Pumpkinheads: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel) Review

Every autumn Deja and Josiah know they’ll be working at the best pumpkin patch in the world, right in their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. They know they’ll be making succotash at the Succotash Hut (it’s all about the stirring). And most importantly, they know that their friendship will pick up right where they left off at the end of last year’s pumpkin patch season.

Except this year is different because they’re seniors. While Deja knows they’ll always be able to come back, Josiah isn’t so sure that anything can stay the same once they leave for college.

After a stellar season (and another Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person star for Josiah), Josiah is fully prepared to spend their final shift ever moping. But Deja has bigger plans to help both of them say goodbye to the patch with a proper sendoff while also giving Josiah one last chance to talk to the Fudge Girl he’s spent three years pining after.

With snacks to eat, exes to run into, and hopefully at least one date to make Deja and Josie’s final shift is sure to be an adventure in Pumpkinheads (2019) by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks.

Find it on Bookshop.

This story is completely self-contained and as satisfying as the first pumpkin sighting of the season. Hicks’ full color illustrations bring the pumpkin patch to life in all of its zany glory with dynamic artwork filled with fun details and the motion inherent to a frenetic crowd.

Rowell’s dialog contrasts well with Deja and Josiah’s body language and things left unsaid as both friends try to figure out how to say goodbye to the patch and to each other–or if they even have to.

Pumpkinheads is a charming ode to fall filled with puns, pumpkins, and a really sweet romance. Recommended for readers looking for a bubbly, seasonal read and anyone hoping to try a graphic novel for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Aimee Friedman, Nic Stone, and Kasie West; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo; There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon; Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

Carry On: A Review

cover art for Carry On by Rainbow RowellSimon Snow is not the chosen one anyone expected. He might not even be the chosen one we deserve. But he’s the only one we have.

Simon is supposed to be the most powerful wizard alive. But most of the time his wand doesn’t work properly, he can’t remember spells when he needs them, or he starts massive fires. All told, Simon would much rather spend his time eating sour cherry scones than trying to fight the Mysterious Humdrum–the magic eating monster that’s been tormenting Simon, and the rest of the magical world, since Simon arrived at Watford School of Magicks when he was eleven.

On top of that Simon’s girlfriend just dumped him and his roommate is missing. Baz being out of the picture might actually be a plus. Except Baz is from one of the most notoriously evil magic families out there. Also he’s a vampire so he could be causing all sorts of trouble while he’s away.

Simon doesn’t know what to expect from his last year at Watford but he certainly didn’t realized he’d be spending so much of it worried about Baz–or at least worried about Baz hurting people–in Carry On (2015) by Rainbow Rowell.

Carry On is partially inspired by Rowell’s earlier novel Fangirl–a book which included slash fiction written by one character about a Harry Potter-esque series. Rowell takes those elements and reworks them in this story. I will say up front that this book was a lot more fun and a lot smarter than I expected it to be given the story’s origins.

Carry On is witty, sexy, and just familiar enough to catch the in-jokes. It also offers a fascinating commentary on what it means to have a chosen path only to realize it might not be the path you want—aside from being completely wrong–as Simon struggles to figure out what his future will look like outside of Watford.

The novel alternates narration between Simon and Baz (who is tragically absent for the novel’s first act) which works well to showcase the dynamic between these characters while also amping up the tension as they shift somewhat reluctantly–and much to their own dismay–from sworn enemies to boyfriend and boyfriend. While the romance is fun, the subversion of the usual nemesis tropes are also well done as both Simon and Baz are forced to admit that the person they thought they hated above all others might also be the only one who might understand them.

I will say I still have trepidation about whether this romance between two boys is a story that a straight woman should be telling. But at the same time, Baz is a vampire and Simon is a wizard so there are a lot of reasons this book is positioned differently than if it were a truly contemporary story.

