Nick’s Chapter-a-Day Read-Along – Join Us!

Last year, I took part in Nick’s Chapter-a-day read-along of Les Miserables and enjoyed it so much that I’ve signed up to his 2019 challenge! I know that I would never have had the patience to get through Les Miserables without the read-along and I enjoyed seeing everyone else’s thoughts as we were working our way through the novel. This year, I’m hoping to expand my horizons even further!

So, by popular demand, Nick has chosen four books to read in 2019 which in total have 365 chapters. They are:

 

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes #quixotereadalong
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas #montecristoreadalong
  • Lillith by George McDonald #lilithreadalong
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens #curiosityshopreadalong

Although the idea is obviously to read one chapter a day, last year I found it easier to read in larger chunks. The beauty of this challenge is that you can structure it to whatever suits you – you can read on ahead or catch up whenever you get the chance!

I’ve copied the below from Nick’s original post about the read along, so if you want to join in you’ve got all the information that you need:

How to Participate in the 2019 Chapter-a-Day Read-Along

  1. Get a copy of each of the four books.
  2. If you have your own blog, write a welcome post explaining why you are joining the read-along and what you hope to gain from it. Leave a link to your post in the comments section on Nick’s original blog post. If you don’t have a blog, you can leave your information in the comments section as well.
  3. Download the daily schedule: Nick’s Chapter a Day Reading Schedule 2019
  4. Commit to reading a chapter a day. If you get behind or race ahead, no worries. Life happens.
  5. If you feel like it, post a line a day from the current chapter on social media, using the hashtags listed above. Nick will be posting to Twitter and Facebook each day and would love to read your thoughts, too. When you post, please respect the reading experience of those who may not know the full story. In other words, no spoilers!
  6. Be sure to subscribe to Nick’s blog to receive any read-along updates.

The 2019 Chapter-a-Day Reading Schedule

Here is the broad outline of the year:

  • Don Quixote: January 1 to May 8 (126 chapters plus 2 prologues = 128 days)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: May 9 to September 2 (117 chapters = 117 days)
  • Lilith: September 3 to October 19 (47 chapters = 47 days)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop: October 20 to December 31 (73 chapters = 73 days)

Nick’s blog has more information including sign up information, graphics and links to where you can get hold of copies of all the books listed so please check it out – and join us!

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Review: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

 

Genre: Literary fiction

Similar to: A slower version of The Essex Serpent

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of literary fiction who don’t mind a dash of magical realism

Publication date: 17th January 2018

 

This is an awkward post to write. Initially, I LOVED Once Upon A River – like, sent out a tweet that the author liked about how much I was enjoying it – but once I got into the book…well… I got a little bogged down.

Let me explain…

It’s midwinter in England, in the old Swan Inn on the banks of the Thames. Stories are being told by candlelight by the village locals. Suddenly, a man bursts through the doors, heavily beaten and holding what appears to be a doll. But when the villagers try to help him, they realise that he’s holding the body of a drowned girl. They lay her to rest in a room on her own but hours later – a miracle! – she stirs and seems to come back to life. So starts a tale of intrigue, deception and magic, heavily laden with folklore.

So far so good.

But when the entire book is based around who is the girl  in an age when no-one could tell for sure, I felt like I was literally getting caught in the weeds.

Luckily, Once Upon A River is beautifully, magically written. The prose is lyrical, flowing, well… like a river. However, it also meanders about, with a huge cast of characters forming a number of slower moving tributaries that feed into the main narrative flow. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me but it took a while to understand. It also made the pace of the book s-l-o-w… really slow. Occasionally, the storyline was so stagnant I thought we’d veered off course into an oxbow lake. The gorgeous writing just about managed to pull me through the silt though.

The book is also incredibly atmospheric. I could literally see the characters (there’s pages and pages of descriptive text) even though they’re numerous and somewhat similar. Combined with the writing style this made the novel far more engaging but after a while, instead of gliding effortlessly through the prose I felt like I was drowning in it. I got somewhat swamped by the side stories and exhausted by the sense that I was treading water, waiting for the next thing to happen.

Oddly, the narrative picked up pace towards the end – to the point of feeling a little rushed – which I found quite jarring. I didn’t fully understand the ending (I sensed some kind of moral message but couldn’t quite decipher it) although I appreciated how the author tied all of the narrative threads together. I hated the idea that getting married and having a baby would make everything better though.

