Friday, 28 April 2017

Should Disney's First Openly Gay Character Be Celebrated?

Disclaimer: Some mild spoilers for the Beauty and the Beast remake. Yes I do take Disney movies too seriously, no I’m not sorry for it. These are my own thoughts, views and opinions etc. – in no way am I presuming to speak for the LGBT+ community and I apologise in advance if I come across that way at any point in this discussion, it’s not my intention. This post was first posted on my other blog, which I'm considering moving over to permanently in future.

As Disney goes through its remake phase, just like it went through its sequel phase, it was only a matter of time before 1991’s Beauty and the Beast was given a fresh lick of live action paint.

News stories started asking if the fairy tale promotes bestiality or Stockholm syndrome as though this were the first time those questions had been asked – seriously, do they not realise how often fairy tales have been studied over the years? This isn’t a shock revelation – until it was revealed that LeFou, played by Josh Gad of Frozen fame, was going to be reimagined and portrayed as an LGBT+ character. Naturally, that was all the press could focus on and, in some ways, I can’t really blame them. LeFou’s hardly the hero of Beauty and the Beast, but that Disney were actually going to acknowledge someone as openly gay in one of their movies was a big deal – especially to the LGBT+ community who have been waiting for this kind of representation for years.

Now that I’ve seen the film (and I won’t talk about my thoughts on it here, because this  blog post would turn into a book) I can say that, yes, I certainly got the impression that LeFou is a member of the LGBT+ community, but at no point did he use the all important sentence: I’m gay (or however else he might choose to identify himself). This is a real shame considering the director of the remake, Bill Condon, is an openly gay man himself. If LeFou being gay was the director’s intention then why not just come out and say it? Would including a piece of dialogue like that take too much attention away from the main storyline?

Well, it shouldn’t. We need to start getting to a point where it’s not a shock for someone to reveal they aren’t heterosexual, if they’re comfortable enough to discuss their sexuality. If attention can be taken away from the main storyline by something like that then that’s the fault of the creators and of the audience, because people talking openly and safely about their sexuality in the media, whatever their sexuality is, isn’t going to seem normal until we make it normal, and we need more creators who are willing to take that risk – especially with media that is largely consumed by children. What better way to make children realise, from a young age, that people are deserving of respect regardless of who they choose to take to bed (or choose not to, in some cases).

So, should Disney be praised for their decision to make LeFou an LGBT+ character?

Honestly, I don’t think so. We don’t really know for certain that he is gay because he never tells us that he is. Sure, at the end of the movie there’s about two seconds of screen time when we see him dancing with another man and we’re led to believe his adoration of Gaston is more along the lines of wanting to be with him than like him, but this feels a little like the Dumbledore fiasco all over again. When Rowling revealed Dumbledore was gay there was an outcry from the LGBT+ community because it wasn’t blatantly said outright. At the time I wasn’t sure what people were expecting – was Dumbledore’s sexuality really revelant to Harry’s story? – but I don’t think we can ignore so many voices, from the very community Dumbledore is supposed to be a part of, telling us they weren’t satisfied with the years of only hinting at non-heterosexuality.

Whenever we watch a film or read a book, we’re programmed to automatically assume that everyone is heterosexual, and that’s why it’s important for creators to just come out and say when someone is gay or bisexual or pansexual or demisexual or asexual – sexuality is fluid and all members of every sexuality deserve to see themselves reflected in the stories they immerse themselves in. That’s why it was so important for LeFou to come out and say: ‘I’m gay.’

I can already hear people’s counter-arguments: ‘The story’s set in 18th century France, LeFou would have been executed for sodomy if he’d come out as gay’. Hm. Yeah, but I don’t remember many stories of 18th century French villages having their own royal families who they’ve forgotten about because an enchantress has turned their prince into a beast. It’s a bit like saying the sexual violence in Game of Thrones is historically accurate even though Westeros is entirely fictional and its own rules could apply. There are dragons in Game of Thrones, too, but no one argues that they’re historically inaccurate. This is exactly the same for our nameless French village; there’s no reason why this one village, with its own royal family they clearly decided not to send to the guillotine, couldn’t be a far more liberal place than the rest of the country.

