The Lively Show

In the months since I have been gearing up to finish university, every day I have wavered between panicked planning, extreme pessimism and shy optimism. Listening to The Lively Show helps feed the shy optimist in me.

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At the moment I’m basically obsessed with self-development. When I look into the future, the only thing I see is a big old question mark, but around that are small bubbles of definite wants. Happiness. Travel. Stories.

In the months since I have been gearing up to finish university, every day I have wavered between panicked planning, extreme pessimism and shy optimism. Listening to The Lively Show helps feed the shy optimist in me.

the lively show

Jess Lively is all about living with intention. If we design our lives around values based intentions, she believes, everything good we want will follow. An intention is a way to live your life rather than a goal. It isn’t something you finish so much as something that you cultivate.

The Lively Show is a variety of interviews, mostly with people running their own businesses, about how they gain enrichment and self-knowledge from everything that they do. She talks to people who have written other self-help techniques, started fashion blogs or moved to New Orleans because they needed a new adventure.

This blog pretty much exists because of The Lively Show. It is a remarkable motivator.

As a piece of advice to recent graduates – or anyone lost in the unknown future sea – I would recommend listening to shows like this. People like Jess Lively are all about owning your own existence. When I listen to the show I feel like I am taking back a tiny bit of control over my life.

All the shows so far are available on itunes. They are all wonderful and worth a listen, but here are my top 5:

5. Overcoming death, debt and depression with Hal Elrod

This podcast covers the remarkable story of Hal Elrod, author of self-help book The Miracle Morning. He’s all about how to make the most out of your day. Good motivation for creative types.

4. Accepting and embracing our talents with Brooke White

Brooke White is from Girls with Glasses and American Idol. In this podcast she discusses the massive insecurities she has suffered while trying to cultivate her art. She talks about how to deal with the constant: but what if I suck?! Throughout this entire show I was just like she gets me!

3. Facing fears and slowing down with Joy Wilson

I love Joy the Baker. Who wouldn’t? The story of how her blog came to be is a great motivator. Plus she moved to New Orleans for a better life which is a dream I go to in my head from time to time.

2. The surprisingly simply truth about extraordinary results with Jay Papasan

This episode is all about building up your 10,000 hours. For anyone who doesn’t know, that’s supposed to be the amount of time it takes to cultivate a creative skill. Again, a wonderful one for motivation, especially for when you start to feel like producing your art is like shouting into a void.

1. The art of relaxation and creativity with Jen Gotch

Jen is the creator of Ban.Do, beautiful accessories I can’t afford. Her story is fascinating. She bounced around a lot before she eventually found what she loved to do. This again is a really great listen for anyone feeling a little lost. It gave me that light at the end of the tunnel sensation.

…And there are so many more! The Lively Show is definitely qualifies for binge listening. I quite often have it on when I am getting ready in the morning. It makes for a very positive start to my day!

Isla and the Happily Ever After

Reading Isla and the Happily Ever After was kind of like finding out about a friendly acquaintance’s right-wing proclivities. I try to rationalise that this shouldn’t affect our relationship, but it kind of does anyway.

I think that sometimes you’re just not compatible with a book. I think that, sometimes, even if the writing is good and by someone you have previously liked, it is possible to read something and feel utterly grossed out. I have this experience whenever someone who seems nice reveals they actually voted Conservative.

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Reading Isla and the Happily Ever After was kind of like finding out about a friendly acquaintance’s right-wing proclivities. I try to rationalise that this shouldn’t affect our relationship, but it kind of does anyway.

Isla and the Happily Ever After spans the beginnings of Isla’s relationship with Josh, a boy she has had a crush on for three years. It takes place in the familiar grounds of Stephanie Perkins’ Paris School for Loaded Americans. Shortly after the beginning of their relationship, Isla and Josh have to figure out how to proceed after being forcibly separated by circumstance.

I didn’t dislike everything about this book. Initially I liked Isla. I liked that she was shy and insecure, but had this quiet confidence in herself, her friendships. Her sex life. She seemed acutely aware of the difference between the way she was viewed by her peers and the way that she saw herself. Who hasn’t experienced that? Particularly when you’re young, people have a habit of telling you what you are, which for some of us doesn’t quite fit. It’s uncomfortable. Isla got that, and I appreciated it.

