March Wrap-Up

I am disgusted by how fast 2017 is going. But then again, aren’t we all?

The other night I read this quote by Cheryl Strayed. She writes:

‘The useless days will add up to something.

The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours spent writing in your journal. The long, meandering walks. The days reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.’

 

I really love Cheryl Strayed.

Reading-wise, it has been an odd month. I felt mostly lukewarm about the books I read, with one notable exception (Wires and Nerve, obviously). Here’s to a better reading month in April, I guess.

March wrap up

This month I reviewed:

Wires and Nerve – Marissa Meyer

Feelings: I didn’t realise how much I’d missed spending time with these characters until I had them back. Iko’s perspective is so fresh and interesting and her relentless optimism in the face of a shitty world is inspiring to read.

The Dark Days Pact – Alison Goodman

Feelings: The last 250 pages of this book were really, really good. The first 250, however, dragged and were largely unnecessary.

This Adventure Ends – Emma Mills

Feelings: This was a highly anticipated read of mine that turned out disappointing. It just didn’t match up to the originality and emotional authenticity of First & Then, in my opinion.

I also wrote about:

5 podcasts I’m loving right now

Top 4 villains of The Vampire Diaries

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for

To Read: THIS New Yorker piece on Megan Phelps, a woman previously involved in the Westboro Baptist Church. She article details how, through conversations she had out Twitter, Phelps came to doubt the hateful beliefs she had been brought up with and eventually made the decision to leave the church, and her family behind. Her story is really beautiful.

To Watch: A wonderful conversation between Marie Forleo and Cheryl Strayed about life, grief, writing and dealing with all your childhood shit.

To Listen: Ayelet Waldman talking about microdosing herself with LSD to treat her depression.

 

 

 

 

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Wires and Nerve

In her first graphic novel, Marissa Meyer extends the world of the Lunar Chronicles with a brand-new, action-packed story about Iko, the android with a heart of (mechanized) gold. When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers’ leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity. With appearances by Cinder, Cress, Scarlet, Winter and the rest of the Rampion Crew, this is a must-have for fans of the bestselling series.

Wires and Nerve

I don’t think it is possible for me to get enough of the Lunar Chronicles. I just adore these women and their politically complex world. It’s like Meyer’s mission with this series was to take the idea of the one special snowflake girl and smash it to pieces. It’s like a snow storm in the Alps.

It’s weird now, having read Wires and Nerve, that it had never occurred to me that the series felt somewhat incomplete without a story written from Iko’s point of view.

Of course that needed to happen.

(Like the best writers, Meyer knows what I need before I even think of it).

This story has everything a fan of the Lunar Chronicles could possibly want – a new romance, Cinder kicking ass at the whole queen thing (with Iko and some new friends coaxing her into more queenly attire than her beloved overalls) and plenty of time spent on the Rampion with Cress and Thorne (as well as an interesting look at Thorne’s life pre-criminal mastermind phase). It was so easy to slip back into the world and immerse yourself in the dynamics of these characters.

(Lunar Chronicles re-read, anyone? I think I might have to).

There were two really interesting elements in Wires and Nerve that I’m particularly excited to see Meyer expand on as the series continues. One was Iko admitting her desire to be human, and the other, the villains of the story: the wolf hybrids.

It becomes apparent early on that in all the stories told on Earth and Luna of the now mythic takedown of the evil Queen Levana, Iko is missing. Whereas the other members of the Rampion crew are famous and in one case, queen, Iko’s role has been dismissed by the people. We get the feeling as the reader that this has served as the catalyst for Iko’s sort of ingrained self-hatred (although it feels weird to call it that since Iko has always presented as such a joyful character). She has been deeply invested in so many human experiences – loss, love, war, success, failure – and yet by people’s attitudes toward her excluded from them. Meyer explores this through Iko’s relationship with her love interest, Kinney, a guy determined to see her as nothing more than a simple robot. I love how Iko’s presence causes Kinney in particular, but also everyone who encounters her, honestly, to question what humanity really is, and whether only people who are officially ‘human’ can have it.

