0

Nineteen Years Later

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any book reviews the last few weeks, despite having been off work for the summer and submitting my dissertation, meaning that I have had more time to read than I have done for a very long time. However, I made the decision that after a year of struggling through my Masters, it was time to reward myself by relaxing with my favourite books of all time – the Harry Potter series.

I’ve read these books over and over, but it’s been a good couple of years since I got the chance to become fully absorbed in them all over again, and I loved it. Every time I read them afresh, I discover parts of them I had forgotten. They still make me laugh and cry, and every time the spine crackles open in my now rather old and battered copies, I feel at home as soon as I begin to read the words written there. The thing I love about Harry Potter is it truly is like coming home; reading these books makes me feel safe, comforted and happy in a way that none of my other favourite books can quite match. I find myself savouring every word, almost feeling like I can taste them on my tongue, and marvelling all over again at how Rowling has weaved this remarkable world, and these incredible characters, in a way that has captured the imagination of not just myself, but millions and millions of people.

It seemed all the more appropriate to write this post considering the fact that three days ago, the 1st September, marked the date in which the epilogue took place and Albus Potter set off on the train to Hogwarts, leading us on the journey outlined in the fantastic play ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ (I was lucky enough to see the first installment, but have to wait until March for the second!). Harry Potter has always been a source of inspiration and comfort to me, and I saw elements of myself in many of the characters when I first bonded with these books in my first year of secondary school, a fat, shy, but certainly not stupid eleven year old who was bullied mercilessly right up until A-level years. These books comforted me then and have continued to do so at many difficult points in my life. I found myself in Hermione, with her love of books and learning; in Hagrid, with his no-holds-barred love of animals; in Luna, with her daydreamy nature and the teasing she suffered; in Neville and Tonks with their clumsiness; in Ginny, with her determination and stubbornness. I loved these characters from the first, and have continued to do so. The joy, sadness and nourishment offered by these books is something that I don’t feel can be matched, and is the reason why many of us still continue to think of Hogwarts as our true home, even once the series has ended.

I often regret that I did not discover these books sooner; they were published nearly ten years before I first turned the pages of Philosopher’s Stone. My relationship with Harry Potter has endured since then, however, and I know it will continue to do so – I am sure many more occasions will arise where I feel the need to turn back to these books, with the lessons they teach and the feelings they evoke. One day I hope my own children will find the same things in these books as I do, and that they will continue to inspire them as they have me.

 

Advertisements
0

The End of Oz by Danielle Paige

The-End-of-Oz-Book-GalleyCat

RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Ding Dong – Dorothy is Dead. I watched as the Emerald Palace crumbled to the grouns, burying Dorothy, the Girl Who Rode the Cyclone, under the rubble. And now that the rightful ruler, Ozma, has been restored to the throne…Oz is finally free.

My name is Amy Gumm. You might remember me as the other girl from Kansas. When a tornado whisked me away to the magical land of Oz, I was given a mission: Dorothy must Die. But it turns out girls from Kansas are harder to kill than we look. Now the Road of Yellow Brick is leading me away from Oz to the dark world of Ev, where I have a new, powerful enemy to deal with: The Nome King. And – surprise – he has a gingham-clad bride. With my magical shoes and a shrinking group of allies, I have one final chance to fulfill my mission, and save not only what’s left of Oz, but Kansas, too. As the line between Good and Wicked blurs even further, I have to find a way to get rid of Dorothy once and for all – without turning into a monster myself.”

REVIEW: Although I have always loved the premise of this series, the books have been a little bit up and down for me, often seeming rushed and a little cliche. Yet, it is a credit to them that I have always been hooked and wanted to know what happens next, even if I have found flaws in the book. ‘The End of Oz’ is the final book in the ‘Dorothy Must Die’ series and picks up right where the previous book, ‘Yellow Brick War’, left off. At this stage in the story, Dorothy is believed dead, Ozma is the ruler of Oz and Amy was trying to start over at home with her mother in Kansas. But with the arrival of the Nome King, everything turned upside down, and Amy is now back in Oz with her high school enemy Madison and love interest Nox. As the yellow brick road leads them into Ev, they discover that not only is Dorothy alive, she is engaged to marry the Nome King. Having the perspective of Dorothy in this novel is interesting, and the reader ends up finding her strangely likeable; doubtless, she is evil, but she shows some compassion, and is highly intelligent. We are, of course, still rooting for Amy, particularly as the relationship between Amy and Nox begins to blossom. As I have mentioned in reviews of the previous books, the developing relationship between Amy and Nox is probably my favourite part of the series, due to the fact that it has not been rushed and has been slowly built upon throughout the books, making it more believeable. I especially loved it in this book, when the two finally admit their feelings for one another. As the race to kill Dorothy becomes more and more urgent, the group face ever more threats, and the introduction of the character of Lanadel as their ally adds to the enjoyment of the novel. I don’t want to give away too much, as I really enjoyed the ending and felt it was a fitting way to end the series – though a suggestive cliffhanger hints that it may not actually be the end after all. Although once again, I felt that the story was rushed in places, I really enjoyed it and felt that it provided the perfect ending to the series.

