Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Review of 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' by Anne Bronte

Ah, the oft-forgotten third author in the Bronte family. Up until I was 18 I had no idea that Emily and Charlotte had a sister who also wrote a novel, and I reeled in shock at the fact of it. I found The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in a dusty paperback exchange store in Bognor Regis a couple of years ago, and treasured it by forgetting that I ever owned it until a few months back. I've really been getting back into Victorian fiction at the moment, and, as I'm still a little intimidated by Villette, I decided to go for the only other unread Bronte book on my shelves. Despite loving Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I really didn't have great expectations (oh the Victorian literature puns coming out in this post) for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Mostly if I'm honest because I've never heard about it, or never heard it discussed in a literary manner.

I'm now feeling genuinely disappointed that this book isn't discussed with more frequency and vibrancy. Like her sisters, Anne challenges the notion of what is allowed within the confines of being a proper woman, and creates an image of a heroine we cannot help but love, even if she doesn't bear an exact resemblance to the ideal Victorian woman. Much like her sisters' novels, this also contains a metanarrative, taking us back to a past which completely alters our perspective on the present, and I love it.

Helen Huntingdon, our heroine, moves to Wildfell Hall and is at once the target of many a rumour. Clad in mourning garments and never letting her son out of her sight, Helen spikes everyone's curiosity with her refusal to attend church and strange relationship with the owner of Wildfell Hall. Many of her neighbours think it unwomanly to be living alone in a house owned by a man when she has no husband, and rumours about her sexual licentiousness abound. 

Helen hardly helps the matter, with her vague answers to the neighbours' questions about her past, and her refusal to pay social calls on the other ladies. She even seems unwilling to attend parties and gatherings she is invited to, much to the shock and insult of the local ladies. 

Gilbert Markham however, gives the lady a lot more credit than his comrades, and decides to get to know her a little better. With her natural grace, good lucks and intelligence he begins to fall for her, but she insists that she can never return his affections. Confused and insulted, Markham begins to believe the rumours about Helen; that is, until she sets them straight with a written account of her past.

You see, Helen is in fact not a widow, but a runaway bride. In leaving her husband, and taking their son in this way she has not only violated English conventions, but also laws. An abusive marriage takes its toll on young Helen, who avoided the advice of her wise aunt regarding her choice in husband. This aunt speaks out and instructs her not to follow only her heart, or wealth, or whims, but discover who a man really is, what his intellect is like, and what kind of husband he would be before marriage. Helen believes she will do so until she meets Huntingdon, and falls in love immediately. She casts off the practical feminist advice of her aunt and marries him quickly and without much thought for the future. All too soon she realises her mistake.

For many critics, this is one of the first feminist novels, and I can see why. Helen was an example to all women out there during the Victorian period, showing that abandoning a vicious husband does not mean one has to abandon their morality or hopes of a heavenly afterlife. Helen is blameless in the entire affair, and piece by piece we learn how faith kept this strong woman upright in a time of peril.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review of "Reuben Sachs" by Amy Levy

Review of 'Reuben Sachs' by Amy Levy.

It seems like forever since I've sat down and written a review on here, and I've practically got a mound of books read and ready to be reviewed, but I just haven't found the time recently. It's been well over a month since my last review, so I thought I'd kick start me getting back into the swing of things (hopefully) with a Victorian novella.

Reuben Sachs was on my course list for a module in first wave feminism when I was at uni, and sat alongside the likes of Dracula and Goblin Market, but it simply looked so dry that I never quite managed to get around to it. 

Now that I've read it, I can see how these texts all interlink in their analysis of the 'modern' female in the Victorian Era. Reuben Sachs focuses on a young girl, Judith, rather than the novel's eponymous male protagonist. Adopted by her auntie and uncle, as her family is too poor to raise her, Judith is brought up in a world of wealth without actually having any to her name.

This Jewish family is completely, unapologetically aware of the conflicted position Judith is in. She is at once rich and yet poor: she wants for nothing and yet her future looks bleak. Due to her lack of wealth, any potential husband that she may meet in the circles that she occupies is likely to reject her for a more wealthy wife. Indeed, her adoptive sister, who does have a dowry from her parents is a more suitable candidate for marriage than Judith is.

Unfortunately for Judith, she falls for her cousin, Reuben Sachs. Although he falls in love with her too, he casts aside his passion in order to pursue his political ambitions. Every time the pair meet they are torn between love and duty, and it is always duty that wins. 

Have you read this novella? What did you think?

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Review of 'Bridget Jones' Diary' by Helen Fielding

Review of 'Bridget Jones' Diary' by Helen Fielding.

Okay okay I'll admit it: I've never read Bridget Jones' Diary. The film is something that seems to come on every Christmas, and I usually watch snippets of it each year, if not the whole thing. So, I was completely and utterly unprepared for how different the book was. And I have to say i was a little concerned with it. 

Whereas the film merely mentions Bridget's diet, the book goes into immense detail over it. It lists Bridget's weight on a daily basis, her calorie intake, and how many calories were considered little enough to make a 'good day'. I honestly found this more than a little disturbing. I even found myself looking at the calories and her weigh ins and thinking well, hey, maybe I should only have X number of calories to lose weight. This is not a healthy mindset to be in, weighing yourself every day and hoping that the number drops down in order to improve a man you want to sleep with. 

