The Power – Naomi Alderman

cover-jpg-rendition-460-707

Equality, prosperity and power are just some of the aims of feminists past and present – but what would a world controlled by women actually look like? In her fourth novel, author Naomi Alderman inverts traditional gender roles to create a world where women quite literally hold all the power and men tremble at their feet.

Love it or hate it, utopian and dystopian fiction has a lot to say about how people live their lives and the desires, dreams and fears that lurk under the covers of society. Dystopic works throughout the 20th century have explored totalitarian states, brainwashing, societal complacency and overpopulation. They reflect societal fears of a future in which too much power has been lost to the state, through the wonderful world of science fiction.

This genre suits feminist complaints by questioning the conventional exercise of power between the sexes, often delving into frustrations of women in a patriarchal society. Previous works explored the prospect of women-led civilisations in which gender roles are reversed or worlds where women live alone, having somehow discovered the secret to asexual reproduction.

There is a reason you don’t get many all-male utopias, but I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more novels that explore what a world would be like where women not only ruled, but ruled with power. So many science-fiction novels strived to illuminate societal inequality through exaggeration and role reversal, or the creation of purer, softer societies where women rule each other with soft hands, but I have yet to come across a book which inverts the status to devastating effect.

‘The Power’ is just such a novel.

Naomi Alderman’s latest novel is a manuscript written 5,000 years in the future, documenting the rising power of a female elite. The story begins with the ‘Day of the Girls’, when teenage girls across the world wake with a strange new power. It starts as a subtle throbbing sensation between the collarbones and crackles across the skin, filling the air with electrostatic discharge and the smell of rain and rotten fruit, before emerging as a spark of light from the tips of the fingers.

What would the world look like if men were afraid of women rather than women being frightened of men?

A slight warning, while not fully divulged in this review, the book contains one or two themes that some readers might find disturbing.

Through the guise of a fictional future researcher, Alderman follows the stories of four characters and how they are affected as the world begins to change. We meet Roxy, a tough, foul-mouthed daughter of a London crime lord who is out to seek revenge; Allie, a dual-heritage girl from Jacksonville who, having suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of her foster father, rebrands herself as charismatic faith-leader Mother Eve; Margot, the aspiring New England Governor along with her confused daughter Jocelyn; and Tunde, a plucky Nigerian journalist who strives to uncover the ugly truth behind the rising female power.

‘Men have evolved to be strong worker homestead-keepers, while women – with babies to protect from harm – have had to become aggressive and violent.’

A few videos emerge across social media platforms showing girls seemingly electrocuting men with their hands. The initial reaction is one of disbelief, but as more and more begin to appear, society is forced to attempt to address this strange new phenomenon. As childish tussles give way to deadly brawls and schools are forced to begin gender segregation, the very fabric of society unravels and young women are recruited to fight a bitter battle between the sexes that ravages Eastern Europe.

In Alderman’s present, electricity is no longer a thing of convenience, but a power to be held within the hands of women, to throw off the shackles of oppression. The future, however, is anything but bright, and all thoughts of equality are thrown to the wind. Ideas of a softer, more maternal society give way to hordes of women who rule with iron fists, as men are assigned their place on the bottom rungs of the ladder, forced into submission as slaves to the female race.

The storyline is complex and multi-layered, presenting a future where women have forgotten the male-dominated times of the past – the systems overthrown within the main body of text – and men are thought to be the fairer sex. This book is so much more than the latest attempt at a feminist dystopia. It is refreshing and insightful, combining a gripping storyline alongside an interesting analysis of societal ideas about equality and fairness within gender roles.

This review was first published on online for E&T magazine.

A Tale of Two Families – Dodie Smith

“But these backwaters of existence sometimes breed, in their sluggish depths, strange acuities of emotion” ― Edith Wharton

I’d never heard of this book, or the author, before I was asked to review it. In fact, I will confess to having thought it was a modern novel – as so many I am requested to review are. So I was surprised, but also not, having read the novel, to discover it was written in the 1970s. I was taken by the language and setting, and thought the portrayal of the time was done very well, but I also thought that is had a slightly modern feel to it. This has led me to conclude that Dodie Smith was somewhat ahead of her contemporaries in her writing style.

A Tale of Two Families – Dodie Smith

‘This is going to be a long five minutes’ walk,’ said June.

