Read the review in today’s Spencer Daily Reporter.
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin’s Press, 433 pp. $18.99
I was really going to pace myself with this one. I waited so patiently to read it–I had to read a few other books for review before I could get to that one–but when I was finally able to open the cover and begin I told myself that I wanted to take my time. I wanted to savor it.
Screw that. I was done in five hours. And every page was delicious. When I finally finished, I set the book aside, checked my emotions, and tweeted simply:
Oh my god, @rainbowrowell. I have no words #FanGirl.
I think I fell in love with Rowell after reading Eleanor and Park, and when I heard she had a new book coming shortly I could barely contain myself. I was super excited.
What I loved about Eleanor and Park was its simplicity. It’s the story of two “outcasts” who fall in love, a young adult story about first love told without vampires or end-of-the world hardships. There is nothing earth-shattering that draws Eleanor and Park together. They are not the last two people on the earth. They simply sit next to each other on the bus, and fall in love. It’s beautiful.
I wouldn’t necessarily classify Fangirl as young adult fiction. Sure, it’s got its elements: Cath is a fan fiction junkie who’s own fic, Carry On, Simon sees about 35,000 hits per post. She is obsessed with Simon Snow, a fictional character who, in my mind, seems somewhat Harry Potter-esque.
But I think this book appeals better to those between young adult and adult fiction. Cath herself is heading off to college, and trying to navigate her newfound life while simultaneously keeping up with the demands of her readers. It isn’t easy. Her twin sister, Wren, has all but written off Simon Snow–practically treason in Cath’s eyes–and wants to have a full college experience. Her roommate, Reagan, doesn’t understand why Cath doesn’t leave the room. Reagan’s “boyfriend,” Levi, always seems to be around and actually shows an interest in what Cath seems to be working on, which annoys Cath. On top of it all, her English professor truly believes fan fiction to be a form of plagiarism
What makes Rowell so good is the way she develops her characters. The prose sucks you right in, but it’s the characters that keep you wondering what comes next? When I finished the book and realized it was finished, a little part of me was sad. I wanted this story to be true, and I wanted these people to be real. I still wanted to find out what happened, but I guess that’s what fan fiction is for :).
Needless to see, I’m a fangirl of Fangirl. (I just had to, I’m sorry).
The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Harper, June 19, 2012. 352 pp, $25.99
I was not looking forward to reading this book. I didn’t like it the first time I started it, and when I drew that number I thought, Of course. Leave it to my own spreadsheet to screw me from the start.
I think it helped that I had just read Ender’s Game. I was already in that science fiction frame of mind, so jumping into another future-set novel wasn’t as jarring on my imagination.
The idea behind The Long Earth is this: The Earth we now see is now just one of millions of Earth-like planets. Each one extends from this earth, Datum Earth, going east or west. Datum Earth is “Earth Zero,” the equator of them all. The other earths, labeled East 4, West 1,071, etc, are all similar to Datum Earth in that they are comprised and organized using the same materials in the same way. What make them different are small changes. One Earth is nearly all water (visions of Waterworld came to mind), others are abundant in natural food sources. People move between Earths by “stepping,” jumping from one to the other. Many times they use a “stepper,” a small contraption powered by a potato.
Joshua Valiente is unusual in that he can step without the aid of the stepper. He can move freely from one Earth to the next. With the help of a humanish android, Lobsang, he embarks on a journey as far West as he can, in order to study the environments of the Long Earth, the name of the entire series of Earths. Through his entire exploration, while continuously discovering new organisms and habitats, he relies on the guidance of the nuns who raised him. They help to ground him in a sense of “home,” so he doesn’t become overwhelmed in his journey.
What I found interesting about the story was the biblical ties. I’m not one to search for a hidden religious meaning in everything I read, but this one kind of jumped right out there and danced in front of me until I noticed it. Joshua Valiente is the hero of the story. Joshua, which translates to the Hebrew Yeshua, is said to be another name for Jesus. So we have Jesus the Valiant as the hero.
Joshua’s mother, who we only meet briefly in the first few chapters of the book, is named Maria Valiente. Also a natural stepper, she was living with the nuns until she went into labor. The pains scared her and she stepped to another world, had the baby, then stepped back briefly before returning for her child.
Joshua’s birth is said to be “miraculous,” because for the small moments before his mother returned for him, he was the only person in the entire universe.