Carry On is a fun, campy boarding school fantasy with two precious idiots doing the best they can. Recommended for readers who have read Harry Potter a zillion times and are looking for something different but still familiar.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, Fence by C. S. Pacat, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, Timekeeper by Tara Sim, Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

Landline: A Review

Landline by Rainbow RowellGeorgie McCool knows her marriage is floundering. She knows her husband Neal is unhappy. But they’ve been floundering for a while. And hasn’t Neal always been at least a little unhappy?

She still loves Neal. And Neal still loves her. But that isn’t the point. When Neal takes their daughters to Omaha for Christmas, Georgie wonders if that was ever the point.

Floundering without her husband and daughters, Georgie tries to throw herself into work as a TV writer in Los Angeles. After all, that’s why she stayed behind in the first place. But she doesn’t want to go home to an empty house. She can’t focus when so much of her life is somewhere else.

Then Georgie uses the landline at her mother’s house to try and call Neal. Finally, he answers. But it isn’t Georgie’s Neal. Not really. Instead she’s talking to Neal in the past–at the one other moment their relationship fell apart, almost before it started. With a chance to correct past mistakes, Georgie wonders if the right answer this time is holding Neal tight (the way she always does) or finally letting him go in Landline (2014) by Rainbow Rowell.

Rainbow Rowell is an incredibly talented writer who covers a range of subjects in her novels. Landline uses the lens of a marriage on the brink to tell the story of Georgie and Neal. Flashbacks follow their relationship from the day they met through significant moments including their wedding, the birth of their daughters and other stickier points including an almost breakup and Neal’s proposal (both of which become pivotal to the plot).

While a magic phone (or a mental-breakdown-hallucination depending on your outlook) plays a key role in the story, there isn’t enough foundation to call this novel a fantasy. While Georgie contemplates issues with time travel and the implications therein, nothing is ever really explained. Georgie and Neal’s entire relationship is imbued with a certain sense of inevitability that allows issues of causality, and whether or not time travel is at play, to be glossed over.

This is a novel for an adult audience with characters in their thirties. Die-hard Rowell fans will still find a lot to love here, but teen readers (or readers like myself who are not married with kids even) may find it a stretch to get into the same head space as Georgie. That said, things pick up immensely in the second half of the novel. Even with the slow start, I finished this book in a couple of days.

Landline is often quite sweet and romantic. There are several moments with very grand gestures. The main problem with the final grand gesture is that it suggests Georgie has to choose between her marriage and her work. The entire structure of the story (from Georgie’s breakdown and lack of focus when Neal takes the girls to Omaha to the final big moment) suggests that is impossible to balance both. While that is fine and allowed, I would have liked more balance to show that while it is hard there is room for both work and love.

The other problem is that all of those grand gestures lead to exactly zero closure. We never learn what will happen with Georgie’s show–the one she stayed in LA to work on in the first place. We never see if the unresolved issues with Seth and Neal hating each other will shake out. And even though the novel ends on an up note, very few of the fundamental problems with Neal and Georgie’s relationship are actually fixed. They are both present and they both still care, but we (and perhaps they) still don’t know if that will be enough.

Rowell’s writing is as vibrant and literary as ever in Landline. (Readers familiar with Rowell’s work will recognize common themes popping up and even some familiar characters.) The dialogue and observations here are snappy and move the novel along at a fierce pace from one intricately-plotted vignette to the next. While Rowell’s voice is always inevitably behind Georgie’s narration in Landline, it is a good voice with many things to say.

Fangirl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fangirl by Rainbow RowellCath isn’t exactly ready for college. She isn’t even looking forward to much except the advanced level English class she talked her way into during registration.

College itself is daunting enough. Then Cath’s sister, Wren, announces that she doesn’t want to be roommates on campus. Suddenly the entire prospect has gone from horrible to possibly unbearable.

Cath’s roommate is loud and scary. She’s also kind of mean. And her boyfriend is around All. The. Time.

The dining hall is too horrible to even contemplate.

She’s worried about her dad who is going to be living alone for the first time in years.

And Cath doesn’t know what to expect from her classes.

In the midst of so much unwelcome change, Cath does have one constant: Simon and Baz.

