Review-ish: The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White

‘The more environments that say yes to feminist, female and other marginalised voices, the bolder those voices will become and the louder and clearer they will ring out into the wider world.’

Firstly, I have to thank Dai Brows and Anna for introducing me to The Guilty Feminist pod-cast in the first instance, and to my step-mum for buying me this book for Xmas. Nailed it. Pretty on-brand.

For those that are already fans of The Guilty Feminist in its pod-cast form, you will be pretty familiar with DFW’s style of writing and presenting, which is both warm and inviting. She has, along with Sofie Hagan and other incredible guests and guest hosts, made it ok to be a less-than perfect feminist, as long as you have good intentions. It’s been a breath of fresh air, and has brought much-needed lightness to what has become such a contentious issue.

Much of what is discussed in this book has been examined in great depth on the podcast and but that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading it in a new form. It’s a really easy read, even when the subject matter isn’t, and is such an effective how-to guide for all humans, on how to be better humans, not just better feminists.

The important point that the podcast and the book raise, is how vital it is to learn and listen to those different from ourselves. Part of the guilty part of The Guilty Feminist is not always recognising where our privilege allows us to act in a way that isn’t respectful of the intersectionality of feminism. By reading and listening to The Guilty Feminist, and by hearing new voices and learning about the guests varied experiences, I feel confident to admit when I’ve messed up but also to always be open to learning.

I have a shelf full of books considered to be ‘must read feminist texts’ and as much as it pains me to admit it, I haven’t always gotten on all that well with them. This doesn’t mean that I don’t absolutely recognise their importance and the massive impact they often had but we will always need books like this that can cut through some of the noise and just celebrate being perfectly imperfect.

This really is a joy and can and should be read by everyone.

Feminist book recommendations always appreciated, just commend below!

Happy Sunday.

Kelly

Review-ish: The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall

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‘People went through life like well handled jugs, collecting chips and scrapes and stains from wear and tear, from holding and pouring life.’

The above isn’t even my favourite passage from this beautifully written book, but I was just keen to not give too much of the story away through my eagerness to share. This book was found during the same charity-shop binge of a few months ago, which has provided some real treats. Yet again, this isn’t something that I would normally have picked up, but the bloke-at-home found it, and raved about it so much (he’d be pretty excited to learn that Hall is an Aberystwyth Uni alum) that I had to give it a go.

It’s not often that you read a book with pretty-much perfect pacing. That grabs you from the first word and ensures that you finish it with a satisfied sigh. I so rarely get to the end of a book and feel like it was the ideal length but I really felt this with The Electric Michelangelo. 

Hall creates such evocative scenes, from Morecombe Bay to Coney Island and through the most complex, complicated but often-times loveable characters. Grace is one of the most exquisitely written characters that I have encountered for a while, and even with my limited imagination, I felt like I knew her.

The book explores themes of family, the family you’re born into and the family you choose, peoples desire to re-invent themselves, the traditional sea-side town on both sides of the Atlantic, and migration. All through the microcosm of tattoo.

I can only speak for The Electric Michelangelo, as I haven’t read any of her other books, but in this, Hall’s writing is never over-done. I don’t want to say much more as its just going to be general gushing and I really don’t want to give away too much of the story-line. Its too beautiful. Go. Read. Come back and tell me how much you adored it.

Kelly

 

Review-ish: The Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb (#1 of the Farseer Triology)

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‘Most prisons are of our own making. A man makes his own freedom too.’

I fought my corner on this one for awhile, despite the live-in boyfriend wanging on about how good it was, purely because I had wrongly assumed that it was written by a British make, and therefore counter to this blog. So I am quite ashamed at my own unconscious biases and will dig deeper before entirely judging a book by its cover. Lesson learnt.

Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden writes under the pseudonym of Robin Hobb and this is the first novel in her Farseer Triolody. She’s a prolific writer and it seems that there are several more series set in this world. Her most recent book was only published in 2017.

I love a good fantasy novel, I really do. And I am intrigued to see where this one goes and learn more about Hobb’s world. However, it was slow in places and wouldn’t have suffered from losing some chunks. As the first in a series, I think that The Assassins Apprentice does a good job of introducing the characters, the laws and the environment, and the characters are fairly typical of this sort of book. Which offers comfortable reading, with the odd twist and turn to keep things interesting.

