Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama sounded like such an incrOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Trigger Warning: Rape is a feature in this book.
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama sounded like such an incredible book, but I was left with mixed feelings.
It's in no way a bad book, I think it's down to personal preference. It's absolutely gripping in regards to writing; I was completely captivated and couldn't put it down, but at the same time, it's also a little slow - or at least, Hester's story is. The story is told in alternating chapters, past - 1872-73 - with Syrenka, and present, with Hester. I was much more interested in what happened in the past than in the future. That was probably because both are linked, and, with Syrenka, the reader sees things as they happen, where as with Hester, we're waiting for her to work things out about the past, and she may not work out what we've just read for another few chapters. Because I already knew what she was trying to discover, I was much more interested in what would happen next with Syrenka. Most chapters would end on little cliff-hangers, and so you'd have to read a chapter from the alternate time before you could find out where the cliffhanger would lead.
I found the intensity of the love in this book a bit hard to believe. It's insta-love, obsessive love, but without much foundation. There are only a few times when Hester has conversations with Ezra, and those conversations are really short. She doesn't really know the guy at all, and yet this overwhelming love seems to hit her out of nowhere. Granted, there could be an explanation for that, but we don't find that out until much later on, so I spent a lot of time frowning at Hester, thinking, "Really?" And with Syrenka and her Ezra, we don't actually see them fall in love. We see the first time they meet, but after that, numerous meetings happen off-page, so perhaps their love is a little more gradual, but we don't see it. Even so, it's also obsessive love. It all just seemed a bit much.
Monstrous Beauty is also a really grisly book. It's full of violent deaths, and Syrenka's transformation into human is pretty horrific. It's not overly graphic and descriptive, but it did turn my stomach a little. At the same time, when things are finally revealed, as to what the "horrific and deadly consequences" as described in the description are, I was left thinking, "Is that it?" Don't get me wrong, I had moments of "woah!", but once the tragedy had happened, I was taken aback by how different it was to what I expected. How the curse is created. I was expecting something a bit more sinister, something evil spawned from the desire for revenge. And though things do get pretty bad, they don't get as bad as I was expecting, and Syrenka didn't turn out to be the kind of person I thought she'd be.
I also felt a little let down by Hester's ending. Once she worked everything out, and realised what she had to do, what she actually had to do seemed far too easy. It wasn't the nicest thing to witness, and she has a few issues, but it was pretty easy in the end. And I felt a little let down by that. After everything that happen in Syrenka's time, after all the tragedy, that's all Hester had to do? I just felt it should have been more difficult. Emotionally, for Hester, it is, but physically, it's the simplest thing.
There's also a little predictability to it, in regards to Hester's time. I'm not talking about what's revealed in Syrenka's chapters, but just in things you have to work out as a reader along with Hester. But Hester took ages to work out things that were pretty damn obvious to me, which just made Hester seem stupid. But I rather think that's a flaw in storytelling, that these particular things were really obvious to me. I can't really say much without spoiling things, but I do think there should have been more mystery around certain elements of the story.
Monstrous Beauty isn't a bad story, and it's a really intriguing The Little Mermaid retelling. I was captivated and gripped, but then also rolling my eyes, and feeling slightly let down by the reveal. But as I said, I think it's mostly just me, and my preference rather than huge problems with the book. It's still a book I think I enjoyed overall, because it's been several days since I finished it, and I'm remembering it pretty fondly, but I did have a few quibbles. So maybe read some other reviews before you decide whether or not you'll read it....more
The Unpredictability of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen is a book I've wanted to read ever since I heard it was about a girl with undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). And while it was a captivating read and enjoyable read, I've finished it with mixed feelings.
The Unpredictability of Being Human is very much a coming of age story. It follows Malin during a specific period in her life when things change. There's not so much of a plot to the story, it's more a snapshot of her life during this time of change. She makes a new friend, she starts to become a bit more interested in boys, her mum goes away on a "business trip" for quite a long time, secrets that have caused the family a lot of pain come to light, and, although she's never fit in or really had friends, the bullying is stepped up when she retaliates after someone steals something from her - though maybe not in the best way. There is an innocence to Malin, and she takes things at face value, not really understanding that she's being lied to and played with, until it's too late. It's quite heartbreaking when we, the readers, know where things are going to go, because Malin doesn't understand that people are being conniving and fake, but are powerless to stop it.
Despite there not being a real plot, I was captivated by Malin's voice. I was rooting for her when she made a friend in Hanna, who treated her mostly well, when no-one else at school did, and also when it looks like things might work out with a boy she likes. And loved her relationship with her cousin, Magnus; how they were close, and he didn't treat her like he would anyone else, unlike everyone else. But was also so sad when people took advantage of her because she's so guileless, and doesn't understand that people are lying to her to get her to do things. And I also wished her family would stop lying to her. Because she's not stupid, she would understand if she was just told the truth and had things explained to her, she would be fine. But instead is treated like she wouldn't understand, so lie to her to make things easier for her, when it's not necessary. It was also kind of sad that she would find bottles of wine in strange places around the house, like the tumble dryer, and not think anything of it, and that her father shouting and yelling all the time, and occasionally punching a wall, is normal and nothing to worry about. But it's great to see how she learns through the book, as she comes to understand things, and how things in her life get better.
I also loved how The Unpredictability of Being Human was set in Norway, where Ingemundsen is from. I loved all the little elements that made this book stand out from other YA novels, which are mostly set in the US or the UK; the names of the characters, some of the words used occasionally, and the mention of how Malin had never been out of Scandinavia. Being set in Norway just gave the book that little bit something extra, that made it even more interesting.
My main problem is that I only know that Malin has undiagnosed ASD because the publicist told me so. It doesn't come up at all in the book. Towards the end of the book, where things were going in a certain direction, I though she might get a diagnosis then, but no. As the book is from the perspective of Malin, we, the readers, are aware that she might be neurodiverse, because of the things she misses that are quite obvious to us - for example, that her mum is an alcoholic. From the other characters treatment of her, it's clear that they know she's "different"; when her mum goes to rehab, Malin is told her mum is going on a business trip, though a strange one where you can't call her at first, and she can't can't come back until 90 days later, or have visitors. She's also called stupid by various people and a moron by her older brother, and she's bullied for being different. But having ASD is never mention in any way. And this worries me slightly. I am all for a character having ASD where the story isn't about having ASD, but 1) I think it will make it difficult for people with ASD who are looking for books with characters like them to find this book, because it's not even mentioned in the blurb, and 2) I worry that the lack of even one mention of Malin having ASD may cause readers to judge her, because they don't understand? I don't think this is an unnecessary worry, as I've already seen one review of someone saying Malin seemed younger than 14, and was annoyed at Malin, though she was naive and did stupid things - the reader obviously didn't pick up on the fact that she has undiagnosed ASD, and judged her. I just think it would have been better if she had a diagnosis, whether it was right at the end, or, if she had the diagnosis before the book even started, and it could be mentioned that Malin has ASD, what that means, and that's it, the story continued without mentioning it again, because it's not the point of the story. But to not mention it at all feels like a disservice to those with ASD, I feel.
Despite this, I still really enjoyed the story, and getting to know Malin. I loved seeing her life, and seeing things improve for her, even if it broke my heart to see things get worse for a while.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry sounded like such an incredible read, and while I did enjoy it, I was so very disappointed.
The description is very misleading. The description gives the idea that some magical creature lives on the island. And to an extent, that's kind of true, in that she is an impossibility, but she is not a girl with green skin and grass for hair, who can grant wishes, or has magic. She is a girl whose touch could kill, but only because she has poison running through her veins due to a family curse - poison that is slowly killing her. Otherwise, there's nothing special about her. That sounds awful, but I just expected so much from Isabel, and she's not what anyone believes. It's funny because the description talks about "legends", it's not saying it's true - but when it comes to fantasy, the legends normally turn out to be true. Just not all of them in this case.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison is pretty much a magical realism and mystery mash up. In Puerto Rico, where Lucas spends his Summers with his father at the hotel his father's company owns, girls are going missing, but then their bodies wash up against the shore a few days later. Marisol, a girl Lucas has just started seeing, is the latest girl to be found washed up on the shore. The same day she goes missing, Lucas receives a note from the cursed girl living in the house at the end of the road underneath his door; he knows it's from her, because it's on the paper Marisol had written her wish on before throwing it over the girl's wall, on it saying she can't grant Marisol's wish. On the day Marisol's body is discovered, another note is pushed under Lucas' door, this time written on a wish he threw over the girl's wall a number of years ago. This one saying she knows something about what happened to Marisol. But then Lucas finds out the girl is just Isabel, a girl who is dying from the poison in her veins, a girl who's only survived this long because of the poison plants in her garden which absorb her power, but it's not going to work always. There doesn't seem to really be any link between the missing girls and Isabel - Isabel was just annoyed that people were throwing things over her wall, and jealous of the life they could live. Lucas wants to work out the mystery of Marisol's death, but he's now also drawn to Isabel, and wants to help her survive.
It just wasn't the magical story I was expecting. Isabel is more ordinary than I was led to believed, even if she's not that ordinary. I was expecting something much more magical. And although it's a mystery that is interesting and keeps you reading, it's also a pretty predictable one, and I figured out pretty early on what was happening.
However, I did love the magical realism aspects of the story; why Isabel had poison in her body, the curse on her family, and if she would survive, but there isn't much of a focus on that part. It's almost second to the mystery. But I did love how things just were; Isabel is poisonous because of a curse, but there's no explanation as to how the poison got there, or how the curse worked. It just is, and you have to accept it. And I love that about magical realism, how, if it's done right, you don't even question it.
I also loved that the book was set in Puerto Rico - the descriptions of the place were just so gorgeous - and how almost every character bar Lucas, his father, and Isabel's father, are Latinx (which you would expect, right? But I have previously read a book that was set in a different country, and yet all the named characters were from the US or the UK, so this seems like something to point out as a good thing). Well, I think Lucas is white; he's called a "gringo" like his father, and he looks white. There is a conversation between Isabel and Lucas about his ethnicity, because his mum was from the Dominican Republic - Isabel says that she wouldn't have thought he was half Dominican, but Lucas replies that if she met his mum, she'd think he looked just like her, because she had blonde hair and blue eyes. She was adopted in the Dominican Republic by a white couple, and she was brought up there, but Lucas doesn't know anything about her biological parents. So she may be white? The blonde hair and blue eyes seem to indicate that, but I know not only white people have blue eyes, and I'm sure not only white people have blonde hair. So it's a possibility she's not white, but it's just not known, because she never knew anything about her biological parents.
Overall, an enjoyable story if you don't mind possibly predicting what's happened to the girls, if you don't expect too much from the magical realism side of things, and if you don't expect an evil, green, magical girl who can grant wishes.
Thank you Algonquin Young Readers via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Trigger warning: Rape, domestic violence, and stalking.
I really love the movie Practical Magic, but it was only last year when I was on Twitter asking for magical, occult-y recommendations, that I discovered it was actually based on a book by Alice Hoffman. When I saw that the eBook was on sale, I snapped it up. Practical Magic was mostly a great read, but not only was it a lot different than I expected, there are some major, major issues with this book.
Practical Magic is one of those quiet, cozy books that's an absolutely delight to read, with beautiful, enchanting storytelling. But it's not quite as witchy as I was expecting, and not a great deal happens, in the grand scheme of things. It's like the movie took the most interesting aspects of the book, developed them a little, and then wrapped a plot around it. At no point do Gillian and Sally request the help from their female neighbours in a spell, asking them to bring their brooms. Yes, Gillian's boyfriend does die, yes, he is buried in the garden, and yes, strange things do happen because of it. But these are just things that happen. The focus is more on the characters themselves, on who Sally and Gillian grow up to be, the decisions they make, because of the upbringing they had with their strange, eccentric aunts.
Practical Magic has a magical realism feel to it, because all sorts of strange things happen with no real explanation. Like how Kylie, one of Sally's daughters, can see auras,; how the violet plant Sally and Gillian bury her dead, violent and abusive boyfriend, Jimmy, under goes from being not far off dead to full of life and growing taller than any violet plant has ever grown. But this is just life for the Owens sisters. Living with the aunts has brought the strange, and they don't really think about it, it's just strange to the reader. The lack of explanation, just acceptance, adds to the spellbinding quality of the story. It is quite magical.
