November Wrap-Up

Another month is drawing to a close and I find myself asking again… Where did it go?

I know where mine went. It was dedicated to NaNoWriMo. I verified my 50,000 words yesterday. I hope everyone else has had a fun writing month. We can sleep now, it’s over.

(Well, almost)

I also turned 23.

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This month I reviewed:

Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

Feelings: I haunt Mindy’s Instagram account and make-believe that she’s my best friend.

Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

Feelings: Because of this debut, I will now read everything Nicola Yoon writes. Forever.

Carry On – Rainbow Rowell

Feelings: Baz, marry me?

Cress – Marissa Meyer

Feelings: The most adorable iteration of Rapunzel I have ever experienced.

I also read:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (reread)

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

First and Then – Emma Mills

(review coming soon, but *spoiler alert* I am making similar vows to read everything Emma Mills produces from this point forward).

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Autumn Book Tag

Trisha Ann @ The Bookgasm kindly tagged me to talk about all things autumnal. I am determined to wait until the end of November before I admit that it’s actually winter.

What is your favourite thing about Autumn?

autumn

This.

The short window of time before England becomes freezing and perpetually damp.

What book reminds you of your school days?

The Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Because I read it then and because the High School Experience.

One time a class of first year students locked my English teacher in a cupboard. Another time, my maths teacher came back from an extended sickness break and the first thing one of the kids in my class said to her was “didn’t you die?”

Yes, these incidents are amusing. But so mean. I can’t imagine why anyone would willingly spend their time with large groups of teenagers.

Name a book that reminds you of autumn:

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

What is your favourite Halloween or horror story?

Surely everyone knows this by now.

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What is your favourite Halloween TV?

Buffy, obviously.

What are the three books you plan to read this autumn?

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Winter – Marissa Meyer

Furiously Happy – Jenny  Lawson

What autumn movie release are you anticipating?

I am way too poor to go to the cinema these days, so I have tuned out of film news. Netflix-wise, I am most excited about and most enjoying Master of None and Jessica Jones. It’s a drop everything and watch situation.

 

 

 

 

Playing catch up: Cress

Cress has been imprisoned her whole life for being a Lunar born without the mind control powers unique to her race. After growing up in a facility with others like herself, she was transferred to a spaceship orbiting Earth seven years ago after showing aptitude for computer hacking. Her latest assignment, given to her by her captor, the evil thaumaturge Mistress Sybil, is to track down Cinder, the rogue Lunar and her criminal accomplice, Captain Carswell Thorne. Cress is not inclined to cooperate. In fact, she’s helping them hide. She supports Cinder’s mission, the de-throning of Lunar Queen Levana, and as for Captain Carswell Thorne… Well, she’s hopelessly in love with him. The photograph she has of him, anyway.

cress.jpgCress is not usually the sort of protagonist I like. Her description of herself as a ‘damsel in distress’ put me on edge. It set my feminist alarm bells ringing. So, I was pretty surprised when I looked up and realised I was a hundred pages in and totally in love with this girl.

Cress struck me as something of a departure from the other books in Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. Cinder and Scarlet are both pretty overtly strong characters. Cinder is trying to take down the queen of a planet, which is obviously bad-ass, and the descriptions of Michelle Benoit led me to believe that Scarlet grew up around a radical example of a strong, independent woman. Cress, on the other hand is anxious (to be fair, she has lived alone in a small space ship for the past seven years, that would make anyone a little agoraphobic), romantic and a total day dreamer (one of my favourite moments was when she summoned the bravery to sneak into the royal wedding with the affirmation “I am a famous actress.” As someone who constantly has to remind herself of her right to be places, I totally understood this sentiment).

Cress might not be the girl bursting in, guns already drawn, but so much of what has happened in the series has been down to her bravery. Everything Cinder did in the last book was possible because Cress was hiding her ship from Mistress Sybil, at great personal risk. Her world grew ten times bigger throughout the novel and she pretty much took it in her stride. She was also such an open person – to experience, to love, to her own emotions. It was a joy to see her character develop. Watching someone go through the world with so much hope and comparatively little cynicism was inspiring to me.