May thought this possible as there was still no sign of any house, but she continued to find things to praise: the overgrown hedges, the tall, still-dripping trees, the brilliant green of the grassy verges, the freshness of the air. And after several more bends in the lane they saw a white wooden gate standing open. Once through this they looked across a large, circular lawn surrounded by a gravel drive. And now at last they were face to face with the house.

‘Much too large,’ said June.

51QWhoqlqpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_May and June are devoted sisters, married to equally-devoted brothers, George and Robert, and even after more than two decades of marriage the four still thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. So when May and her highly-successful husband commit to a five-year lease on a huge, decaying manor house out in the country it seems only natural that they should persuade June and Robert to accept, rent free, a cottage within the grounds.

The two families leave London and, once joined by two not-quite-stereotypical grandparents, and blessed by regular visits from their respective children, begin to thoroughly enjoy their new experiences. Any initial qualms about leaving the city are lost in blissful hours spent wandering through the lilac groves, listening to the birdsong of the resident nightingale, absorbing the country air and indulging in May’s excellent cooking. The only thing that could possibly distress this perfect equilibrium is the compulsory visit of dreaded Aunt Mildred aka ‘Mildew’. Eccentric, annoying and thoroughly too young for her age, Mildred delights in secret dramas, regardless of their truth, or the harm that they may cause.

First and foremost I was absolutely delighted at Dodie Smith’s portrayal of country living. There are few things I love more than day-dreaming of a blissful, quiet life somewhere remote, with only the smell of flowers, birdsong, and the thought of bare-footed, early morning strolls through dew-soaked grass to trouble me. Even though Smith’s portrayal comes through the eyes of a somewhat dysfunctional family unit it still felt to me like a kind of absolute heaven, although perhaps a less than traditional view of heaven . I was so taken by the setting, from the second May and June arrived at the manor house, on a day in which the house and ground were engulfed by a stereotypical English downpour. The rain could not put me off, there was a magic in the dripping of the tree-lined driveway, and the impression of the foreboding, unloved Dower house, standing cold and resolute against the elements, and when the washed-out introduction gave way to pure, unadulterated spring bliss I was smitten. The whole book is brimming with lilac groves, quaint woodlands, blossoms, sundials and mounds and mounds of asparagus and strawberries – I loved every single second of it.

This is a book where characters are really central to the plot, I know characters are important in any story, but here it is the development of the characters that drive the story forward. Smith clearly had a talent for creating quirky, yet believable characters. Each and every character that passes through the estate has some kind of secret, inner passion or frustration. From the sensual Corinna, who is well and truly tired of waiting for saintly Hugh to make a move on her, to the quietly frustrated Robert, who, try as he might, cannot get his next novel on paper. Mildred inspires the release of these frustrations, allowing characters true desires to take form, while undoubtedly an expertly crafter character in her own right, her primary role is to serve as a catalyst for development in others.

In this way the story is very much in the moment, and in the experience, of two families shared existence. The day-to-day happenings in the Dower house are all at once endearing, humorous, envy-inducing, and on the whole utterly ridiculous. Think about it, could you really imagine your parents moving in with your aunt and uncle? Or yourself moving in with your sister/brother and their significant other? Regardless of how close knit a family you come from the situation is really rather odd. The book reads like an extended summer holiday – beautiful in its own way but very much temporary. I get the impression that, in the end, both families might actually quite like to return home.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Tale of Two Families, and would be interested to look up Smith’s other works in the future. I found the book to be a perfect, relaxing afternoon read – it left me feeling pleasantly fulfilled, and without the emotional torture than comes from a horrific book hangover. That said, if you like a bit more substance to your books, there is definitely potential to delve a little further into the hidden meanings behind characters’ actions. On the whole, would recommend, whether as a casual afternoon read or a more in depth book club selection.

I received a free copy of A Tale of Two Families from Hesperus Press in exchange for an honest review.

To Kill a Mockingbird ten-day (re)read challenge

“I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Atticus Finch

Penguin Random House have today launched a ten-day social media campaign to get people to (re)read To Kill a Mockingbird, ahead of the release of Harper Lee’s highly-anticipated second novel Go Set a Watchman.

9d530ff5ee3031af2d95b62e86f3fa61

The ten-day challenge, which will run from 21–31 May, is described as a ‘a read-along for readers old and new, (re)discovering and discussing the book together to a loose ten day plan.’

‘We’ll together be reading this brilliant piece of work by Harper Lee in preparation for Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman, out on the 14th July.’

