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Book Review: Carry On

Carry On Book Cover

Rating: 3 stars

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.

Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

After reading Fangirl, I knew I needed to read this book to see if I’d enjoy it just as much. And I did, maybe even more so for several reasons. But I found I couldn’t give it a higher rating than Fangirl because I found a lot more things wrong with it that I’ll discuss shortly.

Carry On is about the universe Cath fantasizes about in Fangirl. It’s about the world of Watford, a school for those with magic. It centers on Simon Snow, a boy who’s supposed to be the greatest mage the World of Mages has ever seen. In this book, he returns to school for his last year at Watford and his biggest nemesis/roommate Baz doesn’t return until several weeks later. It centers around the death of Baz’s mom along with Simon stopping the evil Humdrum who’s face is very similar to his.

What I enjoyed so much when reading this book is that it’s unique. While the storyline, characters and everything else in it are supposed to be a play off of Harry Potter, you can tell when reading it that it’s a completely different universe. I like that this story is very similar to the world I already love because it made it that much easier for me to understand everything that happened. The universe was very similar to Harry Potter, but in a humorous way that I appreciated. It was like Rainbow Rowell was writing a one novel parody of the Harry Potter series, but twisting it into something else that is just as enjoyable.

You Know You've Read a Good Book Paul Sweeney Quote
Via Popular Inspirational Quotes

I enjoyed reading Carry On so much that when I was finished, I was sad to see the story end. It felt like a piece of me had gone and went into Simon Snow’s world. And I know why I felt that way. This book has all of the elements I like in a story. It’s fantasy with a mixture of mystery, comedy, and its young adult literature that features LGBTQ characters. I like that the world Rowell portrays has magic in it, yet also has some real world elements mixed in that allow you as the reader to see magic alongside normal reality.

But most of all, one of my favorite features in this book is the relationship between Simon and Baz. Both characters are confused about their own identity, yet end up finding each other and connecting in a way you as the reader don’t expect: through the loss of a parent, aka, Baz’s mom who died many years ago at the hands of vampires. Simon could relate to what Baz was going through because of his own loss of not growing up with parents. So Simon did what he thought was right: to help Baz find out who really orchestrated the attack on the nursery that resulted in her death. This connection resulted in showing us their relationship continue to grow, from being roommates who hated each other to lovers. I loved seeing it come together because it was fun to watch the commentary between both of them as they uncovered the truth. It was entertaining, a breath of fresh air that I didn’t realize I needed. And it made moments in the story when things were turning weird more enjoyable for me. I could see the love for each other with each page I read and just couldn’t wait to watch their relationship continue to grow.

Carry On Simon Snow and Baz Pitch Because We Match Picture
Via Pinterest 

What also made Carry On an enjoyable read for me was the different points of view. I enjoyed reading this story from all of the character’s perspectives. It allowed me a better understanding of what was going on, gave me a clue about things I didn’t know before. It also made this book even more interesting because we were given access to these character’s thoughts and feelings, given an understanding as to what they were doing and why. I liked having access to all of the characters in this way because it allowed me to immerse myself even further into the story. It’s also different from any other fantasy novel I’ve read because there’s usually only one perspective that you have access to.

While Carry On is definitely a page turner, there were some elements when it came to the story that I disliked. For one, I thought the names of the spells in this world was ridiculous. I don’t know what Rowell was thinking when she came up with that idea, but it didn’t make sense to me. Especially because it wasn’t at all realistic to what magic is normally like in books. While this allows her world to be uniquely different, I don’t see how these different incantations would even be justified for someone with magic to say. I don’t know if she thought of this as a way to make fun of magic or something, but I just don’t see why magic wielders would have incantations that are nursery rhymes or common sayings that someone normal could say. That sounds like it could potentially lead to an accident, an incident that very easily could’ve been prevented.

I also wasn’t particularly fond of Agatha’s character. I felt like she acted throughout the story like she was above everyone else and just didn’t seem to care about the people she had called friends for the past seven years. Throughout Carry On, she was completely selfish, focusing only on the things that affected her life. She didn’t seem at all remotely interested in keeping up a friendship with Simon and Penelope, yet felt like she could criticize both of them for working with Baz to uncover the truth about his mother’s death. I felt like her character just existed in the story, but didn’t really belong. She was just in the story, wasting space that could’ve been better spent on other characters that played a crucial role in the overall plot.  I just didn’t like Agatha and wish she wasn’t a part of the story at all.

