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‘Wild Embers’ Nikita Gill

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WILD EMBERS explores the fire that lies within every soul, weaving words around ideas of feeling at home in your own skin, allowing yourself to heal and learning to embrace your uniqueness with love from the universe.

Featuring rewritten fairytale heroines, goddess wisdom and poetry that burns with revolution, this collection is an explosion of femininity, empowerment and personal growth.

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First and foremost, I’d like to thank Nikita Gill and her wonderful collection for presenting me with a great opportunity to whip out my adorable panda and kitty page markers that I received over Christmas…

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Asda Living if you’re wanting to get your own space kitty bedding.

I’ve read a lot of poetry over the past year and I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said Nikita’s Wild Embers is by far my favourite collection yet.

Compared with a lot of other poetry that I’ve read, I found the poems within this collection to be…simple. ‘Simple’ is a word that carries often negative connotations, but I use the description in this instance in the most positive of ways. I find it’s common for poets – myself included – to use overly fancy metaphors which, while beautiful, can detract from the message that the poet is trying to convey. The focus becomes the cleverness of the metaphor and not the importance of the meaning it carries. Nikita’s poetry is beautifully written but, at the same time, gets straight to the heart of the matter.

One of the running themes throughout Wild Embers is this idea that pain is normal and that we’re allowed to feel it. Very often, well meaning poets write things like “Don’t let anyone bring you down!” and it can almost make you, as a reader, feel weak for allowing negative feelings to attach themselves to you. Nikita assures each of her readers that feeling like this is normal and that it’s okay to feel sad when reflecting on the past, but at the same time she gently encourages us to move forward…to almost thank the pain for what it has taught us and use the strength it has bestowed upon us to move forward. One such example of this can be found within the piece Graveyards and Gardens, in which Nikita talks about the graveyards we harbour inside of us, graveyards which are made up of the people that hurt us and the memories that go along with these people. She talks about us making gardens from these graveyards, using the nutrient-rich ground under which these memories are buried to build afresh. She doesn’t tell us to eradicate those bad memories; she simply tells us to use them as a base upon which to create happier ones.

One of my favourite parts of this collection was the poems dedicated to fairy tale princesses, such as Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Cinderella. We’ve all heard retellings of these famed stories, but Nikita puts a completely unique spin on them, writing about how Cinderella’s godmother was, in fact, a lawyer who took her stepmother and stepsisters to court because they had unlawfully evicted her from a house that was legally hers. Taking some of the magic and miracles out of these fairytales and reimagining these women as resourceful, pragmatic individuals is refreshing and each of Nikita’s readers will be able to see a little of themselves in these characters.

I can’t recommend Wild Embers enough!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Two Steps from Hell’s Victory 

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This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.

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‘Archangel’s Viper’ Nalini Singh

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Once a broken girl known as Sorrow, Holly Chang now prowls the shadowy grey underground of the city for the angels. But it’s not her winged allies who make her a wanted woman – it’s the unknown power coursing through her veins. Brutalised by an insane archangel, she was left with the bloodlust of a vampire, the ability to mesmerise her prey, and a poisonous bite.

Now, someone has put a bounty on her head . . .

Venom is one of the Seven, Archangel Raphael’s private guard, and he’s as infuriating as he is seductive. A centuries-old vampire, his fangs dispense a poison deadlier than Holly’s. But even if Venom can protect Holly from those hunting her, he might not be able to save himself – because the strange, violent power inside Holly is awakening . . .

No one is safe.

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Potential spoilers!

Considering the Guildhunter series is one of my favourites and Archangel’s Viper was released back in September, it has taken me a hell of a long time to get around to reading it…was the wait worth it?

Yes and no. Let me explain.

The Guildhunter series began way back in 2009 and the first book is the book in which we, the readers, first meet Holly. I was a bit of a latecomer to the series, reading Angel’s Blood in 2014, but throughout the next eight books, I always found myself wondering about Holly and Venom. There was just something beneath the taunts that they threw at one another, something other than simple contempt and resignation in being lumped with one another for Holly’s training.

And in Archangel’s Viper, the truth is revealed. These are two people unlike anyone else in the brutal Guildhunter universe. Venom, a vampire with snake-like eyes and impossible speed and agility and Holly, a not-quite-vampire cursed by the tainted essence of Uram, an archangel gone mad (understatement of the year *laughs nervously*)…these are two individuals who both captivate and horrify those around them, but find understanding and acceptance with one another, even if it is begrudgingly prior to this book.

