Friday, 30 September 2016

Feminist Fiction

feminism noun
the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.

Both Becky and I are proud book-bloggers and feminists. When we read, we are the annoying ones that point out any sexism but also celebrate any proud displays of feminism/equal rights. These are some books that centre around feminism and how it affects them and the world they live in because even though some of these are works of fiction, the situations are an everyday reality. When we discussed which novels we could feature in this post, we both realised that there wasn't a huge list. Hopefully, especially in YA, this will change as the years go on and feminist is no longer a 'dirty word.'

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
This book is a collection of poetry split into four parts: hurting, loving, breaking and healing. It is combined with beautiful illustrations and I connected to this book from its first poem. Rupi Kaur reminds us to love ourselves and love one another, to accept our femininity, to be okay with our broken parts. She encourages women to love one another but most importantly, for us to love ourselves. As she says 'you are your own soulmate.' A line so simple and yet something that we so often forget to remember. It also focuses on mental health, feminism, and emotional and physical pain. It looks at relationships within families as well as with spouses, and how the ruination of one could affect the other throughout someone's life. 

What's a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne
This book is the third in 'The Spinster Club' trilogy by the author. Although each book focuses on feminism, this is the book in which its main character, Lottie, goes on a mission to call out every act of sexism she witnesses or experiences. It isn't as easy as it sounds, even if it involves blaring a horn and throwing custard pies at buses. Her parents want her to focus on more 'important' things, she gets in trouble at people and she receives constant abuse from a group of boys at her college. Both Lottie and the reader are surprised with how many acts of sexism there are each day - whether big or small and for a young character to do this in a YA novel is very important in our eyes. Make this series compulsory in secondary schools!

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A short but powerful introduction to feminism. This is an edited version of a talk Chimamanda gave in 2012 in which she tells us her experiences both as a young girl and a woman in which she hasn't been treated equally to her male counterparts, especially growing up in Nigeria. This book becomes a reminder of why we still fight for gender equality and destroys the misconception that a feminist 'hates men.' It is short but shocking and will stay with you long after you have read if you are interested in feminism or just need a stark reminder, then definitely add this book to your shelves.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale is the story of a futuristic, dystopian USA in which women are viewed as nothing more than objects to men. After a nuclear war has taken place, women have been given specific roles in society; either wives to rich men, "Martha's" (aka household servants) or Handmaid's. Offred is a handmaid - her name literally meaning 'of Fred', and it's her duty to provide the Commander that she's been assigned to with heirs now that his wife is too old to conceive. The Handmaid's Tale is a disturbing novel, with many biblical references throughout that make the government in the story believe their motives to be correct. What's most disturbing about this book is that it isn't hard to imagine the world that it takes place in. The Handmaid's Tale is a classic piece of feminist fiction. Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill follows a similar plot to this book, written in a more modern setting.

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
The Everyday Sexism project was started by Laura Bates after she was harassed on public transport in 2012. From this project came this book - filled with shocking stories of sexism that women experience on a daily basis. Everyday Sexism showcases real life stories which feature both the smallest incidents of sexism such as wolf whistles and cat calls, right through to serious attempts at sexual assault or gender discrimination within workplaces. 

Are there any feminist books that you would recommend that aren't on our list?


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

"We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture."

Homegoing is the debut novel of African author Yaa Gyasi. A historical-fiction novel that follows the story of a family though generations starting with half-sisters, Esi and Effia, two women with very different destinies - Effia marries an English slave trader and Esi herself is sold into slavery. They never meet and yet the generations that came after them tell their stories. The book gives us a look at the colonialism and slavery that took place across Africa and America over the course of 250 years. It is raw and honest and it's clear that this is a very important topic to the author and her family. It isn't an easy read, it is heartbreaking and infuriating but it is a necessary read, especially in terms of diversity. 
Yaa Gyasi managed to achieve in just over 300 pages what many authors have struggled with - writing chapters from numerous perspectives (each chapter has a different narrator, following the family tree as it descends) and yet allowing us to connect with them and their story on an emotional level. No character was uninteresting, no chapter gave us an info-dump about its narrator. The author allows each character to tell their individual stories, show us their culture and their struggles and how their family's history has affected them. On paper, it sounds like a disaster but in terms of multiple perspectives, this book would be in my top five with how well executed it was. I loved every character and their voice but I was also excited for the next character and seeing how each member of this family tree connected to the other. 
For a debut novel, this book was incredible. Yes, it is full of violence, brutality and horror. It shows, unflinchingly, how slaves were treated so in theory, this isn't a happy story. However, the end had me smiling with tears in my eyes. One of those endings that is bittersweet and almost as though the whole story had formed a complete circle from Effia and Esi to Majorie and Marcus. There are some moments of pure joy in this novel, there was a silver lining in the love these characters had for each other, their children, their grandchildren. I learned about Ghana, the old cultures and tribes which is something that isn't common in everyday fiction. No character was suppressed, each had their own struggle but each had a voice and it was almost as though every member of this bloodline came together. 
Overall, this book was eye-opening, informative and heart-wrenching. Although we only spent a short amount of time with each person, Yaa Gyasi managed to make them real and interesting which some authors fail to do with just one character. Her writing was beautiful and flowed effortlessly, she didn't shy away from the horrors these characters suffered and yet the one thing that connected them all was the love that flowed through the bloodline. It is clear that Gyasi put her heart and soul into this book and it is clear from the very first chapter to the last. If she wants to publish her shopping list next, I'd happily read it. Pick this book up, support it and its author and just get ready for a hard but rewarding journey through generations.


