Review: “Rules for Being A Girl” by Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno

So I might’ve found one of my favorite books of the year in Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno’s “Rules for Being A Girl.” Though I should preface this review by also saying that this read hurt because of how closely I identified with the themes and experiences it presents. It’s not a perfectly executed book by any means, and it may take a bit to get into the thick of what this book has to say with some scenes of quirky name dropping brands and pop culture references (Candace Bushnell, I see you and I’m cool with that, to an extent), but when this book starts hitting hard – it goes hard. And I really appreciated it on many levels.

To put my reaction to this book in context: “Rules for Being A Girl” is about Marin, who seems like she has a lot of things going for her with preparations for college, serving as an editor for her newspaper, even getting the attention of her favorite English teacher Mr. Beckett (Bex for short). But things take a swift turn when Bex makes unwelcome advances towards Marin when he takes her to his apartment. Bex doesn’t know how to weigh the situation, confesses to her best friend Chloe, but is even more infuriated and confused after Chloe’s questions and reactions.

This string of events lights a fire under Marin, who begins to question many things – her relationships, the casual comments and contradictions that surround her every day included. She writes an article for her paper called “Rules for Being A Girl” which is a full list of many toxic statements and microagressions in messages that girls/women face in their lives. Such a list goes down as well as one would expect, mostly either being completely ignored or the people in Marin’s life questioning her motivations for writing it in the first place. Not all of the people in her life react this way, though.

When she starts a feminist book club, she finds an unlikely ally in Gray Kendall. She has doubts about him to begin with (some of which being true), but they have a camraderie that’s really nice to read on page. But escalations in Marin’s personal life – as well as still having to attend Bex’s classes despite reporting him and the school ruling in his favor – push Marin to her breaking point in a spiral that gets deeper and more detailed as the book goes forward.

I not only deeply felt Marin’s outrage in all the experiences she endures for this book, but I also hurt for her as well. “Rules for Being A Girl” did a fine job of showing multiple reactions and angles of Marin taking the steps that she did, and also showing Marin’s reactions in a multi-dimensional scale – her thought process before and after the trauma, what she does to confront it, the falling out of some of her relationships and opportunities, and how she copes with it all, even in her impulsive decisions that aren’t so wise in the aftermath. There may be readers that question why Marin makes certain decisions in the thick of things, but I think that speaks to how there’s no one reaction in facing traumas and events like this. That’s something I can speak to liking about some of Katie Cutgno’s other works in particular, in addition to this one. I may not like everything that a character does, but at the very least I can see why she took those steps, and how they’re rationalized in the aftermath.

The novel isn’t always heavy in tone, as there are sweet moments between Marin and her Gram, the steadily developing relationship between Marin and Gray (which felt very believable as a romance), and even the friendship between Marin and Chloe, which gets tested many times through the narrative.

In the end, I really appreciated the read and Julia Whelan’s narration of the audiobook was very well done. Definitely recommend it.

Overall score: 4.5/5 stars.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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