The storyline itself is great. Holly may be a fictional character, but seeing her evolve from the broken, self-named Sorrow into the rainbow-haired, badass woman that she is now has been incredible. Strong female characters are often lacking in paranormal romance fiction, but the Guildhunter series is full of them…from Elena to Honor, from Ashwini to Mahiya, from Michaela (whose a bitch, but is still amazing) to Lijuan (who you can go on a date with here). There isn’t a single woman in these books – mortal, angel or vampire – who isn’t powerful in her own right and what makes these books even better is that the men in this series support them 100% and don’t feel ’emasculated’ by the fact that their female friends and partners can stand their own ground.

However.

The romantic element to Holly and Venom’s relationship was an ember that didn’t get stoked into a raging fire until about 80% of the way through the book (I was reading on Kindle). There was a lot of teasing and a lot of suggestive comments, but Venom didn’t start making her samosas or chai tea from scratch until the near end and while these scenes were touching in all their sweetness and cuteness…it just felt a bit rushed. Venom letting down his defenses and telling Holly about his past and about his Making seemed to come out of nowhere. I just feel that if Archangel’s Viper had been maybe fifty pages longer, I could have believed in their relationship more.

I felt the same about a specific plot element; the bounty on Holly’s head seems to play an integral role in the story as she and Venom prowl the dark underbelly of New York, searching for information regarding the person offering five million for her. They get sidetracked by other things (which I won’t reveal because it’d be a major spoiler), and the whole thing is forgotten about until the end of the book, when it’s quickly explained that it was merely a ‘flunky’ in Charisemnon’s court taking a shine to her because of her connection to Uram. What initially began as a major plot element devolved into nothing and was explained away in the space of two pages.

Archangel’s Viper isn’t my favourite, but it’s a good addition to a fantastic series.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Song: Nine Inch Nails’ Dead Souls (the lyrics just fit perfectly with Holly, plus it’s on the soundtrack of one of my favourite movies)

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This book is available on Amazon in both paperback and e-reader format.

 

‘The Amityville Horror’ Jay Anson

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The classic and terrifying story of one of the most famous supernatural events–the infamous possessed house on Long Island from which the Lutz family fled in 1975.

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SPOILER ALERT!

Okay, so this was meant to be my Halloween special review (you can check out last year’s here), but because I’m shit, I’m 11 days late (doing the review, not that kinda late. Don’t worry, there’ll be no baby Jazzs, thank God). Better late than never, though, right?

So The Amityville Horror was gifted to me on my birthday way back in early October and I was super excited to get stuck in. My favourite kind of horror stories are the kind that are supposedly built upon a foundation of truth (and I use the term ‘favourite’ very loosely here because how can something that scares the metaphorical shit out of me possibly be my favourite? Some mysteries will have to remain unsolved).

The book begins in December 1975, with the Lutz family moving into their new home at 112 Ocean Avenue in the town of Amityville. However, just over one year prior, on 13th November 1974, the spacious family home bore witness to a grisly mass murder at the hands of Ronald DeFeo. The Lutz family aren’t superstitious, though, and while they think the crime tragic and unfortunate, they’re nonetheless excited to move into their new home with their three children.

112 Ocean Avenue was to be their home but for a mere twenty eight days.

What I found chilling about The Amityville Horror is that it doesn’t play out like your stereotypical, run-of-the-mill horror. The events described within it predate horror tropes that began to creep into movies and books of the same genre in much later years (like the green Jel-o type substance seeping down the walls, which instantly put me in mind of Slimer from Ghostbusters, a movie which was released in 1984, seven years after this book). There were also some events – like the black water in the toilets and the front door being violently warped and ripped off its hinges – that I have yet to read of in other books and its the originality of these events that add an air of authenticity to this book. I found myself reading The Amityville Horror and thinking “This sounds pretty convincing” and when you can actually imagine those types of events happening to yourself and your own family, that’s when the chills really begin to seep into your bones.

The horror is a slow-burner. There are multiple occasions when the Lutzs dismiss their experiences as tiredness or their imaginations and what makes for a real edge-of-your-seat horror story is that by the time they realise that something quite other is at play, it’s too late.