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

"The world will be saved and remade by the dreamers."

In the highly anticipated fifth installment of the Throne of Glass series, Aelin Galathynius discovers that, despite unlocking her powers and revealing herself to the world, she still has a long way to go to claim her crown. Aelin must now forge alliances with her former enemies for Terrasen, and call in life debts from her time as Celaena Sardothien to defeat the darkness that is taking over Erilea.


I've been looking forward to reading this book for a long time - since Queen of Shadows came out a year ago, really - but I do feel as though Empire of Storms was missing a few things. Don't get me wrong, I did really enjoy this book, I just think I would've liked to have seen a couple of things done differently.

So, what I liked. First off, the character development. Although I didn't think that Aelin herself developed much in this book, she's grown a lot in the previous four books. A lot of the secondary characters of this series were focused on much more in this book, and therefore were able to grow a lot - especially Elide, who has come so far from when she was first introduced. Manon was also in EoS a lot, and as always, remains one of my favourite characters of this series. 
(Whilst we're on secondary characters, I'll briefly mention Chaol. It's already been commented on by many people that he isn't in this book, and that's true. However, he didn't need to be. Frankly, with where he was at the end of Queen of Shadows, I didn't even expect him to make an appearance again until the sixth book. I have no doubt that he will be back in the final book of the series, and that him being in Empire of Storms wouldn't have enhanced the story in any way.)
Despite the lack of Chaol, many characters from the series who we haven't seen for a while do make a reappearance! 

Many of the secrets and mysteries from the rest of the series, some even dating back to Throne of Glass, are unravelled in Empire of Storms. Learning the meaning behind some of Elena's messages and codes was heartbreaking, and the answers to many of Aelin's question's weren't what I was expecting at all. I look forward to seeing how they unfold in the final book. 

The lack of Aelin point of view chapters did irritate me at first, however as the book goes on, you begin to see that this is all to enhance what's happening behind the scenes. It becomes clear that Aelin has been playing a very long game to get where her and her court needed to be at the end of this book, and I loved discovering how each little plot line linked together.

Now, onto the reasons that I perhaps wouldn't rate Empire of Storms as highly as the previous books in the series. 
Although I 'liked' the ending (for want of a better word - what I really mean is that I was in tears throughout most of the last 70 pages or so), I do feel as though Sarah J. Maas has written similar before. I am trying to pass this off as an unfortunate coincidence, though...

Secondly, the sex scenes just weren't for me (and yes, there are sex scenes in this one). I just thought that each one in the book felt really similar to each other, and not only that, but to scenes with Feyre and Rhys in A Court of Mist and Fury. I assume that this is just Maas's style for such scenes, but it did put me off a bit.

Overall, I enjoyed Empire of Storms, just perhaps not as much as the other books in the series. After that ending though, I can't wait for the final book to be released!


Have you read Empire of Storms yet? What were your thoughts?
Let us know in the comments!


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige

She brings the snow with her touch,
they think she's gone, but we know she will come again,
she will reign in his stead,
she will bring down the world on his head,
oh come, snow, come...

When Snow was five years old, she attempted to walk through a mirror, cutting herself to shreds. Ever since, she has lived in the Whittaker Institute - a mental hospital in New York. When she is banned from seeing her closest friend in the hospital, Bale, she devises a plan to escape with the encouragement of a strange new boy who appears in her dreams, encouraging her to find him beyond the tree. Snow soon finds herself in a world unlike her own, full of witches, magic, and snow-wielding kings - and it just happens to be the world that she had been born in. Now, she must uncover the secrets of Algid to help her find Bale, whilst trying to learn how to control her new found powers and come to terms with her royal heritage.


Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the ARC of this book!