I also tried to appreciate Kurt. It’s really rare to see characters in YA (in general!) with disabilities. I know this because my brother has high functioning autism and a while ago in a bookshop he asked the guy at the counter if he sold any books about people like him. Spoiler alert: he did not (although to be fair, I do accept that most people don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of autistic characters in literature. At least not one that extends beyond The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time). So when I picked up on what she was doing with Kurt with the hand flapping and the blunt reasoning, I was initially kind of impressed.

Initially.

Because not long after Josh’s entrance into the book, Kurt started to feel like kind of a placeholder. There were long sections of the book where he dropped out of the narrative altogether. I don’t necessarily feel that using minorities as incidentals in stories is helpful. It isn’t telling a new story so much as reinforcing a boring, outdated old one: you are easy to ignore.

Yeah. Kurt’s storyline pretty much sucked for me.

His absence for the majority of the book mostly had to do with Isla’s stunning self-absorption. Throughout, Isla never showed interest in anything outside of her own drama. There’s this one scene where she’s home for thanksgiving and seeing her older sister, Gen for the first time since the summer, and Isla doesn’t even ask how she’s been. When Gen shares that she has just broken up with her girlfriend, Isla barely even acknowledges her. While she’s off with Josh, Kurt makes other friends and Isla says herself that she hadn’t even noticed the additions to his life. She says this with no acknowledgement of the fact that this is entirely down to her own totally self involved behaviour.

Isla complains several times as well throughout that she doesn’t have any friends, to which I could only think no wonder. Making friends requires showing interest in other people, something Isla fails at. Epically.

I kept finding myself wanting more from Isla. I wanted her to want something in life other than Josh. I wanted a sense of her desire to go to Dartmouth (a college near where Josh was planning on going, and not her original plan) even when Josh wasn’t in the picture, but I never did. Does anyone else remember when Jessica Darling first went to Columbia? I guess I wanted to see some of that enthusiasm for the future in Isla. Enthusiasm that wasn’t just about Josh. I’m all about a bit of independence, and I didn’t like the way that, by the end, Isla’s identity and future was entirely wrapped around Josh. At eighteen years old it doesn’t seem healthy.

Speaking of too young – Anna and St Clair getting engaged. I’m not even going to touch that because the whole thing was too gross.

I know that a lot of people loved this book. But I could not connect with Isla at all. It occurred to me that perhaps I’m just a little too old? I have found, and I know a lot of my friends share this experience, that the older I get the less tolerance I have for people who thrive off of their own drama.

I wanted a conclusion where Isla addressed her own shitty behaviour, but that never happened. Reading the book was frustrating experience for me.

Rereading The Princess Diaries #1

The Princess Diaries were the books of my teens. Mia was my fictional best friend. She was a tall, nerdy worrier fighting a continual battle with her hair. When I was fourteen this was exactly like me. Even now I’m 22, me and Mia are still on the same page*.

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The Princess Diaries #1 sees us introduced to Mia through the journal her mother has given her to work out her anxieties in. Her anxieties are as follows:

  • She’s flat chested.
  • She’s failing algebra.
  • Her mom has just started dating the algebra teacher who’s class she’s failing.
  • Josh Richter doesn’t even know she exists.

And that’s before she even finds out about the whole princess thing. Then on top of that there are princess lessons with her heinous Grandmere, who’s determined to make her life a total misery under the guise of teaching her how not to cause an international incident. And there’s keeping the whole princess thing a secret from her best friend Lilly Moscovitz, who is a pretty passionate anti-royalist and teenaged genius. Lilly and her brother, Michael are both teenaged geniuses, actually.

This book came out in 2000. I remember my mum picking it up and reading the part where Lilly talks about how she would only have sex with a guy if he was wearing at least two condoms (younger readers: don’t do this!!) and being slightly horrified that her nine year old was reading them (though in my defence they were in the bookshelf at my primary school).

I was probably thirteen or fourteen when these books became the great comfort and influence they have been in my life.

One of the biggest takeaways from this book (and the whole series, actually) is the sense that ultimately, a person can deal with most of what is thrown at them. Mia deals with learning that when she grows up she will have to rule over the country of Genovia. She deals with her terrifying Grandmere. She deals with everyone finding out that she’s a princess, and the bodyguard and press scrutiny that come with that.

Don’t get me wrong – the girl is freaking out plenty – but there is never a moment where something happens that she can’t cope with. Even when she feels like she isn’t, she is.

Nostalgia for the Nineties kids

– Dial-up internet is a big presence in this book. Mia is always having to go online and ask Lilly’s brother Michael to go offline so that she can call her. Remember when you couldn’t have the phone and the internet at the same time?

