June Book Haul

It’s been a while since I’ve let myself go crazy with buying books, but after my birthday last month I not only received money to buy some books, but also received plenty of actual books from friends. It seemed apt to have a little post to commemorate the 21st birthday book haul, and maybe introduce you to some books you may not have seen.

First: the stack.

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This, ladies and gentleman, is the mighty stack of books that make up this haul post. Seven of them were gifts and the rest were picked up by me, so we’ll go from top to bottom.

You can see that the first four books are much smaller that the others, and these are from the new Vintage Minis series from Penguin. The series is made up of books on subjects, everything from Babies and Swimming to Drugs and Death. They look beautiful as a collection and each one is written by an incredible author – and they’re all £3.50 each, so win-win. The ones that I decided to pick up were Liberty by Virginia Woolf, Desire by Haruki Murakami, Love by Jeanette Winterson, and Death by Julian Barnes. These are perfect insights to an array of subjects and will also give you a taste for the writing from these unbelievable authors. I’m especially interested in reading Winterson’s Mini, as I’m a fan of her Weight which I did for my dissertation, as well as reading something from Murakami, a very popular author who I’ve yet to read anything from.

Next on my pile is American Gods by Neil Gaiman which, spoiler, is not the only book that I’ve picked up from him. I absolutely adored Neverwhere, and have been thinking about reading something else from Neil Gaiman for a while. As there is now a TV show on the book, one that everyone adores, I figure that American Gods should be the next one I try to delve into – despite it being one hell of a chunky book.

I then picked up two books from J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye and Franny & Zooey. I’ve never read the first, a classic that everyone has heard of, and the latter has been recommended to me by some colleagues who say it is one of their favourite classics. As someone who is trying to read more classics, I thought these two would be good to pick up and have a try.

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Moving on to the books that were gifts by my brilliant friends who have excellent tastes (which is to be expected, as most of them are also booksellers). I received Hotel World by Ali Smith, an author I have been desperate to read something from for ages, so couldn’t be happier with this pick. The same friend also bought be Chess by Stefan Zweig and Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest, both of which I have already finished. Coming from someone who sometimes struggles with ‘classics’, which for me is not the same as ancient classics which I adore, Chess was perfect. As a novella, it was easy to digest and get through without feeling bogged down at any moment, but it by no means lacked in description or character development. Exquisitely crafted, this is definitely one I’ll be recommending to others in the future. If you read this blog, you’ll know that I recently tried milk and honey and didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Reading a poetry collection from Kate Tempest, however, showed me everything that I wanted from poetry and more. Especially considering that I adore ancient mythology, this collection is framed around Tiresias, a character from Greek mythology, and the messages and themes that it depicts were just stunning and perfect. I have definitely been won over.

Then we have How To Be Parisian, the perfect coffee-table book which I received, and I’m hoping it will make me more stylish (though I’m not holding my breath). I was then given another clothbound classic, which was Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys to add to my ever-growing collection.

After that, something I’m very excited about, is The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which was given to me – pretty much all of my colleagues and friends outside of the book industry have told me how amazing this book is and how much I’m going to love it, so I’m at once excited and nervous about picking it up. The final book I was given was Insomniac City by Bill Hayes, and whilst I’m usually not too good with non-fiction I have heard nothing but good things about this one, so I cannot wait.

Then, last but not least, I bought Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. As we all know, I absolutely adore all things mythology, but I haven’t had a chance to delve into norse mythology – until now. Considering how much of a fantastic writer Neil Gaiman is anyway, I’m sure that this book will be as entertaining as it is informative, so I can’t wait to start it.

And that brings me to the end of my June book haul! Let me know if you’ve read anything in this pile, or even if you have any more recommendations (preferably for books, but I’ll take what I can get).

If you haven’t already, you can always follow me on Goodreads if you’re interested to see what I’m reading (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/25185380-eleanor). Currently, I’m reading I Love Dick by Chris Kraus and the novelty has worn off, so I now feel very anxious reading it on public transport.

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June Wrap Up

June proved to be a month of madness, reflecting in the utter lack of blog posts during the month. So as we enter into July, it’s time to look back to see whether I actually got any reading done in all that time I spent not writing for this blog. An apology feels inadequate at this point, so here’s a cute picture of my dogs on my bed to try and make up for it.

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Onto the books.

I first finished reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel last month, something which I have been wanting to read for a very long time and am happy to say did not disappoint. The setting is twenty years after a virus wipes out the majority of the population, leaving the world as we knew it in ashes and the survivors attempting to start again. We follow an array of characters and their lives, with snippets from the new world and the world before, all which are somehow tied to a Shakespeare company who travel around the new world to perform. Imaginative and extraordinary well crafted, this is a Sci-Fi novel that anyone can enjoy.

