Monday, 19 June 2017

Review of 'The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Review of 'The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I'm a BIG fan of BBC1's Sherlock series. I'm always gutted that each series is only three episodes long, but they are incredible. And yet, I've put off reading any Sherlock Holmes novels for years. I've always wondered how an entire show with multiple series' could be based around a couple of books, but now I see: each chapter of the novels (I assume it's the same for all of Conan Doyle's works as well as The Great Adventures) encompasses a new mystery. 

Sherlock Holmes has become a household name because he is the first detective in the English literary crime canon who used intuition to solve crimes rather than clues. This strikes a massive difference to what would then have been more traditional mysteries. I am a big fan of the intuitive detective: TV crime shows are my thing, and The Mentalist (a show all about a man using his intuition to solve crimes) is one of my favourites. I can't imagine this genre not existing. 

Also, now that I've read one of the books, I can see how Benedict Cumberbatch is the PERFECT fit for playing Sherlock Holmes. The detective is quirky, tall, and likes to brood. I honestly couldn't imagine anyone else playing him so well. Anyhow, let's actually get on to reviewing the book shall we?

The novel is written from the perspective of Dr Watson, who is Sherlock Holmes' second-hand man. Watson is always a few steps behind Sherlock, but he documents their adventures together. The pair come up against an array of mysteries in the novel, including kidnapping, bank robbery and murder. Sherlock always has a great many cases that he is being asked to work on, often by Scotland Yard, as his opinion is so highly revered.

Once on the scene of a crime, Sherlock sets to work examining every last detail visible to the naked eye. From here, and from interviewing witnesses, or the victims of the crimes, he begins to form an image of who may be responsible, or what exactly is going on. Then he is able to make a focused inquiry into the crime and ultimately arrive at his conclusion far before anyone else can.

If you're interested in crime novels, especially how they've developed in the last few centuries, then I would definitely recommend giving this a go!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Review of 'Highly Illogical Behaviour' by John Corey Whaley

Review of 'Highly Illogical Behaviour' by John Corey Whaley

I really haven't read a good number of mental health related fiction novels, despite being very interested in the genre. Highly Illogical Fiction is a young adult book which deals with acute agoraphobia and the anxiety that comes with it. In my opinion, the author tackles the subject excellently: there are no sudden cures to the protagonist's mental illness,  but there is gradual improvement, and that's what recovery is all about. 

Solomon hasn't left the house in three years. Not even just to enter his back yard. Three years ago, things came to a head with Solomon's mental health, and he had a breakdown at school, stripping down, jumping into a fountain and staying there until he was removed. After that, he realised he couldn't bear leaving the house again. His panic attacks had become so frequent and so severe that they were no longer something he could handle.

Three years on and Solomon is doing a little better. Yes, he doesn't leave his home, but he keeps up with schoolwork and the panic attacks are less frequent, albeit they still occur. Everything is going fairly smoothly, and nothing is changing: just as Solomon wants. That is, until Liza comes around.

Liza Praytor wants nothing more than to leave her hometown by getting a scholarship to a good university to study psychology. But she needs to write a paper on her experience with mental illness. Not suffering from a mental illness herself, Liza hardly believes her luck when she goes to a new dentist and it turns out to be Solomon's (aka the crazy fountain kid's) mum. After a little snooping, Liza finds out that he's still stuck at home, and decides to befriend him and write her paper on how she's going to help to make him better.

Solomon reluctantly agrees to meet with this girl who sent him a letter via his mother, asking for them to be friends. Their friendship blossoms, and she begins to help him with his panic attacks. There's just one problem: Solomon has no idea that this is all going on record; an experiment aimed to get Liza the place at university that she wants ...

Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Review of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Truman Capote

Review of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Truman Capote

And I said, what about, Breakfast at Tiffany's, she said she thinks she remembers that film.

I've had these lyrics stuck in my head for as long as I've been reading this novel, and I'm pretty sure everyone's sick of me constantly singing it. It goes to show how much this novel has affected modern culture: we have songs about it, a film about it. Speaking of the film, it features one of Audrey Hepburn's most iconic acting and looks. I had to see what all the fuss was about.

I was honestly surprised with the sexual liberation that emerged in Breakfast at Tiffany's. It actually challenges some conservative ideas that people still hold today. Holly Golightly, our protagonist, is essentially an escort. She earns her way through life by attaching herself to rich men, and doing (mostly) what they wish. Despite being accused of whoring herself out by several characters, Holly has only slept with seven men. 

Sadly for our narrator, he was not one of the seven, and at some points I'm sure he would have loved to have been. Through him, we realise that Holly is a woman who will never be boxed into a corner. All her possessions are eternally ready to move at any point. She can flit from one lover to another. She's almost an ethereal being in this respect: things and people don't impact Holly, Holly impacts things and people. 

I was truly surprised, and honestly happy to see that Holly was not straight. This is probably the oldest book that I've read in which a bisexual main character exists, and is free with the information about it. There are points at which Holly calls herself a 'dyke' in pretense; she uses the word to get out of sexual encounters with men. However, she does mention having sex with a woman at one point. This unfortunately fits into the homophobic rhetoric of bisexual women being promiscuous and sleeping around, but we do find out that Holly does not have as much sex as she seems to be having. 