Aside from this, I loved the format of the book. It was a little hard to adjust to, as it was written as though Bridget was jotting notes down in the evening, rather than as though it was a formal text. So, we lost a lot of 'the's and 'and's, etc. 

There were moments when I wanted to scream at Bridget, and laugh at her and cry with her. If a book can make me feel like that, despite all the little setbacks, you know it's a winner.

Have you read it? Did you enjoy it?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Review of 'Can't Buy Me Love'* by Jane Lovering

Review of 'Can't Buy Me Love' by Jane Lovering

I think I may have lost count of the number of times that I've woken up, head pounding, thinking this of a morning. For Willow however, there are more than her fair share of emotional traumas going on in the novel. You see, Willow's beloved grandfather has passed away, and what did he leave her? A nose. His nose. In a snuff box. Yep. 

He'd always called it his lucky nose, and rubbed it if he needed a little boost, but Willow is still disappointed that he neglected to leave her anything else in his will. However, upon further inspection she finds a note in the snuff box, which leads her to discover that one of his many inventions wasn't so crackpot after all, and she ends up with £50 000. 

As if that wasn't lucky enough, the man that she obsessed over endlessly during university has come to town, and told her that he was in love with her at the time, but just too shy to do anything about it. It seems like a dream come true. Willow is quick to help Luke in whatever way she can, so that he can pursue his dreams and they can be happy together, but her friends are concerned over the convenience of him turning up just as she gains her inheritance.

Putting it all down to jealousy, Willow ignores their pleas and happily continues her perfect love story with Luke, spending money with glee along the way. At the same time, she makes a new friend: Cal, her gay brother's lover. He actually listens to her, and she isn't as nervous around him as she is around other men, even though he's incredibly attractive, because him and her brother used to be more than friends. 

But, what if everyone's suspicions were right? And what if Willow has been busy making assumptions of her own? Is there hope for love out there for Willow?

I absolutely adored this book, and was hooked from the very first line (which revealed the nose in a snuff box inheritance). The exploration of Willow's anxiety was particularly interesting to me, as I'm keen to see mental health issues exposed and examined more frequently in novels. Willow has wound herself up into such a state of self hatred and anxiety that even just talking to an attractive man, who might possibly like her, forces her to physically be sick. She is endlessly trying to control this intense physical reaction to attraction, but time and time again, we see her struggle with it. 

If you're interested in seeing a 'not so nice' guy (to say the least) have the ultimate revenge cast upon him as well, then this is definitely one for you. I totally got caught up in the plotting and planning of his demise, and couldn't wait to see what happened!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Review of 'The Human Stain' by Philip Roth

Review of 'The Human Stain' by Philip Roth

This book has been glaring at me from my book shelf (or random pile of books, depending on which student house I was living in) since, well, since 2013. My bad. Anyway, this is another one that I've struck off of the seemingly never ending list of 'books I should have read as an undergraduate but didn't'.

I'm a complete sucker for judging books by their cover, and the dull black one with the spine of a torn book on its front just had me turned off from the very start. I know, I know, it's basically a crime to ignore a book because the cover looks boring but I still do it. 

As I'm moving house in just under a month (I am nowhere near ready for this, but let's pretend I've got everything organised), I'm even more keen to whizz through as many of my unread course books as I can so that I can put them up on my depop - @steph_hartley if you're curious - and lighten the massive load that we've got to take to our new home.

So, all in all I basically forced myself to pick up The Human Stain, but by page 20 I was utterly hooked. I mean staying up until 2am and reading by torchlight so that I don't wake my partner up hooked. It has been months since I read a book that I was so prejudiced against and ended up loving it so much. 

The Human Stain is all about a man called Coleman Silk, a Jewish Classics professor who gets suspended because of alleged racism to a student. Although we at first believe the accusation to be ludicrous, eventually we learn that Coleman may actually have racist tendencies, even though he is not intentionally portraying them at this point.

From almost the very offset of the novel we learn one thing: within four months of the novel's timeline, Coleman Silk will be dead. We learn that after the sudden death of his wife, Coleman, a man in his seventies, has taken up with a 34 year old woman. Protecting themselves from any scandal (not only is she young, but an illiterate janitor too), the pair keep their love-making a secret from the world. But Coleman has a bigger secret, and it's one that takes us right back to his childhood to unfold.

You see, Coleman Silk isn't white. At least not fully. But his heritage is disguised by his skin. He looks white, and after realising how hard it was to be deemed anything other than white, he commenced a lifetime of pretense.

The most interesting aspect of this book however, is not this story of race, love, sex and tragedy, but the storytelling itself. For we are reading a book within a book. Of sorts. The writer of the book is not Philip Roth, but a man who plays a part in the story. Nathan Zuckerman becomes incredibly interested in Coleman's story, and decides to write about his life. Only when we reach the end of the novel do we realise that it is part 'fact' and part fabrication on Zuckerman's part. Some of the aspects of the novel are true, and he knows it, but many of the details, and the parts written from the perspective of other characters are from this character's imagination. This is possibly the most complex and well-written meta-narrative I have ever come across for this reason, and I would definitely recommend giving it a go!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Review of 'No Plus One'* by Steph Young and Jill Dickman

Review of 'No Plus One' by Steph Young and Jill Dickman

This is actually the first book I've ever been sent to review for my main blog, Nourish ME (which you can check out here). This was really exciting for me, and something that I've been hoping will happen for my main blog for SO LONG. Anyhow, as I was reviewing it over there, I figured I couldn't leave you guys out, so here we are.

