The Power by Naomi Alderman

Most of my comments about this book stem from a discussion we had in a book club meeting last week – something which I want to talk of in itself as it’s such a great experience, but will do that in it’s own post. One thing the group definitely helped with was developing my thoughts and feelings about this specific book, and hearing the varied responses from everyone.

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In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

The Power is a very, very interesting book to read. Looking at a reversal in the ‘power dynamic’ between genders, it explores what would happen if teenage girls everywhere woke up one day with immense physical power and how it would change our world. Overall, I gave this book 3.5 stars because, looking back, it is a very clever book and what the author was trying to achieve was indeed very good. It explored several various issues and topics and dealt with most of them well, but there are definitely some areas in which it lacks. This discussion I will keep as spoiler free as possible for those of you wishing to read it in the future.

First off, there are four main characters we follow: a man called Tunde from Nigeria who chooses a career in journalism to document the changes in the world, a foster girl called Allie whose religious parents abuse her, a local American politician who wishes to advance in her career, and a girl from London who belongs to a family on the wrong side of the law. We follow these characters and watch as each of them are changed and affected by this phenomenon. It turns out that, whilst initially being interested in all of them, I ended up only really caring about the narrative of one towards the end. Whilst it depends on what interests you, I personally struggled to keep interested in certain character plot developments.

The opening and first third of this book is brilliant, and I devoured it rather quickly. It’s dealt with very well, from initial reactions that really don’t surprise you (the overwhelming response from some of the male population to section off these girls from the rest of society) to the small details of how boys are told not to be out too late or go out on their own. This initial section is what I found really gripping, and it is very striking in how society is presented – mainly due to the fact that the usual, commonplace phrases that girls hear all the time are switched to boys.

Yet, I find that I kept thinking – in the narratives that followed – that this book would work far better as a collection of short stories. It felt like the author was taking on far too much, and it would be better to have more focused individual stories, as there are moments when some things are mentioned in passing to the point of being worryingly underdeveloped. A few of these instances was brought up in our discussion, and one that I want to mention is the discussion on sexuality – or lack of. There is a character within the novel whose power is noted to be ‘defective’, and it just so happens that she is also mentioned to be one of the few queer characters. It also just so happens that, for a time, she dates a boy who has a chromosome deformity, which grants him the use of this power. On top of that, they meet online in a group for delinquents and, in it’s name, it uses two derogatory words that were closely associated with the gay community. Unfortunately, comments on people’s sexuality are not developed, which leaves us with evidence for anti-LGBTQ thought. For the only character who is said to be specifically queer to be ‘defective’ and not develop that sentiment sets a very dangerous precedent, and one that we overall could not support without further knowledge of the author’s intentions.

Again, without spoilers, the ending of the novel was hit and miss with us all – the general consensus being one of bewilderment and confusion. The final pages demonstrate exactly what the author is trying to do, and her final lines are brilliant, and it was those final few pages that bumped up my rating as it is a very clever idea, but perhaps one that is just not executed as well as you might want it to be.

There are a few other downfalls of the book – plenty of stereotypes of classes and accents, not to mention a main character who is said to be Nigerian at one stage but then there is no other mention of his background or culture, like he is a completely blank slate before the novel begins, and it feels as if the author had checklist with ‘black character’ on it. Besides these details, which really only stand out when you finish the book and discuss it in full detail with others, this is a very interesting and important book to read. Whilst I’m sure the author was trying to write a sort of feminist dystopian, much like the Handmaid’s Tale, it doesn’t quite come up to the expectation I held. There is also a worrying notion that this book could be used to support the argument for and against feminism, which I am 99.9% sure was not the author’s intention.

So really I leave it up to you to decide whether or not this book is one that you like. Again, overall, I did enjoy this book and would encourage others to read it – one thing’s for sure: you’ll have something to say about it. Whilst my review doesn’t sound particularly enticing, I do stress that I did end up giving it 3.5 stars, 4 on Goodreads, and there are more than plenty of people who absolutely loved this book. As always, these opinions are my own and they by no means dictate what you will or will not feel – and I’d love to hear what you think about this striking Baileys Prize nominee.

