, and I read the entire book hoping it would get better. I found the idea intriguing. It started as a boy who predicted a few people’s death, and then it turned out to be…not about that.

Luke wasn’t an overly likeable character. He talks a lot about drugs and boobs and it just felt…forced and unrealistic. He has this interesting “power” and then it sort of disappears for a long time. He seems to go out of his way to be a dick, which just isn’t a character I could relate to. He even sleeps with a girl he thought was dead…twice…but has a huge crush on a girl who happens to be his dead friend’s girlfriend. It is just weird and hard to really understand the character’s logic there.

There were other things that bothered me too. There was repeated mention of an uncle with maybe the same power that he has, but we never really meet him, and that part of the story seems to go nowhere. The story seems to jump all over to me and it never picked up the momentum it started with. The story seemed to have a homophobic undertone, which bothered me, and a Christian tone, which also bothered me, but then a character turns out to be gay and the people who were Christian were weird and then everything is fine? It just didn’t seem to make sense to me.

It just wasn’t very strong, it had no character I really liked (other than maybe Fang, the best friend), and it fell sort of flat to me. The highlight for me was references to 90’s and early 2000’s music, which was a flashback for me to music I enjoy. Overall, I have to say I didn’t really enjoy the book no matter how hard I tried, and this will be a movie I will probably skip this year.

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“Simon VS The Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli

SimonVS

asteriaiconWhen I was looking up One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus online, I found a few other books that were going to movie this year, and this was one of them. I thought the premise sounded promising, so I picked it up at the local library.

Simon is a 16 year old boy who happens to be gay. He has tried to hide it from his friends and family, but an email is accidentally read by the wrong person, and Simon’s secret is used against him as blackmail. Simon has been emailing someone named Blue, another gay boy who goes to school with him, but is not ready to come out just yet. As Simon’s life gets more complicated with his blackmailer and his friends, he falls more and more for Blue.

I wish I could put into words how much I loved this book. I am not one for romance books or cutesy stories, but this was just a lovely feel good love story about a boy falling in love! I loved the sweet emails back and forth between Simon and Blue! I devoured this book in an afternoon, and found myself smiling through the whole thing, and laughing openly at Simon’s humour. I was so caught up in the secret of who Blue was, and was thrilled when I found I had guessed his identity correctly! The fact that Simon was a Harry Potter fan was an added bonus for me. I think this is the first book I have read where the lead character is gay, not a co-lead character or a side character, and it has earned a very special place in my heart as such a lovely cutesy feel good sweet romance. It makes me remember falling in love the first time, and things I felt when I was falling in love with my fiancé. All those sweet, warm and cuddly feelings all flooded back in a beautiful way.

Simon is just so damn likeable. He is so sweet, honest, and has a great sense of humour. Yes, he can be a terrible friend, but not purposely, and he does realize his mistakes and makes amends for them.

I have watched the trailer for this movie a good dozen times, and I am just so so excited to see it!! Just watching Nick Robinson as Simon brings a huge smile to my face, and I think he will bring this amazing character alive on the big screen! If you are just looking for a light, feel good, make you smile, amazingly heartwarming love story, PICK THIS UP!! READ IT!! TWICE!! I have every intention of purchasing this book for my collection, and reading it again and again, and let’s be honest, I will probably do the same with the movie!

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“One of us is Lying” by Karen M. McManus

OneofUs

asteriaiconI happened to see this book at the local bookstore. It was on a YA hardcover display, but it was one I had never heard of. When I read the cover and saw that it was billed as The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, I knew I had to read this book!!

Five teens find themselves in detention: Abby the princess, Bronwyn the brain, Cooper the athlete, Nate the criminal, and Simon, the outcast who posts his fellow classmates secrets and lies on his social media app. But Simon doesn’t come out of detention alive. Simon was going to post secrets of each of the teens he found himself in detention with the very next day, and each of them has a motive in his death. His death becomes a news sensation, and each of them has to face their secrets and their fears. During it all, someone is posting comments on Tumblr taunting them. The comments suggest one of them was Simon’s killer, casting doubt among their classmates and each other.

I loved this book!! I loved the characters and the different realities each one had to face. I loved that they formed an unlikely friendship. Teens today face such different adversities than they did in my time, or at least much more publicly. I am very thankful that I did all of my stupid antics before social media existed!

Each of the kids publicly meet their stereotypes. I am not a fan of stereotypes, but I did like that the author illustrated that their lives had challenges unseen publicly. Abby, the princess, was the prom queen, was the envy of her classmates, even dating the football star, but at home her mom is a hot mess. Cooper, the athlete, is a very good looking and talented baseball player, a guy who could do no wrong in the eyes of his friends and even teachers, but at home he gets tremendous pressure from his father.

