Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Five out of Five Stars

I can’t think of any words powerful enough to adequately express how much I loved Fangirl, but I’m going to spend the rest of this review trying to find them.

Rainbow Rowell’s second young adult novel follows reticent Cath through her freshman year of college as she copes with social anxiety, a suddenly distant twin sister, balancing her fanfiction writing career with her Fiction Writing class, boys who smile too much, and boys who lie too much.  There’s more too – child abandonment, mental instability, alcohol abuse, romance.  It comes together to form one of the best contemporary novels I’ve ever read.  Seriously.  It’s up there with my favorite of favorites, Anna and the French Kiss.  Possibly higher.

I think this is primarily because of how natural everything felt.  Even the heavier topics I mentioned above manage to fit organically into the plot without ever overtaking the story. It’s not a novel about alcohol abuse or family problems or anxiety.  It’s about Cath.  All those issues just happen to be part of her life.

That naturalness applies to the characters as well.  No matter how sparsely or frequently they appear, every single one of them seems just as real as anyone I’ve met during my own first year of college; as if (to use a phrase from the book) they were about to “evolve right off the page.”  That goes for everyone from Cath’s twin sister Wren, to her snarky roommate Reagan, to Levi the ever-friendly Starbucks employee who always seems to be hanging around their room.

The relationships between all these characters, too, were gorgeously built.  They grew slowly and honestly.  No snap friendships or instant romance to be found here.  Everything took time (sometimes, given Cath’s trust issues, quite a bit of time).

This is usually where I might add in a however or but; where I might comment on something that bugged me or didn’t exactly work.  Hard as I search my mind, though, I can’t think of one negative thing to say about Fangirl.  Not one.

So, instead, I’ll talk about something that could have gone badly, but didn’t.  Really, really didn’t.

Much of the story centers around a made-up, Harry Potter-esque book series that Cath has not only adored since childhood, but for which she’s spent the last two years penning a novel-length fanfiction.  I was skeptical at first of how Rowell would handle the fact that her main character was devoting a good chunk of her thoughts to books and characters with whom her readers would be unfamiliar.

It wasn’t a problem.  Namely, because she made sure readers would be familiar with the Simon Snow world-within-a-world she’d created.  Throughout the novel, Rowell separates sections with excerpts from both the Simon Snow books themselves and Cath’s Simon Snow fanfiction.  This too somehow seemed perfectly natural and necessary; partly because these segments often had something to do with what was happening in Cath’s life, and partly because they provided proof of Cath’s passion for writing.  Rowell doesn’t simply say that her main character is a writer.  She shows her to be one.  And, just as importantly, Rowell gives her readers the opportunity to care about Simon Snow, and so to understand why Cath does.  (For the record, I miss Simon and Baz right now just as much as I do Cath and Levi.)

On that note, I happen to be a mild (by which I mean obsessed) fanfiction addict, but I hope I haven’t given the impression that you have to be a fangirl yourself to enjoy this book.  You don’t.  Fandom culture is certainly an element of the story, but, like the alcohol and abandonment plot lines,  it never overpowers the narrative.

I’m still not sure I managed to express how much I enjoyed this book, but I’ll leave at this: Read Fangirl.  It’s well written, quirky, deep, and definitely worth both the time and bookshelf space.

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Review: Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins

Sweet Evil (The Sweet Trilogy, #1)

Three and a Half out of Five Stars

I stored Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins away on my “to-read” list in May 2012.  I didn’t end up reading past its first page until October 2013.  There was no particular reason for this wait.  It was just that book that kept slipping down my list, losing its place to long-awaited sequels, school assignments, and whim reads of the moment.

But I wasn’t feeling well the other day, and, (once I’d thoroughly secured my place as most boring college student on the planet by getting into bed at 9:30 on a Friday night), I finally decided to download it to my Kindle.

I didn’t turn off my reading light until 3:00 AM.

Sweet Evil follows good-girl Anna Whitt through the ups and downs of high school, romance, friendship – and the discovery that she’s the product of an angel-demon relationship.

