Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Fangirl
Rainbow Rowell

St. Martin's Press
Published September 10, 2013
481 pages

Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indie Bound

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’ve come to Rainbow Rowell and Fangirl late. This is partly because of lingering issues from all the contemporary YA I read as an actual teenager, but also because this book was so popular so quickly that my automatic reaction to distrust all popular things kicked in before it ever came out. While it sounded likea book I would enjoy, I didn’t trust myself to enjoy it without my personal biases getting in the way, so I let the hype carry it away and didn’t think much of it.

Until I saw it on the library shelf while browsing a few weeks ago and it looked cute and fluffy with cover art by Noelle Stevenson. I was in the mood for cute and fluffy, so I gave it a shot.

I couldn’t have picked a better time to read Fangirl if I had done it on purpose. From the first few pages, this book kicked me in the stomach with memories and nostalgia because I was Cath. She’s neurotic and shy and doesn’t want to leave her dorm room unless it’s to go to class. She has no intention of making friends because she doesn’t know how, and while she’s incredibly lonely, it’s a feeling that makes her more comfortable than attempting to have a life outside.

THAT. WAS. ME!

Early on, Rowell describes all the anxiety-riddled reasons Cath doesn’t want to go to the cafeteria to eat a meal, instead relying on snacks she brought from home. Every reason felt a bit like a knife in my soul because I related to every thought, every fear, ever anxiety. Returning to school after a decade of being in the working world has been a learning experience revolving mostly on how much I didn’t know in undergrad. Reading this book was cathartic, allowing me to exorcise some demons while I try not to repeat those same mistakes in graduate school. Watching Cath grow and bloom into someone with a life outside the fan fiction she writes gave me hope. I didn’t achieve that level of growth in my 4.5 years of undergrad, but perhaps I can change things now.

But this is more self-reflection and less book review, so let me actually talk about the book.

Through the lens of fan-fiction-as-escapism, Rowell creates a fully formed character in Cath with weaknesses, strengths, moments of doubt, and successes of overcoming obstacles. She’s a real person through and through. While most of the secondary characters are boiled down to their base characters (Wren is the reckless and wild twin, Levi is the awkwardly adorable boy, the roommate is the brassy and loud hot girl), it doesn’t matter because this is Cath’s world, everyone else populates it. She is the sun everything revolves around though she doesn’t even know it.

The story is well-paced with mishaps and drama puncturing times when things may have lagged over Cath’s endeavor to write the ultimate piece of fan fiction. These moments of drama rely on realistic portrayals of underage binge drinking, a parent with mental illness, an absent parent’s sudden return, and extreme anxiety, all deep subjects dealt with delicately. 

Towards the later part of the book, the romance became a little over-the-top for me, but mostly because I’ve never become obsessed with someone’s chin before (it’ll make more sense if you’ve read the book). Rowell does, however, take time to explore the thoughts of a late bloomer facing the possibility of losing their virginity. As a late bloomer myself, I appreciated the balance between want and fear that Cath fights through as she deals with expectations she puts on herself to be “normal”.

My only real complaint about Fangirl is that, after a long and steady progression of story, the conclusion came suddenly and felt incomplete. It felt as though Rowell, much like her main character, came up against an unmovable external deadline and tied up the story the best she could. It felt a little incomplete though perhaps she left it more open ended to encourage her own cabal of fan’s fictions. 

I never became enamored with the Simon Snow fiction that are interspersed throughout the book, so I don’t think I will move on to Carry On. The parallels to Harry Potter were a little too heavy-handed, though at the same time understandable for what Rowell was trying to achieve.

While Fangirl was an enjoyable read, I’m not sure I would have liked it as much if it weren’t for the situational parallels going on in my real life. While I’m not entering college for the first time, many of my recent experiences had me looking bad in sadness at the things I missed due to my own anxiety. To see a character like Cath come out successful despite hardships is a rewarding look at what-could-have-been. This was a fun and relatively quick read, though I don’t know if it will convert me back to the realm of contemporary fiction.