0

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

index

RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “London 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness. Retreating to the countryside with her son, she encounters rumours of the ‘Essex Serpent’, a creature of folklore said to have returned¬† to roam the marshes. Cora is enthralled, believing it may be an undiscovered species. Setting out on its trail, she collides with local minister William Ransome, who thinks the cure for hysteria lies in faith, while Cora is convinced that science offers the answers. Despite disagreeing on everything, he and Cora find themselves drawn together, changing each other’s lives in unexpected ways…”

REVIEW: I was lent this book by a friend, and after hearing and reading nothing but rave reviews – as well as loving a bit of historical fiction – I was really looking forward to reading it. Although it seems a little slow to get into at first, I was soon gripped, and was disappointed that I didn’t have as much free time as I would have liked to be able to whiz through it! ‘The Essex Serpent’ tells the story of Cora Seabourne, but also a number of smaller characters who are equally fascinating – her friend the surgeon, Luke, her Socialist maid Martha, William’s wife Stella, the schoolgirl Naomi Banks, and Cora’s son, Francis. All of the characters combine to add a real depth to the story, and the reader grows to care about all of them and is eager to find out how their stories will end.

When Cora is told about the Essex Serpent after the death of her husband, she travels to the tiny village of Aldwinter and meets the vicar William Ransome, his wife Stella, and their three children, including their intelligent and curious daughter Joanna. Despite their differing ideals a strange connection blossoms between Cora and William, much to the disappointment of Luke, who has long been in love with Cora. As events within Aldwinter, particularly near the Blackwater, begin to darken, it seems more and more likely that the presence of the Essex Serpent may actually be a reality. The book continues to twist and turn right up until its end, and hooks the reader not just with the plotline of the serpent itself, but also with all of the threads leading off from this book. Perry’s writing is wonderfully descriptive, making the reader feel as though they are really there, and has a fast-paced, gripping style that nicely builds up the suspense that is so crucial to the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it, particularly for the relationship between William and Cora, which develops and progresses realistically and is more believable than many of the romances that develop in the majority of historical fiction novels.

0

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

27430358

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “The Republic of Gilead allows Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on whom her future hangs.”

REVIEW: I first read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ when I was maybe fifteen or sixteen and just starting out on the road to feminism. With the arrival of the new television adaptation, I decided it would be a good idea for me to read the novel again before I started watching, and I am so glad I did. I forgot how incredibly chilling, moving, frightening and enraging this book could be, how Atwood’s writing can light a fire that makes it very difficult to sleep after reading. The protagonist, Offred, is a designated Handmaid; women known to be fertile who are placed in the households of husband’s with barren wives, kept there for only one purpose: to give the husband and his barren wife a child. Offred’s past life is somewhat unclear, and offered to the reader in snippets, yet although we know very little overall about her husband Luke and her young daughter, and do not ever find out Offred’s real name, we can’t help but feel a strong sense of sorrow for what Offred has lost and the life she now holds. Forming a strange friendship with the Commander, the husband in her household, Offred begins to experience more of what life is like for women who are neither wives nor handmaids, including Moira, her oldest friend. She also discovers a secret network of those who resist the dictatorial state regime, and begins to rebel against the Commander by embarking on a sexual relationship with his driver, which is completely against the law for a handmaiden. Offred’s story is told in a way that often seems jagged, but is also incredibly personal; we feel like Offred is talking directly to us, as was Atwood’s intention, needing someone to hear her story and make her feel real again. It is not the sort of book where I wish to write too much of the plot, as I would rather not give away the finer details. The most chilling thing about this book, however, is that it doesn’t seem that impossible. This is the kind of repressive, totalitarian state I genuinely believe we could see at some point in the near future; the repression of women and minorities is a key component of the novel and is something that we see in daily life, though of course on a far, far smaller scale. Yet, that prejudice exists, and the fear that it could turn into something darker and stronger is one that certainly manifests itself in the reader’s mind after finishing ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. This is an excellent book and I would highly recommend it.

