Monday, October 20, 2014

Book review & giveaway: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Meet and become best friends with the book that was written for every single person who’s ever obsessively geeked out over some form of pop culture.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Pan Macmillan 2014)
Welcome to the Fandom.

It’s a place where the world you created may not belong to you, but in which you get to change the rules in a way that leaves you with the freedom to be in control.

For most people, the fandom is a treasure palace that encourages the inner geek in everyone to embrace living life vicariously through the eyes and stories of protagonists that are, in many cases more real to us than the people we’re surrounded by on a daily basis.

Being a fangirl/fanboy of anything pop culture related often leaves us feeling as if we have one foot in this expanded fantasy, while the other foot forces us to maintain a sentient presence in our corporeal world.

As someone who considers herself to be the ultimate shipper of note, I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that it’s so much better to squee over your favourite non-canon (or canon) pairing from your favourite fiction novel/tv series/etc, than it is to deal with daily life skill tasks that require effort, confidence and willingness to endure whatever life throws your way.

Which is exactly why you’ll find yourself rooting for and absolutely adoring the quirky, clever and socially awkward Cath in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

Do yourself a favour – if you’re as chronically awkward and socially challenged as I am, then please give this book a read.

Not only is Fangirl relatable on so many different levels, but it’s quite possibly the quirkiest and most adorable book I’ve read this year.

The book kicks off when we’re first introduced to Cath. It’s her first day at Uni and Wren, her identical twin, wants no part of the two-peas-in-the-pod closeness that used to define their bond. 

With Wren branching out on her own – partying it up, meeting boys and making new friends, Cath finds trying to adjust to University incredibly hard.

With her penchant for being a fangirl (and fanfiction writer) of a popular book series  -which is totally an ode to Harry Potter - Cath much prefers to  spend all of her time online.

In spite of her intentions to remain friendless (and to hide from the rest of the world and avoid going down for dinners in the main hall), two of the most unexpected people (the kind of people Cath would normally avoid at all costs) dive headlong into her life, upsetting her carefully planned and ordered existence.

What follows is a journey full of bumps, laughs, awkwardness and complete and utter geekdom as we watch how Cath unfurls and transforms from person-allergic-to-anyone-else-except-for-her-sister-and-father, to learning how to embrace and accept the new challenges and experiences that are thrown her way.

This book is just so utterly, utterly delightful.

I’ve come across many a book character where I’ve felt I could relate to aspects of their personality, but if there’s one book that I feel encapsulates the sheer hell of going to University for the first time – and all the timid, frightening and feel-so-small-and-new-I-could-crawl-into-a-hole-and-disappear feelings that go with it – then it’s this one.

Even thinking about it now makes me cringe a little (although I should add that I’m still the awkward penguin today that I was back then).

Rowell just has this way of creating a dialogue that’s filled with such sharp, witty  and hilarious moments that you’ll either spend most of your time squealing with glee, or having the laughter  being surprised out of you.

Her characters are infinitely loveable (despite the fact that you’ll want to shake some sense into them every now and then), the incorporation of fanfiction (or in this case, Fanfixx) is made of awesome and the sister-sister bond between Cath and Wren will fill you with all the fuzzy feels.

Their relationship is one that certainly goes through a tough transition as it’s clear that they’re both dealing with issues and coping in different ways.

With college courses taking their toll and Cath’s unwillingness to immediately step outside of her shell, it’s only a matter of time before things come to a head. And when it does (because life has a way of jack-knifing you in the stomach sometimes), both Cath and Wren need to decide whether their bond is strong enough to pull them back together again.

And this is yet another reason I love this book. Rowell’s depiction of the relationship between the twins is one of the best aspects of the novel. 

Many of us who have siblings will understand what it’s like to fight, rage with said siblings and in the very next heartbeat, love the living daylights out of them. 

Rainbow understands that and she uses it to create a relationship that’s both realistic and full of well-developed depth.  

Some of the most tender moments of the book occur when Wren and Cath are together.

And speaking of Cath, she really doesn’t give herself enough credit for being the amazing girl that she is; she’s funny (without trying to be), snarky and adorably sheepish (when she’s not being awkward). 

It’s only when Reagan (the fabulously aggressive new roommate who takes it upon herself to befriend Cath)  and Levi - the lanky, adorable and utterly crush-worthy boy who keeps invading her space – show up in her life, that Cath finally begins to see that there’s more to life than fanfiction.

And that maybe embracing new things does not mean having to give up her entire identity. And isn’t that something we all can relate to?

Do yourself a favour  and pick this book up. It’s the cutest book you’ll read this year.

