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…

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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.

Why Not Me?

Why Not Me? is Mindy Kaling’s second essay collection. I have talked about how much I loved the first at length. In this second offering she has managed to give us even more of herself. Her mission statement for the collection is this: ‘If my childhood, teens and twenties were about wanting people to like me , now I want people to know me. So, this is a start.’

Why Not Me Edited

She proceeds from there through a collection that covers showbiz beauty standards (they are always hair extensions. Always.), dating in your thirties (apparently there is less drama) and the question of where she gets her confidence. She also talks about Ike Barinholtz’s alarm that one time she got behind on washing and wore her padded bra to the office. I too own a padded bra, though I have never summoned the courage to wear out of the house for this very reason, so I can imagine what that must have been like.

Mindy Kaling deals with a lot of crap. In every other interview some journalist feels the need to remind her that she doesn’t look like a ‘typical’ famous person. She has a constant stream of press asking where do you get your confidence?  in a way that sounds like a backhanded compliment. Asking someone so incredulously and consistently why they are so confident starts to feel like you’re telling them they shouldn’t be really fast.

Her answer to the confidence question is this: work hard. Get good at the thing you want to do and show it off. Hard work is the central theme to much of the book. She wants us to know that her craft is something she has worked hard to hone over a lot of years. I loved this. So much of what we consume is designed to appear effortless. We consider ‘talented’ a way of being rather than something we have to strive for. It’s easier to assume that a writer emerged from the womb clutching a book of original poetry than to go through the years of hard work that led up to it.

Celebrate this festive season with us

True to her intentions, at the end of the book, I do feel like I know Mindy Kaling a little better. Through small asides and quick anecdotes she does a wonderful job of sketching out the identities and personalities of her friends and loved ones. Her mother passed away a few years back, but she remains is a clear and constant presence in Mindy’s life. She calls her mum her best friend. Mindy also gives us some insight into her much discussed relationship with BJ Novak. They have a tumblr dedicated to them. It is absurd that she waited for this long to give us more information. From what I can gather he’s a funny guy who’s on his phone a lot who also happens to be very kind. Mindy Kaling did an amazing job of giving us pieces of her life to explore while keeping the whole as her own. (or maybe she’s just making sure she still has material for the next memoir. You’d have to ask her).

Reading Why Not Me? is like the midnight conversations you had in your kitchen at university. We get to gossip about being famous and going to the white house. We learn how to look spectacular (I would also refer you to Mindy’s Instagram for this) and what the average day in her life looks like. But she also shares with us her 4am worries (‘19. Is my father lonely? Would he tell me if he was?’) and that some days she obsesses about celebrities she’s skinnier than. She also reminds us of all the ways in which Mindy Kaling is not Mindy Lahiri.

Durga Puja Festival

Mindy Kaling does a really great job of making you feel like you’re probably going to be okay. I recommend this book to anyone who needs reminding of that.

October Wrap-Up

Where has this year gone? Why does my total shock at the passing of time increase with age? When will I get a job that I keep for more than a week?

I have answers to none of these questions.

I do however, have a summary of the month’s events, in book form:

Where has this year gone? Why does my total shock at the passing of time increase with age? When will I get a job that I keep for more than a week?

I have answers to none of these questions.

I do however, have a summary of the month’s events, in book form:

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This month I reviewed:

Lair of Dreams – Libbra Bray

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Feelings: This didn’t quit live up to expectations. I think I loved the first book too much. I am hoping for more Evie in the next book.

Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

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Feelings: An important and powerful book about rape culture and sexual consent. Everybody should read this.

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo

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Feelings: I loved every second of it.

Is It Just Me? – Miranda Hart

is it just me

Feelings: One of my very favourite audiobooks for insomnia.

Dracula – Bram Stoker

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Feelings: Stoker isn’t half as scared of vampires as he is female sexuality.

I also read:

Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories – Angela Carter

Currently Reading:

Carry On – Rainbow Rowell

Halloween Reads: Dracula

Trick

Major players: (visual aids used where appropriate)

Dracula: Totally evil vampire

Nosferatu

Not to be mistaken for the evil vampire who can get away with anything by making this face:

TVD: 4x12 - A View to a Kill Screenshot

Oh Klaus, why can’t I quit you? 

