#TheReadingQuest: Nevernight

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I read this for #TheReadingQuest, started by Aentee @ Read At Midnight with artwork by CW @ Read Think Ponder. First book of a series done.  

Mia Corvere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death. Destined to destroy empires, the child raised in shadows made a promise on the day she lost everything: to avenge herself on those that shattered her world. But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, and Mia must become a weapon without equal. Before she seeks vengeance, she must seek training among the infamous assassins of the Red Church of Itreya. Inside the church’s halls, Mia must prove herself against the deadliest of opponents and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult. The church is no ordinary school. But Mia is no ordinary student.

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Nevernight by Jay Christoff is a gripping tale let down by racist undertones. The story, in theory, has a lot going for it. It has an appealing heroine, Mia, hell bent on revenge and dealing with some severe trauma from one event we know (the hanging of her father) and one that remains shrouded in mystery (whenever Mia’s mind starts to go there she tells herself don’t look). She’s darkin, which means she has some magical powers that involve being able to control shadows, though she mostly doesn’t know what she’s capable of unless she is pushed to find out. To be darkin is very rare, so there isn’t another one about she can ask. She is forever accompanied by her shadow cat (literally a cat made of shadows), Mister Kindly, who appeared to her the night her powers first manifested (the day her father was hanged for treason and her mother and baby brother imprisoned and Mia herself almost murdered.) and feeds off Mia’s fear. Since she is dealing with not a little trauma, Mister Kindly is very well fed.  Oh yeah, and he talks. With sass. They are together attending a boarding school where teenagers learn to be assassins.

Kristoff’s method of storytelling appealed to me. He uses a third person omniscient narrator who becomes one of the biggest personalities in the story. Through a mixture of footnotes and asides the narrator keeps the tone light in even its darkest moments –disappearing in its most violent, which was particularly effective – using humour and satire to inform the reader of all of the grimmest aspects of the world we have, however temporarily, stepped into.  The narrator was kind of like the villain in a Shakespeare play, nodding and winking at the audience as the others flail about none the wiser.

But it was the narrator, as one of my favourite parts of the novel that came to be the biggest let down. As a voice on the outside of the story, analysing it and at times mocking those it describes, it was perfectly placed to challenge the problematic ideas posed by Kristoff’s characters.

But it never did.`

The problem was with the representation of the Dweymeri people, who are described as ‘dark of skin’. And also as violent rapists.

Sigh.

We mainly hear about the Dweymeri through the character of Tric, who is mixed race, with a Dweymeri mother and Itreyan (white) father,  and because of this, rejected and abused by the Dweymeri people (strike one). With the exception only a few, including Tric and another student of the Assassin School he and Mia attend, Floodcaller, who is a violent asshole and then a dead one (who hates Tric for being mixed race), the Dweymeri people are barely represented in the novel at all (strike two), so when we’re told early on that they are rapists and murderers (strike three and we’re out) there is really no basis on which to challenge that idea. Even more so given that the only positive representation we get of the Dweymeri people is through Tric who we learn was not brought up in that community. This style of storytelling leans heavily on the trope of the dark skinned aggressor, and it stings particularly in a book about ruthless murderers to single out one group for being ruthless murderers.

Kristoff does make some efforts to challenge his own use of stereotype. There is a scene early on where someone calls Tric koffi, which it comes to light means ‘child of rape’. Mia’s immediate assumption is that Tric’s mother must have been raped by a Dweymeri man, but Tric quickly corrects her that it was in fact an Itreyan man who assaulted his Dweymeri mother. Obviously this is a step forward, but Mia’s mistake isn’t analysed, she isn’t ashamed of it and the wider context and social and racial politics of her remarks were never discussed at all. Given that the characters of Mister Kindly and the narrator (who I have a theory may be one and the same) in particular were so astute in their summaries of other situations in the novel, it felt wrong to me that on this they were silent.