Later, Joshua learns he is “chosen,” that he has a special connection with other unique individuals on other Earths, that he can empathize with them in the ways others can’t.
I’m not sure if Pratchett and Baxter intended for the parallels to be quite so glaring, but I noticed them. I don’t know if they influenced my opinion of the book one way or the other, however. It was an interesting comparison, and at the very least it could spark some discussion on the relationship between a higher power–namely the Christian story–and the science of evolution and the possibility that other life exists out in other “worlds” that we may not have discovered yet.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
I guess this book technically belongs pre-generator, but oh well.
There. I’ve done it. I have now, officially, read a book of science fiction.
Honestly, I could have picked worse. In talking with a friend the other night about Orson Scott Card, she mentioned he was “hit or miss.” When I told her I was reading Ender’s Game, she got a big smile on her face and said, “That’s a hit.”
It is a hit. I imagine Card goes more in depth into each of the characters as the series progresses, but I got a sense of their depth even from this first book. I liked to read Ender’s progression through the Battle School. Everyone loves a good underdog story.
I first picked this book off my shelf in light of the upcoming movie, and then I started to read more about people’s protests against the movie because of Card’s personal beliefs on gay marriage. I was interested, in part because I wanted to see if his beliefs made their way into the book.
News flash: They don’t. In fact, an argument could be made on the other end. Ender’s relationship with Alai, for example, is very sincere. I want to say tender, but I feel that would take it too far.
Here’s my take on the whole idea of protesting Card. I think it’s stupid. I’m not against gay marriage, far from it, in fact. But I don’t think it does any good to protest a movie because the man who created the original story has a personal view on something. He hasn’t come out kicking and screaming to all of the gay men and women in the movie industry (or any other industry, for that matter). He simply has an opinion. There’s no reason to get your panties in a bunch over it.
I would highly recommend Ender’s Game to anyone (gay, pro-gay, anti-gay or otherwise), because I think it’s a great book. It’s a story about an extraordinary boy and his efforts to save the world. It’s written well (especially the introduction. Note: do not skimp on the introduction to this book) and it offers a message to young adults that anything is possible. They have their whole lives ahead of them, and they can accomplish great things.
For this week’s book review, I chose Billy Moon, by Douglas Lain. While I read it at least a week ago, the images Lain creates are still with me. This is the kind of book that creeps up on you: you may not see it’s power right when you read it, but it’s lasting impression makes it a worthwhile read.
I’d highly encourage anyone to pick up Billy Moon and give it a go. Check out my review in the Spencer Daily Reporter and, if you want, you can read a brief excerpt of this book in my “Sneak Peak” just last week.
Babayaga, by Toby Barlow. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 383 pp. $27
I didn’t know what to expect when I started this book. I had never read Sharp Teeth, though I knew it was a huge book and got tons of press. It had sounded interesting, and I thought, at the very least, this book would be enjoying.
Babayaga has it all: It’s got crime and investigation, it’s got CIA spies, it’s got romance, fantasy and even a little folklore. And it all takes place in 1959 Paris.
I think it was the crime element of the novel that drew me in. The clear structure of good guy/bad guy is very easy to read, and usually sucks you in pretty good. You want to find out whodunit as much as the chief inspector does. Only here, we know exactly whodunit right from the beginning. The mystery then became whether Inspector Vidot would track her down and, when he did, what would happen.
This book had twists and turns I wasn’t expecting. I don’t know much about Russian folklore, or about babayagas in general. But I like stories that can take a thread from real history or legend and turn it into something equally great.
I did expect the love story that emerged. Did I expect it to play out like it did? No. Not at all. And it was so exciting to realize what was going on, and realize that I had not seen it coming.
Let’s face it: I read at least a book a week. By this point, I’m pretty versed in story structure and character development. Good books play out as I expected in clever and unique ways with well-written prose. Great books catch me off guard. I bet you can guess which category I placed Babayaga in.
I’m really excited to read this book from Douglas Lain. Billy Moon tells the story of Christopher Robin, but not one that you might expect from A.A. Milne.
Christopher Robin Milne was an actual person, the son of the Winnie the Pooh author, and after fighting in World War II went on to become a writer. The name comes from his father’s nickname for him, Billy, and from his pronunciation of his name when he was little, “Moon.”