Speaking of complexity, I find Meyer’s approach to the new villains, the wolf-hybrids created by Queen Levana, to be super interesting. While, as the reader, we’re theoretically against them (they want to hurt Cinder! WTF?! GET THEM!), their anger and complete distrust of a government that turned them into terrifying mutants and (in their view) refuses to turn them back makes total sense. Though their actions and appearance are certainly monstrous, it’s hard to consider them monsters. They are really more the victims of the story than the villains.

My only issue is that I have to wait a year for volume 2.

HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?

Top 5 Podcasts I’m Loving Right Now

I don’t have the most evolved taste in podcasts. I am always last on the bandwagon of anything great. Almost all of my favourite listens I got through recommendations rather than finding them myself. I am the opposite of a podcast hipster. In my podcast listening, as in all other areas of my life, I am uncool.

I’m okay with it.

That said, despite my lack of authority and creativity in finding new shows to listen to, I do love giving recommendations as much as I like receiving them. I recently had a shake-up of the shows I listen to. I used to subscribe to a lot of personal development shows, but I’ve dropped them lately due to their complete disconnection to the real actual world. People who say ‘all you can do is focus on yourself’ in response to events like Trump’s election and Brexit aren’t my people.

There is a weird feeling of guilt attached to dropping things – TV shows, books, podcasts – that don’t really serve who you are any more. Does anyone else get that, or is it just me? I hope it’s not just me.

These are the shows I’m interested in right now. I think you might be too.

Invisibilia

I LOVE this show. It’s about the invisible forces that influence our lives. It functions a bit like This American Life, in that each episode has a subject matter that is explored through different, generally very unusual stories. There was an episode that asked the question of whether blindness is a social construct, an episode about thinking, and how our thoughts create (or don’t) our lives. The most recent episode I listened to (I’m only at the beginning of season 2), was about engaging with your emotions, and how making hyper-masculine oil rig workers cry actually reduced the amount of fatal accidents among workers.

What really makes this show is its hosts. Alix Spiegel, Lulu Miller and Hanna Rosin are such charming, funny and smart women talking about complicated subjects in a way that is approachable and relatable.

Also, they end every show with a dance party, in which I always participate.

Alice Isn’t Dead

From the creators of Welcome to Night Vale, this is probably my favourite fictional podcast series to date. Alice is brimming with an atmosphere of threat and mystery that’ll compel you to binge the first season in days.

Our unnamed (for the majority of the show, anyway) narrator lost her wife a few years back. She thought she was dead, until one day she saw her on the news. She was in the background, walking past a murder scene. The narrator sort of thought she was going crazy until it happened again. And again. And again. So she quit her job to become a trucker, work in which she can drive across the country searching for her lost wife.

There are dangers the narrator cannot comprehend waiting for her. But she’ll face whatever she has to if it’ll reunite her with the love of her life.

On Being with Krista Tippet

This is a show I listen to occasionally rather than religiously, but it fascinates me whenever I tune in. On Being is pretty much exactly that – it is a show during which Tippet and her guest explore what it means to be human. She has discussions through the lens of race, politics, religion, sexuality, tragedy, literature and pretty much everything else you can think of.

If I can recommend a specific starting point, it would be her interview with Maria Popova of Brainpickings.org.

Mostly Lit

I think this is the only UK based podcast I listen to. It is about books, and being a Londoner, blackness and religion. It’s also very funny. I aspire to be as smart as the hosts of this show.

The books discussed are definitely majority literary – I haven’t read most of them – and a lot of shows are dedicated to classic literature. Mostly Lit hosts various guests, mostly of the young London literary scene. One of the most interesting interviews was with Crystal Mahey-Morgan about her publishing company OWN IT! and the importance of diversity in publishing.

The Moth

This podcast is simply people telling stories. Performances of live story tellings are recorded across the world and compiled each week into the Moth Radio Hour. People tell true stories of their lived experiences, tragic or funny, unusual or commonplace, political or personal.

I love it.

 

What are some of your favourite podcasts? I’m always looking for recommendations.

 

The Dark Days Pact

Brighton, July 1812

Lady Helen Wrexhall has taken refuge in Brighton following the scandalous events at her presentation ball. Now she must complete her Reclaimer training, ready to battle the Grand Deceiver believed to have arrived in England.

