Posted in Books, Feminism, relationships, Reviews, Women's literature, Writing

Book Review: Circe – Madeline Miller

I’ve read so many books in my lifetime and I’ve since come to the conclusion that the secret to writing a good book all boils down to three things:

1. Find a compelling subject matter – preferably one that you personally feel passionate about.

2. Write a character that people would, at the very least, find unique and interesting. Someone they would want to get to know even if its not someone they would necessarily like.

3. Keep it simple. Tell the story as you would like it to be told to you: without an excess of metaphors, unnecessary angst or pseudo-clever narrative tricks. Just allow it to unfold as naturally as a person journeys through life, and you’re good to go.

Circe is a book that fulfils all three of those conditions and more. Its a story about a woman who was born different, and who has learned to live with and ultimately celebrate those differences.

She’s someone who chose to march to the beat of her own drums, who refused to be defeated when odds and Gods alike rose against her, and who devised a way to find happiness even in the depths of a miserable and unjust exile.

I love her.

She’s fierce, witchy, bitchy and uncompromisingly herself. She goes for what she wants and make no apologies for the lengths she will go through to achieve her goals. Lesser mortals and deities cower before her because she’s not afraid to fight for the right to be happy.

This book deserves all the praise and acclaim it received. I would read it over and over again, if only for the last 50 pages of absolute magic. Like I said, I’ve read a lot of books. Its rare for me to be surprised, or to finish a book and genuinely be able to say that I did not see that one coming.

I know this is a work of fiction, and I hate that the ending was left uncertain. I fell in love with this character so much that I want nothing else but for her to have her happy ending, because she’s fought so hard and asks for so little.

In fact, I’m choosing to believe that she’s out there somewhere, living her dream; a simple dream that most people take for granted.

Circe is a celebration of womanhood and what it means to really, truly be alive. It reminds us that the measure of a life well-lived is not riches or the absence of pain and troubles, its how we find peace and contentment despite all of it, its in the people we meet, and its in the joy of finding someone to go through it all with you and who will tell you, at the end of the day, that everything is going to be all right.

Five stars!

Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, women, Women's literature

Book Review: The Priory of The Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon

I’ve been trying to find words for the past 24 hours that will do this book justice and so far all I have to show for it are drafts that I’ve since decided were rubbish. Sometimes when a book comes out that is so ambitious in its scope, and just so damn interesting, words fail me.

Book like these are an experience. So much patience and skill went into the world-building, which we all know is the foundation of any good fantasy story. The Queendom of Inys, the mysterious Priory and the distant East all felt like real places, places that I would pay big bucks to visit I might add. Each separate location had its own language, religion, traditions and culture. Its a world that felt like it sprung fully-formed from the depths of the author’s imagination. She made it feel so easy and effortless, when it must have taken ages to piece all of it together.

The characters were as alive as the setting. First of all, I like that the members of the female population featured more prominently in this book than their male counterparts. I can see why its being called a feminist book. Its led by three strong women, each with their own distinct personalities, quirks, strengths and faults. One is a queen whose destiny is irrevocably tied to the fate of her country, another is a mage in hiding who’s been tasked to protect a queen. And the third? The third just wants to ride dragons.

Did i fail to mention there were dragons in this story?

They were such glorious, magnificent creatures in this book. You can tell how much enthusiasm Samantha Shannon had in writing them into the narrative, they totally stole each scene they were in. I loved how they were almost human in their portrayal, if that makes sense. Not only were they sentient beings they also had a a voice, a personality, and a sense of humour.

They were so involved in human lives that they even took part in war councils and contributed to political decisions. I know that having any sort of fire-breathing beings in your book will draw the inevitable comparison to Game of Thrones (intended to be a compliment I’m sure) but I think this book is a far cry from being any sort of imitation. I found it quite unique and original.

The story is rich and complex. A dynasty that was built on a lie is threatened by the arrival of an ancient enemy. Add to the mix some political machinations and betrayal, the formation and dissolution of alliances, and above all, the quest for the truth in order to keep a Queendom safe and what you have is a tale of epic proportions.

Despite the fantastical and magical elements though, this is a story that’s (strangely) very much grounded in reality. I certainly saw parallels with the current state of the world. Whether or not it was her intention, there were moments when the book felt like a social commentary on the times.

