Malin’s #CBR5 Review #61: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Expected publication: September 10th, 2013

Cather and Wren are twins (their mother hadn’t planned on twins but always wanted to name a girl Catherine – so just split the name). Their whole life has been spent together, sharing a room, sharing interests, especially their love of Simon Snow (think basically Harry Potter, if Draco was his room mate, and also a vampire). Cath and Wren write fan fic read by tens of thousands of fans, while everyone awaits the release of the eight and final Simon Snow book. Cath doesn’t really think much will change when they go off to college, but then  Wren declares that she wants to live in a different dorm from Cath, and spends most of her time having the crazy party girl freshman experience, leaving Cath anxious and adrift in a new and confusing place.

Cath isn’t even sure she wants to be at college. She’s worried about their father, who manages fine most of the time, when his girls remind him to eat, and do the dishes, and the laundry. His mental health really isn’t as stable as it ought to be, and Cath doesn’t think he should be by himself. For the first couple of weeks, she barely even leaves her dorm room, just holes up and eats energy bars, goes to lectures and continues her fan fiction grand opus.

More on my blog. 

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #26: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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I loved this YA novel about a couple of 16 year olds falling in love over comic books and music in mid-1980s Omaha. This novel has broad appeal — for teens because it deals with typical themes of angst, being misunderstood, dealing with obnoxious peers and parents who seem not to know you at all. For their parents, who were teens in the ’80s, it’s a wonderful trip back to the time when The Smiths were new music and The Watchmen was just coming out in weekly installments.

Eleanor is an unusual girl who stands out from the moment she gets on the bus. Her size (larger than other girls), her hair (long red curls) and her clothes (mens clothing accessorized with ribbons, patches and safety pins) make her an immediate target. No one will let her sit down and Park, who has been listening to his Walkman and trying not to get involved, is not eager to give up the empty spot next to him until the tension becomes all too much and he says to her, “Jesus-fuck … just sit down” and makes room. Not exactly an auspicious beginning to a romance. But as the weeks roll by, Park notices that as he reads his comics, Eleanor is reading them, too. Eventually, he has the nerve to speak with her, discuss and share music and comics with her and fall in love.

This sounds pretty blasé and mundane, but it isn’t for a few reasons. First, Eleanor’s home situation is rough. She has only just returned home after her step-father kicked her out for a year. Second, Eleanor and her family (mom, step-father and four other sibs) are poor. She doesn’t have a toothbrush, soap, proper food. etc. Third, Park is Korean-American in a very white all-American town. His father was a soldier and spent time in Korea, where he met and married his mother. Fourth, Park does not quite measure up to his father’s standards and he knows it. Finally, Park is on good terms with most of the cool kids at school, the complete opposite of Eleanor. Both Eleanor and Park feel that they have to hide their relationship, and for Eleanor in particular there is real danger in her parents’ discovering it.

The writing is so wonderful, I didn’t want to put this down until I had finished. Rowell can make you laugh and want to cry along with her protagonists. On Park’s quirkiness: “Park hated football. He cried when his dad took him pheasant hunting. Nobody in the neighborhood could ever tell who he was dressed as on Halloween. (‘I’m Doctor Who.’ ‘I’m Harpo Marx.’ ‘I’m Count Floyd.’)” Eleanor’s impression of Park’s car: “The Impala might not look pervy on the outside … but the inside was a different story. The front seat was almost as big as Eleanor’s bed, and the backseat was an Erica Jong novel just waiting to happen.” My favorite scene involves Park and his mother on Christmas Eve, after they’ve seen Eleanor and her family at the supermarket. Park’s mother had thought of Eleanor as a weird white girl and wasn’t pleased that Park was bringing her home after school. After seeing that Eleanor’s family is large and poor, like her own family had been, she tells Park, “I’m sorry for how I welcomed your Eleanor.”

This is a really wonderful novel not just for teens but for anyone who went to high school and fell in love, and for anyone who was young in the 1980s. And now I really wish I could find my old mix tapes!

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 23: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Unknown-2Rainbow Rowell. Make a note of the name.

