Bookish Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

downloadCarry On by Rainbow Rowell

Published: October 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

Rainbow Rowell’s previous YA books, Fangirl and Eleanor & Park are two of my absolute all-time favourites. So it was a no-brainer that I would read Carry On as soon as it was released. We were first introduced to the characters, Simon and Baz, in Fangirl as Cath, the protagonist, is a huge Simon Snow fan and prolific fic writer. In Carry On, we see Simon and Baz get an outing in their own right.

Simon Snow knows two things for certain: firstly, he is the Chosen One to defeat the Insidious Humdrum, the greatest threat to the World of Mages; and secondly, Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch is his arch nemesis and roommate. Going back to the Watford School of Magicks to finish his eighth and final year, he must figure out how to overcome the Humdrum who is growing stronger by the day, whilst also navigate the pitfalls of growing up. Just in case there wasn’t enough on his plate already, Simon gets sucked into a mystery that could turn the World of Mages upside down. Luckily he can rely on his best-friend-not-sidekick, Penelope Bunce, and his roommate’s mirth to keep him grounded. Except Baz is nowhere to be found and Simon can’t stop obsessing over the infuriating vampire and his whereabouts…

Whilst reading Carry On, it is of course undeniable to note the similarities to the Harry Potter series – the prophesied destiny of the Chosen One, the infamous boarding school and wise mentor, and the assortment of friends and arch nemeses. But I found it refreshing that the World of Mages was very distinct to Harry’s world. Rowell’s magickal world was more in tune with Normal life, with much of the Mage population owning mobile phones and traveling by car.

Rowell’s approach to spells was also really interesting, if a little jarring at times because most of the phrases were so familiar. But this only served to make the things even more hilarious – nothing quite like a climatic scene where the hero begins chanting a nursery rhyme with honest and plucky intent to defeat the villain… Rowell’s trademark humour is clear and present in this book and you will adore the bits in brackets  – the internal converstations of the characters are absolute gems!

The characters in Carry On are compulsively likeable and Rowell has fun with the classic fantasy tropes that appear in fanfics everywhere. Simon, the reluctant hero, may not be the most talented magician in the world but his sense of loyalty and goodness is unwavering. Penelope is fantastic as the “brain”, seeming to know Simon better than he knows himself while Agatha gives us a balancing reality check – it was interesting to come across a character who is not as enthralled by the world of magic as the rest of us. Baz is of course deliciously antagonistic whilst nursing what he believes is an unrequited and frankly embarrassing infatuation for the Chosen One. Simon and Baz’s interactions are what make this book and the chemistry Rowell gives them is every fic reader’s dream (slash fic lovers eat your heart out!) Also, kudos to Ms Rowell for taking the classic roommate setup trope and making it classy af 😉

The plot intertwined a mystery alongside the usual overarching good vs. evil narrative. The novel was told from multiple viewpoints with Simon and Baz understandably getting the most page-time. This worked really well as there’s nothing like trudging through the narrative of an uninteresting secondary character amiright? The varied POVs made the mystery more intriguing and slowly revealed more clues as you read on. Although, I’m not entirely sure what happened during the climax, let’s face it, who was really reading Carry On for the plot? I devoured this book because it was the Harry Potter novel that never was, a “Harry Potter and the Alternative Plot Line”, if you like.

In short, this book was excellent. I remember voraciously reading HP fanfics and trying my hand at a few; Carry On will bring back fond memories of the classic fic tropes and make you want to re-read your favourites all over again (The Bracelet by AkashaTheKitty anyone?) I read this book for the Baz and Simon snark-fest ship and numerous Potter references and if that’s what you’re interested in, you will adore this book.

Have you read Carry On? Do you ship Simon and Baz? Any HP fic recs? Leave a comment letting me know 🙂

Bookish Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Published: February 2012 by Simon & Schuster

Genre: Contemporary, Coming-of-age. LGBT

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads |  Buy on Amazon

I first heard about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on Tumblr where everyone is raving about it. I was also drawn to it by the beautiful cover and very unique title. I went into it blind, knowing very little about it beyond the blurb and I think that’s the best way to read this book.

Aristotle is your average 15-year old whiling away summer and waiting for life to begin. Ari, as he prefers to be called, is underwhelmed by his short life so far and also frustrated with the secrets his family seem determined to keep. Being a “pseudo only child” with two much older sisters and a brother locked up in prison, he is comfortable and happy being a loner . All that changes though when Ari meets Dante at the local swimming pool. Dante is unlike anyone Ari has met and the two are polar opposites. But it is from this chance meeting that a very special friendship blossoms, one that changes their lives and helps them unravel the secrets of the universe – the mysteries of identity, family and growing up.

“And me, I always felt that I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t even belong in my own body – especially my own body. I was changing into someone I didn’t know. The change hurt but I didn’t know why it hurt. And nothing about my own emotions made any sense.”

Aristotle and Dante is written almost like a stream of consciousness, we are in Ari’s head the entire time, hearing his innermost thoughts. While Ari is not very forthcoming on the outside, his inner monologue is beautiful. He is inquisitive, frustrated, insightful and sad in equal measure but not one bit pretentious. Ari doesn’t seem to realise the wisdom he possesses and is convinced he is lacking in all the ways that matter to a teenage boy. The book’s blurb describes it as “lyrical” and it was indeed lyrical. But, while the word usually denotes something light or whimsical to me, this book was the absolute opposite. It was so, so raw and all of Ari’s thoughts felt and rang true.

“But the worst part was that those words were living inside me. And they were leaking out of me. Words were not things you could control. Not always.”

How to talk about Ari? Ari who is “unknowable”. His narrative voice is one of the most powerful I’ve come across in young adult literature, and not because he’s leading a rebellion against a dystopian state or because he is rebelling against parents or society. Ari is mostly rebelling against himself. He was often truthful to the point of being painful at times, something that is incredibly refreshing and allows the reader to understand Ari’s insecurities. You realise how little of himself Ari reveals to the world and it feels like a privilege to be privy to his complex thoughts. Some of his opinions and thoughts were so wonderfully uncensored and there were points during this book where, I admit, there were tears because it was so moving.

“I thought it might be a great thing to be the air. I could be something and nothing at the same time. I could be necessary and also invisible. Everyone would need me and no one would be able to see.”

Dante was, simply put, beautiful. His confidence, his vitality was just contagious and you immediately fall in love with how honest he is with himself and his unique approach to life. I won’t say much more about Dante because he really is a delight to read about through Ari’s eyes. The parents and other characters in this book were portrayed fantastically. It was great to see a YA book where the parents are as central to the story as the teens, and portrayed as human, as something to be understood rather than dismissed. Aristotle and Dante was honest in its depiction of the power struggles, the invisible battles, the subtle dynamics of families – the things that essentially *make* it a family.

“There were so many ghosts in our house – the ghost of my brother, the ghosts of my father’s war, the ghosts of my sisters’ voices. And I thought that maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet. They were there. Lying in wait.”

If you need anymore convincing that you should read this book, I clearly haven’t fangirled enough above. This is a great read with a lot of depth and proves the critics of YA fiction wrong. If you’re partial to having playlists for books, Wake Me Up by Avicii would fit Aristotle and Dante perfectly. I couldn’t get the lyrics out of my head whilst I was reading this book.

Have you read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe? What did you think of it? Sound off in the comments below 🙂