Review: ‘The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl’ by Melissa Keil

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends. 

The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:

Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails.
And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.

Also, the world might be ending — which is proving to be awkward.

As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.

When I grow up, I want to be Melissa Keil.

Cinnamon Girl is her second young adult novel, and I’ve adored both of them. She has this knack for capturing the issues that your typical teenager goes through (what will I do when I grow up, how do I handle this new relationship) while adding a touch of geekery that appeals to my nerdy heart. ❤

I gobbled this book up while I was on holidays, and I adored it. At just shy of 300 pages, it’s a shorter book, making it the perfect holiday read — and it left me with a goofy smile on my face afterwards.

As is obvious from the blurb, Alba’s primary form of geekery is comic books. She’s a talented artist and wants to go to university to do a fine arts degree, but is in that end-of-year limbo where she’s finished high school but doesn’t yet know whether she made it into the course she’s after. This, combined with her friends’ different plans for what they want to do, leaves her with a panicked “live in the now” mindset that is echoed in the world around her, with its whole pending apocalypse vibe. That last part aside, the rest is something I could really relate to.

The relationship she has with her best friend, Grady, is basically the cutest. It’s pretty obvious from the start that he has a crush on her, but although she is attracted to him she also has a massive blind spot as far as he is concerned — probably because they have been friends since they were toddlers. Although I was cheering for them to get together, I didn’t find the delay as frustrating as I have in other books, I suspect because there were a lot of other interesting things going on.

As far as the apocalypse itself goes, Cinnamon Girl is a young adult contemporary, not a dystopian — it’s clear from the start of the book that the person forecasting the end of the world is a TV hack. But it’s really interesting to see the kaleidoscope that is the doomsday enthusiasts through Alba’s eyes.

Also, a special mention needs to go to all the food in this book. Alba lives and works in a bakery, and I spent the entire time I was reading this hankering for an apple danish or chocolate croissant. Mmm.

Cinnamon Girl is suitable for any age group from maybe mid-teens. There isn’t actual swearing or anything beyond kissing, though there is mention of sex and drug use. It’s the end of the world; of course stoners show up for a party! 😉

Seriously, you guys, read this book.

CinnamonGirl2

Five stars

Advertisements

Adventure Time: geeky, wonderful storytelling

Fiona

Fiona is the gender-flipped Finn. (The books are there because they look good together!)

(Note: If you’re new to Adventure Time and care about spoilers for kids TV, this post is not the one for you.)

I don’t normally blog about TV shows, mostly because I watch hardly any TV these days, aside from Doctor Who. (I used to watch Castle, but the most recent series lost me.) The shows I do see tend to be kids shows, because that is what my seven-year-old is watching.

I got into a discussion with some other parents of kids who are a similar age to my boy about appropriate television, and there seemed to be a consensus that Adventure Time was not appropriate television for pre-teens. The arguments mostly revolved around the violence — the main characters, Finn and Jake, do spend rather a lot of time beating up bad guys, and occasionally said bad guys can be hella creepy and kind of gross.

However, the stories that this strange little cartoon tells are geeky, complex and deal with real-world issues in a fictional way, providing a great opportunity for kids and parents to discuss them. There are gender-flipped episodes (featuring Fiona and Cake rather than Finn and Jake), and so many Dungeons and Dragons-references that this is basically my favourite show too.

Adventure Time is set on Earth, in what I suspect is continental USA, though the land is called “Ooo”. A thousand years ago there was the terrible “mushroom war”, when mutogenic goo was spread across the land and and civilisation as we know it was wiped out.

Finn the Human is one of the only humans in the show. He was raised by his adoptive family, that of Jake the Dog. Finn is a traditional D&D paladin — he is honourable and defends the weak, something that often gets him into trouble. He spends a lot of time trying to find himself and figure out the complexities of love. At one point in the show he struggles with depression, after he meets his real father and discovers said father is an amoral, hardened criminal.