Overall, this was a very difficult book to review. I can completely see why some people (a lot of people) have given it five stars – it’s an easy book to immerse yourself in. However, I struggled with the slow pace and the lack of action. Whilst I quite enjoyed reading Once Upon A River, I didn’t love it – but I’m sure plenty of other people will.

Three “the words LITERALLY washed over me”s out of five.

Beautifully written and highly original but a little slow for my taste.

 

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Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley. Thanks NetGalley!

 

Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

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“I will ride the world, in between times, through the farthest countries of night and day”

Genre: Fantasy/YA

Similar to: Grimm’s Fairytales mixed with classic high fantasy

Could be enjoyed by: Those who like their YA fantasy with a darker edge

Publication date: 10th January 2019

 

I am starting 2019 with a bang!

The Winter of the Witch was my most anticipated reads of this year and I’ve already earmarked it as one of the best books of 2019.

Yes, during the second week of January.

It is that good.

I have ADORED the previous two instalments of the Winternight Trilogy and I was super-duper lucky to receive this book as a physical ARC (my first!) directly from the publishers. So, thank you to Tess Henderson at Penguin Random House for sending it to me. It holds a treasured place on my book blogging trolley.

I can’t quite put into words how gorgeous this book is – it is BEAUTIFUL and MAGICAL and ATMOSPHERIC and HISTORIC and ETHEREAL and I have made a Pinterest board to try to get across a little bit of the flavour of the novel because shouting at you in capitals simply won’t achieve it. If you’re so inclined, you can check it out here:

The Winter of the Witch follows on from The Girl in the Tower, with Vasya getting caught up, as usual, in the action and having to flee for her life. Moscow is burning and the people are in turmoil; a small, scruffy witch girl makes for an easy scapegoat. Vasya is tested to the extreme but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, what doesn’t kill her makes her stronger. Helped by the most unlikely of characters she travels through Midnight – a magical realm beyond mortal boundaries to explore her family legacy and realise her true potential. As she returns to the city she foolishly focuses on the battle but not the war and – drumroll – this is where the true scope of her quest is finally revealed.

If you’re expecting a classic tale of good vs evil, that’s not what happens next. Instead, The Winter of the Witch is far more complicated, more nuanced and has far greater scope than the usual trek-through-a-forest-and-one-final-battle fare that is so often recycled in fantasy novels. Tropes are turned on their heads – the princess not only has to save herself but everyone else (twice), the demons don’t get slain, and one of the starring characters…well, no spoilers but OH MY HEART!!!!

Of the three books in the series, I think this one is my favourite. It’s more similar in tone to The Girl in the Tower but less straightforward, more multi-layered, more grown-up. Vasya learns far more about herself and it’s wonderful to see her really coming into her own, mastering her true power and potential. The other characters are further developed too, with each of them showing both the light and shade of their true selves. New characters join the story (with one that could almost be described as cute – but don’t worry, he totally fits in) and there’s a welcome return of the Chyerti, who have a much bigger role than in The Girl in the Tower. Thank goodness there’s a family tree in the back of the book because there’s a lot of people, they’re all related and what with the Russian patronymic system varying by gender (not to mention the nicknames)… yeah, it gets complicated.

The writing, as always, is utterly spellbinding and I was completely drawn in to the mythical world of medieval Russia. The atmosphere is similar to The Bear and the Nightingale but it also holds a more ethereal air – Vasya wandering through Midnight is like the forest from the first book but seen through a veil: real but also not-real, cold and dangerous but also mystic and enchanted. There’s also more violence in this book: more bloodshed, more destruction, more tragedy. The sense of loss and despair is strong and quite visceral at times – I had huge empathy for Vasya and the difficult choices that she was forced to make.

The ending really is the endgame to end all endgames. It was just everything that I’d hoped for, with everything that had been hinted at in the previous two books coming to fruition – and so much more. The twists and turns that lead to the final conclusion were hard to spot in advance and I genuinely didn’t know how things were going to turn out – I was completely mesmerised up until the final page.

Overall – I just loved everything about The Winter of the Witch. The atmosphere, the characters, the plot – all were captivating and I literally devoured the novel in a couple of days. I was worried that the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations but it utterly surpassed them all.

Rating: Five “how can it be over?”s out of five stars.