I think this is such an important book to read, and to compare to American novels written a couple of decades beforehand. I haven't read many North American books written in the early 1960s, so it really felt like a massive shift was had when I came across this.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Review of 'The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes' by Anna McPartlin

Review of 'The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes' by Anna McPartlin

I knew this novel would be a tear-jerker from the start, but I wasn't prepared for just how attached I'd get to all of the characters. Reading this book made me feel like I was part of the Hayes family, and to ultimately lose one of them was devastating. Also, I haven't put a spoiler alert on this because the title makes it fairly clear that we're going to lose somebody during the course of the story.

Mia Hayes has been coined Rabbit ever since Johnny, a member of her older brother Davey's band coined the name for her due to her high long pigtails, and habit of scrunching her nose up to push her glasses up. Rabbit is obsessed with Johnny, and despite being four years younger than him, she never loves another boy. She spends all her spare time listening to Kitchen Sink, the band, playing in her parents' garage, and even ends up becoming their sound engineer when they start doing actual gigs.

This isn't how the reader first meets Rabbit though. We meet her as she's moved into a hospice to ease the pain she's suffering from with her stage four cancer. Rabbit thought the cancer was gone after it took her first breast, and then her second, but now it's so deep-rooted that it's made its way into her bones, and she's suffering from a serious break. 

What's worse is that no one can quite stomach the idea of telling Rabbit's 12-year-old daughter Juliet. Neither Rabbit nor Juliet know who Juliet's father is, and so it's always just been the pair of them, sticking together. The rest of the family: Rabbit's parents and her siblings, have rallied round. No one wants to believe that sweet Rabbit is quite literally on her death bed, and we go through a journey with each family member and how they begin to accept that they might lose their Rabbit.

This was such a beautiful novel. I would definitely recommend it!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Review of 'Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman' by Mary Wollstonecraft

Review of 'Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman' by Mary Wollstonecraft

We've all heard of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but Shelley's mother's literary-political works are much less well-known. Today I'm going to be talking about one of them. Maria, or the Wrongs of  Woman is an early radical feminist novel, which unfortunately has no ending. There are several fragmentary endings, but none are complete or fully coherent, as the author died before she had finished the work; it was published posthumously by her husband. 

The novel commences with Maria in an asylum. Her husband has placed her in there, as she attempted to flee his control, and has seized her child. Maria is completely sane. The woman who waits on her, Jemima, soon comes to realise this, and sneaks books in for her to read. These she shares with a fellow inmate Dartford. He's been put in the asylum because of a night on which he drink far too much; he too is sane. The pair begin to communicate through writing on the margins of the texts they both read. 

Soon, Maria begins to fall for Dartford. He becomes more and more intrigued by her character and ultimately requests her to spell out her past to him. Maria's husband seemed like a wonderful man prior to their marriage, but she soon realises that he's a libertine. As well as spending all of their money with no cares, he repeatedly cheats on her. Maria draws further away from him, and the idea of having sex with him becomes abhorrent. He forces himself upon her and Maria gets pregnant. Things are getting worse and worse, and Maria knows she needs to get away, but the social climate simply won't allow it...

Have you read it? What did you think?

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Review of 'The Story of an African Farm' by Olive Schreiner

Review of 'The Story of an African Farm' by Olive Schreiner

Whenever I read a novel from the first-wave feminism era, my reaction is generally split into two: I'm either shocked at how forward-thinking the novelist is, or appalled at how restricted their thinking is. The Story of an African Farm falls into the former category. 

As it's part of first wave feminism's literary movement, although the novel is set in Africa, we don't see any intersectional feminism. It's very much about a Dutch white family living in South Africa and how they approach feminist ideals.

At the beginning of the novel, the three protagonists Em, Lyndall and Waldo are children. Waldo is an overtly Christian boy, who believes in the teachings his father passed down to him, whilst Lyndall constantly expresses more modern ideas about the world she lives in. 

Lyndall leaves the farm to study at a boarding school, but comes home disheartened at the fact that they teach her 'women's duties' such as sewing. She wanted to learn about the world, become more adept in mathematics and scientific study. Back at the farm, Em has fallen for a man named Gregory, who loves her easy feminine acquiescence and mannerisms. He hates Lyndall when he first meets her: she is abrupt, outspoken and 'unwomanly'. But soon he sees a charm in her that he overlooked at first. Now Gregory falls for Lyndall.

Gregory asks for Lyndall's hand in marriage. She however, has other ideas. Lyndall does not plan to get married, ever. She's in love with a stranger, whom the others have never met, but tells Waldo that she intends to cohabit with this man. She does not wish to marry as she wants both herself and her lover to be free to move on if the relationship wears thin. This was obviously quite a revolutionary idea at the time, and it's interesting to see how Schreiner lets it play out.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Review of 'The Beautiful and the Damned' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Review of 'The Beautiful and the Damned' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

We all love The Great Gatsby, right?! It's practically a rite of passage in the UK if you do an English A-Level. I studied it for a second time whilst I was at university, and out of my 15-person seminar, only 1 person hadn't studied it before, and that was because they were an international student with a very different curriculum. 

