Eleanor & Park

Eleanor and Park was harder to read than I thought it would be. I picked it up blithely thinking it was another YA romance :young love! misfits!TEEN LIFE. But it wasn’t as easy on the emotions as that. I thought that one of them would feel self conscious a la Bella of something bland and forgettable and perhaps they would both maybe make statements about the painful awkwardness of adolescence and the perils of not fitting in with the better looking, well off crowd. But. Eleanor is living with her mum, a house full of siblings, and her mother’s new husband, who is a drunken creep. The whole book I was sitting at the edge   waiting for Richie to abuse Eleanor. I had to keep skipping ahead to reassure myself that it wasn’t going to happen. Girl does meet boy when Eleanor meets Park who in her words is a “stupid, perfect Asian boy”. He has a secure, breathtakingly normal life. Happy mom, happy dad, annoying younger sibling. Rowell reveals how the things such a life takes for granted or can be nonchalant about can be the stuff of paradise in the same neighborhood. Eleanor doesn’t tell Park stuff like she doesn’t have shampoo and just uses what she can get, like dishwashing liquid, or has no clothes of her own.Which is why she wears cast off men’s clothing. With astonishing clarity Rowell articulates Eleanor’s fear that when Park knows the factual details of Eleanor’s life he won’t see her as an enigmatic, self appointed individualist- he would see her life to be as bleak as it is. Eleanor slowly trusts Park with the details of her life , and Park finds out for himself his capacity to love another person through the bleakest events of her existance, and to look past mundane concerns like weight. Eleanor, in her turn, discovers how love confers a sense of intact, inviolable  identity and personhood on both people in the relationship, and slowly finds it impossible to feel self conscious about her body around Park. 

It’s a pretty great love story, Eleanor’s vulnerability, the vulnerability of children and teens in the hands of adults isn’t something you can forget easily. I’m sounding sentimental I guess, but the book leaves you kind of thankful for all the things that go right for yourself, and the things you take for granted.

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Fangirl and Carry On 

Fangirl is a pretty good book by itself, I started reading it for the references to Baz and Simon though. This book is the genesis of Carry On  because Simon , Baz , Penelope were drawn here as characters in the imaginary “Simon Snow series”.Because Carry On has such a fixed place in my mind now  I think of Fangirl as two books, one where Cath Avery and Levi what’s his name are realistic characters leading realistic lives and another book of disconnected paragraphs about Baz/Simon. 

 Okay , so Cath is starting college and everything is changing. For Cath this means everything sucks. Her twin wants more space, her long time, though boring, boyfriend breaks up with her and she has to cope with living in a new place. She deals by continuing to immerse herself in her fan fic universe. She’s the most popular Simon Snow fan fic writer. In the middle of all this is a confusing situation with her roommate, her roommate’s possible boyfriend Levi, and Cath.

Obviously I LOVE all the Simon/Baz insertions. Cath thinks these characters are actually in love and writes about them like that. Cath’s own story is really nice. 

But Fangirl and Carry On  made me think about love stories. Compelling love stories need a really good obstacle. Something which makes you despair alongside of the characters, and which has enough gravity to explain everyone’s wrought up feelings. In fictional heterosexual relationships we usually depend on class or power battles. And that may make you weep especially in Romeo & Juliet  but no longer today for I suppose at least some parts of the world. People can escape quite easily. 😀 They “move on” (classic phrase!), start a …start up or something , and find someone who doesn’t judge their lack of inherited wealth 😄. I think epic love stories kind of belong to works of fantasy. TFIOS was amazing but then the kid had to die , they were both  fatally ill. Possibly because painfully true love can’t exist in realistic fiction(ha, ha notice I didn’t say in real life :D) .

In Carry On  Baz has to be the perfect heir, which means hiding his  vampirism and his feelings for Simon, while Simon dates the most perfect blond girl who would make a wonderful heterosexual companion for the chosen one. So it’s moments where Baz is hopelessly outside looking in, where the love story just becomes most potent.Rowell is also brilliant with economic, on target well placed dialogue and phrases (“All I do is lose.”) which just highlights an overwhelming intensity that you feel respectful of, and makes you weep buckets over the character. I’m re-writing my review of Carry On  here seemingly. 😀 .  But mostly I just wanted to compare realistic & fantasy romances. 