No Plus One is honestly like nothing I've ever read or reviewed on here before. We all know I'm a fiction kind of gal, and even within that category, my sub-categories are often fairly limited. This book however, really encouraged me to consider widening my boundaries, and stepping outside of my purely fictional comfort zone. I would probably describe it as a self help manual. This is definitely the kind of thing that, were I to stray slightly from fiction, I would invest my time in.

No Plus One is set out in terms of lessons - each chapter is a lesson and ends in 'homework'. The book is aimed at single women in their 20s or 30s (the age is a guess, but this is how it came across to me!), and attempts to teach its readers how to live a fulfilling life without feeling like half a person without their 'other half'. It discusses all the big things that single women often stress about, including how to meet people, how to deal with judgmental friends, how to keep your self esteem up, and what to do about sex. 

I found it a genuinely interesting read, and at points I even had a little chuckle to myself. General advice is interspersed with personal anecdotes that serve as a fab reminder that you are not alone in your singledom. All in all, No Plus One celebrates the idea that as a woman, you do not need to be in a relationship to improve any aspect of your life, and this is a lesson I think we can all get behind!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Monday, 5 September 2016

Review of 'Enduring Love' by Ian McEwan

A Review of 'Enduring Love' by Ian McEwan

I honestly never imagined that one day I would be sitting down at this blog reviewing an Ian McEwan book. Like uh-uh, no way. But here we are. Ever since I was forced to read The Child in Time for my English lit A-Levels I've been sworn off of McEwan's work, and even thinking about it brings a little bit of bile to my mouth. The unnecessary wordiness of it, the plot that trails off into nothing, everything about McEwan's work usually fills me with hate. And yes, I did give another one or two of his novels a go before reaching this conclusion.

But, in my bid to read everything that has been sat untouched on my shelves for years, I came across Enduring Love. I'm pretty sure this is one of those texts that, as a Lit student, I ought to have already read,but the anti-McEwan prejudice overtook me. 

I have to say that there were actually moments that I sat there thinking 'why did I ever condemn McEwan and this novel to a life of dust and neglect?!', but sadly these were outweighed by my ultimate lack of interest in the slow storyline. There were moments that gripped me, and I definitely ended up testing my own original perceptions of characters, which I love, but it just didn't quite hit the nail for me. If you are a McEwan fan, this one is definitely worth a read though!

Joe Rose is anxiously awaiting the return of his wife Clarissa, who has been on an academic journey for six weeks, at the airport. He has a picnic prepared for the pair of them, and they go to Hyde park to catch up and share a glass of bubbly or two. Joe can't predict how life changing this decision will be for the pair of them however. At the park, just as he is about to open their wine, Joe notices a hot air balloon flying overhead with a man running after it and a small child inside. Joe and five other men rush over to help, but everything goes wrong: one of the men is carried away by the balloon and brutally killed as he tries to save the child. 

Horrified by the proceedings, Joe tries to comfort one of his fellow rescue attemptees with a friendly pat on the back and a smile. Little does he know that this man, Parry, takes the action for a lot more than it was intended. Soon Parry is waiting outside Joe's apartment, declaring his love to him, following him, writing him letters, and calling the home phone incessantly. Joe tries to open up to Clarissa about it, but she realises that the handwriting on the letters is incredibly similar to Joe's, and she's never seen Parry loitering. Has the balloon incident affected Joe's subconscious more than he thinks?

Have you read it? What did you think?

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Review of 'The White Queen' by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

I've always loved historical novels, and up until I went away to uni, me and my Nan used to swap them all the time, especially Philippa Gregory ones. One of us would pick up a new one, or an old one from a charity shop, read it and then send it on to the other one. She loved it, and it was a fab way to get twice as many books as I otherwise would have!

So, when I was 16 or 17 Philippa Gregory was probably one of my favourite authors, and I snaffled her books up as often as I could. But, going to uni changed all of that, as I simply no longer had the time to read for 'fun' anymore. I then pretty much fell out of love with historical novels, and haven't really picked one up since, so I was feeling a little bit 'meh' about The White Queen

Once I started reading it however, all the reasons why I love Gregory's writing came flooding back to me. The period of history that she writes about - circa the Tudors and Plantaganets - is one that has always fascinated me. She also writes with an incredible clarity, and I love the fact that she reads a variety of sources before writing, and then chooses her own angle from them. She also tends to write from a woman's point of view, and explores her thoughts and actions - things which were fairly overlooked at the time. 

The White Queen is the first of Gregory's books that focuses on the Plantagenet family. We come in during a period of time when The Yorks and Lancasters are at loggerheads, and the York family has just come into power. Elizabeth Grey, the novel's protagonist, has been widowed of her Lancastrian husband during the wars, leaving her and her two sons forced to fend for themselves. 

So, when the new York King Edward rides through her husband's lands, Elizabeth seeks him out in supplication for a dowager's income. What she gets however, is a lot more than that. Her beauty and a little bit of magic help the King fall in love with her at first sight, and she cannot stop thinking about him either. Elizabeth's mother has told all of her children about the legend of Melusina, a water goddess who helps their family out in love. With a little enchantment and word to Melusina, Elizabeth and her mother are sure that Edward will return to his new love.