The mythology of Sweet Evil was what first attracted me to it, and it didn’t disappoint. Higgins creates a world in which demons live among us in secret, cajoling humans into lapses of sin and misery, and their own Nephilim children into carrying on the family business.  Although not a heavy read by any means, Sweet Evil definitely has a bit of cultural relevance. The paranormal plotline didn’t live in its own vortex, separated from everyday life.

The characters worked in the novel’s favor for the most part, as well.  It was easy to see Anna (the sheltered, human-raised daughter of Substance Abuse) and Kaidan’s (the son of Lust) respective backgrounds in their personalities.  Kaiden especially, although I initially worried he’d fall into the familiar mold of dark, handsome, cocky paranormal love interest, pulled at my heart.  Mostly for empathy-related reasons.  Partly because he, well, completely lives up to his heritage.  As Anna thought upon meeting him, he’s “HOTT” – too hot for merely one “t.” (That goes for the content of the book as well, by the way.  Definitely a more mature young adult novel.)

There were moments when Anna seemed a bit inconsistent to me, but, for the most part, I thought she made a likable protagonist.  Perhaps not always the most believable – her wavering between temperance and self-indulgence grew a bit inconsistent at times — but sympathetic.  She flickered from resolving to save her virginity for a committed relationship to attempting to sleep with Kaidan (who has no choice but to be about as uncommitted as a guy can get).  From resisting alcohol into giving into her dad’s demands that she learn more about it.  Sure, there were reasons for both those cases.  They just, like several other plot points, seemed sort of contrived.

Now for the minor characters.  No complaints over Kai and Anna’s friends – they were all fairly fleshed out.  Patti, Anna’s adopted mother, irked me a bit more, as did Anna’s biological father Belial (AKA the demon in charge of Substance Abuse).  It felt at points like Higgins was simply using them to carry the plot into a particular direction, rather than paying attention to character development.

Like when overprotective Patti agrees to send her daughter on a cross-country road trip with a Nephilim boy she’s met exactly once.  Another justified, but contrived plot point.

Nevertheless, the only real problem I have with Sweet Evil has more to do with organization than anything.  The road trip between Kai and Anna — as forced as its beginning felt – actually worked fairly well for the first half of the novel.  The twinges of insta-love lingering around their first meetings bugged me, but the road trip solidified a believable bond between them.  Then the second half of the novel came.  They returned home; Kaidan to the “work” his father forces on him (he gave me so many more Finnick Odair feels than I ever thought possible), Anna to her adoptive mother.  Then to learning more about her own responsibilities as a member of the Nephilim.  This, too, in itself, worked in terms of plot and even character development.  It just felt like it came from a different book.  The first and second halves of Sweet Evil seemed very much divided from one another.  I almost wish that Higgins could have found a way to expand on each and actually turn each half into its own novel – but, at the same time, that would likely have added a good deal of unnecessary bulk.

The latter half of Sweet Evil might not have seemed as separate from the first to me if Higgins hadn’t chosen to introduce a love triangle.  The needless staple of the young adult romance genre.  Still, it wasn’t the triangle itself that I disliked.  It actually made sense that Kopano would feel a pull towards Anna, and she to him.  And they had much more in common,  if not nearly as much chemistry, than she’s had so far with Kaidan.  Yet, as realistic and understated as it was, the love triangle was still jarring.  Jarring and unnecessary.  Maybe the next book will show its purpose, but, at the moment, I wish that Higgins had chosen to focus on developing friendship between Kope and Anna, rather than possible romance.

Tropes and occasional forcedness aside, Sweet Evil was a fingers-glued-to-the-book, swoon-worthy read.  I doubt I’ll reread it any time soon, but I’ll definitely get my hands on the sequel at some point.  And, hopefully, it will take me far less than a year this time.

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Review: Endless Knight by Kresley Cole

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Four out of Five Stars

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD

Warning: Do not start this book if you have a full day of classes ahead of you. In a fit of impatience and naivety, I attempted just that — only to spend the rest of the afternoon with fingers fidgeting towards my book bag and the new release inside. Instead of, you know, taking notes or even doodling in the margins of my notebook. If college could have conveniently dropped out of existence for the day, I honestly think I would have spent the entire day, cocooned under my covers, reading.

