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

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

Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett

Equal RitesI read my first Terry Pratchett novel almost a year ago after picking it up by chance in my favorite Cleveland used bookstore. So obviously, when I found myself in said bookstore again, and there were three used Pratchetts just sitting there waiting for me, I snapped them all up without reservation. And when I found myself on a plane in a middle seat with my intended next read up in the overhead bin but those three paperbacks sitting under the seat in front of me, I grabbed the one on top and settled in for a good read.

And it was! I was a little iffy at first on the premise, which is that there’s a baby girl accidentally given wizard powers by a dying wizard who meant to give them to a baby boy, because of course boys can be wizards and girls can be witches and neither the other way around. Yay.

It’s a premise that has been done before, but Pratchett does it in his own reasonably amusing style and so therefore it’s done better. The girl wizard, Esk, grows up not knowing about her wizardliness, and when her magic starts to show her witchy grandmother tries to teach her the witchly ways but soon realizes that just won’t be enough. So Esk and Granny Weatherwax set off on a journey to the wizard school, a journey that is of course full of adventure and danger and magic. Sold!

There is also, as you might expect, a bit of discussion about women’s rights and the nature of girls versus boys, but it’s surprisingly nuanced and intelligent for an ostensibly humorous book. That Pratchett is wily!

As before, what really makes the story is Pratchett’s way with words. From the first page: “This is also a story about sex, although probably not in the athletic, tumbling, count-the-legs-and-divide-by-two sense unless the characters get totally beyond the author’s control. They might.”

From a random page in the middle: “For the first time in her life Granny wondered whether there might be something important in all these books people were setting such store by these days, although she was opposed to books on strict moral grounds, since she had heard that many of them were written by dead people and therefore it stood to reason reading them would be as bad as necromancy.”

Like Guards, Guards!, this book is pretty simple plot-wise and character-wise, but writing-wise it is doubleplusgood and therefore the perfect plane or beach or lunchtime or anytime reading. I am very glad I have two more of Pratchett’s books on hand, and more glad that there are like eight million more to read after those!

Recommendation: To copy myself, for fans of British humor (i.e. Douglas Adams, Monty Python) and fantasy novels and satire and fun.

Rating: 7/10

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling (25 July — 27 July)

My goodness, this book was long. How did I read this in one night when it first came out? A mystery of the universe, that.

So. HP4: A New Hope. Harry goes to the Quidditch World Cup, where quidditch happens but also some bad wizards do bad things and then the mark of the Bad Wizard shows up in the sky and everyone flips. Then, at Hogwarts, there is a Tri-Wizard Tournament going on with four champions — someone put Harry’s name in the Goblet even though he’s underage, and now Harry has to fight dragons and merpeople and a hedge maze. But, oops, at the end of the maze Harry gets transported to meet the Bad Wizard, who does some magic and is now scarier than ever. Then three more books happen.

A few days ago, I would have told you with absolute certainty that this is my favorite Harry Potter book. Now I’m not so sure. Azkaban may have beaten it this go round, and of course there are still three more books to go. But it was really long, and even though it was really long most of the scenes still felt truncated! I had forgotten just how short the World Cup really is, how little there is to the Tournament, how much I don’t care about house-elves… bah.

But! I did like the fact that, knowing the story well, I could see how things would fit into the ending — Winky at the World Cup, Moody and his dustbins, Bartemius Crouch in Snape’s office. And I like that all of the help Harry was getting was really part of the story, instead of convenient to the end (Dobby bringing Harry gillyweed vs. Ron’s expertise at wizard chess).

Also, Fudge is an idiot. But more on that, sadly, later.

Rating: 7.5/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling (23 July)

Uh, what’s that? Oh, um, yes, I did read this in the same day as book two. -cough- Moving along now.

Book 3: Harry returns to school again, but this time there is a Secondary Bad Wizard just escaped from Azkaban (wizard prison and thought to be impossible to escape). Oh, and, bad news, Secondary Bad Wizard might possibly want to kill Harry. Seriously, this kid’s life kind of sucks. Primary Bad Wizard doesn’t make an appearance in this one, but his presence is felt and in the end a Very Tertiary (Vigenary?) Bad Wizard is presumed to have gone off and joined Primary Bad Wizard. Then four more books happen.