You can keep up with what’s going on by following the Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr sites that have been set up for Go Set a Watchman.

‘During this time we’ll be releasing lots of Mockingbird material, like family tree infographics, story guides and our favourite quotes,’ A Random House spokesperson has said. ‘We’ll also be making a call-out for everyone to share photos of their well-loved copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and hosting competitions to win copies of Go Set A Watchman to be sent out to lucky recipients as soon as the book is published in July.’

I don’t own a well-loved copy, although I did buy a copy of the new edition a couple of months back in anticipation of the release of Go Set a Watchman. I’m just so keen that I jumped ahead of the game!

Haven’t got a copy yet? Click here to solve that problem.

Go Set a Watchman, which sees Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird return to Maycomb as an adult, will be released on 14th July.

****GIVEAWAY****

In keeping with the spirit of the campaign I’ve decided to give you a chance to win a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. So if you want to take part in the challenge, but don’t have a copy of the book here’s your chance to get one. Just comment on this post by Sunday 24th May to be in with a chance of winning. The winner will be selected at random.

Good luck!

World Book Night – Amazon freebie!

In celebration of World Book Night I have teamed up with author N Caraway to offer you all the chance to read his novels for free on your kindles.

World Book Night is an annual celebration of reading and books that takes place in the UK on 23 April. Across the country volunteers give out hundreds of thousands pre-chosen books in their communities to share their love of reading with people who don’t own books or are unable to read regularly.

This years book list has some cracking reads on it – check out the World Book Night website for more information, and to locate participating venues.

And for those of your who can’t participate in any of tonight’s events head on over to Amazon, or Amazon UK, and grab yourself a free ebook to sink your teeth into instead.

Click on the book covers to get yourself a copy.

The Manneken Pis

maneA lonely old man is living out the last days of his life in Brussels, a city that alternates between small-town non-entity and extreme surrealist quirkiness, symbolised by the famous statue of a small boy urinating. Increasingly confused by the effects of a heart attack, he tries to find meaning in one last rational act of kindness before he dies.

Set in the capital of a rapidly ageing Europe, the second novel by N Caraway is a tragicomic study of solitude and growing old that also provides a surprising new take on the theme of the classic Frank Capra movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

The Humanitarian

51W+tDMNtgLAfter decades of civil war a peace deal is in the offing for the ravaged land of South Sudan, where the United Nations and a plethora of non-government organisations have come together to deliver emergency aid to the thousands of displaced and homeless people scattered in camps and villages across the vast wilderness of swamps and scrubland.

Richards is a UN official on his final mission, leading a small team to a remote region. For him it is not just the war which is ending, but the world he has come to inhabit. Detachment and isolation from all that is around him begin to take hold and memories of another life threaten to break through the thin walls he has built around himself. As he sinks deeper into inner darkness a chance meeting with a young priest seems to offer the hope of a way back to belief in humanity and meaning, but the road is rough.

Charlotte’s Web named best children’s book of all time!

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ― C. S. Lewis

I was over the moon today to learn that Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White had been voted the best children’s book of all time.

The 1952 tale, about a lovable pig named Wilbur who is saved from the slaughter thanks to his unlikely friendship with a resourceful spider named Charlotte, was named number one in a list of 151 books chosen by critics in a poll by BBC Culture.

917FQerThOL

The initial selection was whittled down to a list of the 21 top books in children’s literature, a diverse selection of books which provides a charming glimpse into children’s literature of the past two centuries.

1. Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
3. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
5. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
6. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
7. Winnie-the-Pooh – A. A. Milne
8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
9. A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin
10. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle
11. The Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder
12. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
13. From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler – E. L. Koenigsburg
14. The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
15. His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman
16. Matilda – Roald Dahl
17. Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh
18. Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren
19. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
20. Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown and Pat Hancock
21. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

There are many books on the list I would have happily seen voted number one, but I think the most deserving book won. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Little Women are all firm favourites of mine, but they are books I came to love later on in life, whereas Charlotte’s Web was one of the first books I read on my own.

maxresdefault

I loved Charlotte’s Web as a child, and I find it just as enjoyable now as I did twenty years ago. So I am over the moon at it’s number one spot. Books which tell a story from the point of view of animals have always been popular among children, and E. B. White took this classic theme and created something truly wonderful.

I’d love to know what your thoughts are on this. Did your favourite children’s book make in onto the list? Do you think something else is more deserving of the number one spot? Let me know! 

