Gone fishing

I am on holiday.

I had this whole plan where I wrote enough posts to cover my time away or even – gasp – blogged from the safety of my holiday bed, but it is becoming increasingly clear, after the first thing didn’t happen that the second won’t either.

I am lazy.

See you in a couple weeks x

 

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The Raven King

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into his mission: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a life; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Nothing dead is to be trusted. Now the endgame has begun. Nothing living is safe.

Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

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For some reason I left it over a year between reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue and The Raven King.

I am bad at finishing series. There are several reasons for this, I think. Endings are disappointing in the majority of cases, and I prefer living in a world where what ultimately happens to the characters I’ve spent 2+ books getting to know is as yet undefined. If I don’t know how they end up, then I don’t have to live with that nagging sense of dissatisfaction that comes with finishing most book series. I also didn’t want anyone to die, and was almost certain that someone was going to, so put off reading for that reason as well. Kind of stupid – the character is no less dead for me not having read about it yet, but it makes me feel better somehow. I stopped watching Jane the Virgin a few episodes before Michael died. I just didn’t want to see it. I know they told us he was going to die very early on in the first season, but it went so long with him not dying I sort of stopped believing it.

You see why I took me so long to get to The Raven King.

Leaving it so long was a mistake. It’s a plot heavy series and it took me half the book to reacquaint myself with Henrietta and its various magical complications. This might be why, despite my love for this series, I didn’t enjoy its finale as much as I’d hoped I would.

Overall (though, sadly, for me, it did not escape the end-of-the-series-disappointment syndrome) I really enjoyed The Raven Cycle. In a market where a lot of the bestselling series lack originality, it carved a space for itself where it examined class, gender, sexuality, family and grief against a backdrop of a magical world so atmospheric that whatever train or bus I was on at the time of reading fell away. There was only Henrietta, 300 Fox Way and Cabeswater and I was wandering through them in real time.

I adore the way Stiefvater uses language. While reading these books I could really feel how much she enjoyed writing them. As each larger than life new character arrived (Laumonier? Really? Because Piper just wasn’t enough?) I felt like I could see her at her keyboard, cackling to herself, just revelling in the enjoyment of her own imagination. The way she plays with words and phrases appealed to me, and I loved the repetitive, ‘depending on where you began the story, it was about…’ that peppered the chapters as the heroes and villains of Stiefvater’s world finally converged on the same spot for the novel’s climax.

I loved her characters, and I think that’s where this final instalment disappointed me the most. While we got plenty of face time with the main gang (my ships sailed, I was very pleased), I was saddened by how little time we spent at 300 Fox Way and the almost complete lack of Calla was very upsetting to me. After they spent so much of the previous book trying to find her, I also would have liked to have seen more of Maura and The Gray Man. I just felt that after building a series with such a wonderful array of side characters with their own complicated lives and personalities it was a real shame that they fell somewhat by the wayside in this last one.

Speaking of characters, I was also disappointed in the villain of this book, which was much more a demon without personality than it was Piper, who I really enjoyed in Blue Lily, Lily Blue. Every book in the series has had a very compelling Big Bad, and although the demon in The Raven King was in many ways the most destructive baddie so far, it was also the least engaging, and it’s defeat, despite it all, not that dramatic really.

Though The Raven King ultimately fell a little flat for me, I’ve loved reading this series. Maggie Stiefvater’s unique writing style, funny, weird and complicated characters and stellar magical world building created a saga I know I’ll return to one day. 300 Fox Way is up there with The Burrow in the leagues of favourite fictional family homes.

Welcome to Lagos

TW: sexual assault

Five runaways ride the bus from Bayelsa to a better life in a megacity. They are unlikely allies – a private, a housewife, an officer, a militant and a young girl. They share a need for escape and a dream for the future. Soon, they will also share a burden none could have expected, but for now, the five sit quietly with their hopes, as the billboards fly past and shout: Welcome to Lagos.

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Once again I have the fantastic Belletrist book club to thank for Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo. This was an absolutely delightful take on moving to the city/coming of age story set in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Two military deserters, one former militant with aspirations to be a radio star (and a fake American accent), a student and a homemaker on the run from her violent husband come together as an dysfunctional family during their escape from the violence ridden Niger Delta. War wounds (from spouses, militants and corrupt military generals) weighing heavy on them all, they follow their (somewhat) reluctant leader Chike into their new fast paced, mystifying, occasionally beautiful (but mostly nonsensical) Lagos life.

In addition to our core runaway family, the novel also tells the story of Ahmed, upper middle class UK educated editor of the anti-government (and anti-money. It is totally failing and only allowed to continue because Ahmed’s father used to be pretty high up in the (corrupt) government he is so against) newspaper the Nigerian Journal, and Chief Sandayọ, the (not so) Honourable Minster of Education for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, recently vanished with most of the Ministry’s money.

Realities come crashing together when Chike and co. move into an apparently deserted basement apartment that just so happens to be the secret hideaway of that (not so) Honourable Minister. And the stolen money.

Welcome to Lagos an excellent portrait of survival in a city that wants to eat you alive. In equal parts funny and tragic, we see Onuzo’s complexly realised characters fight to be better in an environment that really only calls for them to be worse. Chike, who, after deserting the army that was his purpose for so long (until his superiors starting ordering kills of anyone who dared disagree with them) is searching for a new cause, anything he can cling to to make it all worth it; Isoken, the student searches for some means of survival after a violent sexual assault; Fineboy the wannabe DJ and the only male member of his family not to have committed suicide fights to see a different end to his story; and Ahmed, so determined to see an end to corruption in his country yet a beneficiary of his father’s corrupt money when he needs it. It’s a novel heavy on irony, with every character swimming the wrong way in a strong current but refusing to be swept away – it’s about the belief that the world can be better despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

“Then Funkẹ had had her religious experience and all that suffering had been put in an unsettling perspective. The sooner the world unravelled, the sooner the second coming of her saviour. Earthquakes, famine, war: all signs and precursors to glorious rapture. It was a rationale to explain a world that never got better. Despite one’s best efforts, despite one’s highest hopes: the world did not change.”