Finally, let me just say that its very rare to find a book that represents diversity in such an unobtrusive and casual way. For example, Samantha Shannon didn’t make a big fuss about the fact that several of her main characters have fluid sexual orientations, she simply made it the new normal. I think this book is a great testament to how evolved literature has become, and I’m glad that we’re at that stage where not only is everyone free to be who they are (and to love who they love), we’re also free to read and write all about it.

Don’t be put off by the weight of this book. Yes it felt like I could pound a nail through a two-by-four with it, and I gained biceps definition in the time it took me to walk home from the bookstore just by carrying it around. Its a hefty tome, but its worth it. Samantha Shannon has become one of the authors whose future works I will watch out for. The next time she publishes something, I’m going to hie myself off to my nearest Waterstones faster than you can say ‘Dracarys!’.

Amazing book! 4 out of 5 stars.

Posted in Books, LGBT, Reviews, Women's literature

Book Review: The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

It’s always the women and children who pay such a high price when “great men” decide to play the game of thrones. Or so the great GRRM once wrote.

I’ve been immersed in all things Greek mythology lately, and I feel like its all been leading up to where it would always inevitably culminate: the epic Trojan War. Poems, novels, music and movies have been written about the ten-year siege of Troy, and of the notorious Helen, also known as the face that launched a thousand ships.

This book is unique in that it tells the story from the perspective of the women who were sold into slavery at the Greek camps when their cities fell to the mighty Achilles and his legendary army of Myrmidons. It focuses on one woman in particular: Briseis, former queen and now slave to Achilles, the man who burned her city and killed her husband and brothers in the process.

So, these reviews always seem to go on longer than I intend them to. I’ve yet to develop the skill of editing my own work, and I probably never will. But I will try to focus on two main themes for this review, for the sake of being “brief”.

The Spoils of War

I’ve always had a weird fascination for reading about war times, not because I’m particularly interested in weaponry and warfare, but because I’m fascinated by its effect on the people who are left behind. I don’t care much about how the war was won, because for me there’s no such thing. When a country goes to war with another country because diplomacy has failed them in every way, everyone loses.

It always breaks my heart to read about the very human stories behind every major war. And its always the same thing, over and over again, throughout the pages of history: the lost promise of youth, children growing up way before their time, young men who never lived long enough to fulfil the dreams their parents had for them.

Its the story of women who have lost fathers, brothers, husbands and sons; women who were never given the opportunity to fight the battles when they were every bit as invested in the outcome. I think if any government leader should ever take it into their head to go to war over something, they should take a good hard look at the women in their family, and to think about all that they would suffer, and decide whether its worth it.

This is the great thing about this book, because it really highlights all of that, and also how the women of the Trojan War were stripped away from their sense of self, from their identities and individualities, from everything that makes them a person, and were instead relegated into the role of objects.

It brings into stark relief all the humiliations and degradations that these women suffered in the hands of so-called heroes: Achilles, Ajax, Agamemnon (although I’ve always thought of him as sort of a prick), Nestor, and even Odysseus. This is an important book to read, and an important point to make, during these times of change when women everywhere are fighting for equality in every arena. Its a call to arms, a message that we will no longer allow this to happen. And for all of that, I salute you, Pat Barker. 

Love is Love is Love

To end this review on a more positive note, I’d like to revisit the story of Achilles and Patroclus. Despite numerous research into the matter, historians are still unable to agree on whether these two were lovers or just really really really close friends. After reading about them in Madeline Miller’s fabulous book, The Song of Achilles, and again here, I am of the opinion that at the end of the day, it makes no bloody difference.

Whether it was the love between brothers, friends or lovers, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is the kind of love that is strong enough to transcend labels, powerful enough to turn the tide of the Trojan War and so powerful that, in my heart, I am sure that it even defied death.

The Greeks, for all their brutal ways, had no hang-ups whatsoever when it comes to sexuality. Hercules had both male and female lovers, it did not make him any less of a legend in their eyes. I love reading about these stories, and I particularly love revisiting the story of Achilles and Patroclus, because it gives me hope.

It gives me hope that if a love like that can exist, there is a future for all of us to look forward to, one in which wars cease to be a possibility, and a world where you can just be free to love who you love, regardless of class, race, age or gender. And that is the kind of ideology that IS worth fighting for.

 

Briseis came to a conclusion towards the end of the book that, for all that she tried to defy and escape him, she was ultimately just another spoke in the wheel, just another supporting character to Achilles’ story. But that doesn’t mean that she does not get to try to write her own story and her own future.