Blog Tour & Contest: The Rule of Mirrors by Caragh M. O'Brien

Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on the blog tour for Caragh M. O'Brien's newest release, The Rule of Mirrors. This is the second book in her The Vault of Dreamers series, and it's nearly as bonkers as the last book. Thank you to Caragh and Roaring Brook Press for having us on the tour. They're providing a copy of the first book of the series, The Vault of Dreamers, or the newest book to one lucky WFTM reader. Stick around after the review for your chance to win!

If you haven't read The Vault of Dreamers yet, turn back. The blurb has spoilers! Read my review of the first book in the series over here instead.

The Rule of Mirrors

Caragh M. O'Brien

Released February 16, 2016
Roaring Brook Press
432 pages
YA / Science Fiction / Thriller

Find it on Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

The fast-paced, psychologically thrilling sequel to The Vault of Dreamers follows Rosie after her consciousness has been split in two.

The entire country was watching when Rosie Sinclair was expelled from Forge, the prestigious arts school that doubles as a reality TV show. But few know how Dean Berg was mining students' dreams in laboratories deep below the school. And no one, least of all the Dean himself, knows that when Rosie's dreams were seeded into the mind of another patient, Rosie's consciousness woke up in that body--a girl far from Forge, a girl with a completely different life from Rosie, a girl who is pregnant.

Told from alternating points of view between Rosie as she makes sense of her new identity and the shattered subconscious that still exists in her old body, this sequel to The Vault of Dreamers will keep readers on the edge of their seats and leave them hungry for more.

After the exciting events that culminated The Vault of Dreamers, I felt inclined to write the continuation of Rosie’s story myself. Thankfully, I didn’t have to as the author has returned with another bizarre sci-fi meets psychological thriller romp that balances on the edge of social commentary. Whereas The Vault of Dreamers had an element of analyzing the culture that turned realty television into an everyday occurrence and the effects it has on its maybe-not-so-willing stars, The Rule of Mirrors at times examines what actually makes us who we are as people.

Normally this is where I would put a warning about spoilers for the end of The Vault of Dreamers, but the blurb for The Rule of Mirrors provides plenty of spoilers on its own, so… perhaps that’s unnecessary.

As was implied at the end of the first book, Rosie’s consciousness has been split in two with only her internal voice left behind in her real body. The other half has now woken up thousands of miles away in an Icelandic clinic within the body of a pregnant teenager. Both face new challenges as they try to regain control of their lives and find some way to break free from the Evil Mastermind™ of Dean Berg at the Forge School and stop the dream mining that ruined their lives.

The book is told from both points of view with Thea’s chapters (Rosie’s consciousness in the body of the pregnant former coma patient) regularly focused on what makes a person who they are. Do your memories and mental thought patterns make you who you are? Or is it the scars on your body and the way people see you that determine your identity? Or maybe something in between? O’Brien only barely brushes the surface of these philosophical conundrums, but they’re the most interesting elements of Thea’s story until late in the book. The rest of her plot often feels anticlimactic and a running parade of side characters marching across the screen with little effect to the larger story overall.

The chapters told from Rosie’s point-of-view are the most interesting as the internal voice that often voiced her darkest thoughts in the first book now has control of the steering wheel. While Thea spends a good portion of the book bedridden, shackled by her parents’ restrictions, or fighting people’s dismissals of who she truly believed herself to be, Rosie travels across the country, crosses paths with familiar faces and has more action in her story.

It isn’t until the two eventually come together that the story really hits all cylinders and starts to gel. Most likely because this is the middle book in a trilogy, it doesn’t have the most satisfying conclusion and much of the last 60 pages or so feel rushed after the more languid first half, but so many doors have been left wide open for an exhilarating conclusion.

The Rule of Mirrors might be a bit slower than its predecessor, but some big ideas are touched along the way and some new tech is added to this odd little science fiction thriller. This series is unliked much of anything I’ve read in the YA sphere, so it will be interesting to see if Rosie is ever able to get her happy ending.

 

Sound like something you'd be into? Then enter below to win your choice of a copy of the first book, The Vault of Dreamers, or the newest book The Rule of MIrrors. Open to those with US mailing addresses only. The publisher will be providing the winner's prize. Contest ends on March 10 at midnight Central time. Good luck!