I loved TGG. It was the simplest book to analyse - I mean, the colour symbolism is good enough to keep you writing for days. I knew that I'd want to read more works from Fitzgerald in the future. 

The Beautiful and the Damned strangely reminded me more of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath than TGG. It had the same soul-crushing destruction of the ideal of the American Dream. As you moved through the book, you began to realise just how hollow the protagonists Gloria and Anthony were; not hollow as characters, but hollow as people. They were empty shells of people, filled with airy dreams. As we move throughout the book, piece by piece their dreams start to crumble, and by the end, the pair have nothing inside them anymore. 

Anthony Patch is the grandson of an infamous New York philanthropist. As such, he feels it's a bit pointless to work: he's going to inherit a fortune one day, so why bother? Gloria is a beautiful young woman who has the attention of any and every man she could want. Yet, she just toys with them: none really appeal to her until she meets Anthony. His flippant cynicism awakens something in her, and she finally finds herself actually wanting a man.

After their marriage, things get a little rocky. Anthony's once proficient allowance from his grandfather is a lot less useful when stretched between two people. The amount of parties, having two homes and buying new clothes all the time hardly helps either. As he gets more stressed about their financial situation, Anthony beings to drink heavily. 

They're having the time of their lives, and the hangovers from partying the night before are worth it for the party itself. That is, until Anthony's grandfather (who advocates prohibition) walks in unexpectedly during one of their drunken flings. He struts out, disgusted by the pair, and dies a few weeks later. They're no longer in his will. Now begins a great legal battle to have Anthony re-instated as legal heir to at least part of the millions the old man had amassed. As the battle goes on, Anthony and Gloria become more and more disillusioned with the lives they lead, and it's not until Anthony trains for the war that they realise how pointless their existence had become

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Review of 'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell

Review of 'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell

Do you ever come across books that you just completely connect with on a personal level? I felt this so much with Fangirl, to the extent that I had to put it down a few times to take some breathers, because well, fuck, the book was really impacting me. In some ways, I wish I had come across it when I was 18, but in others I think it would have hit far far too close to home, and been too intense for me to handle. Retrospectively, I can see how much it would have upset me to read it, but I can also see how similar my life was to a couple of the characters, in particular Wren. 

Cather and Wren's mum didn't know she was having twins when they were born, and she had only one name in mind: 'Catherine'. So, they became Cather and Wren. The girls have been inseparable since birth, especially as their mum didn't stick around for too long. They were left to pick up the mess that was their dad, and everything that happened just served to bring them closer. They even share their number one passion: Simon Snow books (and the movies of course). Think Harry Potter but with vampires too. 

Magicath and Wrenegade are their online alter egos, fangirls of the Simon Snow tribe. They've been writing fanfiction together for years, but Wren's starting to pull away. Soon it's just Magicath writing, and she gathers a following of over 35K readers. Cath's no longer just writing for herself: she can feel the weight of a whole community on her shoulders.

When the pair head to university, Cath is distraught because Wren decides that she wants a new roommate. She cuts her hair short, gets rid of her glasses, and Cath feels alone in a world that she's always been paired in. As Wren embraces university life with parties, drinking and new guys, Cath becomes more introverted, and struggles to even find her way to continue writing fan fiction.

Fangirl is all about how everything changes at the start of university, but also tells us that it's okay for everything to change, even if it's scary.

I loved this novel, and would definitely recommend it to any YA fiction fans! Have you read it?

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Review of 'Frozen Charlotte' by Alex Bell

Review of 'Frozen Charlotte' by Alex Bell

I haven't read a modern horror book in YEARS. So long in fact, that I'm pretty sure the last one I read would have been part of the Goosebumps series. FYI, I loved that, but somehow I fell out of love with all things creepy. I'm just not a horror sort of girl. Scary films overwhelm me and give me nightmares, and I'm more of a fan of a classic Gothic novel than anything written this century. It's far too close to home. But, Frozen Charlotte was part of 2016's Autumn Zoella book club and I couldn't resist giving it a try. Despite being totally petrified by the plot of the novel, I found the whole adrenaline rush of reading something that scary incredible. I definitely will be keeping an eye out for more Alex Bell books in the future.

Frozen Charlotte begins with a ouija board app. Two friends, Sophie and Jay decide to try and contact the dead from Jay's phone in their favourite cafe. They pick Sophie's dead cousin, Rebecca, who passed away in a tragic accident when she was seven. As they attempt to contact her, the lights in the cafe go out, and a waitress is badly burnt by hot cooking oil. Sophie thanks Jay for holding her hand when it all got a lil scary, but Jay denies touching her. His last question to the board was 'when will I die?'. The reply? 'Tonight'. 

