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?