What I find most interesting about this story, outside of Jay Anson’s book, is that subsequent owners have reported no such events as the Lutz family described. What do you think? Do you think the Lutz family simply wanted their 15 minutes of fame? Do you think their prior knowledge of the house’s history influenced their perception of otherwise natural occurrences? Did the entities that DeFeo claimed ‘spoke’ to him see something of DeFeo in George Lutz? Let me hear your ideas in the comments below!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Roger Daltrey’s Don’t let the sun go down on me (because who’d want to spend a night in that house?)

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This book is available on Amazon in a shit ton of different formats (okay, like five)

 

 

 

 

‘The Sun and Her Flowers’ Rupi Kaur

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From Rupi Kaur, the bestselling author of Milk and Honey, comes her long-awaited second collection of poetry. Illustrated by Kaur, The Sun and Her Flowers is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising and blooming. It is a celebration of love in all its forms.

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It seems that the world had been eagerly awaiting the publication of Rupi Kaur’s the sun and her flowers in the wake of the New York Time’s bestselling success that was milk & honey (for which you can see the review of here). I thoroughly enjoyed Rupi’s first collection of poetry, finding the combination of simple yet powerful prose alongside equally simple yet powerful illustrations to be something unlike anything I had ever encountered before in poetry.

I wasn’t 100% sure of what I’d think of the sun and her flowers, if I’m really honest. I found that in the wake of milk & honey’s success, a lot of poets, particularly on platforms such as Instagram, were trying to emulate Rupi’s very distinct style. I find being inspired by a person is a wonderful thing; I myself tried my hand at micropoetry and found the challenge of trying to incorporate as much emotion into as few a words as possible to be refreshing. As a writer, it’s always good to experiment with different styles…but as I said, I found a lot of people were trying to emulate Rupi herself. This isn’t a criticism of these people in any way, but I think it’s so important to find your own voice and style too. Being inspired is great, but drawing on that inspiration to forge your own style is even better. Basically what I’m trying to say is that I’ve read so much Rupi-esque poetry following my reading of milk & honey that I was half expecting to be sick of it by now.

But I wasn’t. the sun and her flowers is a thicker volume than milk & honey and it expands upon and adds to the hard-hitting themes explored within its predecessor. There’s themes of abuse, self-neglect, lost love, moving forward, racism, sexism…basically, it’s a collection in which everyone, regardless of their gender, age, sexuality or race, will find a poem or two with which they can relate. In particular, I found the poems regarding Rupi’s parents to be interesting albeit often painful. Their experiences of starting a new life in the USA are experiences that are still relevant today within the current climate, a climate in which immigrants are too often looked upon with scorn and suspicion. It makes for a powerful message.

As with milk & honey, I have no doubt that the sun and her flowers will draw its fair share of criticism. If I stop slurping my tea, I can almost hear the naysayers with their cries of “But it isn’t real poetry!”…but how do we define poetry? Poetry is about the creative expression of thoughts, feelings and ideas and I find it unfair to judge Rupi’s work against the likes of, as I saw in one review, Byron. They’re two completely different people living in vastly different ages. As with everything, poetry has changed vastly over time and while it’s fine to appreciate the works of long-dead poets, it’s also completely fine to appreciate the works of living, up and coming poets.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Song: David Guetta’s (feat. Sia) Titanium 

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This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.

‘Cleaving Souls’ Chauncey Rogers

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Some dangers you cannot outrun. Some nightmares do not end when you wake.

Something is watching Katherine Harris. She can feel it when she goes out. She can feel it inside her home. She feels it in her bed. Her husband, Alex, wants to blame her anxiety on her pregnancy, but he’s often away for work. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be stuck in a small town, to be trapped in a tiny house on a run-down street, to be alone. Kat does, and the feeling only grows worse. 

Whatever is going on, Kat’s certain that it’s far more serious than pregnancy jitters. When Alex takes Kat on a second honeymoon to get her mind off things, it becomes far more dangerous as well.

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I received a free copy of Cleaving Souls, courtesy of Chauncey, in exchange for an honest review. I reviewed Chauncey’s previous book, Home to Roost, the review of which you can check out here.

When I first heard about Cleaving Souls, it seemed to tick all the right boxes on my list of What makes a great novel. Horror? Check (hey, it is Halloween month after all!) Written by Chauncey Rogers, author of Home to Roost, which is one of my best reads of 2017? Check. Intriguing premise? Double check. I had high hopes for Cleaving Souls and I was eager to delve right in.