One word: spellbinding. This is a beautiful, cleverly crafted novel that turns many tropes on their heads whilst retaining a sense of traditional classic storytelling.

A future classic. 

 

 

 

Discussion: Rating Systems for Books

Hello Bookworms!

I recently found a super interesting post (and subsequent Twitter thread) about star ratings for books. The original post was “Rating My Books” by Martjin Hartman (@MartjinHartman) on his blog thedaybeforeyoucame.com. The post really made me think about how I apply ratings to my own book reviews and how much use they really are. I hope Martjin doesn’t mind me using his blog as inspiration but I had quite a few thoughts of my own that I wanted to share…

In the original post, Martjin asked if there was a better system than a one to five number rating. Now, I’ve seen a lot of you use different ways to rate books – everything from breaking down the book into constituent parts (characters, plot etc.) then working out an average (3.7686543 out of 5!) to using letters (B+ etc.) to ignoring star (or heart, or bananas) ratings entirely. But which way is best? FIGHT!!! Let’s discuss…

If you use a rating system, they can be arbitrary, entirely dependant on your mood at the time and can seem crass if you’re talking about a book that covers a sensitive topic (these war poems were great! Five stars!). You also have the issue of interpretation, where you might see two stars as ok-ish but others may think that you mean terrible. One way round that could be to publish a disclaimer explaining your rating system but I don’t think many people will go searching for it before reading your review. 

Not using a rating system seems like an obvious solution but I quite like having a numeric distillation of my thoughts and feelings – not least because it allows me to easily identify which books I loved/hated for end of year stats!

Now, I don’t want to get too philosophical here but I do think there’s an overarching issue with rating systems that I’ve struggled to get my head around and that’s who is this rating actually for? Obviously, I’m going to rate a book based on my experience of it but because a numerical rating can be taken so out of context it does feel I’m saying 4/5 stars – read this book! or one star – this book is awful! when actually what I’m saying is I liked/disliked this book and if you’re like me, you might enjoy/not enjoy it too. That’s an incredibly difficult idea to convey using quantitative data.

For example, my last review (The Secret Loves of Geek Girls) was really difficult to write and score. I know that I’d absolutely recommend the book to certain people because it’s a well written, fun anthology but I personally failed to connect with it. I didn’t want to put anyone off reading it by giving a low rating, but equally to score it highly would be disingenuous. What number out of five can you give to reflect that? 

The answer is…I don’t know. There are so many problems with rating systems and yet I still kind of like them. Personally, I favour the use of half stars to give a bit more variance but I do tend to stick to the 1-5 rating system (1=terrible, 2.5=average, 3=good, 5=OMG-couldn’t-put-it-down-got-completely-lost-in-it-didn’t-realise-it’s-now-2am). However, I think that slapping a number on a book without somehow showing my working out is a bit, well, arbitrary so I also include a little summary passage explaining my reasons (including whether I think this is a great for you but not for me book). 

AND THAT’S THE BEST I’VE GOT. It’s not perfect (don’t get me started on whether to round up or down half stars for NetGalley/Goodreads or what to do with books I’ve DNF’d) but it seems to work for me.

So, what rating system do you use – if you use one at all? Have you encountered any of the problems that I’ve mentioned above? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Not That Bad ed. Roxane Gay

“Dispatches from rape culture”

Genre: Non-fiction, Anthology

Similar to: Nasty Women, Misogynation by Laura Bates

Could be enjoyed by: Enjoy is not the right word AT ALL but this book is so so important it should be read by everyone.

Publication date: 1st November 2018

Wow. This book is like a gut-punch to your emotions. It’s incredibly powerful, often difficult to read but ultimately incredibly important.

Not That Bad is an anthology of #ownvoices stories about rape, assault and harassment. It’s intersectional, featuring people from many different backgrounds (including men and some “household names” that I’d never heard of, but whatever. Not important. The stories are universal). It features a really broad spectrum of experiences (often in quite graphic detail) but also mixes in everyday harassment stories and casual misogyny -and it’s that that makes the book so relatable. It really illustrates how behaviour that we think of as being low-level (or even acceptable) is really the thin end of a wedge that goes from wolf whistles to rape. 