Some of my favourite fictional ladies, created by ladies

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” ― Joseph Conrad

Over the weekend #womeninfiction emerged on Twitter, so in running with the theme I’m here to share with you a few of my favourite fictional ladies.

Renée Michel

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery.

Elegance of the HedgehogRenée Michel is possibly my favourite literary lady of all time. She is a concierge, and self-confessed member of the lower class. Despite how she outwardly appears, she is in fact fantastically intelligent, but she knows her place, and sticks to it, stating that to be “poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age”. Madame Michel prefers to lives a secret life, reading Russian literature in the privacy of her lodge while donning the air of a simpleton when speaking with the inhabitants of the apartment complex where she works.

In Renée, Barbery has created a fantastic female heroine for lovers of literature. I challenge anyone to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and not feel themselves brimming over with admiration for the soft soul nestled within the prickly exterior of Madame Michel.

Petronella Brandt née Oortman

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

18498569Petronella is an 18-year-old Dutch girl whose family have fallen on hard times since the death of her father. She is married off to a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam, Johannes Brandt, but has a difficult time fitting into her new life. Petronella, who prefers to go by the name of Nella, attempts to be a good wife to her new husband, but is forever at the mercy of her stern sister-in-law Marin Brandt. Nella begins as a child, before all too quickly becoming a woman, when the crushing weight of her new family’s secrets is placed on her shoulders.

What is there to not love about Nella? In each stage of her growth she is simply delightful: innocent and charming, determined and strong, and finally, reliable and level-headed.

Jerusha Abbot

Daddy long legs – Jean Webster

9780141331119Jerusha Abbott, or Judy as she likes to be called, was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. At the age of 17, she find herself at a loose end, she has finished her education, and is no longer young enough to live in the orphanage without paying her way. Imagine her surprise when one of the John Grier Home’s trustees offers to pay for her to go to university. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance; in exchange Judy must write him a monthly letter. Judy is told she will never know his true identity and must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply. Judy warms quickly to the trustee, gifting him the persona ‘Daddy Long Legs’, and writing warm, detailed letters each month. Judy dotes on her Daddy Long Legs, and, it appears, he on her.

Judy is an amazing character, gifted with the unique opportunity to turn her rags to riches. Read Daddy Long Legs and I’m sure you will find, too, that you fall in love with the little orphan girl and her extraordinary tale.

Geogianna Lennox

Dead and Buryd – Chele Cooke

dfw-cc-dab-cover-mid (2)Georgianna Lennox is a local medic on a foreign planet ruled by alien invaders, the Adveni. The native people, the Veniche, to whom Georgianna belongs, have become slaves in their own home. Georgianna is somewhat unique among the Veniche as her work allows her to tread within the realms of the Adveni forces, treating the sick and injured within the walls of the infamous Lyndbury prison. For Georgianna this is a way of treating her lost people, but it is not enough. When Georgianna’s friendship with a group of rebels risks putting her own freedom at stake, she is faced with a difficult decision – what will she choose to put first, her family or the freedom of her people?

Georgianna is a strong, determined character, but one I felt extremely comfortable getting to know. Cooke has created a character that is admirable, but also wonderfully human. I found her to be amazingly likeable and funny, despite her hard exterior.

Edwina

Now the Day is Over – Marion Husband

9781908381811-frontcover (2)Are you sick of me talking about Edwina yet? If you are, shame on you, you clearly haven’t taken the time to read the book.

Edwina is the spirit of a young woman trapped between the  early 20th Century, and modern day Britain. Since her death she has lurked the shadows of her former home, critically analysing those who take residence within the walls. In Now the Day is Over she takes the form of super-omniscient narrator, haunting the house which was once hers, commenting on the lives of the adulterous couple who reside within her domain, comparing their existence to the life that was once hers.

I love Edwina because she is so all encompassing. She is deliciously genuine, admirable, maddening, terrifying and somewhat detestable all rolled into one.

Intrigued by any of my lady loves? You know what to do.

Children’s book review tour! Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves” ― Abraham Lincoln

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad – Henry Cole

unspoken_111-495x436

Another children’s classic, the picture book. It is unusual for me to try and review a book with no words at all, but a challenge I accepted and enjoyed to the last.

What would you do
if you had the chance
to help a person
find freedom.

This is the question presented to a young girl, in Henry Cole’s haunting tale of a young slave’s journey to freedom.