Since this is my favorite of the movies, I found myself many times wondering why things hadn’t happened/weren’t happening in the book. Sigh. I certainly missed Alfonso’s Knight Bus. But, interestingly, I feel like I enjoyed the book better than I did when I first read it.

I have to say my favorite part was the time travelling, what there was of it. Rowling followed my favorite of the time-travelling conventions — that of each timeline being dependent on the others. And no changing the course of events! I did think the bit with Harry thinking Harry Prime was his father was a bit contrived, but, well. I don’t know how it could have been done better (do you?).

I also appreciated Dumbledore’s handling of the Buckbeak and Sirius problems; he seems to love, as my LIS textbook would call them, “wrong way” approaches. It might not be doing it right, per se, but it’s getting it done well that matters. I think that’s why I like Dumbledore so much.

This book is where Rowling also starts to tear down Harry’s “good guy” persona; he jumps to conclusions without full facts, he flaunts rules meant to protect him, and he is accused (rightly) of ignoring the sacrifice his parents made for him. And he’ll continue to do that right through to the end of the series. It makes me dislike him rather a lot at times, but it really does show that he’s a teenager and I respect Rowling for that.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling (23 July)

The second book! I’d forgotten how addicting these are… I might not get around to reading anything else until these are done. No! Help me! Make me read something else!

Anyway. HP2: Electric Boogaloo. Summary: Harry returns to school. He learns even more new things and then a monster starts Petrifying (literally: turning to stone) students and then Harry fights the Bad Wizard, again, in memory form (yes, really), and then five more books happen.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed parts of this book. Lockhart is hilarious, and I’ve certainly met plenty of his type in my time. All of them deserved a memory charm to the face. I also thought that the big plot line was better paced and required much more effort on the part of three twelve-year-olds to solve. The adults could probably have solved it if those darned kids would just trust them, but I certainly didn’t trust adults when I was twelve. Just ask my mother! Similarly, I initially thought it odd that Ginny gets all but ignored throughout the novel, for the integral part she plays in the plot, but then I remembered that this is really from Harry’s point of view and I would probably ignore Ginny, too. I was sad that the bit that actually takes place in the chamber lasted all of ten minutes — I really thought it was more involved, but that’s probably the movie instead? I don’t know. Nonetheless, I want a phoenix.

One last thing: Dobby is so annoying. I do not look forward to his presence in the remaining books.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (21 July)

Things I forgot about the first Harry Potter book: 1) It’s short! 2) It’s cute! 3) It’s not very British! (Silly American translations…)

I really think that if you don’t know what the Harry Potter books are about, at least slightly, you have to have been living under a rock under a larger rock for the past, um, 12 years? Wow, that’s a long time. I’m old. Anyway, summary: Harry Potter is a wizard. His parents died at the hands of a Bad Wizard when he was but a little thing. Now he is eleven and off to wizarding school. He learns things and fights monsters and learns that the Bad Wizard, who all but disappeared after not killing a little thing, is back and coming to get him. Then six more books happen.

It was kind of weird reading this after seeing the most recent movie, because I kept imagining the twenty-year-old actors instead of the twelve-year-old ones. Then I thought about how my youngest brother is turning eleven this year, and I just about laughed out loud at the thought of William fighting trolls and Bad Wizards. I don’t doubt that there are eleven-year-olds that could, I just don’t know any, is all.

I also realized just how contrived the ending was (oh, let me alone, I last read this book nine or ten years ago!), what with all of the little tests fitting in with the main kids’ skills so well. And while I dare say they probably couldn’t have got past Fluffy (teehee, it’s still funny) without Hagrid’s help, the mirror was probably the only thing actually guarding the stone. I mean, three eleven-year-olds beat every other test. Really. Just put the mirror up and be done with it!

But! I still love this book, even if I’m shocked that Rowling earns a couple hundred dollars every minute off this franchise. And even if the movies are terrible.

Rating: 8/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge, My Year of Reading Dangerously)