Visit the other blogs on The Rule of Mirrors blog tour below:

·  2/16: Ex Libris Kate

·  2/17: Fiction Fare

·  2/18: A Dream Within A Dream

·  2/19: Bibliophilia, Please

·  2/20: Book Briefs

·  2/21: Fiktshun

·  2/22: Once Upon a Twilight

·  2/23: Reading Nook Reviews

·  2/24: Seeing Double in Neverland

·  2/25: Working for the Mandroid

·  2/26: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

·  2/27: Reads all the Books

WFTM Podcast Episode 26: The Star Wars Awakening

You knew it was coming. This is the inevitable episode where Leslie and Fernando talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens for an hour. Did they like it? Who was their favorite character? Were there enough explosions? How adorable is BB-8? Epic spoilers from start to finish, so if you haven't seen the movie, what are you doing listening to a podcast?!

Download it from the iTunes store here!

We’re now on Stitcher as well!! If Stitcher is your chosen app of podcasting choice, listen to the Working for the Mandroid podcast here


WFTM Podcast Episode 25.1: Adult Faerie Tales & Terrible Black Widows

Leslie & Fernando return to talk books and comic news, including the release of Black Panther concept art, what President Obama bought on Small Business Saturday, and where you can read a free horror comic online. We also discuss Naomi Novak’s Uprooted, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and the new YA novel appearance of Black Widow, Forever Red by Margaret Stohl.

Download it from the iTunes store here!

Author Blog Tour: Review of Positive by David Wellington

Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on David Wellington's blog tour for his epic zombie adventure story Positive. This tour is hosted by Pump Up Your Book tours and we're happy to have a review for you and later today we'll have a guest post from David himself! If you're into zombie fiction and are looking for a book with a young, naive teen boy narrator suddenly thrust into a wild and unfamiliar world with danger around every corner, Positive could be the book for you! You can see additional dates of the tour at the end of this post.

Positive
David Wellington

Harper Voyager
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for a honest review.
Released April 21, 2015
448 pages
Thriller / Suspense

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

The acclaimed author of Chimera and The Hydra Protocol delivers his spectacular breakout novel—an entertaining, page-turning zombie epic.
Anyone can be positive . . .
Years after a plague killed 99 percent of the population, turning them into infectious zombies, Finnegan and his family live in a barricaded New York City. But Finn's sheltered life fractures when his unsuspecting mother falls sick with the zombie disease—latent inside her since before her son's birth.
Finn, too, can be infected. If he remains healthy for the last two years of the potential incubation period, he'll be cleared. Until then, he must be moved to a special facility for positives, segregated to keep the healthy population safe.
Tattooed with a plus sign on his hand that marks him as a positive, Finn is exiled from the city. But when marauders kill the escort sent to transport him, Finn must learn how to survive alone in an eerie, disintegrated landscape. And though the zombies are everywhere, Finn discovers that the real danger is his fellow humans.

Oh, zombies. Will we ever tire of you? David Wellington has created an expansive novel that crosses much of the country 20 years after the fall of civilization caused by a zombie virus. What many authors would have cut into three novels, Wellington puts into one rapidly paced adventure ride where zombies are the initial drive of the plot, but become a bit of an afterthought by the end. Because, as with all zombie epics, people are always the real enemy.

Positive felt very much like a mash up of a lot of different things I’ve seen or read or consumed recently. It has long sequences that feel straight from Mad Max: Fury Road without the helpful addition of Furiosa. Other sequences could have been pulled straight from The Walking Dead and still others could be straight from any number of books or movies that involved long treks and starving through a terrible winter. Some elements of Positive stand out, but so much felt like it’d been taken from something else that the book never truly begins to soar for me.

Finn is our everyman hero. He’s a nineteen-year-old, post-apocalypse war baby, who doesn’t understand why everyone in his parents’ generation are all so paranoid and acting like they’re just ready to die already. He’s lived in the safe zone on Manhattan island all his life, fishing in the subway tunnels and living a fairly safe life. Then one day over a disappointing dinner, his mother turns into a red-eyed zombie and Finn’s best friend has to shoot her. As one would expect, Finn’s life is never the same.