The book focuses on a lot of the issues that rarely gets discussed – coercion, manipulation and abuses of power all feature. It totally breaks down the myth that rape solely consists of a man dragging you into the bushes when you’re walking home at night and the idea that if you didn’t categorically and loudly say the word no then how could anyone reasonably think that you weren’t gagging for it? I really appreciated how the more grey areas of sexual assault were explored and the bravery of the contributors who said “this is what happened and I don’t know if it was rape but I know it was bad”. 

At many times I felt like throwing this book at a wall (if it had been a paperback I would have – you don’t get that excitement with e-ARCs). Weirdly, what got to me the most wasn’t the experiences of the victims but the responses of the people that they told. The title of the book itself refers to how experiences of sexual assault are downplayed – at least you weren’t killed, at least it happened when you were old enough to deal with it, at least he didn’t hurt you, at least you’re ok now. It’s not that bad. That sentiment seemed to be echoed over and over again. Urgh.

What amazed me was the stories about the perpetrators who didn’t feel like they’d done anything wrong. Obviously all of the stories are shocking but the very idea that someone could rape/assault a woman and genuinely not know was mind blowing. The guy who wrote the “sweet” story of hooking up with his girlfriend by carrying her semi-conscious body to the beach to have sex with her was so wrong on so many levels and genuinely made me feel sick. How did we get to a point where young people could think that situation could be construed as romantic?

I think it’s incredibly important for everyone to read this book but I’d highly recommend doing it in small bites. There’s just…a lot. A lot to process. A lot to get mad about. A lot to make you cry. Also, please think carefully about whether the book is going to be triggering for you. It’s pretty graphic and covers a wide range of experiences so do be careful with your mental health. 

Rating: Four and a half “at least you weren’t killed” out of five .

Powerful, upsetting but so, so important. Huge love and respect for everyone that contributed. 

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! I also read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #22 Read an essay anthology.

 

TL;DR October Review

Hello Bookworms!

The clocks have gone back (causing much confusion), the fire is on and the leaves have created a slippery death trap on the steps going up to my front door. It must be October!

I can’t believe that last month I was on a beach in Devon and this month I’m digging out my massive winter coat but I am enjoying the novelty of getting cosy during the dark, cold nights. 

Due to various illnesses and my non-hubs putting his back out lifting a bag of compost – how glamorous – we haven’t done much in the way of leaving the house this month (non-hubs works at a University so we still succumb to freshers flu every year). We have had the damp issue sorted in the other house though and have finished off a few more bits and pieces in the kitchen so a small amount of progress has been made. 

Allotment/garden wise everything has been tidied up and stored away in preparation for the forthcoming cold weather. Due to a labelling error, all of my winter veg have got somewhat mixed up so I have lots of massive unidentified plants romping away. I’ve also got carrots, parsnips and kale still growing (plus a freezer full of beans) so we’re nicely stocked up for the months ahead. 

I’m ploughing ahead with my reading challenges and I’m nearly there with #Read Harder – I’m having a big push next month to finish off what I can (one of the books is Les Mis which I’m trying to read a chapter a day of, so won’t finish that until the end of December). 

Due to my unshakeable belief that since Winter is upon us there’s nothing to do but eat and hibernate, I’ve been quite busy with my blog this month. I wrote a discussion post about whether ARC’s are actually worth it and introduced a new feature called Viewpoint for which I wrote two posts; Top Bookish Podcasts and I’m a Book Blogger, Not A Publicist (which I wrote in response to some nonsense bit of book blogger bashing on Twitter). I also took part in my first blog tour and also the Calendar Girls meme where I chose The Worst Witch as my favourite book with witches.  

I had a bit of a meh month in terms of the books that I reviewed this month but I guess my little run of consistently high ratings had to end eventually. There were a couple of great picks but the rest were pretty dull 😑. They were:

Giant Days by John Allison: Squee! I loved this graphic novel as it gave me such nostalgia for my first few terms at uni. Really enjoyable. Four out of five.

No Tomorrow by Luke Jennings: The second in the series of books that Killing Eve is based on, this was far superior to the initial novel. Still not as good as the TV series but an enthralling page turner in it’s own right. Four out of five.

Dear Mr. Pop Star by Derek and Dave Philpott: I loved this book for it’s innovation, humour and sense of nostalgia. Brilliant -and also a nice stocking filler for Christmas. Four out of five.

The Life and Times of a Very British Man by Kamal Ahmed: I really wanted to like this book but despite a few interesting chapters it was all a bit dull. Two and a half out of five.