Jay doesn't make it through the night, and Sophie needs answers. Was her cousin's spirit responsible for Jay's death? She heads to the Isle of Skye to visit her uncle and Rebecca's brother and sisters, Cameron, Lilias and Piper. From the offset nothing sits right. Cameron's no longer the sweet boy she remembers, and Lilias is constantly spooked. Within the first few nights, Sophie starts having extreme nightmares and feeling unsafe in the house. And the tiny porcelain 'frozen Charlotte' dolls in her dead cousin's room don't exactly help either ...

Have you read it? What did you think?

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Review of 'Sophie's World' by Jostein Gaarder

Review of 'Sophie's World' by Jostein Gaarder

Sophie's World has been sat on my bookshelves since I was about ten years old. I think it was actually a present for my sister when we were kids: her name's Sophie and the gift-giver thought it was funny. I imagine they overlooked the fact that it was a deep philosophical text that I struggled a little to get my head around over the past few weeks.

This novel is without a doubt completely mind-blowing. It totally turned on its head what I thought of the world and of novels about 17 times, and I was genuinely astounded by so many areas of progression in the text.

If you don't want any spoilers, then look away now! Sophie's World begins with a young girl called Sophie receiving letters about philosophy in her mailbox. They start all the way back at the Ancient Greek Philosophers, and with each new envelope comes a new development in the history of philosophy. Sophie is scared that her mother will find out about her secret correspondence with a philosopher, so she does all she can to meet him in person.

However, as Albert Knox, the philosopher, continues to teach her, stranger and stranger things happen. Sometimes he calls her Hilde, and she keeps getting postcards addressed to this girl sent to her. Soon strange things start popping up in her town and in her home; things that she's never seen before. As things start to get more and more surreal, we leave the story behind, and realise that actually, Sophie's world is in itself a story. A story created by Hilde's father for her 15th birthday. All of the postcards sent to Hilde c/o Sophie arrived at Hilde's home by being inserted into the novel. Am I making sense? The book gets seriously trippy here, and had me sat back thinking about how everything made sense and yet made no sense at the same time.

If you want to learn more about philosophy, and see the linear structure of a novel completely turned on its head at the same time, then I would highly recommend reading Sophie's World! 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Review of 'Villette' by Charlotte Bronte

Review of 'Villette' by Charlotte Bronte

I LOVE the Brontes. Wuthering Heights is my favourite book in the entire world, and Jane Eyre comes up pretty close too. I've even read the slightly less well known Anne Bronte. Having said all of that, I really didn't fall in love with Villette as much as I did with the other novels.

Villette felt kinda torturously long. I mean, I've read a billion and one long novels from the same period, but this really felt like it dragged. I just couldn't connect with the protagonist Lucy Snowe as much as I've done with similar heroines. Everything about her just felt a little 2D. We  whizzed through her childhood and then spent the majority of the novel bound up in just a couple of years of her trying to find her way in the world. It was a sort of 'coming of age story' but without the romance I felt.

I mean, there was actual romance in the novel, just no stylistic romance. Lucy fell in love with a close family friend, Dr Bretton, and he was kind to her, but threw her aside as soon as he found a younger, prettier, richer replacement. He was never really intending to go any farther than friends with Lucy, but she didn't quite see this.

I think the main reason why I didn't get on with the novel is because I didn't find Lucy's character admirable, or particularly intriguing. She works at a school for girls in France, and a teacher who works alongside her is utterly vile to her. He makes her cry, feel out of place and feel inferior at every possible opportunity. But later in the novel we learn that he's a great philanthropist, and this makes him some kind of hero deemed worthy of Lucy's love??? He's even made out to seem like some kind of martyr for loving Lucy even though she's a Protestant. And naturally his behaviour is explained away as 'just the way he is'. It's kind of like the whole 'boys will be boys thing' *rolls eyes*.

You get a slightly similar relationship in Jane Eyre, with Mr Rochester being quite unfriendly to the governess, Jane, but it's definitely not on anywhere near as large a scale. All in all, I'm glad that I saw another side to Bronte's writing, but I can definitely see why Jane Eyre has remained the more popular novel!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Review of 'I Am Death' by Chris Carter

Review of 'I Am Death' by Chris Carter

I'm a big fan of crime dramas on TV. NCIS, CSI, the Mentalist, Dexter: you name it, I've probably at least dabbled in watching it. However, I've never branched out into reading crime novels. Agatha Christie is not a novelist whose work I've even attempted, and I've avoided all other great crime novelists bar Raymond Chandler. 

I Am Death follows Detective Robert Hunter and his partner's attempts to catch the work of one of the most horrific serial killers they've had the misfortune to engage with yet. The killer subverts all serial killer norms: he approaches the police directly (covering his tracks of course), taunts them, and changes his MO every single time he kills. Each murder is carried out on an unsuspecting female, who he has no persona relation to. The only similarity between each killing is that they maximise the amount of pain that the victim feels. And that the message 'I Am Death' is found with each body.

The Monster also keeps captive a young boy. This boy is named Squirm, and is forced to watch all of the killings: he is punished if he looks away. Squirm is mistreated in every way possible, and dehumanised to the point of being completely stripped of his name; it is replaced with Squirm. 