While this book was definitely a page turner for me, another criticism I have is that the overall plot was okay. It definitely had quite a chunk of holes in it that made it difficult to enjoy it as much as I’d have liked. I think part of the problem for me is that Simon Snow’s story is rushed. The whole plot structure in this story runs a little too fast, leaving very little room for making sure nothings being left out. I think part of the reason this is even a problem is because I feel like this story should’ve been spread out into multiple books. That would’ve given Rowell the chance to get the structure and story together and figure out how to end it. Instead, this story is at the final chapter of Simon Snow’s whole story. You learn most of what Carry On is about if you’ve read Fangirl, but I don’t think it’s enough because we miss out on all of the other years Simon Snow is at Watford. You get bits and pieces of some of the important details, but it’s not enough for us to just jump to the finale and see how everything will end for Simon Snow, which by the way is actually pretty disappointing too. With the plot, it feels like you’re missing something, yet not missing anything at all. It would for me be like only reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in the Harry Potter series and expecting to know every detail of the whole series without reading any of the other books. I feel like we miss too much and that the details we are given aren’t enough and have holes in them that don’t really connect the story.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Carry On much more than Fangirl. But because of the amount of criticisms I found myself having about it, it would’ve been unfair to give it a higher rating. But that doesn’t make it any less of a good read for those who want to be taken away to a magical world or for people who want to read about two boys falling in love.

 

 

Book Review: Fangirl

Fangirl Book Cover

Rating: 4 stars

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 remember getting this book as a Christmas gift from my grandmother a couple years ago and when I read it feeling disappointed because it wasn’t as good of a read as I was expecting. But I decided to read it once again before starting to read Carry On and found myself enjoying it much better the second time around.

I don’t remember what exactly I disliked about Fangirl the first time I read it, but I can definitely tell you what I’ve enjoyed from this reading experience. One of the things I enjoyed reading this book a second time is how much I can relate to the main character. I don’t know if part of the reason I didn’t enjoy this book the first time was because I couldn’t relate to Cath, but after reading it again, I realize I can relate to her very well. For one, she’s an introvert like me. I can also relate to her because my own college experience involved me spending a lot of time in my room more than going out and socializing with friends. When I come to think of it, I didn’t really have a lot of friends in college anyway due to focusing so much on schoolwork and working at my job that I didn’t really make as much time to spend with friends as I probably should’ve. I also share Cath’s love of the written word and reading. I know most of her love for it is due to one book series in particular, but I still appreciate how Rainbow Rowell makes Cath so relatable to me. That she’s so relatable to me that I feel almost as if this book was written specifically about me. Even her sister Wren’s first year experience at college reminds me of my own sister even though we aren’t twins.

I also appreciate Rowell incorporating fanfiction into the mix. When talking about reading and writing, fanfiction is rarely incorporated into a story. I like how she includes fanfiction in Fangirl by having the main character be so in love with a series that she writes a story of her own with the characters, making them almost as if they are her own. It’s nice to see a story center around the world of fanfiction, something which I don’t really see too often when reading young adult literature. I like it too because the book series Cath is obsessed with sounds very similar to my favorite book series of all time Harry Potter.  Yes, there are obviously some striking differences between the two, but it makes it that much more enjoyable of a read for me because I feel like I can also escape into that world too. It also makes me even more curious about that world, wanting to understand why Cath likes that series so much.

What else I like about Fangirl is Rowell’s writing style. Her writing is very fluid, easy to read and makes reading this story that much more enjoyable to me. She writes like she’s a young adult herself, going through college and trying to survive the outside world. Every piece of dialogue between characters flows naturally, like it has its own unique place in the story. It’s almost as if she’s bringing all of these characters to life with each word written. It makes me feel as if I’m with Cath, following her journey as she experiences her first year of college.

But what I like the most with this book is seeing some of what Cath’s character writes and her relationship with Levi. I like that we get a little snippet of what Cath has written in the past as her Simon Snow fiction increases in popularity so we can see for ourselves how good of a writer her character is. It not only allows us to see her character write, but we are also given a glimpse into that world so we can see for ourselves why Cath loves it so much. I like her relationship with Levi so much because they go so well together. He’s someone when she first started going to college she got along with so well. He’s easygoing, friendly and you can tell he wants nothing more than to make Cath happy. The way the two of them interact together is great because it’s very relaxed and easygoing. To give a good example is whenever Levi becomes curious about Cath’s fanfiction and wants her to read some of it to him. She’s at first surprised that Levi wants to learn more about the world she writes about so much. But she does it anyway because she can see that he really wants her to read it. He’s just one of the characters in the story who seems to get her and they just seem really good together. So I like seeing their relationship grow.

While I overall enjoyed reading Fangirl, there are some criticisms I have about the book that I’m sure others have with it too. For while I like Cath’s character because I can relate to her, there are times when I feel like she’s too unrealistic or acts completely stupid. I feel like Rowell made her too antisocial in this book, almost as if she was trying to create a nerdy character that fits the typical nerd stereotype. To the point where she was avoiding going to the dining hall because of the amount of people that would be in there. To me, all of those moments she refused to interact with people was ridiculous because all the times she did interact with people she seemed completely fine, not at all like she was dealing with any social anxiety. I also think the way she reacted to Professor Piper accusing her of plagiarism was ridiculous. While I get that Simon Snow is a huge part of her life, I think she sometimes forgets she’s in college and that fanfiction doesn’t play a role in academics. This part of the story made me realize that while I do relate to Cath in some ways, she still has a lot of growing up she has to do and that Rowell didn’t really progress her character all too much throughout. While I do get where Cath is coming from, I do also think it would’ve been nice to see Cath have some sort of character development in the story.