Codename: Villanelle by Luke Jennings: The first novel in the series that Killing Eve was based on, this book was a mish mash of four novellas that just didn’t work for me. Watch the TV show instead. Two and a half out of five.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: Could be summed up as “a woman goes for a long walk in incorrect footwear”. I found it all a bit self indulgent. Two and a half out of five.

So that’s October wrapped up! How was it for you? Have you read any of the books I read last month? Are you a Calendar Girl? Follow the links or let me know in the comments!

Confession Time…



Books I haven’t read…yet.

As we all know, there’s too many books out there to be read in a lifetime (sob!) so you have to pick your reading material wisely. This inevitably leads to gaps in all of our reading histories, which got me thinking…which books do people expect me to have read that I haven’t? 

1. About 97% of the Classics



I just don’t get on with classic books by people like Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. I find them so hard to get into, they usually fail to hold my attention and I generally get frustrated at the way that the characters are so bound by societal norms that they can’t just say what they want and get on with it. Also, representation of any minority group is pretty much zero so I kind of get bored reading about very similar types of characters over and over. Am I being unfair? Probably, and perhaps there is more diversity out there than I realise but overall – not for me.

2. The vast majority of YA literature



I’m too bloody old to be interested in all that teenage angst! Again, there are some brilliant examples of YA books that I’ve really enjoyed (most recently, Illuminae) but books by the likes of John Green don’t really do it for me. I have a bit of a personal rule that if the main character carries a backpack, I’m out (she says whilst reading Wild, where the narrator’s backpack features so heavily it almost becomes it’s own character). What can I say, I’m a conundrum 😜.

3. Core texts for most schools


For some unknown reason, my school chose a) not to stream English lessons by ability, b) to devote as little time to English as possible and c) to make us read the most random books ever. This resulted in a woeful teaching standard and one very bored Lucinda. So whilst everyone I’ve ever met that’s roughly my age read books like Of Mice and Men, we got stuck doing Hobson’s Choice which is literally the most boring novel ever. We also had to watch the immensely dull film which was made in 1954, in black and white, which did nothing to improve my feelings for the story. In fact, the only interesting work that we did study was the poetry of Maya Angelou, which has stayed with me to this day. I recently read Of Mice and Men and it was great – no idea why we didn’t study it. 

4. Shakespeare


Again, we’re back to my “how is this relevant?” feelings about classic literature and also the emotional scarring caused by my senior school. I have memories of teachers who would rather make us watch the RSC televised “play” of Macbeth  – a group of hammy actors sitting in a circle reading their lines (no set, no costumes, just big shiny faces) than read the actual book. Possibly something I should revisit as an adult but as soon as I start reading all those doths and tis trues every fibre of my being shouts “NOPE!”

5. Any Harry Potter stuff that isn’t books 1 – 7



 The term “flogging a dead horse” comes to mind when I see all these HP spin off books, play scripts and tenuously linked additions to the Wizarding World. Either write something else entirely (I quite enjoyed The Casual Vacancy) or make up a new fantastical world and start a new series of books there. It seems such a shame that someone as talented as JK Rowling keeps getting dragged into all these watered down versions of her original (brilliant) series. 

So that’s mine – what are your bookish confessions? What famous books haven’t you read? Let me know in the comments!

Discussion: Reading More Than One Book At A Time

A long time ago, when I was a little girl, I would traipse off to the library every week with my Mum or Dad to max out my library card. Going with Dad was better because he would check out a couple of books for me on his card, allowing me to get more than the measly six maximum that the library allowed (classic parenting skills – my Mum would just force me to put some of my choices back. I think my Dad couldn’t be bothered with the hassle). Anyway, when I got home I’d be so excited that I’d read a couple of chapters of one book, then be distracted by the shiny shiny Other New Books so I’d start a different one…then the same thing would happen…and before you knew it I’d have started them all (I had A LOT of bookmarks). Fast forward thirty years and…I still do exactly the same thing. No self control, me ☺

I had absolutely NO IDEA this was weird until I mentioned it on a tag and everyone was like “that’s crazy!” and I was like “is it? I thought it was normal!” 

Evidently not.

So, confession time: I’m currently reading nine different books at the same time. 

(I’ll leave a little gap here so you have time to digest that)

Do you get confused between the stories?