There are some very real problems I had with this book, as much as I enjoyed the rest of it. There's a lot of love at first sight in this book, though, and a lot of the time, desire and love are one and the same. People are always falling for the Owens girls in ridiculous ways. teenage boys will follow Gillian around like lost puppies. Grown men become practically obsessed. So Gillian fell for Ben pretty much as soon as they started talking, but I don't care how much you're in love with a guy, if you tell him you don't want to see him, don't want him contacting you, you're not going to be happy about the guying calling all the time, or sitting out on your porch until you agree to see him. That's a stalker. That is not attractive, that's really bloody creepy. And all he can think about is wanting to have sex with her. Then there's Gary, the cop who's looking for Jimmy. Again, more love at first sight when Gary and Sally meet. But again, it's love = desire and vice versa, because all the two can think about is having sex. So when they're in a car, and Sally allows things to go further than she would normally, and comes to her senses - because she doesn't do love any more, not since her first husband died, and she doesn't want to become like those women who visited her aunts when she was a child, desperate for love spells they would do anything for - and she stops everything, Gary wants her so much, he thinks how he wishes he was someone who would just take what he wants. "At this moment, Gary wishes he could grab her and force her, at least until she gave in. He'd like to make love to her right here, he'd like to do it all night and not give a damn about anything else, and not listen if she not him no. But he's not that kind of man, and he never will be." (85-86%) Basically, he wants to rape her. He'd like to rape her. He doesn't, but he wants to. And we're supposed to root for Sally and this guy? Are you having a laugh?! These two men who are meant to be the love interests, who are meant to be the ones who show these two women that love can be good (for Gillian), and love doesn't have to end badly (for Sally), are bad men. They are stalkers and wannabe rapists. It's just appalling. Maybe back in 1995 when the book was originally published, people thought this thing was kind of hot? I don't know how though. It's absolutely disgusting.
This is all really upsetting, because I was really enjoying it! But it romanticises stalking and rape - and how it can romaticise rape when Gillian was repeatedly raped by Jimmy, and talks about just how awful it was, then has Gary think like that and it supposed to be a good thing? Is it meant to show the difference between Jimmy and Gary? Jimmy did, but Gary never would? I don't see how that matters when he wants to. It really ruined my whole enjoyment of this book. If Gary never thought that, and if Ben had just take Gillian's no for an answer, and if they just happened to see each other a lot in town and their relationship change that way, rather than him stalking her, this book would have been brilliant. But it's so problematic. And I was thinking about reading Rules of Magic, the prequel to Practical Magic, and excited to, but now I really don't know if I want to, in case it's similarly problematic. I'm pretty disappointed, I have to say....more
Trigger Warning: This book features sexual assault.
I've been absolutely dying to read The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. There has been so much buzz about it for months now, so I've been eagerly anticipating reading it myself. It was absolutely worth all the praise it's received - The Belles is incredible!
In a world where everyone is born with grey skin, grey hair the texture of straw, and red eyes, Camellia and her five sisters, are Belles; girls born with colour, and the magical ability to make others beautiful. Camellia desperately wants to be picked by the Queen as the favourite Belle, meaning she'll do the beauty work for the royal family and it's courtiers. But life as a Belle at court isn't what she expected. The courtiers are demanding, requesting extreme beauty work that leaves Camellia exhausted. But the work is only half of it; she is asked by the Queen to use her powers in ways they've never been used before, in an effort to try and save her older daughter, Princess Charlotte, who has been in a deep sleep for many years. She discovers there are secrets hidden in the palace, kept from the people and Belles alike. When she uncovers the truth about the Belles, she questions everything she's ever been taught. She has a choice: keep the secrets and protect herself, or try to save the princess, change the world, and risk her own life in the process.
I cannot tell you just how incredible The Belles is. It's not just about beauty, it is, itself, beautiful; with gorgeous, decadent writing and rich, lavish imagery painting the most stunning of pictures, the act of reading this book is a luxurious experience. It's so opulent, it begs to be read out loud. And Clayton has created such an incredible world. It's high fantasy, so there's court life and intrigue, but it also has a modern feel, with newspapers and gossip magazines, it's own version of paparazzi, and technology; cameras, blimps with screens, lights for every purpose, devices to make your voice travel, and to hear what's being said at a distance, a mail delivery service using balloons, and so much more.
On the surface, the work of the Belles seems harmless enough, something akin to paying for a makeover, in a world where beauty means more than anything else, a shallow and superficial world, maybe, but not too different from our own. But then you realise that beauty work is actually a lot more like cosmetic surgery; it's not enhancing your appearance with make-up, or making it seem as if you're beautiful through some kind of glamour, it's actually physically changing your body - skin, bones and muscle, as well as colour and texture - and it's excruciatingly painful. Sure, you're given Belle-rose tea, which acts as an anaesthetic, but it doesn't get rid of all the pain. And the beauty work never lasts, it all wears off eventually.
But the people of Orléans are obsessed with beauty because being beautiful is everything; it's a sign of wealth, because beauty work is expensive; it's a sign of status, because those who aren't important can't afford beauty work. Without the Belles, you're grey and shrivelled and ugly, the dregs of society, and the people of Orléans can't imagine anything worse. But it's not just about being beautiful, it's about being the right kind of beautiful. Hair colours, skin colours, eye colours, bone structures, body sizes and frames come in and out of fashion. You don't want to be unfashionable, but you also want to be seen to set the newest trend. Who cares about the expense or how much pain you have to go through?
I did feel it took a while to get going. As sumptuous as the descriptions are, at the beginning, I felt it slowed the story down a bit; absolutely everything seemed to be described in extensive detail, that I did get a little tired of it, and just wanted the story to actually begin, to go somewhere. But once it did, the pace picks up. At first, we're discovering the world and Camille's life at court; the people she meets, the relationships she develops, how her arcana - her magical ability - works. We learn more and more about the people of Orléans, and their desperation to be beautiful.
Camellia - or, as she prefers, Camille - is in constant demand. And despite the fact that she is the one with the power, her advice is often unheeded. There was one moment when a woman comes to Camille with her five-year-old daughter, wanting Camille to make her more beautiful. As far as Camille is concerned, she's already pretty enough, maybe just needs refreshing a little as the grey is starting to show through, but the girl's mother disagrees. She has a very specific look for her daughter in mind, and won't accept anything less. It's quite clear from talking to the little girl that she is never beautiful enough for her mother. The beauty work her mother demands is so painful, the little girl has to be forcibly held down by her mother and a servant while she's screaming in pain. It's so shocking to read. And although Camille doesn't think the little girl needed such work, she still thought she needed refreshing, which would also have been painful. It's one thing to pay to put yourself through pain to be beautiful, but to forcibly do it to a child was just horrifying. The Belles really makes you think about the beauty industry, how our patriarchal society puts so much value on a woman's looks, and how we strive to be beautiful, how far we'll go to try to reach those impossible beauty standards.
But along with the beauty work, there's so much else going on; voices screaming and crying out in the night; the Big Sisters - the last generation's Belles - who now wear veils for some unknown reason; the darker side to the Belles' power and what they never imagined they could do; the illness or condition that put Princess Charlotte into a deep sleep four years ago, from which she has never woken. Loyalties are tested, lines are drawn, and the power balance is at risk. We have a sadistic villain who will horrify you, but delight you with how brilliantly sinister and terrifying they are. I was reminded a lot of Queen Levana from Marissa Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles, particularly Fairest, Levana's own story.
Before I end my review, I think it's important to note that Camille is a Black woman. At I said at the beginning of my review, although everyone else is born grey, the Belles are born with colour - so Camille is born with golden brown skin. There are no races in The Belles, as everyone except the Belles are born the same, but you can choose your skin colour, by shade, and the people of Orléans change their skin colour like they change their clothes. Belles can't change anything about themselves, they stay as they are, like we do, so Camille has golden brown skin - a Black woman - throughout. Camille is beautiful, but not only because she has colour, she is particularly very beautiful. She can't change the way she looks, but nobody would think she needs to. And this is so very important. This is a high fantasy, with a Black woman as the protagonist, who is beautiful in the eyes of everyone. And this is rare. We're doing better when it comes to high fantasy with people of colour as protagonists, in YA and adult, but not well enough. Apart from a few books here and there, the protagonists tend to always be white. I think it's also important to note that Camille is in a position of power; she has this magical ability, and her abilities are sought after; she is popular and is of high standing. Who has her own servant. Again, a Black woman, in a high fantasy. This is practically unheard of, which makes this book not just a fantastic high fantasy novel, but an incredibly important story. For what it says about beauty, but also so teen readers - particularly Black teen girls - see a Black woman, of high standing, in a position of power, who is beautiful, in a high fantasy novel - with a beautiful Black woman on the cover, too. There's still so much more needed, but slowly but surely, teens of colour are being given books where they get to star in magical fantasy stories, too.
The Belles ends on such a cliffhanger, and I am so desperate to know where the story will go from here! It's captivating, exciting, and just incredible. Book two cannot come soon enough. The Belles is exquisite; a temptation that is impossible to resist.
Thank you to Gollancz via NetGalley for the eProof....more
I absolutely loved A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig when I read it two years ago. Not only did I love it, but my Mum did, too. So for Christmas last year, I bought her the sequel, The Girl Who Saved Christmas, and borrowed it from her this year. And I'm happy to say it's just as enchanting as the first book!
The very first time Father Christmas delivered presents to children all over the world, there was a young girl, Amelia Wishart, who made it happen. She believed so much in magic, her hope and belief created the magic that got Father Christmas' sleigh off the ground. The second year, however, isn't a great year for Amelia. She's working as a chimney sweep, as her mum is too ill to work any more. She is very, very sick, and all Amelia wants from Father Christmas this year is to make her mum better. But there are problems at Elfhelm; trolls have invaded, and they're destroying everything - to the point that Father Christmas is unable to leave! There are no presents that year. Amelia's hope dwindles as Father Christmas didn't come, and has a terrible, terrible year. After a year of building everything back up, Father Christmas is ready by the third Christmas to deliver presents again, but there's barely any hope left. Father Christmas knows he needs to bring hope and magic back to Amelia's life if he's going to be able to deliver any presents this year. He needs Amelia to believe - he needs Amelia to save Christmas.
I do have to say, plot wise, it wasn't quite as good as the last book. There's not a huge amount that actually happens in this book, not until near the end at least. But even so, there's still so much magic in the storytelling, it completely captures your imagination and fills you with such a sense of wonder. I am a sucker for all things Christmas, and even now, the thought of Father Christmas still fills me with joy, so a story like this is just right up my street. It would have been cool to have seen Father Christmas actually deliver presents - working out who was naughty or nice, see what he gave to specific children, what he thought of the food and drink left out for him - but it was pretty awesome getting to see him crash into the window of Queen Victoria's bedroom. That whole part of the book was just hilarious! And Charles Dickens even makes an appearance!
The Girl Who Saved Christmas is a lovely, wonderful, charming story! And I'm really looking forward to reading the third book in the series, Father Christmas and Me....more
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend is just wonderful! It's full of charm, and is just completely magical! I really enjoyed it!
Morrigan as a character is pretty awesome. She believes she is the cause for all the misfortune experienced by the people around her because of her curse, because that's what everyone else believes, and they treat her accordingly. She's not really loved by her family. The opposite to what you expect from fantasy, Morrigan is special, but in a bad way. She's not a hero, she's not the chosen one, she's a girl just trying hard not to cause bad things happening to others. Then she is whisked away to Nevermoor, is told it's all rubbish, she isn't cursed (though she doesn't believe it), and is treated like any other person. Not special at all. She doesn't even have a knack - a special talent that is to be shared in the last of four trials to get into the Wundrous Society, the Show Trial. Although not having a knack is a worry, she revels in how wonderfully normal she is in Nevermoor, and how people like her, are nice to her, and want to be her friend. And Morrigan shows spunk, without being reckless; she's not a frightened little mouse, and she will stand up for herself. She's just great!
However, it's her patron Jupiter North who I loved! Oh, how I adore him! He reminded me very strongly of Doctor Who - not any Doctor in particular, just a possible future regeneration. He's quirky, eccentric, and such an oddball. But also intelligent and wise and very caring. He owns a hotel, the Deucalion, that has magical bedrooms that transform to suit who sleeps in them, and other fantastical rooms that just put me in mind of the Tardis. I have to say I really wish we saw more of him, but he is a very busy Wundrous Society member, and has things to do. I also loved Head of Housekeeping, Fenestra the Magnificat - a giant talking cat who is always in a bad mood, Frank, the vampire dwarf, who is always just a little mischievous, and Dame Chanda, another member of the Wundrous Society, an operatic singer who attracts woodland animals, beautiful and classy and glamourous (who reminded me a lot of Nana from Sing). Nevermoor is full of such fantastic characters, and I loved getting to know them all.
The trials, though, weren't as big a deal as I expected them to be. They weren't quite as "difficult and dangerous" as I was expecting. Although Morrigan herself got worked up about them, they felt quite tame. This is a children's book, though, and I'm sure to younger readers, the trials will leave them sitting on the edge of their seat. But as the trials are in the title of the book, I expected them to last a hell of a lot longer than they did. They were over pretty quickly, and, for me, felt anti-climatic. I just expected more, especially when Morrigan will be kicked out if she doesn't pass them. But I also expected them to be more of an event, whereas they felt like just another chapter. As I've said, the book is full of charm, and I did enjoy reading it, but having finished it, I also think it was a little slow. There are lots of chapters where nothing much of any import to the overall plot happens. Of course, something is always happening, something delightful and captivating, but more often than not, not anything that makes a difference to the story - it's just life in Nevermoor, life at the Deucalion. But as I enjoyed it all, I don't know if it's really a bad thing. It will all definitely wow the younger readers.