Favourite lines:

Simon: “And I know you think we’re completely doomed Romeo and Juliet style.”

“Completely.”, I say to my knees.

Doesn’t that slight description of posture, immediately make you imagine the sense of despair and of being trapped implicit in that line?

If Baz was on a t-shirt I would totally wear him, I need Simon/Baz keychains or something.No, a pillow !!He needs a hug 😄. 

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Excellent fantasy romance read. I picked up the book because of its straight up, easy going well defined voice- this was a writer who had struck gold- and because the blurb promised a vampire. As I read it I realised this was a vampire human romance between two school age wizards. 🙂 It’s amusing just writing that sentence. And yeah, it made my eyes cross too.

Anyhow, it’s super fun to read. The author says it’s a take on Harry Potter (and a Harry/ Draco romance just makes me chortle, I wish it was possible to make those characters read this take on their relationship). The story is set in  a magic school in Britain and the world of the mages is in trouble. Simon Snow the protagonist is the Chosen One (the book actually uses the phrase) who is supposed to save the magical community. His nemesis is his roommate-  Baz Pitch a vampire who comes from old money (all vampires do, classist bastards.). Anyway, only Simon believes Baz is a vampire, and in the war that’s building up in the magical community everyone knows that Baz and Simon will eventually have to fight each other to death.

I like the multiple POVs used in the book, and the way it helped hold back information and increase suspense or the way it just helps you get inside a character’s skin. Particularly when it comes to Baz Pitch, because he’s so easy for a fangirl/boy to fall permanently in love with. Did you know that many people found Draco Malfoy’s character attractive?? I don’t know how, Draco is just a bad guy, and a narcissist. Baz Pitch (or rather, Rainbow Rowell) takes that type of character- the glamorous, dark figure- and humanizes him, makes him vulnerable, through his strong feelings for Simon Snow. Also, his vampirism is another secret he has to carry around because if anyone other than his family knows, he will be cast out. Also, his mother died in battle trying to protect him from vampires when he was a toddler. Also, a la Edward Cullen, he doesn’t eat people. Even the ones he really wants to eat, like Simon.  Sniff. Don’t ya’ll just love him now too?? We love vampires who adore the protagonist and never eat the protagonist, for some reason. Anyhow, Baz Pitch is as perfect as a character can get, and the Simon/Baz relationship totally makes the book for me. It was fun reading a gay vampire/human love story because you don’t have to judge the characters over a lack of gender equity in their relationship. You can just go like *sigh*, the romance, *swoon*. :). Obviously I don’t read books with very high aims in mind.

To Kill a Mockingbird

While reading To Kill a Mockingbird  I can always hear Mary Badham’s sweet, singsong “Atti-cus!” running through every line-   Gregory Peck shows up in character on every page. I came to the book from watching the odd scene or two from the movie and the gulping, hydrophobic dog scene or the last scenes with Boo Radley, Scout uncomfortably attired as a ham- were as familiar to me as if I’d read those pages already.

What was a revelation to me was Harper Lee’s writing. A movie can’t quote pages from a book which is a pity but the actors made up for any sense of a lack and pre-empted those of us with a desire to gripe. Lee’s observations and pronouncements,  stated in weighty vocabulary and in a charmingly deliberate rhythm – sitting in the mouth of a seven year old – become wildly hilarious and come extremely alive when wrapped around play yard and school yard incidents. Blissfully unhampered by a need to maintain a social equilibrium, Scout pieces together an unsentimental jig saw of her world, organising it along a personal axis of fair and unfair. You notice that she jealously maintains her right to do so. One more way that Atticus becomes a hero is because he helps her maintain her right.

The Islands of Chaldea

I think this is a great book for fans of Diana Wynne Jones. New comers should start off with The Chrestomanci series, the always beloved Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Hemlock, Dogsbody,The Merlin Conspiracy,The Homeward Bounders or Archer’s Goon.

The marvel of this book is that you never notice two people writing it, because it’s so beautifully well written. The protagonist’s downright voice and nuanced, spunky character is what I have to come to expect as Diana’s own special strength in characterization.