Cath, like most everyone, is a Simon Snow fan. She knows the community. She goes to the release parties. She also writes fan fiction about Simon and his nemesis Baz.

The only problem is that Cath isn’t sure fan fiction alone is going to be enough to get her through a turbulent freshman year in Fangirl (2013) by Rainbow Rowell.

Fangirl is a meandering journey through Cath’s first year of college as she adjusts to dorm life, college classes and even the nuances of dating and friend politics. (Not to mention all of her family drama.)

Epigraphs accompany each chapter with relevant excerpts either from the Simon Snow books or from Cath’s fan fic about the characters. The technique works surprisingly well as readers are drawn into the world of Simon Snow and come to care about him (and Baz) as much as Cath does.

One of the best things about Fangirl is that all of the characters are very well developed. Although the novel focuses on Cath it feels like any of the characters could be the star here–they all have their own stories.

Rowell’s writing is as excellent as fans would expect. She also unpacks complicated topics such as the line between fan fiction and plagiarism. Cath is a strong, neurotic heroine who is far from perfect but also very, very real. Fangirl also summoned all sorts of nostalgia about the college experience and friendships.

Because this book covers a large range of time some matters are addressed more than others; some things are tied up more than others. There are questions at the end of Fangirl but there is also enough room for readers to imagine their own endings.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Fangirl Synchronized Reading: Fangirl Post #2: Fanfiction and Fandoms

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our first Synchronized Reading is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

In addition to our intro posts and (of course) our reviews of the book, we’ve also decided to do at least two posts talking about points of interest during the book. Since Fangirl isn’t officially out yet, we knew we had to avoid spoilers. Luckily, the topic for our second posts was a pretty obvious one: fanfiction and fandoms.

Before starting Fangril I didn’t think much about fanfiction or fandoms. There are times and places for both but it wasn’t a personal point of interest–I will never choose to write non-publishable works based on other characters when I can create my own world and characters. But I love that other people can and do.

Then I started thinking about things and realized while it isn’t “fanfiction” per se, some of my first writing projects probably loosely fit the fanfiction bill. The first was when I was 11 or 12 and I finished A Wizard of Earthsea. Right after I started my own book that, in retrospect, was a thinly veiled remix of A Wizard of Earthsea. Then, a couple of years later, Emily of New Moon rocked my world (more even than Anne of Green Gables) and I started another project–this time in my English class notebooks–that years later–I realized was again a remix of a familiar story.

I never finished either story. There wasn’t much point when the original books did everything I was doing in a more or less similar way. But they are what got me writing. They are, in some ways, why I am still writing. And that’s valuable.

Which brings us to fandoms.

Confession time: I’m not a big Harry Potter fan. I went to a midnight release for book seven but I didn’t want to believe about Dumbledore. Or Snape. And I shipped Harry and Hermione. And Luna and Neville. Needless to say, with those things in mind, book seven was a huge disappointment and–over the years–my nostalgia for the  series diminished. It’s another thing that I see value in but I just don’t personally love.

I didn’t think I was a part of any other fandoms either. I like a lot of things. I have strong opinions on a lot of things. (Do not even get me started on all of Smallville’sfailings.) But I didn’t think fandom was really my thing.

Then I remembered that time I crocheted a Woodland Elf Usuki.

Here’s the inspiration:

usuki_chris_elf

And here’s mine:

IMG_6935IMG_6931

So basically I play Neopets. I have since I was fourteen and I still do now in my spare time. Neopets is a virtual pet site where you can play games, raise virtual pets and do other things like college message board avatars (I have 322 which is pretty awesome–just saying). And crochet creatures inspired by site items. I am partly in charge of a guild on Neopets. I have friends through the site that I have known and texted with for years. And it sounds crazy but it’s fun and it works for me.

And if that doesn’t count as a fandom, I don’t know what does.

One of my pets. Isn’t she adorable?

The funny thing is Neopets also has a “newspaper” where users can submit different articles. Either game guides or other things. And I have written a few articles. Now these are usually things I write about my own pets but in the strictest sense of the word–that’s fanfiction.