April Wrap Up

How is it May already, I mean seriously this is getting ridiculous. One minute you’re thinking ‘new year, new you’ and the moment you start making decisions on how to change your diet it’s almost halfway through the year. This past month has been packed with essays and finishing uni and my dissertation, but somehow it feels like I’ve read more than ever. I’ve been trying to do a 30 day reading challenge, which started off fantastically (reading at least 50 pages a day), but then I became really ill and didn’t read a word for several days. So, up and down, but what can you do?

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So first up for this month I finally finished reading Paradise Lost by John Milton, something which I have been reading for one of my university modules. I really enjoyed it actually, especially with all the classical references and allusions, and would highly recommend this edition (pictured above) if you’re interested in studying it. On every page there is an array of criticism so if you’re writing an essay on certain passages there is bound to be some great details that you can get in.

Then I finished The Art of the Publisher by Roberto Calasso, a short book about Calasso’s experience of being a publisher. It’s a short, quick read and really interesting if you’re interested in books and the process of publishing. There are some beautiful passages in there as well – my favourite being that of him describing the insert blurb of the book as a letter to a stranger.

If you’ve seen my last few posts, you’ll know that I finished the glorious Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, which I did a review of here. Definitely give the review a read if you’re curious about the book, but for now all I’ll say is it’s packed with magic, stories, and dreamers.

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This month I also finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which I have been listening to on Audible for a good few months! I haven’t been listening to audiobooks much recently, so I was really happy to get back into the rhythm. This book was especially fantastic and, as I’ve found with all the Harry Potter books, the final quarter always has me up until the early hours of the morning listening with avid anticipation.

I picked up Saga as well this month, a graphic novel by Brian Vaughan. I’ve heard some really good things about it and was recommended it by a friend, and I can honestly say I loved it. Great sci-fi fun with a perfect balance of action, pathos, and humour with brilliant characters and an immense imagination.

Finally, last night, I also finished reading The Power by Naomi Alderman. When I try to think of what to say about it, I’m kind of lost for words, but to sum up I gave it four stars on Goodreads and wrote this when I finished it: The only thing I can say for a fact is that I’m conflicted. There are many elements of this story I loved, and think maybe overall it could have landed itself better as a short story. There are however elements that I wasn’t sure about. I think what the author was trying to do was very clever, and I agree that although the ending is unexpected and I’m not entirely sold on it, I can say that it is a challenging move for the author to make. Basically I just want to discuss this with someone – especially as some parts are really oversimplifying gender as we understand today.

SO, this is how I’m standing for this year in my reading challenge:

  1. *4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. **A Baileys nominee
  4. *A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. **‘A Blue Cover’
  6. *A Graphic Novel
  7. A Horror Book
  8. *Finish a series you’ve started
  9. A friend’s favourite book
  10. Poetry book
  11. *Book over 500 pages
  12. *Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. *A book from your TBR
  17. ***Book published in 2017

Harry Potter was the only book I couldn’t find a slot for on my list, but for the others I could tick some things off! Art of the Publisher sorted out a Book under 150 pages, Saga ticked off the Graphic Novel, and I’m on my way with the 4 Classics target as Paradise Lost is being counted as one. Strange the Dreamer I chose as a book published in 2017, though really it’s as blue as blue gets so could have been another mark for ‘blue cover’, and The Power is nominated for this year’s Bailey’s prize! I’m really happy with the amount I finished this month, what with all the uni work that I had going on, and it’s terrifying to think that in my next wrap up I will have finished my exams and university completely! This year needs to slow down, stat.

Ban Reading Shame

There are certain genres of books that people just don’t want to admit that they like, usually because of the people they’re around or their own crippling self-doubt and anxiety about being liked (ahem, go read my post about this here on my other blog). It ties in with the concept of the ‘guilty pleasure’, the books/music/films that you have to label as something you’re not proud of, often due to the fact that others don’t deem it as high brow or intellectual enough to worthy being acceptable pieces of content to enjoy.