1

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

51EkMKM92DL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love. But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game. Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown – and the crown is what she seeks. At any price”

REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Alison Weir, and have been to see her give lectures on several occasions; I even have a signed copy of my favourite one of her books, ‘The Lady in the Tower’, a non-fiction book on Anne’s downfall. I have spoken to her about my research and writing ambitions, and she is genuinely a lovely woman. I am also a big Anne Boleyn fan, having written my undergraduate dissertation on how she was portrayed by Catholics and Protestants during the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I – she is also now forming a large part of my Masters dissertation on how Henry VIII manipulated the treason laws on his descent into tyranny. My interest in Anne means that I am always on the lookout for new books about her, so I was very excited to read this book, the second in Weir’s collection of historical fiction novels from the perspective of Henry VIII’s six wives.

The book was incredibly well-written, as Weir’s always are. It was engaging and considering it amounts to over 500 pages, I read it quickly as I found it difficult to put down. I found Weir’s portrayal of Anne particularly compelling, as it very much fit with my own perspective on what Anne was like as a woman, and what her motivations were for marrying Henry. Weir has Anne marry him not for love, but for her own ambition, although her love for Henry begins to grow throughout their courtship, leading her to eventually become jealous of his relationships with other women and thereby slowly turning him against her. This is very much how I have always seen their relationship, so it was refreshing to read of a historical ficiton point of view that still paints Anne as a good person, motivated by her religious and radical beliefs just as much by ambition, and keen to do good despite lacking popular support; usually, if Anne is portrayed as ambitious, she is often also depicted cruelly. The scenes regarding Anne’s downfall, particularly the final few pages that deal with her execution, are extremely beautifully written and very emotional, allowing the reader to experience the horrific moment of the execution through Anne’s eyes. The sheer amount of historical research was evident, and where many historians tend to skim over writing about politics, for fear of losing the interest of the reader, Weir makes sure the reader is always aware of the political, religious and international context in which the events are taking place. She also uses phrases in the dialogue that have clearly been lifted and adapted from primary texts of the period, which adds an aspect of authenticity.

I loved the book for all of these reasons. I did, however, have two main issues with the novel that has caused me to give it a lower rating. Tbe more minor one of these was the idea of Anne’s secret love for Henry Norris, and even this alone would not have caused me to enjoy the book any less – I just don’t believe that this was a factor in Anne’s time as Queen or, indeed, in her downfall. But Weir explains her choice to write this in the author’s note, and I understand her use of the evidence for artistic licence and can see how, in light of writing the novel, she has shaped the evidence to fit this conclusion; it did add to the novel, and therefore I enjoyed it. My main problem was the way in which Weir chose to portray George Boleyn.

George Boleyn is one of my particular areas of interest and speciality. I am in the very slow process of writing a book on him myself; he also forms a large part of my Masters dissertation, which I am currently writing, and has been a fascination of mine for several years. I have looked at him in depth and, although I acknowledge that he had many flaws, namely his pride and ambition, I admit that as a historical figure I am attracted to him, and wish that he was more widely known. A poem by a Spanish author once accused George of being a rapist. This is a theme that Weir has chosen to use and run with, and she has George confess to Anne that he has ‘forced widows and deflowered maidens’,¬† a line taken directly from this poem. Yet, in her non-fiction work, Weir cites a poem by the same Spanish author, which accused Anne of being guilty in her adultery and acting as a whore with many men, and states that it is an unreliable piece of evidence. The poetry was written from a point of view which would have been extremely hostile to Anne and the Boleyn family as a whole, coming from both a Catholic perspective and one which would have supported Katherine of Aragon and the Princess Mary, seeing Anne and her daughter as nothing more than a concubine and a bastard. I have always agreed with this assessment of the poem being unreliable, and do not understand how Weir could say this herself and then use a poem by the same author as evidence for writing George as a rapist. The evidence is flimsy at best, and although I appreciate that he has been dead for several hundred years, I feel this is a strong and unfair accusation to make, and as one that has also been mistakenly portrayed in the TV drama ‘The Tudors’, may end up being all that people who focus only on popular fiction end up believing, thereby damaging George’s reputation completely. Weir also has George involved in the poisoning of Bishop Fisher, a rumour which was spread about at the time and one which, with the use of artistic licence, I can understand her using although I may not agree. What I cannot support, however, is her writing that George also poisoned Katherine of Aragon, when it is known full well that she died from cancer. Although I acknowledge the fact that I am protective of George and the way he is portrayed, and therefore am biased, I do believe it is wrong to write of someone as a rapist when the evidence is unreliable, even when taking artistic licence into consideration.