Unspoken is a beautiful example of a children’s picture book with illustrations that are filled with emotion and can, on their own, tell a strong and provocative tale. Cole has taken something which is often associated with children’s literature, a picture book, a wordless story, and created something beautiful. That is not to say that picture books can’t appeal to adults. Children’s classic such as The Snowman, and Father Christmas are stunning and offer equal entertainment for adults as they do for children.  Indeed, the tale told in Unspoken can speak more toward an adult audience as the innocent child is unlikely to grasp the full extent of sadness that underlies the beautiful artwork. To the child the book may appear as nothing more than a story of young girl with a secret friend.

unspoken-9780545399975-pages-16-17-1-final-rightWithout words, the young girl who lives within the illustrations of Cole’s work is almost a stranger to us; we do not know her name, or very much about her life. However, from her actions it seems as though she is from a less than well off family. Cole draws her working on a farm in tattered clothes, leading cattle and feeding chickens. It is while carrying out chores that the child sees men on horseback riding through her family’s farm, they are searching for something, and she is soon to discover the whereabouts of their quarry. Sent to the barn to gather supplies she is startle by a sound coming from a pile of corn – there is someone there.

If we knew little about the young girl, even more mysterious is the identity of the runaway. We see only their eye peeking through the ears of corn, and later, their thankful hands, reaching out to receive food encased within the young girl’s handkerchief. In my mind I have given the runaway a female identity, although each reader will have their own feelings on this matter.

9780545399975

The worry etched on the young girls face as she hides this secret says far more than any words could express. Her concern seeps from the pages, a combined anxiety for the creature in the corn, and that she will be discovered harbouring a fugitive.  She watches with clear disdain as men on horseback visit her father once again, offering a reward for the return of an escaped slave. You can see that the family live a simple life, likely a reward would be very gratefully received, and yet the young girl looks on, in silence.

Our heroine, beautiful in her innocence, seems only to think of the safety of the figure in the corn. She follows her heart, as the runaway follows the North Star, away from the South, to freedom. When she returns to the barn and finds the runaway gone, leaving behind a small token of thanks, she knows she has made the right choice.

Page 2 Unspoken

Without a single word Cole’s book speaks mountains. There is no colour, no creed, no judgement, just a person, helping another person.

In his author’s note Cole writes that he hopes that those who read the book will use his pictures as a starting point to create their own story – filling in all that has been left unspoken.

Children’s book review tour! Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales – Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I could hardly do a book tour on children’s book for adults without delving into a little bit of young adult fiction now could I? If you enjoyed them as a pre-teen, you will probably quite enjoy going back over them now. Who can honestly say they wouldn’t happily sit down with a copy of Goosebumps, if just for the novelty?

Don’t lie to me.

So the next book on my tour was selected with this in mind.

Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales – Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

20697444

‘Let’s be honest. We have questions about monsters. That’s why we put this book together. That’s why you’re reading this book right now. On old maps, cartographers would draw strange beasts around the margins and write phrases such as “Here be dragons.” That’s where monsters exist: in the unmapped spaces, in the places where we haven’t filled in all the gaps, in outer space or in the deepest parts of the ocean.’

In their Anthology of Beastly Tales Link and Grant answer some questions about monsters, or rather, tell us a few tales about the monsters hiding in plain sight.

But before we begin reading, there’s a pop quiz to complete – this is novel. So as advised, I turn down the lights, pick up a nice sharp pencil, ‘one that can double as a weapon in an emergency’, and tell the truth.

The questions start off casually; multiple choice questions about the way monsters look, would I consider dating a spider, would I let a vampire bite me, you get the gist. But then they get just a little too creepy for a girl alone in a big house on a dark night.

When you were younger, you were afraid that something was in your closet.
Yes/No

There’s nothing in the closet. Really.
True/False

Are you sure there’s nothing in the closet.
Yes/No

Maybe you should go look in the closet, just in case.
Yes/No/I don’t want to. You do it.

Check again. Just one more time. Go ahead. We’ll wait right here.

After completing my pop quiz, silently cursing Link and Grant, and with my wardrobe door firmly shut. I began the first story ‘Moriabe’s Children’.

“Alanie had never seen a kraken, but her people spoke of them often. The kraken were out beyond the breakwaters of Serenity Bay, the hungry children of Moriabe. They writhed in the depths and sometimes rose to the surface to hunt. A kraken’s tentacles could encircle a sailing ship and crack its spine. Kraken snapped masts like kindling, and swallowed sailors whole.”