The link made to the Harry Potter series is apt but also unfair, I think. I can understand why the link was made, there is something familiar about Nevermoor, and it's quite easy to see the parallels - a miserable child who is treated badly by their family, who is whisked away by a strange man to a magical place where they are accepted - but I do think making the link between any book and Harry Potter can create certain expectations that the reader shouldn't have. Harry Potter is huge, after all, and I think putting that pressure on an author is really unfair. Despite the few similarities, Nevermoor isn't Harry Potter, the story is completely different - Nevermoor is its own story, and one that should stand on its own merits. And it's completely enchanting.
Nevermoor definitely feels like a children's book, but that's not to say it doesn't have crossover appeal. Adults who enjoy reading beautiful and charming children's books will enjoy Nevermoor, too, but it's not a book that feels like it's for all ages. The writing is completely captivating, and I can imagine it being a great book for parents to read to their child; the child being awed by the magical things that are happening, the adult being drawn in by the writing and the wit, and just how lovely it is.
A really enjoyable read, and I'm really looking forward to seeing where the story goes in book two!
Thank you to Orion Children's Books for the bookseller's reading copy....more
Blackbird by N. D. Gomes sounded so interesting, and I've been in a bit of a mystery phase lately, so I wOriginally published on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Blackbird by N. D. Gomes sounded so interesting, and I've been in a bit of a mystery phase lately, so I was so eager to read it. However, I'm sorry to say it was a huge disappointment.
Blackbird is billed as a murder mystery, and that's true in the fact that Alex's sister Olivia is murdered, and no-one knows who did it. But when it comes to genre, this book is not a mystery. There are no twists and turns. There aren't lots of suspects and numerous theories and there is no second guessing. This book is mainly about how Alex is dealing with her grief that not only is her older sister, who she idolised, dead, but that she was murdered. There is the possibility I may have enjoyed Blackbird more had it not been billed as a murder mystery. But probably not, because Blackbird is very, very slow.
For most of the book, Alex is obsessively harassing Detective Inspector Birkens, who has the patience of a saint. The police need to get on with their job and try to find out who killed Olivia, but she turns up either at the police station or at Birkens house almost every day. I get that she feels like she needs to do something, that she can't just sit around waiting, but at the same time, she's probably holding things up. And nothing really happens. Oh, she manages to get some information here and there that is helpful to the police, but nothing that leads to major strides in the investigation. It's just slow and samey for most of the book.
And the killer was predictable. The one person - the only person - who says something a little suspicious is the one who did it. Sure, what they said could have been innocent enough, but when you know there is a killer on the loose, as a reader, you notice these things. And it was just so predictable.The police had no suspects. There wasn't anybody else who was behaving strangely, or saying weird things. Of course it was them. There was no shock whatsoever. And really, because Blackbird is so samey, I didn't really warm to Alex much. So when she found herself in danger, after working out who it was, I didn't really care. And even if I did, those moments when things are dangerous only lasts a short while, and then it's over.
Plus there are the blackbirds. The blackbirds that died, that have absolutely nothing to do with the story whatsoever. The story is set in Orkney, the blackbirds died in America. There is no link, it's just something that happened. Something that is unimportant, and has no real explanation either. And it's used as a strapline. Here's me thinking that maybe there's going to be a supernatural element to the story. Nope. The blackbirds have no part in this book. The only reason I can think that the book is called Blackbird is because of the coincidence of the birds dying when Olivia disappeared, and because Olivia wanted to escape Orkney - she felt trapped on the island, and wanted to free, like a bird. But that is it. The birds don't mean anything.
This book was such a huge disappointment. No mystery, and very, very slow.
Thank you to HQ Young Adult via NetGalley for the eProof....more
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, a collection of (mostly) fairy tale retellings, is a book I have been recommended over and over since I first became interested in fairy tale retellings. It was always highly praised, so I have been really eager to read it for a long time. However, I have finished the book feeling like I've missed something, because I don't really see what all the fuss is about.
And I'm pretty sure I have missed something. The Bloody Chamber is a literary book, and there's always more to literary stories than just a straight story. There's always symbolism, or something being said in the text that has a deeper meaning. But I have never been a person who has been able to see those things for myself, I can only see them once they have been pointed out to me. It doesn't matter that I know there's more to read there - as is specifically mentioned in the introduction by Helen Simpson - if I can't see it, I can't see it. All I read were stories not too dissimilar from the original stories I know, written in a style I didn't much care for.
I made the mistake of starting the introduction before reading the stories, not realising that it would spoil certain things in the stories. So the titular story, The Bloody Chamber, didn't have the shocking affect on me it would have had I not known what was coming. However, I had started the introduction, and before it got into discussion the specific stories, it mentioned that these stories aren't retellings, but new stories. Simpson quotes Carter herself saying, "'My intention was not to do "versions" or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, "adult" fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories.'" (p vii- viii) So my heart sunk; I was expecting retellings, and that isn't what I would be getting. However, I think Carter and I have a different opinion of what "retelling" means, because most of these stories are recognisable as retellings of Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Puss-in-Boots (Carter's story actually has the same title!), Little Red Riding Hood, and Grimm's original Snow White.
Once I realised the introduction spoiled the stories (whyyyy?), I decided to read the stories, and after each story, flick back to the intro to see what it said about that particular story. The intro is in the vein of literary criticism, so sometimes it pointed out something I hadn't thought about, other times it didn't say very much at all. What I found surprising is that Carter chose to retell Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood more than once; for Beauty and the Beast we have The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger's Bride, and for Little Red Riding Hood we have The Werewolf, The Company of Wolves and Wolf-Alice, and each time, and rather than be spread out throughout the book, with other stories interspersed, they would come one after the other. It was interesting to see the different direction Carter chose to take the stories, each ending differently, and I'm sure there something different she was trying to say with each story, but it was lost to me.
I would like to discuss some of the stories in more detail, but I can't do so without spoiling the stories, so don't read if you've yet to read this book. I know these are retellings, but they don't always end the way you would expect, so it's better to skip this bit if you don't want to know.
(view spoiler)[The titular story The Bloody Chamber is a retelling of Bluebeard. It's the longest in the collection, at 42 pages long. To be honest, I felt it dragged. It starts off with the new bride and the Marquis travelling to his castle, but on the train ride, the bride reminisces over what led up to their marriage, and to be honest, it wasn't very interesting. I just didn't care. Because of the intro, I knew this story was a Bluebeard retelling, and so I was eager to get to the good bit, where she discovers his dead wives and that he killed them, and the danger she was in, and finding out why the Marquis killed his wives. However, we don't. There is no explanation as to why he kills them. He only decides he wants to kill his new bride after she finds the torture chamber where his wives bodies are kept. And the new bride feels it's clear this was all a set up, he wanted her to find the room so he could kill her, but why he wants to kill her or any of them I don't know! I mean, he kills because he likes it, but why does he like it? It's just unexplained and feels unfinished to me. The intro talks about how in the original story by Charles Perrault, the bloody chamber is meant to represent the womb, as it was a time when a lot of women died in childbirth, but that in Carter's version, instead "the menace is located [...] in darker side of heterosexuality, in sadomasochism and the idea of fatal passion," (p xiii) which I think is pretty judgemental of her, to be honest. It insinuates that the Marquis gets off on killing people, but why does he, you know? For me, these things need to be looked into deeper. I'm always going to dislike the villain, but I need to understand the villain's motivations.
With the two Beauty in the Beast retellings, I did find it interesting how in one the Beauty transforms the Beast, and in the other, the tiger-man transforms the girl. What I did find odd, though, was how the tiger-man in The Tiger's Bride, who won the girl when gambling with her father, wanted to see her naked and then would send her back to her father. There is something so perverse in that, to me. I mean, sure, if she just took her clothes off, she would have been sent home - if the tiger-man was telling the truth - but it's so wrong. You can take your clothes off and let me look at you, and then you can go home, or you'll stay here until you do. Practically imprisoned with no escape. I mean... it's gross and wrong. And then when she finally does show him, for what reason I cannot understand, (she saw him without his clothes on and fully understood he was a tiger, so now she'll take her clothes off and show him her boobs? Why? And then when she can practically leave and go back home, she decides to stay and fully strip for him. Again, why?), he turns her into a tiger by licking her. And I didn't get it. Why? How? I know this story is meant to be saying more than I'm reading, but I'm not getting it.
Then there is The Snow Child, the shortest of the lot, which is more inspired by Snow White than a retelling of Snow White. It takes from the original, the one by the Grimms, how a queen wanted a daughter with skin as white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair as black as ebony. In The Snow Child, it's a Count who, when out on a ride with his wife, see the snow, wants a girl with skin as white as snow, with lips as red as the blood in a hole in the snow, and hair as black as the raven's feather he finds. Note he wants a girl not a daughter. Then a girl who has all of these things appears - "she was the child of his desire" (note she is a child, and that desire can have more than one meaning), and he puts her on their horse, and they continue off riding. The man's wife, who is jealous of this girl and wants to get rid of her, keeps trying to get her to do things for her that would be dangerous, but the Count, realising it's dangerous, always stops her. With each request, an item of the woman's clothes flies off her body and on to the girl. Symbolism of her being replaced? I don't know. But please remember that she is a child. Until the Countess asks for a rose from a bush, which the Count allows, but the girl pricks her finger on a thorn, bleeds, screams and dies. So what does the count do? Crying, he rapes her body. This story is super short, and for me, is the most disturbing. She is a child, and as a inspired by Snow White, the child is meant to be his daughter. It's incestuous and abusive and disgusting! The Count is a paedophile! And I do not understand this story!
The most interesting, to me, is Wolf-Alice, which is a retelling of a medieval version of Little Red Riding Hood, where a woman has a baby, abandons her in the woods, and is then raised by wolves. When she is found later by nuns, and they try to tame her, she still feels herself a wolf, and rebels against who they force her to be. This is the one story I didn't know, and so the one I found most interesting, as I had no idea where it would lead. But I do think it odd that the nuns decided to leave her in the care of a werewolf Duke who robs graves to feed on the bodies. Strange. But a really interesting story. If there was anything to read into that, though, again, it was lost on me.
There was also The Lady of the House of Love, which was also interesting! Not a retelling this time, but a vampire story. It was sad and melancholic, a vampire lady who hates how she has to feed, but has to feed nonetheless. I didn't understand her death, though, how the man sucking the blood from her finger lead to her death. I'd like to have known what happened while he was unconscious. Someone opened those curtains and let the sunlight in, and I don't understand how the vampire could have opened them all and not died. A little confusing, but interesting! (hide spoiler)]
Having written this review, and thinking about each story, I think my thoughts on it have slowly changed. There are stories that are interesting, though mostly disturbing on a huge scale. I liked the images and phrases that were repeating in the stories; roses, blood, snow, "the bloody chamber" and "pentacle of virginity". I did notice these things, but, again, if it meant anything, I'm none the wiser. Still, an interesting collection of retellings, but I have to say I did prefer Deirdre Sullivan's Tangleweed and Brine....more
The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed is a book I was so eager to read, having heard it was about a trio of girls whOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed is a book I was so eager to read, having heard it was about a trio of girls who wanted to get justice for a girl who was gang raped but not listened to. However, I had no idea just how incredible this book would be.
When Grace moves into her new home, she find words carved into the window sill of her bedroom. Words of pain from it's previous occupant. At school she finds out the girl who used to live in her house, Lucy, was ran out of town after accusing three popular guys of gang rape. It's not that no-one believed her, it's that it was easier to pretend she was lying than to believe what those guys had done. She makes friends with outcasts Rosina and Erin - one a punk rock girl with attitude, the other a girl with Asperger's Syndrome - the "weird" kids. After learning more about what happened to Lucy, seeing the behaviour of those who got away with it, and the posts shared on blog The Real Men of Prescott, run by a town local, the three decide they have to do something; they have to try and get justice for Lucy, and they have to change the way girls are treated. And so they create The Nowhere Girls. The send an email to all the girls at school, anonymously, calling them to meet up and fight to make a difference. It starts off small, just eight girls. Eight girls who don't think they can really do very much. But one shares that she over heard the guys making a bet on who could have sex with the most girls this year, one saying to go after the freshman because they're easier. The next day, posters appear all over the school, warning girls about the bet. At the next meeting there are more. And it grows.
I absolutely loved this book. So much. I loved Grace, Rosina and Erin, as a trio and individually. They're all dealing with their own problems. Grace has moved to a new town after those in her old town made it almost impossible for her family to live there once her mother became a more liberal pastor in a town that was very conservative. They didn't like what she was preaching, it didn't fit their values, so they turned against her and her family. Grace's mum lost her job, an Grace's friends turned their back on her. So they had to up and leave to start a life elsewhere, and after how Grace was treated before leaving, she just wants to be invisible. She wants to go under the radar and just make it through. But she is haunted by the words she keeps finding carved into her room. On the window sill, on the skirting board, inside a cupboard. Lucy's pain is palpable as her pleas for help and death are read long after she carved them. They are now heard, and Grace simply cannot ignore them. Lucy's pain is in that room, and she can't ignore it. She has to do something to help.