– Britney Spears comes up a few times.  I’d forgotten what a looming presence she was in my childhood. It makes me think of the days before we had Taylor and realise how much better things are now.

*Yes, that is a book pun thank you.

Sequel Watch: The Diviners

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The second book in The Diviners series comes out soon. With this in mind, it seemed like The Diviners #1 was worth a re-read. I absolutely love Libba Bray. I think she writes fascinating female characters who are deeply engaged with the frustrations, limitations and possibilities of whichever time period she has chosen to write in. She constructs immersive worlds that weave easily through fantasy and reality. (Go read her entire back catalogue and come back to this review when you’re done)

the diviners

An evil force has sprung up in New York. Heinous murders are committed and bodies missing limbs are left covered in mysterious symbols. Meanwhile a young flapper run wild – Evie O’Neill – is banished by her parents from Ohio to stay with her uncle at his Museum of the Creepy Crawlies (occult studies, etc) in New York as a punishment for her behaviour. Her parents believe that she has been spreading slanderous rumours about a local young man, but Evie knows everything she claimed is true. When Evie holds an object and concentrates, it tells her its owner’s secrets.

Life starts for Evie once she arrives in New York. She’s clever, a drama queen and seeking fun over all else. She wants to dive headfirst into all that life can offer her, so New York is the best thing that could have happened. I loved getting to know Evie. She’s complicated. Her brother, James died during the First World War and her family have never recovered from his loss. She’s often torn between being the confident, dramatic, snarky personality that she is and being the good, quiet girl she knows that the people around her would prefer. She can be selfish, and some of her actions in the book made me cringe as a result.

She wants to be famous and is at times ruthless in the pursuit of that goal. She strikes up a very ill-advised deal with a journalist. She knows how to take advantage of a situation.

Horrifying occult-style murders happening across the city? An opportunity to get more tourists into the museum. If that opportunity also means getting herself in the papers? All the better.

There is a real sense of the abandonment of the values of the previous generation running throughout the book. Theta, a young dancer has run to New York away from her abusive husband. She’s moved in with her best friend, Henry (he’s her brother, as far as the landlord is concerned), a piano player and gay. Memphis has turned away from the church he was brought up in because he can’t see the relevance of it in his life. He writes poetry about the future he wishes to have.

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Libba Bray writes about navigating a world ruined by the very people who were supposed to save it: A world in which traditional values are seemingly meaningless in the aftermath of the grief and loss of the First World War; where you never know when the rug is going to be pulled out from under you so you may as well dance on it. A world in which the present can barely stand under the weight of its own history – and in fact may be destroyed by it. Evie and co. must fight the forces of evil threatening to take over the city while negotiating their own pre-ordained fates. I can’t wait for the sequel.

An Announcement

So I’m launching a project: Re-Reading The Princess Diaries. I’ll be posting reviews of each of the books every other Saturday until I reach book eleven.

I’m excited about this.

The Princess Diaries were the books I turned to in my teens whenever life got hard. Mia Thermopolis was an awkward, too-tall weirdo – and so was I! Mia had trouble expressing her feelings – as I did! Meg Cabot’s writing was a source of constant comfort to me.

Honestly these books still make me feel better now.

I mourned them when they ended at book ten, with a now eighteen year old Mia preparing to go to college.

That was 2008.

Now, finally, in 2015, we get to find out what Mia did next.

the princess diaries xi

The Princess Diaries XI came out on July 2nd.

Obviously I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

But before I share my thoughts on the new book, I thought, at 22, it was time to review Mia’s diaries from the beginning.

So I’m launching a project: Re-Reading The Princess Diaries. I’ll be posting reviews of each of the books every other Saturday until I reach book eleven.

I’m excited about this.

Here’s the book trailer for the book XI:

It looks awesome.

5 Summer Weekend Reads

It’s the beginning of summer. The weather is starting to improve (in some places). It’s time to take some time off with the sun and a good book, I think. If you’ve just finished university or you’re in the grips of exams right now you need something to take your mind off the impending doom, right? I have a few quick reads that might work…

It’s the beginning of summer. The weather is starting to improve (in some places). It’s time to take some time off with the sun and a good book, I think. If you’ve just finished university or you’re in the grips of exams right now you need something to take your mind off the impending doom, right? I have a few quick reads that might work…

All My Friends Are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman

all my friends are superheroes

A cute, optimistic little book about a man called Tom, who is surrounded by superheroes. The evil Hypno has tricked his wife, The Perfectionist into believing that Tom has disappeared. Tom has been trying to convince her that he is not invisible for months, without much success. All My Friends Are Superheroes is a strange, introspective but ultimately optimistic read that’ll leave you with the sense that the world is a little bit brighter.