In the past few weeks, I’ve read her two novels (I recently raved about the divine Attachments), and both have left me wanting more. MORE. MORE!

Like Attachments, Eleanor & Park takes place in Nebraska. While Attachments took place mainly in 1999, this book takes place in 1986, the era of the Smiths and the Cure and all of that other wonderful music I listened to in high school (I’m guessing Rainbow and I are around the same age).

Eleanor is a new student at Park’s school, and she sticks out like a sore thumb. Bigger than the other girls (convinced she’s fat, but I’m not so sure), with bright red unruly hair, and a fashion sense designed to take notice away from her torn and old thrift store clothes (and her thrift store clothes aren’t because she thinks they are cool, its all her family can afford). She’s got a tough life at home: 5 kids in one bedroom, a drunk and violent stepfather, and a mother that is afraid to step up for her daughter. Eleanor was kicked out of the house last year, and is only just returning to her family, just to find that its worse than when she was there before.

The scenes in her house really, really bummed me out.

Meanwhile, Park is her new seat-mate on the school bus. Half-Korean and totally punk rock, Park initially has no idea what to make of Eleanor. But slowly and surely, he finds that they have much in common.

They start sharing comics (their bonding over The Watchmen was truly a beautiful thing), and Park makes her tapes of music that he thinks she’ll like. Smiths, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen. And Joy Division.

I loved the part of the book where they just talked about why they love Love Will Tear Us Apart. Heartbreaking and amazing.

Their relationship slowly builds until they can’t stand being apart. The need they have for each other overtakes everything else in their lives, and its lovely to read along and see their relationship progress.

But, because the book starts out at the end, we know that things aren’t going to end well for these two.

I wish I could have stayed in the middle of this book for much longer. The beginning was great, and the ending was depressing. But the middle was simply perfect.

Favorite scene: It killed me when Park’s mom got tipsy on wine coolers and gave him an Avon Lady gift to give Eleanor for Christmas. The talk they had about her previous life and how it might be similar to Eleanor’s brought me to tears.

Thank you Rainbow Rowell. I can’t wait to read what you write next (Fangirl, out in September).

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #28: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

AttachmentsAttachments (2011) by Rainbow Rowell is probably a book I never would have found if it weren’t for my fellow Cannonball reviewers. And I’m so glad they recommended it. This novel was a fun, sweet story filled with normal, likable people, and I really enjoyed it.

Lincoln is in his late-twenties and is kind of lost. He’s still getting over his first love from high school, he lives with his mom, he has no direction, and he is making no effort to change his life. When he gets a job as IT security and starts policing the company’s e-mails he discovers Jennifer and Beth, best friends whose gossip-y e-mails are entertaining and fun. Knowing that he’s treading on questionably ethical ground, Lincoln continues to read their e-mails as he begins to fall for Beth.

And here’s the rest of my review.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 19: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Unknown-2I haven’t given out many 5-star reviews during my tenure as a CBR participant. To me, 5-star means a book that I’m completely in awe of. One that I’m so jealous that someone else wrote. I wish I was Rainbow Rowell, and that these characters she invented were mine. I wish this book had never ended. I would have read it forever.

And come on. The reviews from narfna and Travis_J_Smith say it all. This book is perfection.

Attachments is a love story. But its also about best friends. And finding yourself. And parents letting go. And growing up.

And its super funny. And sometimes sad.

Lincoln, the perennial college student, finds a job as an IT tech on the night shift at a small Nebraska newspaper. Part of his job is to follow up on emails that have been “red flagged” with inappropriate content, and to send warnings to the people involved in the email discussion. Which is fine, until he starts reading email conversations between best friends Jennifer and Beth.

Lincoln gets swept up into their lives, and falls in love with Beth.

Before he ever even knows what she looks like.

And when Beth emails that she has a crush on the handsome, mystery IT guy, I was practically cheering when I realized it was Lincoln.

I loved that this book was about Y2K, the most useless problem ever invented. I worked on a Y2K task force in 1999, and I remember thinking what a complete and utter waste of time it was.