It did not disappoint. In fact, I’d go as far as to say Cleaving Souls went above and beyond my already high expectations.

One of the first things I want to highlight is Chauncey’s ability to completely immerse his readers in the events within his novels. My reading of this book began in a drafty launderette, where I had to sit for an hour waiting for my laundry to dry. The launderette is bitterly cold in October and the plastic seat I was sat upon did little to enhance my comfort…but I barely noticed my dismal surroundings. Upon reading the first page, the world around me seemed to melt away and was replaced by the disconcerting town of Peascombe in which the book’s protagonist, Kat, lives with her husband.

Let’s talk about the prologue.

The prologue effectively reels a reader in. It’s a prologue that had me asking a lot of questions, questions which I can’t reveal here without giving away potential spoilers. I will say this, though; the answers to your questions don’t start being revealed until around three quarters of the way through the book, meaning it keeps you guessing. I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoy books that have me theorizing throughout and the great thing about Cleaving Souls is that my various theories regarding the gradually worsening creepy happenings in Kat’s life came nowhere near to the actuality of them. The truth underpinning Kat’s dreams and the voice she keeps hearing is far darker than I could have ever imagined.

Which leads me quite nicely onto the horror elements of this book. A lot of horror these days is blood, guts and gore and while that makes me insanely uncomfortable, it doesn’t outright scare me. It doesn’t keep me awake at night. I just watch a few funny videos on YouTube and bam, I forget about it.

Not with Cleaving Souls, though. The horror within this book is creepy. It’s unsettling. It’s unnerving. It’s the kind of horror that stays with you long after you’ve put the book down (hence why it wasn’t a book that I read before sleep). For me, one of the most unnerving elements of Cleaving Souls is Kat’s initial uncertainty over what is and isn’t real. How terrifying must it be to question your own sanity when (spoiler alert) you see your reflection in the TV screen doing things that you most definitely are not? How unsettling must it be to receive texts that disappear, leaving you (and your spouse) wondering if they were ever there at all?

Cleaving Souls is a fresh, innovative book within its genre and one that will keep you guessing right until its terrifying end. If you’re looking for a creepy book to keep you company on these cold, dark nights leading up to Halloween, Cleaving Souls is the book for you.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Queen’s I’m going slightly mad 

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This book is available  to buy on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

 

‘Dark World’ Zak Bagans

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Paranormal investigator Zak Bagans pulls from his years of experience with paranormal activities and unexplained phenomena to provide an even-handed look at a divisive subject

It’s easy to say ghosts exist or don’t exist. Anyone can do that. Trying to figure out the why or what is a different story. Paranormal investigator Zak Bagans, host of the popular Travel Channel series Ghost Adventures, pulls from his years of experience with paranormal activities and unexplained phenomena to provide an evenhanded look at a divisive subject.

In Dark World, regardless of whether you believe in the afterlife or not, Zak does his best to find and share answers to the phenomena that people encounter. He wants you to experience a haunting through his eyes: to feel what it’s like to be scared, freaked out, pushed, cold, sluggish, whispered-at and touched by an ethereal being or attacked by a demonic spirit. But beyond simply experiencing these events, Zak is looking for the reasons behind them, searching for answers to the unanswered questions.

Addressing all the major issues and theories of the field in an impartial way, Dark World is a must read for paranormal enthusiasts, those who don’t believe and anyone who’s ever wondered about things that go bump in the night.

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So something a little bit different for today’s review and I have to be honest and say I stupidly didn’t start this book for ages because I read mostly at night and was expecting this to be scary…(and the fact that this wasn’t particularly scary is not a criticism. I have enough night terrors and nightmares at it is, sheesh). Anyway, I’ve been interested in the paranormal for yeeeeeeeeeeeeears, though, having had my first unexplained, spooky experience when I was six years old so I really, really wanted to read this book.

Okay, so, my family tease me relentlessly for watching paranormal investigation shows and when I watch the odd episode of Most Haunted…I can totally see why. They run around screaming and whenever stuff happens, it’s always, always conveniently off camera.

But Ghost Adventures is different. Sure, it can be hilariously dramatic sometimes but the GA crew take what they do seriously. If something happens or if something is captured on video or on a digital recorder, they don’t just take it at face value. They go out of their way to try and debunk it before slapping a ‘Paranormal’ label on it.

And this is why I wanted to read Zak Bagans’ book. There’s only so much that they can fit into an hour long episode and I was hoping Dark World would provide me with an opportunity to delve behind the scenes and turn a two dimensional TV viewer’s perspective into something more. 