Also, LeFou doesn’t necessarily have to come out to the people who could potentially cause him harm. Belle is portrayed as forward-thinking and you can guarantee the Beast knew someone in his circle of aristocratic friends who wasn’t straight, what’s important is that LeFou comes out to people who accept him in front of the audience. What’s important is that children see him not being used as comic relief, but as someone who questions the constraints of traditional masculinity and is rewarded for it.

On the one hand, I want to praise Disney for taking another step closer to one day having openly non-heterosexual protagonists, to encourage them to take further steps like this one, but on the other I find it difficult to praise a movie for having Disney’s first ‘openly gay character’ when we don’t know for certain that he is gay, and it’s certainly not openly if he is, and when we remember that Disney was founded in 1923. This is far too long a wait for representation that has come in the form of a side character who still isn’t really given the kind of voice that the LGBT+ community deserves.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Bookish Turn-Offs

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is all about the things that make us NOT want to read a book. I did struggle with this theme a bit at first, but the more I thought about it the more I remembered just how many bookish tropes get on my nerves. So, without further ado, here are my top ten eight!

A city girl starts a new life in the country... This has been done to death in contemporary - looking at you, Jenny Colgan - and while some stories can be charming, the more I see it the more it bugs me. I'm a country girl myself, I've always lived in the countryside and I love the countryside, and there's something a tad patronising about the way the country is often portrayed as this quaint, idyllic, backward place with no wifi. The countryside is just as varied as the big cities, and it'd be nice to see this reflected more in fiction.

It's hard being a white, middle-aged, middle class, able-bodied, cisgendered man, I think I'll have an affair... NOPE. Sorry fellas, but I don't care about your problems that aren't really problems. By all means give me a protagonist who fits all the afore-mentioned criteria but who is also a unique and real voice, but don't give me a man chasing a manic pixie dream girl.

Dude, where's the blurb..? I hate it when I want to know what a book is about, but all I get is a blurb so vague it might as well not be there or nothing at all. Some people like no blurb, and that's fine, but personally I want to have an idea of what a book's about before I give it my time.

Waaay too much blurb... On the other end of the scale, I'm immediately put off by a blurb that starts to feel like I'm reading an essay. I want to know what the book's about, I don't want to know the plot twist or the protagonist's love interest's grandmother's budgie's maiden name.

The Dead Girl Test... I've mentioned this before. The Dead Girl Test is a test I give every crime/thriller novel I pick up which involves the murder of women. If, at any point, the detective sees the corpse of a murdered woman and describes her as beautiful, I'm outta here. Why? Firstly, I hate the way that it implies that her death would be any less tragic if she were ugly. Secondly, I think corpses are too grim to be thought of as beautiful, especially if a person's been murdered and their body has just been found.

Three's a Crowd... Love triangles are done badly 99.9% of the time. I have no interest in them, especially after living through the dark years of YA brimming with the damn things.

Strike a Pose... This is purely personal taste, but I'm very, very rarely drawn to books that have the photograph of a person on the front. I like to imagine the characters for myself and I'm a big lover of simple, eye-catching, typographic covers.

Not Like Other Girls... In historical fiction in particular, I'm really bored of reading about heroines who are ahead of their time and are somehow better than the other women they know because they want to do something other than get married and have children. Can we stop the girl hate please?

What turns you off a book?

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Unique, just like everyone else

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Of The Most Unique Books I've Read', which is a topic with a whole lot o' scope. How do we judge what's unique when every single one of us reads different books and even reads the same books in a different way? But there's no need for me to get all philosophical.

Here are ten of the most unique books I've read, all for different reasons, and if you haven't read them yourself I recommend them! Or at least most of them...

Holes by Louis Sachar: I was lucky enough to read Holes in school, and when I was first told I was going to read it I wasn't impressed. It's essentially described as a story about boys digging holes but it turned out to be so much more than that and I have such fond memories of it now.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young: This one was a unique read for me because of the way it's written. Usually I find it hard to get into books written in dialect, but this book pulled me through it and I ended up loving it. I still haven't read the sequels because it turns out I'm rubbish at reading series, but I do still love this one.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: As always, I refuse to miss a chance to mention this book. I love witches and I love stories about witchcraft, but there are a lot of samey ones out there. Signal to Noise, however, is such a fresh witchcraft story; it's set in Mexico in the 1980s, where fifteen year old Meche learns to cast spells with her vinyl records. It's so good and you need to read it immediately.