Next up was The End We Start From by Megan Hunter, which is a short novella that blends poetry and prose. We follow a woman just after she has given birth whilst there has been a climate disaster, leaving London flooded. As she tries to navigate motherhood, she is also trying to survive in this new world (seems there is a theme to the books I read this month). This is a book about love, old and new, relationships, motherhood, survival, and hope. It’s beautiful, poignant, and just such a lovely read – not to mention an important portrayal of what global warming can cause and why we should be looking after our planet more than we do.

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Bar one, I read all of these books in June – all courtesy of the wonderful people at Pan Macmillan. 

I somehow managed a very strong start to the month of June, and read What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi next. A beautiful short story collection, and what connects them are the images, references, and inclusion of keys. Be it keys given as gifts, keys lent to house sitters, or even keys lost – this thread between each narrative can be the central focus or merely a passing moment. Perfectly paced and written in gorgeous prose, this has only made me want to read more short stories.

My final book of June was Who Runs The World? by Virginia Bergin. It’s set in a world a couple of generations away from our own, where a virus has taken over the world and affects only men, meaning that the remaining survivors are taken away to special enclosed camps – leaving women to run the world. The premise is incredibly interesting, but I found that the speaker was a bit too young for me and left me getting bored or frustrated with the narrator. It is a book aimed at YA, but I feel it should be advertised as young teen. It’s an interesting take on a difficult subject and, as I’ve seen in the past, it can be very difficult to write about gender and sexuality without getting something wrong (see my comments on The Power for an example). The author is clearly conscious and knows her subject, speaking very eloquently about gender in interview, but I found this did not come across as well in her novel. Still interesting to read, but not my favourite.

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And that was June! Although I’d like to include a book I finished yesterday within the list, I’m resisting that temptation. It also seems that, apart from the Helen Oyeyemi, all of the books from June were about new worlds being remade after the old ones were destroyed by viruses and natural disasters. If this blog needed a theme, I think this post would definitely fit under the ‘new worlds’ heading, or maybe ‘survival’. My favourite quote is definitely from Station Eleven, which in turn pinched it from Star Trek, which is ‘survival is insufficient’.

Onto the list:

  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

Station Eleven has ticked off another book from my TBR, whilst The End We Start From and Who Runs The World? has ticked off a book published in 2017 (again). I think I’ve exhausted that category. It’s apparent that I’m reluctant to tackle that ‘classics’ challenge, but I think I’m going to try to add at least one more classic to my reading pile for July. I’m still, however, searching for a horror book – so recommendations are still more than welcome.

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

This is a very difficult review for me to write, especially as this is a collection of poems that has become a sensation. I always want to support anything that gets people reading, and what I will say now is that this is the first lot of poetry that I have read outside of university reading for a long, long time. Because of this collection I will be going on to try more poetry, and for that I’m grateful. Before getting into it, here’s a quick overview of what milk and honey is.

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milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

This poetry collection started out as a social media sensation where Rupi Kaur rose to fame, only to become an international bestseller. It’s easy to see why this book resonates with so many, especially with women as Kaur chronicles her experiences. It is without doubt that the author has poured her heart intro this text, and I went in to read this boosted by all of the hype surrounding it. Split into four sections, Kaur has very short poems and illustrations within each. Very short, to the point where you can probably get through it within a day (as did I). What I will say is that I thought the illustrations added a lot to the text itself, and without them I think my overall review of the poems would have been much lower.

As a whole, this particular poetry collection did not speak to me or resonate, but what I found difficult was that I wasn’t impressed by the poems. Even though you might not enjoy something, you can appreciate and respect it for what it is, yet milk and honey just came across as lazy poetry to me. This, of course, is coming from someone that reads very little poetry, so remember that I am no expert. The best qualification I have is that I’ve participated in a lot of epic poetry modules in the past (yay for Homer and Milton) and within the last year have studied sonnets in depth. So I have some knowledge from an education standing, and again whilst I did not like every sonnet I read, I could see why it was so clever and creative. This is why, when reading milk and honey, I could not understand what it is that brought such attention. Perhaps it’s the stark portrayal of womanhood, and the themes that are dealt with are challenging and explicit, yet I just kept wanting more. Whenever there was a moment, say Rupi Kaur makes a statement about race or femininity or gender, she just leaves it without expanding on it. This was the most frustrating thing for me, as it felt like she wasn’t doing anything new with it all.

