Fangirl Book Review

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Review:

Oh man, I loved Fangirl so much. A crazy amount. Instant favorite.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not 100% sure that part of that wasn’t the absolute joy of recognition. Cather (Cath) Avery, the titular fangirl, is a fan of “Simon Snow,” a blatant stand-in for Harry Potter, and I was certifiably obsessed with Harry Potter for years, including – yes – both reading and writing fanfiction. (Cath’s favorite ship, Simon/Baz, seems to represent Harry/Draco, and I was more of a Remus/Sirius girl, but still.) Rainbow Rowell has written about her experience in the Harry Potter fandom and she nails a lot of things about being in fandom and the appeal of fanfiction, how it feels to love a world so much you just want moremoremore forever. Infinite variations.

Of course, everybody’s experience of fandom is different and Cath’s is not representative of all fangirls. For example, Cath is curiously shut away from the social and communal aspects of fandom – she takes her own fanfiction so seriously that she doesn’t read other people’s fanfiction in order to avoid being influenced by it too much, and that’s very, very different from the experience of most fans I know, who thrive on the conversation that takes place in the course of storytelling in such a collaborative community. However, I’ve noticed that my own real-life social anxiety is reflected in my fannish life by my tendency to lurk, and Cath’s anxiety is much worse than mine, so I didn’t regard her behavior as unrealistic or an inaccurate representation of fandom life, just a reflection of her own personality. Again, everybody’s experience of fandom is different, and I don’t think Rowell intended for Fangirl to represent fannish life in general, just the life of one fan in particular.

In addition to the fandom aspect, Fangirl is set in Nebraska, and the Nebraska that I know. (Rowell’s Eleanor & Park is also set in Nebraska – North Omaha, specifically – but a neighborhood I’m not as familiar with.) Although I didn’t go to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, my mother did, and I’ve been going to campus for my entire life (literally – my mom was still a student there when I was born.) The Dairy Store on East Campus does make really good ice cream. Morrill Hall really does have the largest mammoth fossil ever found. (Nebraska is much better for fossils than most people would guess – see also Agate Fossil Beds and Ashfall Fossil Beds. Yours truly found a pretty awesome fossil turtle shell along the Niobrara River as a kid.) Cath’s South Omaha neighborhood is also much more familiar to me than Eleanor and Park’s North Omaha one – I’ve been to Jacobo’s, for example, and while I personally prefer El Alamo to the taco trucks, I know what Cath’s talking about. Jim Flowers is my favorite weatherman, too. The Bookworm is one of my favorite indie bookstores. Like Levi and Reagan, I grew up in rural Nebraska (though a totally different part of the state than Arnold) and I share Levi’s obsession with bison – “Cows good, buffalo better” is an actual line of his dialogue and I may or may not have cheered (totally did) – and interest in sustainable range management. The only thing I did notice that the book got wrong was that it describes the winter of 2012 as being extremely cold and snowy, when it was actually one of the warmest and least snowy in Nebraska history. (Freakishly so, in fact.)

So reading Fangirl was so fun for me. These are my people, you know? On multiple fronts. It took no effort whatsoever to identify with them.

On top of that, I genuinely enjoyed the romance and was grinning like a total sap by the end. Although not as intensely emotional as Eleanor & Park, you could definitely see Rowell’s fandom influences in the book’s excellent UST. I also enjoyed the positive depiction of female friendship and the great (often witty) dialogue.

The only real complaint I have is that the excerpts from the Simon Snow books and Cath’s fanfiction didn’t really seem to connect in any way to Cath’s story. They were interesting, but they were just there, and I did find myself skimming them more often than not as the book progressed. I would have liked to see Cath’s coming-of-age journey as she gained more confidence and came to terms with her various family members, friends, and romantic interests reflected through the themes in her writing.

As you might guess, I recommend this book especially strongly for people with experience in fandom (or who are at least sympathetic to the existence of fanfiction), and to people who like books with strong local flavor. It’s also a great choice for anyone who’s simply looking for a sweet college romance.

In short, a fantastic read and one of the best novels I’ve read in years.

(By the way, although I haven’t read any of it, there is totally Fangirl fanfiction. There’s even Simon Snow fanfiction. If that isn’t fitting, I don’t know what is.)