Keeping the Moon –Sarah Dessen

keeping the moon

Colie has been sent to Colby for the summer. She doesn’t fit in back home – she was bullied first because of her weight, and after she lost that a nasty rumour spread around town and now nobody will talk to her. She doesn’t have much hope of having a fun summer. In this book Sarah Dessen looks at self-worth and how it affects us. She shows us how crippling low self-esteem can be and also how you can have everything that you want despite it.

This Song Will Save Your Life – Leila Sales

this song will save your life

Elise Dembowski has always been unpopular. She has come to expect hurt from others in a way that is self-destructive. She feels alone in the world. Then she discovers in one serendipitous night that she can DJ. And if she can do that then she can become a different person altogether. This an interesting read about the life changing consequences of finding your passion.

The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan

the lover's dictionary

David Levithan tells the story of a relationship from start to finish in 185 dictionary definitions.

Gravity, n.

I imagine you saved my life. And then I wonder if I’m just imagining it.”

Voluminous, adj.

I have already spent roughly five thousand hours asleep next to you. This has to mean something.”

Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins

anna and the french kiss

Anna is pissed. She had a job she loved, a boy she really liked and a great summer lined up with her best friend. Then her dad ruined it all by deciding to send her to boarding school in Paris. This is a great book about falling in love, new friends and new challenges. And it all happens amongst the beautiful winding streets of Paris. It is a complete escape.

Saint Anything

Reading a new Sarah Dessen book is like meeting up with my best friend after a long while. It always makes me feel so much better.

Reading a new Sarah Dessen book is like meeting up with my best friend after a long while. It always makes me feel so much better.

saint anything

Saint Anything is about a girl called Sydney, who always wanted to be noticed until she was. Her whole life she’s felt like she’s living in her older brother Peyton’s shadow. He is the charismatic star of the family. Until he winds up in prison, that is, and everything around Sydney starts to go to hell. Suddenly people are paying attention to her, but not in a way that she would have ever wanted.

Sydney decides to move schools to get away from it all. She soon meets the Chatham family. They notice her in a way Sydney has never felt before – the noticing is an offer of friendship rather than a judgement. It’s an offer that changes her whole life.

Disappearing into Sarah Dessen’s writing is one of my greatest pleasures. Every time she brings out a new book, when I hold it in my hands for the first time, I take a moment to worry that my experience this time will be different, that the complete immersion I experience when reading these books will somehow be gone. I worry that getting older means that I might lose it.

It never does. From the moment I started reading this book, I completely lost my desire to do anything else.

Being noticed and the act of noticing are central to Saint Anything. Sydney’s parents fail to notice the affects her brother’s incarceration have on her. They fail to notice that she is being harassed by her brother’s creepy friend. They fail to notice that she’s a good kid. Sydney lives under the weight of her brother’s actions. Her parents are so preoccupied with his behaviour that Sydney finds herself being punished for actions she hasn’t even taken. Owing to Peyton’s lifestyle and its consequences, Sydney’s own freedom is limited.

Then there is her friendship with the Chathams. The whole family seem to notice that Sydney is in pain. They draw her in to them and out of herself. Sydney’s family are a great deal richer than the Chathams, and the way that Sarah Dessen shows this, by Sydney noting small things about their home – she’s a total master of show don’t tell – was wonderful. The Chatham’s financial existence was simply different, rather than problematic.

Love it.

Another thing I love so much about Sarah Dessen’s books is how well rounded all of the characters are. Layla Chatham doesn’t come into Sydney’s life as just a solver of problems, a spirit guide or romantic comedy best friend with no personal life of her own. This girl is difficult. She’s welcoming, funny and confident – the kind of best friend that we all want. But she’s also liable to disappear into relationships and hold her friends to high standards that are hard to reach. I think that the key to Dessen’s writing and what makes the reading of it such an immersive experience is this character depth. By the end of each novel, I could easily care enough to read a spin off about each separate character. Sarah herself nods to this by the referencing to her previous work in all of her novels. When Sydney first meets Mac Chatham he is wearing an Anger Management radio show shirt.

This depth of character leads to constant surprises – for us and Sydney. In all her writing and in this book particularly, Dessen shows relationships as constantly evolving, the process of getting to know someone never truly complete.

Her books are a study on imagining people complexly.