I also felt like Kristoff had a tendency to exoticise people of colour in the book. Mostly because, with the exception of Mia, he would largely only ever describe a person’s skin colour if they were black or brown – never white. For example when we’re introduced to Spiderkiller (another ruthless, murdering Dweymeri), the potions teacher at the Assassin’s Hogwarts, she is described like this: “Her saltlocks were intricate. Immaculate. Her skin was the dark, polished walnut of the Dweymeri..” where as one of Mia’s best friends is simply called “brunette.” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset that Kristoff neglected to describe white skin as such, but I felt like this practise served to other people of colour, and as I said, exoticise. To not describe someone as white in this scenario, felt like the reader was supposed to assume they were, which creates a situation in which whiteness is necessarily considered the norm, and anything else other. So. Freaking. Problematic.

I would like to think that as the series progresses, Kristoff will break down the stereotypes he has introduced in the first novel and reveal them for the ignorance they truly are. But, seeing as by the end of the novel we are down yet another Dweymeri, I sort of doubt it.

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The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

She annihilates standardized tests and the bad guys. Genie Lo is among droves of ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.

But when her hometown comes under siege from hellspawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are dramatically rearranged. Enter Quentin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quentin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King incarnate – right down to the furry tail and penchant for peaches.

Suddenly, acing the SATs is the least of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance.

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The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee is a DELIGHTFUL book. It’s an action packed, romantic, relatable and funny read – giggling to myself on the bus level funny – driven by Chinese folklore.

‘“Go ahead,” I said, groping behind me for any heavy, hard object I could find to clock him with. “Tell me your real name and we’ll see if that makes it all better.”

Quentin took a deep breath.

“My true name,” he said, “…is SUN WUKONG.”

A cold wind passed through the open window, rustling my loose papers like tumbleweed.

“I have no idea who that is,” I said.’

I have for a long time been a huge fan of epic stories of saving the world told within the boundaries of a domestic setting. In a genre overflowing with tragically dispatched parents and groups of feral teenagers, a character who has to save the world from the rabid demon horde and get home before curfew? That’s an interesting story.

And Genie Lo is a fantastic main character. She is a joy to read, with Yee deftly avoiding all of the stereotypical and trope-ish behaviours so often displayed in characters with Genie’s snowflake status. She is, as Quentin puts it, unquestionably, undeniably human, just with a whole bunch of other stuff going on as well. The ‘stuff’ sometimes being finding out that she is the reincarnated physical form of a stick Quentin used to fight demons with, and other times, figuring out how to have a relationship with both of her parents after their bitter divorce.

She also defies many gender and racial stereotypes. Genie is a hot tempered lady, and, for better or worse, not above punching an asshole in the face every once and a while. In Western culture, which is flooded with negative representations of Asian women as passive sex objects, Genie’s self-directed narrative is a refreshing and necessary one.

I found Yee’s focus on Genie’s body to be super interesting also. It is emphasised throughout that Genie is a big girl – she describes herself as ‘monstrously tall’. This puts Genie’s appearance at odds with the ideal of the tiny, stick thin Chinese woman her body shaming mother makes it clear she thinks that Genie should be.

Additionally, Yee makes a point of Genie being much taller than her love interest, Quentin. That this was something of a revolutionary move is a testament to how fucked up our body image is as a society, but whatever. It was. And guess what, all of those girls out there who have staunchly declared they would never date a guy shorter than them (me included)? It affected nothing. I was shipping as hard as ever. Obviously.

Yee makes it more and more apparent as the story develops that Genie’s big body is for the benefit of her badass, demon slaying self. There is a point, fairly early on in the novel when Genie discovers that she can in fact grow herself to whatever size is needed for the purposes of demon slaying. Initially, she is totally ashamed and embarrassed by this development. Getting bigger is literally the opposite of what she wants for herself. But, as the narrative progresses, Genie embraces and starts to appreciate her body, something that is shown in the final battle of the novel where she deliberately grows her physical self to gigantic proportions in order to defeat her adversary. In a culture where women are taught to take up as little space as possible, with Asian women suffering from this in particular, it was such an empowering and, as the title would suggest, EPIC, moment.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a wonderful example of a YA novel. Genie and her supporting cast leap off the page, and their adventures swept me along so fast I finished this book in only a couple of sittings. It 100% lives up to the hype.