Update: Rainbow Rowell has written a book about Simon Snow’s adventures! Carry On will be released October 6, 2015.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

The Cutting Edge Movie Review

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Review:

Toepick!

Geez, I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this one yet. The Cutting Edge has been one of my favorite movies for pretty much as long as I can remember. Like, to the point that I can remember being very confused about what the fiance’s “foreplay” line meant, because for whatever reason, my normally strict parents let us watch this movie in elementary school despite the sexual references. (It was rated before the PG/PG-13 split, so it’s rated PG but should really be PG-13.)

The story focuses on Doug, a star hockey player who has to give up his career after an injury and turns to pairs figure skating instead, in the process getting paired with rich, spoiled Kate, who is determined to add Olympic gold to her collection of medals after a disastrous first Olympics with another partner.

Due to the aforementioned parental strictness, this was one of the first romantic comedies I ever saw (possibly even THE first), and I think I must have imprinted on it hard, because Doug and Kate are one of the ur-bickering couples in my mind and I adore a good bickering couple to this day. The script is great, the chemistry is great, and although I’m not a huge fan of sports movies in general, I loved this one because it was about figure skating. Most of the actual skating for the film was done by Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, a Canadian pairs team known for their spectacular stunts, which the film takes full advantage of.

A classic.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

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The Look-It-Up Guides To Mythology Series Review (Mythlopedia)

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Review:

On our wishlist

My daughter loved the Percy Jackson series and I wanted to get her some books to give her a somewhat more accurate understanding of Greek mythology. Unfortunately, my copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths seems to have disappeared in one of our moves and she’s still a little young for Hamilton’s Mythology. While I was browsing through the library looking for an alternative to D’Aulaire (which they didn’t have for some reason), I stumbled across this series. It looked funny and accurate (despite a whole bunch of extremely anachronistic slang), so I checked out the whole series and my daughter LOVED them. I’ve personally only read bits and pieces so far, but her reaction was enough to add them immediately to our wishlist.

The full series is:

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Movie Review

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Review:

I don’t think of myself as being a big fan of Westerns in general, but ironically enough, two of my all-time favorite films are Westerns. Since they both happen to be written by the same guy, it might be more of a William Goldman thing than a Western thing, but even so, I probably shouldn’t discount the genre quite as much as I tend to do.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of my parents’ favorite movies and is probably second only to My Cousin Vinny in the frequency with which it’s quoted at family get-togethers. Based loosely on the lives of real-life outlaws Butch Cassidy and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, it’s one of the greatest buddy comedies ever made, and is loaded from start to finish with laughs, mainly from its witty and memorable dialogue. Paul Newman and Robert Redford are in their prime, both as actors and heart-throbs (luckily, the film is color, so you get the full effect of Newman’s incredible baby blues), and there are also some enjoyable action sequences.

A well-deserved classic and must-see film.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

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Lego Friends Jungle Rescue Base (41038)

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Review:

On our daughter’s wishlist

She loves animals, so she really likes the look of the new Lego Friends jungle theme. We haven’t bought her any yet, but this is the one she says she likes best so far, because it has the most animals and different parts.

 

Tangled Movie Review

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Review:

On our wishlist

When it was released, Tangled was the best Disney film in years. Now, of course, we’ve got Frozen heating up the competition for best Disney film of the new millennium, but Tangled was a huge step in the right direction after years of mostly mediocre Disney offerings.

It had an appealing heroine, an exceedingly handsome hero (though Disney has yet to beat Anastasia‘s Dmitri for sheer animated hotness), some good songs, a pair of hilarious animal sidekicks (my daughter liked Maximus so much she wanted us to name her brother after him!), a villain who rivals Frollo in terrifying psychological realism, and some simply gorgeous animation (though I still prefer the classic Disney style to the computer generated stuff). The plot was a fun blend of action-adventure, humor, and pathos as well.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Sets – Help Us Choose!

