Thursday, 30 April 2015

Review of "Elephant Moon"

(image taken from

This book examined the direct negative side of Empire in Burma in the early 1940s. The quotation I've chosen expresses what is finally beginning to change about how people consider various Western Empires. Attitudes are slowly but surely beginning to change in opposition to the very notion of Empire, and this is the only way we can move forward away from the heinous crimes which occurred under this hierarchical system.

Grace, schoolteacher to 62 half-caste orphans in Burma, realises that things are getting more dangerous as invasion strikes and she, alongside the children, need to leave. However, the schoolmistress refuses, and Grace must acquiesce to her decision. Moreover, these half caste orphans, the result of lusty imperialist soldiers enacting their desires, are outcast from society, and refused help because of their race on a seemingly never-ending basis.

Finally, Grace gets her way, and the entire school packs provisions and attempts to leave, but is it too late? Gone are traditional methods of getting away from Burma and there is no choice but to commence a long bus journey on a decrepit old vehicle which is never going to last the entire journey. When Grace meets Jem, it seems as though things may just work out, and her and the children will survive, but when tragedy strikes Grace is going to be forced to question everything she's previously believed. Especially when they are rescued by a group of elephant herders and begin to understand these beautiful but potentially deadly creatures.

This was a truly touching novel. This expressed for me in a better way than anything I've ever read just how debilitating it is for someone who is prejudiced against by people even during times of emergency. It speaks out about the blind inhumanity people can be reduced to. The fact that John Sweeney spent 12 years with this novel in the process of being written really highlights just how much thought is put into every step of the journey Grace and her orphans took. Moreover, it is inspired by a true story; if you want to learn more about this, check out Sweeney's explanation here.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Steph x

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Review of "The Turn of the Screw"

This is pretty much the most psychological gothic novel I've ever read. If you want to read something that will really make you question what's real and what's not, then you need to check this out. In comparison, other gothic novels like Dracula and Frankenstein are CSI and this is more Goosebumps (who didn't read about 50 of those when they were younger?!). Anyway, I've recently written on this for a university paper comparing it to The Yellow Wallpaper, so if you've read both it might be interesting to think about ways in which they're similar as they were both written by American authors in the same period.

A group of friends gather around a fire to hear ghost stories - but one participant claims he has a true one, taken from the diary of the governess at the heart of it. When the governess arrives at her new job, she is charmed by the distant uncle of the two children she is to care for. Meeting the unbelievably beautiful children Miles and Flora, she is shocked to discover that Miles has been expelled from his school for an unnamed reason. However, as the novel progresses and the governess begins to see the spectres of two socially transgressive deceased servants, she begins to wonder whether the children are as innocent as they seem. 

Never knowing exactly what is going on makes everyone anxious, and the amount of critical debate over whether the spectres actually exist or not highlights just how much James leaves to the imagine in this text. 
The critique of American family values and strictures comes through evidently in the discussion of the role of both the governess and Miles' social transgression. Queer discourse is snuck into the heart of the story, which is always enlightening to witness. This is what is the great unspoken crime of the novella, and bathos is used when it is finally exposed. In this way, James indicates that by not using queer discourse, we don't avoid it, but create anxiety around it.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Steph x

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Review of "The Wedding Cake Tree"*

(image taken from Goodreads)

A couple of days ago I came across the phrase "book hangover" on Instagram and that is the best way I've ever heard the idea being described. You know when you finish a book and can't pick up a new one for a day or two because you're still contemplating the world of the old one? Well that's what I had with this. There were so many important messages in it about love and identity, but I think the most important one was that expressed in the quotation I picked out above.

Grace Buchanan is hit hard by her mother's seemingly sudden death, but she isn't exactly prepared for the conditions of her will either. Rosamund, Grace's late mother, has insisted she take ten days off of work to go on a mysterious trip with hunky military man Alasdair. Despite Grace's extreme reluctance to go, her mother's desire to have her ashes spread in the places she will travel to means that she can't exactly say no. However, was this Rosamund's only intention for the journey? And how will Grace deal with having to put her life in the hands of a man she's never met before?

I pretty much figured nothing could ever make me want to travel to Scotland as much as this did. As someone who lives in the south of England, concepts about the environment of Scotland are usually filled with "HOW much snow?!", so it's never seemed too appealing. However, the descriptions of the beautiful landscape here make me want to pick up a camera and go travelling up there myself. There was so much chemistry between Alasdair and Grace that I was practically begging for them to get together the entire time. I don't think I've ever rooted for a couple as much as this since Dexter and Lumen!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Steph x

Friday, 17 April 2015

Review of "Dracula"

(image taken from Oxford University Press)

Dracula has been on by TBR pile for about seven years. As a fan of the Gothic I should have got round to reading this yonks ago, but I finally managed it a few weeks ago. And wow, do I regret not having done so before. This is most definitely sat in my top ten books of all time, possibly top five. If you haven't read it, I would highly suggest you got out and do so. There's everything you could ever want in there: love interests, underlying sex scandals, gore, the uncanny, well developed characters and incredible writing. 