Ultimately, this is what this book is about. We are all free to make our own choices, chart our own destinies and write our own stories. You don’t need to be a hero. You just need to be a person with hopes, dreams and, more importantly, the capacity to love…because long after all the songs have been written about battles and triumphs, its the human tale of love that will endure.

Fabulous book! 4 out of 5 stars. 

Posted in bloggers, Books, Feminism, relationships, Reviews, women

Book Review: Anatomy of A Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

Now here’s a blinding flash of the obvious: sex, lies and scandals sell.

giphy-2.gif

Anatomy of a Scandal is the latest in a string of novels that tackle the subject matter of marriage and infidelity, and how passion can make anyone do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Honestly, I have long since removed my rose-colored glasses. I no longer see the world through the filters of my childhood Disney influences. I am grown-up and realistic enough to accept that there’s no such thing as perfect relationships.

However.

I am increasingly frustrated by the way marriage is portrayed in the number of books I’ve read recently. I mean, is nothing sacred anymore? When did fidelity become the exception rather than the rule? When did society learn to turn the other cheek when a husband is caught cheating on his wife or vice versa? When did we become so blasé about something that – to me- is so fundamentally wrong?

68747470733a2f2f73332e616d617a6f6e6177732e636f6d2f776174747061642d6d656469612d736572766963652f53746f7279496d6167652f4b5241796f6c6f486a4842716e413d3d2d3438303136343238312e3134656432636134

Okay, now that I’ve had my little rant, let me try to actually get a coherent review of this book out.

Anatomy of A Scandal is actually a courtroom drama more than anything else. A charming and influential MP is accused of rape by a woman with whom he’s been having an affair with for several months. This makes the case trickier because the issue of consent is blurred by the fact that they’ve had consensual sex several times prior to the incident in question (a quickie at the elevator right at the heart of the Houses of Parliament, HONESTLY).

This book really gets down to the nitty-gritty. For all that I hate the fact that this is another book about a cheating cretin, I really do admire it for the awareness it brings to the public about the kind of rape where consent is a grey area rather than a clear-cut case of “she didn’t want it”.

According to this book, the prosecutor has to make the jury believe that at the point of penetration, the accused was fully aware that they victim did not consent to the act. So really, she could have been enjoying the foreplay but if she didn’t want to go all the way and yet the man still insisted on scoring a home run, its still rape. I never knew that.

This book also brings to light the reason why so many victims do not come forward about their experiences. I mean, I don’t mean to generalise, but there is so much burden placed on the victim to provide proof of rape. And when you do come forward, your character and history are scrutinised, criticised and judged by everyone involved; your business becomes everybody’s business.

If you’re somehow the kind of woman who likes to look good, dress sexy or flirt every now and then, people seem to think you deserved what happened to you. As if one thing led to the other. As if there was no distinction between being a flirt and unsolicited sex. In this case, the odds against the victim are stacked even higher because she was “the other woman”.

It’s book likes these that make me thankful that the world is now paying more attention to things like sexual harassment in the workplace and that victims of assault have found their voice through movement like Time’s Up and Me Too. Where there once was just ripples in the ocean, feminism is now making waves. And thank God for that because its about damn time that abusers (and I’m not saying that they are exclusively of the male variety) finally answer for their sins.

Anyway, this book isn’t really a crime novel, nor is it the kind of book you pick up if you want to enjoy a fast-paced and thrilling plot. The story unfolds gradually, and in a non-linear fashion through the use of flashbacks. There were very few plot twists and none that you wouldn’t see coming.

It’s told from several point of views, one of which is the wife of the accused, which is why I went on the whole cheating rant because I just felt so sorry for her. I mean, you work hard to maintain a marriage, you compromise in order to make a partnership work and you think things are going along swimmingly AND THEN you’re completely blindsided not only by the discovery of an affair but by a far greater and more public scandal. Its enough to turn someone off the whole institution of marriage altogether.

taylor-swift-take-a-deep-breath

I think I’m going to read a romance novel next just to remind myself that the world is still a romantic place and that as long as the people in it continue to believe in true love, hope still springs eternal. Sappy, I know, but I need to take this belief with me when I go to sleep at night.

Because if love no longer exists, and all we’re left with are the lies and the scandal and the constant infidelity, what is the point of waking up in the morning? Scary thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books, Feminism, Reviews, Women's literature

Book Review: The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood

Last year, Hollywood was rocked by a continous stream of scandals that saw well-known actors and producers accused of everything from harassment to molestation and even outright rape.