I, for one, admit that I have often lied, or more often haven’t admitted, what it is that I really like to read – in the real world, at least. And it varies depending on where I am. For the most part in university, I felt ashamed to admit that I could never really get into the ‘classics’ canon like Dickens or Bronte, so usually I’d just smile and nod. Almost everyone uses the line ‘But you’re an English student, how can you not like ___’ and let me tell you, it pisses me off every single time. Just because my degree is Classics with English does not mean that in my free time I read War and Peace for fun, or during parties I debate the use of pathetic fallacy within Little Dorrit. The stigma that is attached to certain books is sometimes just too high, and it’s a lot of pressure to be under. I am happy to admit with no trace of lie or sarcasm that there are a few ‘classics’ that I have enjoyed, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I’m currently listening to Bleak House on audible to change up how I receive these types of texts, and I’m hoping to slowly plug away at them – but not because other people think I should read them, and instead only because I have an interest to. It seems the more you feel like you have to read a book, be it for school/work/social pressures, the more likely you won’t enjoy it as much.

The same thing happened to me at work when I first started as a bookseller. I felt the need to say that I read popular literary fiction, and all the upcoming ‘high brow’ titles some customers would ask for with their cuttings from the Sunday Times. Though for some reason, and it’s only just come to me, nobody really cares – or, at least, nobody that matters at least. Especially in an environment like a bookshop, it’s so important to have people who are passionate about all kinds of books. Sure, one colleague could be a huge fan of reading biographies and the other devours one thriller after the next, but if a customer comes in asking for something romantic that includes people turning into animals, they’re going to be a bit stumped. The same as I am when someone comes in asking for a certain poet’s work, when I don’t really have a clue about poetry in the slightest (something I’m trying to change). Whilst I want to be a bookseller who reads diversely, which is what I’m aiming to do with my reading challenge that includes reading from genres I don’t normally pick up, it’s important to embrace what I enjoy reading – and it will come to no surprise to you if you’ve read this blog before, that I am a hardcore fantasy fanatic. Add in a dragon, and it’ll be tricky for you to make me dislike it.

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I love pure escapism, and fantasy is the genre that delivers that to me every single time. In between studying and work, I want to consume something completely different, and if it’s got wizards or dragons or flying purple squirrels what should it matter? There’s a stigma attached to genres like fantasy, dictating who should enjoy them and who should be ashamed about enjoying them, and there’s a similar attitude with genres such as Young Adult. Some seem to think that you can only be a certain age to be allowed to read YA, and that age is usually confined to teenagers not yet out of school, despite the fact that YA is usually aimed generally at 16-25 year olds, but is more than happy to appeal to everyone. So what if you find pleasure in reading something that isn’t specifically within your ‘age range’? Reading is about enjoyment, and if you don’t find it in one genre then you might as well go find it in another. Don’t let others stop you from doing what you love and, hey, you’re reading. You’re already a lot better off than most people.

So, just enjoy what you love and don’t think about everyone else. You do you, that’s all any of us can really do. Whether you love romances that are so cheesy you almost feel cheesed out, or whether you like to read children’s books because they’re fun. After all, Harry Potter is technically classed as 5-8, yet hundreds of thousands of people read it all the time – often there’s more shame if you haven’t read them. So don’t worry about what everyone else thinks, and just go forth and read whatever you damn please.

30 Day Reading Challenge

This is just a short update to say that I’ve decided to participate in a 30 Day Reading Challenge, and by participate I mean that I’ve seen a few other people do them and it sounds like a good plan to me!

The idea is pretty self-explanatory: you read for thirty days. I’ve decided to add another dimension to the challenge, because I already read most days and wouldn’t find just ‘reading’ every day as much of a challenge that I want, so I’ve decided that I’m going to set a target of reading 50 pages every day. These thirty days, starting today, will take me up to two days before my final ever exam at university, which marks the end of my university career, so in this time of extreme stress and anxiety, I want to make sure I’m taking the time to give myself a break and read something for fun. I always worry that I’ll kill my love of reading from revising all day or doing essay reading all day, so I’m hoping this ensures my consistent reminder that reading is fun.