And then there is Captain Carswell Thorne (insert Cress-style yearning sigh). Thorne’s scenes were my favourite parts of Scarlet. Thorne is the charismatic, funny and (sometimes misguidedly) arrogant romantic lead. I would take The Funny Guy over The Prince or The Brooder any day. When I realised that Thorne was going to play a greater part in Cress, I was thrilled. It probably goes without saying at this point that Cress and Thorne’s is my favourite relationship of the series so far. Obviously it’s enjoyable watching their differences clash, particularly Cress’ perceptions of Thorne’s actions against their actual meaning (letting a tiger out of a zoo because he recognised its need for freedom (Cress) versus having a really awesome pet (Thorne)). But it’s also interesting to look at their similarities, mainly their adaptability. As I’ve already mentioned, Cress deals with a transition from a tiny spaceship to the Sahara desert with minimal panic attacks. Carswell loses his sight but keeps walking as if it’s no big deal. He figures out how to win at cards while blind. They both came to Cinder’s aid out of a desire to escape from prison. I hope we get to spend time with them in Winter. I am not ready to say goodbye to their relationship yet.

My back handed criticism is that I already feel the need to reread the entire series. So much happens in these books. I feel as if I am getting a little lost in all of the narrative threads. Perspective jumps around a lot. I enjoy this about the series, but at the same time, because all the characters have different levels of understanding of the Earth/Luna war situation, I find myself confused. Whenever I think I know what’s happening, Kai’s (Emperor of Earth, has taken something of a backseat to the narrative since book one) confusion confuses me.

My actual criticism of the book is this: Cress and Thorne crash to Earth in a spaceship and just happen to land only a few miles away from Cinder and then just happen to be kidnapped by criminals who take them right to her. I understand why Marissa Meyer did this. The world is big and if Thorne and Cress had landed in Alaska it’s unlikely that they would ever have found Cinder again. All the same, the convenience of it all was a little much, and definitely interrupted my engagement with the story.

Overall though, I loved this book. Cress could not have been such an enjoyable character had Cinder and Scarlet not come before her. I can’t wait to read Winter.

Carry On

Carry On is the story of Simon Snow, the chosen one. He’s the mages heir, born to save the wizarding world from destruction by the Insidious Humdrum, a creature that steals magic. He also has to deal with his evil probable-vampire roommate, Baz, who is always working on some scheme that may-or-may-not result in Simon’s death. So far in their final year at the Watford School of Magicks, Baz hasn’t shown up at all, and it’s driving Simon crazy. Add to that the fact that his girlfriend, Agatha just broke up with him for the aforementioned vampire roommate and you’ve got a pretty distraught Simon Snow. He doesn’t feel like the chosen one at all…

Carry On is the story of Simon Snow, the chosen one. He’s the Mage’s heir, born to save the wizarding world from destruction by the Insidious Humdrum, a creature that steals magic. He also has to deal with his evil probable-vampire roommate, Baz, who is always working on some scheme that may-or-may-not result in Simon’s death. So far in their final year at the Watford School of Magicks, Baz hasn’t shown up at all, and it’s driving Simon crazy. Add to that the fact that his girlfriend, Agatha just broke up with him for the aforementioned vampire roommate and you’ve got a pretty distraught Simon Snow. He doesn’t feel like the chosen one at all…

Carry on, by Rainbow Rowell is a sort of companion novel to Fangirl. Fangirl is about a girl called Cather who writes fanfiction about the Simon Snow book series written by the (also fictional) Gemma T. Leslie. Throughout Fangirl, Cather was working on her greatest piece of fanfiction yet. Carry On is that fanfiction.

IMG_0270.JPGDo you need to have read Fangirl to read Carry On?

Not necessarily.

But, we spend a lot of time with Simon and Baz during Fangirl. We get a lot of background about their characters and a sense of their relationship – or perhaps I should say their relationship as Cath perceives it. Wading into Carry On without that grounding could make it difficult to connect, I think. Carry On is, after all the finale to a story we haven’t experienced. There are ways in which it is incomplete a reader could find alienating not coming at it with their Fangirl eyes.