Another criticism I have with this book is the lack of fandom in the actual story. We hear that Cath is such a great writer of fanfiction that she gets thousands of hits every time she posts a new chapter, yet we don’t really see her interact with other Simon Snow fans. It’s like she lives in this bubble with just her sister when it comes to Simon Snow that she won’t really let others be a part of. I at least expected her to act like she’s more involved in the fandom since she has such high amounts of followers. But we really don’t get to see too much of that in Fangirl, we just hear about it.  We also don’t really get an understanding of why Cath loves Simon Snow so much. I understand that she and Wren grew up with reading the books and watching the movies, but she never talks about why she loves this series so much that she feels like she has to write a work of her own about it. Again, we just hear about all of this but never get an understanding of why Cath loves this series so much. To me it’s frustrating because I feel like we are reading this story from her point of view, but aren’t being clued into important details that would really make this book shine.

I also have a problem with the ending. It feels like all of a sudden the story comes to a halt with no real conclusion or anything. Cath goes to the bookstore for the release of the last Simon Snow book, is reading it and then the story ends. I’m frustrated that this is how Rowell chose to end this story because I figured we’d at least see what Cath thinks and feels about the final book in her favorite series. Instead, the story ends with no thought provoking conclusion and we are left wondering what’s going through Cath’s mind as she finishes the last book. While it was an interesting way to end, it wasn’t the ending I’d have chosen.

Despite these criticisms I have for Fangirl, I definitely enjoyed giving this book another chance. It was definitely a much better read for me this time around than the first and can’t wait to finish reading Carry On.

Book Review: Landline

Rainbow Rowell Landline Cover

Rating: 4 stars

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts…

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

I really enjoyed reading Landline. It is the second book by Rainbow Rowell that I’ve read and has become my favorite so far. What I loved about this story was how Rowell carried it out. In the beginning of the book, the reader quickly realizes that Georgie’s marriage to her husband Neal isn’t perfect. While Georgie is at work, her husband Neal spends his day at home, taking care of the kids and everything around the house. But the reader is able to easily see that Neal isn’t happy with this arrangement. The reason I love these details being portrayed in Landline is because marriages aren’t perfect. And the reader gets to see this through Neal and Georgie’s marriage to each other and what happens over the next couple days.

I also love these details because Rowell shows her readers that relationships aren’t perfect. The reader can see this throughout Landline when Neal leaves for Omaha with the kids. While he’s away, Georgie feels guilty that she didn’t go with him to his mother’s house. She also begins to reflect a lot on their relationship and wonders if they were even meant to be together. Or if they would’ve been better off not getting married in the first place. I love that Rowell makes Georgie reflect on their relationship because while they aren’t perfect for each other, the reader learns from this book that if you love someone enough, being perfect with each other doesn’t matter. As long as you are willing to be by your love’s side, you will be able to conquer all of the problems your relationship brings to the surface.

I also enjoyed reading Landline because of Georgie’s relationship with her best friend Seth. While they make Seth out to be the guy Georgie was meant to be with, I’m really glad they didn’t end up together. Yes, the reader can easily see how good of a couple they could’ve been, but I feel that her relationship with Neal was much stronger than her friendship with Seth. I know that she and Seth have been friends longer then she’s been with Neal, but I felt a stronger connection between her and Neal despite their imperfect relationship. I also found Seth to be highly entertaining and funny and just couldn’t picture the two of them being together as a couple.

Landline was also an enjoyable read for me because of the different dynamics of relationships Rowell brought into the book. Not only do you have an imperfect relationship between Neal and Georgie, but the book also has Georgie’s younger sister Heather who turns out to be gay and Georgie’s mother is married to a man closer to Georgie’s age than her own. There’s also Seth, who they make seem to be Georgie’s soul mate but really isn’t. I really like that these relationships between characters are completely dynamic because it made reading Landline for me that much more enjoyable. The book not only had dynamic characters but dynamic relationships, which made the book not turn out the way the reader would expect. While I don’t mind reading books where best friends of the opposite gender end up together, it’s also very nice to see that they can also be friends without becoming a couple too.

The only issue I had when reading Landline was the ending. Without spoiling any of you, I felt as if the ending of the book was pretty flat. Yes, it did catch me by surprise because it wasn’t what I was expecting, but I also felt as if the book just suddenly ended and everything was okay in Georgie’s universe. The reader never gets to find out what happens after that Christmas and whether Georgie and Neal’s marriage does continue on and that really bothered me when I finished reading.

However, the ending of Landline didn’t make me enjoy reading this book any less. I overall really enjoyed reading this book more than I did Fangirl and can’t wait to read some more of Rainbow Rowell’s other novels.

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