I loved that this book had best friends in it that were funny and honest. They weren’t afraid to critique each other about potential mistakes they were making in their lives. And they both loved Colin Firth.

And I know it was a bit creepy the way that Lincoln was virtually stalking Beth, but c’mon. He was just so cute about it. And it was pretty much his job to read her email, so there’s that.

Thanks to everyone who has been recommending Rainbow Rowell this year. I can’t wait to read Eleanor & Park next.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #35: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Could I have to expand my so-called Holy Trinity to a Holy Quadrinity? Rainbow Rowell, that name of hers be damned, is sure making a case for it. I’ll withhold my final verdict until her third book, Fangirl, comes out, but her chances of reaching that same rarified company as King, Adams, and Vonnegut are looking good.

Again, Rowell hit me right in the feels, so much so that I was actually compelled to type “right in the feels,” a phrase I had avoided prior to now. Again, Rowell made me care so deeply about her characters and their happiness that I couldn’t, or at least didn’t want to, envision an ending which denied them that same happiness.

This isn’t a story of love at first sight. Park can barely stand to allow Eleanor to sit next to him at first. But, from there, things progress bit by bit until the two know nothing but their love for one another. It all could be easily construed as cloying instead of sweet, but Rowell balances it out with a fair share of darkness.

Think of Eleanor & Park as a strong cup of coffee with enough sugar and cream mixed in to make it look as white as Eleanor herself. Except, in this case, you can still taste the underlying bitterness of the coffee through it all, and yet you don’t mind because it makes everything that much sweeter.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #32: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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Wanting to pull myself out of the rut I’d stumbled into, one which consisted of me more or less refusing to venture outside the small subset of authors I’d latched onto for one reason or another, I browsed the other Cannonball Readers’ reviews in search of any that stuck out. Of all the ones I flitted through, it was narfna’s review of Attachmentsthat stuck out. Was it the name of the author, Rainbow Rowell, which I sincerely hope is her parents’ doing, not a decided upon pseudonym, as the latter is the greater of the two evils by the tiniest of margins? Or was it the cover, sparse yet at the same time appealingly simplistic? narfna’s assessment of the book helped matters too, but doesn’t that go without saying?

I guess, all things considered, there was no one factor that led me to read Attachments. In life, we sometimes find ourselves drawn to something or someone for reasons that, at least at the time, seem inexplicable and this is surely one of them. While I can point to this or that as contributing towards my decision, what we had here was a case of me going with my gut, riding the wave of some indescribable feeling. I hadn’t taken such a tactic often with regards to books, using it more to dictate my television- and movie-watching habits than anything else, yet I hoped my success would carry over.

It did, and to bring into perspective how much, I’ll tell you one thing that should practically say it all. Attachments is the only book besidesThe Salmon of Doubt to make me get all watery-eyed. No tears fell in either case, but I fear that would’ve changed if I hadn’t been barreling through Attachments and Rowell’s words had had the chance to properly linger. I should also mention that, were Adams not dead and were it not his last, The Salmon of Doubt would’ve had no effect on me whatsoever, whereas it was Rowell’s writing in Attachments that wrecked me so thoroughly.

Lincoln, the main character, could be my doppleganger in some alternate universe; his ill-fated relationship with Sam drudged up memories of one of my own, as I saw shades of us in them, and his handling of the situation he comes into by accident is, I regret to say, not far off from what I would invariably do. Like him, I was smitten with Beth and Jennifer from the first email. Reading their correspondence , I was reminded of a story of my own. Difference is, Rowell fully realizes what I could only touch upon. Theirs is, to me, the perfect friendship. Though they may bicker on occasion, it’s because they know their friendship can withstand it.

I never went so far as to fall for one of them, like Lincoln does, but he and I both wanted little more than to put a face to the words, to meet these women whose emails were so routinely flagged, thus ending up under Lincoln’s (not so) watchful eye. I wanted him to introduce himself before he got in too deep. That possibility was quickly abandoned thanks to his reluctance to give up borderline stalking them, be it via their emails or, on an occasion or two, in person.

