By Elly Murray
Rainbow Rowell is the New York Times Bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl. Carry On is her third young adult book, published in 2015, and it marks the first book of a trilogy that she’s currently working on. Carry On is actually an expansion of a world that Rowell first presented in Fangirl back in 2013. She explains in the author’s note in Carry On that, “In Fangirl, Simon is the hero of a series of children’s adventure novels written by Gemma T. Leslie - and the subject of much fanfiction written by the main character, Cath. When I finished that book, I was able to let go of Cath and her boyfriend, Levi, and their world. I felt like I was finished with their story...But I couldn’t let go of Simon.”
Carry On follows a teenager named Simon Snow, who attends a magical school called Watford in the UK. He’s the Mage’s Heir, which means he has a ridiculous amount of power that he has no idea how to control, and along with his best friend, Penny, and his rival, Baz the vampire, he has to figure out a way to defeat the Insidious Humdrum. If any of this sounds a little bit familiar, it’s for a good reason; the world and characters of Carry On were inspired by the wizarding world of Harry Potter. However, instead of the whole seven books of adventures, Rowell starts Carry On at the beginning of everyone’s last year at Watford.
The first third of the book was a bit dull, because it was all set-up. Rowell had to introduce this entire world that she’d created that is very similar to the world in Harry Potter, but that has its own little niches. And while it was interesting to learn all about this new world, I wish she had taken a more gradual approach. It kind of read how a middle-school writer would start a story, by explaining everything the reader needed to know about the world, versus just letting them experience it themselves. Additionally, as a result of this, we don’t really get a sense of who the characters are, or get a chance to form attachments to them, until a bit later in the book. However, once the book finally got going, it was very interesting. If you’ve read Harry Potter, you’re sitting there the whole time making these little comparisons in your head. And you discover that apart from a few similarities, Rowell really took the time to make this tale much more than just a Harry Potter fanfiction. You can see how Rowell was inspired by J.K. Rowling’s world, but then she took that inspiration and created something completely different with it.
I felt that Simon was a very fleshed-out character. He is a “Chosen One” character, but he’s got his own personality rather than just being a mold to fit the stereotypes of that archetype. One of my favorite things about him is that he’s a fiend intent on devouring every piece of food he comes across. In fact, one of my favorite lines in the book is from Baz about Simon. Simon is questioning him about being a vampire and he asks, “Does it have to be fatal every time? The biting? Couldn’t you just drink some of a person’s blood, then walk away?’ and Bas responds, “I can’t believe you’re asking me this, Snow. You, who can’t walk away from half a sandwich” (p. 349). In addition to just being really cute and relatable, Simon’s food obsession also provides a deeper level of character development for him; as an orphan who has gone through the U.K.’s foster care system, he’s always overwhelmed by how much food there is available at Watford that he is allowed to eat. In fact, when he makes a list of things that he misses at Watford on page 12, the very first thing is ‘Sour Cherry Scones.’
I also really loved how a lot of the characters’ descriptions come from what other characters think or say about them. Examples of this would be “Baz is...indelible. He’s a human grease stain. (Mostly human)” (p. 88) or “Baz was sure I’d singed off his eyebrows, but he looked fine to me-not a hair out of place. Typical” (p. 7) both of which are from Simon. Another one, from Penny about Simon, is very prominent: “Too thin. He looks too thin. And something worse...scraped” (p. 32) I really enjoy this method of characterization, as opposed to the more direct route of just describing a character because it feels much more natural and it’s sort of like a two-birds-one-stone scenario. At the same time as getting a description of Character A from Character B, we also get a sense of how Character B thinks, based on what they think about others. For example, in the quote above from Penny, we see that Simon is too skinny. But we also see that Penny is very caring and worried about her friend.
There’s also a very simple map in the front. I usually greatly appreciate a map, especially one that isn’t overly complicated. However, this map might have been too simple; half of the buildings at Watford weren’t labeled, so the reader has no idea what they are. I also would have perhaps liked to see visualizations for places outside of Watford where significant events took place, like Baz’s house.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes tales of magic and romance. It’s witty, descriptive, and really just everything I could ask for in a YA fantasy novel. With a well-built world and fleshed-out characters, Carry On is perfect for anyone who loved Harry Potter, but felt themselves wanting more.