And return he does. Soon Elizabeth finds herself the secret wife of this York king, and has no idea how life changing (or destroying) their love might be to both of them. Elizabeth must now learn what it takes to be the Queen of England in a time during which plots are rife, not least from their closest quarters.

Have you read it before? What did you think?

Friday, 12 August 2016

Review of 'Manhattan Transfer' by John Dos Passos

I warned you I would be catching up with all my long-forgotten course books. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and the thought of having all these books that I paid hard-earned money for sitting there unread, with my course unfulfilled, makes me feel a little dismal. So yeah, this is part of my mission to combat all those unread downloads and paperbacks. 

Manhattan Transfer was written by Los Passos and published in 1925 - just one year after the infamous The Great Gatsby. Whilst Gatsby has become renowned the world over, and made into several films, this has gone unnoticed, and yet they both tackle the same issue: the deconstruction of the American Dream ideal. Where Fitzgerald uses symbolism, Los Passos uses a jarring alienation technique, switching between reams of characters, locations and scenes. Both however show that there is no individualism in the American Dream because it is simply an illusion.

Manhattan Transfer follows the lives of a number of individuals living in 'The Big Apple'. Some are immigrants to the city, some are returning citizens, and some have never left the city. All are looking to improve their lives. As the novel progresses we see finances and relationships torn utterly asunder by following idealistic thoughts. Perhaps most interestingly, we see women take their own destinies into their own hands, albeit with little success.

If you enjoyed The Great Gatsby, but would like something with a little bit of a modernist twist I would definitely recommend giving this a go!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Review of 'Where Dragonflies Hover'* by Anne Marie Brear

Review of 'Where Dragonflies Hover' by Anne Marie Braer

Although I've read my fair share of historical novels in the past, I have to say that I actually haven't read very many based in the war years, which seems a little odd to think about now. It's such a massive part of recent British history, and, despite learning about it fairly intensely at school, I've read so few fictional interpretations of time abroad and at home during the two periods of World War.

Where the Dragonflies Hover is set in three time periods, but thankfully you're not jarred as you move from one to the other. In the modern day, our protagonist Lexi, a young woman, is a part owner in her own solicitor firm with a rocky marriage at home. Her husband Dylan is working all hours as a doctor to finance their lives, and the lack of time spent together is really starting to drive a wedge between the pair. Lexi falls in love with an old mansion up for sale, and sees this as the chance to make everything right again - they could move in together, create a family and fall in love all over again by restoring the old place. Dylan however has other plans. He's got the opportunity to move to London with a much better job and wants Lexi to come with him. Ultimately their dreams are clashing, and they can't see eye to eye. Is there anything that can change this?

When Lexi looks at the mansion she finds an old diary from a woman called Allie. Allie is writing during World War Two about her experiences as a nurse who fell in love with an officer in the First World War. This seems like the oldest tale in the book, but it's one that I've actually never read. Unfortunately for Allie her love is one that is forbidden to her as a nurse and eventually a matron, but in the heat of war lines are blurred and acts are forgiven. However, will society ever be able to accept the great love between this pair even if it is an nontraditional one?

I loved the interweaving of all three time periods in this novel, and the fact that the two love stories were told side by side without being basically the same story in different time periods. Allie and Lexi do face seriously different challenges, and I loved both of their stories. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Review of 'Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker'

I promised you guys more reviews of classics, so here we are. This one is a bit of an obscure one, and comes from an American author at the turn of the 19th Century. This was another text that I was *meant* to read during my degree but got slipped by the wayside. I'm not going to lie, I've probably got a good hundred of these on my kindle and in my book shelf. My goal for the next year or two is basically to read everything I was meant to but never actually got around to. I love reading revered books, and ones that will teach me things about different times and places, so I was so disappointed that I simply ran out of time to read so many amazing books on my course. 

I've been making firm progress in this goal recently, especially in the past month, and hopefully you guys will have noticed with the increase in classics posts, and posts in general! I only managed to get one post in in June (shameful I know), but I've whacked out five or six in July I believe, and I really hope this continues in August. 

Edgar Huntly, Or Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker is set in Philidelphia in the late 1700s. The main character, Edgar, sets out to discover who murdered his best friend Waldegrave. As he does so, he comes across a man called Clithero, digging by an elm tree in the middle of the night. Assuming him to be the murderer, Edgar confronts him once they are both awake. Clithero however has an unlikely story to tell, which does involve murder, but not that of Waldegrave.

Here the reader is transported to Ireland, a place that Clithero holds dear in his heart, and taken through a gothic journey to discover why Clithero has moved so far away from everything he loves. Satisfied with Clithero's tale, Edgar takes himself back to his home, only to arise battered and bruised in the depths of a cave. 

From here, we are taken on a fantasy-filled voyage involving jaguars, aggressive Indians, captive girls and a lot of bloodshed. This book examines battles between native Americans and settling Europeans in an incredibly graphic and direct manner. If you're interested in that time period, then I'd definitely recommend giving this a read!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Review of 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' by James Joyce

Review of 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' by James Joyce.

I warned you guys that I'd be reading a few more classics in the coming months, so here we are with a novel by Irish author James Joyce from the early part of the twentieth century. If you've been following my blog for quite a while (well over a year!), you'll know that I read and reviewed The Dubliners some time ago. This was one of the very first Modernist texts I ever read and quite frankly I was baffled. It took a hefty amount of googling and a cheeky peek at Sparknotes (aka the English student's bible) until I even had a vague idea of what was going on with it.