Rosina comes from a large, tight knit Mexican family, where family is everything, where responsibility to family is more important than most things. After school each day, Rosina must babysit the plethora of cousins she has and keep an eye on her grandmother, who has dementia and frequently goes walkabout. After that, she must go to work at her uncle's restaurant, where her mum, and all her aunts and uncles work. Rosina has pretty much no social life outside of school, and her mother is always angry at her. Nothing she does is good enough. She doesn't really fit in with her family, they disagree on what's important, and her dream to become a rock star just doesn't fit in with what is expected of her. On top of that, because of her punk rock image, her slight attitude, and the fact that she is queer Latina, she's not well liked at school. She's friends with Erin, another outcast, and Grace after she arrives. After an encounter with one of the guys accused of raping Lucy, and how disgustingly she is treated and leered at, she realises, too, that things have to change.
And then there's Erin. Wonderful Erin. Erin has Asperger's, and I must admit that I know nothing about nor no anyone who has Asperger's, so I can't comment on how good the representation is. All I can comment on is my reading of her. And she is just fantastic. She is socially anxious; social interaction can be difficult for her; she find emotions confusing; she is super intelligent; and she stims, like rubbing her hands or rocking, when she feels nervous or anxious. She likes orders and plans, she is hugely fascinated by marine biology and has a huge love of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But Erin is also super smart in a way that has nothing to do with intelligence, she is strong and brave, and she, too, wants to do the right thing. She has a traumatic past, one she tries to put behind her and forget. And she struggles sometimes with things the rest of us without Asperger's don't. But she is just incredible. At times, she is the bravest of the three, and with how difficult she can find things, this is just so wonderful, and I absolutely loved her.
The book is told primarily from the perspective of all three girls, but it's also interspersed with chapters from "Us" - chapters that share experiences and points of view of other girls at school, girls who at first have no name, some of whom we get to know better as the stories go on. The trans girl who has yet to tell anyone she's trans, who just wants to get through this final year - who isn't sure she would be welcome to one of The Nowhere Girls meetings. A black girl who doesn't think The Nowhere Girls is for her, because it's ok when white girls want to raise their voices and fight back, but it's a different story when a black girl does, alluding to the angry black girl stereotype. The girl who is known as the school slut, but just wants to be loved, and is hurting so badly. The girl who is student body president, who aces all her classes, who doesn't know if she will be taken as seriously if she were to wear make-up or go to parties. The girl who is conservative and pro-choice who thinks the feminists in The Nowhere Girls will just think she's an idiot. The girl who enjoys having sex and the pleasure she gets from it. The cheerleader who only became a cheerleader because she loves football, but is now expected to look and be like someone she isn't. And on, and on. Most of the girls are hurting in some way, and as the story progresses, and we realises who some of these girls are, and who the other girls think they are, there is this huge disparity between how they are seen and who they actually are, that has led to conflict, jealousy, judgement. But through The Nowhere Girls, as they all start getting to know the real young women behind what they see, people are making friends with people they never would have thought they would ever get on with.
The book is also interspersed, every now and then, with the blog posts from The Real Men of Prescott, and oh my god, they are absolutely disgusting. They seriously had me feeling physically sick. This guy rating the women he's slept with - pretty much admitting to rape; "she just laid there," "she was too drunk to say no" - talking about how women want strong men, how men should put women down, because then they'll do anything to get their approval. Oh my god, it goes on and on. I know these are fictional blog posts, but these are the kind of things I've heard about over and over again that are posted online on sites like Reddit, and the rage I felt reading them... I can't tell you.
This book is so hugely powerful. For a huge group of girls to get together and try to make a change, to get justice for a girl who was raped, who isn't even around anymore, is incredible. For those girls to then talk to people in authority is hugely brave. To then have to battle against obstacle after obstacle that is put in their path, is just unbelievable. The girls in this story are just incredible. And the ending - and what led to the ending - affected more than words can say. There is just so much love and support in this book for those who have experienced rape or sexual assault, like you wouldn't believe. There is listening, but no judgement. There is understanding, but no pressure to do anything. Just the offer of help in any way they can that is freely given. It's overwhelmingly beautiful. As someone who was sexually assaulted when I was younger, I found so much hope in this book. I felt seen, and heard, and supported. I so, so wish I had this book to read back then. The strength I would have found in this book, in these characters who were doing the utmost to do the right thing, to seek justice, would have been so helpful. Knowing that, it makes me so, so glad that this book exists now, for any young woman who needs to be seen and heard and supported. For those girls who will read it who will then see and hear and support others. For the hope I am filled with that after reading this book, girls will get together and find strength and love with each other, and the courage to not back down.
The Nowhere Girls broke my heart several times over, but the love and support showed by girls, for girls, blew me away and mended it again. I finished this book completely overwhelmed with pride and gratitude for these fictional girls, and for the courageous girls this book will no doubt inspire. The Nowhere Girls is without a doubt the most important, most powerful book I have read this year.
Trigger Warning: Terrorist attack and Islamophobia.
I've wanted to read Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed ever since taking part in the Ramadan Readathon last year, where it was highlighted as a book featuring a Muslim character yet to be released, and I was ecstatic when I discovered it was also being published in the UK. I expected it to be hard-hitting and horrible, and while it is at times, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was also cute and funny at times, too.
You could almost split the book into two parts, before the suicide bomber changes everything, and after. The first half was just brilliant. It felt a lot like Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik meets Jenny Han's YA novels; a sweet, Summery romance, but where our main character is a Muslim, who has parents who have certain expectations for the life of their Indian-American Muslim daughter. The only difference between the parents expectations in this book and in Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is that Sofia's parents behaviour and reactions are met with affectionate exasperation, and provide a fair amount of the comedy, but Maya's parents are deadly serious. They don't seem to understand why Maya would not want the life they expect her to lead; to marry a suitable Muslim boy, and become a lawyer or doctor, when she would rather make her own choices over who she dates, seeing as she is really into the white football captain at school, Phil, and go to NYU to study filmmaking, which is her passion. Their relationship becomes more strained as the story goes on, after the terrorist attack, but the first half of the book is actually really lovely, such a cute romance, and you're rooting for Maya and Phil. Even so, though, there is a sense of foreboding; as the reader, we know there's going to be a suicide attack, and every chapter ends with a few paragraphs from the terrorist's point of view,or a memory of his, as he's preparing to do the unthinkable. So all the while, while you're reading about Maya's everyday life, her arguments with her parents about which college she goes to, and the will-they-won't-they during Maya's swimming lessons with Phil, you know something terrible is coming that is going to shatter Maya's world.
And then it's here. And, my god. Whenever I hear about a terrorist attack on the news, no matter where in the world it's happened, I am engulfed by a wave of fear and sorrow. 2017 saw quite a few take place in the UK, and that fear would trigger my anxiety. Only last month there was a false alarm of a terror attack taking place ten minutes from where I work, while I was at work, and it was absolutely terrifying. The world we live in now, that fear is hard to escape. And Ahmed captured that feeling so brilliantly as Maya and the other students at school are in lockdown just after the attack happens. When they're locked in and they don't know why. When the texts come piling in, when various news outlets are saying different things about what happened, yet all in agreement on terrorist attack. The fear Maya feels - the fear they all feel - in that moment is palpable. And even though this is a book, and even though I knew it was coming, I was right there with them all, engulfed in that fear. I don't write fiction, but I can imagine how difficult it is to write a feeling that is almost beyond words, but Ahmed writes it perfectly.
But Maya's fear is different from mine, because her fear isn't just in reaction to the news of a terrorist attack, her fear is also very specific fear of what this will mean for her and other Muslims.
'I'm scared. I'm not just scared that somehow I'll be next; it's a quieter fear, and more insidious. I'm scared of the next Muslim ban. I'm scared of my dad getting pulled into Secondary Security Screening at the airport for "random" questioning. I'm scared for the hijabi girls I know getting their scarves pulled off while they're walking down the sidewalk--or worse. I'm scared of being the object of fear and loathing and suspicion again. Always.' (p140)*
Reading it, it was... shocking. And I was ashamed that it was eye-opening. I think it's part privilege and part being a decent human being who doesn't automatically think that all Muslims are to blame for all terrorist attacks, where the terrorist is - supposedly - a Muslim. I wasn't shocked by the things Maya was scared of happening, I watch the news, I go on Twitter, I carry a spare scarf in my bag, I know what happens. I was shocked that this fear, fear of what the backlash from the terrorist attack would mean for Muslims, is automatic. Of course it would be, when we have scumbags in the world who make the lives of Muslims hell when atrocities like this happen, committing atrocities of their own.
And we get to see some of those atrocities as Maya and her parents experience Islamophobia in the days and weeks following the terrorist attack, verbal and physical. It's disgusting, it's upsetting, it's scary. Maya may be Muslim, but really, she's no different from me, and it's so very easy to put myself in her shoes - especially as a woman - when she is being attacked, when her family is being attacked. It made me feel sick, it made me feel scared, and it made me dread what was to come. And again, I was smacked in the face with the awareness of my privilege, because I don't have to fear what might happen to me when I step outside my house every day in the wake of a terrorist attack, not because of my faith or my skin colour. It's really harrowing to read.
I have to say I loved the conversation Maya had with her parents about the terrorist attack, and how it's nothing to do with Muslim. It's the kind of thing you hear on the news, when someone high up in the Muslim community is interviewed for the news after a terrorist attack, condemning what happened. But it's also a teachable moment for those who maybe don't watch the news, or don't pay any attention.
'My father picks up where my mother leaves off. "These terrorists are the antithesis of Islam. They're not Muslim. Violence has no place in religion, and the terrorists are responsible for their own crimes, not the religion and not us." "Then why is there so much fighting in the Middle East, and why are so many suicide bombers Muslim?" "Terrorism has no religion. Think of Dylann Roof and that church in Charleston or the attack on the Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin. Terrorists have their own ideaology. Who knows what hatred compels them? They're desperate and unthinking and followers--" I interrupt my mother. "Too bad none of that matters. We all get painted like we're un-American, and terrorist sympathizers, no matter how loudly we condemn terrorism and say it's un-Islamic. It's guilt by association."' (p148)*
I have to say I also really loved the sections at the end of every chapter, leading up to and after the terrorist attack, first from the terrorist's point of view, and then from the media, as they discover more about the attack and the terrorist himself. It was so very, very clever. And it was interesting getting to find out about the terrorist's background, from interviews with people who knew him, and from memories of his, even though he's now dead. Terrorists do such horrific things, I think we tend to forget that they're human, too. That they're people. And while what we read is absolutely no excuse for what he did, because it's unforgivable, it does give an insight into what may have led him down this road. It's actually quite sad, and I found myself feeling sorry for him. Which just seems appalling. But I do think it was very clever of Ahmed to give us this guy's background, to show us his humanity. I also think it's pretty wonderful, too, that Ahmed would do this, for this fictional terrorist, when real terrorists commit such unspeakable crimes, to make us think that they are people too, that we don't know what they've been through. It's not forgiveness, it's not, but it's something other than hatred for this person. And I think it's really telling that Ahmed can think about the terrorists' humanity when they've done such terrible things, when bigots jump straight to hatred of those who have done absolutely nothing wrong, who are, as Maya puts it, guilty by association. And I really, really admire Ahmed for giving this terrorist his humanity, and his story.
I do have a few quibbles with Love, Hate and Other Filters, though. It's so, so short, and the terrorist attack doesn't happen until the half-way point. Which works well, it's an even balance between the normal, the everyday, the cute, sweet romance, and the horrific things that follow. But, as it's short at 272 pages as a physical book, there isn't really a huge amount of either. That sounds like I want more Islamophobia,and I really don't; what they Azizs experience is too much as it is. However, a lot of time goes by in this book, though, to be honest, I only really knew that because Maya would think something like she hasn't smiled properly like this in months, and then I know quite a bit of time has gone by, when I thought it was only a few days, so the passing of time isn't made very clear. But months go by after the terrorist attack, the longer lasting affects of Islamophobia aren't shown, exactly. There are specific affects that are specific to Maya and her parents' disagreements about her future, but there's not really anything about the affects to her parents' dental practice over time, for example. There is an attack on the practice, so how does that affect their business? Do patients stop coming, for fear of being hurt during another possible attack, or because they themselves are scumbags who no longer want to be around Muslims? Do they lose money? Do they start to struggle financially? I don't know, because it's not covered. And that's what I mean about there not being a huge amount of before and, more specifically after the attack. I do wish the book was longer, and we got more of the sweet side of things, and more of the affects of Islamophobia.
But all in all, Love, Hate & Other Filters is such an incredible book - and not only incredible, but so very important. It's powerful, and it's needed. I absolutely loved it, and I look forward to reading what Ahmed writes in the future - whether sweet, cute stories, or hard-hitting, powerful stories, or more of both.
*All quotes have been checked against a final copy of the book.