Despite it all it’s not a pessimistic book. It’s a book about trying, even when trying is stupid, even when trying seems to make the situation worse. It’s a book about redemption, and it how it can be found in unexpected places. Most of all it’s a book about not allowing yourself to be lost in the rush of a system or a city much bigger than you, a ‘how to’ guide for keeping your head above water.

“Most likely his doubts would return, with activity, with employment, but he would not regret these days of belief, these moments of faith when all seemed plausible and the world was made in seven days.”

THINGS TO NOTE

If you don’t know anything of Nigeria’s political history (I did not) it is easy to feel disorientated in this story. Fortunately for us, we live in the age of Google so things like this are pretty easy to rectify. You are not going to understand the entire complicated political history of Nigeria since its independence in an afternoon, but you can certainly learn a few things. Here are a few sources I found helpful:

A timeline of key events in Nigeria (starts in 800BC, which is a little early for our purposes but it interesting nonetheless)

This 2011 piece by Remi Adekoya is a good whistle-stop tour of the origins of Nigeria’s problems, particularly with regards to the effects of colonialism and the country’s crude oil, which is mentioned in Welcome to Lagos a few times

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an amazing book you should read anyway, but also paints a picture of Nigeria in its infancy as an independent country. Obviously I’m not saying read this one first, but having read it it gave me a bit more context for the history of Nigeria that was helpful while reading

As with any analysis of a country, all should be read with a critical mindset and an awareness of the authors’ biases, but the above helped give a bit of context when, during my reading, I would find myself feeling like I was misunderstanding vital bits of plot because of a lack of basic knowledge about the country I was reading about. Yay Google!

May favourites

Hey June! Nice to see ya.

I am very excited by the prospect of summer. Every year I have this whole list in my head of things I want to do that I inevitably fail to achieve. I feel good about summer 2018 though. I’ve made a solid start. Tomorrow I’m going for a walk with some llamas (for an article I’m writing for work, but I’m very much looking forward to it anyway) and I’m also looking into renting a kayak.

It’s weird, but as an adult I have become somewhat outdoorsy.

In terms of media I consumed in May, I wasn’t overly thrilled by anything. I finished Scandal just because I felt I needed to but wasn’t impressed, as I haven’t been for many seasons now. I keep watching iZombie even though it’s just so bad. What is with that ‘french’ guy? And more importantly, why? I was so excited when Agents of Shield finally started back up again in the UK, but some Instagram spoilers of the season finale have made me lose enthusiasm because I know all I’m heading toward is pain.

But that said, there were a few gems in the slush pile.

TV: Barry

Barry

I love everything about this show. I have long-held affection for the comedy hitman (really ever since I first saw Gross Pointe Blank when I was like 12) and Barry is a truly impressive take on this well-trodden ground with one of the strongest casts I have seen in a while. Everyone is so. Fucking. Good.

Podcasts: Sandra

sandra

I devoured this fictional series in only a couple of days. Voiced primarily by Alia Shawkat, who continues to be one of my favourite actors at the moment (with the exception of new Arrested Development, which I don’t wish to discuss) it establishes a world in which every household has a Sandra, an Amazon Alexa-like device that is powered by real people rather than the internet. Desperate to change her life, Helen (Shawkat) gets way too involved with a Sandra user, with menacing consequences. It’s the exact mix of weird, funny and sad that I enjoy so much.

Other things: Neal Brennan: 3 Mics

neal brennan

I have mixed feelings about having this in my favourites, but it’s probably the most impactful thing I’ve watched this month so here we are. What is so remarkable about this stand up special is the format. Brennan uses, as the name implies, 3 mics: one for one liners, one for stand up and one for ‘emotion’. He would cycle between jokes (some of which I liked, some of which I was less crazy about. As soon as a guy starts on ‘women do [insert stereotype here]’ my eyes immediately roll, but a lot of his jokes were funny) then the lights would go down and he would move to the ‘emotion’ mic. He told stories about failed relationships, his depression and his family sparing no painful detail – he’d get a couple laughs while doing it, but it wasn’t about that. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me at least, there is something deeply comforting about people who have the ability to hold their pain in their hands and offer it out to everybody so we all feel a little bit less alone. And to do that and then seamlessly step into making jokes about doing the reverse cowgirl? That’s impressive.

Instagram: @bookishbronte

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“But Hagrid, there must be a mistake. This says Platform 9 3/4, there’s no such thing. Is there?” . Which book captured your imagination the most? I’ve always completely lost myself in the world of Harry Potter. I grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione. I sorted myself into Hufflepuff and found my Patronus and read the books so many times that the Hogwarts became real, it’s amazing what the imagination can do, isn’t it? #WHPimagination . . #harrypotter #hogwarts #hufflepuff #bookart #bookworm #booknerd #hurrayforplay #bookish #bookgram #alittlebeautyeveryday #nostalgicmoments #justalittlewhimsey #thisjoyfulmoment #ofsimpledays #ourplayfulstyle #visualcollective #livecreatively #myhappycapture #inspiremyinstagram #booksofinstagram #nostalgicmemories #creativityfound #bookartwork #shared_joy #thingsilove #harrypottertrain #harrypotterinspired #ourplayfulstyle #thevisualcollective#bookish_nio

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I’ve recently discovered the wealth of beautifully artistic Instagram accounts that exist. This is one of my current favourites.

How was your June? Any favourites you think I should check out?