Thankfully, A Portrait wasn't quite as difficult to get into, although it did feel a little like wading through treacle at times. Despite having a partly Irish heritage, I've actually read hardly any Irish literature, apart from the reams of Seamus Heaney poetry that was forced upon me during my A-Levels. I really want to start broadening my horizons to this little island a bit more in the future, so hopefully you'll hear some more Irish authors popping up here and there on this blog!

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man follows the story of Stephen, a young Irish boy who begins to abandon the Catholic faith as he grows older. It is said that the book is greatly influenced by Joyce's own life as a boy and teen, which goes some way in explaining the title. Stephen grows physically, intellectually and spiritually as the novel progresses, and the reader gets to witness how these three aspects of his persona come together to form the almost-adult Stephen. As he grows, he begins to question the very things we see him preaching early on in the novel, until he eventually rejects Catholicism altogether. It is incredibly interesting from a historical/cultural point of view to witness a character do so, and I would definitely recommend reading it if you have an interest in Irish history.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Friday, 22 July 2016

My 10 favourite classics of all time

I think it's been over a year now since I posted anything other than just a straight up review on here, and I've decided to make things a little bit more varied over the next couple of months. I'm kick-starting this with this super-quick top 10 classics post. Hopefully (maybe?) it'll inspire your choice in the next classic to read, or you'll be able to relate with me on some level about my love for that particular text. So, without any further babble, let's go. 

In no particular order, here are my 10 favourite classic texts of all time:

1.) Pablo Neruda's poetry, in particular 'Ode to the Clothes'. He manages to make the most ordinary of things the most beautiful, and really changed my opinion of what poetry could do.

2.) Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Let's face it, this was always going to be on my list, I mean, I am an ex-English student after all. This was the first text I ever remember studying in which it was clear that the author had imbued every scene with symbolism and hidden meanings.

3.) Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. This is one of his earliest and least famous texts. It's also one of his bloodiest and seeing it at the RSC was a once-in-a-lifetime treat for me that I'll never forget.

4.) Dickens' Bleak House. Part of me has no idea why I like this - it's long, I had to make a physical list of characters so I didn't get confused, and the plot has about 17 thousand strands. But, seeing all those strands come together and finally reading a book in which Dickens offered a fairly realistic insight into the mind of a woman (for once) made it all worth it. 

5.) Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Pre-warn: there are going to be a fair few Victorian texts on here, but I love them, so we're all just gonna have to deal with it. This is possibly my favourite book of all time, and it's something that I really savour coming back to time and time again. I've possibly read it five? times now and each time I come away feeling bowled over by this woman's incredible writing.

6.) Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. I actually remember borrowing this off of my mum when I was a teenager and I fell totally in love with the whole Jane-Rochester debacle. I'd tried reading Austen before, and assumed all Victorian texts fell under the same dreary brush (sorry Austen fans), but this definitely opened up my eyes to the power of Victorian literature.

7.) Stoker's Dracula. I've got a little confession here: I only actually read this for the first time about a year and a half ago. It's one of those texts that was so hyped up I was actually put off of it. When I read it however I was totally wowed by how many of our notions about Vampires come from this one text, and how forward it was in terms of discussing sex.

8.) Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles. All I can say is that I warned you about how much of this would be Victorian. Sorry not sorry. Seriously though, get your hands on an unedited copy of this and you can get a real insight into how society treated a 'fallen' aka non-virginial woman, way back when.

9.) Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. This broke my heart and mended it all over again about seven times. If you're looking for an insight into the world of America's slave trade, then this is a good place to start.

10.) Donne's 'The Broken Heart'. I actually read this Medieval poem when I was studying my a-levels, in an attempt to secure some extra reading to help with my university application. What I didn't envision was falling totally in love with it and finding what still remains my favourite poem of all time.

I honestly thought I was going to struggle to think of 10 texts, but here I am struggling to contain all my favourites within a mere list of ten. I feel like writing this post in itself has been a journey for me, reminding me of why I love reading, and why certain books touched me at certain points in my life. I'm also feeling totally inspired to get back in to reading poetry and plays, to the extent that I'm now considering having a 'poem of the week' post once a week. Would you guys like that? I'd love to hear some input!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Review of 'Just a Monumental Summer'* by M Schneider

I'm so so sorry I don't have a picture for this one guys, but stick with me! If you’ve read any of my past reviews, you’ll know that I love books that can teach me things about a culture I’m not familiar with or a political system that I’ve never really learnt much about. I love discovering what it’s like to live in different places across the world: what I would prefer about living there, and why perhaps I wouldn’t want to move there. Just a Monumental Summer is possibly the first book I’ve ever read that is entirely set in Romania, and as such provided me with a unique insight into the workings of the country. I sped through this book as I just couldn’t wait to see what would happen next, or learn more about this beautiful, but politically corrupt country. If you want to learn a little something new about Romania, then I would definitely give this a go!

Mona needs to get away from her old life. Although her family loves her, she knows she can’t go back and face them after failing the University entrance exams that could have revolutionized all of their lives. So, she takes a train to Costinesti, a seaside town, and intends to spend the summer adventuring upon a path of self-discovery.