Now, I imagine many of you keyed in on the word “stalking” in the sentence above and it sent your alarm bells ringing. Normally, I would be abandoning ship right along with you. Keep in mind, though, that I qualified it with “borderline.” Lincoln doesn’t ever devolve into an Edward Cullen, watching Beth sleep. What he does do could be looked at as skeevy in its own right, yes. Except Lincoln is presented so sympathetically by Rowell that I found his actions forgivable, if not a tad understandable, seeing as I already told you that I, on some level, identify with him. Heck, the worse he got, and the more hopeless his situation became by extension, the more I felt sorry for him.

If Beth were to reject him in the end, it would’ve been inarguably justified. Still, I rooted for him to overcome the obstacles he’d knowingly placed between them. Because I think we can all relate to letting our emotions get the better of us, especially with regards to relationships. I know I’ve sabotaged myself on countless occasions and watched as I did, unable to stop myself. If Lincoln can succeed, though, I thought maybe there’s hope for me yet. To find out whether or not he does, however, you’ll just have to read the book.

I can’t guarantee you’ll take to it like narfna and I did. As she put it: “This is probably not a book many other readers will give five stars to.” Even with that in mind, though, I recommend it without reservation. I’m under-read compared to a lot of you here, but if asked to rank all the books I’ve read, Attachments would come in at number four, just below Flowers for Algernon, the entire The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which I consider one long book, and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. So if I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly, I don’t know what in the hell else I can.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #29: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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This is going to be one of those times where the review of the book is slighter than it should be, but dangit, sometimes you read a book that makes you feel feelings that it might take you several months of prolonged writing to properly parse out. I just don’t have that kind of time to spend on this review, not if I want to make that damn double Cannonball.

I fell head over heels in love with Rainbow Rowell’s debut novel, Attachments, back in February, and even though her second novel is a horse of a different color, her lovely words, her ability to create lovable, relatable, yet flawed characters, and, quite frankly, her gift at capturing moments of heightened emotion, both small and large, remains the same (if not improved).

Eleanor & Park is the story of two teenagers in 1986. New girl Eleanor sits next to Park on the bus, and in between reading comics over his shoulder and sharing headphones with one another, they fall in love. Eleanor is an outlier, a big girl with a shock of red curly hair, who wears strange, mismatched clothes and has an extremely troubled family life. Park, due to his longevity in the neighborhood, is actually pretty high on the social acceptance scale, but has always felt like an outsider anyway because of his Korean heritage and his interest in less traditionally masculine things. There isn’t much plot movement, per se, but there sure as hell is a lot of emotional movement. Rowell is an expert at examining the nuances of interpersonal relationships, at taking the moments a lot of authors just gloss over and punching you in the feelings with them. There’s this scene where Eleanor and Park hold hands for the first time that just took my breath away, and it was such a simple moment, but Rowell just kills it. The only thing about Eleanor & Park is that it’s dark in places that I wish it wasn’t, not because it’s not well-written or I didn’t like the story, but because it illuminates certain things about life that I’d prefer to forget exist. This isn’t a happily ever after sort of story, but it is a damn good one.

If you want a really, really good review of this book, go here. Otherwise, just take my word for it and read this book.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #32: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

The year is 1986. Park doesn’t fit in amongst the other kids in high school or in his own family. While both he and his brother are half Korean, you wouldn’t know it to look at his already taller younger brother. Park listens to Joy Division, The Smiths and The Cure, and reads comic books reverently. He feels like he can never quite measure up to the expectations of his very manly father. He’s not exactly popular, but he’s not a complete outcast either.

Not like the new girl, Eleanor, who is chubby, with bright red hair, and dresses in strange combinations of goodwill clothes. Quickly gaining nicknames like “Bozo” and “Big Red”, it’s clear that Eleanor won’t be winning any popularity contests, and Park isn’t thrilled when she ends up sitting next to him on the school bus, and keeps showing up in his honours’ classes. Slowly, but surely, a friendship blossoms, as Eleanor starts reading Park’s comic books over his shoulder. Soon Park is silently lending her comics, and this leads to conversations, and further topics of conversations and mix tapes and soon, Park and Eleanor live for the moments when they see each other again on the bus or in class.