This first tale creeped me out. I’m terrified of squids, and the descriptions of the mammoth children of Moriabe writhing like ink pools under the sea surface made me inwardly shudder. So far so good!Denys_de_Montfort_Poulpe_ColossalThere are fifteen stories in all. Fifteen tales that dip briefly into the lives of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons and shape shifters. Some of these creatures hide in the shadows of our own existence, and some inhabit their own weird and wonderful worlds, where flowers are the cancer that infects a person’s soul and artificial boyfriends made from soft plastic walk among the living.

The book has a great combination of stories from different authors from all over the world, and shows an immense amount of imagination and flair. Some of the stories will appeal more to some than to others, as with any anthology, but I think there will be something here for everyone. I was particularly pleased to come across a hidden comic strip towards the end of the book, which was wholly unexpected, and served as a nice break from the rest of the text.

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)Reading Monstrous Affections was like revisiting my preteen years. Some of the stories don’t try and frighten in the slightest, and instead slip into the weird and wonderful, while others are straight out spine-chilling. I am thinking in particular of ‘Left Foot, Right’ – the story of a young girl who, guilt ridden at her sister’s death, attempts to appease her sisters spirit with the gift of new shoes – which was undoubtedly the most horrifying of the stories from my perspective, and I love ghost stories.

The book is also, physically beautiful, it is a nice weighty volume, with a stunning, if slightly horrifying cover image. The book is hardbacked and made from thick, good quality paper, and to hold in your hands feels almost like a spell book, or book of dark magic, apart from having that wholly divine new book smell, rather than an equally pleasant old book scent.

But the thing I found most impressive about this book, was not the stories themselves, but the fact that many of the stories explore a lot of issues which pre-teen and young adult audiences will be able to relate to. Many of the stories explore sexuality and underage pregnancy, as well as looking at love and friendship, the loss of loved ones and bullying. I think exploring issues such as these is really important in YA fiction, and Monstrous Affections has approached this really well.

Monstrous Affections was a really fun, and at times slightly thrilling book to read. Link and Grant have selected a great variety of short stories to fit into this anthology; of the 15 tales included each is unique, with different ghosts and ghouls unlikely to feature in more than one tale. I think this book would appeal to a wider age group than the young adults it is aimed at, but with adults it would be more of a novelty than anything else. That said, I would recommend that anyone who did enjoy reading the likes of Goosebumps and Point Horror as a pre-teen give it a go.

I was sent a free copy of Monstrous Affections by Walker books in exchange for an honest review.

Children’s book review tour! The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy – Nick Bantock

‘All of us need to be in touch with a mysterious, tantalizing source of inspiration that teases our sense of wonder and goads us on to life’s next adventure.’  ― Rob Brezsny

Ok so these books aren’t technically children’s books; they’re very much written for adults. Instead, it’s the style of the books which is taken from traditional children’s literature – they are interactive, made up entirely of heavily illustrated postcards and private letters that you can remove from their envelopes.

I heard about this trilogy on an episode of the Books on the Nightstand podcast and knew straight away I needed to check them out. I’m always on the lookout for new things to read which are a little different; this one certainly piqued my interest.

Griffin and Sabine

610l1JvKFAL.Image._

Griffin Moss:
It’s good to get in touch with you at last.
Could I have one of your fish postcards?
I think you were right – the wine glass had more impact than the cup.
Sabine Strohem

So begins this extraordinary correspondence between Griffin Moss, a postcard illustrator living in London, and Sabine Strohem, a postage stamp illustrator from the fictional Sicmon Islands.

The book is without introduction, background to the conversation, or hint as to how these two people know one another. As a reader, you begin the book in exactly the same situation as Griffin, for he also knows nothing about Sabine.

The mysterious Sabine has been linked to Griffin for many years, with the power to see his artwork through his very eyes. He struggles to believe this fact, but what choice does he have? How else would she know that he darkened the sky in his most recent painting? This begs the questions is she real? Or merely a figment of Griffins grief addled mind?

Through their correspondence Griffin gets to know Sabine, and lays bare his soul for the entire world to see. The journey through their correspondence brings them closer together, though they are separated by thousands of miles of land and ocean.

The experience of reading this book was truly amazing. I was sceptical, mainly because I knew these books had been published in the 90s but that I had somehow never heard of them until now. But I was so far from being disappointed.