Dark World did not disappoint.

The book seems to be split into two halves; the first half is an account of Zak’s personal experiences with the paranormal and an in depth discussion of his past investigations with his team, while the second half is an eye opening exploration into the various paranormal theories out there, including some of his own. I’m not gonna lie, some of the theories seem pretty, well, out there but hey, it wasn’t so long ago (well, in terms of human existence anyway) that people thought the notion of the Earth revolving around the sun was pretty cray cray. I particularly enjoyed the first half the book because I enjoy knowing the hows and the whys. When I first began binge watching Ghost Adventures, I will be honest and say I thought Zak was just an over confident, overly bossy guy and having read Dark World, I have to confess that I feel quite bad in that initial assumption because there’s a reason behind it all. If you’re not confident in an investigation, why should anyone (dead or alive) take you seriously? If you don’t take charge of the situation, an investigation becomes somewhat shambolic with people having no idea of what they should be doing.

My only real issue with this book was the dramatic change in tone in the second half the book. It became quite theoretical and while I did find it interesting, I did find it quite heavy going at times because I don’t come from a science background. However, I do appreciate this might say more about me than it does about the book. Having just started an MA, I have been sitting here up the eyeballs in journal papers and textbooks so it’s quite possible that I’m just theoried out. The theories within this book and Zak’s ability to view the paranormal from a range of different perspectives demonstrate both his passion for this subject and his maturity about it. A lot of people just scoff and say “Ha! Ghosts!? Bullfuckingshit.” without actually taking any arguments, research and evidence into consideration. Zak seems to say to his readers, believers and skeptics alike, “I get that this seems pretty weird, but hear me out and keep an open mind about it.”  He understands and appreciates that there are people who are rightfully skeptical, but through this book, he presents his evidence and allows people to make up their own minds. He’s presented evidence that the paranormal does exist in a clear and thoroughly researched manner, so perhaps it’s time that the skeptics presented their evidence that the paranormal doesn’t exist.

This book is relatively old (well, like, 6 or 7 years) and I know Zak has written other books since. It’d be interesting to see how his ideas have changed in the years following this book’s publication.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Song: Ghostbuster’s theme (believe me, I wanted to find something a bit more deep and meaningful, but it’s the only song that seems to truly fit…honest…)

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This book is available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book format.

‘I Am Legend’ Richard Matheson

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An acclaimed SF novel about vampires. The last man on earth is not alone …

Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth … but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire, and they are hungry for Neville’s blood.

By day he is the hunter, stalking the undead through the ruins of civilisation. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn.

How long can one man survive like this?

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Okay, before I begin the actual review, let me just say this one, crucial thing; if you haven’t read I Am Legend because you watched I Am Legend the movie with Will Smith and a stupid, confusing ending…well, banish whatever notions you had about the book right now. They are two completely different entities. The book and the movie share a title, the protagonist of each share a name and there’s vampires…the similarities end there (although admittedly, on paper (or on screen, wah brackets within brackets…braception?) it does sound like they’re very similar).

I Am Legend is an interesting book. Clocking in at a mere 160 pages, it’s a book that’s a unique blend of sci-fi and horror and is a book that has inspired contemporary well-known horror authors such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Hell, if that isn’t an endorsement then I don’t know what is!

Now, this might be controversial to say, but the book didn’t blow me away (hey, that rhymed!). I Am Legend was first published in 1954 and since then, a lot of horror novels have been published. It’s not so much that I Am Legend is bad or boring, it’s more I’ve become desensitized to horror because it’s such a prevalent genre in the 21st century. Had I read this book upon its initial publication, sure, then I might have found it truly terrifying. The notion of a mysterious illness that turns people into the literal walking dead, an illness with seemingly no preventative measures or cure…it does sound like a scary premise for a book and it was…back in 1954. This isn’t so much a flaw of the book, this is more a flaw with me, its reader.

One thing I did really like about I Am Legend, though, is Robert Neville’s flashbacks. Seeing the life he’d had juxtaposed against his current situation served as a way of demonstrating to the reader just how much he’s lost. I think for me, some of the real horror lay in the fact that he’s completely and utterly alone with only his painful memories to keep him company. I may be generalizing here, but the idea of being alone is a frightening prospect for many people.