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I’ve been starting to thing about Christmas presents for my kids and am trying to choose between two Melissa & Doug ice cream sets. My kids both love play food and they had a ball with the Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Scoop Set (right) when they got to play with it at a relative’s house. I was planning to get that set for them when I noticed a similar one, the Melissa & Doug Slice and Scoop Sundae Set (below left), and now I’m wondering if the Sundae Set might be even better.

I like that the Ice Cream Scoop Set has two scoops, two cones, and four flavors of ice cream, making my two children (hopefully) able to play with it together without fighting too much about who does what, whereas the Sundae Set has only one scoop and one bowl, so one child has to serve and the other to eat. On the other hand, if they do squabble while playing with the Ice Cream Scoop Set, the 2 year old might clonk the 7 year old with the wooden cones, which were pretty heavy and solid and might be more painful than the bowl from the Sundae Set.

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I also like that the Ice Cream Scoop Set comes with an ice cream carton to store everything in. On the other hand, I love that the Sundae Set has a banana and strawberry that you can cut up. (The two year old in particular absolutely loves their Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Set.) The Sundae Set also has sundae toppings, which I think they’ll both like as well.

Decisions, decisions… Which set do you think I should choose?

The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones

Publisher Description:

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If the past is prologue, then George R. R. Martin’s masterwork—the most inventive and entertaining fantasy saga of our time—warrants one hell of an introduction. At long last, it has arrived with The World of Ice & Fire.

This lavishly illustrated volume is a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms, providing vividly constructed accounts of the epic battles, bitter rivalries, and daring rebellions that lead to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones. In a collaboration that’s been years in the making, Martin has teamed with Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson, the founders of the renowned fan site Westeros.org—perhaps the only people who know this world almost as well as its visionary creator.

Collected here is all the accumulated knowledge, scholarly speculation, and inherited folk tales of maesters and septons, maegi and singers, including

  • full-color artwork and maps, with more than 170 original pieces
  • full family trees for Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen
  • in-depth explorations of the history and culture of Westeros
  • 100% all-new material, more than half of which Martin wrote specifically for this book

The definitive companion piece to George R. R. Martin’s dazzlingly conceived universe, The World of Ice & Fire is indeed proof that the pen is mightier than a storm of swords.

Review:

Want to read

George R.R. Martin has been open about his desire to create “the best fantasy concordance ever published” for his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (the source for HBO’s hit show A Game of Thrones. Based on reports so far, he may have succeeded!

 

The Apple Pip Princess Book Review

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Review:

The Apple Pip Princess, by Jane Ray, is a beautiful book in pretty much every way possible. It tells the story of a “little and shy and quite ordinary” princess named Serenity. Her father the king decides to choose which of his three daughters will inherit the kingdom when he dies by asking each of them to do “something to make your mark – something to make me proud.” Serenity’s proud and vain older sisters set about creating tall towers to reach the heavens. Serenity plants an apple seed.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, but suffice to say, it was so lovely it literally brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it. The book is beautifully illustrated and touches on many valuable moral lessons without ever being preachy. In fact, as a feminist and a lifelong tree hugging, bleeding heart liberal, I’d have to say this is a nearly perfect book, on par with Miss Rumphius, another personal favorite about women making a difference in the world. To wit:

  • The story revolves around the critical role that planting trees plays in restoring degraded environments, providing food for people and habitat for wildlife, and beautifying the landscape.
  • The princesses, their father, and their subjects are all characters of color.
  • The two older princesses try to dazzle their subjects with magnificent and beautiful monuments built by taking the very roofs from their heads. It doesn’t work.
  • The two older sisters try to force their subjects to obey by threatening them with the “dark and crumbling” royal dungeon. Serenity befriends a commoner and the two work side by side with the whole kingdom to replant the orchards.
  • The two older princesses learn from their mistakes and are welcomed back with open arms and forgiven, instead of being punished with banishment or worse. The story ends with the three sisters together, happy, and at peace with each other, enjoying the beautiful song of the nightingale under the trees.

In short, this charming little fairy tale quickly became a family favorite at my house, both among the adults and the children. I hope other families will enjoy it just as much.

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My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible: How to Grow a Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs, and Other Containers

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Review:

Want to read

Since The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible is so excellent, and I’m temporarily stuck in an apartment, I’ve been meaning to read this book to learn more about container gardening.