Mona expects to learn new things about herself during that summer, but what she doesn’t anticipate is meeting a hot young band member on the train to the coast, and having wonderful sex right there on the train. Sex has never been something big for Mona, just something she does to get by, to manipulate men into doing what she wants. But what if this time it’s something more than that? When Mona and band member Alin reach Costinesti they remain paired together, and she gets to meet all of his friends and discover what it’s like to be part of the entourage of a rock band.

Part of Mona really wants to spend her summer falling deeper and deeper in love with Alin, but what if the demons from her past take over? She’s never been good at being tied down, but can Alin’s love for her persuade her heart to take root?

On the whole I loved how the plot moved along, as Schneider managed to effortlessly combine a tale of love with a tale of shifting politics. However, there were moments when things fell down a little. I would have loved to see all of the plot strands come together in a glorious braid at the end of the novel, but instead some were left frayed, and it begged the question as to what they were doing in the novel in the first place.

Possibly my favourite aspect of the plot was the fact that Schneider had a whole variety of different relationships from people of different backgrounds and classes in communist Romania present in the book. I greatly enjoyed discovering how politics and gendered expectations impacted these relationships, and why they ultimately failed.

All in all, this was a good read that, with a little bit of work from the author, could become a great read. Politics, friendship and love all come under scrutiny through Mona’s experience of her monumental summer. 

You can buy Just a Monumental Summer here

What do you think - would you give it a go? It comes out today!

Monday, 11 July 2016

Review of 'Talismano' by Abdelwahab Meddeb

Starting this novel really made me think about just how Westernised my literary sphere is. I've read a couple of Japanese and Chinese texts (translated into English of course), but aside from that I almost exclusively read English and American texts. I rarely even branch out to European ones.

So, I ventured off into this avant-garde text written by a Tunisian author living in France with no idea what to expect in terms of tropes or themes or setting. I've read a few avant-garde texts before, the most memorable of which were definitely A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid) and the poetry of Gertrude Stein. Seriously though Stein, you just endlessly elude me. I was basically prepared for this to be a little intangible as a result of this, and it definitely felt that way once I started the book.

I would probably describe Talismano as a sensory exploration of the clashing cultures of France and Tunisia. It is almost a recollection of the author's experiences in both places that are brought back through the haze of memory. As such, there are very few moments of dialogue, and it is hard to find one clear plot strand that continues coherently throughout the text.

The main message you receive amidst all the decadent sensual journeys of the text is that fundamentalist Islam needs to be altered to bring Tunisia into modernity. Meddeb himself is a strong believer in this ideal, and believes that Western influences may in fact nurture Tunisian Islam to a point of peace and prosperity. 

The book is separated into three sections: 'Return Prostitution', 'Idol Ghetto' and 'Otherworld Procession'. The first section discusses the narrator's return to Tunis, and with this return comes a flood of memories of the brothels he has visited and still visits. The second section moves away from this bodily lust to a feverish mob atmosphere. The third is somewhat self-reflective, and moves between France and Tunisia, discussing writing and politics amidst a once more heady descriptive monologue.

I absolutely loved reading this text - it's like nothing I've ever read before, and was genuinely provocative. It made me pause to consider my surroundings: gather up the sounds, the smells, the sights, the tastes and my own sensations. It made me consider our Western world in an entirely new light. Most importantly perhaps, it opened up to me a whole new text that was like nothing I've ever read before. 

I definitely feel much more encouraged to move away from Westernised texts and see what the rest of the world has to offer. So hopefully my reviews are about to get a whole lot more varied!

Have you read this? What did you think?

Monday, 4 July 2016

Review of 'The Blithedale Romance' by Nathaniel Hawthorne

What, two posts in two days? I know right, total chaos over here. One of my goals for July is to get back into book blogging and writing reviews, so here we are with another glorious classic. In case you missed it, you can have a peek at yesterday's review of The Thirty Nine Steps here.

For far too long, I assumed that American literature was basically the same as English literature, until I took a couple of modules at university that pointed out to me that American authors actually strove to move away from English literature, to make their own distinct genre. Having now learnt a bit about early American literature, I can see that The Blithedale Romance is unapologetically American.

This dark romance is said to be inspired by Hawthorne's own experiences at attempting to create a utopian society of intellectuals. This occurred at a place called Brook Farm. Although the author disclaims that the fictional events and characters of the novel do not resemble real life, many critics stated that there were clear parellels between the novel and some of the inhabitants of the Brook Farm commune.

The Blithedale Romance centres around its protagonist's, Miles Coverdale's, attempt to move away from modern life, and back to a simpler time at Blithedale farm. He joins a community there, and over a matter of months begins to feel his body and mind transforming to a less intellectual and more agricultural mode. Despite there being a reasonably sized population at the commune, Miles is only concerned with the fates of three individuals: Zenobia, Hollingsworth and Priscilla. 

Zenobia is the female patriarch of the commune, and as such, from a feminist viewpoint, it is interesting to see the speeches that Hawthorne accredited to her character. She greatly believes in the power of women, and thinks that men have covered up the female voice of intellect for far too long. Zenobia is a beautiful but somewhat mysterious creature, best known for her insistence on wearing an exotic flower in her hair at all times, and Miles' obsession with its presence.

Hollingsworth is seen as a threat to Coverdale: Miles almost seems to believe that without Hollingsworth there, he would be the 'top dog' of the male aspect of the commune, yet there is little evidence to support this belief. Despite declaring the animosity between the pair at the beginning of the novel, Hollingsworth treats Miles with the most respect, and even tends to him during his time of sickness.