The investigation hot up with each new taunt, especially when the killer visits Detective Hunter's home, sliding a threatening letter under his door. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Review of 'Persuasion' by Jane Austen

Review of 'Persuasion' by Jane Austen

This is the third Jane Austen novel that I've attempted in my life, and the second that I've completed. Before reading Persuasion I really did hate her works. Pride and Prejudice is one of only a handful of books that I've started reading and not completed because I simple couldn't stand it, and Mansfield Park didn't win the author any favours with me either. But I think we've finally had a little breakthrough: Persuasion was tolerable, in fact it was even enjoyable. I'm kinda starting to see what the Austen hype is all about.

Anne Elliot, the novel's heroine is someone I can relate to. She's an Austen heroine who doesn't accept the first man that toodles along, and acts with a reasonable level of maturity. Anne's family are sinking financially, and her father needs to take some rapid action to save them from plunging into debt. Since the death of her mother, Anne has been a little isolated from the heart of the family - her sister Elizabeth and her father are eternally in cahoots, and they look down on her. But, she knows that a friend of the family, Lady Russell, holds sway with the pair, and between them they persuade the rest of the Eliots to downsize their home.

This isn't the biggest change for Anne however, as she soon goes to visit her sister whilst the remainder of her family move to Bath (a place she doesn't particularly enjoy). There she learns that a man she once loved as a young girl has returned from overseas. She listened to the advice from her family and Lady Russell, went against her heart's desire, and broke off her engagement from him. He was deemed to be beneath marrying an Elliot. Now, seven years on, he's made his way up in life, and Anne is more mortified than ever at her past actions.

Will she see if they can repair a seven year rift? Or will she succumb to other men's persuasions?

Have you read it? What did you think?

Monday, 20 March 2017

Review of 'Ceremony' by Leslie Marmon Silko

Review of 'Ceremony' by Leslie Marmon Silko

This was the most eye-opening and thought-inspiring book that I've read in a long time. It's also the first adult book that I've ever read that discusses the life of a Native American. This is honestly a novel which I think we should all read. It discusses good and evil, life and death, war and peace and all the grey areas in between in a variety of different forms. As well as narrative we have poems, which are more like oral ceremonies of tradition. These intertwine with the main plot of the novel as it draws towards a close. 

Ceremony's main character is Tayo, a young man suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after returning fighting in World War II. He is consumed by guilt after the deaths of his cousin Rocky and uncle Josiah. After the war, Tayo spends a few years in a mental institution, trying to recover from the hallucinations and physical symptoms of his PTSD. He gets a little better, and returns to his home with his auntie, but is by no means anywhere near recovered.

Tayo has been an outsider his whole life. His mother abandoned him when he was young, and his father was one of a possible myriad of white men, making him mixed race. Although he lives with his auntie and Grandma, he knows he is not respected by the community they live in as being a 'true' member of the family. 

He turns to alcohol to deal with the trauma of being a war veteran, as do his closest friends. The story of Tayo's recovery from being on the battlefront is interspersed with memories from the war, and his childhood and stories from folklore. The novel in itself becomes a sort of 'ceremony' of recovery. Tayo uses old Pueblo methods of healing to help move forward, and the modern story of the war is bound up in these.

I would definitely recommend reading this! Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Review of 'Lying About Last Summer' by Sue Wallman

Review of 'Lying About Last Summer' by Sue Wallman

I've really been digging YA fiction at the moment. So much so that next time I write up a book haul for y'all it's going to be pretty YA heavy. I've been interspersing them with a lot of dense classics, so it makes for a nice, easy reading break between all the kind of books that you're 'supposed to read'.

Lying About Last Summer is the second book from 2016's Zoella book club that I've read so far, and I loved it almost as much as the first one. It's a bit of a thriller, and we all know how much I fell in love with those last year, so I was naturally a big fan.

Lying About Last Summer is all about Skye's ability to deal with her sister's tragic death. One year previous to the novel, Luisa, her sister, was killed. And Skye was present. But, heeding her sister's advice and paralysed by fear, she did nothing until it was too late. 

Skye's life used to revolve around her swim team and badgering her older sister to spend time with her. But Luisa drowned, and Skye can't step foot into a pool without a panic attack. Her parents can no longer cope with living in the house that they lost a child in, so the family move and Skye becomes more isolated than ever.

Fast forward to the next summer, and Skye's parents have sent her to a camp for bereaved teens in an attempt to help her recover from Luisa's death. All is going well (or at least as well as it can do), until she opens up the old app, Message Hound, that her and Luisa used to chat on. They're the only ones with the passcode for their messages, so they used to use it for things they didn't want their mum to see. When Skye messages her sister, the last thing she expects is a reply ...

Have you read it? What did you think?

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Review of 'The Subjection of Women' by John Stuart Mill

Review of 'The Subjection of Women' by John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill is a name that has been bouncing around my ears for years. First he was a big figure on my A-Level Ethics course, and then he popped up again on my first-wave feminism studies module at uni. The Subjection of Women was first published back in 1869, and I imagined it would be so dry (read: Mary Wollstonecraft-esque) that I just skipped over reading it, but now that I've come back to it I can see how powerful it really is. 