I really liked Carry On. I loved Baz coming out of Fangirl, and he was absolutely the most compelling character in the book. I wasn’t aware that so much of it would be from his perspective, which was a pleasant surprise. He’s a funny and cynical narrator. If the book had come entirely from Simon’s point of view, Baz would have been the typical brooding boyfriend (read: boring), but hearing his brutally honest internal monologue made him a much more complex and interesting guy (read: I’m in love). Obviously I enjoyed the romance, but I would have liked more from Simon about his developing feelings. Considering that much of the book was from his perspective, some of his actions toward Baz felt a bit abrupt. That said, I appreciate that he had a lot else going on. When you have the entire world of the mages to save, I can see how you wouldn’t have time to sit around and dissect your feelings for your hot roommate.

(I’m lying. I think I could do both).

IMG_0272.JPGDespite being over 500 pages long, this is actually a pretty quick read. The plot is fast paced! It’s was one of those where I was creating imaginary scenarios about what could possibly happen next while attempting to go about my day. My main criticism was that certain aspects of it where somewhat underdeveloped. The Mage, for example, is the head teacher of Watford and the boss of all magicians and the closest thing Simon has to family, but he’s not a likeable or interesting person. I probably wouldn’t have cried when Snape murdered him, is what I’m saying. A lot of the other mages don’t like him as a leader and I totally understood why. Nobody knew where the guy even was for most of the book. It was disappointing, because we were told that Simon’s relationship with him was important, but we never really got to see that.

My other problem – and one I tried hard to talk myself out of – is that a lot of major events in this book happen out of nowhere. Certain realisations (and make outs) happen too easily, and major plot points are resolved in a way that didn’t really take 500 pages (or 7 completely fictitious previous books).

That all said, Rowell’s characterisation is strong as ever, and the novel is packed with people you can’t help but react to. Penelope, Simon’s best friend, is so wonderful I kind of resented Simon for turning her into a sidekick. Agatha, Simon’s soon-to-be-ex girlfriend is so annoying I wish she didn’t exist, and Baz’s Aunt Fiona is the type you just know will be rebelling way after the cause is well and truly over.

It’s a fun read with a hot romance. What more could a person need on a wintery evening?

(More money for heating. I know. I feel your pain).

Also: Rainbow Rowell loves a man with a receding hairline. It’s not a judgement, just an observation.

Procrastinate like a Feminist

Am I struggling to keep up with blogging and NaNoWriMo?

Yes.

Yes, I am.

I owe this partly to my fantastic procrastination skills.

When I procrastinate by reading feminist materials, I class it as ‘learning’ and therefore not time wasting.
I think maybe it’s both.

As such, today, I figured I would help you procrastinate better.

Am I struggling to keep up with blogging and NaNoWriMo?

Yes.

Yes, I am.

I owe this partly to my fantastic procrastination skills.

When I procrastinate by reading feminist materials, I class it as ‘learning’ and therefore not time wasting.

I think maybe it’s both.

As such, today, I figured I would help you procrastinate better.

To read:

Lenny

A feminist publication started by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner. Sign up and you’ll get a weekly newsletter filled with articles about women fighting sexism in Silicon Valley, the results of gun wielding abusers (nothing good. When will it end?) and the experience of having a ‘vagacial’ (I didn’t know that was a thing, either).

To listen:

Women of the Hour (itunes)

Lena Dunham also just started a podcast. It’s wonderful. It has a pretty limited run I believe, and I have loved the first two episodes so much that I am pre-grieving it’s ending. There’s a subject a week – so far we’ve had friendship and bodies – and within that Lena hands the mic to the women who can best speak to it. The podcast features a pretty wide spectrum of feminists.

It brings out all of my emotions, and I end each podcast with a post-it filled with names of women I now must follow on Twitter, Instagram, etc.

One such post-it featured Ashley C. Ford, who was one of the speakers on the friendship episode. Since the show first appeared on itunes, I have read pretty much all of her work that I can find. She writes beautifully. One of my favourite pieces of hers was an interview with Rainbow Rowell. I wrote this quote in my journal:

‘When I asked if world-building was a coping mechanism, a tool of resilience for children in bad situations, Rowell takes a moment to respond. Then offers, thoughtfully, “I have really mixed feelings, because there’s this idea that kids are resilient, and I don’t really believe it. I think kids get by and do what they need to survive, and then they kind of turn into bombs.”