Want your own copy of Carry On? Get it from us here:
And while you’re at it, pick up a copy of the second book, Wayward Son: It explores something that isn’t often considered: what happens to the hero when their story is over and they’ve saved the day?
I hope you’re all staying safe at home! These are some crummy times, but you can always turn to a good book for comfort. So read on!
I'm a huge fan of Katie O'Neill and loved her previous books: The Tea Dragon Society and Princess Princess Ever After, so I was excited to have the opportunity to read her upcoming book.
Aquicorn Cove is the story of a small fishing village and the people who live there, who love their way of life. A young girl, Lana, comes back to visit with her Auntie Mae after a terrible storm does a lot of damage in the village. While helping her family and friends clean up, she finds a seahorse looking animal (an aquicorn!) that needs help and rescues it to let it recover before returning it to the ocean. We learn that Lana's situation is complicated and that there's a lot of emotion to process while she's visiting her Auntie. When Lana asks her Auntie about the creature she rescued, Mae tells her the story of meeting a beautiful Aquicorn queen, Aure. She tells her how she helped their family and the message she gave her about the destruction of the ocean and coral reefs. This caused a huge rift between Aure and Mae. When another big storm threatens the island and Auntie Mae, Lana seeks help from the Aquicorns to keep both the village and her Aunt safe. When Lana is taken on her own undersea adventure, she discovers how much damage humans are doing to the ocean and to the coral reef. What can Lana do to help the Aquicorns and her Auntie's village? You'll have to read the story to find out!
This book is a heart-warming and thoughtful story about the power of family and how, if we all care just a little bit, we can each make a big difference in the world. I couldn't imagine a better follow up to Katie O'Neill's previous books. I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys sweet, adorable stories with gorgeous artwork and a moral to think about at the end.
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟-- Mary gives this book 5 out of 5 stars!
Aquicorn Cove comes out on October 16th but you can pre-order it here at Foggy Pine Books or pick it up here on release day!
Review by Yelisa Leiva, bookseller at Foggy Pine Books
“But long ago when the people were given these ceremonies, the changing began . . .but only this growth keeps the ceremonies strong. She taught me this above all else: things which don't grow are dead things . . .”
Centering on Tayo, a Native American soldier returning home from the shattering horror of World War II, Ceremony unveils the persistent reality of dual identity in modern America, implementing mental health as another prevalent but disregarded truth, a conduit for layered conversation. The novel begins with Tayo returning to the Laguna Pueblo reservation, where his family and friends live. Revealing severe symptoms of PTSD, Tayo must return to his roots to recover from not only the war he had fought in, but the war within himself for being half-Native American and half-Mexican, a corporeal reminder of racial betrayal and perceived retrogression in his community.
While colonialism is a pressing matter in the novel, the Native American characters view white assimilation as something that they should esteem to be, exhibiting the despondent, embedded indoctrination. Auntie, Tayo’s Christian grandmother, resents Tayo for his ethnic identity although she willingly raises him, but praises her own son Rocky for preferring science that was introduced by white teachers over Laguna narratives. Rocky is later killed in the war, adding to Tayo’s guilt and internal turmoil. Silko takes the issue of colonialism and parallels this confusion to Tayo’s broken mind. She beautifully interweaves the personal and socio-political issues through Tayo’s journey of cultural ceremonies and visuals within the pages themselves, such as purposeful large, blank spaces between Tayo’s memories and interjecting poetry and tales that are pertinent to the Laguna culture.
The ceremony becomes integral to Tayo’s recovery. Betonie, an old medicine man, organizes the ceremony for Tayo, telling him of the necessary change he must find within himself and America. The ceremony involves him digging through his past and recognizing fear as the reason for the conflict within himself and his community. As the novel delves further into Tayo’s spiritual journey, his reality emulates those of his ancestors stories, including characters like the Night Swan, a Mexican woman with hazel eyes and mystical powers, The Hunter, who transforms into a mountain lion and rescues Tayo twice, and the instance where Tayo curses the rain which inevitably results in a detrimental drought.
Although towards the end you wonder whether the entire novel was Tayo’s hallucination due to his PTSD, Silko does not create this question to harm the portrayal of those with mental illness, but does it to emphasize its severity; while Tayo’s fragmented reality is heavily illustrated, their is no harshness to this illustration, but rather presents gentle brushstrokes that request empathy and enlightenment on the issue.
If you like this novel, I recommend reading Whereas by Layli Long Soldier, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Passing by Nella Larsen.
