Friday, 30 July 2021

Review of 'Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982'


Review of 'Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982'

I've wanted to read this for a few months now and was so excited when it came up as a recommended read for me on my kindle. I've not read many books by Korean authors (I think the last might have been A River in Darkness, but that was a North Korean author), and I'm really interested in reading more with a Korean setting.

Kim Jiyoung is a name that's basically the equivalent of 'Jane Doe'. The book starts with Kim as an adult starting to have a breakdown where she impersonates other women, both dead and alive, almost pretending to be them. Her husband is alarmed and sends her to a psychiatrist. The book then travels through Kim's life, following the relentless misogyny that pursued her from early childhood, with her brother getting a greater share and quality of food, up to motherhood, where she's faced with the loss of her career.

This was such an interesting book. It's short enough to be almost novella sized and pretty gripping. If I'm honest, a lot of it just me feel sad: going through all the twists and turns in a woman's life, all met with endless misogyny, was bleak. I found Kim a character that you could really relate to: she's a normal woman, and her story is so similar to so many others that she really does seem a Jane Doe. She doesn't live an extraordinary life, or have a redemption where she manages to overturn the misogynistic system; instead it catches up with her. 

The main reason why this was only a 4 star read rather than 5 was that I felt it ended quite abruptly. I would have loved to see where the rest of Kim's life was heading. I would really recommend this to anyone interested in learning about life as a woman in South Korea, seeing a new perspective on the #metoo movement, or just wanting a short read to burst out of a slump.

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Friday, 23 July 2021

Review of 'A Thousand Ships' by Natalie Haynes


Review of 'A Thousand Ships' by Natalie Haynes

I love the trend of feminist retellings of Ancient Greek stories, and this was a really interesting one. Having read The Iliad and Odyssey a few years ago, the Iliad part of Natalie Haynes' book is much more interesting than the original IMO, and I think would be interesting to read back to back together.

A Thousand Ships tells the story of the fall of Troy and Odysseus' journey home after through the lens of women in the story. These women span those who had quite prominent positions in the original text like Penelope, to those a little more obscure, like Hecabe and Clytemnestra. 

There were some characters' perspectives in this that I really liked - I loved the Muse and the future/past seeing character. The book flicks back and forth in time and moves between characters quickly, covering key aspects of the war and its aftermath through the eyes of women. The writing is great: it's sad and funny and thoughtful. With so many characters and the timeline being organised as it is, it is such a testament to Haynes' writing that it was fairly easy to keep up with what was going on. 

The one reason why I gave this four instead of five stars was just that I really didn't enjoy Penelope's sections much. I think she holds quite a prominent place in the Odyssey itself, and I felt she came across as a less strong character in this than she did in the original text.

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Sunday, 18 July 2021

Review of 'Virgin Earth' by Philippa Gregory


Grey background with black text that reads: "If that is your idea of deep concealment then I don't anticipate great success" - 'Virgin Earth' by Philippa Gregory

I am a big Philippa Gregory fan - she's basically the only historical fiction author where I've read a good number of their books. However, I do struggle with her books that are historical but outside of her main Tudor ones centred around the lives of women. This has sat on my shelf unread for years, and if I'm honest I'm really not sure it was worth picking up at all.

The book takes place around the time of Cromwell's rise to power and Charles I's downfall. The main character, John Tradescent, is gardener to the king, but when his loyalty to the King's cause comes into question, he flees England to avoid making a decision. The story is told across two continents, following John's split love for England and for Virginia in the US.

I really struggled to get on board with this book. The main character John is incredibly unlikable: we first meet him in Virginia where he's travelled to source rare plants after his wife has died, leaving his kids motherless and fatherless without concern. He grooms a 13 year old Native girl, and it feels like Gregory justifies this by suggesting that he is not attracted to her right now but can see how e.g. her breasts will grow to make her attractive in the future (but yes, it does come across as horrifyingly creepy as that sounds). There's a whole lot of weird vibes around his eventual life with the Powhatan tribe in Vriginia, where the girl, now a woman, agrees to marry him and the tribe accept him as part of their group, despite the fact that white colonizers from England are trying to kill them at the same time, and he refuses to pick a side.

The storyline was incredibly slow and I just struggled to warm to any of the characters at all. It eventually got a little bit more interesting in the lead up to the king's beheading, but the book isn't something I'd recommend at all.

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Monday, 12 July 2021

Review of 'A Very British Coup' by Chris Mullins


Grey background with black writing that reads; "He was a lonely man, but he had long since reconciled himself to loneliness. Marriage required concessions which he was not prepared to make." - 'A Very British Coup' by Chris Mullins

After its initial publication and success in the 80s, this book has seen a resurgence in popularity since the rise/fall of Jeremy Corbyn. I didn't expect much from this book, but found it far more interesting than I ever imagined, particularly because it mirrored what happened in the most recent General Election so much, despite being written decades earlier. 