First off, I just want to point something out - a lot of people seem to think that this is a Snow White retelling (and I did, too, before I started reading it). Although Snow White's dwarves are mentioned, this is when Snow is talking about the fairytale, not reliving it. This story is, if anything, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. Frankly though, if you're looking for a retelling of that fairytale, I would honestly recommend sticking to watching Frozen. Really though, I think the world retelling is getting thrown around a bit too much now. This is a novel about a girl who has snow related magic and also happens to be a long lost princess, and we'll leave it at that.

Anyway. Stealing Snow was certainly an experience. And when I say that, what I mean is I had no clue what was going on for the majority of the book.

At the beginning of the book, when Snow was still inside the institution, I was really interested. I wanted to know more about her life there, why she had been put there, about the other teens living there. Once Snow was outside and running around Algid, however, I lost interest quite fast.

Snow is taken to Algid by Jagger, wanting to find Bale, but then gets caught up with a river witch, a girl with a penchant for magic who was so insignificant that I can't remember her name (Gaude, maybe?) and this girls sort of brother Kai, who is essentially the epitome of male YA stereotype. I have never read a character who is so unnecessarily melancholy. So, let's review. We're probably not even 25% into the book at this point, and we already have three love interests. When reading YA, I would expect one, if not two, love interests. But three? What? For a start, Snow has literally just met two of these boys - one of whom she believes kidnapped her first love interest, and the other who is nothing but awful to her. Second, I just don't see the need? I didn't think that whatever she supposedly "had" with Kai impacted the story in any way - it was completely unnecessary. 

So after Snow has had her run in with Kai and co., she meets up with Jagger again who takes her to meet a bunch of robber-girls who live in a castle, creating spells and changing their faces. You'd think everything would improve at this point, and the plot was definitely getting more interesting, but I still just didn't care. I just can't connect with a book if I don't care about either the plot or the characters. 

Overall, Stealing Snow wasn't an awful book, and I have definitely read worse. It's real problem was that it didn't make me feel anything. Often when I dislike a book, it's made me really angry, but this didn't even do that. In my opinion, there was no world building, no plot or character development, and no explanation for anything that happened in the plot (for example, how was it that Snow's powers just happened to appear? Hadn't she ever accidentally frozen someone as a child or something? Where did they come from?!)

This book does seem to be getting a lot of mixed reviews, so I would definitely encourage anyone who had been thinking about reading it to try it for themselves. Everyone has different opinions, after all!


Have you read Stealing Snow yet? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!


Thursday, 1 September 2016

September Releases 2016

September is a big month for new book releases! Some new books and authors are hitting the shelves and highly-anticipated sequels are finally going to arrive in our hands. Here are some of our most anticipated releases so here's to taking out a loan on September 20th!

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
(UK release date: 6th September)
The fifth installment of the Throne of Glass series is finally almost here! There's been a lot of controversy surrounding this book recently, but once you've committed five years to a series, the rest of that series is kind of going to be a must read, isn't it? With Aelin's character growth in the previous book, and the threat of war looming throughout Erilea, this is bound to be a tense, possibly heartbreaking book.

The Reader by Traci Chee
(UK release date: 13th September)
Sefia lives in a world without books. When she discovers a book after the mused of her father and her aunt being kidnapped, she knows it's the only clue she has to uncover why her father was killed, where her aunt is - and how she can get revenge. A book that's sort of about books sounds just about perfect, don't you think?

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
(UK release date: 20th September)
After the awful cliffhanger in Six of Crows, we are dying to read Crooked Kingdom. With Kaz and his team getting double crossed in the previous book, and encountering fights with other gangs and in their hearts, this is bound to be a read that will put you on the edge of your seat.

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
(UK release date: 20th September)
After Henrietta's power of being able to burst into flames is revealed, she is taken to court and declared the chosen one. However, she must now train alongside other sorcerers - and find a way to hide the fact that she may not be the chosen one, after all. Also, let's talk about that beautiful cover!

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
(UK release date: 20th September)
Inspired by the Russian folktale, Vassilissa the Beautiful, Vassa in the Night tells the story of a girl living in a Brooklyn neighbourhood filled with Russian magic and mythology. Vassa must find a way to break the curse of her neighbourhood, cast by local store owner and witch, Babs Yagg.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (UK release date: 20th September)
If you weren't already hooked by the title, surely the synopsis is a deal-breaker. The story follows Alex Craft, a girl who isn't a stranger to killing. Dealing with the murder of her older sister whose killer walked free, Alex taps into the violence she knows she's capable of. Can she hide in plain sight or is she a girl that just demands to be seen?

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake (UK release date: 22nd September) Three sisters, three heirs, and three different types of magic. Katharine, Mirabella and Arsinoe are triplets, and upon their sixteenth birthday, must fight to become the next Queen of Fennbirn. Only one can survive.

Are you interested in any of these books?
Let us know in the comments!