Wellington’s zombie mythology is unique to the genre – or at least as far as my experience with the genre goes. While a virus caused the mass majority of people to turn into flesh-devouring, red eyed monsters 20 years ago, the remaining population must worry about a potential 20 year incubation period after exposure to the virus, whether that’s through exposure to blood or other bodily fluids both of zombies and those who may be infected, or being bitten. For example, main character Finn is pushed out of his community because his mother turns into a zombie 19 years after he was breast fed, so he potentially carries the virus. Considering this book takes place about 20 years after the initial zombie apocalypse, it makes you wonder why everyone isn’t a Positive, considering I can’t imagine a zombie situation where everyone didn’t have exposure to a zombie at one point in time. Or at least exposure to someone who was exposed. And wouldn’t each new exposure restart your 20 year clock? But this is a zombie novel, so some hand waving is allowed.

After Finn’s exile, book one starts. This is the “survive in the wilderness” story full of looters and crime lords with big SUVs covered in war paint and barbed wire. Finn gets picked up by a driver who happens to keep a harem of pre-teen and teenage girls in tow to help him loot houses and “keep him company”. This is the Mad Max portion of the program.

Book two starts when Finn finally reaches the “medical camp” he was meant to go to all along. The 20 year incubation period has left a great number of the remaining survivors exiled from the walled cities protected by the remains of the US Armed Forces and into work camps that are closer to gulags than anything one would expect to see on American soil. Suddenly zombies are an afterthought and we get a story about military control and political unrest.

Book three is a survival story involving a not-quite forced march through questionable terrain, starting a new community and learning new skills and trying to create a sense of safety. Think of this as the story of pilgrims with all the hopeful rhetoric and posturing that one would expect. There is one group of zombies that appear during this sequence. We see no other zombies after this.

Then finally we have book four, which involves a battle with the real enemies of the world – other humans. Because humans are the worse.

For a book so steeped in the fear of becoming a zombie, there aren’t that many zombies in this book, especially in the second half. I think that oscillation between “ZOMBIES! VIRUS! AAAAH!” and “The bad guys are really other people” kept me from really gelling with this book. There is a nice highlight about a third of the way when Finn comes across one of the few other people with their morals still intact in the whole book and I wish there could have been some more of that. Instead I got Finn becoming increasingly more self-important as he dictated new rules and not-so-serendipitously kept running into someone that was set out to be his nemesis but never seemed that menacing.

I don’t like classifying books by a gender, but perhaps this is more of a “boy” book because it’s told from the first person perspective of a teenage boy who lacks much maturity. His inner monologue, while possibly accurate for someone in that situation, often bothered me with its repetitiveness, immaturity and total lack of perspective. I’ve found with other books like this, people who had once been teenaged boys were less bothered by it than I am.

Positive is a take on a zombie world that felt very cobbled together from other things, though a few original ideas would have helped it soar much more if they’d been explored and expanded on. I know it’s wrong to demand logic of zombie books, but I need a little more of a solid foundation to truly follow along with Finn on his adventures. Instead I kept coming back to my questions about the logic of the whole thing. This could be an exciting adventure through post-apocalyptic America if you’re not as sensitive to those kinds of things.

About the Author:

David Wellington was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where George Romero’s classic zombie films were shot. He is the author of an online zombie serial, the Monster Island trilogy; Thirteen Bullets, a serialized vampire novel; and the Jim Chapel missions, including the digital shorts “Minotaur” and “Myrmidon,” and the novels Chimera and The Hydra Protocol. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

For More Information

Visit David’s website.