#TheReadingQuest: My first read-a-thon ever!

You should know that when I typed the title of this blog, I wrote read-a-ton by accident. All artwork in this post by the talented and awesome CW @ Read Think Ponder. Obviously you know her already, but if by any chance you don’t (where have you been?!), go check her out.

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MAGE: As wielders of spells and witchcraft, these players will conjure and summon their way through the First Down path on the quest. Their tomes contain magic and whispers of alternate lands.

I have never participated in a read-a-thon before. I’m not the fastest reader (because of Netflix and an unfortunate habit of falling asleep on the bus, where the vast majority of my reading takes place) and the thought of FAILURE gave me anxiety, so I just never tried it story of my life.

But then Aentee @ Read At Midnight launched The Reading Quest with GORGEOUS artwork by CW @ Read Think Ponder and I decided I was IN. Then… sat on the decision for a week and tried to talk myself out of it.

But it didn’t work. I can be very stubborn when I want to be.

So. It’s happening. And I am determined to succeed despite the following challenges:

MAJOR CHALLENGE 1: The Defenders comes out in a week. I will binge watch. I can’t control that fact, nor do I wish to.

MAJOR CHALLENGE 2: Previously mentioned falling asleep on the bus issue.

MAJOR CHALLENGE 3: I am currently bookless for 3 of my 5 squares.

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So far I have –

First book of a series: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. Boxes of free books arrive at my work from time to time (#blessed), and this was one of them. Tbh, I’m not super excited about it, but hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

A book set in a different world: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. I picked up this book last year and for whatever reason haven’t gotten to it yet. I don’t actually know what it’s about, but it says ‘strange and other worldly creatures’ on the back, so I’m assuming it’ll be right for this challenge.

That leaves me needing a book based on mythology, a book that contains magic and a book with a one word title. Any suggestions? I’m thinking I am going to order Want by Cindy Pon for that last one.

Though I’m nervous, I’m really excited for this challenge. As I have mentioned a few times, I don’t read much in the way of fantasy, so I think this’ll be a good opportunity to me to expand my reading.

Are you participating in #TheReadingQuest? Which character did you choose?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about (again, where have you been?!), and would like more information, visit Aentee’s blog for the rules. The deadline for signing up is this Sunday.

 

 

Sex and Rage

The popular resurgence of Eve Babitz continues with this very special reissue of her novel, originally published in 1979, about a dreamy young girl moving between Los Angeles and New York City. Sex and Rage delights in its sensuous, dreamlike narrative and its spontaneous embrace of fate and work, and further solidifies Eve Babitz’s place as a singularly important voice in Los Angeles literature – haunting, alluring and alive.

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I absolutely fall into the category of person who clicks on every single ‘books you must read in your twenties’ list Buzzfeed vomits out. If my teenage reading was characterised by a desperate need to escape, as I’ve progressed into my twenties it has transformed into a frantic search for… something. I don’t think I’m the only one. If teen must-read selections major on the paranormal, tragiporn and romance, for us recent adults, picks are more along the lines of coming-of-age amidst heartbreak.

I’m on a solid reading diet of both, and I’m super into it. As much as I love YA, there is a certain amount of self-reflection I enjoy in adult books that, I’ve found you can’t really appreciate until you hit twenty-two and the dust starts to settle into something like your personality. It’s the point at which all those oddities of yourself you were always told you’d grow out of actually become the things you grow into, and subsequently come to blame your parents for.

Or is that just me?

Sex and Rage is exactly the sort of book that would feature on a must-reads for your twenties list. It is deliciously self absorbed. Though it’s written in the third person, it’s one that is close to its protagonist, Jacaranda. The world we experience is entirely hers as she tries to figure out who she is by means of self-destruction and the men who fall for her.