I enjoyed Burrich’s character immensely. I love a gristled, grumpy, father-figure role. I have such a clear image of him in my mind. There’s a couple of interesting female characters, which I hope will be further developed in the next book.

We are introduced to the concepts of The Wit and The Skill at this stage, although not a deeply as I would have liked. But this could be my impatience.

For me, it offered exactly what I look for in fantasy novels; escapism and an opportunity for compulsive reading. I will pick up the next book, but can already tell that if the pace isn’t quick enough, I probably won’t pick up the third. I’d be really interested to hear what other people think. Sometimes can read a good book at a bad time and this could have been one of those situations.

This is not going to be one of longest reviews because, in all honesty, I read it months ago, and am only now getting around to writing it up. I’ve been focusing on advance reading for the book club. Naughty me. So I have dropped the ball on this one. But we’ve got some really good book club reads coming up that we’ll be discussing very soon.

 

I’ll give myself a C+ for this effort, with a promise to try harder next time!

Kelly

review-ish: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

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“It was as if a blade had shucked his heart like an oyster and stolen the beauty within. He said his heart never started beating again, it just started working and I never understood the difference, not until I was much older anyway, when I learnt that coming back from the dead is not quite the same as coming back to life.”

I love Sarah Winman’s writing so much. I read When God Was A Rabbit, Winman’s debut novel, many, many moons ago and just couldn’t believe how much it stayed with me. Not specific plot points but the magic and the feelings that she evoked. I highly recommend it as a quick read with depth. So when I saw A Year of Marvellous Ways in a charity shop, without even knowing that she had published other books, I did a little squeal and took it home with me.

Maybe it’s that I work with older people in my day job. Maybe it’s the writing.  Either way, Marvellous is a corker of a woman that I wanted to know, live with and go on adventures with. She’s such an incredible character and presents an unusual and very positive view of ageing well and challenging stereotypes. She is written to have a different view of the world, and seeing things through her eyes, just for a little time, was deeply moving. The other characters are also well developed and  naturally contradictory, and didn’t suffer when compared to the marvellous Marvellous.

I don’t think you need to have lived in the West Country to see the Cornish landscape that Winman paints because her writing is so poetic. She could describe the centre of the Earth to you and you’d feel like you had grown up there. But I did have such vivid images in my head of the South Hams in Devon when reading this book, (limited imagination of mine…) but that was lovely as it reminded me of many a happy time. Particularly when reading it in the middle of that endless grey that we have lived through in Wales recently.

I’m currently reading The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende for the Insole Court Book Club, and when I mentioned this to a friend, she described Allende’s work as magical-realism and something clicked. So many books that I adore are like this. Sarah Winman’s work, The Buried Giant by Ishiguro and Murakami. Now I have discovered another vice of mine I will actively try to read outside of this genre, but it’s nice to know that its always within reach when I need to feeling something to the point of emotional exhaustion.

Love having a little cry.

Anyone wanna recommend some magical-realism? Not for me I’m trying to diversify, but for other followers.

Kelly

review-ish: The Tiger’s wife by Tea obreht

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“When the fight is about unraveling – when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event – there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them.”

If you read Zebra and didn’t get the hype, then this probably isn’t for you. It has a really similar feel to me. Conflict, displacement, ancestry and family connections are all explored. But The Tiger’s Wife has a fantastical/folk-loreish element that I really loved.

The various stories and the jumping between time-periods, as well as the fact that it is set in a fictional village, Gallina, in an unnamed Balkan land, does make for a complex narrative. In fact, some reviewers suggested that it’s the back stories that make up the content of this novel, rather than the actual main plot.

I LOVED the back stories. They were evocative of a holiday to Croatia a few years ago, in terms of the vineyards and coastal regions. Gallina reminded me of the forests around Plitivice lakes. I loved the way the superstitions of the people created these wonderful but sometimes damaging myths around their neighbours lives. I loved that we approach them all through Natalia’s grandfather at different stages in his life.