And then we have Priscilla. She simultaneously maintains a position at the centre and at the edge of the novel and it's plot. This weak and delicate young girl is shrouded in mystery from the very start of the novel. Zenobia's rejection of her love and Hollingsworth's admiration of the girl never cease to baffle Coverdale.

Alongside the tale of the perhaps not-so-idyllic Blithedale farm, are the stories about the mysterious Veiled Lady. Coverdale seems almost obsessed with following the trail about her, but why is this creature from 'the other side' so interesting to him? And is she paranormal or actually on this earth?

Have you read The Blithedale Romance? What were your thoughts?

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Review of 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' by John Buchan

June marked the two year birthday of my one true love, aka MR Kindle. So, I decided to tie up some loose ends on it. When I first got my kindle I was a little eager beaver, wanting to download a tonne of the free classics you can get on a kindle because the concept of free books was totally new to me. This was one of them, and as you can (presumably) tell, it sat on my digital bookshelf until now. Whoops. 

Since graduating last year, I've been on an anti-classics rampage. No longer governed by my professors, I've been free to read whatever I want, whenever I want, and it's been glorious. However, recently I noticed that I felt as though there was something missing in my literary life: I'm done with being wayward, and want to get back to my roots of reading anything and everything, and delving into history through classics.

So, with a little spring in my step, I finally embarked upon reading The Thirty-Nine Steps ... and was met with a dark, almost Gothic novel. Did you ever read The Secret Seven or The Famous Five as a child? Well imagine them, but with a little more death and dark mystery, and you have The Thirty-Nine Steps. Even the title has an almost Blyton-esque air doesn't it?

Buchan himself described the novel as a 'shocker' - something which shocks the reader, but liminally remains believable. When I was reading the novel, I was faced with the query - why has this gone down in history as a classic? It's a good book, but the storyline is nothing too special. However, what I failed to recognise at this point is that the book was extraordinary at the time of publication. Modern filmmakers and writers often feature plots that are based around a man on the run, a thriller of movement - this was one of the very first of the type to be published.

Richard Hannay, the novel's protagonist and narrator, is instantly intrigued when a man appears on his doorstep declaring to be 'already dead'. Soon, Hannay is informed that the man has faked his own death, and needs somewhere to hide out from the people that are hunting him. So Hannay, ever resourceful, helps the 'dead man' Scudder to find a real dead body and arrange it so that no one will be able to tell that Scudder is alive and free. Their plan all goes well until Hannay returns to his apartment one night to discover that Scudder has in fact now really been murdered. Feeling implicated in his new found friend's death, Hannay feels as though there is nothing for it but to continue Scudder's work.

It's 1914, and Europe is on the brink of war. Scudder is not merely some unimportant man living amidst the masses in London, but a spy, trying to save England from invasion. Now that he's gone, it's up to Hannay to pick up where he left off. The only problem? Now he's on the run, and the only thing he has to help him is the little coded black book Scudder left behind.

If you're a fan of murder mysteries, then this is definitely something I would add onto your to-read list of Summer 2016!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Review of 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens

Book review of 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens -

Okay, okay, I know I'm being one billion percent cliched here by not only reviewing a Dickens novel, but also using this quotation. However, as they say, in for a penny, in for a pound right? I'm a big lover of 19th century fiction (in case you hadn't gathered from my blog already), and I love to come back to the genre time and time again to find something new. Despite his general misogyny, Dickens does really have a piercing insight into the world of 19th Century class division, in a way in which the likes of Austen, or, god forbid even Hardy, never reaches.

A Tale of Two Cities moves between London and Paris during the upheavals involved with the French Revolution. However, as well as telling the story through the physical cities, Dickens also examines it through the love between Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay. 

Despite her French name, Lucie was brought up in London, an orphan, until she is met with the news that her father is in fact alive in Paris, and had been a prisoner in the Bastille. She heads to this other great city, retrieves her, by all means unwell, father and returns with him to London. Thereupon begins a great and tragic love story between her and Darnay. The one problem? He has a secret that encompasses both cities. A secret that Lucie's father keeps close to his chest, as he is the only one other than Charles that knows of it.

Charles was once a member of a great family, and escaped from France a few days before a law was passed sentencing all aristocratic emigrants to death upon their return to the country. He receives a letter informing him that one of his loyal servants has been captured for his misdeeds, and he is obliged to return in order to save him. From there, the little family face many trials and tribulations, and must escape a city that has struck an endless cry for blood.

I've read quite a number of Dickens' books, and here again we fall into the trap of women either being angels or demons. However, he does uphold the role they had to play in the falling of the Bastille and its aftermath; giving them some kind of political standing. As always the novel was filled with twists and turns that kept you wanting more and more. For once however, we weren't overrun with myriads of new characters, but rather were privy to a depth of character exploration often unseen in Dickens' work. 

I have previously studied the French Revolution in fairly great depth, so it was truly interesting for me to see the opinions of a Londonite author about the happenings in France. According to historians, it is pretty unlikely that Dickens headed to France himself during this period, which means that the interpretation we get in the novel runs off of rumours and news stories circulating London during this period. This does not however make the novel any less interesting, as it shows the general opinion of London at this time.