Thank you to Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick sounds like such a great book, but unfortunately, I finished it feeOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick sounds like such a great book, but unfortunately, I finished it feeling pretty disappointed.
Samantha has been intrigued by the Garretts ever since they moved next door when she was younger. Loud and boisterous and obviously loving, their family is everything her family is not. Her mum is a clean freak, likes things to be perfect and just so, and has too many rules. She's also rude and judgemental, and doesn't like the Garretts simply because their yard isn't as immaculate as hers, because their children are loud, because Mrs. Garrett breastfeeds in public, and because they keep on having babies. Samantha's mum is also a Senator, and she's currently campaigning to be re-elected, with new guy Clay on the scene to help with her campaign, who she ends up dating. Her mum is so busy with the campaign, she pretty much neglects Samantha, and with Samantha's sister's Tracy away on holiday, things are pretty lonely at home. Until one day, when watching the Garretts from her little perch just outside her bedroom window, Jase Garrett climbs up the trellis and is soon a major part of her life.
So, positives first. The romance between Samantha and Jase was intriguing and sweet before they got together - the whole "will they, won't they?" moments were cute. I loved Jase's family, how big and loud and full of life they are - especially George, a precocious three-year-old who is scared of everything. I loved Tim, Samantha's best friend Nan's twin brother, and his development from a loser junkie to someone who's trying to sort his life out. I loved how Samantha and Nan's relationship ends up kind of rocky after Samantha discovers something. I loved how Samantha's mum obsession with politics and Clay was creating such major distance between her and Samantha. There were so many elements of this book that were so awesome, or had great potential.
But the main plot of the story, of her and Jase' romance? Once they got together, I lost all interest. I didn't feel any chemistry. And he was just so perfect and she was always swooning, and I was constantly rolling my eyes. It just didn't work for me once they got it together. Things started to get interesting once things go horribly wrong, but then I spent the rest of book constantly angry at Samantha for the choices she makes. It was so ridiculous. I would hope no-one would actually act the way she did, no matter what the consequences of the right choices would be. It was just so wrong, and I was so angry!
And then there's the relationship with her mum and how that's disintegrating, as her mum no longer seems to care about anything other than politics and Clay, following everything he says like a puppy. Of course, the reader wants things resolved for Samantha, because the relationship they have now is just terrible. But things would have continued going the way they were if it wasn't for the terrible thing that happened. If that hadn't happened, I don't think anything would have changed. Samantha certainly didn't seem to have the backbone to say anything, to really fight. So that was a let down.
And things with Nan? I was expecting for things to be resolved in some way, but nope. Again with Samantha not having a backbone and not having it out with her best friend when she's being a complete and utter cow. I can, in some ways, see where Nan was coming from, but Nan doesn't really know anything, and the way she treated Samantha was just appalling. And, I think, not entirely realistic. I could believe that she had started to resent Samantha, but they had been friends since they were five, that's a lot of years and a lot of memories. I don't think things would have gone the way they did in real life.
Over all, a pretty disappointing book. I do have the second book in this series, which follows Tim, and considering I loved Tim, I think I'll give it a go. But I'm really worried it's going to be another disappointment. Fingers crossed it won't be.
Thank you to Electric Monkey via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Oh my god, this book! Follow Me Back by Nicci Cloke is so good! It was so full of twists and turns, and hadOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Oh my god, this book! Follow Me Back by Nicci Cloke is so good! It was so full of twists and turns, and had me guessing right the way to the end!
I did worry at first that this was going to be a book that criticises the internet, making it out to be a bad thing we're too obsessed with. And at first, it did feel like it was going to be that kind of novel - Lizzie did go missing after allegedly going to meet a stranger she met online for the first time - and I felt frustrated a bit, because the internet itself isn't that bad, it's some of the people who use it, right? But as you read on, things are revealed that I was completely not expecting at all, and although there is this thin layer to the story - the strapline says "Do you really know who you're talking to?" - the story doesn't completely go down the path you think it will.
I did think I was going to be disappointed by Follow Me back for most of the first third of the book. It felt to me like not much was happening. Lizzie had gone missing, it was believed she'd gone to meet a stranger from the internet, and the investigation was ongoing. A few things would come to light in that time, things that would lead you to more questions, but not enough was revealed for us to have any kind of theories. Well, for me at least. Having finished the book, looking back, there probably were clues there, and I just didn't pick up on them. All we know is there was more to Lizzie and Aiden's relationship than he's letting on, but in what way we don't know. We don't now what their relationship was like, and we don't really know why it ended. It felt to me a bit slow, but as I said, looking back, there are things I probably just didn't pick up on, and it wasn't until the second half that, for me, things began to pick up as the things that were revealed started to become jigsaw pieces that I was moving around in my head, trying to find the big picture.
Even so, my theories were way, way off. What's great about this book is, although it's mostly narrated by Aiden, there are some very few parts where it's narrated by two other people. One of these people is Lizzie herself, in flashback form, before she goes missing, so we get little glimpses into what's going on in her life beforehand. The other is a girl called Autumn Thomas who used to go to Lizzie and Aiden's school, who starts messaging Aiden on Facebook. Though things with Autumn aren't always quite what they seem. It's with these narrations - a chapter here and there - along with what we were learning along with, and sometimes about, Aiden that brought about my theories. There was one theory I had that I ended up discarding, because it didn't really fit or make sense when other information came to light, but ended up actually being right! There was another theory I had that occurred to Aiden a while after me, but that wasn't right. The pace and the tension really steps up, and there are so many twists and turns, I never knew what to think. And this book, oh my god, it is so disturbing, but in ways you won't automatically think of. When certain truths are revealed, it really is truly appalling and, well, just screwed up. There is an investigation going on to find a missing girl, this is serious, you know? And yet the decision making of some characters, the actions they take - before and after Lizzie's disappearance - or information other characters choose to withhold from the police... it was just unbelievable! It's shocking and disturbing, but yet also confusing, because, at times, it throws huge spanners in the works once we, the readers, realise something before the police do. Because then things just don't make any sense. Until they do. And oh my god. Oh my god! It's horrific. But also really bloody stupid and... I can't really say. There are a few more answers I would have liked though. We find out what happens and why, but I also wanted to ask "but why?" Why is that the reason? It's not that Cloke has written a bad ending and left things out, more like we don't always get all the answers in these things. In situations like this, sometimes you don't get the full truth.
I have to say, I loved how fleshed out the characters are! The focus is completely on the mystery, but thee are aspects to the various characters' lives - main characters and secondary characters - that just are. Aiden plays football for the Norwich youth team, and is doing his A-Levels as a back up, even though his coach wants him to go full time. He's also a fan of maths. He and Lizzie were in English and Drama classes together, and there's a lot of references to the plays they did, the plays they learnt or studied, and how quotes from various books and plays meant something to Lizzie. Then there's Scobie, Aiden's best mate, who is a bit of a geek, knows a lot about computers and tech, plays computer games with Aiden, and has a Shark Week thing with him where they watch shark documentaries. There's the Spoilt in the Suburbs reality TV show that happens locally, that Lizzie's sister Cheska is a star in, and those who obsess about it, and how Lizzie got grief for what her sister did on the show, and how Lizzie's disappearance makes its way onto the show. And that's just a few of the characters. These are not just characters who are linked to Lizzie in some way and therefore are in the story, these are fully developed characters in their own right, with their own lives. It kind of made me think of a soap on TV, the main storyline is Lizzie's disappearance, but the characters were such real individuals, it felt to me like we could dip into their lives and what was happening with them as well, like it does on a soap. That's not what happens, but they felt real enough they could have had their own stories, too.
I absolutely loved Follow Me Back; it was just incredible, and such a fantastic mystery! But one that has a more sinister edge to it, I feel; it's not a murder mystery, like other YA mysteries I've read, where you know from the start someone is dead. You don't know what's happened to Lizzie at all. Is she alive? Is she dead? Even if she is dead, what happened to her before she died? The mystery is exciting, but there is also a whole lot of dread, because, although this is fiction, we hear about people being abducted on the news far too often, and it was just scary. You're trying to think who did what to work it out, but you're also worried about what's actually happened to Lizzie. In that sense, Follow Me Back is also a read that has you feeling uneasy. It's just a stunner, really! And a debut! An amazing book I would recommend to anyone who loves mysteries!
Thank you to Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan is absolutely beautiful. I'm a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, sOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan is absolutely beautiful. I'm a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, so I was sure I was going to love this collection, but I didn't expect it to blow me away quite as much as it did.
Sullivan's retellings are magical, because they have the heart of the original fairy tales we know, but will also shine a light on how women were viewed and treated when these stories were first put to paper. A theme of how women are seen runs throughout most of these stories, and it is this:
'It's not about being sensible, or strong. It's not about being kind. It's not about the soft touch and the kind heart. Beauty and a womb. That's all you are.' (Sister Fair, p62)
Reading those lines, it really struck me - as it continued to as I read on through the book - how little respect was given to women, how they were denied their humanity. Beauty and a womb. A toy and a tool, to be treated however your husband, your father, any man who notices you wishes to. A woman is property to be traded and taken, with no thought to what she may want, because why should what she wants matter? Time and again, throughout Sullivan's retellings, we are shown this. Women are nothing, or so we are seen.
And it's this that gives Sullivan's feminist retellings their darkness. We all know the sanitised Disney versions of fairy tales pretty well, but we also know that they are based on darker tales told by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault - ones full of death and tragedy. Sullivan's retellings retain some of that darkness, but she adds some of her own. Softened by Disney as we are, the original stories can be shocking, and although the same can be said of Sullivan's retellings, the darkness in Tangleweed and Brine feels like truth.
'A woman with a value is in danger. There is a ticking inside your womb.' (Beauty and the Board, p149)
With Sullivan's retellings, in some cases, the stories we know, including the originals, feel like Chinese whispers, stories that have been twisted and distorted in the re-telling over centuries - where Sullivan's retellings feel like the stories as they should have been told, before the distorting. There were some fairy tales Sullivan retells that I hadn't heard of before, like Donkeyskin and Fair, Brown and Trembling, and others I only knew the sanitised versions of. I would look up the plots of those stories before reading the retellings, so see how Sullivan changed things, and each time, Sullivan's stories felt more like the real story than the original. Especially with stories like Sister Fair, a retelling of Fair, Brown and Trembling, and The Little Gift, a retelling of The Goose Girl. To me, it felt like Sullivan's stories were true - more believable than the originals. Even with their magic, enchantment, and fantastical elements, Sullivan's stories feel like something I could believe happened. And it's the position of women at that time, and how Sullivan weaves that into her stories, that makes them so credible.
Some of the stories are incredibly disturbing, with Riverbed, a retelling of Donkeyskin, where a king wishes to marry his daughter, among them. But - again, like Riverbed - there are some stories where the women refuse to give up their agency - or, rather, strive for agency where they had none in the first place. Some of the women in these stories choose a different path from what we would expect - a path that leads to evil in some cases. But evil can be understandable if it's the only way to freedom, to security, to safety. Is it evil when the alternative is to suffer? A woman with power is dangerous, but a woman without it is in danger. In Tangleweed and Brine, the evil, the bad; they are all sympathetic characters we understand. Beauty and the Board and Ash Pale are two such stories where women go to extreme lengths, and find a home in the darker side of morally grey.
'"From her own lips," a courtier proclaims, "she chose her fate." And isn't that what every woman wants?' (The Little Gift, p142)
I have to admit that Consume or Be Consumed is probably my favourite, but being a retelling of The Little Mermaid, my most favourite fairy tale, it's not that much of a surprise to me. Though, again, this is another retelling that feels more true. To give up so much, everything you know, and to suffer such pain, to get nothing in return? The mermaid's thoughts in Sullivan's story feel more realistic to me than in the original by Hans Christian Andersen - though I, of course, still adore the tragedy of his tale.
If the stories themselves weren't a draw in their own right, each story is told with the most gorgeous, captivating prose. Even when disturbed to the point of feeling nauseous, I would still revel in the beauty of Sullivan's writing. I also loved Sullivan's use of second person in most of the stories; being put into the shoes of these characters, to have these things happen to you, adds to the credibility and revulsion. I also loved that people of colour featured in some of these stories - outright stated in the text, but also in the gorgeous, delicate, detailed illustrations by Karen Vaughn. And I loved that The Little Gift was a lesbian retelling.
Tangleweed and Brine is just a work of art. Powerful, thought-provoking and gorgeous. It's a beautiful homage to the fairy tales we've all come to love, but also full of the harsh truth of the treatment of women. It would be such a welcome addition to anyone's collection of fairy tale retellings, and one I, myself, will definitely treasure for years to come.
Thank you to Little Island Books & Bounce Marketing for the reading copy....more
Trigger Warning: This book contains sexual assault and talks about rape.
I've been waiting to read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu since I first heard about it months back. An ordinary teen girl bringing feminism to her school through zines? Just my kind of story! And I absolutely loved it!