No, fictional questioner. I tend to read from different genres so I can keep all of the plots straight in my head. To me it’s like watching different tv shows – sometimes I binge read one book, sometimes I’ll read a few chapters then flip to something else. 

Do you ever accidentally leave a book that you’re not that into for months on end then forget what’s going on?

Occasionally this does happen but I have a reading planner to prevent such mishaps (get me!) It also stops me from maxing out library renewals because it can take me months to finish a book that I don’t really like.

What are the best things about reading lots of books at once?

I love the variety – you can swap between books and read whatever takes your fancy. It makes reading difficult/long/boring books easier as you can dip in and out of them when you’re in the right frame of mind. It staves off reading slumps by allowing me to start reading that new book that I’m excited about and it gives me more flexibility to fit in ARC’s that have tight deadlines. It also means that if I’m reading a big heavy paperback I don’t have to lug it round with me everywhere!

Do you have any tips for budding multi book readers?

I find it easier to read books that are wildly different from each other so if you’re going to start mixing it up I’d try to make sure I was reading a maximum of one book per genre. Also, make sure you’re prioritising books with deadlines (library books, ARC’s, borrowed books etc.) because it might take you a lot longer to get through them. And finally – enjoy the freedom!

Do you read more than one book at a time, or do you think the whole idea is batshit crazy? Are you tempted to join the dark side? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

​​“Electrifying!”

Genre: Science fiction, speculative fiction

Similar to: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of dystopian fiction or readers wanting to explore gendered oppression from another angle

Publication date: 27th October 2016

Imagine a world where, on the basis of your gender, you’re expected to act demurely and not come across as angry or aggressive. A world where you’re patronised, belittled and afraid of physical and sexual violence because you’re not physically strong enough to fight back. A world where society is structured to silence you, dismiss your ideas and treat you as a maid/sex slave. Where you can only leave the house with a chaperone, aren’t allowed to drive, can’t go out at night, can’t run a business or own property, can’t vote and have to dress in an appropriate manner. 

That’s not too hard to imagine, right? Because I bet you related those ideas to the treatment of women in places like the Middle East (or maybe even the UK or US). 

Ok, so now imagine that I wasn’t talking about the treatment of women – I was talking about the treatment of men.

Oooh.

That’s exactly what Naomi Alderman did in her prize-winning novel “The Power”. In it, women have developed a “skein”, a body organ that produces an electrical charge at will. Some women have a stronger charge than others but almost all are able to produce a bolt of electricity so strong that it can kill whoever they aim it at. Only women are affected and the book follows four individuals (three women and one man) to see how the world changes. 

The novel is also a book within a book, where a fictional male character  (Ben) writes to Alderman from some point in the future, daring to challenge the assumption that men have always been the weaker sex. The subtlety in the writing of these letters is incredible – the way that Ben defers to Alderman, her arguments that biologically women have to be strong and dominant to protect their children, her patronising tone and the final killer line to help Ben’s research to gain credibility “have you considered publishing it under a woman’s name?” all absolutely slayed me. It also highlighted some important points about our own long held beliefs about inherent gender differences – are they really as factual as we think or are they based on lazy stereotypes?

The main thrust of the novel showed how, as always, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It actually shocked me how there was a part of me genuinely cheering on the women who used their newfound strength to oppress the men. One of the best illustrations of this is the inclusion of two news anchors (one male, one female) and the shifting power dynamic between them as women across the globe caused riots, overthrew governments and created wars to exercise their dominance. Again, the subtlety of the writing was excellent but it really made me question the bit of myself that was thinking “ha! Now you know what it’s like!” which kind of suggests that as much as I would have hoped that the discovery of The Power would have created an equal society, the chances are that things would probably play out exactly as described. And – and this is a terrible transgression and one that I’m not proud of – you know who annoyed me the most? The men’s rights activists. I’m a terrible person and a very guilty feminist. 😈

I read that Naomi Alderman doesn’t like people referring to her work as dystopian fiction because for a lot of women this is simply their lived reality. It was amazing how, by simply flipping the genders, the treatment of men felt so abhorrent – and yet we know that women around the globe are treated like this every day. The Power made me confront my own internalised misogyny in a way that completely took me by surprise (I genuinely didn’t think I had any) and made me think about gender issues from an entirely different perspective. If anything, it’s actually given me a tiny bit of empathy towards men who think that feminists are just miserable women trying to take over the world – we’re obviously not but I can see why, from their lofty privileged perches, some men might see feminism as a threat to their way of life – which I guess it might be. (That’s about the point that my empathy dissipates and I think “why do you think you’re entitled to this? It’s not fair!” and I’m back to bring angry.)