So, how do we defuse the bomb?

“Hopefully, you get to a place where you’re feeling secure and you’re feeling safe, and that’s when it comes out.” She takes a deep breath and exhales into the receiver. “That’s the most you can hope for.”’

To watch:

I listen to Beyonce while I jog. I had been meaning to listen to ‘that sample bit in Flawless’ forever. I finally did it. This talk is inspiring. Watch and fall in love with this lady.

We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Everything Everything

Maddy is sick. She has SCID. It’s a chronic condition that can basically be described as an allergy to everything. She hasn’t been able to leave her house in seventeen years. The only people in her life are her mother (who also happens to be her doctor), and her nurse, Carla, who is pretty much her best friend in the world.

That is, until one day, a new family move in across the street. Until, specifically, Olly moves in across the street.

Suddenly Maddy’s life inside isn’t enough anymore.

Maddy is sick. She has SCID. It’s a chronic condition that can basically be described as an allergy to everything. She hasn’t been able to leave her house in seventeen years. The only people in her life are her mother (who also happens to be her doctor), and her nurse, Carla, who is pretty much her best friend in the world.

That is, until one day, a new family move in across the street. Until, specifically, Olly moves in across the street.

Suddenly Maddy’s life inside isn’t enough anymore.

EverythingEverythingCoverFor whatever reason, I waited a really long time to read Everything Everything, by Nicola Yoon. It arrived ages ago, but for a month or two it has been sitting on my shelf, underneath Why Not Me?, Asking for It and Six of Crows. I think I did this because I knew that this book would either be a colossal disappointment, or one of those reads during which I would become nostalgic about it before it was even over.

It was the second one. I loved this book. Nicola Yoon handled her subject matter well. She wrote Maddy as your average eighteen year old. That she wasn’t ever allowed to leave the house was just happenstance. It wasn’t something Maddy especially dwelt on, because it was her normality. I loved Yoon’s presentation of family time, particularly the games like phonetic Scrabble that Maddy played with her mother. Small moments like that build up the truth of your family life. It had the effect of showing us the loving relationship between Maddy and her mother while also showing us how small Maddy’s world was. That game came up a lot – I swear at times it was all Maddy and her mother did. They even played it when Maddy wanted nothing but to be as far from her mother as she could get.  The constant game of phonetic Scrabble (that Maddy didn’t win until right near the very end), was like a symbol of the suffocating relationship Maddy and her mother had. When Maddy won the final game they played in the book, it was a signifier for the change that was finally coming in their relationship. Getting out from underneath someone else’s suffocating love is difficult and painful, but something that had to happen for Maddy or her mother to have even a chance at their best future.

One the criticisms I have seen levelled at this book most frequently is that we don’t get enough of Maddy’s mother. I completely disagree. Whether she’s there or not, she is a looming presence throughout the book. She is the walls of Maddy’s prison. I think the reason for her relative disappearance in much of the book is that, for the first time ever, Maddy’s life is about herself.

Carla was the foil to Maddy’s mother. Without her influence I don’t think the Maddy that we read about would have been possible. Where Maddy’s mum restricts her, Carla is all about setting her free. She is the one who teaches Maddy that her life is her own. Carla knows that it is a person’s one job during their time here to live their life, even when doing that is scary.

You’re not living if you’re not regretting.’ – Carla, the best nurse ever.

Obviously I can’t end this review without talking about Olly. Oh, Olly. Why didn’t you move in across the street from me? Granted, I am not trapped in my house owing to chronic illness, but it’s very difficult for me to leave the village most of the time because the public transport is so bad. That counts, right? I’m basically Rapunzel in the tower until a friend with a car shows up.