I was able to guess half of the ending, which was kind of frustrating. Some of the clues were very obvious, and anyone who was paying attention could figure it out. The other half was completely a blind side!

I liked that the author talked about mental illness as an illness rather than a burden or something made up, something that is not to be made fun of or taken lightly, and something that deserves no stigma. I also liked that the author had a character that was gay. I think it is important for teens (anyone really) to read about characters that they may identify with.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. It was a fast, easy read, one that was perfectly paced. I do believe this is supposed to go into a movie this year, and I am excited to watch it and see how it transfers to the big screen. How could you not want to read or watch a modern Breakfast Club with a murder twist!?

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“The left hand of darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

LeftHand

artemisiconThis was the other book I picked up for my birthday. I’ve never ready anything by Le Guin, but I’ve heard a fair bit about her. I wanted something completely new; new style, new author, new experience. So this book jumped out at me as something I don’t usually buy, even though I love reading sci-fi. I read the back of the book and it sounded like a stand-alone, perfect! Even when I started reading, there wasn’t a moment where I felt confused, or like I was missing something, so I was kind of confused when I found out this is actually book 6 in the Hainish Cycle. Through a little research, it sounds like the Hainish Cycle is about a different planet each book. Which personally, I think is really interesting!

The book is written as if the main character, Genly “Genry” Ai, is dictating a story, with odd chapters of planetary mythology, and journal entries from a traveling partner. Genly is a human, from Earth (I have to make this comment because there are Humanoid creatures on other planets, and I guess Human colonies on other planets), who has traveled to a planet called “Winter” to study its people and their strange physiology, and to get them to join a sort of Universal order, so his journal entries are mostly his thoughts on his situation and the civilization he was sent to study.

As interesting as this story was, I knew right away it wasn’t for everyone. This story is very political, not only with the Gethenians (people on Winter), but in Genly’s constant comparison between his world and theirs. The story isn’t very “story” heavy, it’s more like a science and social journal. And Le Guin knows her science. It’s written in such a way that even though they’re on a different planet, it makes sense.

The main reason the planet was of interest to Earth was because it’s people actually have no sex – the majority of their lives are spent without being “male” or “female”. Then once a month they enter a phase called “Kemmer” where their body develops a sexual organ. But, each Kemmer might be a different sex. Because of this strange physical trait, their perception of “family” and “romance” are very different. As well as their look at Gender. Having sex isn’t a taboo like it is here, the point of Kemmer is to procreate, and there are entire “dens” for people to go when they are in Kemmer. There is no Marriage, and relationships are rare but do sometimes happen (partners are referred to as Kemmerings). Another thing I found interesting was if someone went into Kemmer and their body chose a sex, they could entice another person into Kemmer (which I’m kind of starting to think of as menstruation) and they would automatically be the opposite sex. Someone developing the same sexual organs was so rare it was rarely spoken of, and there was no word for it. The non-gendered aspect of society helped it to develop but also didn’t curb the way it developed. There was no gendered jobs, clothing, societal expectations, nothing like on our planet. This is where Genly, being from earth, made the story interesting. He perceived everyone as a “he” because that is what we do, but Gethenians don’t have words for “he” and “she” outside of animals (language barrier when Genly was trying to explain his society). And Gethenians refer to people of their species who only develop one sex as “perverts”, so Genly was thought of amongst the people as a Pervert. Another thing I found interesting is Genly was so rooted in Earth Misogyny that he became disgusted if one of the people he perceived as a “he” was showing feminine traits outside of Kemmer. Even when he was asked to explain a human woman the traits he remembered were as being lesser then men. Not as smart, not as strong, etc. It was interesting to see Earth’s ideas of gender, combating with a society without.

Outside of the odd condition of sex, Winter is a planet covered in snow and ice (Karhide have 60-some-odd words for snow) so the people have developed, not only physical traits (thinner noses), but have learned now to develop in a land where nothing grows and there are no large predators.

Scientific article aside, Genly was able to hide amongst the people of Karhide, because they look humanoid, up until he revealed himself as an “alien”. He has much darker skin than the people of Karhide, and his nose is much wider. He was sent down to the planet alone (one is a curiosity, two is an invasion) with really nothing to prove his story but his own body, his ship, and a radio he is only allowed to use if the country agrees to his terms. Most of the beginning of the story is Genly trying to navigate Karhide culture to get a meeting with their Leader. Who is certifiably insane and could potentially see a traveler from space as a threat to his God-like rule.

