Kindred Spirits

If you broke Elena’s heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she’s expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does. What she’s not expecting is to be the last in a line of only three people, to have to pee into a collectable Star Wars cup behind a dumpster or meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels.

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Kindred Spirits, by Rainbow Rowell is a charming celebration of geek culture and first romance of the kind of we have come to expect from the author of Fan Girl and Carry On. My only complaint was that, as a short story published for World Book Day 2016, Kindred Spirits is far too short, coming in at only 62 pages.

As in any good story by Rowell, Kindred Spirits is character driven, and even in the brief time we have with them, Elena and her line-mates, Troy and Gabe leap off the page. Elena is a sweet geek girl whose mother won’t stop driving past the line to check on her; Gabe, the aggressively anti-social Star Wars lover; and Troy, the line veteran who knows all the cinema staff by name.

What I have always loved most about Rowell’s writing is how she twists the expectations we have going into any given situation. Fan Girl isn’t your typical going to college story, and this line that turned out to be three people is not the days-long geek party Elena was expecting. It’s part rubbishing expectations and the detrimental roles they always play in our lives, part nostalgia for a time when, pre-internet, queuing for several days for a movie was the type of thing people would actually do.

In such a short span of time, Rowell manages to touch on absent parents, high school cliques, the unfortunate misogyny that lurks in nerd culture (the whole ‘fake geek girl’ thing) and the problems of peeing outside while female (the challenge is real).

If you’re looking to escape for an hour (and who isn’t?), and indulge in a world of nostalgia and nerd love, Kindred Spirits is the short story for you.

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5 Pick-Me-Up Books for Down Days

I think that at this point people are pretty sick of the recently graduated broadcasting to everyone they know how much their lives suck.

As such, I’m not going to get into it. Suffice to say that the past couple months have been heavy on the job rejection front (I have received 2 in the time I have been writing this blog post!).

This Buzzfeed article pretty much covers it.

But, the truth is, people who spend all their time feeling sorry for themselves are annoying. In the interest of not being one of those people (and Monday being, as always, the start of a New Game), today I present a list of pick-me-up books. You know. Those books that inject a much needed bit of encouragement, or just humour, into your life right when you need it.

The time has come for me to ignore my TBR and turn instead to some old favourites.

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Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

This book will probably fit into every single list I ever write. The simple fact is that I always feel like it was written for me.

Cath is the anxious type. The thrown-in-at-the-deep-end feeling of the first year of university isn’t helping any. Her anxious parts are in overdrive. For the first few weeks she can’t even make herself go into the cafeteria.

(I loved this detail because for my first week of university, I lived off of cheese biscuits and a giant jar of Nutella. I too, had a lot of trouble leaving my room. It seems silly now).

But, despite her resistance, she makes friends. She meets a guy. She copes without even realising that she’s doing it.

What I like so much about this book is the speed at which Cath’s life opens. Coping, for Cath, is something that happens slowly. It’s in every action, rather than a rushed montage-like chapter after which she has her entire universe sussed. For Cath, Okay is a process. There is something incredibly comforting in that which brings me back to this book whenever I get down.

I Was Told There’d be Cake – Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley’s writing bridges the distance between laugh-out-loud and melancholy in a way that is very appealing when dealing with a serial crappy day scenario. While many of her essays tell stories that are outlandish, they remain authentic and relatable.

She writes a lot about the distancing of friendships that starts to happen when you get older and move in different directions. She writes about getting rid of the toy pony collection she built up in gifts from various ex-boyfriends. She also talks about the annoying questions people ask when you say you’re vegetarian, which I appreciated (asking someone but what do you eat? makes you a dick 100% of the time, btw).

Maybe my favourite essay in the book is about the time she threw a dinner party for three friends and one of their asshole boyfriends, and found, when they had left, that one of them had taken a shit on her bathroom floor.

Sloane’s voice is a comforting presence on a bad day.

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

The last chapter of this book never fails to make me cry. But it’s sort of for good reasons. If you have a copy and you haven’t read it in forever, please go read the last chapter now. Trust me.

Nobody ‘Bod’ Owens grew up in a graveyard. He had to hide there in order to be safe from the dangers of the world.

Until he didn’t.

‘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.’