More on my blog

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #6: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

attachments-rainbow-rowellFalling in love with a book is exactly like falling in love with a person. In both cases, most of the time you just can’t help yourself, and what happens during the falling is almost entirely out of your control. This is an especially appropriate metaphor to be making when talking about Rainbow Rowell’s delightful little book, Attachments, which is about a man falling in love in a very inappropriate way. This is what I wrote on Goodreads approximately one minute and thirty-one seconds after finishing the last page at 2 AM on Saturday night:

“FUCKING HELL, MAN. Why is this so . . . GUH . . . and it’s the middle of the night and I’M SO ALONE.”

I believe that sentence and my five star rating should speak for itself, but I would like to elaborate anyway because when you fall in love with something you want to tell everybody about it as loudly and in as many ways as possible.

Attachments takes place in 1999, just before the turn of the millennium and all the madness of Y2K (remember Y2K? It was like practice for the Mayan apocalypse!). Twenty-eight year old perpetual student Lincoln is fresh off his latest graduate degree and is stuck in a rut in basically every area of his life: he lives with his mother, he has no foreseeable career objectives (he can’t even figure out what it is that he might be good at), he has no social life to speak of excepting Saturday night games of D&D with his lifelong friends, and he hasn’t even attempted a romantic relationship since his heart was smashed into pieces eight years before by the girl he thought he’d be with forever.

As the novel opens, Lincoln has just taken a job in a Nebraska newspaper’s IT department where he is in charge of the newly developed email security program that monitors employee’s email accounts for inappropriate usage. It’s a bit of a creepy job reading other people’s emails and sending them warnings, not to mention tedious and boring, but it’s at least a job. He spends most of his time reading books and doing other non work-related activities. That is, until he accidentally becomes wrapped up in the correspondence of two employees, film critic Beth and copyeditor Jennifer, who are smart and funny and who little by little begin treating their work email accounts as a personal chat service. After about the fourth or fifth flagged conversation, Lincoln realizes it’s too late to send them a warning and with not a little guilt begins looking forward to each flagged email, especially when it becomes clear to him that not only is he developing feelings for Beth, but she has a little crush on him as well. The only problem is, if he wants to be with her, how can he do so knowing that he’s just spent a ridiculous amount of time violating her personal privacy?

The novel is a mix between Lincoln’s 3rd person POV and a delightful modern epistolary confection consisting of Jennifer and Beth’s increasingly personal emails to one another. Jennifer and Beth are immediately very likeable. Their conversations with one another are funny and warm and occasionally sort of surprisingly heart-rending. That they were so likeable is key, because the novel wouldn’t have worked if we as readers were not able to overcome the basic creepiness of Lincoln’s actions. We want Lincoln to keep reading about Jennifer and Beth because WE want to keep reading about Jennifer and Beth. His actions as Rowell writes them, while a bit icky, are also completely understandable. There’s also the fact that Lincoln himself is a delightful character, and I quickly found myself wishing he was real because, seriously, I have been looking for him all my life. But it’s not only that he’s likable. His struggles as an aimless and confused young adult unsure of what he wanted to do with himself was one I could relate to in very specific ways. The sharp wit of Rowell’s dialogue and prose doesn’t hurt, either. This was also the perfect time period to set this book. The transition from tradition to technology at the newspaper echoes Lincoln’s own stumbling transition to adulthood.

This is probably not a book many other readers will give five stars to, but it hit all of my personal buttons in all the right ways. Like, to the point where I was all, Rainbow Rowell, either get out of my head or be my best friend. But even if you don’t fall crazy in love and over-identify with it like I did, it’s still worth checking out as the perfect example of this kind of romancey, character-driven novel. It’s well-written, funny, has great characters, and is overall a super-fun read. If you like good romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally and Love, Actually, just imagine that this is like a book version of that and you’ll have a pretty good idea. I am now eagerly anticipating the two (!) books Rainbow Rowell is publishing later this year.