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig: I don't read many time travel books, but I think the way time travel happens in Heilig's debut is such an exciting, new way. The characters in The Girl From Everywhere don't find secret portals or build time machines, instead there are certain people who can sail to places on a map - but there's a catch, if they find a map to 17th century France then they'll travel to 17th century France. It's just so cool, and a really fun novel, too!

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: My favourite book of 2017 so far, it's still gives me the warm fuzzies just thinking about it. The protagonist, Molly, is overweight, but something about this book is truly miraculous: the story isn't about Molly wanting or trying to lose weight. I know, it's astounding, isn't it? Read this if you haven't already, it'll make you feel better about the world.

Wise Children by Angela Carter: Sadly I'm not the biggest Carter fan, aside from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, because her work is just a little too weird for my tastes - Wise Children is no exception. I had to read this during sixth form and it's just bizarre. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but any book that ends with a seventy-five woman sleeping with a one hundred year old man who she knows is either her uncle or her father is definitely unique in my book. And bloody weird.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix: Sadly, this story about a haunted store rather than a haunted house turned out not to be as different as I was hoping, but the way it's been published is definitely unique. Horrorstör has been published to look and feel like a department store catalogue and I love it for that alone.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: Probably the most unique high fantasy book I've read, which doesn't really say much because I haven't read much high fantasy since I was a teenager and have only started getting back into it in the past year. The way this book is written is unique, the characters are unique, the relationships are unique, the ways magic and science intersect are unique. It's a brilliant book and you should read it.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson: I've yet to come across any other books in which the narrator is a nameless pornographer recovering from severe burns. That's pretty unique to me!

The Meat Tree by Gwyneth Lewis: This is a retelling of one of the stories in The Mabinogion. Now The Mabinogion is already weird in and of itself, and this sci-fi retelling took it to a whole other level that, to be honest, I didn't really enjoy. I haven't read anything else like it, though!

Which books made your list this week?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be...

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a fandom freebie, so I'm going to talk about some of the characters I'd love to cosplay as. I love a good Comic Con, though I've never been able to go to the biggest one in the UK which is, of course, in London, but I haven't cosplayed since my teens. These are the characters I'd love to be for the day if I ever have the confidence to cosplay again!

(Sorry, I think only people who can remember Stars in Their Eyes will get the reference in my title...)

Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas: This is one of my favourite films from my childhood and every Halloween I try to dress up as Sally before I go out for cocktails, but unless I want to try making her dress myself (which would be a terrible idea) her outfit is either too expensive or the cheap ones aren't made of very nice (or flattering) material. One day!

Katrina Van Tassel from Sleepy Hollow: Another much-loved film of mine, and to be honest the main reason I'd love to cosplay as Katrina is down to the dress she wears right at the end of the film - I call it her Beetlejuice dress.

Belle from Beauty and the Beast: My favourite film of all time, I love it so much. I actually had a fancy dress party for my 18th and dressed up as Belle in her ball dress, but I'd love to cosplay her in her blue dress; she looks most like herself in that dress.

Violet from Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Various Artists: This is probably my favourite graphic novel series and I just adore Violet, plus I think one of my friends would be a fantastic Hannah - I'll have to try and convince her to cosplay with me.

Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger: I've only read Soulless (reviewed here) so far, but I still think Alexia is such a fun character and I could have a lot of fun putting together a 19th century outfit.

Evy Carnahan from The Mummy: If Beauty and the Beast is my favourite film, The Mummy is a very close second and most of that is down to Evy. As you can see, I have a thing for nerds and bookworms in films - I think The Mummy is the first time I saw a person a bit like me in an action movie, and that was quite a big deal.

Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs: Another cinematic heroine of mine, though I enjoyed the book, too. I like Clarice because she's not perfect; so many women in thrillers are unrealistic because filmmakers feel the need to make a woman flawless to make her likeable, but they didn't do that to Clarice. She's still learning and she can make mistakes, but that doesn't take anything away from her successes.

Éowyn from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: This lady is the mother of the Warrior Princess trope, and she's fantastic. She's one of my favourite characters from The Lord of the Rings and I'd love to swish around in one of her dresses while also feeling bad-ass.

Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: This is another one of my favourite classic stories, and I think so much fun could be had with an Alice cosplay; you can be as innocent, as mad or as dark as you like, that's why the story's constantly being retold.

Rowena Ravenclaw from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: All I'd need is a medieval blue dress and the Ravenclaw diadem and I'd be set! I'm still waiting for Rowling to write me a book about the Founders to be honest...

What did you talk about this week?

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | O Captain! My Captain!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Authors I'm Dying To Meet / Ten Authors I Can't Believe I've Met  (some other "meeting authors" type spin you want to do)'. You may or may not know this, I have no idea, but I studied Creative Writing for four years at university and got tutored by some brilliant writers, but today I thought I'd talk about some of the authors I wish I'd been able to have some lessons with while I was a student - they're all writers I still wouldn't say no to a lesson with now!

Sarah Waters: I love Waters' fiction, The Little Stranger is one of my favourite books, and I think the stories she chooses to tell are fantastic. The focus of my MA was how historical fiction can be used as a tool to write women, the LGBT+ community, poc and any other form of 'other' back into history, so to be tutored by a woman who specialises in LGBT+ historical fiction would have been amazing.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I read Adichie's story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, earlier this year and loved it. She's also a very political, outspoken person and I think I could learn an awful lot from her.

Margaret Atwood: The woman's a genius, what more is there to say?

Samantha Ellis: Some Creative Writing MA courses in the UK make you choose between focusing on solely prose or solely poetry, but what I liked about my course at Lancaster University was that you could explore anything you wanted to. Having said that, I've never tried my hand at writing scripts and I think part of that is because we didn't have any tutors who specialised in them, and Ellis is a playwright as well as a writer of non-fiction. She also seems like a genuinely nice human being and I think a workshop with her would be really interesting - if nothing else we could gush about Anne Brontë together.

Alison Weir: I haven't actually read any of Weir's books yet (something I'm hoping to change this year!) but I think she'd've been a great tutor for me during my MA because she's both a historian and a novelist, and I think I could have learned a lot about knowing when to separate fact from fiction and knowing how much research to do without driving myself around the bend as I sometimes found myself doing.

Gail Carriger: I've been struggling to write fiction since I finished uni and entered the world of full-time work, which I'm finding really frustrating and it's making me lose my confidence when I sit down to finish an incomplete short story, and there's something about Carriger's work that seems so indulgent and fun that I think a workshop with her would encourage me to actually get some words on the page.

Angela Carter: Sadly Carter died in 1992 when I was a measly 4 months old so I'll never have the opportunity to be taught by her, and, if I'm being honest, I'm not actually the biggest fan of her work aside from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. She did teach at the University of East Anglia, one of the best unis in the UK for Creative Writing, and I think workshops with her must have been fascinating because she was so radical.

Robin Hobb: Another author I haven't read but I'm planning to read this year. I think we can all agree that Hobb is the biggest female author in the world of high fantasy and I think she'd have a lot to teach me about building a whole world, with its own countries and cultures and environment, from scratch.

Kurtis J. Wiebe: Something else I wasn't able to explore at uni is writing for comics and graphic novels, and as Rat Queens is my favourite graphic novel series I'd be happy to have a workshop all about writing for comics with Wiebe.

Roald Dahl: Yet another author who has shuffled off this mortal coil, and one who would be 100 now if he was still alive. Dahl died the year before I was born but he was still a huge part of my childhood - I got my dad to read Fantastic Mr. Fox to me so many times that I think we both knew it by heart - can you imagine having a workshop about writing for children with this man? Yes please.

Who did you talk about this week?

Monday, 27 March 2017

Review | A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

by Becky Chambers

My Rating:

Lovelace was once merely a ship's artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who's determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

Considering The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of my favourite books of all time, I'm a little ashamed it's taken me quite this long to get to A Closed and Common Orbit. If you haven't read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet yet and you're planning to, I advise you to stop reading this review now! I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but I don't think you should go near A Closed and Common Orbit at all if you've yet to read the first book.

It was lovely to be back in this world, in this universe I fell in love with in the first book, and stepping back into it felt like stepping into a place that restores my faith in humanity. Unfortunately I didn't love this one as much as I loved the first one, but I also wasn't expecting to; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of those rare books that's simply perfect.