But the story has too much resemblance to the funny, hitching along journey the characters undertake. They visit three islands because apparently that was the only way the author could collect a representative from each island to complete the Quest, but this is done really in order to necessitate a few pages of description and occasion some minor events, lacking in real consequences, none of which build up to the denouement of the book. There doesn’t seem to be much point to their travel, which is what bugs me.

The story is not very cohesive but other elements like the writing, atmosphere, characterization, psychological truths, and the blend of fantasy and ordinary life (no one is a larger than life hero here)- all markers of DWJ’s writing – exist rock steady and give you a reason to read.

Collected Ghost Stories-M.R. James & Turn of the Screw-Henry James

I have been reading and re-reading victorian ghost stories. Circa a hundred years ago, at Christmas, you were always supposed to tell ghost stories and I believe in dusting off traditions. M.R. James is great for this, you can find him on Project Gutenberg if you want to experience some fin de siecle chills. Also that creepy little novella The Turn of the Screw *scream*. That book leaves me a gibbering, nerve-racked, suspenseful mess every time I read it! Did the governess do it? The first one? Yes! She did the master’s valet *more victorian screams*. For their sins she and the valet (creepy Peter Quint [drunk late one icy night, *slip* *thud* *dead*]) die and then haunt the little children- wards of their always absent uncle.Only the new governess can save the little mites … but do they want to be saved? da da dum! the evil ones are actually much appreciated by the little babies which is kind of spectacularly creepy, no?

October isn’t too early for friendly and unfriendly christmas ghosts, is it? Most assuredly not, I think. After all Ellen is already prepping audiences for her twelve days special.When they do that you know it’s December.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This was pretty excellent. It was also an extremely easy read as I read it hodged-podged in the middle of a busy day but it was still easy to pick up and leave off whenever. Well, good books has vampires. Not lots of good looking ones- to get the appropriate eerie faerie spooky mood you need one. And you must call him Silas. This book does well on that score; it also includes a graveyard of ghosts and a small boy who must be brought up in the graveyard by the spooks.

There’s a quaint closed off feel to Gaiman’s Coraline and this book is the same. It could have happened in nearly any time after the 18th or 19th centuries. It resembles Diana Wynne Jones like that and is totally different from J.K.R’s Harry Potters which live squarely in the 20th-21st centuries. That delicate, cut off quality enhances the creepiness and the ghostliness of the mild horror in Coraline and flavours the fantasy in this book.

Other than this and the main plot line I have to say the book reminded me of the Jungle Books. Bod’s child hood adventures are funnily similar to Mowgli’s. He has to learn all the secret calls and pass words to ask for assistance (just like Mowgli), he meets the ghouls who sound like the bandar log (he runs away because of too many rules and meets the ghouls who keep telling him, “We are so great so clever, there’s nobody as smart as we. Join us and you can do whatever you like.” He finds a great hidden treasure that leads to the death of the first humans who see it because it inflames avarice. Which makes me think that Gaiman didn’t have to look too far for inspiration.

But characters like Silas all in velvety black ,”Silas only consumed one food and it was not bananas.”, Nobody Owens dressed in a winding sheet, the ghosts’ histories from dead Roman rulers to burned witches, and the graveyard’s atmosphere a small, close place covered in a green gloom, not an inch to spare with folk history and tombs thick on the ground make this book a gem of a ghost story.

Jane Austen-Northanger Abbey Revisited OR The Reader is Prejudiced, don’t Blame the Reader

Jane Austen! *hugs* I hugs you Jane Austen because I love you. Sorry for the mawkishness, but years ago when I read Northanger Abbey I actually didn’t like the book. This was not Pride and Prejudice not Emma not Sense and Sensibility not Persuasion or even Mansfield Park. This was… I know not what but at  twelve or thirteen or whenever- I decided that Northanger Abbey was in fact not nothing. But now! Northanger Abbey is Northanger Abbey! It is a story! It creates a world! It has a voice! It is a standard of comparison!It is filed away into my mental library of Books I Can Read. From now I shall look at other light society comedies and sniff “It’s no Northanger Abbey, let me tell you.”

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