A Very British Coup takes place just after the election of fictional labour leader Harry Perkins. He won in part off the back of a manifesto focusing on public control of finances, dismantling foreign military bases/weapons on UK soil, and removing newspaper monopolies. The outgoing Tory government, overseas powers and militaries, and newspaper/media owners are horrified, and launch a series of thorough attacks to try and force Perkins out of the position.

This was such an insightful and interesting read. It was written at a time when it looked like Tony Benn might take over from Thatcher, and solidifies all the rumours and suggestions that certain organisations would act in such underhand ways to alter the political setting of a nation. After seeing Corbyn repeatedly vilified by the press in the lead up to his election defeat, and being fully aware that right wing powers guided that, it was even more eye opening to see it written down in a book written before Corbyn had ever come near to power. 

I would really recommend this if you're interested in British politics - it's not something that I ever really read books about, but this one is definitely worth a read!

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Saturday, 3 July 2021

Review of 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley


Grey background with black writing that reads: "One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them" - 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley

It's been a while since I've delved into some proper dystopian fiction. Usually I'm a big fan - they make me question their world, our world and everything in between, but since the pandemic started I've been totally avoiding them. When real life feels too dystopian, they're not much fun.

Brave New World was published in 1932 and showcases a world obsessed with eugenics. Babies aren't born, they're made in factories, and the class of the person is decided when they're tiny embryos, and their prenatal and postnatal development is all based around which layer of society they should end up in. Everyone is conditioned to stay within their social grouping, but when one individual goes to see the 'savages' living outside the society, he starts to question the way things are more than ever before.

This was a very thought provoking and honestly disturbing book. With the whole setup of the book and way things are presented, you're always edging the line between this being Huxley's idea of a dystopia but also his idea of a utopia. This is a world seemingly without misery. It's a world where people don't have connections with others so don't feel grief. A world where industrialised society is in tip top shape with the labourers being ideal at their job and the managers ideal at theirs. It's also a world where one lives in total isolation, one with complete sexual freedom for women and men (set against a backdrop of still very present Victorian moral standards) and a world where Mother is a dirty word, let alone concept. 

Huxley seemed to rethink some of his ideas after the Second World War, realising that eugenics actually wasn't something to idealise, and adding a preface to the book explaining that his writing has flaws. The book is one of the more interesting ones I've read this year. You can see where it's inspired other dystopian novels like The Handmaid's Tale (in the edition I read Atwood's even written an introduction to Brave New World), and the sexual freedom/rejection of Victorian morals is something very interesting to read in this modern day. I gave this four stars because it was a thought-provoking, if troubling, book.

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Sunday, 13 June 2021

Review of 'Take a Hint, Dani Brown' by Talia Hibbert


Grey background with black text that reads: "People shouldn't be changed - but perhaps they should grow" - 'Take a Hint, Dani Brown' by Talia Hibbert

I read this straight after reading Get a Life, Chloe Brown, and I just didn't quite connect with Dani as much. I loved the Chloe Brown book, but felt like there was less of the family side of things in this one, which I really missed, and I just felt like I understood Chloe and could resonate with her a lot more.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown is another smutty romance from Talia Hibbert, this time about the tough witchy sister of the family. When Dani's friend Zaf asks her to fake date him to help get publicity for his charity work, Dani's up for it, especially as she doesn't do 'love' so knows there's no risk of that happening. But when Zaf starts to fall for her, Dani's stuck at a crossroads.

This was a cute romance, but I just didn't enjoy the smut in it. It felt a bit jarring with the rest of the narrative, and it's something I struggled with in the author's other book too. I loved Zaf's character: a Muslim man who loves reading romance books, who works on his trauma with a therapist, and who cares so deeply for Dani. It was really refreshing to see a male lead in a romance book with a proper backstory and layers to his personality, and if I'm honest I liked him much more than Dani as a character.

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Thursday, 10 June 2021

Review of 'One of Us is Next' by Karen M. McManus


Grey background with black writing that reads: "I don’t understand why the world insists on stuffing kids into boxes we never asked for, and then gets mad when we won’t stay there" - 'One of Us is Next' by Karen M. McManus

Karen McManus is fast becoming one of my favourite YA authors. I've now read all of her books she's got out so far and cannot wait to sink my teeth into the next few. This however is probably my least favourite I've read. It was partly because it's been such a long time since I read One of Us is Lying that I kept losing sense of the links between the characters, and partly just because it didn't grip me as much as her other more recent books.

One of Us is Next takes place at Bayview High, a school that's still reeling after the death of a student and a gossip site that ruined a lot of lives. After the site was taken down, a few copycats had emerged and none of them had very good gossip, which is what everyone thought was happening when group texts start going out, starting an elaborate game of truth or dare. When the first person challenged refused to interact with the texter, and has her biggest secret spilled to the entire school, everyone starts to take this much more seriously.

This was a good read - I enjoyed it and I did get gripped into wanting to know who was behind everything. I found the plot did get interesting, but it was a bit of a tricky read to get into if you haven't read the first book recently. I was also a bit disappointed in the ending: it felt a bit meh and I wasn't convinced by who did it and why. I'm still glad I read it - it was a good YA mystery, but just not as good as the others I've read by the author.

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