In Lain’s book, Chris’s life takes an unexpected turn to Paris and involves a mysterious new friend. I love the original Milne stories, and as soon as I read about this one in Tor’s catalog, I knew I had to give it a shot.
Here is the opening bit from Douglas Lain’s Billy Moon:
Christopher was thirty-eight years old and still hadn’t managed to escape his stuffed animals. Worse, the neighborhood stray, a grey British Shorthair, was scratching at the entrance of his bookshop. Chris looked up to see the cat making no headway on the glass but leaving muddy prints under the sign that was no flipped so that the CLOSED side was facing out for passersby to read. The cat’s scratching made a repetitive and grating noise that reminded Chris of a broken wristwatch.
for a more detailed review, check out today’s edition of the Spencer Daily Reporter
In true book love, a podcast I’ve come to look forward to each week is Books on the Nightstand, where two sales representatives for Random House speak about books and book news as a side project. This year, one of the reps., Ann, has decided to read a short story each day for the entire year. And she’s, on average, kept up with it.
Before the podcast, I had never imagined reading a book of short stories a small bit at a time. I had always approached a collection the same way I’d approached a novel: sit down and read.
But when I received Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge I thought I’d try something new. I decided to read it small bits at a time. And so every few hours I’d open and read a single short story. Then I’d put the book aside and continue on with my day for a bit.
When I changed the way I approached a collection of short stories, I changed the way I approached the short story as an entire genre. One went right along with the other. All of a sudden the story was its own entity, and not simply a part of a greater show. And the more I realized this, the more I realized how much I like reading short stories.
Unfortunately, because I had to finish the book in a rather timely fashion for review, I had to sit and read the last third or so in one sitting, but I think I might go back and reread those one at a time. Reading them all at once definitely affected how I viewed the last section of the book.
I’m such a nerd.
I created a spreadsheet of all of the books that I own, along with what year I’ve read them. For a while now, I’ve been wanting to read at least the books I have. For those who have seen my bookshelf, this is no small feat. According to the spreadsheet, I have 552 books through July, and I know I’m missing a few.
The thing is, with the nature of my job, I get new books in every month. I’m not complaining, far from it, but it does make things difficult to keep on top a goal like this. So I’ve got two pages on my spreadsheet (nerd alert). One is for all of the books I have up until August, and one is for all of the books I receive after August 1. That page currently has 8 books on it already.
Of course I’ll read books from the second page. I’ll have to, especially for work. But on my own, in my “free” time, I’ll be reading books from the first list. Here’s where the roulette comes in.
I downloaded a random number generator on my phone. The problem I’d been having in the past with challenges like this is figuring out what to read. I’m hoping this generator gets rid of that problem. I click “generate” and the little device, with the help of the spreadsheet, simply tells me what I’ll be reading next.
I’m currently working through Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which I wanted to read especially with the movie coming out this fall. After that, however, I’ll be playing the roulette.
Of course there is the problem that I can’t stand the book I’m assigned. Example: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Ironically, this is the very first book the generator picked for me. I guess I’ll give it another shot. I only got 100 pages in last time; here’s hoping it gets better.
[This review was written for the Spencer Daily Reporter]
Fin & Lady, by Cathleen Schine. Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 273 pp. $26
Eleven-year-old Fin has just become an orphan. He’s worn his suit only three times, and even though it’s only a year old it’s already too small.
His mother’s death wasn’t necessarily a surprise: she had been sick for a while and he knew that she went to treatments at the hospital.
What he wasn’t expecting, however, was the arrival of his half-sister into his life. Lady, a “loose cannon” in the words of their shared father, took him away from his (as he had now inherited it) quaint Connecticut dairy farm and into her Greenwich Village life. It was 1964, and she was something of a free spirit.
What emerges in Cathleen Schine’s “Fin and Lady” is a love story unique unto itself, though no less endearing and emotional than other, more conventional, love stories. Fin and Lady learn to rely on each other and become an unconventional family of their own. Lady takes care of Fin as motherly as she can. Fin plays the part of the concerned brother. He’s considerably younger than her, and he hadn’t seen her in six years before she showed up at his mother’s funeral, but he assumes the position as man of the house, and he wants to protect her from men whose intentions are less than pure.
Shine is perhaps best known for her previous book, “The Three Weissmanns of Westport,” which was both a New York Times bestseller and an editors’ choice for the New York Times Book Review.