As the relationship between Griffin and Sabine unfurls you are able to delve into it on such a personal level. There is something so deeply intriguing and alluring about reading the story through private correspondence, as though you can enter the minds of both Griffin and Sabine. At no point are the characters actively described in terms of appearance and yet by the end of the book I had developed a clear image of both in my mind.

The illustrations are stunning. And so they should be, drawn supposedly by professional postcard and stamp illustrators. I felt as though I could spend hours studying the images, while the text itself could probably be read in just half an hour. At times the images of the postcards seem to illustrate the passion written in the short blurbs of text.

So – you’ve been making love to me ten thousand miles away – how tantalizing.

It’s all rather steamy, I can feel myself blushing – if I feel like this what kind of affect is it going to have on Griffin?!

Oh…IMG_20150315_130111281

Their relationship intensifies to the point that Griffin thinks himself insane, convinced that he has imagined himself a companion to sooth his troubled soul. He panics, terrified of what might happen, and attempts to break all ties with Sabine.

But she is not to be played with.

There are so many questions left unanswered. So much I want, no, need to know. Thank goodness I already have the rest of the trilogy.

Sabine’s Notebook

griffin-sabine-2_m

Faced with the terrifying prospect of coming face to face with his own imaginary creation Griffin has fled London. Meanwhile his muse sits quietly, patiently, awaiting his return, having taken up refuge in his empty flat.

The second book is told with the same beautiful postcard and intricately decorated envelopes that make up the correspondence between the two star crossed, and, possibly imaginary lovers – but with the added bonus of doubling up as Sabine’s notebook. The pages which surround Griffin’s letters and cards serve as extra space for Sabine to doodle, sketch, wonder and muse.IMG_20150315_130227339

Griffin travels all over, Dublin, Italy, Egypt, picking his way through crumbling ruins and ancient civilisations, drawing further into the abyss of the past, running further and further away but from what? All the while Sabine sits patiently in his flat in London, or else taking the occasional excursion to more rural England, waiting for his return.

Sabine serves as Griffin’s voice of reason – guiding him on his journey, puzzling through his problems in her intricate sketches, and ultimately, leading him home to her.

The second book flings up even more questions which will leave you itching to get your hands on this third.

The Golden Mean

51Fdmd8yGdL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Griffin is in back in London, and Sabine is back in the Sicmon Island – somehow they missed each other. But how? The final book in the trilogy sees Griffin and Sabine suffering silently against the unseen forces which keep them from one another.

‘It seems that each cannot exist in the presence of the other. Yet neither can continue without the presence of the other.’  

Sabine has returned to the Sicmon islands, she has washed her face in the sea and felt the sand between her toes, and yet she is unhappy. Her visions of Griffin’s artwork are fading, and a mysterious stranger is haunting her everywhere she goes.

The final part of the trilogy is told once again through postcards and letters, but this time the illustrations begin to take a darker form. Shadows emerge in the corners of the page, threatening to engulf that which lurks within the images. The fog leaks across the page, like that which creeps before the eyes of Griffin and Sabine, a physical representation of the dark forces at play.IMG_20150315_130321081

Desperate to be with one another Griffin and Sabine try one last time to make a connection.

Far from being a conclusion to the trilogy, The Golden Mean throws up just as many new questions as it answers old ones, and may leave the reader feeling many combinations of feelings – but I can guarantee this will not include disappointment.

From what I had heard about these books before I bought them, I expected them to be good, but not mind-blowing. I thought they would be novel – having books made out of postcards is such a quirky idea, but really, how far can a story be told in this way?

So, how do I feel now I’ve finished the books? Suitably humbled.

These books aren’t just good, they are really something special. Bantock’s artwork, imagination, and the intimacy and passion with which each letter is written combine to create a trilogy of books which really shine. The books are niche, clever and, above all, a truly epic read. I have been completely drawn in to Griffin and Sabine’s world.

I would recommend these books to crafty types, arty types, fans of children’s fiction, fans of fiction, fans of pictures books – in short, pretty much everyone, other than those who only read non-fiction.

“And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.” ― Sylvia Plath

There are two sides to every story

The Confidant – Hélène Grémillon

Confidant final cover.448x688

Another truly beautiful piece of literature to add to my read list. ‘The Confidant’ was given to me by my partners godparents as a Christmas present last year, and sadly ended up hidden in the bottom of a box until a few weeks ago, one of the downsides of having moved house and never fully unpacked. Having just read and thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ I was excited at the prospect of getting started on another piece of French literature, and potentially giving myself a nice topic of conversation for our next family dinner.