In terms of the narration, I initially found Neville’s thoughts quite difficult to follow, but upon reflection, I think the way in which his thoughts seem jumbled and nonsensical is a way of demonstrating how his loneliness is affecting him. The narration is a mirror image of Neville’s thoughts and, as a result, a reader really gets a sense of his confusion, fear and sheer frustration. It’s a form of narration that really gets a reader empathizing with him and books that allow a reader to walk in the shoes of another are books that are well written.

Overall, a cleverly, well-written book but not one I found overly scary.

Now, before I sign off this review, I propose a fun drinking game! It’s called Neck-a-shot-everytime-Robert Neville-spills-his-whisky-or-throws-or-breaks-his-whisky-glass. Let’s see how many of us can get past the third chapter!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Song: Iron Maiden’s Fear of the dark

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This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.

 

‘I call myself a feminist’ Victoria Pepe (and many others) – review + short essay

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Is feminism still a dirty word? We asked twenty-five of the brightest, funniest, bravest young women what being a feminist in 2015 means to them.
We hear from Laura Bates (of the Everyday Sexism Project), Reni Eddo-Lodge (award-winning journalist and author), Yas Necati (an eighteen-year-old activist), Laura Pankhurst, great-great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and an activist in her own right, comedian Sofie Hagen, engineer Naomi Mitchison and Louise O’Neill, author of the award-winning feminist Young Adult novel Only Ever Yours. Writing about a huge variety of subjects, we have Martha Mosse on how she became a feminist, Alice Stride on sexism in language, Amy Annette addressing the body politic and Samira Shackle on having her eyes opened in a hostel for survivors of acid attacks in Islamabad, while Maysa Haque thinks about the way Islam has informed her feminism and Isabel Adomakoh Young insists that women don’t have to be perfect. There are twelve other performers, politicians and writers who include Jade Anouka, Emily Benn, Abigail Matson-Phippard, Hajar Wright and Jinan Younis.
Is the word feminist still to be shunned? Is feminism still thought of as anti-men rather than pro-human? Is this generation of feminists – outspoken, funny and focused – the best we’ve had for long while? Has the internet given them a voice and power previously unknown?

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I am a feminist. I am a feminist because I believe that all women are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men. I believe women are entitled to these rights and opportunities from the moment that they take their first breath, but too often this isn’t the case. In 2015, India’s Minister on Women and Child Development stated that approximately 2,000 girls are killed across India on a daily basis because of their gender. This reason, among many countless others, is why I am a feminist.

Within modern Western society, there’s this dangerous misconception that because “things are better than they used to be” there’s nothing left to fight for. In legal terms, things have indeed progressed within the last century in Great Britain, but sexism is still prevalent in our everyday lives. The misconception that sexism aimed at women doesn’t exist has arisen because it’s something that’s become so entrenched within our society that a lot of people simply don’t notice it. It’s become almost normal and there’s something seriously fucked up about that. Furthermore, even if sexism didn’t exist within our society, why shouldn’t we continue to fight for the rights of other girls and women worldwide? For the girls and women who are denied a voice, denied an education, denied autonomy over their own bodies? It is our responsibility – men included- to fight for the rights of these people. It’s sickening that a woman felt that her only option was to commit suicide after her family denied her the right to an a cesarean section when her labour became too painful and dangerous. It’s wrong that girls as young as six are married off by their families, denying them the chance of a childhood and an education and robbing them of their dignity. It’s disgusting that some women aren’t allowed to leave the house without their husband’s permission, as though they are objects and not free-thinking individuals. Shouldn’t we fight for them too? Women such as Emmeline Pankhurst fought tirelessly for women’s rights and it’s time we carried that fighting spirit to other parts of the world.

