Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell

Carry OnYou know, I’m not really sure why I bother try to find other books like Rainbow Rowell’s books, when Rowell’s books are amazing and wonderful and I could probably read a couple of them thirty-six more times each and have the next few years of my reading life covered.

Carry On comes out of one of those beloved books, Fangirl, in which the main character is writing an epic fanfiction called Carry On, Simon, about a Harry-Potter-esque wizard and his Draco-Malfoy-esque nemesis/crush object. Carry On is unfortunately not that fanfiction, which I presume would never have gotten past the editors, but is instead Rowell’s version of what the last Simon Snow book might look like if indeed Simon and Baz discovered their true feelings for each other.

Confused? Don’t even worry about it. The whole book is just so dang adorable you will forget that you have no idea what’s going on.

I won’t summarize the plot, because it’s basically “Insert Standard Harry-Potter-Esque Story Line Here”, but I will say it takes that SHPESL and does some fun stuff with it. The wizarding world gets to have vampires but it doesn’t get Quidditch, instead having the wizards play soccer like normal people. The spells in this world are the best, all based on commonly-used phrases and catchphrases like “some like it hot” “Scooby-Dooby-Doo, where are you!”, and also you have to watch out that your spells don’t go too literal and, say, set everything on fire.

It also does some dark stuff with the SHPESL, giving us a Dumbledore of dubious trustworthiness and also a Big Bad who is far more existentially terrifying than any Voldemort. My bestie and I, who bonded over the Bartimaeus trilogy and its better-than-HP ending, agree that Carry On‘s ending is also obviously superior and obviously more depressing, just as it should be.

And then, of course, there’s the Simon/Baz romance, which is just so perfectly teenagery with the longing and the missed connections and the misunderstandings and the complete insecurity and although I do not miss those days my teenage heart is happy to relive them from the comfort of the future. There is just a little bit of angst over whether Simon is gay or gay for Baz or what, and it’s kind of nice that Rowell mostly gets that out of the way and lets everyone get back to stalking vampires and solving magical mysteries.

Basically, I loved this book, which I read in one sitting, curled up inside on a perfectly nice day. The only problem is that now I’m caught up on Rainbow Rowell again and I don’t even know when her next book will come out!

Recommendation: For fans of Rowell, Harry Potter, and adorable fan fiction.

Rating: 9/10

Advertisements

Weekend Shorts: Circuses and Villains

If we were playing Smash Up, my husband’s favorite genre-mashing card game, today’s post would be holding its own with the Steampunk and Shapeshifter factions. It would probably lose to me playing the Tabletop faction with anything else (man, is that deck overpowered), but it would do all right. And you will do all right to read either of these lovely stories, whether you understood any part of those first two sentences or not!

Dream Eater’s Carnival, by Leslie Anderson and David T. Allen
Dream Eater's CarnivalI was thrilled by this pick for my online book club because a) it was tiny and b) it was on the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library so I could get it for free! I’m always a fan of free. I was hesitant about it because it’s a quasi-steampunk-fantasy-ish story and that’s just generally not my jam.

But you know what is my jam? Circuses, apparently. After a brief fantasy-grade backstory with, like, a church and an involuntary student and some amber that does stuff or whatever, said student, Leisl, runs off to join a travelling circus and it is the awesomest. This circus is, like, literally a travelling circus, in that all of the buildings are built on wheels and as it travels the members go to visit each other by hopping from one precarious perch to another. So cool! But behind that delightful circusy surface, of course, lies danger and intrigue, as the circus may not be exactly what it seems…

This story serves as a sort of prequel to a full-length novel coming out… soon?… from the same authors, so it ends up a bit packed full of tidbits that don’t make a lot of sense because I presume they’ll be explained later, but the atmosphere of the book is so fantastic that I will probably check out that novel whenever it arrives.

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
NimonaIf you run in the same internet circles I do, you have been bombarded by the exclamation “NIMONAAAA!” for the last approximately ever. I finally got the book into my library recently, checked it out, and read it on a quiet vacation Saturday. And it was wonderful.