When I read the blurb for A Closed and Common Orbit I predicted that I'd find Lovelace's story much more interesting than Pepper's, but it actually turned out to be the other way around. That's not to say that I didn't find Lovelace's chapters interesting because I really did; as I expected, Chambers' exploration of AIs was fantastic throughout the novel, but while I enjoyed those particular parts of Lovelace's chapters and completely empathised with her frustration at being trapped in a body she felt she wasn't suited for, Lovelace just didn't grow on me in the same way that Pepper did.

I'm not sure I can accurately pinpoint what it was about Pepper that made me so fond of her. We discover how much crap the poor woman went through as a child, so I found something really rewarding in watching her overcome all that hardship with the help of a woman called Owl who may have been my favourite character in the book. The relationship between the two of them was heart-warming, and while it became just the slightest bit saccharine near the end of the novel I didn't mind; I needed to read something nice, something hopeful, and though this book isn't hopeful in the same way The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is, it's still lovely.

It would be unfair to compare another book, even a book set in the same universe, with A Closed and Common Orbit. The two books are such different stories - A Closed and Common Orbit is a much more confined, secretive story, as the title suggests - that it's impossible to truly compare them. Chambers excels at quiet, kind science fiction, and I enjoyed learning more about AIs and Aeluons in this book. I can't wait to return to this universe for a third time, and will happily gobble up whatever Chambers writes.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Review | The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik

by Ayisha Malik

My Rating:

Sofia Khan is just married. But no-one told her life was going to be this way . . .

Her living situation is in dire straits, her husband Conall is distant, and his annoyingly attractive colleague is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.

When her mother forces them into a belated wedding ceremony (elopement: you can run, but you can't hide), Sofia wonders if it might be a chance to bring them together. But when it forces Conall to confess his darkest secret, it might just tear them apart.

I received an ARC of The Other Half of Happiness from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Check out my review of Sofia Khan is Not Obliged here!

Last year I read Ayisha Malik's debut, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, and really enjoyed it, so I was thrilled when I was approached by the publisher and offered the chance to receive an ARC of the sequel, The Other Half of Happiness. If you haven't read Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and you're planning to then I suggest you stop reading this review now; I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but as this book is a sequel there will be spoilers for the end of the first book here.

One of the things I mentioned in my review of the first book was that it felt like two different books in one; the first half of the book was very much a Muslim Bridget Jones's Diary while the second half took a more serious turn, leaving me a little unsure as to the kind of tone the book was trying to hit. The Other Half of Happiness felt much more like the latter half of the first book, but Malik has still littered the story with a great sense of humour and Sofia is still such a fun protagonist to follow.

Honestly, I found this book difficult to rate and see-sawed between 3 and 4 stars for a long time before I finally compromised and settled on 3.5. I loved the relationship between Sofia and Conall in the first book - the end of Sofia Khan is Not Obliged definitely gave me the warm fuzzies - and I'm still not sure how I feel about what happens to their relationship in this book. As the blurb suggests, Sofia discovers that Conall has a pretty big secret and that secret turned Conall into someone I wasn't sure I liked anymore. I appreciated that Conall became more complex, that he's definitely not perfect despite Sofia's idolisation of him in the first book, but the secret he keeps from Sofia is not okay (the keeping it from her that is, not the secret itself) and I got a little frustrated by the way he seemed to look down on Sofia's writing career in this book while expecting her to put up with his own passion project. This was especially confusing considering he was so supportive of her in the first book.

What Sofia was lacking in romance in this book, however, she certainly made up for in the relationships with the other women in her life. I loved that Malik chose to explore the relationship Sofia has with her mother, in particular, as well as her sister and her friends. They're all incredibly supportive of Sofia, and it was nice to see this focus when so much of the first book was focused on Sofia's romantic life. So much of Sofia's life seems to have been focused on romance and marriage that, in this book, it felt as though she was finally able to pour more of her energy into the other areas of her life, such as her career.

Unfortunately, I didn't quite enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the first one. I loved the themes that Malik chose to explore, but so much of the book was Sofia being sad and moping; this is completely justified considering what happens, but it didn't make for particularly thrilling reading. In fact parts of this book felt like reading the first book again, with Sofia once again unsure where her life is going or what's going to become of her career - I desperately wanted her to use her own initiative more rather than simply jumping on the opportunities other people offered her. She's a bright woman, she just needed a bit of a kick up the backside from time to time.