Overall, I would recommend the book very highly to fans of Anne, as I enjoyed the way she was written.

0

All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan

index

RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “A chance encounter in New York brings two strangers together: Liat is an idealistic translation student, Hilmi a talented young painter. Together they explore the city, share fantasies, jokes and homemade meals, and soon fall in love. There is only one problem: Liat is from Israel, Hilmi from Palestine.

Keeping their relationship secret works for a while, but the outside world always finds a way in. After a stormy visit from Hilmi’s brother, cracks begin to form and their points of difference – Liat’s military service, Hilmi’s hopes for Palestine’s future – threaten to overwhelm their shared life. Then comes the inevitable return to their divided communities, and the lovers must decide whether to keep going or let go, or have the decision made for them.”

REVIEW: I was lent this book by a friend and was looking forward to reading it upon her recommendation. Rabityan’s writing is beautiful; poetic but also fast-paced, it adds to the heightened emotions that already fill the story of Liat and Hilmi, two lovers who seem destined never to be together. Their warring backgrounds put a constant strain on their budding relationship as they clash over politics, over the secrecy of their relationships, and over the future of themselves and their warring nations. Added to this is the fact that Liat has a clear date in mind for when she must return to Israel, putting a time limit on their relationship that earmarks their happiness as only temporary. The cracks begin to show when socialising with their friends and the few family members they let in on the secret, but when Liat returns to Israel with Hilmi following not close behind to visit his own family members, the reader begins to hope that the two will find a way to defy their politics and families and be together after all. It is difficult to continue to give a summary of this novel without giving too much away; the ending was truly a shock and left me in tears for quite some time afterwards. Rabinyat has a way of writing that makes the reader feel as though they are in Liat’s shoes, which allows us to experience both her joy and her pain. I cannot emphasise enough the sheer quality of the writing in this book, which was both thought-provoking and heartbreaking – my only complaint is that I wish it could have been longer.

0

Men Explain Things To Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit

9781783780792

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “In her iconic essay ‘Men Explain Things to me’, Rebecca Solnit investigates the conversations of men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t. This famous and influential essay is included here along with the best of Solnit’s feminist writings. From rape culture to grandmothers, from French sex scandals to marriage and the nuclear family, and from Virginia Woolf to colonialism, these essays are a fierce and incisive exploration of the issues that a patriarchal culture will not neccessarily acknowledge as ‘issues’ at all.”

REVIEW: I have considered myself a feminist from the moment I was old enough to understand what the term meant, and have recently decided to read more feminist texts in order to increase my understanding and awareness of the issues we face on the road to achieving equality between men and women. Solnit’s collection of essays is both fascinating and horrifying; it is also worrying how many of her examples I recognised through either witnessing similar scenarios or being involved on them. Her title essay, ‘Men Explain Things to Me’, describes an experience Solnit had in which a man decided to lecture her on the topic of a book she had recently read, using her own book as the basis of his knowledge without imagining that she could possibly have been the author. I am sure many women have also had an experience of ‘mainsplaining’ – it happened to me in a university seminar only a couple of months ago, where I was lectured by a tutor who possessed a very patriarchal view of Mary Shelley and her novel ‘Frankenstein’, without realising that I had not only studied both author and work in detail, but am also an avid fan. Her essay ‘The Longest War’, which talks about the statistical rates and experiences of rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse across the world, was particularly striking and terrifying, and one that hit close to home as I have a close friend who as a result of a rape that took place forty years ago has never been able to live a normal life. Solnit’s essay on marriage equality was another one that really stood out for me. This collection of essays is wonderfully written, engaging and definitely enough to light a fire even in those who may not yet identify with the idea of feminism. I would highly recommend it.