Jake the Dog is Finn’s adoptive brother and best friend. He has “stretchy powers”, meaning he can change into whatever shape he wants. His D&D alignment would be true neutral — he tries to do the right thing because of Finn, but is largely in it for fun. He’s lazy and has a criminal past that Finn doesn’t know about. He has children with his girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn.

Princess Bubblegum is one of the main characters; she is ruler of the Candy Kingdom. She’s a loner, mad scientist and genius, and has a complicated friendship with Marceline the Vampire Queen. (Almost all the kingdoms are ruled by princesses, to the point where, when Bubblegum is temporarily ousted from rule by a pretender calling himself the King of Ooo, he declares himself princess and stars wearing her clothes. Marceline is an exception, but she’s also the only vampire. The Ice King calls himself a king but only rules over penguins.)

The Ice King is the original villain of the show; he likes to kidnap princesses and wants to marry one. However, as we get to know him, we discover he has a tragic past (there’s one particular episode that makes me bawl every time I see it). His overall storyline is a parallel for dementia: he has forgotten who he is and his princess obsession is his subconscious mind’s way of trying to reclaim what he once had.

Lumpy Space Princess is homeless (she lives in the woods, in boxes or hollow logs) and looking for love. Marceline is so old that she struggles with morality, often acting like a selfish teenage girl. BMO, the robot who lives with Finn and Jake, has a vivid imaginary world and is gender fluid (though uses the male pronoun).

Other examples of geekiness include the Prismo wish spell alternate reality plot; discussion of Flame Princess’s alignment (and how acting out of alignment will affect her experience); and a dungeon-crawl episode where Finn gets lost, seeking more and more powerful loot. It’s glorious!

I guess for parents who won’t get the geeky references and would prefer their children experience a more Disney-like world, I can see why Adventure Time wouldn’t be their thing. But I for one love it. ❤


Review: ‘The Summer I Became a Nerd’ by Leah Rae Miller

The Summer I Became a Nerd

On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleader—perky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she’s a nerd hiding in a popular girl’s body isn’t just unknown, it’s anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way.

Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop’s counter uncovers her secret, she’s busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie’s whisked into Logan’s world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become … and the more she risks losing Logan forever.

I can’t remember how I stumbled across this book, but I know that I bought it for the title — because obviously! Maddie’s a different variety of geek/nerd than I am; I’ve only got a handful of comics and graphic novels, and those I got as an adult. Logan’s geek experience is a lot closer to mine.

Yes, I have LARPed. I’ve never thrown ping pong balls at anyone, though. :p

This explanation is my way of saying that some parts of Maddie’s experience getting to know Logan and his world are eerily familiar to me. But other parts of her world are very unfamiliar, mostly the “American teenager” thing. Maddie is pretty much pathological about keeping her secret identity as a geek, well, secret, basically because she’s worried about toppling from the top of the popularity tree. Maybe time has fuzzed my memories of high school; maybe in Australia it’s a different social structure; or maybe because I was never popular I never realised how much those girls had to work to stay there. But I found the whole thing a bit baffling. Maddie’s woes are definitely self-inflicted, and at times I lost patience with her because of it.

That being said, I quite liked her voice when she wasn’t having a pity party, and I definitely liked Logan and the fact he and his hilariously brash best friend, Dan, don’t put up with her trying to keep them in the role of dirty secret. Logan is a bit of a teenage dreamboat for the geek set; his parents own a comic book and he’s snagged himself a summer radio show at the local college. I also liked what we saw of Terra, Maddie’s country-music-loving best friend; she’s another one who doesn’t take Maddie’s crap lying down.

I enjoyed spotting the various nerdy references, some of which were made up for the story (I assume; see previous comment about not having read that many comics) but some of which were real-world references. The romance between Logan and Maddie is sweet. The plot is a tiny bit predictable, but The Summer I Became a Nerd was a fun read and easily digestible, with a very clear “be true to yourself” message.

The Summer I Became a Nerd

Three-and-a-half stars


Review: ‘Eleanor & Park’ by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.

Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book – he thinks he’s made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor… never to Eleanor.

Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.

I bought this over a year ago, and it’s taken it this long to work to the top of my TBR pile. So I expect most of you will have already read it if you’re going to, but anyway…

I really enjoyed Eleanor & Park, for so many reasons, but I didn’t adore it — and I’m really struggling to put my finger on exactly why that is. Maybe I was in the mood for something a little more fun? I didn’t really know much about the book except that it was a contemporary romance set in the 80s (or do the 80s count as historical now?!).

Don’t get me wrong, there are fun parts to Eleanor & Park — I started high school at the end of the 80s so all the references to mix tapes and big hair made me gigglecringe (that’s totally a word). I loved their banter about comic books, and the way they bonded over them almost by accident. When Park tells Eleanor he’s going to give her the best Batman comic ever to read and she makes a crack about how in that one Batman raises two eyebrows instead of one, I laughed. A lot.

But, well, when the blurb talks about Eleanor’s chaotic family life, chaotic isn’t the right word. Horrific. Abusive. Dreadful (in the sense that, as a reader, it fills you with dread). It isn’t a fun place to experience. Park becomes Eleanor’s escape from all that, and I loved him for it — almost as much as she loved him.

As far as the plot goes, this story is heavy on the romance. I saw the plot twists coming — I tend to do that in romances; I don’t know why that is given I don’t read that many. But I didn’t mind too much. It was definitely a fast read, and technically well executed.

Rainbow Rowell’s writing is very, very good. She jumps between Eleanor’s and Park’s perspective all the time, but with little subheadings so you know who you’re reading about (it’s not just sloppy head-hopping like you sometimes see). There isn’t much description of the world around them — only the things that they think are important, which works. My favourite scenes were the high-emotion scenes where she gives you a snippet from each character and their thoughts mirror one another. It was so beautiful. *sniff*

The other thing worth mentioning is that both Eleanor and Park come across as real people. Park is half-Korean and looks it (unlike his brother, who looks more Irish). Eleanor is overweight. One of the sweetest things is that, when you see each character through the other’s eyes, they are the most beautiful things ever. Park never even seems to notice that Eleanor is overweight. Eleanor does notice that Park looks Korean, but she adores everything about him — especially his skin and his eyes.

If you love contemporary YA, 80s perms, comics and mix tapes, then Eleanor & Park is definitely worth checking out.

Four stars


Review: ‘You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)’ by Felicia Day

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world… or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.

Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.

Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.

If you’re a fan of Joss Whedon’s work, you may remember Felicia from his hit internet web series, Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog. She played Penny. *sniff* She’s also been on Buffy, Supernatural, and lots of other shows … but before she was on Doctor Horrible, she created her own web series, The Guild.

The Guild is inspired by Felicia’s own experiences in online computer games, especially  her addiction to World of Warcraft. I had a WoW addiction myself there for a couple of years (though I still managed to go to work), so the show and its characters really resonated for me. In fact, I quit WoW when I got pregnant because I “didn’t want to be a Clara” (the sweet but very neglectful mother in The Guild).

So I guess I owe Felicia a big thank you for saving my son’s childhood! Yay!

All of this is by way of explanation for why I picked up this book, and why I loved it — and Felicia — so, so much.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a relatively quick read (or listen — I bought the audiobook, which is narrated by the charming Felicia herself). And it’s one I thoroughly recommend for geeks. If you didn’t understand my paragraph about WoW, then some of the stuff in the book may go over your head. Although Felicia does a really good job of making the geek jargon accessible, I am not qualified to say how good a job she did, because I already knew what she was talking about.

Felicia is very honest about herself, her upbringing and her failings: she describes herself variously as anxious, driven and a control freak, and provides many, many examples of each. The book reveals things about her that I didn’t know, including how awful things got for her after she got doxxed by GamerGate. (I wanted to give her a hug, and then set fire to certain parts of the internet.)