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I wanted to scream ‘show don’t tell’ at the author all the way through. She left nothing to the imagination, to the point where it felt like she was demeaning the importance of the reader. Nothing was left to interpretation – almost every poem had a line in italics at the bottom which literally told you what the poem was about. It felt like an author writing a sentence in their book such as ‘he stared at the walls, everything a dark, miserable blue (he is very sad, so everything is dark blue because he is sad, it’s all awful, and sad)’. Ok, maybe that’s a little over-exaggerated, but that is what I felt when reading this. I felt like my role as a reader was diminished, that instead of it being a conversation between writer and reader it was a lecture. No room for interpretation or creativity or thought, just bam this is what I think no you cannot speak this is about me.

The latter section entitled ‘healing’ was by far my favourite, and the poems that I liked the most were from this section. I definitely think that there are good poems within the collection that I did enjoy, but on the whole it didn’t resonate with me. I wanted it to be more complex, less simplistic, encouraging me to find meanings rather than telling me. The messages she tried to get across are brilliant, but I’d prefer it if she found a more lyrical, allusive way of speaking to the reader, rather than just explicitly stating what she wanted the reader to take from each poem.

So, whilst not the same reaction as the majority of the population, this was mine. And I know, I am one person amongst millions and my thoughts are completely my own and should not affect your appreciation of the text. No one should feel like they should/should not like this collection just due to one person’s opinion. If you have read it, or are planning on it, please let me know so we can discuss it – I’d love to hear from people who absolutely adore it, and would love to see it from another angle.

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May Reading Wrap Up

Well, it has happened – I have finally finished university. After a month of essay deadlines and exams, I’m amazed I read as much as I did. I think that’s been the standard theme of this year so far; my surprise each month that I actually found time to read. It definitely helped that I participated in a 30 day reading challenge, and I’m sure that’s why my totals this month (two books over 500 pages is quite the feat for me) are pretty darn fantastic.

First up this month was The Hero of Ages, the third and final instalment in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy that I started back in 2015! I read the previous two books the previous two summers, having saved them both all year for when I felt I had enough time to read them – and then the genius that is 2017 me decided I had enough time to read the final book over coursework season. If that’s not impressive, then I’m not sure what is.

Then as if that book wasn’t long enough, I followed it up with another final instalment to a trilogy: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas. This was pure guilty pleasure for me, and I devoured it within a week. Just pure fun, uncomplicated (in a good way) fantasy that you can just lose yourself in. Complete escapism at its best, and a series that has improved so much from its first instalment.

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After that, I finally read a book I’ve been promising myself, and my colleagues, that I would pick up for ages. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was an unexpected joy, Saunders somehow redefining what it means to write fiction and do so in a way that reminds you just how much art there is in writing. He weaves his story from excerpts of various non-fiction literature on Lincoln, interspersed with his own pure fictional writing. The combination of non-fiction, fiction, and non-fiction crafted as fiction, created a completely new way of reading. Although the first few pages I found it difficult to process, once you get used to the formatting you can hardly put the book down.

It was after this that I read Animal by Sara Pascoe, ‘The Autobiography of the Female Body’. For this I’m just going to repeat what I said in Goodreads, which is that this was a great book separated into discussions on ‘love’, ‘body’, and ‘consent’. Pascoe manages to insert humour and charm, but still discusses serious, and upsetting, topics with a sincerity. This is a good book if you want a mix of entertainment, autobiography, well/explained science, and talks on bodies. Of course people who are well versed on the subjects will find fault with some of the scientific facts, but for me it was a perfect balance of digestible science I could understand and Pascoe’s own thought. Whilst Pascoe is addressing matters of the ‘female body’ and does in her footnotes clarify that this can apply to those who do and do not identify as being female or to those who weren’t necessarily born in a ‘female’ body, I think I would have liked more discussion on gender within her ‘body’ section. Overall the book raises some fantastic points that I definitely support, but for a book on bodies and love I think there should be more discussion dedicated to gender itself.

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If you want more beauties like this you should definitely check out my Instagram *wink wink nudge nudge*

After a successful non-fiction read, which I don’t read enough of, I decided to go for something else new – poetry. The only poetry I’ve really read is within my education, and whilst I’ve enjoyed it I’ve never gone out and read poetry for fun. This is why, to start off my journey, I picked up the bestselling collection Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. And, I’m sad to say, it wasn’t quite my cup of tea – which is why I’m going to do a full review either sometime later this week or next. It’s so difficult, because of course you can see how much heart the author pours in, and then to find you don’t really like it, I especially find it hard to give such negative feedback. One thing is for certain – I’m definitely going to pick up more poetry soon to find something I do love.