The best (or worst?) thing about it, is that it lays out feminist goals in simple terms, and shows how little we've completely achieved. Mill calls for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. And that's what we're still fighting for. He asks that marriage be determined on equal grounds: women should retain their own property and have the ability to be heirs in their own rights. 

The greatest focus of the essay is upon marriage, and as such he goes into great lengths about the equality of partners within marriage in the eyes of the law. He suggests that women ought to have the right to divorce a husband on the grounds of abuse, and that they ought to have hold over their own money.

This long essay went against much of European conventions at the time. Reading it from a modern perspective makes you notice how forward-thinking Mill was. Still we often have inequality within marriage: women are required by tradition to take a man's name, and often expected to bend to a man's will, like the quotation above suggests. 

Mill also defended the intelligence of women, making the logical claim that there would be more successful female scientists and mathematicians if as many women as men studied the subject. He disputed the argument that women have smaller brains and smaller intellects because of the size of their heads also. 

If you want to get to know more about first wave feminism I would definitely recommend not doing what I did and skipping over this, but going for it as it truly was very eye-opening.

Have you read this? What did you think?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Review of 'Robinson Crusoe' by Daniel Defoe

Review of 'Robinson Crusoe' by Daniel Defoe

This book has been sat around on my shelves since I was about nine or ten. For real. That's well over a decade. It's remained unread the entire time, but it had a pretty cover so I kept it. Priorities and all that. Anyhow, for the longest time, I thought Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island were the same book, and that kind of shows how much interest I paid to the novel as it sat gathering dust.

I finally decided to put my curiosity at ease as to why this was a classic and get underway with the novel, and despite being fairly slow-going in some places, in others it was actually quite interesting. Robinson Crusoe is largely renowned for being the first English novel.

Robinson Crusoe is a young man who, like many others, doesn't really know what to do with his life. He needs to join a profession, and his father is keen to get him set up in one, but Crusoe decides he wants to sail for a bit before settling down. He heads off on a short voyage from one part of the UK mainland to another, and is shocked at the violence of a storm that his ship is swept up in. 

Robinson is not put off however; he's caught the sailing bug and wants to do it again. This time it's a longer voyage. All is going well until the ship is caught up in an even bigger storm, and ends up wildly missing its destination. Instead, the group of shipmates end up being captured by an African lord, and kept as hostages. Once Crusoe finds a way out, he cannot return to England: he is in but a tiny boat, and keeps close to mainland Africa. Finally, he ends up in Brazil and sets up a plantation there.

Robinson is at last making some good profits, but his neighbour suggests that they go on a voyage to capture slaves from America to work on the plantations they own, and Robinson cannot resist the temptation of being on the sea once more. The ship they travel on shipwrecks off of the coast of a small island, and Robinson is the only survivor. He must adapt to life alone on this island, and the majority of the novel tracks his progress as he does this.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Review of 'Ruth Hall; A Domestic Tale of the Present Time' by Fanny Fern

Review of 'Ruth Hall; A Domestic Tale of the Present Time' by Fanny Fern

Although I love reading older novels, it can sometimes be really hard to relate to them. We no longer live in a world where we need chaperones to wander around, or where you can only travel by foot, horse or train, or where you have to send letters to contact people. But the issues involved in this book are things that I still come into contact with all the time. It was startling, but nice to finally be able to properly connect with a female protagonist of the 1800s.

The novel opens just before Ruth Ellet marries Harry Hall. She's lucky: they genuinely love each other, and the match is a good one. Her family have money, but are only too glad to get the only girl of the family off of their hands. The Halls are not as wealthy. After their marriage, Ruth and Harry make do with the little money they have and are happy. They have their first child, and she is a wonderful creature, but dies young. Ruth is devastated, and struggles to recover from her grief.

Behind the backdrop of this family unit, is a pair of overbreaing in-laws. Harry's mother criticises everything Ruth does; she insults her housekeeping, spies on her, critiques the way she brings up her children, and has no sympathy for the mother who has lost a child. 

Soon Ruth and Harry have another two girls, and the family is becoming more financially stable. Ruth is happy. Suddenly Harry is struck with an illness. His parents won't take it seriously, and by time the doctor is permitted to be called it is too late. Harry passes away and Ruth is left alone to look after their young girls. But what about the Halls who always wanted more involvement in the pairs' marriage? They don't think they ought to support the young widow - she's not their child after all. Despite being very well off, Ruth's father and brother considered her done with: they felt that as she had married into the Hall's family, she was not their concern anymore. The village that her and Harry lived in loved the little family so much that they raised money for the poor widow, but her brother took it, vowing he would give it to her himself, yet he never did.

Ruth is forced to live on a pittance that her father guilt trips her about endlessly. It's hard for a woman to find work and she goes into poverty stricken lodgings. Ruth tries a variety of forms of work, but she is too physically weak for manual labour: grief has hit her hard.