The story is basically Genly Ai navigating different cities/countries on Winter and trying to figure out how to get their governing bodies to believe him and agree to join their order so he could radio down his ship. When I stopped to think about the actual story, there isn’t much of one. There is no action, no edge of your seat moments, and it is absolutely not a fast read. The story is incredibly interesting, but it’s the science and political aspect of it that is interesting. Genly learning about their society and comparing it to what he knows to find a common ground to help his understanding.

Like I said earlier, this is not a story for everyone. If you go into it expecting star trek, you will be sadly underwhelmed. That being said, I want to read the rest of the Hainish Cycle series! I think there are around 10 in the series, and I would love to read all of them!

 

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“The Cottingley Secret” by Hazel Gaynor

cottingley

asteriaiconI had received this book in the Novel Editions subscription book box I received in December. I am very thankful for that, as this is something that would not have crossed my path otherwise, and I would have missed out on a great story!

Olivia Kavanagh traveled from London to Ireland to attend her grandfather’s funeral, and learns that he has left her his book shop and an old manuscript. The manuscript belonged to Frances Griffiths, and is her account regarding the Cottingley Fairies. In 1917, Frances moved to Cottingley, England with her mother, while her father has gone to war. She moves in with her aunt and uncle, and her cousin Elsie Wright. Frances and Elsie become the closest of friends, and frequently play along the beck at the end of the garden. While they have been frequently told to avoid the area, something continuously draws Frances there, and eventually in an argument with her mother she blurts out that she goes there to see the fairies. Her family does not believe they exist, so Elsie and Frances take photographs of themselves with the fairies. Word gradually spreads throughout the town of the fairy photos, and eventually even captures the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and becomes national news. Olivia, in the present, is fascinated with the story of the fairies, and immerses herself in the manuscript. She has a number of personal issues in her life, as well as dealing with her grandfather’s book store and home, and as she reads the manuscript, she starts to understand her life a little more, makes some large decisions for herself, and gradually comes to learn how the Cottingley girl’s lives tie in to her own family’s history.

Fairies generally are not my thing. To me they are more of a fantasy story, and I leave those books to Artemis. But I was really excited to give this book a try. Maybe it was the lovely cover, maybe it was the fact it came in a box at Christmas time with a card showing the theme of “Magic”. Either way, I am glad I read it. I was not aware that the Cottingley girls were real. They really did exist in 1917, and they really did take 5 photos of the fairies, though the fairies themselves were actually a hoax. However, they always swore that the 5th photo in the series was, in fact, real.

As part of the subscription box, you are able to sign up for a private Novel Editions Facebook page for a book club that pertains to each month’s book.  At the start of January, I was able to log on and actually talk with the author, Hazel Gaynor, which was an amazing experience. Hazel was very friendly, and very attentive, making every effort to write back to every question or comment that was made. It was a pleasure to discuss her book with her, to understand a little more how and why she decided to write this novel, her favorite character to write, even her favorite books.  Hazel was lovely, and the whole experience of the discussion with her made me appreciate the story just a little bit more.

I was so impressed with the writing of the story, how everything all unfolded for Olivia, and how Gaynor built a fiction story around true events. The writing flowed nicely, and I loved how it just took me along on the adventure. I loved how she balanced telling Frances and Olivia’s stories, each getting equal attention and careful thought. Gaynor did a lot of research for this book, even meeting Frances Griffiths’ daughter, and reading a book written by Frances of her side of the story, and the amount of research really showed in the story in all the little details provided. My favourite part was a little window in the old bookshop that mysteriously grew daily, and flourished when Olivia was doing well, and seemed to dwindle when Olivia was struggling. Oh, and Olivia kept finding little flowers (of which pertained to the Cottingley story) around the book store and her bed. It all just added a nice touch of magic to the story. Gaynor has written a few other books, where she has done something similar in taking a true event and writing a story around it. One is pertaining to the Titanic, and one is set during WWII. I will definitely be picking up these books in the future to read!

Even if you are not really a fairy fan, give this book a try. Try to understand the draw of such a tale at a time when everyone grasped to a chance to see their loved ones again, and the world was gripped by war. Try to believe in the possibility of magic. Let the fable of the fairies sweep you away.

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Holiday News

Today will be the last blogs until the new year. I will be leaving for home tomorrow, and will be without the internet until we get back.

So January 4th should be the day the blog is back up and running!

Hope everyone has a good holiday and we will see you all in the new year!

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