I started this book because the title made me giggle every time I looked at it. The summary sounded interesting and I always enjoy something that's different from what I typically read. This was definitely a departure for me but one that I'm thoroughly pleased I decided to make.
I expected something funny and light-hearted which is, mostly, what I received. However, I was surprised that, from the beginning, there was a vein of insidiousness winding it's way through the story. Though the title and the subject matter lead you toward something fun and exciting, there was more to this book than I was anticipating.
We begin our story by meeting Nikki, a young British & Punjabi woman living in London. Her relationship with her family is strained after she drops out of law school and moves out of her mother's apartment, something young women in her community are not expected to do until marriage. Despite that, she and her sister still talk often. Nikki feels aimless after leaving college and has been working at a pub. When posting a marriage flyer at a temple for her sister (who is seeking an arranged marriage), she sees an advertisement for a job at the local community center, teaching Punjabi women how to write stories. Nikki applies and interviews for the job so is very pleased to be hired, despite her lack of experience. However, when the time comes to teach the class, she realizes that the Punjabi widows who have come to learn how to write stories also need to learn how to write. Feeling frustrated, she thinks about quitting but wants the experience to include on her CV.
During one class, she comes into the room to find that one of the younger women is reading aloud from the erotica book Nikki had purchased for her sister as a joke. Embarrassed, she explains why she has the book and tries to bring the class back on track. The widows, however, have another idea. Their husbands have died and they are lonely. They miss intimacy and sex. To Nikki's horror, the women start sharing erotic stories with one another. Some are stories about their own lives, some are from their imaginations, and some are ideas gleaned from the late night soft-core movies they've discovered on cable. Despite her original discomfort at hearing these otherwise conservative women discuss their passions, Nikki begins to realize that sharing these stories is good for the women. It makes them feel strong and makes them willing to seek the passion they so desire in their own lives. The stories start to spread around the community and more women begin to seek out Nikki's class.
Not everyone is happy that the widows are opening up and learning more about themselves though. A group of ultra-conservative young men in the community with no jobs and nothing better to do have started harassing women and men who are not behaving as traditionally as The Brothers believe a respectable person should. Women who are out too late, enjoying time with friends in mixed gender groups, or who aren't covering their head have been assaulted and attacked. In addition to the fear mongering by The Brothers, the widow of a community religious figure is blackmailing people in exchange for "prayers" concerning the immoral or unfavorable behaviors being held against them.
As the story progresses, we begin to see exactly what kind of threat the women's classes are to the traditionally conservative community in which they live. The women are beginning to stand up for themselves, to fight back against the injustices wrought by The Brothers. The men in the community are confused and worried. They have typically never had to worry about things like this from the elder women in the community; only the younger, more British, girls give them problems regarding authority, sexuality, and education. When Nikki begins to unravel community secrets about the death of her boss' daughter, she draws the attention of The Brothers. The concern about the women's classes burns into hate and fear.
Interwoven between the erotic stories the widows tell and the mystery of what happened to her boss' daughter is Nikki's love story. She meets a man, at the temple of all unlikely places, and is swiftly falling for him. They are incredibly happy together and Nikki is coming to terms with loving someone of whom her family would actually approve. However, Jason starts to act sketchy, taking quiet, argumentative phone calls before leaving briskly. This happens several times before he leaves and doesn't return for weeks. When he does, Nikki must decide if she wants to listen to what he has to say or if his bailing is something she can't forgive.
The story ends in a way that was entirely unexpected though the author did sprinkle clues about it throughout the story. I was just too absorbed to try to put together a mystery ending. We reach a satisfying conclusion for every thread of the story and I finished the book feeling entirely pleased.