I did still like this book, though, and I recommend both Sofia Khan books - particularly if you enjoy contemporary, and especially if you're interested in reading a Muslim protagonist written by a Muslim author.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | Down in One

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is a 'Read In One Sitting' theme, so, shockingly, I'm going to talk about the books I read in one sitting. Because I lack imagination today.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: This arrived during the weekend, a blissful day when I wasn't at school and had nothing to do, so I holed myself up on the sofa with snacks and started reading as soon as this book arrived and finished it that same day. I had to know what happened, and I had to know what happened before the internet ruined it for me.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant: This little horror novella is the perfect read for anyone who loves horror movies, particularly found footage movies like The Blair Witch Project or Trollhunter. I read this in an hour or two, so it's a great book to pick up if you're in the mood to start and finish something in the same day.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: My favourite book of 2017 so far, which I really wasn't expecting because I loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and I didn't see how this book could be any better. I was lucky enough to read it early thanks to NetGalley, and once I started it I couldn't stop and devoured it one evening after work.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson: It's a very rare instance in which I don't read a graphic novel in one sitting, but I have such fond memories of this one because it took me on such an emotional rollercoaster. Like The Upside of Unrequited, I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did and it ended up giving me lots of feelings.

Malkin Child by Livi Michael: I read this little book in one sitting while I was studying for my MA, and was lucky enough to meet the author and get a signed copy. The Pendle Witch Trials are one of the most famous witch trials in Britain, most famous for the fact that it was the testimony of a nine year old girl who sent ten people, including her own mother, sister and brother, to the gallows. That little girl, Jennet Device, has been depicted as something of a cruel child ever since, and I enjoyed Livi Michael's more sympathetic view of her.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood: Another one I read at uni, this time while doing my undergrad degree, and a book that also happened to be my very first (and so far only) Margaret Atwood read. I'm determined to read more of Atwood's work this year, but this was a brilliant introduction to her. If you're a fan of retellings I recommend picking this one up!

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark: I think this book has to be read in one sitting to really feel the impact of it, and I recommend picking it up if you haven't already - I read it in January and loved it.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: I'm sure I read this as a child, but I remember reading it one sitting during a five hour coach ride; I had to study it at university, so it was a lot of fun to revisit it as a student rather than only a reader and there was so much in it that passed me by as a little girl.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman: It's easy to read this book in one sitting, it's not long at all, but this is one of those rare instances in which I enjoyed the film adaptation more than the book itself.

Woman Who Brings the Rain by Eluned Gramich: This teeny memoir made the English-language non-fiction shortlist at last year's Wales Book of the Year and it ended up being the first book I read this year. I enjoyed it, but I'd love Eluned Gramich to write a longer book about her time in Japan.

Which books made your list this week?

Friday, 17 March 2017

Review | Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

by Ariana Franklin

My Rating:

Adelia Aguilar is a rare thing in medieval Europe - a woman who has trained as a doctor. Her speciality is the study of corpses, a skill that must be concealed if she is to avoid accusations of witchcraft.

But in Cambridge a child has been murdered, others are disappearing, and King Henry has called upon a renowned Italian investigator to find the killer - fast.

What the king gets is Adelia, his very own Mistress of the Art of Death.

The investigation takes Adelia deep into Cambridge; its castle and convents, and streets teeming with life. And it is here that she attracts the attention of a murderer who is prepared to kill again...

It's no secret that I love a bit of historical crime, but if there's one thing the genre's lacking it's leading ladies. Enter Adelia Aguilar.

When it comes to historical fiction I rarely venture into stories set before the sixteenth century; while I find certain aspects of the Wars of the Roses interesting there's far too many people involved for me to be able to keep track of everyone, and my knowledge of the Middle Ages is very limited so historical fiction set in that period doesn't attract me in the same way a book set during the reign of Henry VIII does. As such I couldn't be certain what was and wasn't historically accurate while reading Mistress of the Art of Death, but that's not the book's fault and I tried not to let it bother me. Ultimately there's no way to enjoy historical fiction if you don't suspend your disbelief a little - after all, none of us were there in the Middle Ages, so how are we really to know what was accurate in the first place? - and I'm a big believer in the power historical fiction has to encourage readers to learn more about history.