Imagine my surprise to realized I’d been a part of a fandom (with a fanfiction community!) for years and I never even realized it.

So now you know my secrets. What about you? Any fandoms you’re a part of?

Fangirl Synchronized Reading: Fangirl Post #1: College and Community

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our first Synchronized Reading is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

In addition to our intro posts and (of course) our reviews of the book, we’ve also decided to do at least two posts talking about points of interest during the book. Since Fangirl isn’t officially out yet, we knew we had to avoid spoilers. So our first topic is a general one: the college experience.

(Check back next Friday for our posts on fanfiction in fandom. The week after that our reviews will post.)

Fangirl starts when Cath gets to college. It also starts when her twin sister announces that she wants a different roommate.

I didn’t dorm in college–I went to a college thirty minutes away in lower Manhattan and I commuted for all four years. I was also an English major (like Cath) in a school primarily known for its business programs. It was a great fit for me because it meant there was a smaller community and lots of face-time with teachers. It also meant there were never any huge lectures for classes (except my one science requirement) and teaching assistants were never very visible.

That’s all my roundabout way of saying a lot of Cath’s trials and triumphs were very foreign to me. (I have the same thing happen when I read books about enormous high schools.) One thing I did totally relate to was Cath’s efforts to find a community during that first year at college.

When I first got to Pace I desperately wanted to be a part of the literary magazine. That, however, didn’t happen until my senior year. But I knew I wanted to do something besides go to class so I signed up for the college newspaper. It was terrifying–even worse than being one of two freshman in a Seventeenth Century Lit class. Even worse than getting trapped between floors and in the wrong wing as I tried to make my way to my first class on my first day of college.

But I stuck with it. For a long time that meant showing up to meetings and not taking an assignment. But then, slowly, I took different articles. The editors got to know me and I started doing more. By senior year I even had a book review column. It was a great experience and one I am so glad I pursued even though it was far outside of my usual comfort zone.

It’s an interesting thing going to classes without really meaning to make friends. I don’t always connect with people. I’m prickly until I get to know a person and I am sometimes much better on paper/electronically than in real life. That said, it was always amazing to me how easy it was to talk to other English majors. College was the first time I was really around people who got it–the writing, the reading, the love of words. (It was also the first time I had friends who didn’t make me feel fat and gigantic compared to the short, waif-like friends I had in high school but that’s another story.) This feeling of connection only grew when I met people in grad school who felt that way not just about books but about youth books–wow!

The amount of nostalgia I had while reading Fangirl was staggering as I was reminded of my crazy thesis advisor, the friends I had on the paper and in classes, the drama of the English Department writing awards. I have strong (bad) feelings about Facebook but this book made me wonder if I should reconsider if, for nothing else, the chance to reconnect with some of those college friends I’ve lost touch with. But really the best thing about rehashing my own college experiences while reading this book was realizing that, while it didn’t always feel that way at the time, I wouldn’t go back and do anything differently.

Synchronized Reading: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Nicole, The Book Bandit, and I have decided to do a Synchronized Reading of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell starting this week. You can read Nicole’s explanation of things on her blog (and should since it has scientific proof–meaning she wrote down–that we are BFFs).

Nicole and I are both insanely excited about Fangirl so we waited a full hour (maybe two?) in line at BEA to see Rainbow (I harass Rainbow Rowell on twitter constantly so I’ve decided that means we are friends and I can call her by her first name–Nicole will back me on this logic) and get signed arcs of Fangirl.

I’ve been kind of overwhelmed by my to read pile I decided to pick out the next few books I would be reading and Fangirl was high on my radar. When Nicole said that she was reading Fangirl after she wrapped up a read-a-thon challenge, I decided to pick up Fangirl as well so that we could do a Synchronized Reading.

What is a Synchronized Reading, you ask? Nicole sums it up best:

“It’s kind of like synchronized swimming minus the water and swim suits … and the theatrics.”

