Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Book Club Choices (Blankets, Fangirl, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, and Porotofino)

Every year I swear that THIS is the year I will keep up with reviews.  I read, on average, 3 books each week, so it should all come out well in terms of staying on top of my reviews.  I post three books reviews a week and one or two discussion posts and everything is great.  In theory.

But I always hit this point at the end of the year where I realize I'm so far behind and I have so many books left to review that there aren't enough days left to review them all.  And because I want to start the new year with a clean slate, I'll be cramming several book reviews into each review post for most of the rest of the year in order to really get as many completed as I can.  I took out blah books that I had nothing to say anything about, but was still left with a bunch that I feel like my readers NEED to know about.

So here we have the first collection of mini-reviews - books that I read for my FYA book club, my regular book club, or in my mission group that you need to know about.

Blankets by Craig Thompson, read for book club
Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, Blankets explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated country, and the budding romance of two coming-of-age lovers. A tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith.
This one earned a spot among my very favorite graphic novels, alongside Maus and Persepolis.  It's the story of a young man who grows up in a conservative family who meets a girl at church camp and falls in love for the first time.  The book focuses as much on his spiritual journey away from and possibly back to faith as it does on his first experiences with romance.  It's stunningly beautiful, in terms of art and writing, and on my wishlist for Christmas this year.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, read for FYA Book Club
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
It's Rainbow Rowell and it's a romance set in college, so there's not really much of a question about whether or not I'll love it, right?  This is EXACTLY the kind of New Adult I'd like to see more of.  It has the college setting, but it's filled with normal kids.  No one with an over-abundance of angst or tattoos or reckless living.  It's MY college experience.  The characters struggle with homework and where to sit in the cafeteria and how to connect with roommates they don't share much in common with.  And of course there's the college romance, which I could totally identify with, having met Luke in college.

It was fun and quirky and just a delight to read.  As far as the fanfic element is concerned, I was worried that I would find it off-putting.  I don't read or write fanfic and it's not something I'm really interested in at all.  I didn't find it to be problematic or something that took me out of the book or kept me from identifying with the characters.  Even if you're not into the world of fandoms, I think you can still appreciate the story and characters - and if fandoms are your thing, well you'll really love it!

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, read for FYA Book Club
Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.
I almost didn't read this one.  It was down to just a day or two before our meeting, I was sick, and I had just picked it up from the library.  I didn't know if I'd finish it and I wasn't even sure I would like it or what it was about.  I hadn't ever heard of it.  HOW have I never heard of this?  Why is the entire book blogging community not singing it's praises?

It's absolutely stunning.  I'm partial to magical realism in the first place, but this is one of the best I've read in quite a while.  It has all the whimsy of Sarah Addison Allen combined with the darker elements of The Golem and the Jinni and the amazing writing seen in The Night Circus.  There were even moments where I could see echoes of Big Fish.  Basically any magical realism that I have fallen for, I saw reflected here.  It is beautiful and if you are a fan of good writing, great characters, or magical realism you simply must read it.

Portofino by Frank Schaeffer, read with my mission community
Some kids told lies to be special. Calvin told lies to be normal. The son of a missionary family, he looks forward all year to summer vacation in Portofino--especially since he'll once again have the chance to see his beloved Jennifer. But even in this seductive seaside town in Italy, the Beckers can't really relax. Calvin's father could slip into a Bad Mood and start hurling potted plants at any time. His mother has an embarrassing habit of trying to convert "pagans" on the beach. And his sister keeps a ski sweater and miniature Bible in her luggage just in case the Russians invade and send them to Siberia. Dad says everything is part of God's plan. But this summer, Calvin has some plans of his own. 
This is not one I would have ever picked up on my own.  To be honest, I still find the cover to be a total turnoff.  It looks boring and my heart sank a little when I picked it up from the library.  I'm so glad I gave it a try though, because it felt like I was reading the story of my life.  Frank Schaeffer is the son of theologian Francis Schaeffer, and this novel is considered to be largely autobiographical.  Calvin's story is told in such a delightful way, despite the serious challenges he and his family face in terms of his parents' dysfunction.  It's got a lot of church-based humor that I think will appeal to anyone who grew up evangelical, but it's also not conveyed in an insulting manner.  I felt like we were laughing together at some of the crazy things that go on in conservative Christian culture, not like it was being mocked.  It's super funny and a quick read, I highly recommend it, particularly to those who grew up with similar families.


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