A Feast for Crows picks up directly after the dramatic events of A Storm of Swords. Robb Stark, the King in the NWarning: this post contains spoilers.
A Feast for Crows picks up directly after the dramatic events of A Storm of Swords. Robb Stark, the King in the North, is dead. King Joffrey is dead. Balon Grejoy is dead. Tyrion has left King's Landing after murdering his father, Tywin. Sansa is with Littlefinger in the Eyrie, realising just how power hungry he is. Arya has boarded a ship for Westeros, Daenarys is dealing with the uncomfortable information that Ser Jorah Mormont was a spy and Jon Snow has just become Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
It's safe to say that A Feast for Crows has a lot of loose ends to pick up and a lot of consequences to deal with. I was pre-warned before reading that the pace slows considerably in this volume and that only some of the main characters are featured. It's a good thing I was warned otherwise the lack of Jon, Daenarys and especially Tyrion would have been irritating. But as I was expecting it, I found the change of pace welcome after the drama of A Storm of Swords and I actually really enjoyed getting to meet some new characters and places.
I think one of the reasons that I loved A Feast for Crows is that it focuses on a lot of the women characters. In King's Landing, Cersei Lannister has finally got the power she has been craving all along as regent for young King Tommen, but now that she has it, she has no idea how to use it. It's fun to watch her blundering along from mistake to mistake and to finally see her outplayed by a younger version of herself, Margaery Tyrell. Cersei is one of the few 'love to hate' characters (her only redeeming feature is her love for her children), so there's a lot of satisfaction in seeing the mighty fall.
A large part of the plot of this volume takes part in Dorne, a kingdom to the far South that seems to be loosely modelled on Arabia. At the end of book three, Prince Oberyn was murdered by the Mountain and we get to see how Prince Doran and the many women of the royal family react. I just loved Dorne - if I was to be a member of any of the houses, I would be a Martell. Similarly, I appreciated the new setting of Braavos, which was a bit like medieval Venice.
One issue I keep finding with this series is that in every volume, there seems to be one character that is doomed to spend the novel wandering aimlessly around Westeros. For the last few books, it was Arya Stark. Now Arya has more of a plot in Braavos, the role of 'looking for things unsuccessfully' fell to Brienne, a character I had previously enjoyed. But in this novel, she just moved around without a clear idea of where she was going and it became a bit tedious. Hopefully we'll be spared a wandering character in Dance with Dragons.
I think I'm in the minority as I actually enjoyed this as much as Storm of Swords. Yes, there was less action and shocking events were fewer and far between, but I loved journeying with Martin to new areas of Westeros. I'm glad I was pre-warned about the book only focusing on some of the main characters and can't wait to start Dance with Dragons to see what Jon, Daenarys and Tyrion have been up to....more
The Thing Around Your Neck is a short story collection by one of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Having previously read and loved PurpThe Thing Around Your Neck is a short story collection by one of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Having previously read and loved Purple Hibiscus (my review) and especially Half of a Yellow Sun (my review - go and get a copy now if you haven't read it), I couldn't wait to get my hands on this collection, her only work published in book form that I had yet to read. And I wasn't disappointed.
The Thing Around Your Neck is a short story collection about women, the immigrant experience, things not working out the way they should and homesickness. All of the women in the stories have a connection of some kind with Nigeria; some are on their way to America to marry Nigerian men who have already made it, some are caught up in violence, some are writing about it and some are missing it with every bone in their body. Nigeria appears as almost a character in it's own right - a whirl of colours, smells, sound and vibrancy compared with a grey, bland, tasteless America.
Aside from that, the other major theme that I could identify was disappointment and expectations not being met. The stories are full of Nigerian women who have moved to America anticipating a land of milk and honey and found themselves disappointed, both with their new country and their new husbands. In The Arrangers of Marriage, Chinaza is encouraged by her husband to cook only American food, change her name and be as American as possible, resulting in a deep homesickness. She can't write home about her misery as her relatives all assume she will have a big house, a car and all the perks of living in America.
I had several favourite stories from the collection. One was A Private Experience, a story of an unlikely friendship between a Hausa Muslim and Igbo Christian during race riots in Nigeria. Another was On Monday of Last Week, about the loneliness of a woman working as a nanny for an American family. Although Tomorrow is Too Far didn't really fit in with the themes of the rest of the collection, it was a very creepy story about sibling rivalry.
But my favourite story was Jumping Monkey Hill, about a group of upcoming African writers invited to a safari lodge in South Africa for a writing seminar by a white sponsor. It seemed as though Adichie had used this story to vent all of her frustrations about the attitude towards and labels given to African writers as most of the stories the Africans write are disparaged by the white sponsor. He wants them only to write of war, desperation, hunger and stereotypes, not the truth of their experiences and countries.
To sum up, I would highly recommend this well written collection, especially if you are interested in the immigrant experience....more
I never realised how easily people could be trained to accept slavery."
Dana is moving into a new apartment with her husband when she starts to feel diI never realised how easily people could be trained to accept slavery."
Dana is moving into a new apartment with her husband when she starts to feel dizzy and nauseous. The next thing she knows, she is in nineteenth-century Maryland, rescuing a white boy who turns out to be her ancestor, as well as the son of a slave-owner. Although her visit to the past is brief, Dana finds herself called back more often and for longer, and with each trip the danger intensifies. For nineteenth century Maryland isn't a safe place for a black woman, especially one used to modern life. But as Dana spends more time in the past, she feels herself changing as the reality of slavery wears her down, threatening the life she has built in the present.