The only issue that I had with The Power was the characters. In The Great Female Power Grab most of them behave horribly and there wasn’t really anyone that I connected with. I think this lack of engagement was the missing cherry from the top of the cake – if just one character had been a bit nicer then this really would have been a five star review 😥

Overall, The Power is a dazzling, electrifying book (see what I did there? Ok I stole the pun from Margaret Atwood but still).  The premise is incredibly ambitious and it made me think about power and gender dynamics from an entirely different perspective. If only the characters had been more likeable I would have been fangirling left right and centre but as it stands…

Rating: Four “Not all women!” out of five

Clever, unique, thought proving but not quite attention grabbing enough – the best chips you’ve ever had but without salt and vinegar .

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #17 Read a sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author. 

 

Review: Bitter by Francesca Jakobi

​​“Someone is watching you”*

Genre: General adult fiction

Similar to: Part Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, part Eleanor Oliphant…

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of suspenseful drama with flawed characters 

Publication date: 8th March 2018th

You know when you’re reading a book and there’s a flawed character who has all the right intentions but goes about everything in completely the wrong way? That’s exactly how I felt about Gilda Meyer, the main character in Bitter. Gilda lives on her own in London near to her newly married and highly ungrateful son Reuben and his wife, Alice. She’s had a hard life, emigrating from Germany as a Jewish refugee during the war and consequently never really fitted in. She is told to marry an older man by her father, who sees the nuptials as a chance to further his business interests and when she falls pregnant Gilda finds herself woefully unprepared for the life of a young mother. Through a series of flashbacks, we explore a complicated mother/son relationship and witness her awkward attempts to right the wrongs of the past. 

Bitter is such a complicated emotional tangle of a book – but I loved every second of it. Gilda is a flawed individual and an unreliable narrator (she drinks a lot; we witness her making up fantastical stories to impress her friends) so it’s often left up to the reader to quite literally read between the lines. Gilda’s viewpoint is also tainted by the twin forces of motherly love and mother’s guilt so you’re often able to see the situation far more clearly than she is. I would hazard a guess that she suffered from post-natal depression following Reuben’s birth but Gilda sees the period as evidence of her inability to be a “proper” mother, something that has cast a perpetual shadow over her relationship with her son. Yet even through his diffident and often downright rude treatment of his mother, Gilda’s love for Reuben never wavers. The more Reuben pushes her away, the more Gilda clings to him – her desperate attempts at getting his attention becoming more and more extreme. I spent a lot of my time reading Bitter thinking “Gilda, no!” but at the same time I completely understood why she would behave in that way. As uncomfortable as it was, it made for a very compelling storyline. 

I loved the honesty of Bitter and the originality of writing about a toxic relationship from a mother/son dynamic. I thought that the single person point of view worked exceptionally well as from the outside Gilda appears to be a very unsympathetic character; a distant alcoholic who has never been able to bond with her son or show him affection. Her obsession with Reuben’s life and her interfering ways could have turned her into a real villain but I felt like Gilda’s character was so engaging that I was completely on her side. Many of the scenes were incredibly poignant and the writing so subtley nuanced that I was completely engrossed within the narrative from start to finish. 

I consistently felt that as Gilda’s behaviour became more extreme that her fragile relationship with Reuben and Alice was liable to come crashing down around her ears so I was on the edge of my seat as I approached the ending. It’s not often that you find out the big final reveal in a book at the same time as the characters so it’s testament to the excellent writing that I didn’t see it coming – but I loved the way that things played out. 

Overall, Bitter is a brilliantly written book with a very original premise, well rounded characters and an enthralling storyline. I felt like I had been sucked into the vortex of Gilda’s guilt/love downward spiral and the more desperate she became the more captivated I was – like watching a slow motion car crash, I simply couldn’t look away. Often uncomfortable but thoroughly engaging, I thought that Bitter was a fantastic read.

Rating: Four and a half “Gilda, no!”s out of five.

*Yet again another misleading grab line. Why?

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!