‘The truth lies hidden in the past’ is such a fitting tagline for this novel. Grémillon draws the reader into the depths of a long hidden secret, of longing, forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. The novel achieves an almost perfect blend of historical narration, thrilling suspense and harsh reality, the result of which is truly stunning.

It is 1975, and in her apartment in Paris, Camille receives an anonymous letter, a letter narrating the lives individuals seemingly unrelated to Camille, surely the letter has been sent to her by mistake? The anonymous letters continue to fill the post box of Camille’s Paris flat, and a long hidden secret begins to unravel before her very eyes. As the story unfolds Camille becomes desperate to discover the source of the letters, before finally succumbing to the realisation that it is her own story which is being told. The story of pre war France, a young boy in love, a young girl eager to please, and a rich and lonely madame is inextricably linked to Camille’s unlikely friendship with the concierge of her apartment building, the recent death of her mother, and the future of her unborn child.

What struck me about this book was the profound effect it has on my emotions. As the secret unraveled I found myself taken on an emotional journey of empathy and hatred of Annie, and simultaneous hatred, and empathy for Madame M. There are two sides to every story, and Grémillon highlights this so perfectly, by the end of the novel I felt as though neither character did anything wrong. Their actions were inevitable, driven by emotion and instinct.

The story presents a fierce, raw examination of women, coupling motherhood and feminism with love, passion, and desire. In this respect there was one theme in particular that struck a chord with me, and that is Grémillon’s unrestrained examination of infertility.

Madame M’s yearning to have a baby is spoken of at length throughout the novel, and I find the way in which her desires are portrayed incredibly moving. The world around M seems almost super fertile, numerous women in Paris are falling pregnant, and the newspapers are awash with stories crying for the need for more babies:

‘Have more Children! Have more children, France must make up for her losses in 1914’.

M is described as going to all lengths to sure her infertility, even physically injuring herself in a desperate hope that someday she will discover a solution. She describes her constant consumption of an aphrodisiac made from wine and spices,  resorting even to bathing in the concoction to the point where:

‘Over time my skin acquired a spicy scent that disgusted me’

Gremillon delves further into the realms of M’s depression, describing at length her dismay at her sudden transformation into ‘the infertile woman’. What I think is the most striking description of this comes during a dinner with her Husbands family, his grandmother makes an announcement that someone at the table is with child, and the guests begin to guess who it could be:

‘Every name except Granny’s and my own. Because it was no longer possible for her, and for me, it never had been.’

This seems to be time when M finally succumbs to the fact that she will forever be the elephant in the room, the person whom everyone must be careful around, who is looked upon with pity. I found reading the following passage quite emotional, my heart goes out to anyone, who is ever made to feel this way:

‘Suddenly her eyes met mine and she looked away at once, her broad radiant smile frozen on her face, and a moment of awkwardness spread round the table. Silence. The game had yielded to the weight of reality, my reality. At that moment I realised I had become ‘the infertile woman’ in the family, the one whose presence absolutely precluded any displays of joy , the one who was so unfortunate that the happiness of others could prove fatal. My shame was confirmed

M’s story touched on something I feel is shied away from far too often: the unspoken ‘shame’ that is placed upon infertile woman. I found myself asking why? Why is being infertile considered something to be embarrassed about? The following quote was taken from a comment on a feministphilosophers blog post ‘On Becoming Infertile – Part 1’:

‘I feel like I’ve often been treated like a faulty baby machine rather than a person. The guilt, the shame, the sense of failure, the indignation and the grief have all been a lot to deal with’ (Commenter: L Stokes).

The idea that anyone should be made to feel this way is incredibly sad. M’s story took place in the early 20th century, and this is an issue that is still felt today. I very much admire Grémillon for approaching the subject.

There is so much more I could say about this book, so many themes which could be explored, but I feel I have written enough for now. For anyone reading this who has not, I would urge you to read the book, it is a beautifully written, thought provoking read. You will not be disappointed as you read the final page, and see the secret of fully unraveled and laying before you in its entirety. The novel is captivating to read and satisfying to have read.

When I finished ‘The Confidant’ I felt the indescribable mix of sadness and fulfillment which accompanies the completion of a really fantastic novel.