Side note, I LOVE the typography of the Balkan language (even though WordPress doesn’t have the characters).

Many better reviewers than me have talked about the themes of death and peoples relationship with it, and their reactions to it. I think I very much glossed over this part of the narrative, focusing more on the mythical tales. But upon reflection, I can totally see this point. And it is perhaps these themes that stay with you beyond the end of the book.

This really is an accomplished debut novel and one that I am so glad I discovered in a charity shop in Cardiff. If you’re happy to feel history, rather than learn it, and are willing to let go of reality slightly, then I highly recommend this book. It’s just really beautiful in parts. But I also get why readers might not be able to persist with it.

Further side note, this was one of about 10 books that were bought on the same day, from many international authors. Many of which I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up if it wasn’t for this blog. So I’m grateful to be discovering not just new stories, but new authors as well.

Anyone else got a decent amount of time off for Christmas? I’ve lined up The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende as my Christmas read (Insole Court Book Clubs book for January) and am also dipping into Not All Feminists Wear Pink.

This has to be my favourite time of year for reading!

Kelly

Review-ish: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

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Translated by Jay Rubin.

“Spend your money on the things money can buy. Spend your time on the things money can’t buy.”

There are soooooo many quotes that I could pull from this book, so many nuggets of wisdom and joy. This quote doesn’t do it justice but it was short and I thought readers might appreciate a short quote!

I have no idea where to start with this book. I feel like I come away from Murakami’s novels never truly feeling like I have full understood the narrative (its probably because I’m skim reading!) but I sure have enjoyed the journey. I am always gripped, fully absorbed in his bonkers worlds that are vivid and all-consuming. I get peoples struggles, I really do. You’ve got to be in the right frame of mind to let go of any pre-conceptions and dive head-first into it. And sometimes, that is just not what you want.

But there’s so much in this book to get your teeth into. Mystery, history, fantasy and distinct and in-depth character development. I learnt about the Manchurian war, which I knew absolutely nothing about before, whilst also being taken along on a study of a marriage. There are such a huge range of characters that it can be easy to lose track a little bit, but as you start to get lost, Murakami will bring you back with a letter or story.

I love that Toru is an Everyman. He’s unassuming. He likes things to be neat. He’s in his 30’s and a bit lost. It’s our ability to relate to him that makes him so compelling. He’s such an accidental hero.

I’m always a little bit cautious to recommend Murakami to others. They’re usually massive for a start, and his style definitely isn’t for everyone. I would say not to start with Norweigan Wood, as now I can see that it isn’t reflective of his work (Sorry, adult live-in boyfriend, I let ya down there). The three I have read most recently though, Kafka on the Shore, The Hard-Boiled Egg and the End of the World and this gem are much more similar in style. For someone with a limited visual imagination, Murakami is a dream. Genuinely, it is books like this that make me love to read; the sort of books that make you cancel social engagements and go to bed early to enjoy.

Many Goodreads peeps have suggested multiple readings so I definitely think I would come back and give it another go at some point. With re-reading, I wouldn’t rush through it in excitement and might take a bit more of the actual plot in.  I’ll have another crack at Kafka on the Shore as well.

 

Anyone else fan? Any other Murakami recommendations?

Kelly

Review-ish: Cuz by Danielle Allen

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An American Tragedy.

‘Deterrence dehumanizes. It directs at the individual the full hate that society understandably bears toward an aggregate phenomenon.’

This book was another library-lure, when I had no intention of picking up anymore books. The local-to-work library has a ‘new books’ display that seems to get me every time. Although a small book, I can’t say it was a quick read.

I thought that the most powerful parts of this book were when the author was talking about the statistics of the prison system in America, and the sections where she talks about how crime grew in American and its impact on minority communities. These were informative and powerful and were the things that I think drew most people to the book.

But I did struggle with much of the rest of the book. There were glimmers of lovely prose and I absolutely felt the guilt and sadness that she felt about her impact (or lack thereof) on her cousins life. Sometimes it felt a bit ungainly which meant that what should have been powerfully emotional, felt clunky.

I would be really interested to read more around the subject of race in America so please send me recommendations.

Kelly