Her mentor, Lord Carlston, is facing his own inner battle, and as he fights the violent darkness within his soul, Lady Helen’s loyalty is tested. Entrusted with a secret mission by the Home Office, she must make the agonising choice between betraying those around her or breaking her oath to the dark days club.

dark days pact

The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman, book 2 in a series, was kind of like a bad season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t half drag in places.

Things I liked:

  • 19th century feminism.
  • Spratt, the precocious child I really hope Helen is planning to save from a life of prostitution.
  • The last 250 pages – they were brutal!
  • Any occasion in which Helen beats someone up, Buffy-style.
  • Darby and Quinn – more of them in future please.

Things I did not like:

  • Lord Carlston (sorry!) Veering between a raging demon and the role of Giles (if he were fuckable) just didn’t work for me.
  • The first 200 pages.
  • Delia, the Dawn of the story. Irrelevant after her first season but kind of hard to dispose of.
  • Lady Margaret – like Xander, you have to believe at some point she’s going to show us why she exists, but with each chapter, the hope fades…

Things I hated but kind of loved hating:

  • The Duke of Selburn AKA Riley Finn.

The biggest issue I have with The Dark Days Pact is that it is 500 pages long for no reason. The action, excitement and plot development all take place in the second half of the book, and getting to it (though it was certainly worth it) was a challenge for me. I really think some authors need to take a lesson from Bardugo and write a duology once in a while.

The first 200 pages aside (sorry, Alison Goodman. I know you did a lot of research.), The Dark Days Pact is a really fun read. In this second instalment we really get a sense of the Dark Days Club as a government controlled organisation that is as susceptible to corruption as any other. The ghost of Samuel Benchley continues to cast a shadow over Helen’s life, mostly in the form of his erstwhile terrene, Lowry, a rapey, murderous creep determined to cling to his rapidly declining terrene strength – through any means necessary. The other villain of the piece is the much less scary, but more powerful Mr Pike, second secretary to the prime minster and the official ‘boss’ of the Dark Days Club. He’s the guy who knows all your secrets, and isn’t afraid to use them to blackmail you. And also he considers murder to be a good solution for dealing for problematic people. He’s kind of like every responsible adult in Buffy’s life – initially irritating but secretly sinister.

And then there’s Selburn. The Duke. The asshole. He’s the kind of guy who will totally call himself a feminist supporter while casually objectifying women and making intensely problematic pronouncements about consent.

We do not like him.

With the exception of Quinn, and most of the time Hammond, I do not like the men in these books.

I don’t think we’re supposed to. Except for Carlston I guess. Ugh. Who else is so over the I LOVE HIM but he might murder me but I LOVE HIM trope? I am raising two hands. It’s like when Spike tries to rape Buffy and then we’re just supposed to forgive him for it.

I did not forgive him for it.

Anyway – back to Selburn. What I find interesting is that it is Selburn and the other (white, straight) men who populate this book who are Helen’s true enemy, rather than the demons that she is supposed to be fighting. It is the men who actively participate in the creation of a society in which women have no freedom, even as they profess to be in love with them. It is these men who are a true threat to Helen’s life. Demons she can dispatch with a few punches, men however, have the ability to destroy her life without laying a finger on her. In one scene – MINOR SPOILER – Selburn tells Helen he is in love with her even as he threatens her with the consequences of rejecting him.

It’s crazy that a woman with the ability to crush a man with her little finger can still be controlled by him. But that’s the point Goodman is making. Back then, women’s lives weren’t their own, and for even the richest of women trying to take control had often devastating consequences. It is the feminism that runs throughout this story that kept me reading even during its most draggy chapters.

I’m interested to see what Goodman does with book 3.

I’m hoping it comes with some comeuppance for Selburn better than Helen inevitably ditching him for Carlston. I want an event that undermines the principles of misogyny that his entire life is built on. DESTORY HIM please, Alison.

Top 4 Villains of The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries ended last week. Though it was time (to be totally honest, it was probably time a couple of seasons back), I will miss the show. Julie Plec’s weekly dose of the ridiculous brought some much needed light heartedness into my life.

I’m going to have to find a new stupid TV show to be obsessed with.