Although this is a challenge, I’m not going to force myself to read if I feel like all I want to do is nap or do something else for a beak, but I’m hoping 50 pages is something that’s reachable whilst still being a challenge. I’m also going to include audiobooks, as I really want to finish the one I’m on (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) so I can make a start on the huge one I’ve got waiting for me (Bleak House). As most chapters are around 30 minutes long, I’m going to say I have to listen to at least one chapter or as close to 30/40 minutes I can get.

So this is day 1, and so far I’ve done 42 pages so I’m planning to finish off the challenge for today by doing some reading before bed. Wish me luck!

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

We all know I’m a fan of a pretty book, but Strange the Dreamer was at a whole other level on the scale of book porn. My specific edition is a gorgeous hardcover with these beautiful illustrations on the title page, signed, and has blue-sprayed edges. And to top it all off? It was a fantastic book as well.

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photo credit to my own instagram (plug plug) as I’m usually terrible at taking pretty book photos

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

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I knew almost nothing before going into this book, but had seen a lot of hype about it on social media. All I knew was that it was a beautiful book that was fantasy, so imagine my sheer delight at finding it was about gods, goddesses, magic, and a protagonist who is a hardcore bookworm. I imagine most of us who like to think themselves bookaholics and writers would proudly accept the epithet of ‘the dreamer’, so to have your main hero be a lover of books and fairy tales? A joy to read.

‘His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales on the first day of the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange:head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy’ 

High fantasy at its best, this is a book that I just didn’t really expect. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, but it’s definitely on my TBR list now. Her writing flows so beautifully, and her descriptions are inspiring, poetic, and, without doubt, pretty darn magical. I didn’t expect to get invested so quickly, and as a wannabe fantasy writer myself I kept on thinking “How can this be so good?”. I kept on having to put it down and sigh, wondering why I even allow myself to fantasise about writing something myself, but then had to pick the book back up again because I really needed to know what happens.

A great start to a new series, and although there was some serious world-building that Taylor included, I can only hope she was just laying the foundations of what is to come as there is so much more of that world that needs exploring. It’s the kind of book that completely transports you into a different world and you soon forget that you’re reading, devouring word after word until you’re on the edge of your seat because of the drama going on. There were several plot points and ‘twists’ that I personally found slightly predictable, but the only reason they were predictable was because the author gave you the hints to reach that conclusion only moments before the other characters did.

Enjoyable, fun, endearing characters, and a fantastic, fantasy tale that will leave you ready to read the sequel as soon as you finish it – and once you do, you can join the rest of us in the waiting game, which I’m sure will be the best kind of agony.

March Wrap Up

 

Back again with another reading wrap up, this time for the glorious month of March. This is the month where I had the embarrassingly late realisation that I should probably count the books that I read for university in this wrap up, and maybe that way I’ll feel more motivated to keep reading them.

First up was the glorious Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab which I was very kindly sent by Titan Books for an honest review on the Waterstones website (and you can see what I said here – my review is titled ‘A Swashbuckling Finale’, which I was pretty proud of). It was a brilliant end to what has been a fantastic trilogy, and whenever I try to do my own writing for fun I think of how Schwab weaves together her masterpieces and marvel at her extraordinary imagination. If you enjoy fantasy filled with magic, pirates, parallel Londons, cross-dressing thieves, and a magical red coat, then this is the trilogy for you.

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The next book I read was Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, which I read for the Feminist Book Club I am a part of. It had such a powerful effect on me that I had to write a review on it straight away, which you can read here. I had to put this book down several times because I physically couldn’t read it all in one go just due to how painful to read it was – in a good way. It follows the story of a girl who lives in a small town who gets raped, and how her friends and family react to it. What makes this a very difficult novel to swallow is the fact that we see this girl before the rape, and she isn’t someone that you root for – she lies to her friends, maliciously degrades them, and overall just isn’t someone you want to hang around. As a reader, it’s very difficult to be thrown into a narrative alongside a character like this, especially as all you want to do is sympathise with her when she does get raped. And of course you do sympathise, and the author is powerfully demonstrating the message that there is no circumstance in which rape should be pardoned. A brilliant book with a very important message.

To recover from that book hangover, I read Blood For Blood by Ryan Graudin. The follow-up of Wolf by Wolf, this marked the end of a duology. I think I may have preferred the first book, but that by no means meant that this wasn’t a great conclusion. The characters are certainly explored and developed more, and I think the end was very fitting, if not very hard to accept personally due to what happens to some characters – and that’s as much as I’ll say.