While being funny and enticing and entirely engaging, this book was also a social critique about the way women are treated in the Punjabi community and how immigrants are treated in the United Kingdom. The book mostly takes place in the largely Indian community of Southall, London and most of it's characters are Punjabi Indians and immigrants (or from a family of immigrants). I learned a lot about their culture through this book. Tradition and community are extremely important to the characters we meet. Arranged marriages are still fairly common, though much different than our stereotypical idea of what that means. Women are expected to serve in their in-laws homes after marriage, some are pressured to give up their jobs entirely. Men and women still wear traditional dress and speak Punjabi in their homes. Because of these things, they have been made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in London as a whole. Their community is tight knit and the gossip can be insidious. Your standing in the community is a very important aspect of an individual's social status. By the end of the book, the author makes it clear that while they support the idea of community and cultural tradition, they do not support the oppressive forces that are often inextricably tied to religion. Especially those traditional aspects of religion that force women to serve men and put their own needs, desires, and passions at the back of the line in support of their husband, father, brother, or son.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who loved A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, or Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
Let me be clear: I love short story collections. When done well, short stories can hold great literary (and personal) value to me. Most collections have a few stories that aren't on par with the rest and one or two stellar stories. Difficult Women is not like this. Each story feels real, often magical, but always tangible. Some are allegories, some are simply insightful, while others are brimming with emotion--and they are all excellent.
It is ovbious that Gay is using the female experience as her focuse of this collection--something that she has successfully drawn upon in the past with her essay collection, Bad Feminist. Her stories explore self-realization, sexuality, hope, relationships in romantic and familial states, birth, and death. They're full of both mundane moments and magical ones. Her characters are unflinchingly real. They are flawed, have desires, shames, secrets, and one's father-in-law destroyed the sun and plunged the earth into a darkness that matched his heart. One woman is even perpetually followed by a rain cloud.
In short, they're difficult women. Their emotions and actions don't operate within societal standards. In Hollywood, we see these women as witches, whores, and failed mothers. We see them as drug addicts, mistresses, and screeching soccer moms. Gay turns that trope on its head and explores women, in all their unique beauty and dysfunctionality, as individual persons worthy of exposition. And she executes this skillfully. Her words flow off the page while each story leaves you craving for the next one.
My favorites were: "I Am A Knife", "The Sacrifice of Darkness", "Baby Arm", and "Open Marriage".
Read if you loved: Bad Feminist & An Untamed State (both by Gay), A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel, and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!
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This is one of the most captivating books I've read in a while. I started it within a few days of receiving it and had finished it within a few more. If you understand how many books I read at once (seven, right now) you might then understand that this was a remarkable change from my typical pace. It can take me months to read a book, especially if it's dense or requires research but, the right novel will make me plow heedlessly forward, forgetting all other novels, responsibilities, and people around me. This book was the right novel. I read before work, while eating lunch, and all evening after work. Finally, when it ended, I was so furious I didn't know what to do with myself. Once I calmed down, I realized that I loved the book. Sometimes it's hard to love something when it makes you angry.
If Southern Gothic is a fully recognizable genre, after this book, I would argue that Midwestern Gothic ought to be one as well (like this reviewer). Rich's characters are fully realized, even the ones in the background, which make it incredibly easy to get sucked into the novel. You feel like these are people that you know, or maybe have met somewhere before. You want to find out more about them and how they interact with the world. In particular, for this novel, you want them to interact with the world even more so you can get your bearings, figure out what about this specific iteration of Midwestern America isn't quite right.
Stanza is our main character, returning home to Kansas after five years away and the death of her fiance. Many things have changed and America now resembles something out of a modern Shirley Jackson story--dark, angry, and scared. Her community is covertly but deeply oppressive in almost every imaginable way. The open discussion of religion is not welcome nor, for that matter, is anything that falls outside of the conservative framework. Think Gilead from The Handmaid's Tale. It's a bleak society.
Stanza doesn't quite fit into this network of people and lives simply in a fishing cabin on her father's property. She is kept company by her dog and the ghosts of her loved ones. Once she begins to heal and starts teaching at the local college, she begins to draw attention to herself by simply being an independent woman with strong ideas. Most especially, she draws the attention of a former classmate, now her boss, who has carried a torch for her all these years. When their encounters escalate to the breaking point, the resulting storm breaks over her.
Sara Rich takes you on an emotional journey through one family's history and brings it to a stark, angry boiling point in a world that could be our own, that mimic our own in terrifying ways. Her writing is beautiful and her thoughts are precisely wrought. I devoured it and it moved me deeply.
I recommend this book for lovers of Margaret Atwood, Flannery O'Conner, Shirley Jackson, or Charles Frazier. Grab your copy at Foggy Pine for $8.99 (seriously, the best deal on a book this month).
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!