In celebration and mourning of the end, I figured I’d make a list. Because that is what I do in times of strife. Here are my favourite villains of The Vampire Diaries (I tried for 5, but these 4 were really the ones who made the show for me):

4.Katherine Pierce

Katherine TVD

Katherine was the original TVD villain, the bad bitch who would not stay gone, the doppelganger I think we all secretly liked way better. There was something uniquely satisfying about watching her hurl a Salvatore brother across a room. All in heels, of course.

All that said, her comeuppance (both of them!) was probably the most satisfying of any villain in the series. Watching Elena shove the cure into Katherine’s face was a perfect moment of irony and catharsis.

RIP, Katherine Pierce. Those Heretics were an insult to your memory.

Best Worst Moment: That time she chopped John Gilbert’s fingers off. Ouch.

3.Silas

Silas TVD

The best sort of TVD villain is one that takes a long time coming. Silas’ name was uttered countless times before he actually showed up. And when he did, like all best TVD villains, he was a psychopathic comedian.

‘I’m like a supernatural Madonna. I keep reinventing myself.’

Oh Silas, how I loved you.

I don’t want to go on, but how did we go from that to the Heretics? How? HOW?

Anyway.

Best Worst Moment: When he killed the couple at the bus stop after Amara stabbed him in the neck. You know, just cause he was having a bad day.

2.Klaus

klaus tvd

I miss TVD Klaus. Remember back when he was funny? Back before he cried all the time?

Remember ‘because I fancy you?

Those were the days.

There was nothing I enjoyed more than watching Klaus drive Tyler Lockwood slowly insane. If there is one thing I like more than a funny  villain, it’s a charming villain and Klaus managed to be both the guy you’d stake through the heart and invite out for dinner.

Best Worst Moment: Drowning Tyler Lockwood’s mom. Oof.

1.Kai

kai tvd

Yep, it’s Kai. In a lacklustre season 6 (did ANYONE still care about Delena at this point?!), Kai was the gift that would not stop giving. Let’s be honest, we all love a funny sociopath, and Kai’s performance delivered over and over again.

I clapped my hands with GLEE when he reappeared to make the season 8 finale everything we had hoped it would be.

Kai is 100% inappropriate, unapologetic and ridiculous. I would totally be asking for a spinoff if I didn’t know that Julie Plec would turn him into a whiny little bitch (a la Damon and Klaus) given half a chance.

Best Worst Moment: Literally ALL of them.

RIP, TVD. I’ll miss you.

This Adventure Ends

Sloane isn’t expecting to fall in with a group of friends when she moves from New York to Florida – especially not a group of friends so intense, so layered with private tragedies and secret codes, and so all-consuming. Yet that’s exactly what happens.

Sloane becomes closest to Vera, a social-media star who lights up any room, and Gabe, Vera’s twin brother and the most serious person Sloane has ever met. When a beloved painting by the twins’ laye mother goes missing, Sloane takes on the responsibility or tracking it down m a journey that crosses state lines – and pulls her ever deeper into the twins’ lives.

Filled with powerful and important friendships, a wonderful warts-and-all family, shiveringly good romance, a sharp, witty dialogue, this story is about finding the people you never knew you needed.

This Adventure Ends

I ADORED First and Then, Emma Mills’ first novel, so when This Adventure Ends was released I was determined to get my hands on a copy right away. That didn’t happen. Thanks in part to Amazon’s now ridiculously long postage times (I will not be forced onto Prime! First, out of principle and second because I can’t afford it anyways) and my copy getting lost and having to be resent… it took a couple months for it to finally arrive. This long anticipatory build up may have been to the book’s detriment.

This Adventure Ends is okay; a solid three and a half stars with engaging characters let down by a plot that felt rushed.

Mills is a character driven writer in the style of Sarah Dessen. This Adventure Ends is the story of Sloane’s life being turned upside down by a new group of friends she meets after defending one of them from a bully at a party. They are the kind of friends we all wish we had: Viv, an Instagram it-girl with a big heart, her twin brother Gabe, a noble defender of humanity, and Frank Sanger, the boy who knows where all the greatest parties are happening. Sloane falls in love with these people, believably if somewhat abruptly, and spends the rest of the book trying to prove her love by tracking down a painting by Gabe and Viv’s recently deceased mother that was accidentally sold. In secret.