A friend and I had a discussion about the aforementioned everyday sexism that’s entrenched within our society here in England, the focus of the conversation being on the differences in the language used to describe men and women. There are certain words that are usually exclusive to the describing of women. Words like ‘high maintenance’, ‘hormonal’ and ‘ditsy’ are words that are lacking from the repertoire of adjectives used to describe men and words such as ‘ambitious’ and ‘bossy’ are words that have comparatively more negative connotations than their synonyms of ‘driven’ and ‘strong-minded’, which are more likely to be used when describing men. Our conversation then moved onto the sexism that we ourselves have experienced and I’ll share some of my experiences with you right now. When I was 20, a guy told me that if I “just lost some weight”, I’d be really “pretty”, as if my worth is weighed by my outward appearance alone, as if beauty boils down to the size of a person’s body…as if my sole purpose is to be aesthetically pleasing to those around me. When I was 22, a guy lectured me on what my body should be able to do because I had the ‘audacity’ to say that I was too tired to have sex with him again. The same guy also got indescribably angry at dinner one night when it dawned on him that I, a woman, got paid more than him. He then proceeded to near enough wrestle the bill for said dinner off me because I’d suggested going halves, saying that as a woman I couldn’t pay for things like that. He also used to laugh in my face when we were arguing – ironically, it was usually about feminism – saying that I was “cute” when I was angry and “tried” to argue. He was a disgusting person who thought my sole purpose was to serve his physical needs and to be a bit of arm candy. He didn’t respect the fact that I was happily independent with my own income and my own set of beliefs and values.

So, let me reiterate; I am a feminist because I believe women worldwide, including those who identify as female – of any age, sexuality or race – are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men. We’re entitled to not be lectured on our bodies. We’re entitled to autonomy over our bodies. We’re entitled to an education. We’re entitled to a voice. We’re entitled to the same wages as men for doing the same jobs. We’re entitled to exist and to be free to enjoy that existence.

And this is why I love I call myself a feminist. It’s essentially a book of short essays, each one written by a feminist. These women cover a broad spectrum of the global female community and gives them each a moment to voice their ideas on feminism and what it means to them. I love how inclusive this book is in the way that it recognises that women of all backgrounds suffer at the hands of discrimination based on their gender.

There’s a massive emphasis on intersectionality, which is essentially the fact that many forms of discrimination and oppression intersect with one another. This book helps a reader to understand this notion and emphasises the importance of understanding that many women fight a battle against discrimination on many fronts. This understanding helps the feminist movement become an all-inclusive movement, a movement that recognises and respects the individual nature of each person’s experiences.

I also love how this book promotes the reality that men can be feminists too. Men have a responsibility to change their attitudes towards women and to support the women in their lives. Many men already have feminist values, but are reluctant to label them as that because of the the negative connotations that the term has been weighted down with over the years. Feminism is often branded as ‘man hating’, but it’s not this at all. Feminism is about being on equal footing with men and there is no shame in a man wanting this for women.

To conclude, there’s an extensive bibliography at the back of this book which I think is a fantastic way of encouraging readers to expand upon their knowledge of the issue regarding the equal rights of women.

I call myself a feminist is an engaging and enlightening read and one I recommend for everyone. 

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Lesley Gore’s You don’t own me

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This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.

‘The Little Stranger’ Sarah Waters

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In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, its owners – mother, son and daughter – struggling to keep pace. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.

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Now, just a quick heads up in case you hadn’t realized…but there might be some spoilers in this review, simply because this book has left me somewhat baffled and I think I’m gonna need to do some theorizing.

I’m not overly familiar with Sarah Waters’ work, having only previously read Affinity while I was at university. I read The Little Stranger based on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend who, incidentally, had read this while also at university. I grabbed a beat up old copy from a really cute second bookstore in Glasgow and once the opportunity arose, I delved right in, eager to be transported to a bygone era in which afternoon tea was still very much a ‘thing’.

In terms of the written style, I cannot fault Sarah at all. She gives Dr Faraday – the narrator – such a distinct voice and I think when an author can successfully pen an entire novel from the perspective of someone of not only a different era and profession, but of a different gender too, then I think their talent as a writer really shines through. I found myself completely and utterly absorbed in Faraday’s story, almost as though he were addressing me directly in his recounting of this tragic tale.

Furthermore, Sarah’s talent as a writer was, for me, showcased even further in my immediate dislike for Faraday. As the book is written from a first person narrative, a reader quickly gains a good sense of his personality…and my god, what a prick! I find his character patronizing beyond belief. He counters Caroline and Mrs Ayres’ claims with statements such as “You’re just tired!” and, rather creepily, he constantly refers to Caroline, who at one point is his fiancee, as a “good girl” whenever she agrees with him or goes along with his preferred course of action. His character makes me skin crawl and the shame he initially feels at his developing feelings towards Caroline – because of her eccentricity and looks – only serves to further my dislike for him. A writer who can render a character into an actual person, one who a reader can muster such strong feelings for, is, for want of a better word, gifted.