Nimona is, unsurprisingly, about a girl called Nimona, who shows up at the lair of an evil villain and basically bullies her way into being his sidekick. He’s hesitant at first about her literal take-no-prisoners attitude and propensity for rushing headlong into danger without even a plan, but she wins him over with her awesome shapeshifter abilities and general adorableness. As the story progresses, you get to find out more about both Nimona’s and the villain’s backstories and the weird world that they live in that allows for things like evil villains in the first place. It’s alternately hilarious, depressing, and intriguing. Also, the art is amazing, with this neat sort of active line style that makes it seem like Nimona’s just constantly bathed in caffeine while everyone else is practically statuesque.

It was a super fun time and while I’m not quite shouting “NIMONAAAA!” from the rooftops, you should definitely check it out if you like neat, moderately subversive fantasy stories.

The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman

The Magician's LandI was a little hesitant about reading this book, because although I liked the second book I was pretty iffy on the first one, and trilogies are so hard to predict. But still, as soon as I saw it show up on my galley list, I requested the heck out of it, so clearly I had high hopes.

The book starts off with my faaavorite character, Quentin, having seemingly recovered from the events that made me so happy at the end of the last book but ready to get into some more trouble. He’s shadily hanging out at a shady bookstore (the best kind), and we soon learn that he and a handful of other magician-types are there to try for a place on an Ocean’s Eleven-style crew, though it is unclear at first exactly what ability everyone has that makes them suitable for stealing the MacGuffin. The crew works together to prepare for the heist, but of course the heist happens earlier than planned and things go very very wrong. In the meantime, we find out what happened to Quentin between the last book and this new job and also find out some fascinating facts about Quentin’s new pal, Plum.

Quentin’s story trades off with the story of Fillory, where all of our other kings and queens are still reigning. Fillory’s story this go-round starts off with a strange and quickly won war and continues with the discovery that Fillory is dying and only an Epic Quest has any chance of saving it. Eventually the two storylines combine and Quentin helps save Fillory and then a thing happens that I just don’t even want to talk about because srsly.

Overall it was a decent book. I liked it a little better than I liked The Magicians, though both of them suffer from a surfeit of storylines. The heist storyline is actually pretty fun, although its resolution is a bit odd, Plum’s adventure through Brakebills is awesome and terrifying, and Janet’s stories from her solo queen days are things I would have liked to see actually happening rather than retold but I’ll take them. But so many of the other storylines were just ennnhh and the one with Alice made me both baffled and a bit angry.

Luckily Grossman is the kind of writer, like Terry Pratchett or Jasper Fforde, where half the fun is seeing what kind of quotable quotes he’ll come up with next. He’s always ready with a great line about fantasy stories or libraries or being a twenty-something, and there were plenty of lovely and amusing sentences throughout to help take my mind off the irritating parts of the plot. I’ll definitely be watching for more from Grossman in the future; maybe if he can get away from this particular story and character I’ll enjoy his work more.

Recommendation: For those who have read the rest of the series and feel compelled by this book’s existence to pick it up. But definitely don’t start here!

Rating: 7/10

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

LandlineI maaay have already mentioned in this space how super in love with Rowell’s novels I am. I haven’t gotten around to Fangirl yet, but you can bet I will very very soon, and then I will be able to say that I absolutely adore everything Rowell has ever published. (Right? Wait, has she written stuff other than novels? Note to self: look into this.)

Because Landline? Is adorable.

Landline is about a TV-industry workaholic (is that redundant? Probably…) called Georgie McCool who finds herself stuck working in LA over Christmas when she’s supposed to be spending the week with her husband and children and in-laws in Nebraska. Her husband, Neal, who has put up with Georgie’s shenanigans long enough, decides to take the kids with him to Nebraska while Georgie stays behind. Between Georgie’s phone’s inability to hold a charge and Neal’s propensity for leaving his phone behind when he wanders off somewhere, she finds it impossible to get a hold of her husband until she drags an old landline phone out of her childhood bedroom closet and calls Neal on his mom’s landline — fifteen years ago.

So yeah, there’s this weird magical conceit where present Georgie is talking to past Neal, who’s living in the week between the last time they had a huge fight and the time that Neal drove all night from Nebraska to propose. Georgie’s not sure if she’s, you know, certifiably insane, or if she’s actually talking to actual Neal and influencing the actual course of events that led to her talking on this phone now. And with all the horribleness happening in Georgie’s present, she’s not sure if she wants that course of events to stay the same.