What she doesn’t talk about is her adult personal life. She mentions several times that she has a boyfriend, but if you’re expecting salacious details, don’t hold your breath — she never even says what his name is. On the other hand, given the doxxing, who can blame her? Likewise, she mentions that she’s no stranger to restraining orders and talks about a disturbed fan turning up at her house, but doesn’t go into details about any of it. Again, fair enough.

Still, if you want to hear funny anecdotes about her homeschool experience, singing lessons, university violin performance, acting experience and so much more, this book is wonderful. I especially recommend it for the embarrassing stories of Felicia geeking out over other celebrities at fan conventions. That made me feel so much better about my incoherent behaviour whenever I’ve ever met anyone even slightly famous.

Thanks, Felicia!

Five stars


Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope’ by Ian Doescher

Verily A New Hope

MAY THE VERSE BE WITH YOU!

Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The sage of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ‘Tis a tale told by fretful Droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying… pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

I bought this as a present for a friend because the concept tickled me. When I got it home I started flicking through it … and before I knew it, I’d read the entire thing. (Sorry, Peter!)

Though I do love episode seven, I’d otherwise describe myself as a casual fan of the Star Wars franchise — I don’t own any of the DVDs and the only book I’ve read is Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath, because I’m a fan of his writing. Likewise, I’ve read some Shakespeare, but probably not since my university days.

Still, I’m familiar enough with each to recognise the famous quotes, which is fortunate, because I got a lot of joy from seeing Star Wars rendered in iambic pentameter, and from seeing Shakespeare quotes adapted to a Star Wars plot. (There was also a cheeky reference to Star Trek’s “boldly go” statement, which made me snigger.) Doescher has clearly taken a lot of care in adding these sorts of in-jokes for the reader, which take this book from a straight retelling to something both beautiful and slyly amusing.

The other thing I really liked about the adaptation is the Shakespearean use of the soliloquy to give glimpses into the true nature of each of the major characters. We hear C3PO talk about his true feelings for R2-D2 (despite his constant, snark-filled badgering), R2-D2 in turn reveal his disdain for C3PO, Darth Vader give a glimpse into the darkness in his soul, and Han reveal that he’s not just a scruffy criminal but something more. Luke’s starry-eyed desire for adventure and realisation it’s not all it’s cracked up to be makes me like his character more than his whining in the movie did.

The language is a lot easier to follow than genuine Shakespeare too, because — although Doescher has used the rhythm and basic linguistic trappings — I didn’t have to look up any of the words to see what they meant. YMMV. As I said, I haven’t read Shakespeare for a long time!

I strongly recommend this for fans of the movies who also love a bit of Shakespeare.

Four-and-a-half stars


My semi-annual geek tee stock-up

Ten months ago I posted about my geek t-shirt collection (I don’t own any regular t-shirts), with pictures of my five favourite geek tees. Sadly, my Statler and Waldorf and Scooby Doo ones have died, and the Minecraft one isn’t fit to leave the house in — although it is still very comfy. (I am wearing it as I draft this.)

So I ordered four new t-shirts to replace them. And they have arrived. SO EXCITE!

Note: I’ve included buy links on each of the shirt names if you want to be cool like me. 😉

Guardians of the Galaxy

Because I am a giant greenie at heart. Also, I am Groot. (I got this in the chocolate brown, because brown is my favourite colour. Because I am a greenie and love the Earth, I guess? And also, more realistically, because chocolate.)

Firefly

I couldn’t pass this up when I saw it. Kaylee is just the most adorable character ever written, and also, notice how she’s been drawn with some curves, not just up top but down below too? I like that.

Doctor Who meets Firefly

Because if Captain Mal were ever given the chance to steal a TARDIS, he’d be on that like Kaylee on a strawberry. Like Jayne on Vera. You know what I’m sayin’.

Doctor Who meets Frozen

There is the risk that this t-shirt will cement Do You Wanna Build a Snowman in my subconscious even more firmly than it already is, but that is a chance I am prepared to take.

What is your favourite t-shirt? Linkies, because I always need more. I DO!