Soon, Ruth struggles to raise enough income to support both children, and reluctantly agrees to allow her eldest to live with the Halls. She is determined to improve her monetary situation and get her daughter back asap. Ruth finally turns to writing, and after a long and strenuous toil begins to achieve some success from it. Writing saves both her mind and body.

I loved this book so much. Overbearing in-laws are the bane of my life, and I felt like I knew exactly how frustrated Ruth felt. It was also fab to see a girl win her own place in the world, and prove everybody that tore her down wrong. If you want a feel-good classic that's not as long as a Dicensian novel, or as wordy as a Hardy, then I would 100% recommend giving this a go.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Monday, 20 February 2017

Review of 'I Was Here' by Gayle Forman

Review of 'I Was Here' by Gayle Forman

As soon as I found out that Zoella was doing a book club with WH Smith I knew I wanted to look into it more, I won't lie. I've now ended up with almost all of the range, and this is the first one I've read. It was the one I was most excited for, after looking a little into the plot of each of the eight novels in the book club. It feels like forever since I read a YA novel, and it was SO comforting to read one again.

I was completely obsessed with the plot of this book, and finished it in just over a day, which is something that never rarely happens anymore. It was a 'stop everything' kind of novel, that I just had to finish.

I Was Here is all about a girl named Cody, who's best friend Meg killed herself suddenly, and with no real explanation. Cody thought they told each other everything, but she didn't know that Meg was even struggling with life, let alone that she wanted it to end. 

Meg and Cody have been inseparable for years. Cody's mum works all hours to support the pair of them, and she's never met her dad, so Meg's family feels like her own. When Meg dies, Cody feels cut off from everything. She wants to go and see the Garcias, but it's not the same without her. When Meg's parents ask Cody to travel to Meg's university and pack up her things for them, Cody's only too glad to get out of the small town they live in. 

When Cody arrives at Meg's dorms, she realises that there's a LOT going on that she didn't know. Like the fact that Meg was harassing her ex-boyfriend. Or that she rescued two kittens. Soon Cody realises that her and Meg did fall out of touch in the few months before Meg took her life. Still though, Cody can't believe that Meg made the decision to die alone. What if she didn't? 

We follow Cody on a course to track down other people who may have had a hand in Meg's death, and it becomes a complete page-turner as we do.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Review of 'Forbidden Colours' by Yukio Mishima

Review of 'Forbidden Colours' by Yukio Mishima

I'm feeling really good about the number of non-English/American novels that I've read recently, and here's another that I've been wanting to read for so long. Forbidden Colours is an avant-garde Japanese novel that I was supposed to read on my uni course, but it was one that I only managed to get half-way through before we had to move on. I was gutted, but I finally found time to finish it off, although I did have to start from the beginning again to remind me of all the plot intricacies of the first half. 

Forbidden Colours is initially narrated by protagonist and author within the novel, Shunsuke. He has written a myriad of books, largely about relationships and happy marriages, but he hides his secret of hating women behind them. He detests them, and considers the vagina abhorrent. As such, he is on his third wife by time the novel starts. 

When Shunsuke goes away on a brief holiday, he sees a beautiful young woman, who is in love with an equally beautiful young man named Yuichi. Shunsuke feels a connection to this young man, and they grow close. He discovers a misogyny within Yuichi akin to his own, and they make a sordid agreement: Shunsuke will pay Yuichi 500 000 yen to marry the young woman and make her life completely miserable. 

Shunsuke has realised that Yuichi is a young homosexual, and becomes attracted to the beauty in him. Soon the narrative switches to be based around Yuichi. His beauty is a magnet that attracts men and women wherever he goes. He soon begins to frequent a cafe for homosexuals, and becomes entangled with many men there. He will only pick the most beautiful, and will never agree to sleep with a foreigner. 

Whilst this is happening, he still beds his wife at home and gets her pregnant. He is terrified about the birth, about her having a son who lives his lief like Yuichi does. This drives a wedge even further between them. His mother and wife assume he visits prostitutes, and he allows them to be kept in this deceit. 

'Forbidden Colours' is the English translation of the Japanese title, but the original title is also a euphemism for homosexuality. The story reminds me a little of a more explicit Dorian Gray. Yuichi struggles with the morality behind his actions, but is obsessed by his own beauty and cannot stop. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Review of 'The Virginian, A Horseman of the Plains' by Owen Wister

Review of 'The Virginian, A Horseman of the Plains' by Owen Wister

The 'Wild West' is something that's never really grabbed my fancy too much, and as such I don't think I've ever actually read a book based around it. But it's such a massive part of the American literary canon that I couldn't ignore it forever. The Virginian is the first fully-fledged Western ever published, so I think it was a pretty good place to start!

The Virginian is the unnamed protagonist of the novel. He is a ranch hand who has an unsavoury past, but stands up for justice throughout the novel. The Virginian gambles, drinks and is no virgin to killing, but the latter he has only done to criminals, in particular, cattle rustlers. 

The Virginian's morally dubious past makes everything a little tricky when he falls for the new school marm in his town, Miss Molly Wood. The Virginian isn't a man who stays in one place; as a ranch hand he must move from place to place, wherever his work takes him. Soon, he begins to miss the town he belongs to, and the woman that stays there.