The story jumps back and forth between Georgie’s present, where her mom is convinced that Georgie’s about to get divorced and she’s convinced she’s losing her mind, and Georgie’s way past, where she meets Neal, becomes infatuated with him, and overcomes more than a few obstacles to snag him as a husband. Fascinatingly, you can see from those flashbacks that Georgie and Neal are kind of a terrible pairing from the beginning, but it’s also obvious that they’re the kind of people who decide what they want and then stick with it and that they want to be together. Which is not something I would like, but whatever floats your boat, I guess?

I love a lot of things about this story, starting with the characters, who are fun and delightful and maybe not always the most realistic of people (unless your mom is like Georgie’s mom, in which case I want to meet her) but nonetheless realistic emotionally. I love the sort-of time-travelling conceit, which gets me absolutely every time. I love that nothing is cut and dried, from the fight at the beginning to the resolution at the end.

It’s not perfect, of course — it is especially full of clichés of grand sweeping gestures and also the beauty and optimism of snow and also the miracle of puppy birth — but it’s pretty darn awesome. My biggest lingering concern after reading this book is that I should probably get my phone fixed or replaced before its battery becomes as unreliable as Georgie’s. I don’t particularly want to find myself talking to people from my past any time soon…

Recommendation: For those looking for a fun read and some reassurance as to the normalcy of their own relationships.

Rating: 9/10

Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes

Zoo CitySo a while back I read Beukes’s The Shining Girls and thought it was brain-exploding but also pretty darn good, and then the Internet was like, yeah, well, we liked Beukes before she was cool when she wrote a little thing called Zoo City. And I was like, yeah, well, Internet Hipsters, I owned Zoo City via a Humble Bundle before I knew that I was going to know that Beukes was cool, and then my brain exploded again.

I actually started reading this back in October, but fate and forgetfulness meant that I didn’t finish it until, uh, February (who’s behind on her book posts?). Luckily, the book is just bonkers enough that I didn’t have to start over.

But it is bonkers. See, it takes place in this alternate present where criminals somehow (insert hand waving here) end up with Animals who hang out with them for the rest of ever, like Mice and Mongeese and in our hero Zinzi’s case, a Sloth. Said criminals also get a magic power, which can be almost anything; Zinzi’s power is to be able to find lost things.

Aside from the cool things (well, not sure about the Animal thing), Zinzi’s life is… not great. She lives in a Johannesburg slum called Zoo City where, as you may guess, lots of other people with Animals are stuck living, having been rejected from better places. She is also in debt to her drug dealer and repays him by writing scam emails à la those nice Nigerian princes and sometimes pretending to be the people she writes about in those emails when the potential benefactors come to call.

Is this bonkers enough yet? Because it keeps going — Zinzi gets involved in a lost item case that nearly gets her arrested, and then she gets recruited to find a missing pop star and then there’s this whole thing with Animals and an Undertow and… there is a lot going on here.

But in a good way! It helps that Zinzi is a really interesting character, super flawed but generally trying to be a good person in a bad situation, and the other people she meets are equally difficult to peg as good or bad, which is part of what keeps the mystery going. And the world that Beukes created is amazing — she includes between story chapters little snippets of books and news stories and the like that talk about when Animals started showing up and what the prevailing theories are and how people are using them for fame and this sort of second storyline does come into play at the end so don’t skip these seeming extras. The ending is, as I am coming to see is “as usual” for Beukes, crazypants enough to make perfect sense, once you’ve overthought it enough.

So if, like me, you’ve had this book sitting on your ereader since that long-ago Humble Bundle, or if it crosses your path at the library or bookstore, you should definitely give it a shot.

Recommendation: For fans of alternate realities and hand-wavey magic and books that force you to think real hard about things.

Rating: 8/10

The Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde

The Song of the QuarkbeastAgain, perpetually: Me + JF 4eva!

Speaking of books that aren’t what I expected, after our last encounter with Jennifer Strange and company, I figured it would be Dragon Central in this series. Sadly, our dragon friend is mentioned only in passing, but happily there is enough craziness in Fforde’s world to make up for the lack.