And that brings me to the end of May, so let’s look how the reading challenge is going:

 

  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

Thanks to Animal, I ticked off an autobiography because that word is within the subtitle so it definitely counts. Milk and Honey also ticked off poetry, so a pretty darn good month. The Hero of Ages and A Court of Wings and Ruin both added a notch to finishing a series you’ve started, as they were both the final instalments of two trilogies I’ve loved. Lincoln in the Bardo added a fourth notch to books published in 2017. Overall, a pretty great reading month. It means I’m still left with 3 Classics (I knew that was going to be a struggle to get to), a Horror Book, a friend’s favourite book, and a book with a character with your name. I definitely have books in mind for the latter two, but still haven’t found a Horror book that I want to read, so if anyone has any suggestions I’m all ears. After all, June is my birthday month so I’m planning to do a rather large book haul.

 

May Fairyloot Unboxing

It comes as no surprise that book subscription boxes are my vice, and every month if I have saved enough money and can come up with a good enough excuse why I should treat myself (this month’s excuse was exams, in case you were curious), I ordered myself one. Fairyloot has definitely become my go-to for subscription boxes, as not only are they a UK based company, but also for the fact that every single one I’ve had in the past I loved. It also helps that the May theme was ‘Warriors & Legends’, and as a Classics student who is a huge fan of epic and wrote her dissertation on heroes, this was definitely going to be a box for me.

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Featured above is the design for this month, which was also included on a book mark – and, again, I’m a girl who is a big fan of all things dogs so clearly we’re onto a winner already.

The first two items were a tin of green tea named after the box from The Tea Leaf co and an exclusive candle titled ‘Mist’ to fit the theme of the book for this month’s box from In the Wick of Time. Two really lovely items, both of which I’ve already used (and, obviously, loved).

These next two are perhaps my favourite items in the whole box. The first is a pair of Celtic Socks, I believe from Fairyloot themselves, which are as comfortable as they are pretty. Then, as if this box was directly aimed at me, someone who basically tailored their degree into one on Ancient mythology, they included the book World Mythology in Bite-sized Chunks by Mark Daniels. Both items are just so well thought out and definitely work with the theme – and did I mention how much I love it? Yes? Oh.

Then we have a stunning bookmark from Ink and Wonder with a quote from The Lord of the Rings, ‘One ring to rule them all’. Apparently their bookmarks are made from sustainably sourced wood, so how can you not love it? Then there is the brilliant Metallic Feather Pen from Flora’s Wonder Emporium which, as you can probably guess from my reactions to everything else in this box, I absolutely adore.

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And finally, the beautiful book of this month is Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. Described as a retelling of Mulan set in feudal Japan, I am so onboard and definitely ready to bump it up on my TBR list – not to mention that it’s just such a beautiful book.

And so I come to the not-really-surprising conclusion that this box was everything I wanted and more, so I would highly recommend to any fantasy booklovers who are interested in trying out a subscription box to look into Fairyloot. Their boxes usually run out pretty quickly every month, so definitely keep an eye out for when they next go on sale as I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

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(Still trying to improve my book-taking photos, and was actually pretty proud of how this turned out. You can however see that the book is balancing on something else, which I’m unashamed to admit is a copy of A Conjuring of Light by V.E Schwab because, honestly, there’s nothing stronger or more stable than that.)

30 Day Reading Challenge Results

Deciding to do a reading challenge whilst I was writing my final year coursework and revising for my final ever exam seemed like such a good idea. During the 30 days, however, I hated my past self more than ever before. There I was, thinking it would be a piece of cake to read every day and deciding it wasn’t challenging enough so I had to read 50 pages a day. Well, the results are in, and I can say now that no, I did not read every day. Not only did I have two days where I just wrote down ‘revision’ instead of how much I’d read, but I also had three days where I was so sick I could barely concentrate on the words on the page.

Yet, somehow, I was still successful. 50 pages a day would be 1500 pages over 30 days and, despite not reading every single day and revising like mad, I managed to read a total of 2192 pages. Don’t ask me how, because I’ve no bloody clue. That would make my average as 73 pages per day, meaning that I went over by 692 pages. My best day was the 9th May (post coursework, just over a week before my final exam) in which I read 356 pages – though really that’s all thanks to Sarah J Mass for making A Court of Wings and Ruin so addictive. I managed to finish that book, along with The Power, Hero of Ages, Lincoln in the Bardo, and I finally finished listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on audible.

Although at times it caused me a bit of stress to get to that 50 page mark for as many days as possible, it helped to show me just how much time there is in a day to sneak in some fun reading. It was about making the time to do something I enjoyed, and managing my time so that I would get the chance to do it. I’d recommend doing a reading challenge to everyone, if just to get you reading some more or plowing through a TBR pile.

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.