This is a book I wish I had to read as a teenager. It's so full of passion and anger, but also action, and I definitely think it would have sparked my becoming a feminist a lot sooner. With Moxie along with Holly Bourne's The Spinster Club Trilogy, I would have been impassioned and ready to start my own club or something similar at school. Even now, as an adult, Moxie had me raring to do something and fix things, wishing I was still at school, so I could try and make a difference there. I can of course do things now as an adult, but Moxie had me thinking about school in particular, and I really just want to shove it into every teen girl's hands, and have them start their own school revolutions.
What I loved most about this book was that Viv was just an ordinary girl; a girl who was insecure, who had hang ups, who didn't like drawing attention to herself and preferred to go under the radar. In that sense, she reminded me a lot of myself when I was teen. And so it was wonderful to see this ordinary girl who isn't self-assured and full of confidence decide to try and change things at her school with her anonymous zine Moxie. I made me think that I could have done this, or any teenage girl could do it. You don't have to be super confident to realise things are screwed up and to decide to do something to change them.
That's another thing I loved about Moxie; it wasn't about Viv, it was about sexism. It was about taking a stand and trying to change the crap girls had to put up with at school; the popular boys saying, "Make me a sandwich," whenever a girl gave an opinion in class. The school's dress code spot checks where they would shame girls for the tightness of their clothing or how much skin was on show because it was distracting to the boys, and being made to cover up with ugly, over-sized gym sweatshirts or tracksuit bottoms. How the girls' soccer team was doing really well, but never got any real recognition for it, no funding, no new uniforms for decades. And so on. Moxie was about pointing out the how crap everything was to those who might not fully realise it, about girls not feeling so alone in feeling it was unfair, and about girls finding the courage to do something about it, supported by each other. With Moxie being anonymous - Viv coming into school early and leaving copies in the girls bathrooms before school started - Viv, as an girl with little confidence, could actually do something without necessarily drawing attention to herself. And at the same time, making it about every girl at the school. Moxie didn't belong to Viv, it belonged to all girls, and the girls would take up the banner of Moxie and start their own things, like a bake sale to raise money for the soccer team. I just loved that!
There was one moment towards the end where I felt very emotional, proud of all these young women and what they were fighting for, that they were willing to take risks to speak out against terrible things. And I was so, so mad at the teachers at their school. There's a part of me that wants to believe that this is just fiction, that teachers and head teachers/principles, people in authority, wouldn't treat girls as terribly as those in this book did, but at the same time, it worries me that it could be happening. Which makes me so, so glad this book exists. Because if teens read it and recognise the injustices within their school, recognise them being upheld by their teachers, they might just have the courage to do something about it, to tell someone, to get help elsewhere.
There was another element to this book that I really loved. There is a romance element to the story; Viv starts seeing new guy Seth. Although Seth isn't like the other guys at school, is a pretty decent, nice guy, and, when the talk about Moxie makes it's way around the school,is for the girls being treated better, he just doesn't always get it. He is the voice of "Not all men", and through him, I think guys can maybe start to understand that saying that not all guys are crap not only doesn't change the fact that there are guys who are crap even if they're not, it also derails the conversation, makes it less about the experience of girls and women and how they feel, and makes it about them, and how they would never do that. There is one conversation he has with Viv, where he doubts what someone says and they really fall out, and it just enraged me. It's something that's been said about a guy, and rather than thinking about the girl and her experience, he thinks about the guy. I don't want to spoil the story, so I won't say any more, but it just enraged me, because this is a conversation I have had many times before. In these situations, guys always seem to think about the guy and what this will mean for them, not about the girl. I think it was important to have a decent guy who isn't a complete dick, but a decent guy who does get it wrong, a decent guy who has to learn and understand that, when girls and women are talking about how they don't like the way they're being treated, he needs to shut up and listen - and then help. Although I didn't feel I really got to know Seth, as the romance isn't the focal point of the story, I think his character development is such an important part of the story. Because guys need to understand how crap things are for girls, and because of how Seth gets things wrong and learns, I think this book is also pretty good for guys to read, too.
There is just one negative for me. I felt that the various issues that were dealt with in the novel were kind of "blocky". By this I mean that the sexist issues had their time throughout the year, rather than things happening alongside each other. First there was the "Make me a sandwich" comments that first inspired Viv to make Moxie. Weeks passed, and then the school started up with their random dress code spot checks, which led to another issue of the zine. Then there was something else after another few weeks. It didn't feel realistic to me that these things were only happening at certain times of the school year. The "Make me a sandwich" comments happened year round, and so did a few other things that started later, but it just felt odd to me that everything wasn't happening all at the same time from the beginning. I think it would have felt more realistic if they were happening - or at least some of the things were happening - all the time, and it was as Viv worked on Moxie over time that she came to realise just how screwed up these things were, as she was thinking and learning about sexism. As it stands, it just felt a little too separate to me. But this is only a small quibble, and I loved the book as a whole.
Moxie is an incredible novel, one that will inspire and impassion anyone who reads it to become a Moxie girl and fight back....more
The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles completely bowled me over. There were times when I really struggledOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles completely bowled me over. There were times when I really struggled with it, times when I wanted to give up, but I am so glad I stuck with it, because it's incredible!
Lux is unravelling. Over the Summer, she went to a party, and then blacked out, waking up in hospital. She doesn't remember why she blacked out, she doesn't remember waking up in hospital. But she knows she's different now. Suffering from intense migraines, terrifying nightmares in red, synaesthesia - where the senses overlap, hence the title, and obsessive episodes. All she knows is she wants to get back to who she was before. There's nothing physically wrong with her, and all her doctors and her therapist think she will start to get better if she just remembers what happened. But she has to. If she doesn't start to get better soon, she'll be taken away from everything she loves, her friends and her life at Richdeane, an elitist art school. But those are not the only things she risks losing, as with every moment, she loses more of herself.
I really struggled with this book at first. The way it was written just left me completely confused, in that I didn't know what was happening. The first chapter starts with Lux remembering a party at the beginning of the Summer, weeks before her blackout, and it was just baffling. Not the party itself, but Lux's thoughts. The way she worded her thoughts was just completely bizarre to me. I thought The Taste of Blue Light was going to be one of those arty books you had to be super intelligent to understand, because I was completely lost. Several times, I thought about giving up, because I just lost, but the story itself was so intriguing. I'm so glad I stuck with it, because I kind of got used to the strangeness, and came to realise it's not the writer being arty, it's how Lux is now, as she loses herself.
It was heartbreaking being with Lux as she tries to figure things out, but gets worse and worse. She'll have obsessive, compulsive thoughts - but not how we would generally think of OCD. For example, at one point where she's certain someone or something is after her, that it's in the woods, but she gets it into her head that she has to face whatever it is instead of hide, and so runs into the woods - and runs and runs, terrified, but also certain she will find whatever she's felt that's after her, and once she faces it, she'll get better - and gets herself lost, and doesn't remember afterwards exactly why she was running in the woods in the first place. Or her desperation to connect with former Richdeane student, actor and singer Jade Grace, with this overwhelming feeling that they are the same, and if only Jade Grace would respond to her incessant, obsessive, almost stalker-like emails, she would start to get better. As the story goes on, she just seems to lose her mind a little more, and I was so engrossed in the story, I felt like I was unravelling right along with her. I'd put my book down at the end of my lunch break and go back to work and just feel really strange, because I have to shelve books, but I was just running in the woods with Lux, it was just such an odd feeling. And it was so hard, so unbelievably upsetting, to see Lux slip away when she tries so hard to hold on. She is just so unwell, and she doesn't know how to make herself get better, and her therapist just keeps on at her to remember. She is struggling, drowning and not knowing which way is up, and it's just heartbreaking.
And then she remembers. It was a punch to the gut, reading about what caused her to black out. It was emotional, and it hurt. It was so upsetting, because this book is just so, so timely. It's horrific, and you come to completely understand why her mind would want to protect her from this, and why she would unravel, even thought she couldn't remember. I just got it. I've never experienced what Lux did, but we all have experience of reacting to such events when we hear about them, and with my anxiety, I have felt like I was hanging on by just a thread, and I've not even lived it. So for Lux to have reacted to what she went through the way she did, it was just so completely understandable, and I just wanted to give her the biggest hug. I just wanted to hold her and cry with her. Even now, I'm writing with tears in my eyes, because it just affected me so much.
I'm not the biggest fan of the ending, though. I understood why we had the ending, the purpose of the ending, but at the same time, I didn't really enjoy it. I think I would have preferred the book to have finished around 30% earlier. Those last few chapters just felt unnecessary to me, simply because of the time scale. I just thought it wasn't very interesting; I know I don't like books that have the climax, and then end abruptly, but for me, this felt like it was dragged out a bit two much. I don't think Part Two was necessary as it was. It just didn't work for me, but I can see other people enjoying it.
This book is absolutely incredible. It's not the easiest of reads, but it's such an important one. It's upsetting, but it's powerful and moving, and really, just a triumph. Such a wonderful debut novel.
Thank you to Hodder Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
WARNING: This review is so very long, but I have a lot to say.
When I first heard about Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls, there was absolutely no way I wasn't going to read it. A book about the Suffragettes! As a feminist, there's just no way this book wasn't going to appeal to me. Having finished, I can say that Things a Bright Girl Can Do was such a good book - but for different reasons than I expected.
Things a Bright Girl Can Do isn't about the Suffragettes - it's about three girls who are Suffragettes/ists, or become one. It's about what Evelyn, May and Nell think, their opinions and their morals, and their individual stories. To be honest, there isn't a huge amount of them actually being Suffragettes/ists; there's some, but mostly it's them talking about or thinking about how unfair the world is for women, while their individual lives and what happens to them make the core of the plot.
Evelyn comes from a wealthy family. She's clever, and has a passion for learning, and absolutely hates that a university education isn't easily available to women. Because women don't need an education; they will marry men who are educated who will provide for their family, and the women will have children and look after their family - rich women, that is. Evelyn's parents don't understand why Evelyn would want a university education or a degree (not that she can actually get one; women can take the classes, but they don't get a qualification at the end of it), because it's not a necessity as she won't work. They look at it as something she wants to do that isn't really important, and will cost a lot of money, and as it's unnecessary, they're not paying that money. It's almost like they think Evelyn weird for wanting an education - why would a woman want more than getting married and having children? This enrages her, and having already been interested in the Suffragettes, she becomes one. She goes on marches, she where's sandwich boards and hands out handbills, she takes part in actions - risky missions the Suffragettes undertake to fight for their rights. But she always doubts herself and what she's doing, wondering if it's the right thing to do. When it comes down to actual risk, her heart is never fully in it. (Though she does end up going to prison and hunger striking, and oh my god it was appalling, and major props to Evelyn - or rather the actual real life Suffragettes who went through it - for going to such lengths to be heard.)
May is a Suffragist like her mother - a woman who wants the vote, but is more for trying to get it through peaceful means; protests and conversations and handing out handbills, basically fighting for their rights through talking rather than violence and criminality. Due to being a Quaker (which Nicholls is herself, making this book #OwnVoices), May is also a pacifist, and frowns upon Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst's methods. She is a very opinionated, and confident in talking about what she believes to be right, assertively fighting her corner. She's not quite holier-than-thou, but she is genuinely bewildered and upset when people don't understand or at least respect her views. Because she genuinely believes she is right, this is the right way of doing things, and everyone else has got it wrong and she doesn't understand why.
Nell is from the East End of London, a Suffragette who is all for violence and criminality, though mainly because she gets a thrill from it all, finds it exciting, not necessarily because she doesn't believed they won't be listened to otherwise. She lives in extreme poverty, which only highlights for her how needed equality is, because there are certain jobs women simply can't have, and in the jobs which men also do, the women get paid far less. At times in the book, things for Nell's family are absolutely desperate.
The three girls have one thing in common; wanting votes for women. But otherwise, they're completely different. Evelyn is wealthy, May is middle class, and although they have money, they don't really have enough to replace their worn clothes, and Nell has practically nothing to spare. Their morals when it comes to rights for women are at odds. I was actually surprised that May and Nell ended up together, because they as people, and their views, are just so different.
They're Sapphists, which is an old fashioned term for lesbians; it comes from the Greek poet Sappho, who wrote about women and loving women. Although their relationships to the wider world is secret, it's not something that's completely clandestine; May's mother knows, has known her daughter is a Sapphist for a while, and has no problem at all, even gave her a book to understand herself better, and introduced her to other Sapphists in the Suffragist community. I don't know if Nell's mum knows or not, but May does visit their house a number of times. Basically, to everyone who does know, there's not a problem, and there's never any worrying about being found out, or any experience of homophobia. It's just them, together and they're happy.