She feels afflicted by youth but total dread at the thought of aging, so tries to live in a way that winds up being too much for her heart to handle. By the age of 23, after five years of living away from the sea she loves so much, immersed in music and the affair she has with a married screenwriter, she moves back to the beach and declares herself bored with rock and roll and in search of the next adventure. And that’s just the first thirty pages.

Sex and Rage is the July pick for the Belletrist book club, and as every month they featured an interview with the author, in this case Eve Babitz. In their conversation with her, it came up that in search of fun, many young women find themselves in completely miserable situations. This is exactly what happens to Jacaranda.

Much of the narrative of the novel is defined by one man: Max. Jacaranda meets Max through an actor she’s sleeping with, and falls instantly in love with this older, charismatic man who lives a glamorous life and makes money through mysterious means that don’t necessarily seem to involve work. Though their relationship is never explicitly romantic – Max’s sexuality remains a point of mystery throughout – the intensity of it is greater than all of her other affairs.

Which means when it goes wrong – as always happens in Max’s life, it becomes apparent – the results for Jacaranda are catastrophic. Underneath his glamour and air of adventure, Max is a cold hearted bully with the ability to make you feel like the centre of the world one moment, and the next like you don’t deserve to live at all.

“The gold had washed off the surface and the Gates of Paradise had been melted down for private purposes no longer on public view. It was only art anyway. Max’s attitude seemed to say – a dismissal of all he’d been before – and suddenly he smelled like suitcases and dry cleaning, not a birthday party for an eight-year-old at all. She kept waiting for him to change back.”

Jacaranda is left deeply scarred by Max, who spent their time together undermining every aspect of her personality, from her appearance to her art – she painted surfboards for a living until Max told her she was a horrible painter – to her budding new love of writing.

As she spirals out into alcoholism and despair, even as her writing career picks up, it takes a long time for her to shed the negative beliefs about herself that Max installed in her. In so many ways, Sex and Rage is a novel of overcoming. Jacaranda’s writing is in defiance of Max and all the people who told her not to do it. To go and meet her publisher in New York – the city she knows Max is in – is to finally relinquish the fear of him that has controlled her life for the best part of a decade. To stop drinking is to know herself on a level she assumed no one would want after Max’s bitter rejection.

Sex and Rage is a sensuous, sexual, self-destructive time capsule of Los Angeles in the seventies. It’s one of those novels consumed with place as much as feeling and you can’t help but fall back into that time of seedy glamour and delayed consequences like sinking into a warm bath. You want to stay there forever, but you know it’s going to get cold and gross before you know it.

In the aforementioned interview with the Belletrist team, Eve Babitz said something that really struck me as emblematic of this book, and of optimism in general. She said:

“You’ll find yourself in a lot of miserable situations regardless, whether you’re seeking out a good time or not, but it’s better to try to enjoy oneself than give up all together and wither away. I have always preferred to look on the bright side.”

Yeah. That seems about right.

Top 4 Worst Boyfriends in Teen TV History

I love teen TV. It’s fair to say that I am something of a fanatic. I’m a fangirl. I ship. I read fan fiction and scroll through Tumblrs dedicated to my favourite couples.

But.

Teen TV has a dark side.

Though it has given us some of the most epic romances of modern times, it’s also thrown up some serious duds.

Of course everybody hates a villain, but there are few characters so particularly infuriating as a bad teen TV boyfriend. Suddenly the heroine whom we have come to love like our own bestie through the previous seasons is wasting her time with a guy we as the viewer can see clearly is not the one. We have to watch endless romantic scenes with none of the emotional payoff because this guy is clearly the worst, and the writers can’t trick us into thinking otherwise just by playing it out to an awesome soundtrack.

And it makes us mad.

With that in mind, it’s time to name and shame the worst boyfriends in teen TV history.

Riley Finn – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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No, she does not. 