Jonathon Harker travels from London to Transylvania to conduct a deal with a man living in a mysterious home. When he arrives, he realises it isn't just the fact the man's home which is a little odd. Count Dracula, Harker's host, soon displays worrying behaviour, particularly when he refuses Jonathon's entreaties to leave the castle. Having arranged for the Count to move to London, Harker soon begins to question what he has done when he encounters the count sleeping in a coffin ...

Thus begins a whirlwind of a hunt against time to save the woman of London from this vile predator. Who will win this ultimate battle?

There are so many issues raised about normative gender roles, the idea of a 'foreigner' and sexual orientation in this wonderfully deep novel. The image of blood runs throughout the text, and gets particularly interesting if you think about its relation to both menstrual blood and semen. Moreover,the corruption of sexually innocent women by this life-sucking European exposes a number of fears held by the British population during this period about immigration. The contamination of blood leading to disease also links to the concern about STIs (though not necessarily ones we would immediately think about). 

Have you read it? What did you think?
Steph x

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Review of "Fat Chance"

(image taken from

There were a whole mound of hilarious quotations that I had saved up from this book to share with you all through this blog post, but I really think the one above is incredibly important. It concerns an issue which I greatly believe in, in that, we're now being fed food-like substances rather than food by major corporations. Many illnesses are on the rise and we pretty much all have an addiction to sugar in some form. Attitudes within governments and major companies (don't even get me started on Monsanto) really need a paradigm shift so that we aren't being fuelled by reams of nasty chemicals everyday. *Rant over*, this book is not actually entirely about creating a new world in which there's a fat chance of being fat, but is actually incredibly funny and heartwarming. 

Greg and Zoe are simply no longer happy. Despite being childhood sweethearts, and voraciously in love with each other now, their inability to produce a child, and one too many takeaways over the years has resulted in a stagnation in their marriage. When an opportunity comes up to star in a reality show produced by the radio channel Zoe works for, she is less than impressed that her best friend puts the couple's names into the running to star. However, when they realise they've been chosen to star in show, will it be the kick in the teeth they need to organise their lives, or will it destroy their marriage?

Filled with moments that literally made me laugh out loud, as well as ones that made me want to tear up, Nick Spalding effectively manages to navigate a difficult subject to handle with empathy.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Steph x

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Review of "The Woman Who Did"

It really is very disturbing how little progress we've made in the face of feminism when you read a text like this that was produced over 100 years ago (published in 1895). The quotation above reflects a number of issues women are getting increasingly concerned about, in that they are having to now be recognised in an academic manner, but often have their behaviour proscribed to them in a moral and social sense. One only has to think about recent anti-rape campaigns, which focus on women changing their behaviour rather than changing the behaviour of potential rapists, to see that we still have a long way to go.

Herminia, son of a prestigious religious father, has rather radical ideas about her future. Rather than marry for love, money, or social status, she wants to join a man of an intellectual equal with her in a perfect union which is not bound by the law. When she manages to do so, and convinces him that this relationship is the way forward, they conceive a child, which they hope will be the advent of a new type of woman and class, in which marriage is disdained and women are man's equal. However, when fever strikes and her man dies, Herminia realises that there were quite a number of flaws to her plan ....

Although it starts off rather optimistic about Herminia's ideals, this text soon becomes tragic and very dark. Herminia was way ahead of her time, and her ideals simply cannot cohere with the world she lives in. With the death of her partner comes financial independence, and as a heavily pregnant woman there is little she can do. A life of poverty is begun, in which she is treated as a tainted woman. Moreover, she casts a dark shadow onto the future of her daughter with the dubious state of the relationship she was conceived in.

Have you read it? What did you think?
Steph x 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Review of "The Two of Us"

(taken from Simon and Schuster)

Nowadays there's pretty much two camps of young couple, and they're separated by their reaction to a little positive sign on a certain test. There's the "eeeek we're having a baby" and the "oh god WHY? What are we gonna do now?!". So, what happens when nineteen days into a sexathon of a relationship your 40-ish year old girlfriend gets pregnant ... a bit of both?

Fisher and Ivy just want a simple relationship filled with lots of fun. Fisher's almost certain that Ivy's the one. That is, until she starts acting cold towards him. Thinking he's committed some kind of horrendous faux pas, Fisher wants to do anything he can to win her back. However, when she announces her pregnancy, will their budding relationship be able to last?

This one was a bit of a tear-jerker I have to say. As Ivy's pregnancy progresses, us readers are witness to all the highs and lows of the upcoming birth of Ivy and Fisher's twins, as well as their relationship in itself. However, when they lose one of the babies a couple of weeks before the due date, and have to say goodbye to one stillborn twin whilst learning to love the other we really get to see just how far human emotional pain and the ability to recover from it can be stretched.

If you like whirlwind romances, and are looking for something with a little more depth in, I would highly recommend The Two of Us.

Have you read it? What did you think?
Steph x