That being said, I did feel as though it was obvious this book had been written by a 21st century woman. I know that's a strange thing to say because, obviously, it hasn't been written by a medieval woman, but I didn't feel completely engrossed in the Middle Ages like I was hoping to be. Some of Franklin's descriptions are wonderful and she was clearly a woman who was very passionate about this period of history, but every now and then Adelia said something that was a little jarring and a little too modern. I hate to say that because I am all for more women with agency in historical fiction, particularly pre-suffragette historical fiction, but we must be able to give women in history agency without making them feel like 21st century women in period costumes.

Where Franklin excelled in this novel was with her side characters. Adelia has a charming array of companions who grew on me very quickly, and I thought her characterisation of Henry II was fantastic. Writing a monarch is a difficult thing to do but Franklin wrote Henry II the way I imagined him. Sadly, it was Adelia herself and her love interest whom I had more of a problem with.

Considering this is marketed as a historical crime book first and foremost, the romance took over way too much for my liking and seemed to come out of nowhere. I actually liked the two characters together, there were moments when they had great chemistry, but they seemed to go from distrust to love/lust very quickly and it all got a tad Mills and Boon to the point where Adelia's relationship appeared to be the main focus of the plot rather than her skills as the Middle Ages' answer to Sherlock Holmes. 

I was also a little disappointed that I guessed who the killer was fairly early on. There were enough potential culprits to keep me guessing, just in case I was wrong, but the feeling that I had around half-way through the novel ultimately proved to be correct and it was a shame; I like to be surprised.

Mistress of the Art of Death isn't the best historical crime has to offer - the beginning isn't written particularly well, jumping from perspective to perspective within the chapters so much that I almost stopped reading - but ultimately it's refreshing to read some historical crime with a female lead, and I'm hoping that Adelia has paved the way for even more heroines. I'll continue with the series, if for no other reason than to find out what happens to the side characters and to see if Franklin improves as a writer, and I think this would be a good place to start if you're looking for female-led historical crime. If you're a Medieval expert, however, this book is not for you.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday | My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR, and this week I've split my list into fiction and non-fiction. There are lots of books I want to read, but right now these are the books I'm either most inclined toward or put me most in the mood for spring. My non-fiction selections certainly have a theme as March is Women's History Month (woohoo!) so I'm hoping to absorb all the women's history I can throughout spring and beyond.

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig: I have such fond memories of reading The Girl from Everywhere last spring that it only feels natural to pick up the sequel, which has been released very recently, this spring. I'm looking forward to seeing where Heilig takes this story!

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown: To me, Matthew Hopkins is one of history's most wicked villains. He's also known as The Witchfinder General, and we have him to thank for the persecution of thousands of women across the UK and in the US. It's thanks to a book written by Hopkins that the Salem Witch Trials took place, such is his influence. This novel, another recent release, is about Hopkins' sister and I can't wait to read it; I think it'll be really interesting to read Hopkins through the eyes of a female relative.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth: Something about spring puts me in the mood for fairy tales, and Bitter Greens has been on my radar for a while. Recently I finally got a copy for my kindle and I keep thinking of picking it up so I think I'm going to read it soon; rather than the Brothers Grimm, I think Bitter Greens focuses more on the many women who told fairy tales before the Brothers Grimm collected them and subsequently took the credit for them.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: Another thing spring puts me in the mood for is contemporary, and I've owned this novel for longer than I'd like to admit. Not only does it sound like a charming, very British book, but with the focus on the relationship between a white man and a Pakistani woman, a woman who isn't thought particularly highly of within her community, I think it's going to be a timely and important read, too.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris: I really like the film but I still haven't read the book, and frankly what better book is there to read over Easter?

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly: I saw the film not so long ago and absolutely adored it, it's one of the best films I've seen in a long time, and now I can't wait to read the book and learn more about the African-American women who helped get man to the moon.

Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire by Carol Dyhouse: This is another recent release and a book that sounds super interesting to me. I've seen plenty of books and articles about the male gaze, particularly when I was at uni, but I don't think I've ever read anything about the way men are portrayed for women, and I think this will be a fascinating read given the worrying love some women have for men such as Heathcliff and Christian Grey.

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor: I love to watch documentaries and Helen Castor's are always fantastic, but I've yet to read any of her books. This one sounds brilliant and will hopefully fill some of the gap in my historical knowledge; my favourite era of history is the 16th century, particularly the reign of the Tudors, but my Medieval knowledge is lacking, so I'm hoping this book will teach me about some of the amazing women who paved the way for Elizabeth I.

Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis: I loved Samantha Ellis's memoir, How To Be a Heroine, and I've been looking forward to this book since I found out she was writing a book about Anne Brontë, who is my favourite of the three sisters. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey by Nicola Tallis: I've always had a soft spot for Lady Jane Grey ever since one of my primary school teachers introduced me to her story as the Nine Days Queen, but other than the basics I know very little about her. I know what happened to her and I know that was a very intelligent young woman, but I don't have a feel for her character in the same way I do her cousins, Mary I and Elizabeth I. I've heard very good things about this biography so far and I'm looking forward to getting to it soon.

What are you planning to read this spring?

Monday, 13 March 2017

Review | Final Girls by Riley Sager

by Riley Sager

My Rating:

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past. 

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

I received an eARC of Final Girls from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I don't know about you, but I both love and hate horror movies. Sometimes there's nothing more enjoyable than watching a teen slasher movie and laughing at all the mistakes they make, until it's time to go to bed and turn the lights out and all I can think about is Ghostface appearing at the foot of my bed. I'm a wuss - I can't even watch Shaun of the Dead on my own, although I think that might be because zombies are the supernatural creatures that freak me out the most.

What I do really love, though, is when horror tropes are played around with - it's why I enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods so much (which is a really good film by the way, if you haven't seen it already). So when I heard of Final Girls and was sent an eARC via NetGalley, I couldn't wait to read it; I picked it up at a time when I was really in the mood for a thriller, and what I got was an addictive, dark, adrenaline-filled adventure. Once I started this book I didn't want to put it back down and I easily could have read it in one sitting if I didn't have to be a proper functioning adult.

Essentially, Final Girls plays around with the idea of, you guessed it, the 'final girl'; she's Sidney Prescott in Scream, Ellen Ripley in Alien, Laurie Strode in Halloween. In the novel there are three girls who solely survived separate horrific attacks, the kind of attacks you'd expect to see in a horror movie, whom the media have become obsessed with. Our protagonist, Quincy, is the only member of her group of friends to have survived a massacre ten years before, and she's slowly starting to move on with her life and put the past behind her as much as she can. Then she discovers one of her fellow final girls has been found dead, and the life Quincy has built for herself begins to fall apart.

Final Girls is such a fun idea for a thriller - horrific, yes, I wouldn't want to go through anything that any of these 'final girls' go through, but it's such a cool idea - and it has to be one of the twistiest books I've ever read. There's not a lot I can say about the novel without giving anything away, and I'd hate to give anything away when it's so much fun to discover for yourself as the story unfolds, but I will say it kept me guessing until the end. If someone had asked me to guess the ending of the story at the very beginning, I never would have guessed the outcome in a million years. If I'm being completely honest that might just be because I don't tend to read thrillers often - for all I know someone who is a real thriller nut may find this book a lot more paint-by-numbers than I did - but I'm usually quite good at guessing where a story's going, so it's always nice to be surprised.

Part of me couldn't help but wonder how realistic the ending is, but that didn't take anything away from my enjoyment of it; I don't mind suspending my disbelief a little for a thriller, because frankly if thrillers were really accurate we'd spend a lot of time watching police officers filling out their paperwork. Ultimately I loved the juxtaposition between the beginning and the end of the book, meaning Final Girls has to be the most twisty, turny book I've read since I read Fingersmith.

The most prominent thought I had while reading Final Girls, which I don't have often, is that this book would make a great movie. I'd watch the hell out of that movie, and I'll definitely pick up whatever Riley Sager brings out next. This is already being described as the thriller of the year and I can see why, I enjoyed it a lot and I think that whether you're a thriller junkie or a complete newbie, you'll like this book - especially if you have a soft spot for horror movies.