Connect with David on Facebook and Twitter

 

Full Tour Schedule

 November 24

Book featured at 3 Partners in Shopping

Book featured at Bibliophile Mystery

Book featured at Around the World in Books

Book reviewed at Cheryl’s Book Nook

November 25

Book reviewed at Read Love Blog

Book featured at Authors and Readers Book Corner

Book featured at My Book Fairy

November 26

Book featured at Crystal’s Chaotic Confessions

Guest blogging at Bound 2 Escape

November 27

Book featured at Chosen By You Book Club

Book reviewed at Books, Food and Me

November 30

Book reviewed and Guest blogging at Romancing the Darkside

Book reviewed at Books that Hook

Book featured at Dawn’s Reading Nook

December 1

Book featured at Harmonious Publicity

December 2

Book reviewed and Guest blogging at Working for the Mandroid

December 3

Book featured at Bent Over Bookwords

December 4

Book featured at Archaeolibrarian

December 7

Book featured at The Dark Phantom

December 8

Book featured at Voodoo Princess

December 9

Book reviewed at Deal Sharing Aunt

December 10

Book reviewed and Interviewed at The Cosy Dragon

December 11

Book reviewed at Bea’s Book Nook

December 14

Guest blogging at Write and Take Flight

December 15

Book reviewed at Kristy Centeno

December 16

Book reviewed and Guest blogging at Natural Bri

Book reviewed at Bloody Bookish

December 17

Book reviewed at A Room Without Books is Empty

Book reviewed at I’m Shelf-ish

December 18

Book featured at Teatime and Books

Book reviewed at A Book Geek

Book reviewed at Ashley’s Bookshelf

 

WFTM Podcast Episode 24.2: Agent Mockingjay Walking Dead

Leslie and Fernando return to talk television and films. This week we’re checking in on Agents of SHIELD and the Inhumans (spoilers from 23:30 to 26:25), determining whether The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 was worth the wait (spoilers from 37:36 to 53:36), and the fate of everyone on The Walking Dead and if it’s been worth the wait for answers (spoilers 28:03 to 36:22). We also have news about Game of Thrones season 6, new casting for Black Canary, Amazon’s newest pilot season and good news for iZombie.

Download it from the iTunes store here!

We’re now on Stitcher as well!! If Stitcher is your chosen app of podcasting choice, listen to the Working for the Mandroid podcast here

So what’s in Episode 24.2?

Where we just talk about television and movies!

News:

New Game of Thrones posters have Jon Snow on them – what does it mean?

Rumors around who will be cast as Black Canary in the DC Filmverse

iZombie gets more episodes, yay!

Amazon Pilot Season – what looks good?

What We’re Watching:

Agents of SHIELD (spoilers from 23:30 to 26:25)

The Walking Dead (spoilers from 28:03 to 36:22)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (spoilers from 37:36 to 53:36)

Our Favorite Thing We Watched This Week:

Fernando: The Walking Dead

Leslie: iZombie just gets better and better!

 

Follow us on Twitter @WorkforMandroid and @fernborrego

Email your questions, concerns, thoughts and comments to WorkingfortheMandroid@gmail.com

 

Intro & Outro Music is “Robot Army” by Quiet Music for Tiny Robots, provided via freemusicarchive.org through a Creative Commons License

 

WFTM Podcast Episode 24.1: Black Cats & More Star Wars

We’re nearly back to our originally scheduled programming! Leslie returns to talk books and comics with Fernando. This week we talked about the future of JK Rowling’s writing, getting gift advise from the Random Penguin folk, the French comic Blacksad starring a man-sized black cat and Star Wars: Dark Disciple (because from here until the end of the year, every episode must include a reference to Star Wars).

Download it from the iTunes store here!

We’re now on Stitcher as well!! If Stitcher is your chosen app of podcasting choice, listen to the Working for the Mandroid podcast here

So what’s in Episode 24.1?

Where we just talk about books and comics!

News:

JK Rowling Talks the Future of Her Writing Career

Penguin Random House Hotline Will Help You Find the Perfect Christmas Gifts

What We’re Reading:

Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido

Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

What We’re Reading This Week:

Fernando: Planning to read Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven

Leslie: Finishing up The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson and Alias by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

Follow us on Twitter @WorkforMandroid and @fernborrego

Email your questions, concerns, thoughts and comments to WorkingfortheMandroid@gmail.com


Intro & Outro Music is “Robot Army” by Quiet Music for Tiny Robots, provided via freemusicarchive.org through a Creative Commons License