Thanks to the lovely, lovely folk from Pan Macmillan South Africa, I’m giving one lucky reader a chance to win a signed copy of Fangirl, as well as a Fangirl necklace. 

All you have to do is leave a comment telling me about the latest book you’ve been fangirling about.

Giveaway will run up until the 31 October and is open to South African residents only
(Sorry lovely internationals, I’ve got another comp planned in the near future, so look out for that).

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mini review: Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen

Welcome to another mini book reviews edition of my blog. For this section of my blog, I usually feature reviews of books that don’t really require them – books bought, books I’ve borrowed from friends and books I’ve taken out at the library.

Because they’re not must-review books, my format of these mini reviews differ in that I don’t work the summary into my review in my own words; instead, I feature the Goodreads summary, followed by a few thoughts on my reading experience.

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my brief thoughts on Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen.

Lock & Key Summary from Goodreads (Puffin Books)

"Ruby, where is your mother?"

Ruby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she's been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return.

That's how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn't seen in ten years, and Cora's husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around.

A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future—it's a dream come true.

So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive?

And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give?

My thoughts:

Oh, what a beautiful, beautiful read.

Sarah Dessen's ability to write stories with so much raw and emotive realism is something to behold and it’s one that only serves to remind me exactly why she's one of my favourite authors.

Funnily enough, my experience with this novel is pretty much a metaphor for this very book.

I initially picked this up a few months back, only to toss it aside after a few pages in because it - believe it or not - bored me.

Fast forward a few months later and I'm at the library, where once again, I waffled over this book.

Should I pick it up or not? Take it or leave it?

At the last moment I decided to eventually take the book out after all, deciding that maybe I was just in a bad mood the last time and that I should give this one a second chance.

And that is how I ended up reading and falling in love with this book second time round.

Lock and Key is essentially a novel about learning to come to terms with change.  Now I know that it sounds rather trite when put in such simple terms, but bear with me while I try to articulate my thoughts.

It’s a book about abandonment and it’s a book about deciding whether or not to adapt and stay or run for the hills.

It’s a novel that’s about taking chances on people when you’ve never had anyone betting on and believing in you and it’s one about accepting that some truths are never what you expect them to be.

Mostly though, Lock and Key is the story of how one girl learns that sometimes everyone - regardless of which side of the track they come from - needs a little help.

Ruby Cooper has every reason to expect the worst.

Her trust does not come easily,  and as a result, she's learnt how to take care of  and rely on herself.

When her mother abandons her, she unexpectedly finds herself being rescued by the sister she hasn't seen for years , as well as moving from the wrong side of town to a place of wealth she’s never known before.

And it’s here within where her journey lies.

I’ve always loved characters that display snarling, wounded-animal-like defensive traits – simply because underneath the vicious exterior, you’ll often find a chest of hidden and untold things - and Ruby is the very embodiment of this.

Being someone that’s had to be more of a maternal figure to her own mother than her mom  has ever been to her,  her attitude takes on a new level of defensiveness when she first moves in with her sister.

Wary of having something good happening to her, and not trusting her new found stability, Ruby is determined to be a transient presence in her new home until she can find an opportune time to escape.

Except that things don’t quite unfold in a way that she predicts, because soon -  and despite her best intentions to avoid it - she manages to make friends.

Not only that but she starts to see that maybe she may just have a shot at salvaging her future.

Of course, things also get complicated when the boy next door takes an interest.

However, just as she settles in, her world is once again turned upside down when she learns a few hard truths about her mother.

With her world crumbling around her, Ruby has to decide whether she should run away or trust people just one more time.

Lock & Key takes an in-depth look into how Ruby develops; from the just-becoming-hopeful moments, to dealing with the uglier issues hiding underneath her devil-may-care fa├žade.  

There are themes of recurring abuse that is dealt with in such an open and honest manner, that you can’t help but feel for all the characters involved (perhaps with the exception of Ruby’s love interest, Nate’s father), regardless of their actions.

Sarah’s writing is sharp, edgy and stripped of all artifice; something which I thought definitely suited the tone of the book and made it so much more powerful for it.

As for the supporting characters, well, I wish I could delve a little deeper and give you some more insight into them, but that would be spoiling the experience you can look forward to when you encounter them for the first time.

What I can say though, is that each of them are beautifully drawn out and written in a manner that speaks of an unflinching amount of raw honesty.

All in all, Lock & Key is a beautiful and haunting read that speaks about the bonds of family and how it shapes and changes you, and it's one that shows that sometimes the best way to help yourself is to learn to accept help, while at the same time also learning to assist others.

Thank God I decided to give this book a second chance, because Lock and Key is one of Sarah Dessen’s finest novels – and officially a new favourite of mine.