Suddenly women in show business were either speaking up about their own experience at the hands of these predators-masquearing-as-gentlemen or calling out their male counterparts whenever they felt like women weren’t being given fair and equal treatment.

All of a sudden there were a lot of hashtag “me too’s” going around all social media platforms, finally culminating in Oprah Winfrey’s powerful and rousing speech during this year’s Golden Globe ceremony.

I always think of myself as a baby feminist. Certainly I appreciate all the comforts of being a woman in the progressive 21st century; I don’t think I could have borne being a Stepford Wife wannabe. I do not have it in me to sit at home, do household chores and have dinner waiting for my husband when he comes home from doing a full day’s work. I think we’ve already established that I do not subscribe to the school of thought that your worth as a woman is somehow diminished because you’re neither a wife or a mother. I firmly believe in ever woman’s right to make her own choices and that being an attractive woman doesn’t give any man the right to assume she welcomes unwanted attentions. 

So yeah, in that sense, I am all for feminism. So when I saw this book by Charlotte Wood on the counter of my local Waterstones with a glowing review saying that this book was the height of feminist literature (high praise!), I could not help but be intrigued. The blurb seemed eerily similar to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Ten women suddenly find themselves imprisoned in the middle of nowhere with no phones, no modern conveniences and no clue why or how they got there; the guards have shaved their heads, have had them changed into the most unbecoming and uncomfortable clothes and basically have them living in the worst conditions possible.

All the while they are being subjected to hard, manual labour and constant abuse from the guards and the one “nurse”. They eventually figured out that all of them have been involved in some kind of sex scandal with a powerful man and that that was probably the reason why they’ve been taken from their homes and family into, well, hell on earth really.

I didn’t realise when I picked this up that this had been written by an Australian author and that it was set in Australia. There were a lot of words, slangs and descriptions of wildlife that I’ve had to ask some of my Aussie friends to translate just to make sure I did not miss any context. But apart from that minor hitch in my reading, I went into this with full speed ahead because I was just so darned intrigued.

There’s a reason why we have a lot of books with this subject matter: simply put, sex and infidelity sells. Since the beginning of time, people have loved to read about lurid scandals and the consequences that befall those who dare to give in to their sexual desires, propriety be damned. Initially I was a little confused as to how this is a feminist novel because I really felt like there was a whole lot of slut-shaming going on. Those women were being judged simply because they made the mistake of sleeping with men who were either married, extremely powerful or in the case of one girl, a pillar of the Catholic church.

I also had to sort out my own feelings about these women because I always find it hard to relate to women who have been involved in any form of cheating. I fervently believe that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t respect their fellow women enough to not steal their man. However, I’ve always hesitated to unequivocally condemn those women because I am of the opinion that you never really know how you’re going to act in any situation until you’ve faced it yourself. So no one can really say for sure that they won’t be tempted to participate in infidelity, especially if love and lust are involved. I’d like to think I’d be able to resist temptation but we all know love (or the illusion of it anyway) can make people do stupid things.

So I guess the highest praise that I can give this novel is that it will raise questions and generate discussions; it may confuse the hell out of you while reading it but goodness knows that you it will get some kind of reaction out of you. Its hard not to be affected by these women’s experiences and even harder not to sympathise with them despite what you know about their past. You might even find yourself rooting for them as they struggle to survive and escape their imprisonment. In the end, its really not about who they’ve slept with or the journey they’ve taken to get where they are; its about the journey that they will take to get to a better place.

I particularly like the idea of exploring how human beings will react and respond to being placed in extreme situations. Its almost Darwinian really; only the fittest can and will survive. And as seasons changed and food rations became shorter and shorter, some people emerged as leaders, others simply fell apart whereas other people did things they otherwise wouldn’t have done – all in the name of survival. In a way, its ironic; we become the animals that scientific theory says we originated from when circumstances require us to survive. What does that say about us?

While I did not like the ending and I didn’t think it made any particular sense (it left so many questions unanswered!) I did like the overall theme of the book. I think it was worth my time to read it; it was thought-provoking, atmospheric and hey, I was on holiday and had nothing better to do with my time.

Overall: 3 put of 5 stars.

This book is getting a lot of word of mouth recommendations so let me know what you guys think if you ever decide to read it. Check it out on Amazon by clicking the image below!

Cheers, bookworms! xx