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Lisa Muir’s debut collection of short stories, Taking Down the Moon, is something you definitely don’t want to miss. With characters that feel so real they could step off the page to locations she vividly paints for your imagination to latch onto, these stories will grab you from the start. The women and men in her stories are weak and strong, pathetic and admirable, intelligent and willfully ignorant. They make you cringe with embarrassment, gape in horror, and shiver with anticipation. Truly, you’ll run the gamut of emotions reading this collection. It feels as if Muir orchestrated an emotional symphony, for you to dip into over and over again. It’s hard to say which story was my favorite but I will highlight a few that really spoke to me.
“The Louche Watermelon Queen”--I will preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of extremely short fictions, or flash fiction. This story is one page long and exquisite. As the first story in the series, it sets the tone for the rest of the stories perfectly. Even if you don’t read short story collections in order, you should still start with this one. A one-time beauty queen has grown older and gained weight. We all yearn for younger or better versions of ourselves but just how much would you wish for to acquire your desires? The Watermelon Queen speaks to the desperation you can feel when you don’t think you measure up and the darkness of mind that can follow.
“Albatross”--Hillary and Ben are young, intelligent, and in love. They have opportunities to travel, to explore, to reach for more and more. At least, that’s how Ben looks at it, as he begins seeking out yet another position with yet another university. They’d already moved across the world, from Virginia to New Zealand to appease his flightiness. And then from one island to another. It was only for a short time but the house the university provided was too cold, too damp, too small, too dark. Yet, Ben could never be happy, so he moves on again. Hillary must decide whether her movement depends on his and if her relationship with Ben is a happy one. And Ben must decide if his losses are worth the gains. Impeccably written, these characters feel so close to the reader, like you’re hearing the story through the phone, over miles of wires and satellite connections, as Hillary reveals the secrets of her New Zealand adventure.
“Essa”--This story felt like the beginning of a much longer one but was entirely stand alone. I think this one stuck out the most to me from the entire collection. Essa is a foundling, and a mixed race girl, in a small town of Ethan mostly made up of white people. She’s taken in by a local woman,30 years old, unmarried, and childless--Nadine. Nadine loves and cares for Essa but watches with despair as she grows up and begins to become a person completely unto herself. Who will Nadine be when she’s no longer taking care of Essa? Essa is barreling toward the future, youth and excitement fueling her desire to leave the small town she grew up in. Who will Essa become and who will she leave behind on her way there? The two women, mother and daughter, must move forward and find a way to maintain the bond that shaped their past.
There are many more great stories in this collection and we can’t wait to share it with you. Grab your copy at the store today for only $9.99! And don’t forget to attend Ms. Muir’s reading & talk at the Watauga County Public Library on Wednesday, August 3rd at 5:30pm. It will be a great opportunity to get some insight into the stories and to share your favorite passages with other literature aficionados. Recommended for people who enjoy Alice Munro and Flannery O'Connor.
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Rated 5 out of 5 stars
This novel was highly anticipated by the book community. So, when I finally got my copy, I couldn't wait to see what all the fuss was about. The hype wasn't wrong, that's for sure.
In her haunting debut, Emma Cline takes readers on a tragic journey across the landscape of one young girl's mind. Evie Boyd is 14 and it's the summer of 1969. She lives in California and the summer break from boarding school stretches out before her in the way that time can only react to a teenager. She is well off, has always had everything she could possibly need or want, but she's filled with a deep, unsettling malaise. The summer doesn't get off to a great start. Her parents have just divorced and, with her dad off playing house with the young woman who dissolved his marriage, Evie's mother is throwing herself into a recovery, of sorts. She brings a cast of characters home or stays out nights at a time, leaving Evie feeling isolated and forgotten. After a falling out with her childhood best friend, Evie meets an older girl, Suzanne. Suzanne is free, she says, not chained to the "straight" life. Evie is spellbound, both looking up to and loving Suzanne with a strength that surprises and confuses her, allowing her to forgive many faults. Evie falls in with Suzanne and her friends, eventually meeting Russell--the charismatic leader of their band of individualists--and her summer starts to unravel. What does it mean to be a part of a group? And how much will she risk to belong? What will she do for love? This book explores what it means to be a teenage girl: what desire means from that perspective, what love means, and what we are willing to endure (and to ignore) to be close to the ones that light us up. Cline addresses many hard topics with a brutality and openness that mimics a teenage summer--gone rotten, tinged with guilt and excitement.
I highly recommend this book to lovers of The Secret History by Donna Tartt or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
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Rated 5 out of 5 stars
Mary Ruthless: Owner & Ruthless Reader