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

I really love fish-out-of-water stories (Legally Blonde is one of my favourite movies). Within that, I love when characters succeed simply by being their awesome selves, and gradually getting recognition for that from their peers, rather than by wreaking some epic revenge.  This is not to say that I don’t believe in Matilda-ing the hell out of a situation when necessary. Sometimes you have to make your scary, force-feeding head teacher think that her house is haunted and drive her out of town.

Other times, you’ve just got to be your awesome self, like Elle Woods and Arnold Spirit, and wait for everybody else to catch up.

Arnold has the kind of life where the prospect of hope is in the opposite direction of home. He lives on the Spokane Indian reservation. There is a lot of poverty. His parents are alcoholics.

Nobody ever really leaves the reservation. So when Arnold decides to get out and attend the all-white high school in town miles away… people are kind of mad. People at the all-white high school are kind of mad, too.

But despite all this – the traumatic home life, school days filled with racist discrimination and a whole lot of tragedy and grief, Arnold survives. And thrives. He’s an impressive guy.

I recommend this to anyone who’s starting to think they might need to leave their tribe.

Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

Because memoirs by ladies heal all (insubstantial) wounds.

Of Mindy Kaling’s two memoirs, this one is the best, in my opinion. While the first one is totally enjoyable, I can’t help but feel like she puts more of herself into this second offering. In the introduction she states that she’s done with wanting to be liked, and is instead now much more interested in being known. That is an attitude I can get behind.

This book is about work and being a woman and dating. It’s about 4am worries and the secret to success (spoiler alert: it’s hard work, apparently).

It’s also really really funny and 100% guaranteed to lift the sort of self-involved, churlish sadness that has been the subject of this blog post.

 

Do you have any books that you automatically reread when times get crappy? Let me know. I can always use more mood-boosting reads.

Book Boyfriends for Valentine’s Day

Because boys in books are just better.

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Victoria and the Rogue by Meg Cabot

Lady Victoria Arbuthnot is not amused. She’s been shipped from India to England to live with her less-than-ideal relatives, the Gardiners and their zoo of children. If that weren’t bad enough, she’s also being forced to keep her engagement to the charming Lord Malfrey a secret.

It’s all very tedious. As if the family circumstances weren’t enough, Victoria can’t seem to shake the infuriating Captain Carstairs, whose primary hobbies consist of vexing Victoria and spreading rumours about her new fiancé.

For Lady Victoria Arbuthnot, it’s a long road to happily-ever-after.

Captain Carstairs: The, he’s-mean-to-you-because-he-likes-you type. As much as I loved this book it sent me barking up a lot of the wrong trees throughout high school. Totally worth it.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Since Cath started university and her identical twin, Wren ditched her, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. After spending her teens immersed in the world of her Simon Snow fanfiction, Cath honestly doesn’t know how to operate in the real world.

One thing she absolutely does not feel ready for is falling in love. With anything. So the sudden appearance of new friends, new passions and potentially a new boy in her life have her beyond freaked out.

Will Cath figure out how to open her heart before it’s too late?

Levi: Your best friend who you can’t help but fall in love with.

First and Then by Emma Mills

Devon has been crushing on her best friend Cas since forever. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Devon doesn’t even mind any more. She’s pretty much given up on it ever happening.

The butterflies in her stomach haven’t, however.

The drama begins when Devon’s weird cousin Foster comes to live with her family. Foster immediately bonds with Ezra, captain of the football team and prized jackass.

A prized jackass who also happens to be super-hot.

Devon’s life is about to get complicated…

Ezra: The broody one with the tragic history.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

From the outside it seems like Annabel has everything.

On the inside, she’s crumbling. The girl she thought was her best friend is trying to destroy her. Her family is coming apart at the seams. Her sister is trying to starve herself to death. All Annabel wants is to disappear.

Then she meets Owen. Owen is obsessed with weird music and his radio show, Anger Management. He doesn’t take any bullshit.

He sees the cracks in Annabel’s façade. And he doesn’t leave

Owen: The guy who’s working through some stuff. The one who’s life you can’t help but fall into.

Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver planned to be best friends forever. Then Oliver’s parents split up and his father kidnapped him.

Ten years later, he’s back and Emmy has no idea what to do. He’s her best friend and a stranger and the defining disaster of her life to date. Oliver barely remembers her… until he does.