Endless Knight, the second novel of Kresley Cole’s Arcana Chronicles, picks up right from where the first book left off. Rather than jumping forward even a few days, Cole brings the reader right back into the thick of the aftermath of Evie’s fight with Arthur – her emotional distress, her growth, her confusion.  And, of course, Jack’s reaction. 
In other words, slow as Poison Princess might have been in the beginning, Endless Knight follows no such formula.

  Still, the first half or so of Endless Knight reads fairly similarly to the second half of Poison Princess – very dark, very action-heavy, and very sexy. The second half, however, (while still dark and, at times, blush-inducing) took a turn into slower pacing. And possibly Greek mythology.

I’ve seen a lot of young adult books advertised as retellings of the myth of Hades and Persephone. Endless Knight – to the best of my knowledge – has never been promoted as such; yet it was by far the best adaption of the tale I’ve read. Possibly because it’s a sequel; nothing felt forced or rushed about Evie’s abduction. And, better yet, we got to know Evie long before she was stolen away to Death’s domain. Poison Princess gives scarce few hints that its sequel would mold to the familiar shape of Hades and Persephone, but they’re waiting for you when you look back.

Nor does it hurt that Endless Knight isn’t actually all that much of a young adult novel (a genre to which the darkness of Persephone’s story has never seemed all that well-suited to me). Evie may be a teenager and the style of Cole’s writing may occasionally twist – unnaturally in my opinion – into teen slang and such, but the latest Arcana Chronicles installment reads much more like a New Adult novel. Partly because of the dark nature of the novel.  Mostly because of the sex.  Hint: there’s no convenient “fade to black” when clothing moves into heaps on the floor.

Sorry. Tangent. Anyhow, I don’t think I’ve gotten around to saying this yet, but Endless Knight was amazing. I had absurdly high expectations of it, and it completely met every last one of them (well, except for the one where Evie and Jack stay together forever and never part and live happily ever after in the second book). The world was still beautifully and terrifyingly written – dark and unique and overwhelming. I didn’t think it was possible for Cole’s post-apocalyptic world to turn into any more of a nightmare, but lo and behold it did. Probably because of the cannibals.

The character development was equally wonderful. I’ve always loved Evie as a protagonist, as she has always been believable and relatable even in – especially in – her brattiest moments. She’s at her best so far in Endless Knight. Cole paces out Evie’s growth, both in terms of strength and personality so wonderfully that, even as she rises into clearly non-human territory, she’s still as relatable as ever.

I was also glad to see more development of the minor characters. Selena was much more understandable than I ever found her in Poison Princess. Finn was still hilarious. Matthew was still – I don’t actually know quite what the word for Matthew is, but he, nevertheless, is as crazy, confusing, and well-written as ever. Jack, much to my pleasure, is still aggravating, believable, and utterly sexy. Even better, Cole reveals two major secrets that he’s been keeping, both of which helped the reader – or at least this reader – to understand him better. I have mixed feelings over how this was revealed and how Evie responded, but, for the most part, I found this twist fairly well executed. Do I wish Jack had more of a presence during said twist? Well, yeah. I pretty much always want more Jack. Cole does manage to include a scene though, despite his separation from Evie, in which we see how he takes the news that Death told her what he was keeping from her. Glimpses like that of Jackson strengthened the narrative a lot; without them, seeing him again in the next book could easily have felt sudden, and the reveal of what he was doing while apart from Evie info-dumpy.

As much as I’d love to continue raving about Jack, I should probably mention the new main character introduced in Endless Knight — Death. Given his backstory with Evie, Death (also known as Aric) actually makes a believable love interest. Cole fleshes him out and – thank goodness – gives him more development than a mere shell of mystery.

Overall, if you liked Poison Princess, I’d highly recommend picking up Endless Knight when you got a chance (by which I mean right now). If you didn’t, then, I wouldn’t rush to the bookstore to grab a copy. The same things that bothered you about the first novel will likely still be an issue. And if you haven’t read either novels, but have a preference for novels of the paranormal, dystopian, or romantic sort, I’d definitely give this series a try.

More spoilers ahead… I can’t help it. This love triangle is going to kill me. Read on if – for some incomprehensible reason – you want to see my rambling about Evie/Jack versus Evie/Death.

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