Molly too sees the allure in the badass ranch hand. But, when she learns of sordid details in his past, she is stuck with a moral dilemma. Does she agree to court the man she loves, even though his past is not clean?

Back in her home town, Molly was destined to marry a pure man that she had known since childhood, but she simply had no feelings for him. She knows her family would be against her pursuing a relationship with the Viriginian, but she does so eventually, and soon finds out who her true supporters are.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Review of 'Station Eleven' by Emily St John Mandel

Review of 'Station Eleven' by Emily St John Mandel

Every so often I find a book that I get obsessed with. And this is one of them. When I finished this, I spent a good couple of hours trawling the Internet to see if there's a sequel to the novel out yet. Spoiler alert: there isn't. I almost cried at the news.

Station Eleven is a novel that I really wasn't expecting much from. The blurb made it sound a little like The Walking Dead, which I love, but is honestly so repetitive. Thankfully, there was none of this in Station Eleven. 

The novel has no main protagonist, but rather centres around a group of characters that are all in some way connected with an actor named Arthur Leander. We meet his best friend, a couple of ex-wives, and a girl who worked on stage with him when she was a child. Arthur Leander passed away just before the virus hit, but many people weren't so lucky.

The virus was always going to be a fad, right? Like bird flu or swine flu, or any of the other flus that get eradicated almost instantly. After weeks of panic of course. This virus however, should have been taken seriously, but it spread too quickly for many people to even get a chance to hear about it, let alone become concerned.

Who knows why the virus killed off the people it did, but within a few months 99% of the population of America was gone. We travel through most of the novel with a travelling symphony, who believe that 'survival is insufficient' (in the words of Star Trek). They live 20 years after the virus hit, and have learnt that even with hardly any people left, some are willing to kill for territory, food or sport. 

Society has lost its way, naturally. There's no electricity, no processed food, no laws, and no governing power. There's a divide between people who can remember the 'before' and people who can't.

Alongside this aspect of the novel, we follow the life of Arthur Leander in a disjointed manner, through the accounts of various people involved in his life. This gives the reader a jarring comparison between the 'now' and the 'before', and shows us how trivial concerns were before the flu.

I found the book utterly terrifying, and intensely gripping at the same time. It was so real that I had nightmares about our world being hit with the same kind of virus, and I spent so long daydreaming about how I would handle life if I survived. 

This has honestly been my favourite book I've read in months, and I'd definitely recommend that you all give it a go!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Monday, 6 February 2017

Review of 'Coelebs in Search of a Wife' by Hannah More

Review of 'Coelebs in Search of a wife' by Hannah More

It's a bit scary that some people still adhere to the beliefs within this statement, which was written over 200 years ago. As you can probably guess, I wasn't the greatest fan of the morals set out within this novel, but yet I wasn't the least fan of it either. It's set worlds apart from the modern day, and despite this quotation being largely negative, it was actually seen as a feminist novel in its heyday. 

It largely looks at how to parent young girls, which was a bit of a risky topic back then, as it is now. Coelebs is looking for a wife (as you may have guessed), but every woman he comes across is too 'something'; they're too religious, or too dowdy, or too loose in their morals, or spend too much time reading novels (whoops). 

Coelebs' dying father asks him to spend some time with an old friend, Mr Stanley, after he passes away. Coelebs does this and is struck with the wonderful way in which Stanley raises his children, in particular his eldest Lucilla. They are taught from a young age that, though they are a family of means, the girls must do charitable work for the goodness of doing it, not for any praise or reward. They raise their own garden together, and sell the flowers they produce to raise money for the infirm in their area, or give the flowers for the poor to sell themselves. They are taught all aspects of domestic life and come to love them, as well as being competent in other pursuits such as singing and instrument playing.

All in all, Coelebs begins to see them as ideal women. And he falls in love with the eldest Lucilla, but does not know how to reveal this to her father. When he does, Mr Stanley tells Coelebs a tale that shocks and thrills him (as well as the reader)!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Review of 'A Grain of Wheat' by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Review of 'A Grain of Wheat' by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Do you remember when I promised you guys that I'd start doing more reviews of books written by authors from other parts of the globe, not just the UK or America? Well, I'm kick-starting it off with this one. This novel, written by Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o is set in Kenya during its struggle for independence from Britain.

We move back and forwards in time throughout the back, and switch frequently between different characters' perspectives. In this way, we come at the resistance movement against British rule from a number of different areas, and discover how it gathered strength as well as weaknesses.

The main character is arguably Mugo. A man who seems to not want to get involved in the fight. But he's always stuck at the centre of it. Mugo attained fame for being a man who couldn't be broken in the detention camps for resistance fighters. He was sent there for saving a woman from being beaten. But whatever the guards did to him, he would not break down and submit to them.

Kenya is preparing for Uhuru, or their Independence Day, but Mugo is backing away from it because of his guilt. He doesn't want to be hailed as a hero of the movement, because he knows he's not. But why?

Have you read it? What did you think?