As they grow closer, Emmy has to ask herself, is it possible for them to get back to the people they were supposed to be?

Oliver: The cute guy who got kidnapped by his dad. You know the one. The guy who disappeared for ten years then made you feel like he was never gone.

 

 

 

November Wrap-Up

Another month is drawing to a close and I find myself asking again… Where did it go?

I know where mine went. It was dedicated to NaNoWriMo. I verified my 50,000 words yesterday. I hope everyone else has had a fun writing month. We can sleep now, it’s over.

(Well, almost)

I also turned 23.

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This month I reviewed:

Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

Feelings: I haunt Mindy’s Instagram account and make-believe that she’s my best friend.

Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

Feelings: Because of this debut, I will now read everything Nicola Yoon writes. Forever.

Carry On – Rainbow Rowell

Feelings: Baz, marry me?

Cress – Marissa Meyer

Feelings: The most adorable iteration of Rapunzel I have ever experienced.

I also read:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (reread)

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

First and Then – Emma Mills

(review coming soon, but *spoiler alert* I am making similar vows to read everything Emma Mills produces from this point forward).

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…

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

My Top Three Female Characters

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

I love female characters. I love to read women with depth, women who are complicated and not a mess of gender characteristics stuck awkwardly together by a clueless author.

Often when I watch television, I find the female characters fall flat. They are so frequently pushed into the same boring gender roles and their friendships reduced to shallow one way streets where the only topic of discussion is dating. Or, worse, the female character is only there to facilitate some guy’s character development and has no storyline of her own.

Unfortunately on TV this can start to feel like the norm.

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

So with that in mind, today I want to write about three of the women in young adult fiction who have stayed in my mind long after the end of the story.

Frankie Landau-Banks

From The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

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This book should be required reading for all teenaged girls, I think. Frankie is a sixteen year old girl in the midst of a feminist awakening. She is keenly aware of what the people around her expect and want from her – a sweet, quiet girl who doesn’t want to cause any trouble – and she realizes more and more than she cannot be it for them. She’s smart and adventurous and she wants to be at the heart of the action even when it is in the end at the sacrifice of those things she always thought would make her happy. She is a girl in the process of figuring out who she is.

The ocean stirsthe heart, inspiresthe imgination&

Cather

From Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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I so wish that Fangirl had been published in time for my first year of university, because me and Cath had pretty similar feelings going in and reading about hers would have gone a long way toward convincing me that I was not in fact going crazy.

Cath is the suspicious type. She doesn’t let people in much, apart from her twin sister Wren, but since they went to university together and Wren decided to get a roommate who wasn’t Cath they haven’t talked much. Cath is fearful. It takes her weeks to go down to the refectory in her dorm because she doesn’t know how the place operates. She doesn’t get out much. She isn’t a party person.

The reason Cath felt so real to me was that she never lost the deep reservations she had about life. Just because a lovely boy came along didn’t mean she instantly stopped being suspicious about relationships. Just because she made a couple friends didn’t mean she suddenly started going out to the kind of parties that she hated. Just because she left home she didn’t stop worrying about her dad, who has bi-polar and isn’t particularly stable at the best of times. Cath and her stresses came as a pair, and her journey to live her life in spite of them is what makes Fangirl such great reading.

Evie O’Neill

From The Diviners by Libba Bray

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In case it wasn’t obvious, I’ve recently got totally re-obsessed with The Diviners in anticipation of the sequel being finally almost here.

Evie is everything I wish I was. She’s extroverted, witty, brave and always up for a party. She is desperate to be famous, whatever the cost. She’s also… pretty haunted. She lost her brother in the Second World War and since her already frail relationship with her parents has completely broken.

Evie needs more than anything else to be noticed. She has been lonely ever since her brother died and tries to plug the gaping hole he left behind with the shallow attentions of… whoever she can get to listen. It goes without saying that the need for attention never ends.

But she’s also pretty selfless. She puts herself in positions of grave danger throughout the novel in pursuit of the murderer haunting the streets of New York. She almost dies chasing him, but she keeps going anyway because ridding the world of him is the only way to make people safe.

Did I mention I’m excited for the sequel?

Who are your favourite female characters and why? Let me know in the comments!