Let’s talk about the actual plot, though. The Little Stranger introduces the reader to Hundreds Hall, a once stately home that is now collapsing under the weight of financial pressure and natural decay. Faraday, on a routine visit, befriends the Ayres family and soon becomes a staple part of their everyday existence and vice versa. As the weeks progress, however, it soon becomes apparent to Faraday that something more sinister is afoot. Roderick Ayres begins having ‘delusions’ and ‘hallucinations’, all while mysterious burn marks appear around his bedroom. Betty, the housemaid, speaks of “a bad thing” being in the house. Mrs Ayres speaks of her first, long-dead daughter after childish scribbles suddenly start manifesting on the walls, convinced that she’s returned. Caroline, initially dubious about their claims, soon begins questioning happenings around the house too.

The question is, though, is any of it real? Is there anything inherently supernatural about these happenings or, as I personally suspect, are these happenings a result of a somewhat obsessive and unreliable narrator? The tragic ending is left open to interpretation…but here are my thoughts.

I haven’t quite ironed out all the kinks in my theory, but I think Faraday is at the center of most of the events. I think he takes advantage of Roderick’s illness as a means of achieving his ultimate goal; ownership of Hundreds Hall. He seems to have a deep-rooted obsession with Hundreds Hall, which becomes apparent in the opening chapter where he’s a child and at a fete, being hosted by the Ayres, with his mother. Having gained access to the house, he chips away at a decorative acorn he sees on some plaster board for no reason other than the fact he wants to “possess” a part of the house. This obsession is further displayed when he becomes angered by Caroline’s reluctance to live in the house when they talk about their post-wedding plans and he then becomes downright furious when she decides to sell up towards the end of the book. In the final chapter (fuck it, I’ve already mentioned spoiler alerts), we find him sweeping the now-derelict Hall three years after the death of Caroline, because he cannot bring himself to relinquish ownership of his keys…

…which leads me to the part of the novel where I began to suspect (rather belatedly, but cut me some slack, I’m not a detective!) that Faraday had played a hand in these events. At the inquest into Caroline’s death, Betty claims she heard Caroline exclaim “You!” before her fall from the second floor landing, indicating that she had encountered somebody that she knew. When we learn that Faraday was snoozing in his car but two miles away (and ‘dreams’ of walking up Hundreds Hall’s driveway) and is in possession of his own set of keys…well, it becomes apparent who “You!” was, especially as all this follows Faraday’s erratic and obsessive behaviour. In his narrative, he comes across as just as puzzled and distressed as anyone else following the death, but the fact that this is in first person narrative automatically makes him an unreliable narrator.

Maybe I should be a detective…

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It’s a look that suits me, I think.

So, I’ve concluded that Faraday is pretty much Caroline’s killer, but what of the other ‘happenings’?

My conclusion regarding Caroline’s death has led me to believe that Faraday plays a role in nearly all of the supposed ‘ghostly’ events in the book. Following Roderick’s breakdown, which has probably been brought on by belated shell shock and the pressures of trying to run a declining estate, I feel Faraday perhaps takes advantage of the nervous tension running rife throughout the Hall.

But is the role he plays in these events subconcious? While discussing the ‘poltergeist’ activity with his colleague, Dr Seeley, Seeley suggests an idea derived from a popular school of thought regarding poltergeist activity; perhaps the activity has arisen from the unconscious part of someone’s brain, the negative emotions they generally keep hidden manifesting in the form of destructive activity. This theory of mine is given weight by a scene in which Faraday returns to his home and, upon going to bed, imagines himself travelling through the Hall and into Caroline’s bedroom (creepy anyway, but whatever). Incidentally, a lot of the activity occurs at night. Is Faraday somehow projecting his subconscious thoughts and feelings upon Hundreds Hall and its residents, driving them to brink of insanity? It seems a credible theory when we take into account the Ayres family were mostly fine until Faraday rocked up…

Also, is Faraday the “little stranger”, a reference, perhaps, to the young boy we meet in the first chapter who’s so desperate for a slice of the Ayres’ life?

Eugh! So many questions!

Anyway, while I enjoyed this book and have delighted in theorizing, I found it to be quite slow moving, which meant the first half of the book took me a good three or four days to get through. However, once “shit hits the fan”, it’s a book that is quite literally unputdownable (shut up, it’s a word). I devoured the final 200 or so pages in one lengthy sitting.

A great read! Bravo! *claps*

Rating: 4 out of 5

Song: Mutemath’s You are mine 

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This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.

 

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