A brief summary of said world: it is a sort of post-magic world, wherein magicians used to be awesome and all-powerful but now there’s not enough magic energy to go around and so these same magicians are relegated to basic handyman jobs and making pizza deliveries on flying carpets. Our protagonist, Jennifer Strange, is a teenage, non-magician acting manager of Kazam, a company of crazy old magicians who get into the usual amount of shenanigans.

In this go-round, Strange is herding her ragtag group in preparation for the rebuilding of a large bridge, with hopes of securing future engineering contracts for her company. The head of the competing magic company, however, is not thrilled to see Strange’s magicians doing well and so more or less challenges them to a magic duel — both companies will repair the bridge at the same time and whichever group finishes their half first gets to absorb the other company.

Of course, that head, the newly self-christened All-Powerful Blix, is not up for playing fairly, and also of course, magic is fickle and so Kazam’s magicians are sidelined one by one for various reasons. Strange must try to fix all of her magicians and also catch a glimpse of Kazam’s regular manager, who is bouncing around space-time due to a spell, and also see about a potentially stray Quarkbeast and try not to let it be killed.

As always, I greatly enjoy Fforde’s way with words and his commitment to making his invented worlds as full of life and insanity as possible. He gets in some good digs at our real world and our reliance on things that run essentially on magic, as well as more generally at the incompetence of bureaucracy, but mostly he is content to let his characters do whatever they want, which is consistently amusing. When does his next book come out?

Recommendation: For lovers of Fforde or those with a love of things that make no sense and yet totally do.

Rating: 9/10

Touch of Frost, by Jennifer Estep

Touch of FrostSince I started my new job, my co-worker and I have been playing the Getting to Know You Through Books Game — you know the one. “You love Bartimaeus? You must be awesome!” “Oh, you read those books? Hmmm.”

We’ve attempted to find more common ground books, but it’s not going well. I thought she’d approve of its whimsy, but my co-worker didn’t get into The Eyre Affair, which means she is clearly beyond hope even with her love for Barty. It’s about a literary detective! There should not have been a problem! Sigh.

She recommended to me this series, starting with Touch of Frost, that she devoured via ILL (read: borrowing books from not our library) at our library but that I could easily get from the library around the corner from my apartment, and it sounded pretty good. YA, a gypsy girl who could touch things and know their history, mythology, monsters… sold!

But… eh. Like certain YA novels I have read recently, this is probably a book I would have devoured as a teenager (see: my obsession with the Sweep series), but after reading it I was just like, “I’ve read better.”

It’s a book that I thought suffered from trying to be too much like other YA novels, but may suffer from trying to be too much like Clash of the Titans, which I have not seen but which the author credits as her inspiration in the acknowledgements. Maybe if I had seen the movie, I would like this book better? That is a mystery unlikely to be solved.

The plot: Gwen Frost, a capital-G Gypsy who can touch objects and feel/see/experience things related to the objects and their owners, is forced to attend a private school for the descendants of apparently not-mythical warrior-types, like Amazons and Valkyries and Spartans and whatnot. She is attacked in the library and awakes to find another student dead, and feels bad enough when no one else cares terribly much (because warriors and also because the dead student was a jerk) to investigate. Things go horribly and magically wrong and Gwen ultimately sets them right and discovers why she’s been sent to this weird-pants school.

Which seems okay, but there’s a lot going on in this book. It’s a boarding school book and a book about mythologically descended teenagers and a book about a girl who doesn’t know her own history and a book about an intrepid girl detective (Veronica Mars is name-dropped, so plus ten points) and a book about a girl who likes a guy but can’t quite get with him and it is just a lot of books all at once! And none of the books are really well developed, so I couldn’t hang on to one and go with it because I just found myself lost. I get that you didn’t pay attention in “myth-history” class, Gwen, but that is no reason to know absolutely nothing about the school you attend, and even less reason not to believe in magic when you HAVE IT. Double sigh.

The ending, though… the ending is the best part of the book for me. Gwen finally finds out what the heck is going on and she also (spoilers?) gets some extra power to play with and makes some enemies, but then of course I’m meant to read the next book to find out what’s going to happen next and after this one I am just not motivated. I guess I’ll put that on the “maybe someday eventually” pile with rather a lot of other sequels.

Recommendation: For those who like mythology and adventures and don’t mind a simple, fast-paced plot.

Rating: 5/10

an RIP read