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Following that I read two plays for university: The Island by Athol Fugard and Thebes Land by Sergio Blanco. Both were for a module on classical reception, the first of which is a famous reception of Antigone, the latter a reception of the Oedipus myth. Both were very dynamic reads, especially when you know the mythology inspiration behind them, and I wish I could see them performed.

Finally for March, I read Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, a book that I’ve put off reading because I loved Illuminae, the first in the series, so much that I was gutted to find out the sequel focussed on different characters. But oh my god how I’m glad it did, because the characters you meet in Gemina are, dare I say it, almost even better than the ones in Illuminae. A brilliant sic-fi read and the most interesting, using not prose but an amalgamation of emails, transcripts, the occasional transposed video blog, diagrams and more. It’s fun and a new way to read, one that I absolutely adored.

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Which brings us to my total of 12 books read so far this year, excluding the books that I read on my Kindle (because Amazon is the devil and we should support bookshops as much as possible). So to look to my 2017 reading challenges, this is what it looks like so far:

  1. 4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. *A Baileys nominee
  4. *A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. **‘A Blue Cover’
  6. A Graphic Novel
  7. A Horror Book
  8. *Finish a series you’ve started
  9. A friend’s favourite book
  10. Poetry book
  11. *Book over 500 pages
  12. Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. *A book from your TBR
  17. **Book published in 2017

Conjuring of Light ticked off the ‘Book over 500 pages’, Asking For It ticked off the ‘Feminist Book’ because although it isn’t non-fiction it is based on true events and it’s powerful enough to deserve that place. Blood For Blood sorted out ‘finish a series you’ve started’, the two plays obviously ticked off the ‘play’ challenge, and Gemina ticked off ‘Blue cover’ once more. So I have eight challenges left to complete this year: the four classics, a graphic novel, a horror book, a friend’s favourite, poetry, a book under 150 pages, a book with a character with my name, and an autobiography. The only ones I’m worried about are the classic challenge, the horror and the autobiography – mainly because I don’t know what to read. So if you have any recommends for horror books, hilarious autobiographies, or your favourite classics, then let me know in the comments. Please. I beg.

 

March Fairyloot Unboxing

I’ve received a few boxes from Fairyloot over the past year, one of my favourite book subscription boxes, and when I saw that not only was March their one year anniversary, but that the theme was ‘Myths and Monsters’, I obviously had to order one. (Being the fantasy/dragon/mythology/creatures lover that I am).

It did not disappoint.

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The first thing in this box were fairy lights, and not just any fairy lights but unicorn ones. You don’t understand how excited I was to receive these, especially as I broke my fairy lights a few weeks ago (I’m a bit of a klutz).

Next up were these two beauties – the first is a small handheld mirror with a brilliant mermaid design on the back, which is just beautiful. On the right is a pair of bookmarks which I adore, one of a dragon and the other a phoenix. You can already tell how well chosen these items are to fit with the theme, and the box includes such a range of fantastic items.

I didn’t think it could get much better, but lo and behold it did. There was a ‘Nephilim’ candle which packs such a punch smelling like cherries, and again just excellent timing as I’ve run out of candles. Then, my favourite item of the box (which I’ve already used) is a scarf of dragon scales. Ok, not actually dragon scales, but close enough. Pictured above, I’ve matched it with my dragon earrings and feeling like Daenerys ready to conquer the world.

Then, what we’ve all been waiting for, the book:

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I’ve seen this book all over the place, and for good reason. Laini Taylor is already well known for her bestselling series Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and to find out her new book fits in with a myths and monsters theme? I’m already a huge fan. This has definitely been added to my TBR pile, and I can’t wait to dive into it.

There’s a very good reason why Fairyloot is one of my favourite book subscriptions, and they’ve outdone themselves this month. 100% worth the money, and a UK company as well, so would highly recommend to everyone. If I had the money, I’d get it every single month – but, alas, I’m but a poor student. So if you can, definitely go out and get yourselves a Fairyloot! You won’t regret it.