One of the few guarantees I have found in life is that, during any conversation about Buffy the universal reaction when Riley Finn comes up is: UGH. That fucking guy.

Riley is notoriously the most hated of Buffy’s boyfriends. Needy, insecure and controlling, despite endless examples he was unable to grasp that his girlfriend was The Slayer, placed on earth to protect us all from demons, a fact which meant sometimes date night was going to come low on her list of priorities.

He also never got the memo that super strength generally means your gf doesn’t need you throwing your weight around to protect her. The girl staked Dracula then went out for ice cream (probably). She does not need your protection.

Duncan Kane – Veronica Mars

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FYI, if cuddling is the best part he didn’t do it right

While I am able to admit that despite high levels of sexiness, Logan Echolls was perhaps not the best boyfriend ever, my hatred for Duncan Kane knows no bounds.

Maybe he didn’t turn out to be a rapist. Or a murderer. Or incestuous. But he was still the worst.

Whiny Duncan with his rage induced blackouts was clearly never good enough for astute, badass, quip Queen Veronica.

I was so happy when he finally ran away with his love child and was never seen again.

Logan Huntzberger – Gilmore Girls

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Er… no. 

For all her sweetness, Rory Gilmore is a very scrappy individual whose life took a decidedly wrong turn when she let seedy rich boy Logan Huntzberger into her life (both times). Whip smart and a hard worker, this entitled daddy’s boy clearly was not the man for her.

Also, if he had stopped to think about it for even a second, he would have known she didn’t want to get married at the end of season 6. She wanted to go work for Obama.

Throughout his time on the show, he only ever thought about himself. As a kid who’d always had everything given to him, it never occurred to him not to.

And Jess was so much hotter.

Chuck Bass – Gossip Girl

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LEAVE. RUN. WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

I’ll end on a controversial note. I was into Chuck for approximately two-and-a-half seasons (the 3 words, 8 letters say it and I’m yours phase), then he tried to trade his unwilling girlfriend for sex in return for hotel ownership.

I never forgave him for it. Especially because that girlfriend was Blair Waldorf, my favourite TV mean girl of all time.

For four seasons, I waited for Blair to realise that she did not need this asshat in her life. As one of the most badass bitches of teen television, she should have realised that she didn’t need Chuck to feel complete.

Then, there was a glimmer of hope. After the whole Prince Louis debacle (and let’s face it, the less said about that the better) she and Dan almost had a healthy relationship. She started to think about what she wanted for herself as an individual, rather than a chess piece in one of Chuck’s games.

Then, for whatever reason, instead she decided to marry Chuck so he didn’t go to jail for murdering his evil father (because spouses can’t testify against spouses).

Goddamnit. Chuck got a happy ending he did not deserve, and I’m still upset about it. I can only hope that at some unknown point in the future she’ll take him for all he’s worth in the divorce.

 

Who are your worst TV boyfriends in teen TV history? Name and shame in the comments!

How to Be a Bawse

BAWSE/ ‘baus’/ n: a person who exudes confidence, hustles relentlessly, reaches goals and smiles genuinely because he or she has fought through it all and made it out the other side.

Lilly Singh isn’t just a superstar. She’s a Superwoman – which is also the name of her wildly popular Youtube channel. Funny, smart and insightful, the actress and comedian covers topics ranging from relationships to career choices to everyday annoyances. But Lilly didn’t get to the top by being lucky – she had to work for it. Hard.

How to Be a Bawse is the definitive guide to conquering life. Be warned: this book does not include hopeful thoughts, lucky charms or cute quotes. Success and happiness require real effort, dedication and determination. In Lilly’s world, there are no escalators, only stairs. Get ready to climb.

Consider Lilly a personal trainer for your life – with fifty practical rules to get you in the game. Told in Lilly’s hilarious, bold voice and packed with photos and previously untold stories from her journey to the top, this book will show you how to love life and yourself.