Gabe, Viv and Frank Sanger leap off the page. Like Sloane, as the reader you really enjoy the opportunity to be in their orbit. They are kind, funny, fiercely loyal and loving toward one another in a way that lands straight in your heart. Plotting issues aside, these people really worked for me, and as in any good contemporary YA, I would like to join their friendship group now please.

The other most important relationship in Sloane’s life is with her dad, a famous author currently mired in a serious case of writers block. They are like sort of twin sounding boards for each other. Sloane goes to her dad with her big questions, and the answers feed back into his writing, whether Sloane wants them to or not. The key part of that being the not.

The whole Sloane’s dad storyline was actually one of my biggest frustrations with the book – it just didn’t go anywhere.

That was my criticism of the entire book, actually.

As in most contemporaries in this style, the entire novel was gearing up toward a big conflict between Sloane and the most important people in her life. This is usually a moment of catharsis, one in which all of the issues a character has can be brought out into the light so he or she can begin the process of healing. It didn’t really feel like that. It felt like an explosion that came from nowhere and went nowhere. The conflict – both the arguments she was having with her friends and with her dad – were just waved away like they didn’t happen. This was partly because they needn’t have happened.

The conflict didn’t feel earned, legitimate, or in some cases, consistent with the characters as we had known them up until that point.

It was disappointing.

Throughout the whole book I found myself wanting more: more development of characters, more information about certain situations – Sloane is concerned about the state of her parents’ marriage based on an exchange that is less than a page long and only referred to once in the entire book – and more back story to Sloane herself. She presents as a complex, quite emotionally closed off character, but those elements of her are never really explored. For much of the book I found myself wondering why.

All that aside, I found This Adventure Ends to be an enjoyable, if frustrating read. It’s slightly flat plot is saved by a cast of engaging, #friendshipgoals characters probably better suited for reading on the beach rather than on the train home, delirious after working a 12 hour shift.

February Wrap-Up

I hope everybody had a good February. I worked and caught what feels like my hundredth cold of the winter.

My ipod classic finally died. RIP, ipod classic.

I started attending a spin class. And I love it! Who am I?!

I celebrated March 1st by sellotaping the four agreements to my (broken in an unfortunate incident) mirror. During February I started to think that becoming a better person was an active process. In addition to the four agreements, I stuck another post-it above my desk that says ‘my fuck budget is low’, a Katherine Ryan quote.

Apparently measurable person improvement begins with post-its.

february-wrap-up

Also I reviewed books. This month they included:

Swing Time – Zadie Smith

The Wangs vs the World – Jade Chang

Blue Lily, Lily Blue – Maggie Stiefvater

Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit

I also wrote:

Are Book Bloggers Becoming Censors? 

I think that a good discussion post provides an opportunity for your own mind to be changed, and I really appreciated some of the comments that people left on this one. They provided a perspective that I hadn’t considered, and I appreciated that.Thank you to everyone who participated in the conversation.

A Reading List (hastily complied, somewhat diverse)

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for.

To Read: This article by Lena Dunham about dealing with her sexual assault. It’s about how after her assault she found it pretty much impossible to have any sort of sexual fantasy. It’s an emotional and difficult piece, and I loved it.

To Watch: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s likely I will write more about this show after I’ve watched it all. I love it. I love it SO much. Often TV shows of this kind have a lead female character that I find alienating because of her lack of emotional damage (lol). Her role is so often to be the perfect solution for the emotionally damaged gentleman in her life (think New Girl). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching it, but I come with far too many of my own weirdnesses to ever really relate to this role. Becca of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is much more on my level. It’s weird, but hearing the words ‘she’s so broken inssiiiiiiiide’ joyfully sung during the opening credits of the show makes me feel a little bit less alone in the universe. Thank you, Rachel Bloom.

To Listen: Marc Maron’s WTF interview with Trae Crowder, the liberal redneck. This conversation was an unexpected delight. I can’t recommend it enough. I didn’t know Crowder’s work before I listened, but I will certainly be looking into it in the future.