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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: 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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