Jonathan Harker: Loveable dummy. Ultimately useless.

Mina Harker: Wife of Jonathan Harker. Everybody loves her for little obvious reason. Dracula wants to turn her into a vampire.

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All Elena Gilbert related mean-ness comes from a place of love, I swear.

Van Helsing: Vampire hunter from Amsterdam. Feels in debt to Dr Seward over some vague incident in which he was poisoned and Seward saved him. We never learn the details. Has a Bertha Mason situation happening in his home life and is weirdly obsessed with Mina.

Dr John Seward, ‘Jack’ to his friends: Psychiatrist and wannabe vampire hunter.

Quincey Morris: American. Says everything ‘laconically’. Is also obsessed with guns and has a habit of shooting at nearby wildlife without warning.

Arthur Holmwood/Lord Godalming: Fiance of the late Lucy Westenra. His only use to the plot is financing and name dropping so far as I could tell.

Lucy Westenra: The first sexy lady to go all vamp on us. Fiancee to Arthur. Rejected proposals from Dr Seward and Quicey Morris. Best friend to Mina Harker.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker is a collection of diary entries, letters and telegrams all reliving the tale of how six people attempt to bring down a vampire.

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The story begins with Jonathan Harker, lawyer, travelling to Transylvania in order to facilitate one Count Dracula’s move to England. The count lives in a castle out in the middle of nowhere, and during his journey, whenever Jonathan tells locals where he’s travelling to, they cross themselves and start to pray. Jonathan just assumes this is typical ‘foreigner’ behaviour. That is until he gets to the castle and Dracula refuses to let him leave. When he discovers that Dracula sleeps in a coffin, leaves the castle by crawling, Spiderman style down the walls and feeds babies to his three vampire girlfriends, Jonathan realises that perhaps the locals had a point.

Meanwhile Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina Murray is staying with her best friend, Lucy in the seaside town of Whitby. Lucy has recently gotten engaged to one Arthur Holmwood. Unfortunately for Arthur, Lucy is about the become Dracula’s first victim because unfortunately for Whitby, it happens to be the town in which Dracula’s ship from Transylvania docks. Not that anybody knows that at this point, seeing as everybody on the ship was dead when it arrived and the only passenger anybody saw on board was a large black dog (Dracula: Sirius Black style).

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This is Whitby. I took this photo when I was there in September. Pretty, right?

Seeing Lucy’s mysteriously declining health, her recently rejected admirer Dr Seward steps in to save the day. He brings in his mysterious colleague Dr Van Helsing to help. Despite all their efforts, Lucy dies. Once she becomes a vampire, Van Helsing recruits Dr Seward, Arthur and Quincey (the other guy who proposed to Lucy) as trainee vampire hunters.

Meanwhile Dr Seward is increasingly realising that his favourite patient, Renfield may also be in Dracula’s thrall. Renfield is locked in a lunatic asylum because of his desire to ‘consume life’. He spends his days tempting flies into his room. Once he has enough he feeds the many flies to a few spiders, then the few spiders to some sparrows. When Dr Seward refuses to buy him a cat, Renfield eats the sparrows himself. Yes, it’s called Dracula, but the highest creep factor in the book has to go to Renfield.

Once Mina realises that her best friend’s death and her husband’s recent experience in Transylvania may in fact be related, she and Jonathan join the vampire hunters and together they form Team Kill Dracula. Dracula then tries to turn Mina into a vampire which only makes everybody more determined to kill him. I think this is because Mina is the ideal 19th century woman. She is educated, but submissive, maternal yet weirdly sexless. Such an ideal of womanhood cannot possibly be lost to sexy wanton vampirism.

(You can tell this was written by a 19th century man).

But is she? You’d have to read it to find out.

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This is Whitby Abbey. Apparently it inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. Mina and Lucy hang out up here quite a lot. They spend a lot of time in the graveyard just down the road chatting with sailors. 

Happy Halloween!