Well, they're happy for the most part, because Nell is confused about herself. She wears her older brother's old clothes; breeches, shirt, jacket, hat. A lot of people on first meeting think she's a boy. It would be interesting to read a review by a trans person, because I think Nell might be trans; she thinks of herself as not a girl, but not a man either; when she gets upset, she fights her tears, because of toxic masculinity - guys don't cry, and so she won't either. Because of what she says, I was never really sure why Nell wanted equal rights for women, because she wants to do the things that guys can do, but it's never really clear whether she wants more freedom for women, or she wants to be a man herself. There's a lot of confusion for Nell; she didn't realise that Sapphists were a thing, she thought it was just her until she met May, and she puts down her thoughts and confusion down to being a Sapphist, but a lot of it is about gender, and so I do think that she's trans, but I'm not trans, so obviously, I can't say for sure. But there is a lot of heartache for Nell because she doesn't know what she is, as she herself says. It's heartbreaking to watch.
There's more heartbreak for us as readers when it comes to Nell once the First World War starts. For me, it seemed there were two parts of the book, the first part that deals with Suffrage, and the second that deals with the war, and where Suffrage has to take a back foot. The war affects all three characters, but Nell more so. Things a Bright Girl Can Do tells us the story of the war that we don't hear. I knew the war was hard for the people at home, what with rationing and evacuation, but I never realised just how terrible it could be. When you're poor, and the breadwinner of the family is called up, it's devastating. Not only are you worried about your husband/father, but you're also worried about how you can survive. During war, the price of everything goes up. Jobs are lost because, in the case of Nell's job at a jam factory, who cares about jam now? It was mostly sold to the Germans, so no-one is going to buy, and most of the top men in the company are now at war, so the factory is closed. So many jobs are lost. There are so many women who are out seeking work, but not enough jobs to go round. Possessions had to be pawned, even when you have practically nothing anyway, right down to your bedstead. Appeals for help were made, but too many people needed help. No work, meant no money, and no money meant no food and no coal, and not paying the rent. God forbid you get ill, because there's no way to pay the doctor's bills. Reading about Nell's experiences of the war was horrific.
May isn't struggling as much as Nell, of course, and although she offers to help, Nell refuses charity. But even May's family has very little food now, and her mum is gone all the time on her various committees to try and stop the war. As pacifists, they are completely against the war. May is vocal about it, and is treated terribly by the people at school. She loses friends, and is bullied. When her mother complains, the school pretty much says, "Well, if she's going to be unpatriotic, what do you expect?" I really, really struggled with May. I respected her views, but she doesn't seem to want to respect anyone else's. She and Nell get into a huge fight when Nell finally gets a job in a munitions factory, telling her she shouldn't accept it, because it's wrong - no matter that it's the only job she can find, no matter that her family is in dire straits, no matter that her younger brother has pneumonia. No matter that if the soldiers don't have weapons to fight back with, they will be killed by the Germans, including Nell's father. Nell simply shouldn't take the job, and May feels betrayed that Nell is even considering it. This, on top of thinking bitchily about how Nell hadn't realised that things at school were terrible for May and not asking her about it, when there's a very strong chance her family could be kicked out of their home or starve or die from illness... it was just too much. I did not like that girl in that moment, and I haven't really forgiven her for it.
I did at first think I wouldn't like this book. The language used made the characters feel like caricatures; there was a lot of "jolly good", "rotten", "splendid", and so on. People did probably talk like that at the time, but it just didn't feel natural at the beginning. I did get used to it, however, and it stopped bothering me. I also never related or connected to any of the three girls. Although I respected them in some ways, there was a lot I didn't like about each of them. Though I did find that even though I wasn't a huge fan of them as people, it didn't mean I didn't care about them and what they went through, especially Nell. It's so odd, because I've never cared and felt so emotional for a character I didn't really like before. But it was difficult not to care when you think about how the things that happened in this book actually happened in real life.
I would have preferred to have seen more of what the Suffragettes/ists did rather than just being told about it, I would have liked more of it to have been on the page. But it was still so amazing to hear about the unbelievable things these wonderful, passionate, brave women would do in the fight for equality. Just thinking about it is kind of overwhelming, and I feel such gratitude to these women who thought so hard and were treated so terribly so that I can have the life I live now. I feel such pride in these women that they thought so hard and risked so much for me and the rest of us women, but also such huge disappointment that they suffered so much, and yet there's still a long way to go.
Things a Bright Girl Can Do is such a wonderful, wonderful book. I may not have got on with it all the time, but it was eye-opening, thought-provoking, and just brilliant, really. I can't recommend it enough.
Thank you to Andersen Press via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater is probably the most exciting book in The Raven Cycle, and a fairOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater is probably the most exciting book in The Raven Cycle, and a fair few things happen. However, I'm starting to feel like by the time I reach the end of this series, I'm going to be disappointed.
I really enjoyed Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I still love all the characters, who are the reason I read this series, but when it comes to the plot, I'm starting to get a little frustrated. It's fair to say things do move on quite a bit in this book - Maura goes missing when trying to look for Blue's father, Mallory comes over to help Gansey with the ley line and he's awesome, we meet Jesse Dittley who I just loved, things happen in caves, and those things lead on to other things - especially when compared to The Dream Thieves, but I'm really starting to feel like things aren't happening fast enough. Sure, there's only one book left, and everything will be wrapped up in this one, but this is the third book, and in the great scheme of things, not a huge deal has happened. Adam woke the ley line in the first book, Ronan got better at taking things from him dreams in the second, in this things are discovered in caves. I could summaries this third book a little better, but spoilers. But that's pretty much it. I mean, come on.
As I said, I love the characters, I am gripped by this series, and the stakes are seriously raised in Blue Lily, Lily Blue - and that cliffhanger! - but looking back over the series, I am feeling kind of disappointed. It's fortunate that I've started reading the series after the whole series had been published, but I would be pretty annoyed if I had read each book as it was released, and had to wait for the next. The series ends with the next book, and I don't feel like enough has happened. I am still really intrigued by the whole story, and I want to know the out come in regards to Glendower - I find the fact that this is based on real folklore awesome, and the folklore itself so fascinating - but I have read better series when it comes to plot and what actually happens in each of the books overall.
Blue Lily, Lily Blue has definitely got better, it's built on the last two, and things are finally happening, but I'm still left wanting. I'm left wanting because there is only one book left, and I don't feel this series has truly got moving yet. I almost feel like both The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue could have been shorter and made into one book. And then, maybe, the pace would feel better. But I would still want another two books after. Seriously, I need more. This book is awesome - really, it's so good (hence the four stars)! But looking at the series so far as a whole, I'm really frustrated and disappointed. I'm really looking forward to the final book, The Raven King, but at the same time, I really worried that I'm going to be disappointed. I'm really expecting a lot from this final book, and if it fails to deliver, I'm not going to be pleased....more
Trigger Warning: This book contains rape, of men and women.
I'm not one who reads general fiction, generally. I only discovered The Power by Naomi Alderman because it won the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction. When I heard it was about teen girls getting power - literal, physical power - I had to get it. But I've finished it with mixed feelings. That's not to say The Power isn't a good book. It is a good book - it's a great book, even - I just don't think it's my kind of book.
The story starts with a letter from Neil Adam Armon, a historian, to Naomi Alderman. Neil is a historian, and he's sent his latest manuscript to Naomi to critique for him. He mentions that history books are often too dry for readers, and so with this book, he's decided to fictionalise history; 'Not quite history, not quite a novel. A sort of "novelization" of what archeologists agree is the most plausible narrative.' (p ix) What follows is Neil's history-in-story-form book, The Power - written thousands of years in the future, about events, that for us readers, could happen now, in our present. Figures from history in Neil and Naomi's time are characters in their own story, about how the everything changed in a global scale when, around the same time, teenage girls discovered they could produce electricity from their fingertips. How the power dynamics of the world changed when women had the power.
The Power is told over the span of ten years, from when teenage girls first discover their power, to when the world is changed completely, becoming unrecognisable as the world we know, to a world run by strong, vicious women with power. It's told from four different perspectives ; Reagan - whose father is the head of a criminal syndicate, whose power is woken when her mother is murdered by her father's rival - who becomes one of the strongest with her power; Tunde, a Nigerian guy who makes a name for himself as a journalist, going to dangerous parts of the world and reporting on how things are changing now women have the power; Allie, who comes to be known as Mother Eve, who hears a voice that guides her into creating a new religion, where God is known as Mother, not Father, where the women of the Bible are revered over all men (including Jesus) - a religion that overpowers all other religion, giving Allie political power as well as physical power; and Margot, a Mayor whose daughter's power is unpredictable, who has the power woken up in her, and uses the power for her own political gain.
This book is so, so very clever. It's pretty epic; it's such a big story in terms of plot - and is yet a single, stand alone novel of just 339 pages. It took my emotions on a roller coaster; at times, I was overwhelmed with a sense of rightness and pride when women were finally able to fight back against their abusers, against the people who set rules in other countries about how they should live their lives. Women who had been controlled and abused for so long - women who exist today in various parts of the world, because women are sex trafficked, and women in certain countries do not have the same rights as men, this book shining a light on how wrong our world is right now - taking back control and hurting those who hurt them. And then I would be absolutely staggered and disgusted at the treatment of men now women had control. There was a sense of women getting their own back, but after a while, it stopped being about revenge, and became a sick amusement. Women now had power, women now had control over men. They would abuse men for the fun of it, murder without a thought. It was horrific and so disturbing. Women become just as terrible as some men who exist today, and it's a widespread terribleness.
So yes, The Power is clever, and epic, and thought provoking, and highly disturbing in a good way. All of this I can say objectively. But subjectively, I can't really say I enjoyed it. The Power is so good, but I didn't enjoy it. Of course, there are some books that it seems weird to say you "enjoyed" them, when the subject matter isn't the best, but there is still a sense that you liked the book. I don't think I like The Power. And I can't say why exactly, because I was gripped, and I was amazed and awed by the story about it, and of course I would recommend it. I think my problem is I didn't like most of the characters, and while it's not always important to like the characters to like a book, for this book, for me, it is. Although I finished the book thinking "Wow!", I didn't finish the book feeling I had a positive reading experience. It's a strange one, because it's a book that will stick with me for a very long time, one I would highly recommend to everyone, but at the same time, I just know I didn't like it, and I won't be re-reading it. But again, it's important to point out that I didn't like it because the book is bad, because it's brilliant, my dislike is down to personal taste. Because this book is incredible. It's just not my book....more
I was drawn to 36 Questions that Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant because of the cover, the strangeOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I was drawn to 36 Questions that Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant because of the cover, the strange title, and then the blurb. What were these questions? And how would these questions lead to love? Having now read the book, I can say it was a cute story, but kind of disappointing.
It started off well. You see Hildy, and then Paul, sign up to take part in the psychology study to see if love can be engineered between two strangers, just by asking a specific series of questions. Seeing them sign up, you get an idea of their personalities. Hildy is nervous and awkward, but smart and kind of quirky. Paul has an attitude of not giving a crap about anything; he doesn't even know what the study is about, he's just doing it for the money. Then the story goes to Hildy and Paul meeting and starting their questions, and becomes more like a transcript of their dialogue, as if they were being recorded (they're not), than a narrative. It was actually really funny, in a classic rom-com way. They both frustrated the hell out of each other. Hildy was taking it seriously, for the interests of Science, and would really think about her answers, trying to be as honest as possible, and Paul just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible, wasn't being serious at all, giving ridiculous answers. He would mock her answers, and want her to hurry up, she would want Paul to answer seriously, and was increasingly more exasperated with each answer. How they both brushed each other up the wrong way, was so funny!
And then it changed again. Hildy ends up storming out before the questions are answered, and it becomes third person narration from Hildy's point of view. And it just becomes very clichéd and predictable. The humour is completely removed from the story. Instead, you have Hildy who is obsessing over what happened with Paul, as she annoys her friends by going over and over it. Paul ends up finding her online, because he still wants his $40, so they continue, on and off, there. And sometimes the humour comes back, but not like it was before. As the story goes on, the questions get more emotional, and require deeper answers - and Paul's attitude changes as well, wanting to answer the questions now, wanting to talk to Hildy in a way he hasn't talked to anyone for such a long time. It tends to get a bit cloying. Both Hildy and Paul have things going on in their lives, and those things are pretty serious, but the way they're written, it's just too much. It gets too cute and sweet, and "Let me bare my soul". It got kind of cheesy. And it was just so predictable! When they both started taking the questions seriously, they're answers were interesting, but it just got too much as it went on.
I'm afraid I just didn't really enjoy this book over all. And I also found it kind of forgettable, with it being so cliché and predictable, it just felt a bit samey - a story you'd read before, that would merge with other similar stories in your mind, and you'd never quite remember it. Pretty disappointing, as it has so much potential.
Thank you to Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the eProof....more
After the surprise of loving The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater, I was so eager to read the second book inOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
After the surprise of loving The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater, I was so eager to read the second book in the series, The Dream Thieves. And although I enjoyed it, I finished the book a little disappointed.
The ley line has now been woken, but it has huge surges, and then nothing. It's causing stadium lights to turn on by themselves, but it's also causing power cuts. Something isn't quite right with it, and what's more, Cabeswater has disappeared. This stalls Gansey's search for Glendower. Every other time something has gone wrong in his search, he's found a different avenue to continue his search down, but not this time. Cabeswater is important, but it has completely disappeared, like it never existed. And because of this... not much happens in the book.