I was expecting Kindred to be very good, as I've seen many positive reviews of it and know it to be highly regarded, but it went well beyond my expectations. Kindred isn't just a good book, it's a truly excellent and thought provoking one. Butler takes the simple premise of a black woman going back to the slavery era and fleshes her out by adding all of these extra dimensions and complications. Dana has a white husband, and her ancestor is white. Her relationship with Rufus, her ancestor, is complex, as she deplores the way slaves are treated on his property, but can't help but have a bond with him. She finds her views changing with the reality of life for slaves, at one point advising others to keep their heads down, to not fight, despite this going against everything she believes in. The fact that Kevin, her husband, also goes back in time at one point was also an interesting plot device, and one allowed their relationship to be explored fully.
What I loved most of all about Kindred is that Butler doesn't shy away from any of these complications. Of course slavery was wrong, but Butler really explores what it might have been like at the time, how reality and the choices of life were never simple for slaves. We see why slaves might choose to be raped rather than run away, we witness their horrific punishments, and to a certain extent we get to see a modern woman conditioned to accept slavery through her experience in the society. Rufus remains morally ambiguous, treating different slaves in different ways and being a realistic product of his time. It would have been easy for Butler to demonise him, but she didn't. Reading Kindred really made me think and reminded me that no issue is simple. Slavery is rightly shown to be horrific, but gritty and complicated too.
As well as being thought provoking, Kindred is also a gripping read, with a fast paced plot that escalates quickly and builds up tension throughout. I read it in just two days, which is unheard of at the moment! It's a book I'd recommend to anyone, whether you are interested in sci-fi/time travel or not. And I can't wait to pick up more of Butler's books in the future. ...more
May and Pearl are sisters living comfortably in decadent 1930's Shanghai and working as models. When the Japanese attack, they are forced to migrate tMay and Pearl are sisters living comfortably in decadent 1930's Shanghai and working as models. When the Japanese attack, they are forced to migrate to America, where they encounter prejudice and hardships.
This novel is one of my stand-out favourite reads of 2011 so far. I wasn't expecting it to be as gritty or in-depth as it was and I loved how the relationship between the two sisters was portrayed, especially as I'm very close to my own sister. The immigrant experience was captured well, as was the fear of all Chinese in America after Mao came to power, and the involvement of the FBI....more
I first heard about Sofi Oksanen's Purge through Willa's blog, and as soon as I read her review of it I knew I had to read it for myself. Finally, almI first heard about Sofi Oksanen's Purge through Willa's blog, and as soon as I read her review of it I knew I had to read it for myself. Finally, almost four months later, I managed to get my hands on a copy. Set in Estonia during the 1940s and 1990s, it is the story of two women who have both suffered abuse.
Aliide Truu is living an old-fashioned life in rural Estonia, cut off from all her neighbours. She is happy being self-sufficient until she finds Zara, a badly beaten woman, in her garden. As Aliide begins to help Zara, she is forced to look back on her own past and involvement with both the Estonian Nationalist Movement and the Soviet state. Zara is a young Russian-Estonian girl who is visited by a friend and promised a luxurious life in the west, only to be sold as a sex slave and kept captive.
Purge is not an easy story to read. Both women go through experiences that you could only describe as horrific and some of the things that happen to Zara in particular will make your stomach churn - she loses everything except her life. Aliide's story doesn't hide from the use of rape as an interrogation technique by Soviet forces. These experiences are described graphically but not gratuitously by Oksanen, and you really feel for both women.
I went into the story knowing that there would be descriptions of sexual abuse, but for me the most disturbing thing about this book was the character of Aliide herself. Oksanen slowly reveals more and more about her and her thought processes with the result that she has created a wonderfully three dimensional and distasteful character; at times I felt very sorry for Aliide but at other times I felt disgusted with her. I didn't guess the revelation about her that comes in the closing section, and I felt that this was very clever of Oksanen.
Despite dealing with difficult subjects, Purge is definitely a worthwhile read. I finished it a few days ago and yet my mind is still buzzing with thoughts about it. It has illuminated a chapter of European history I knew very little about. Purge is also a page turner, I found it almost impossible to put this book down as I was desperate to find out what would happen to Zara and why Aliide was the way she was. It's a book that has a great impact and I would strongly recommend it....more
On Chesil Beach is more of a novella than a novel and tells the story of Florence and Edward on their wedding night in 1962. Despite being very much iOn Chesil Beach is more of a novella than a novel and tells the story of Florence and Edward on their wedding night in 1962. Despite being very much in love, they have never broached the subject of sex and both are anxious for different reasons - Edward has performance anxiety and Florence is repulsed by the idea of sexual contact. As the night goes on, the effects of their lack of communication become clear.
I loved this little book. It was one of those books where not much happens and the characters are very ordinary, but McEwan has a real gift for observing emotions and human relations. Whilst reading I felt as though I was inside the heads of both Edward and Florence, but especially Florence. Weighed down by concern about how she 'should' act and behave, Florence can't help but make things worse for herself;
"She seized his hand and led him towards the bed. It was perverse of her, insane even, when she wanted to run from the room, across the gardens and down the lane, onto the beach to sit alone. But her sense of duty was painfully strong and she could not resist it. She could not bear to let Edward down." p33
"Sex with Edward could not be the summation of her joy, but was the price she must pay for it." p9
McEwan wrote simply, but somehow managed to pack more emotional impact into this short book than some authors manage in much longer works. I found myself rooting for Florence and Edward, and wanting to reach into the book and shake them when they were failing to communicate. It wasn't a happy book, and McEwan seemed to highlight how easily happiness can be dispersed and how emotions (especially pride) and events can get in the way. I could feel the awkwardness and emotions radiating from the characters. It was also nice to read a book in which sex was treated realistically, rather than over the top and always perfect....more