Have you read A Tale of Two Cities? What did you think?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Review of 'Shattered Rose' by Tammy L. Gray

My recent reviews have all been for vaguely chick flick-esque novels, and this one is another that fits into this category. I really wanted to take some time off of 'serious' reading, and read a few things that I could just kind of glide through with ease and comfort. Having said that, I've now started A Tale of Two Cities, so I'm back to getting the ol' cogs whirring.

Anyhow, if you have a Kindle, you can pick up Shattered Rose as a free ebook, and as free ebooks go it's really not all too bad. It's the first part of a trilogy, which I'm currently considering forging through after my current tome. However, unlike many free e-books you don't get half a story here, so that you basically have to go out and buy the second installment to actually understand the plot somewhat. Here we're given a full, stand-alone novel, with romance and some serious issues at stake.

TRIGGER WARNING - eating disorders

I'm so pleased that more and more authors are tackling serious mental illnesses, but I am honestly looking forward to a time at which there are warnings for triggers in a blurb, or at the start of a novel. Although it adds to the suspense I guess, there's nothing worse than suddenly coming across something that you didn't expect in a novel which can suddenly put your own mental health or recovery at risk. Avery, the protagonist of the novel, is under a great deal of pressure at college, and engages in a number of concerning behavioural patterns as a result of this. She tells no one at the college about her eating disorder, and grows more and more isolated as her recovery worsens. 

The novel tracks the toxic impression that people can have on someone struggling with an eating disorder. Avery begins to fall in love with her roommate's cousin, Jake, and the happiness that comes with their relationship means she becomes less and less reliant upon her eating disorder in terms of controlling her life. However, she also falls behind on college work. When Jake ultimately breaks her heart and she is alone once more, the stress of how behind she is piles on to her feelings of being unwanted: her eating disorder becomes worse than ever. I was a little disappointed to find that it improved once more when she finds a new man that her loves her; the author really seems to suggest that the 'cure' to an eating disorder is having a man to support you. I think this gives off a truly worrying impression to readers, especially young teenage girls (this is after all a young adult novel), as it indicates that being single makes you 'less worthy' of recovery, as Avery feels, when in fact this is not true.

Have you read it? What did you think?


Sunday, 8 May 2016

Review of 'The Girl in Between' by Laekan Zea Kemp

Sometimes when it comes to picking out a favourite quotation from a book I find it really hard - some authors just don't write in a way which appeals to me lyrically. But, with The Girl in Between I really was torn between a handful of quotations because this book was written so well. This one spoke out to me largely because it impacts the way I read, as well as the way I think about people. I'm always looking for the 'bad' character or 'good' character and sometimes it's nice to have a reminder that, just like real people, characters aren't always that simple. 

I haven't read a book with a fantasy aspect to it in what feels like absolutely forever, so this was really quite refreshing. The main character, Bryn, has an incurable disease called Klein-Levin Syndrome (or KLS for short). This means that sometimes when she falls asleep she doesn't wake up for days, or occasionally even weeks. Normally people who suffer from KLS experience a dreamless sleep, but every time Bryn has an episode she wakes up in an almost new world. This world is filled with all of her memories, and the details are so intense in it that she can even see the words of books she read years ago and the weather on certain days that she spent with family or friends.

Bryn is fairly used to this dream world, but what she doesn't expect is to find a boy washed up on the shore there one day. She knows she hasn't met him before, so what is he doing in her memory bank world? The boy can't give her any answers either: he has no idea who he is, where he came from or what he's doing stuck there. Is he just a figment of Bryn's imagination, or is there something more serious going on here?

This was another free kindle read that had a MASSIVE cliffhanger at the end, and next time pay day rolls around, the second book in the series is going to be at the top of my to-buy list. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Steph x

Monday, 2 May 2016

Review of 'Once Gone' by Blake Pierce

Title: Once Gone
Author: Blake Pierce
Publisher: Unknown
Available here for free on your kindle

We all know that I'm a bit of a crime fiction-aholic, and I love a gory tale full of twists and turns that begs me to find out 'whodunnit'. Now, I'm always more of a fan of modern crime thrillers, where forensics and the law play a much bigger part in the plot than (sorry Agatha Christie fans), for example, the Poirot series. 

Once Gone had me hooked from the very first page. We start with a prologue written from the point of view of a captive woman, terrified about the return of her torturous captor. This was incredibly well written, and I was able to picture clearly the frightened state she was in as well as her gloomy surroundings. From here the book honestly went from strength to strength. I was expecting a pretty poor quality novel, as often the books you can get for free on your kindle are a bunch of mass produced drivel (sorry not sorry), but here is a shining light bursting through all of the garbage. The end was totally cliffhangered and I almost screamed in frustration I wanted to find out what was going on so badly. All I can say is I NEED to get my hands on the next book in the series!


When girls start turning up dead in the outskirts of Virginia, the FBI are called out to catch the creep that's leaving them this way. These murders are WAY over the heads of the 'normal' county cops due to the strange ritualistic style of the murders. Each girl is posed, covered in vaseline and has her eyes stitched open. If that's not terrifying enough, the only agent that is capable of solving such a case is still struggling with her PTSD after being captured by another creep wanting to torture women. Riley has been struck off the force temporarily, with a requirement of her improving her mental health before returning back to work, but when her ex-partner Bill gets to the first crime scene he knows there's only one person who can solve the case. Will Riley be able to conquer her trauma and help stop this guy before another girl winds up dead, or will it all be too much for her?

Have you read Once Gone? What did you think?

Steph x