The main focus of this book? Ronan learning more about his dreams and how to take things from then, and his character development, and also the changes that are happening to Adam, and what his sacrifice to waken the ley line means. There isn't very much in the way of moving the story forward - because the story can't move forward until Ronan and Adam work some things out, and it takes the whole book for them to do so.
The story wasn't boring, because I really like these characters, and it was fascinating to get to know Ronan more, as he is one of the narrators this time round, and understand who he is, why he is the way he is - namely always on the edge of anger and looking for a fight - and how and why he is able to bring things out of his dreams. I also loved the development of his sexuality. It's not all that overt, not at first, and he never actually thinks about his sexuality, but it's clear in his reactions to people and the undertones to conversations. Stiefvater has said that Ronan is canonically gay, despite it never being overtly said in this book - though there are major clues. I'm interested to see whether it will overtly come up in the following books; I do feel a character being gay but it never being said on the page is kind of problematic.
It was also interesting to see Adam become almost a completely different person. There is an anger in him that wasn't there before, and he's starting to lose himself as Cabeswater seems to try to take over his mind with weird visions. There's a lot he has to sort through, which is understandable. His dad beat him up so badly he left him deaf in one ear, and now he gets angry so quickly, and feels violent, and is worrying he might be like his dad - plus having to deal with the Cabeswater sacrifice. It's a lot to deal with. But still, nothing happens. Not until the end.
There is the mysterious Gray Man, one among many different people hired by many to find the Greywarren - an object no-one knows anything about, just that it's something with power. Gray Man is a hitman, and he's dangerous, and his search has him crossing paths with Blue's family, and breaking into Gansey's home. This subplot was interesting, but fell kind of flat for me. I mean, it wasn't nearly as sinister as the subplot of Whelk from The Raven Boys. Sure, Gray Man is a hitman, and he does beat people up and kill a couple of others, but he never causes that same level of distress for me as Whelk did.
And I missed Blue and Gansey. They still narrate, but not as much, and I like them both. I just wish more happened. Plus there were a number of times where when conversations are being had that I just didn't get. They were just so confusing. If I had read The Dream Thieves when it came out, and had to wait for the next book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I would have been really annoyed with this book, because it's not really enough. I enjoyed it, but I expected more. I hope Blue Lily, Lily Blue is more exciting....more
There is a way women dance these days. Whether it's with a guy or with their girlfriends. When I see it, it alwayOriginally published on Jo Scribbles.
There is a way women dance these days. Whether it's with a guy or with their girlfriends. When I see it, it always seems to me that they're not dancing for themselves, they're dancing to be seen - by men. To be noticed. To have an affect on them. There are also female artists, and how they dance these days, in videos and during performances. It's all very sexual, and it's always, even before I discovered feminism, made me uncomfortable. Why do these women want men to see them that way? It's partly because of this that I had wanted to read Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy. But, as fascinating as it is, I was a little disappointed.
This is partly down to me. Female Chauvinist Pigs was published in the UK in 2006, and, being written by an American author, it focuses on America - neither of which I realised when I bought it. So not only is it a little dated, but it's also talking about American pop culture, of which I know very little.
Saying that, it was really fascinating when it came to the history of the American Women's Movement, something I knew nothing about. I loved learning about all the things they achieved until things became divisive between those who were anti-porn, and those who were also part for sexual liberation.
'"Sometimes [there] were emotional defenses of free speech, but to our bewilderment, we also saw that some women identified their sexuality with the S/M pictures we found degrading," Brownmiller wrote. "They claimed we were condemning their minds and behavior, and I guess we were."' (p63)
Levy talks us through the history that led to raunch culture from this divide in the Women's Movement, and how it led to programmes like Girls Gone Wild, and obsession with porn stars, strippers and pole dancing. How people claim women are now sexually liberated to be as sexual as they please, when really, it's all just for the male gaze.
'Why is this the "new feminism" and not what it looks like: the old objectification? [...] The truth is that the new conception of raunch culture as a path to liberation rather than oppression is a convenient (and lucrative) fantasy with nothing to back it up.' (p81 - 82)
As well as the women who are emulating strippers and porn stars, Levy discusses how some women now spurn anything to do with femininity; not wanting to be or liking "girly-girls" (yet perfectly happy to watch said "girly-girls" strip off along with their male friends), and basically linking girl/womanhood with weakness and negativity. Instead, they want to be like, to emulate, men.
'Women who've wanted to be perceived as powerful have long found it more efficient to identify with men than to try and elevate the entire female sex to their level. [...] There is a certain kind of woman--talented, powerful, unrepentant--whom we've always found it difficult to describe without some version of the phrase "like a man," and plenty of those women have never had a problem with that. Not everyone cares that this doesn't do much for the sisterhood.' (p95)
There was one chapter I had some problems with, though. In the chapter From Womyn to Bois, Levy discusses how lesbians present: butch, femme, and the new (at the time) boi. To me, it seems she confuses gender identity and sexuality, as if they are linked; bois like to appear young and boyish, rather than manly, and some even discuss with her the gender binary, and how it doesn't quite work. I don't know if it's the time, and things are understood better now, or if Levy herself just didn't completely understand, but when discussing gender identity and trans men (specifically straight trans men, because she's linking them to lesbians), she seems to not get that trans men were always male:
'But despite the differences between the scene and, say, spring break in South Beach, there are also meaningful similarities in the ways young women across this country, gay and straight, are conceiving of themselves, their bodies, sex, and each other. Women are invested in being "like a man," and in the case of FTMs, women are actually becoming men.' (p138 - emphasis mine.)
The whole chapter, really, made me uncomfortable. It was fascinating at times, but I also feel there is a great deal of lack of understanding - and not just about trans men, but lesbians, too. I could be wrong, but it felt... problematic.
The book overall has really interesting things to say on female sexuality, raunch culture, and what we're obsessed with...
'The women who are really being emulated and obsessed over in our culture now--strippers, porn stars, pinups--aren't even people. They are merely sexual personae, erotic dollies from the land of make-believe. In their performances, which is the only capacity in which we see these women we so fetishize, they don't even speak. As far as we know, they have no ideas, no feelings, no political beliefs, no relationships, no past, no future, no humanity.' (p196)
'[W]e are not even free in the sexual arena. We have simply adopted a new norm, a new role to play: lusty, busty exhibitionist. There are other choices. If we are really going to be sexually liberated, we need to make room for a range of options as wide as the variety of human desire. We need to allow ourselves the freedom to figure out what we internally want from sex instead of mimicking whatever popular culture holds up to as sexy. That would be sexual liberation.' (p200)
...but at the same time, I also felt like it wasn't saying very much in regards to how things can be changed. That last paragraph I quote talks more about what we can do individually, but a lot of this is down to popular culture, and there isn't really anything suggested in how to tackle changing what we see on TV and in magazines. As fascinating as the book was, as much as I agreed with the things Levy was saying, I feel not a huge amount was actually said beyond, "This is the ways things are, this is how we got here, and it's really pretty terrible." I also think it has become quite dated in the 11 years since in was published - although a lot of what Levy says is still relevant, I think, in some ways, things have got worse, that or they're just different here in the UK.
A fascinating read, but more one that wants you to think and change your ways, than trying to inspire you to get out and make a difference....more
Trigger Warning: A character is raped off the page in Beautiful Venom.
I'd been wanting to read the Because You Love to Hate Me anthology, edited by Ameriie ever since I first heard about it. Retellings that put villains at front centre? What's not to love? However, I finished feeling a little disappointed.
All I'd heard about Because You Love to Hate Me is in the summary above. It specifically said that these stories are reimagining fairy tales, but that is not always the case. Five of these thirteen stories are original stories. Possibly even six, as one story's only link to a previously known story is in the challenge, but it's not recognisable as a retelling. Really, only three of the stories included are based on fairy tales, though there are others based on classics, mythology, and folktales, which is fine by me. But the whole reason I wanted to read this book was because it was going to be retellings of fairy tales - or other known stories - from the villain's perspective with a twist, or origin stories, or what have you. This is what I was expecting. The challenges from the Booktubers for the authors are revealed after each story, which was good, because, in some cases, they would be spoilers, but when you read the first story, and struggle to work out what the original story it's based on is, to then find out it's not based on anything, it's a disappointment. And to have that for a number of stories, I was annoyed. That's not to say that the stories were bad, just that it's not what I was expecting. I have no interest in villains in general, it was the fact that these are villains we already know that had me wanting to read this book. To be fair to the book, though, the blurb does say that there are also original stories in this anthology, but I'm not reading the blurb when I already know what the book is, right? Maybe I should from now on.
That aside, I enjoyed most of the stories. There were a few that really stuck out for me. The Sea Witch by Marissa Meyer is an origin story of the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid, and was so, so good! But I love The Little Mermaid, and I love Marissa Meyer, so this was pretty much a perfect fit for me. I also really loved Beautiful Venom by Cindy Pon, a retelling of the story of Medusa. I never knew how Medusa became Medusa in any great detail, so the story was a great surprise to me, but also one I feel is really important. It looks into rape culture and victim blaming, and was so powerful. Pon also took this Greek myth and set it in East Asia - presumably China. This is also the only story in the anthology with POC characters. Marigold by Samantha Shannon was brilliant, a really feminist - and probably more realistic - look at a story set in the 19th Century, involving the Erl Queen. I also really enjoyed the original stories The Blessing of Little Wants by Sarah Enni and Sera by Nicola Yoon, which I'm not going to say anything about, because of spoilers.But to be honest, a lot of the other stories left so little impact that I have the book with me as I write this review because I simply couldn't remember them.
I liked the premise of this anthology, that Booktubers would challenge authors to write about villains in a specific way, and I was interested in what they themselves would have to say. At first, I thought it was going to be them also writing a story based on the challenge, but most of the time, it was more about them looking at the subject of villains, or specific villains, referencing the story their author wrote. Some of them were interesting; I like what Benjamin Alderson (Benjaminoftomes) had to say on rape culture and victim blaming in Without the Evil in the World, How Do We See the Good? And I loved how Steph Sinclair and Kat Kennedy (Cuddlebuggery)'s The Bad Girl's Guide to Villainy, although focusing on villains and being kind of jokey, was so feminist; a lot of the advice they five to would-be villainesses is advice girls and women should take simply to have a voice in this patriarchal world - to take up space, not do as you're told, go our and get what you want. It was fantastic! But overall, I didn't think the pieces from the Booktubers added much, and at worst, I felt some of them were written as if they were writing to young people - not that they were dumbed down, just that they had a specific age group in mind, and to me some felt a little patronising. Apart from the two mentioned above, the pieces from the Booktubers didn't work, in my opinion, for this book. The ones that weren't patronising would have been interesting if discussed in greater length in blog posts, or, as they are Booktubers, videos. But I didn't really enjoy them as part of this book. Saying that, that are people who are fans of these Booktubers who will buy it for them as well as for the authors/villain stories, and so will probably enjoy this element of the book more than I did, who was interested in the book only for the retellings.
So mixed feelings overall. Because You Loved to Hate Me wasn't what I expected. I'm sure there are a lot of people who would love it, but for me, I would have preferred more stories instead of the commentary from the Booktubers, and stories with a bit more impact.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Children's Books for the review copy....more
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is a book I've been loosely planning to read for a while. Planning to read bOriginally published on Once Upon a Bookcase.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is a book I've been loosely planning to read for a while. Planning to read because a colleague at work raved about it when she read when it first came out, but only loosely because there's very little in way of a blurb. All I knew was that it was about rich teens, and I assumed they would be spoilt and mean, and that's just not my kind of book. However, I was recently recommending books to a customer, and in telling me what she had read before, she and her father both raved about We Were Liars. They implied that it dealt with a serious topic, and that it was very powerful. Their enthusiasm really piqued my interest, and so I finally bought it. And wow. This book is absolutely incredible.
I know the blurb and summary doesn't tell you very much, and I know that annoyed me before I read it, but it really is best that you go into this book knowing very little. I will tell you that it's about three generations of a rich family - grandparents, aunties and mother, and cousins - and a friend, and it's set on their private island. It's about relationships, familial and platonic, and it's about privilege and power. There is a mystery, a secret, and a huge twist that I absolutely did not see coming. One that blew my mind.
The story is narrated by Cadence, one of the cousins, who the story, for the most part, revolves around; Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and their friend Gat. The story jumps from present day, to Cadence recalling what happened two Summers previously. The characters are just wonderful, all so different, and fully formed.
Also, this book is short. A 225 pages kind of short. Which just makes this whole story even better, because Lockhart has a serious skill to tell a complete and full story in so few pages, where you're left guessing the whole way through. The whole way through. There is not a single word wasted, there's no extraneous description, every single word is purposeful. We Were Liars must have been edited to within an inch of it's life, but it's fantastic for it. It's emotional, and heartbreaking, and powerful, and all of this is accomplished in only a few words.
We Were Liars is just amazing, and you should read it. I can't say any more than that, really. Read it, and prepare to have your jaw drop....more