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In a culture in which overnight success is considered the only kind, Lilly Singh’s take the stairs, and life rewards hard work attitude is a breath of fresh air. In How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life, she tracks her career from point A: recent psychology graduate, directionless and struggling with depression; to point B: womankind’s answer to Dwayne Johnson with a literal empire of Youtube followers (over 12 million) to boot – and advises you on how to do the same (or, whatever your equivalent may be.).

This no nonsense, practical guide serves as a metaphorical foot in the ass of individuals like myself who have vague dreams but are intimidated by the stress involved in making them a reality.

But why would I write the authentic personal essays I want to write when I could just binge watch sitcoms and avoid my feelings? Are the sort of questions Singh spends this book giving the serious side eye. In every beautiful photograph scattered throughout, Lilly stared at me with a look that said: get your shit together, Tewkesbury.

I’m trying.

In her succinct, funny and pure style, Singh takes us through the qualities she’s cultivated that have helped her succeed. The word I would use to describe Lilly’s self-help style is: strident. She makes clear that she’s only there to give directions. It’s up to you, the reader, to get in the car and drive it. And if you don’t… well, that’s nobody’s fault but your own.

That said, she is not an author without empathy. She just believes in the power of saving oneself. I guess it’s kind of like in the movie except Ares is your own ability to procrastinate?

Okay, I just realised that’s actually Wonder Woman. But whatever. My point stands.

Nobody is going to kill Ares for you. You’ve got to get that shit done yourself. Even if it means leaving your beautiful, women only island where misogyny is a weird myth you laugh about over cocktails (I assume).

How to Be a Bawse is far from pithy, Instagram quote-worthy. It’s, at times, a tough read in which Singh asks you to get real and put aside the bullshit you tell yourself in order to get to your actual emotions. And she doesn’t just tell you to do it, she does it herself, giving examples from her own life where she’s had to send the GPS deep, even when doing so was uncomfortable and difficult.

Like, maybe the real reason I don’t write those authentic personal essays is because I am afraid of rejection because I have been rejected a lot (#daddyissues) and so I’ve come to see it as inevitable?

It turns out a lot of the work most worth doing falls under the labels of uncomfortable and difficult. God damn adulthood.

How to Be a Bawse is inspiration, encouragement and some much needed admonishment packaged in a beautiful (and ridiculously heavy. This was not a fun one to lug around public transport, let me tell you.) hardback. You can’t help but finish the book with a sense that anything is possible, if only you’re willing to work hard enough.

And hard work is something we’re capable of, if we let ourselves be.

July Wrap-Up

This has been something of a big month for me.

I am officially no longer a waitress. I am officially no longer and intern.

I am officially an editorial assistant.

!

And I graduated 2 years ago this week. WTF?

A friend of mine started work as a qualified doctor. In a hospital. Where she plans to care for people’s vaginas. WTF?

I hung out with my school friend and her husband, who is awesome and someone I am glad to know. WTF?

Adulthood. Oof.

Let’s dive into safer subjects.

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This month I reviewed:

The Upside of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli

Feelings: I would like to join the Peskin-Suso family, please?

Marlena – Julie Buntin

Feelings: Difficult but beautiful, this tale of addiction and grief will stay with me for a long time.

Radio Silence – Alice Oseman

Feelings: NEW FAVOURITE ALERT.

Too Much and Not the Mood – Durga Chew-Bose

Feelings: A gorgeous, dream-like essay collection. Beautiful, whimsical and everything my brain needed.

I also talked wrote:

To the Bone: Authentic or irresponsible?

Mood Reads

5 Reasons to Watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Other than books: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for…

To read: THIS fantastic interview with Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter AKA one of my favourite books of last year.

To watch: Lilly Singh talking success and hard work with Lewis Howes (review of her book How to Be a Bawse coming soon.).

To listen: Edie Falco on WTF with Marc Maron talking about being an adult with a chaotic childhood and why she’s too scared to talk to her heroes, even when she’s on set with them. I LOVE HER.