Anyway. Olly was everything I like in a boy: hyper-active energy, emotional damage and the sort of flirtatious attitude that puts an instant, embarrassing and totally unavoidable grin on my face. I’ve heard Maddy and Olly’s attraction described as insta-love, but I don’t agree at all. It’s insta-sexual tension, which is way more acceptable. As I have made clear before, I am a big fan of sexual tension. It’s insta-sexual tension that turns into a real relationship. As far as I’m concerned, Olly totally seems like a guy worth leaving the house for.

I guess my one criticism of this book is that I would have liked to have read more about Maddy’s life post-twist. The resolution came so quickly after, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see more of how Maddy dealt with the situation. I would have liked to have seen Olly’s reaction, too.

But this is a backhanded criticism. Essentially my complaint is that the book ended.

To which I have to say, good job, Nicola Yoon. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

My Life in Books, Part One

Today, I was supposed to do the My Life in Books tag, which Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books kindly tagged me to do.

So I’m sort of doing that. But in a slightly more literal sense.

I turned 23 yesterday and lately I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m doing (in life in general) and books have a lot to do with that. So instead of talking about the books currently at the top of my shelf, I’m going to talk about those that helped me the most. The ones that made me feel excited about life. I’m talking about that experience of reading where you recognise something and it plugs a leak and opens the floodgates all at the same time.

Today, I was supposed to do the My Life in Books tag, which Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books kindly tagged me to do.

So I’m sort of doing that. But in a slightly more literal sense.

I turned 23 on Monday and lately I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m doing (in life in general) and books have a lot to do with that. So instead of talking about the books currently at the top of my shelf, I’m going to talk about those that helped me the most. The ones that made me feel excited about life. I’m talking about that experience of reading where you recognise something and it plugs a leak and opens the floodgates all at the same time.

It comes in two parts because there are many such books. The feminist texts are coming in part two, don’t worry.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

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When I was a kid, I loved this book because Charlie was totally trapped inside his brain. As an adult, I love this book because it’s all about healing. It’s about deciding who you are going to be because of and in spite of your experiences.

‘…it’s like when my doctor told me the story of these two brothers whose dad was a bad alcoholic. One brother grew up to be a successful carpenter who never drank. The other brother ended up being a drinker as bad as his dad was. When they asked the first brother why he didn’t drink, he said that after he saw what it did to his father, he could never bring himself to even try it. When they asked the other brother, he said he guessed he learned how to drink on his father’s knee. So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. We can still try to feel okay about them.’

Matilda – Roald Dahl

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I loved reading and I hated bullies. It figures that this would be one of my favourite books. I really liked the idea that grown-up bullies could be beaten. Unfortunately in real life you do this by growing up rather than developing telekinetic powers. Real life is so disappointing sometimes.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

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I minored in Creative Writing for my degree. In my Creative Writing classes, our tutors almost always handed out short stories they thought we should read. I almost always hated them. Until one day, I was given a story by Sherman Alexie. I fell in love. When I discovered he had written a YA novel, and that it was no less than the True Diary – a novel so beloved it’s practically mythic – I had to read it. Sometimes when I read I understand feelings I didn’t realise I was having. There’s a Q&A in the back of my edition, and one question Alexie answers says everything better than I ever could:

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a young person who wants to break free from the life that’s been set out for them and find their own way?

You have to get very comfortable with the idea of being lonely. For all of human history, we’ve always run away from being lonely and now there are even more distractions. But that’s the thing – if you’re going to make the decision to rebel against your tribe, you’re going to get very lonely.’

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

the graveyard book

So many of the books that have meant everything to me are preoccupied with the idea of leaving. I am only just now realising that.

‘There was a passport in his bag, money in his pocket. There was a smile dancing on his lips, although it was a wary smile, for the world is a bigger place than a little graveyard on a hill; and there would be dangers in it and mysteries, new friends to make, old friends to rediscover, mistakes to be made and many paths to be walked before he would, finally return to the graveyard or ride with the Lady on the broad back of her great grey stallion.

But between now and then there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.’

Can you think of a book that has had a profound effect on you? And, if there are lots of those books, do they run along a theme? It was only in writing this that I started to realise mine did. The next book I want to write about is Paper Towns, from which one of my favourite quotes is:

It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”

I think perhaps my books are trying to tell me something.