Basically we’ll both be reading the same book at the same time (at our own paces) which surprisingly doesn’t happen very often despite the fact that we often read the same books. We will also be posting some special content on both of our blogs during the Synchronized Reading but we’re still working on the schedule for that.

Nicole is already getting ready with post its:

IMG_0244

(I’m not allowed to use post-its or high lighters in books because I overuse both so I’m preparing with cryptic goodreads status updates instead.)

Then, because we take all endeavors seriously, Nicole and I also decided to do a couple of other things to prepare. In other words: We got themed manicures to match the cover of Fangirl. Since Fangirl only has a couple of colors on the cover, planning was pretty simple.

I was especially excited to see I had the colors I needed in my personal nail polish stash.

IMG_0236

(That might be the only post-2000 photo in existence where my nails do not have nail polish on them.)

My mom doesn’t really understand the point of accent nails. But Nicole and I like them. So Nicole got a blue-green manicure with a red accent nail:

IMG_0243

While I gave myself a red manicure with a blue-ish accent nail:

IMG_0245

Then to take it to the next level I’m also using a handbag that kind of matches the cover (and I’m so good that I didn’t even have to plan that part! It just happened naturally!).

IMG_0237

In summary: Nicole and I will be reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell together. We will be blogging about it. It will be awesome. You, too, can read Fangirl starting on September 10, 2013 when it officially releases.

Eleanor & Park: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow RowellWhen Park sees Eleanor walk onto the bus, he can’t look away. She’s like some kind of elaborately decorated train wreck. Park has a very tenuous, very small bit of social status. He certainly doesn’t have any to waste on the crazy looking new girl.

Eleanor doesn’t want to be on the bus sitting next to the weird Asian kid even if he is the only one who will give her a seat. She doesn’t want to be at a new school. She definitely doesn’t want to be in the same house as Richie even if her mom swears things will be different this time. Eleanor doesn’t believe anything can really be different. Not for her. Not anymore.

At least they don’t have to talk to each other.

Reading the same comic doesn’t count as actually being friends. Neither does wanting to hold hands. Or sharing mix tapes and batteries. Eleanor and Park both remember that first moment on the bus. What they don’t understand is how they got from that first moment to a very different moment where no one else matters in Eleanor & Park (2012) by Rainbow Rowell.

Eleanor & Park is Rowell’s second novel. It is preceded by her adult debut The Attachments.

Set in Omaha in 1986, Eleanor & Park is technically a historical novel. I have wondered about the choice of time period,* and how it will appeal to actual teen readers, but at the end of the day it works. Rowell includes numerous references to the time including bands Eleanor and Park listen to, comics they read and more passing references to pop culture of the era.** I was born in 1986 and I caught about 98% of the references in this book. I’m not sure how younger readers would fair or if it would even be an issue to the overall reading experience.

Eleanor & Park is written in third person but it alternates between both Eleanor and Park’s point of view allowing readers to understand their changing relationship even faster than the characters themselves. Eleanor & Park is one of the most romantic books ever–without, I might add, really being a romance. Instead this book shares a snapshot of Park and Eleanor’s lives.

I’ve heard people call this book sad or even heartbreaking. And there are some terrible moments, especially with Eleanor’s circumstances becoming increasingly terrible. But there is also more than that as the story showcases smaller moments of happiness and hope. Ultimately, in addition to being a favorite read, Eleanor & Park is one of the most optimistic and hopeful books I’ve read this year.***

Rowell’s writing in Eleanor & Park is seamless as she weaves together the stories of an incredibly unlikely pair that is somehow incredibly right. If this book doesn’t get some attention during awards season I (along with most of the reading public) will be incredibly surprised.

*Rowell has a thoughtful post on her blog called “Why is Park Korean?” I never thought Park’s ethnicity was a big question–or something that should be questioned at all really–but that post does offer some insight into the choice of setting.

**My most favorite was an early reference to the Clint Eastwood movie Any Which Way But Loose. And of course Park’s dad looking like my favorite 1980s private investigator was excellent.

***Everyone has a different idea about three certain words at the end of the story. Personally, I am completely confident everything works out as it should.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner