Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

Gemma Doyle is bored of living in India with her parents, wanting desperately to go to London, to school and to parties. It's after yet another argument with her mother that she runs off, only to collapse, pulled into a vision of her mother, killing herself to escape a monster from the shadows. A vision that it turns out, showed her the truth. Her father is devastated, drowning his sorrows in laudanum, and they move back to England, where Gemma is sent to boarding school, to be trained, like most of the other girls there, as a proper society wife.

At Spence, the school, she has to share a room with scholarship student Ann, who is endlessly teased by Admiral's daughter Felicity, and her best friend Pippa. They turn against Gemma too, until she discovers a secret Felicity has been keeping. But can she keep her visions secret from her new friends? Does she want to? And should she be paying attention to the dire warnings from Kartik, a young man she met in India, who has followed her to tell her that she should ignore the visions, and certainly never try to bring one on?

I really liked the atmosphere in A Great and Terrible Beauty - it's a mixture of so many things. There's gossip, bullying, vying to be in the in-crowd, and all that typical teenage stuff. But there's also magic, concern for one's reputation, prudery, lust, and rebellion. I found some of the descriptions a bit annoying, verging on purple prose in places. This didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the book though, as I liked the characters and the Victorian-girls-vs-the-patriarchy plot line so much, and I can appreciate that it's a hard thing to try to recreate the narrative voice of a girl from 1895, whilst trying to make her and her friends relevant to modern teenagers. The whole book is written in present tense, and I just have to say, props to Libba Bray for pulling that off, as I usually drop into past tense after a couple of paragraphs of writing and have to convert the earlier sections to fit.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes reading about girls with magical powers who want to use them and take charge of their own lives, boarding-school stories, and or the Victorian era.

PS. I'm afraid my reviews are getting shorter and not going through so many drafts because I'm running out of time to fit them all in before the end of the year. Apologies to all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review: Valencia, by Michelle Tea

Michelle Tea gives some background to her memoirs and talks about her move into writing fiction.

Valencia is a memoir by Michelle Tea, about her time living in San Francisco, falling in and out of love with a succession of girls, going to various nightclubs, parties and gay pride marches, and losing several jobs. It's split into chapters but is told in quite a stream-of-consciousness style - she'll start out telling one story but will diverge into telling us umpteen other people's stories in between. I wouldn't read this if you require a plot to get along with a book, because the narrative here isn't going anywhere, it's just a continuous description of things that happen and people the author knows.

I wasn't expecting to laugh a lot whilst reading Valencia, but although some parts were sad and some of the people described were troubled, other parts were hilarious. There are so many strange but still very real characters, and the author tells us what she was thinking at these times in her life in a really deadpan way. For example, at one point, she has a job at a courier company, and she wants to lose it, but they won't fire her. The way she talks about why she won't just quit, rationalising what doesn't make sense at all, is so ridiculous I couldn't help but laugh out loud.

I thought the introduction to this edition was particularly interesting (I studied life writing - nerd alert), because Michelle Tea writes about how writing about her own life has frozen it in time. With time and distance, we view things that happened to us differently, and she says this process has happened slowly for her, because when she performs extracts from the book, she has to inhabit the way she felt at the time, and cling onto it.

Valencia was easy to read but not absolutely compelling - it would probably be more interesting for people who are involved in similar 'scenes', and who have more in common with the ambitionless, hedonistic characters. I'm not sure whether I'll read it again,  but it has reminded me of how interesting the everyday can be when described with intelligence and humour.

Book Review: Candy, by Kevin Brooks

Photo by __Wichid__

Joe's whole world changes when he meets Candy outside King's Cross station. She's so beautiful and charismatic, and he becomes happily obsessed straight away. Even when he meets the terrifying Iggy, who easily intimidates them both, he doesn't want to believe that there's something strange going on. He doesn't care that she could be dangerous, that dangerous things could be happening to her. All he wants is to spend more time with her, but she's already made a big commitment to something else: heroin.

I found Candy to be extremely easy to read. That's the thing that struck me the most about it. Sometimes, when I'm reading a book, I feel the urge to take a break from it, to get my entertainment in other forms - listen to music or watch a film. Not so with Candy. The writing just flows. I don't think the book would work if it didn't have this quality, making it compulsively readable - Joe knows his relationship with Candy is doomed, we know it's doomed, but we still want to know how it all comes to an end.

The characters are vivid, if not especially original - Joe lives a pretty quiet life in the suburbs with his father and older sister, Gina. He plays in a band, The Katies, although he lacks the passion of the other band members. Candy ran away from the same town, making a few naive and sad mistakes that lead to her downfall.

The story is quite simplistic, there aren't many twists and turns, and I think it's Joe's style of thinking that drives the story. He acts impulsively, going against good judgement, but we can understand why he does it, although I don't think Joe loves Candy as much as he loves the idea of her - they barely get to know each other.

I enjoyed reading Candy, though I don't think I'll read it again. I would recommend it, and I would like to read more books by Kevin Brooks in the future, but the world of Candy isn't a place I can see myself wanting to return to.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favourites

This is my fifth Top Ten Tuesday post. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is...

Top Ten Childhood Favourites

I've tried to put this list in chronological order, but I don't actually remember what age I was when I read them! Here's my best shot. Links go to my reviews or to Amazon.

1. The Wishing Chair, by Enid Blyton
I ended up liking this series more than the more famous The Faraway Tree series, even though it's really similar. I think there was a bit more drama with people trying to steal the wishing chair, and I remember liking the characters better. They visit some of the same lands that the children from The Faraway Tree visited, and I thought that was cool.
2. The Secret Island, by Enid Blyton
Four kids run away to live on an island. It's the first in the Secret series, and I don't really remember them that well but I read them over and over.
3. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh
I read this over and over and over and over, and you can find out why if you read my review!
4. The Diddakoi, by Rumer Godden
This is about a orphaned half-Romani girl (Diddakoi) called Kizzy who lives with her grandmother in an orchard. When her grandmother dies, Kizzy is fostered and, as you'd expect, has trouble fitting in with her new family, and at school, where most of the other children are horrible to her. If you read just one of the books on this list, make it this one.
5. Double Act, by Jacqueline Wilson
I've actually only read this once. I couldn't bring myself to read it again because it made me cry so much. It's about twins called Ruby and Garnet, who are completely inseparable, and how they stop being that way.
6. The Illustrated Mum, by Jacqueline Wilson
This is about a girl called Dolphin, her sister, Star, and their mother, Marigold, who has a not insubstantial number of tattoos (hence 'Illustrated Mum'). Other people think Marigold is weird but Dolphin adores her, despite her strange moods, tendency to go out all night, and obsession with Star's father, Micky. Things start to get more and more difficult when Marigold is reunited with Micky, and Star gets a boyfriend. Dolphin makes friends with this boy called Oliver who spends his school break times in the library to avoid getting bullied which I so would have done if I'd had the choice.
7. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
As I wrote in my second Top Ten Tuesday post, this is probably the book I've reread the most.
8. Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Another book that is in 'well-loved' condition. I read Matilda over and over and thought it was completely unfair that I had to put up with other kids being mean to me at school without developing any magical powers. I thought the film adaptation was really good, but it was pretty close to the novel, no Harriet the Spy.
9. What Katy Did At School, by Susan Coolidge
I never read any of the other Katy books, this was the only one in my house. Basically, this girl called Katy (which always really annoyed me as a child, I was fixated on the idea that the prettiest spelling was Katie) goes to boarding school with her sister, Clover. There's a bit of drama over washstands, and a Society for the Suppression of Unladylike Conduct - a club against flirting! That would never fly in a YA novel these days! My favourite parts were the descriptions of Katy and Clover's going-away presents and Christmas boxes, Sometimes I would try to find things I owned that were similar to the things they got in their boxes and put them all together and pretend I was at boarding school and had just got them in the post.
10. Little Women, by Louisa May Allcott
Or rather, half of Little Women. I only found out a year or so ago that the first half of it was published first, under the same title, and I must have read one of those copies, handed down from my mum's childhood library. D'oh. But I read that half innumerable times, loving Jo and hating Amy. I would have been so furious if anyone had dared to destroy anything I'd written.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Book Review: Ironside, by Holly Black

Photo by Jon Mountjoy

This book is the third in a trilogy and therefore this review will inevitably contain spoilers for the first book, Tithe, and the second, Valiant.

On the darkest day of winter, Roiben will be crowned King of the Unseelie Court, and as terrible and terrifying as the Unseelie Court can be, Kaye can't resist going down to celebrate. Kaye's known that she is a faerie for a few months now, but the ways of the fey, especially the court customs, are mostly a mystery to her.

Just as they are to Cornelius Stone, who is still recovering from his sister's death and the time he spent in the Unseelie Court as the human pet of the former queen's knight, and later king, Nephamael. He's desperate to find out how to protect himself from the fey, so that they can never hurt him or his family again.

But whilst Corny is nervous and prepared, Kaye is rash and wild, and her official declaration of love to Roiben ends with her being given an impossible quest - to find a faerie that can lie. No such creature exists, and so Kaye is forbidden from even speaking to Roiben - a task that proves increasingly difficult as Silarial, Queen of the Seelie Court, is still determined to win the war and rule over Unseelie.

My favourite sequels are those that make me feel like I'm slipping comfortably into a familiar world, and I definitely felt that when I read the first few pages of Ironside. It's difficult to comment on the characterisation and world-building, because most of the characters and many of the locations were introduced in Tithe and Valiant, and Ironside provides more of the same atmosphere. I liked Kaye better, but I still didn't feel that I understood her as much as I understood Corny and Val. However, the plot was fantastic. It was a fun and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy of Modern Faerie Tales, and I was gripped the whole way through.

Although this series had a shaky start, the engrossing world, dark elements, and plot drew me in and kept me interested. I can see why these books, particularly the first one, have had mixed reviews, but if you like dark fantasy, and don't mind teenagers doing things that many adults would disapprove of, I would recommend the Modern Faerie Tales. I'm really looking forward to reading more from Holly Black in the future.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

that awkward moment...

...when you have ten new books (courtesy of the Atom Bloggers Party) and no shelf space whatsoever as your books are already multi storey and double parked. You already have books in shoe boxes in your wardrobe. What are you going to do?

a) pile them up on your bedside chest of drawers, under the other books already on it, creating a teetering tower of 14

b) leave them in the bag you brought them home in and just move them around your room when necessary to, er, move


c) ??????

I don't know what c is but it'll have to be that.

Book Review: grl2grl, by Julie Anne Peters

Photo by ilouque

grl2grl is a collection of short stories about LGBT characters, mostly girls, hence the title, grl2grl. There are ten stories in the collection, and each is very different from the next, dealing with a range of issues, from coming out to being dumped, abuse to abstinence-only education. I often describe short stories as being either complete stories or snapshots from a character's life, and there are both kinds here. Julie Anne Peters tries to give each character a distinct personality, and I think that she succeeded, although the narrative styles are quite similar in some of the stories.

My favourites were 'Can't Stop The Feeling', which is about a girl who is trying to pluck up the courage to go to a meeting of the Gay/Straight Alliance group at her school, 'TIAD', about a girl who has just been dumped and goes online to a chatroom for advice and companionship, a story I really liked as I thought it was quite original - and 'Two-Part Invention', about a violinist who's in love with the cellist she plays with at summer music camp. I just love musician stories.

I don't think that every story should have had a dramatic impact - the presence of happy endings and sad endings and ambiguous endings makes the collection more interesting - but some of the stories I liked less were a bit too much like a tiny snippet from a life, with nothing really happening in them. Overall, however, the insight into the minds of the characters was compelling and sometimes really affecting.

It's a very American book, a lot of the things referred to don't really exist this side of the pond - I have only heard of a couple of schools with Gay/Straight Alliance groups here, and there are only a couple of summer camp organisations. But if you've watched American teen movies then this shouldn't cause much of a problem.

I think that in a perfect world, every library would have a copy of grl2grl. I think it's one of those books with the power to make troubled teenagers feel as if they're not alone, and as the stories are indeed short, it would be great for reluctant readers. My only complaint would be that it's such a skinny little volume, and it left me wanting to read more from the author. But that's fine, as she's already written novels!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Review: Valiant, by Holly Black

Photo by cosmicautumn

This book is the second in a trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the first book, Tithe.

Val has a quick temper and a tendency to respond to insults violently, but when she walks in on the worst of all insults, and sees her boyfriend and her mother kissing and getting undressed, all she can think to do is get away. She goes to the hockey game that was supposed to be a date, and then she doesn't go back. Homeless in New York City, she meets friendly, strange Lolli, and Dave, her infatuated friend. Lolli is immediately welcoming, Dave is more reluctant, and his brother, Luis, is against Val's presence from the start. Luis is guarding a secret, one it turns out Lolli is all too happy to blab - Luis can see faeries, and works running errands for one, a troll. Lolli is addicted to a mysterious faerie drug, and also all too happy to lead Val into the troll's lair...

The troll, Ravus, is an exile from the Seelie court, which is how Valiant ties in with Tithe, and it does so beautifully, introducing a vivid new cast of characters, and including brief appearances from Kaye, Roiben and Silarial. The story is tightly focused around Val and her development, which is realistic and appropriately paced, but it also firmly advances the plot of the trilogy. 

Like Tithe, Valiant is laden with atmosphere. Yet in terms of build up, Valiant is the opposite of Tithe. I felt it was almost too slow to get going into the plot, although I could appreciate the proper introduction that we got to Val's character, after the rush that was Tithe and my discomfort with Kaye's characterisation. I think that the pacing and characterisation in general were much better than in Tithe. The motivations of the characters were definitely clearer.

Another way in which Valiant is dramatically different to Tithe is that whereas Kaye and Roiben's romance had a bit of a whiff of the ol' insta-love about it, the romance that develops in Valiant is more like slowly burning lust that turns into love. I also liked that the romance wasn't the whole of the plot, in fact most of the time there wasn't any romance, as Val was focused on trying to avoid her previous life. I'm trying not to spoil the plot but Valiant is billed as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and it's the only retelling of Beauty and the Beast I have liked thus far, being devoid of Stockholm Syndrome, which I can't stand. Give me insta-love any day of the week over Stockholm Syndrome. Or better yet, give me Valiant, which has neither. Hurrah.

On the subject of plot - it was totally gripping, I loved it! Valiant had me doing something I hadn't done in a long time - staying up late to finish the book! I just could not bear to consider sleep until it was done. All in all, I thought Valiant was a brilliant second book, it left me desperate to read Ironside and find out what happened to our motley heroes in the end.

Valiant is definitely a book for older teens - it's got swearing, sex, and the consumption of fairy drugs. Plus plenty of other stuff some parents may disapprove of, like teenagers with dyed hair and piercings. To me, all this stuff makes a book a must-read, but your mileage may vary...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Now It All Makes Sense, or, Book Review: Harriet the Spy

edenpictures at flickr went around taking photographs of places from Harriet the Spy - I am quite jealous. This is the corner on which the Dei Santi Grocery Store, part of Harriet's spy route, is supposed to be.

One book that I should have included in this post, but forgot to, even though I was reminded to reread it by seeing the author’s birthday written in my diary, is Harriet the Spy.

Harriet the Spy was one of my absolute most favourite books as a child. My copy has been so well-loved that both corners of the front cover have big creases through them, and the cover actually reads “har___t the spy” as a big piece of the glossy top layer has peeled off. The spine has a great big crease, and several little ones.

I was totally in awe of Harriet, every time I read the book. I thought it was amazing that Harriet spied on people, and wanted to be a spy and a writer when she grew up. My previous obsession – magic tricks – was almost completely eclipsed by an interest in spying. After being disappointed by the film, I proceeded to hold a grudge against Michelle Trachtenberg all the way through her time in Buffy. I was not put off obtaining a few items of tie-in merchandise, such as a spying pack that included a folder and a notebook made to look like Harriet’s in the film. I got a few books about codes out of the library. I bought another at a school book fair. Filofax were bringing out a couple of different versions of FunFax, the Filofax for kids, each year, and of course I had to have the spy one. I was too timid and sensible to start up a spy route of my own, but I used to open my bedroom window and sit on my bed for half an hour at a time, making notes about what I saw in the back gardens and on the little bit of road that I could glimpse.

I remembered all these things before re-reading Harriet the Spy. I didn’t expect to discover that it had influenced me even more than I could remember.

Harriet the Spy is the story of Harriet M. Welsch, an eleven year old girl who has been encouraged by her nanny, Ole Golly, in her dreams of becoming a writer when she grows up. Ole Golly told her that she needs to find out as much as she can about everything, and Harriet takes this to mean everyone. Harriet is almost constantly making notes on everything she sees, hears, and thinks, at home, at school, and even when she goes out for egg creams. She even has a spy route scheduled into her daily routine, so that she can spy on several of her neighbours. Her comfortable life is severely disrupted when firstly, Ole Golly leaves, and secondly, her classmates get hold of her notebook.

At the time I didn’t really care much about the moral of the book because I knew I would never let anyone know I was writing about them. I’m sure that I learnt some things from it, however, as I religiously avoided gossip until adulthood. Rereading Harriet the Spy, it seemed like a startlingly strong message for a children’s book to have, it’s not sugar-coated in any way, but demonstrated starkly, just like the message in Nobody’s Family Is Going To Change. I think that this is what is so great about Louise Fitzhugh’s writing – it’s entertaining, but she doesn’t hold back, she warns the reader about the world, and offers them hope for surviving it.

I gasped when I read the description of Ole Golly’s yellow room – yellow used to be my favourite colour. Maybe The Boy With The Purple Socks is behind my switch to a love of purple? When I read the words ‘egg cream’ I remembered imagining an egg yolk floating in cream. Later I thought maybe it was an old term for ice cream. I had totally forgotten all this. It’s neither (via Purple Socks). And like Harriet, I have practically always seen writing as my WORK. I used to tell my parents that I was WORKING without any recollection of Harriet doing the same thing.

Basically, I am a bit Harriet, and Harriet is a bit me, in a chicken and egg kind of way. I had a fantastic time discovering this, and you should all go read Harriet the Spy, now. Me? I'm going to read the sequels - I had no idea they existed until recently. A new treat.

Harriet-related links:
'Unapologetically Harriet, the Misfit Spy' at NPR - radio show discussing the novel and how unusual it was at the time it was published.
'Confessions of a Starvingartist: Louise Fitzhugh’s “Harriet The Spy”' at Canonball - a much better post than mine about the way the writer has been influenced by the book.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Unread Books on My Bookshelf

/pile on the floor/shelf/bedside chest of drawers...

This is my fourth Top Ten Tuesday post. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is...

Top Ten Unread Books on My Bookshelf

This is the easiest Top Ten Tuesday so far. I have many amazing books on my TBR, and it's nice to get to write about them and remind myself that they are there and I should get on and read them! I tried to avoid writing about books I've mentioned in other Top Ten Tuesday lists. Links will go to Amazon until I actually read and review the books and can link to my own reviews.

1. Out, by Natsuo Kirino
(length of time on TBR - at least three years)
I first read about this on a book forum, lots of people were raving about it. It's crime fiction and apparently quite gruesome so it's not exactly waving for my attention from the shelf (plus there are other books in front of it so I can't actually see it anymore - haha).
2. Wayward Girls and Wicked Women, ed. by Angela Carter
(length of time on TBR - at least three years)
I've owned this for ages but like all short story collections, it's doomed to linger on my TBR, despite Angela Carter being one of my favourite authors.
(length of time on TBR - at least three years)
4. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
(length of time on TBR - too shameful to mention)
There are people I'm actually kind of avoiding out of shame at not having read this yet. I loved David Mitchell's first two books, they propelled him into my favourite author category but this is a giant hardback and thus a committment that requires about two weeks with not much else to do. Okay, maybe just one week, it's not Ash: A Secret History (which has over 1000 pages and did take me two weeks of rushing home after school and reading as much as possible until bedtime to complete).
(length of time on TBR - at least three years)
My sister actually really wanted to read this and she borrowed it from me so it's actually technically on her bookshelf at the moment, but I haven't read it.
(length of time on TBR - over two and a half years)
I read Dead Witch Walking, the first in The Hollows series, last August. At least I reviewed it so I won't have to read it again before I read book two.
7. The Tough Guide To Fantasyland, by Diana Wynne Jones
(length of time on TBR - over two and a half years)
My MA tutor recommended this to me. I finished my MA in 2009. Le Sigh.
(length of time on TBR - just under two years)
I read this review and desperately wanted to read it. I got it for Xmas...2009. I hang my head in shame.
9. The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy
(length of time on TBR - over one year)
I got this because Sarra Manning recommended it in the back pages of Nobody's Girl and I am a big fan of Sarra Manning. I haven't read it yet. It just doesn't fit into any of my current reading challenges. It doesn't even fit into the one I am planning to run next year.
10. A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray
(length of time on TBR - about one year)
I've heard many good things about this but still it lingers on my TBR. Not for long though, as I have to read it to complete the Book Blogger Recommendation Challenge! Whoo! Finally a book on this list that I'm actually going to read soon! Wayhey!

Book Review: Tithe, by Holly Black

Photo by a.pitch

When Kaye and her mother move back into her grandmother's house, Kaye takes the opportunity to call on some old friends. There's Janet, and her brother Corny...but there are also three faeries she hopes to find. But the faeries don't come when she calls them, and even leaving out milk for them doesn't bring them to her window. She starts to doubt that they were real, but then, whilst out with Janet and her friends, she sits on an old carousel horse. Kaye imagines it coming to life, imagines what it would be like to ride it, were it alive, and then, for just long enough for Janet's boyfriend to see, it does start to move. Kaye runs away from the group, and it's whilst she's on the way home that she hears strange sounds coming from the woods. She goes to investigate, and that's where she meets Roiben, a faerie knight. He's wounded, and she helps him, relieved to know that the fey are real. With his silver hair and strange presence, she can't get him out of her mind.

Soon after, Kaye finally meets two of her old friends again and finds herself entangled in a plot to ensure the freedom of the solitary fey, who will be bound to the service of the Unseelie Court for seven years if the planned Tithe - the sacrifice of a human - goes ahead. Kaye's friends explain that they intend to trick the Unseelie Queen, Nicnevin, by having Kaye taken to be used as the Tithe, Kaye, who is actually a faerie, but has been disguised as a human all her life. At the last minute, Kaye's real self will be revealed, ruining the Tithe, but Kaye doesn't want to wait. Kaye wants to discover what being a faerie means now.

This is actually the second time I've read Tithe, here are my initial thoughts on it, as included in a Goodreads review. I gave it four out of five stars:

I would have loved this had there just been a bit more to it. It seemed more like a snapshot than like I was pulled into the world of the story. I liked all the details that were there, there was just too much missing, like it was pared down to the bare minimum to make a good story. I felt like there should have been some flashbacks or some other device to show us what Kaye's life was like up to the point where Tithe begins. The characterisation was good, the story worked, but I wanted to become absorbed, and sometimes, you just need more pages for that, to be in the world longer. People with a shorter attention span or tendencies to imagine that they are the protagonist (something I grew out of) will probably adore Tithe.

The pacing was also uneven, what we get of the story feels right as we read it, description balanced nicely with action, but it jumps too often, and there was little time given to showing us what the protagonists actually thought about all that was going on. The action takes place over a couple of days, but it slows down often enough that I felt more reflection from the point of view characters would have fit in nicely.

Despite my initial misgivings I liked it enough to want to read the second in the trilogy, Valiant. I reread Tithe this year before continuing with the series. I enjoyed it more this time around, possibly because I expected the concise storytelling, and could just let the lovely descriptions wash over me without wishing there were more actual scenes to the story. I do still think that there could have been a bit more to it, and I still didn't entirely empathise with Kaye's character - she's too much of a drifter. She gets curious and asks questions, but doesn't demand that they are answered, and she typically goes along with what other characters want without thinking about it much. Maybe that's the effect of a survival mechanism developed to help her cope with life following her mother around from nightclub to bar to nightclub. This improves towards the end, when she works something out before anyone else.

The level of description in Holly Black's writing is perfect. The descriptive sections are fairly brief, but every scene has atmosphere and the details about the faerie courts are great, I could easily visualise them in my mind. The moral questions raised in the story fit very well within their context. Like humans, the faeries vary in terms of personality and regard for ethics, but all of them have dark aspects. The fairies are not benevolent spirits - many of them see humans as lesser beings, toys. It's very much a book for older teens because of this - there's plenty of death and pain.

I've finished reading both sequels and I loved them, so I would happily recommend Tithe to fans of dark fantasy, fans of dark faeries, older teenagers, and people who, like me, prefer to read books for older teens. My review of Valiant, the second in the Modern Faerie Tale series, will follow shortly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Monsoon Summer, by Mitali Perkins

Photo by jjreade

The one time Jazz tried to take the initiative and help someone, it went wrong. Since then she's avoided all acts of charity, taking a back seat, along with her father, as her mother shines in the charitable spotlight. But this summer, the whole family is leaving Berkeley, California, and going to India, so that Jazz's mum can help out at the new clinic at the orphanage where she spent her first four years. Jazz is convinced that she's going to hate it, not only because she's going to feel out of place and useless, but because she'll be missing working at her business with her best friend Steve, whom she is secretly in love with.

In India, whilst the rest of her family find ways to help at the orphanage, Jazz refuses to set foot in the place until she absolutely has to. But even school is strange and new, and when she's seeking comfort, it's hard to resist the delicious tea made by Danita, their fifteen-year-old housekeeper. As Danita prepares their dinners, they get talking, and soon Jazz is finding it more and more difficult to resist the urge to try to help Danita as she struggles with decisions about her future, and that of her sisters, who have grown up in the orphanage together.

Let's be honest. The plot of Monsoon Summer sounds totally predictable, doesn't it? And it is. There are no grand surprises, I saw almost every turn coming, but it was still a lot of fun to read. Jazz is a convincing teenage girl, a bit self-centred and opinionated, with wavering self-esteem. I liked the details about the orphanage, the academy where Jazz goes to school, and her relationship with Steve. My favourite character was probably Jazz's brother, Eric, and his obsessions with bugs and football (I refuse to call it 'soccer', because I'm British).

Although I enjoyed reading it, one thing that really bothered me was Jazz's reaction to being stared at whenever she went out in public. She wondered why she was attracting attention wherever she went for such a long time and it didn't make much sense, considering that she knew full well that she looked more like her white father than her Indian mother. I think that the author was trying to shoehorn in a point about self-esteem and body image issues that didn't quite fit, and it seemed especially forced when I thought back to the way questions about cultural standards of beauty were woven so spectacularly into the fabric of Born Confused. I also thought that Danita was a little too perfect, but her relationship with her sisters was great and it brought some serious issues into the book.

Monsoon Summer is quite fast paced, I read it quite quickly and was easily absorbed whenever I picked it up. Although I didn't love it and probably wouldn't read it again, I think it's an easy, accessible read and many readers would enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Covers or Titles That Made Me Buy Them

This is my third Top Ten Tuesday post, you can read the first here and the second here. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is...

Top 10 Books With Covers or Titles That Made Me Buy Them
It was quite difficult for me to come up with ten books, I had to go through my 'read' shelf on Goodreads. I don't tend to buy books based on titles or covers, I choose them because I've read a good review, or the synopsis has intrigued me. I haven't actually read the first two in the list cover to cover yet.

1. Chronicles of King Arthur, by Andrea Hopkins
Okay, I confess, it wasn't just the title, it was the price. This was in a library sale, thus, 50p. I was obsessed by the legend of King Arthur when I was a kid so I bought it for old time's sake and because I feel like I need to refresh my memory when it comes to all things Arthurian.
2. Eyes Like Stars, by Lisa Mantchev
Just look at that cover. Look at it. Even if the novel's rubbish I think it's still money well spent and I'll just have to frame the dustjacket and use the book as a doorstop! (I really hope it's not rubbish)
3. The Diamond of Drury Lane, by Julia Golding
On to books I've actually read! The cover is just so bright and theatrical, I couldn't resist picking it up and reading the blurb. Then I took it home. My review is extremely overdue (I read it last April). It's a great read, intended for the 9-12 age group, but I loved it.
4. What Was Lost, by Catherine O'Flynn
I liked the cartoony cover and the description was intriguing. It's a fantastic book. I read it last May (pattern emerging?). It appears to have been reissued with a new cover, which I suppose they've chosen to make it look more serious and literary, but I think it looks bland.
5. Notes from the Teenage Underground, by Simmone Howell
I saw the words 'teenage' and 'underground' and thought 'ooh! This could involve teenagers engaging in subcultural activities!'.
6. Diary of a Chav: Trainers V. Tiaras, by Grace Dent
Do I need to explain this one?
7. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin
The cover is really eye-catching, with bright green and pink, and the blurb convinced me to take it home.
8. All My Friends Are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman
The cover just looks vaguely surreal but that title - wow! It immediately made me wonder, because you could interpret that title several ways.
9. Ten Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Another big bold cover, with an eye-catching title that sounded like a reference to Ten Things I Hate About You, one of my favourite films.
10. The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales, edited by Alison Lurie
'Fairy tales'? 'Modern'? I had already read and loved quite a few modern fairy tales, so how could I say no?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review: Empress of the World, by Sara Ryan

 Photo by uitdragerij

When Nicola Lancaster arrives at the Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Youth, she doesn't plan on making any friends. Her only goal is to find out, by taking the archaeology class, whether she actually wants to be an archaeologist or not. She spends the introductory lecture drawing and writing notes about the other students, but Katrina sees her sketches and grabs her notebook, passing it around to some of the other students. It's easy for Nicola to be friends with excited, friendly, Katrina, but she finds Battle Hall Davies more confusing, intriguing, and beautiful. Nicola is plain and boring, or so she thinks. Battle could never be interested in her...but of course she's wrong.

A book about a girl who has decided to spend the summer at, well, school, may not sound exciting, but I really enjoyed Empress of the World. It's quite a short book, with only 214 pages, yet it covers Nicola's entire time at the Siegel Institute. It's written in sections that have the date, time and location at the top, like diary entries, and there are quite often several days between these reports, which sometimes include passages in a handwriting-style type, like actual diary entries. Sometimes the gaps were a bit off-putting, but Nicola usually summarises what she's been doing. I really liked the characterisation, Nicola was an engaging narrator, and I thought Katrina was fantastic, her weird fashion sense making her definitely my favourite character. The minor characters were nicely drawn, but not so intriguing that I wished they were the focus of the story instead. I have to confess that I didn't entirely understand why Nicola liked Battle so much for much of the book. I think her personality was overshadowed somewhat by Katrina's, it seemed less clear, but maybe that's the point. She is supposed to be mysterious, someone that Nicola can't quite work out. In the end I was rooting for Nicola to get the girl, anyway!

This is one of those books that I read and then thought "Was this really supposed to be controversial?". Okay, there's some drinking. And Nicola and Battle are both girls, and their relationship does get physical, off the page. But they're at a summer camp for intelligent, studious teenagers! And they all do their homework! Some people's children.

I wouldn't say Empress of the World is a must-read, it's a nice way to spend an afternoon or two, but I didn't find it to be unputdownable. I don't think it's supposed to be a thriller, but it's a gentle story of self-discovery and romance, not an emotional rollercoaster ride that keeps you turning the pages. 

Sara Ryan has also written comics featuring Battle and Katrina: Me and Edith Head, a prequel to Empress of the World starring Katrina, and Click, which is about Battle with a small appearance by Katrina, and takes place in the time between Empress of the World and the sequel/companion book, The Rules for Hearts. I definitely want to read The Rules for Hearts - it sounds like a good story, and I think it would help me understand Battle more.

The BookDepository

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Want to Reread

This is my second Top Ten Tuesday post, you can read the first here. Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is...

Top Ten Books I Want To Reread
(links go to my reviews or to Amazon pages for the editions I own, where possible)

1. The Boy Book, by E. Lockhart
I have already reread The Boyfriend List so that I could review it, and I'm planning to reread this fairly soon so that I can write my review and then move on to the next two books in the Ruby Oliver series with it fresh in my mind.
2. The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter
I originally read a bashed up copy from my university library, and a couple of Christmasses ago I got this lovely hardback edition and I haven't read it yet! I love The Magic Toyshop, it's probably the best piece of literary fiction with a teenage protagonist that I've read.
3. The Cheap Date Guide To Style
This isn't a fiction book, this is a style inspiration book. I got it out of the library years ago, and got my own copy because it became clear that I needed it in my life permanently! Every time I read it I feel reinspired to dress up and have fun with clothes.
4. The Harry Potter series
I can race through a Harry Potter book like nothing else, but I've never actually reread the whole series. I've read the first book a couple of times, and read at least half of The Order of the Phoenix more than once. But I was never one of those people who had to reread all the previous books before the new one or the new film came out, because I usually had too many other books on the go already. I'd like to re-read them all in sequence though, and I'd quite like to listen to the audiobooks.
5. The Diary of a Crush trilogy
I need to review these, plus, I need to read them whilst listening to Belle and Sebastian as is suggested at the front of each book. A few years back I decided that first I was going to geek out shamelessly and watch all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, alternating episodes as they would have originally been shown on US TV, and then I was going to reread Diary of a Crush whilst listening to Belle and Sebastian. I finished The Great Buffy Rewatch (as I termed it) earlier this year but I have yet to move on to DoaC.
6. Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell
For a long time this was my favourite book but I haven't reread it in years because my copy went MIA. It was a really nice copy that I got for 10p in a library sale, too. Best 10p I've ever spent.
7. Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta
I remember that I absolutely loved this book and possibly even referenced it in my MA portfolio but I can only vaguely recall what it's about.
8. Notes From The Teenage Underground, by Simmone Howell
I've got a weird craving to reread this. Possibly because I reread Everything Beautiful for Body Image and Self-Perception month last summer, so the quality of Simmone's writing is still quite fresh in my mind.
9. Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
Ditto for the weird craving, I don't know, it was a really sweet book (not a pun referencing the cover...oh okay yes it is) and I'm just in the mood!
10. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
I have this cute little hardback edition that I've had since I was a kid and traditionally reread every year, I don't think I have done it this year yet. It doesn't take very long so hopefully I'll squeeze it in soon.

plus bonus point 11 for the list because I just thought of another:

11. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
If I was to write a list of most reread books, I think this would be number one. I have reread the Diary of a Crush books, and bits of the books (seriously, sometimes I just find myself picking one up, opening it at a random page, and reading on from there) so many times I've lost count, and Alice gets done almost every year. But I adored The Secret Garden when I was a child, and when I was a teenager. Out of all the books that I've owned since they were new, it's the most damaged, purely because it's been read so much. I haven't reread it in quite a few years though, and I should.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

Okay. It's Wednesday. But I feel as if I need to participate in some book blog memes! I can't do In My Mailbox, at least at the moment, as I don't get that many books through my letterbox. Or letter flap. Do that many people in the UK have actual boxes for their mail? Anyway, I digress.

Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) struck me as being perfect, because lists I can do. Lists I can definitely do. I love lists. They provide the perfect framework for rambling on about one topic without spending too long on it. Unfortunately I didn't check the book blogs section of Google Reader yesterday, so I'm doing it today. Late. Shh. This week's topic is:

Top Ten Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

I'm going to mostly interpret 'everyone' as 'every other (YA) book blogger' because I know plenty of people who have read none of these books, coming from an unbookish family as I do. I'm the black sheep. Or the purple sheep, to be more accurate.

1. The Hunger Games
I know, what have I been doing? I really want to read this but probably won't get around to it this year as I still have so many books to read to complete my reading challenges.
2. Actually, anything from the recent wave of YA dystopia fiction
I want to read quite a few of these, especially Divergent, but again, reading challenge reading is the priority. On that note, are there any British YA dystopias? I need more books for the British Book Challenge.
3. New Moon
No desire to read this at all. To get myself to finish Twilight, I counted the number of chapters left and was like 'Right. If I read three every day, then in x number of days, it'll be over and I can read something good'.
4. The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson books
This series started just before my teens but it passed me by. After devouring several Jacqueline Wilson books and all the Ros Asquiths I could get my hands on, I went through a long phase of being convinced that I was too intellectually mature for teen comedy books.
5. The Princess Diaries
Another series which passed me by when it was new. I've read Nicola and the Viscount, also by Meg Cabot, which was quite fun, and Avalon High, and I watched the first film years ago. I want to give it a go, but it's really low priority at the moment.
6. The Morganville Vampires series
I have heard increasingly good things about this series and I want to try it, but I've been delayed by a couple of years because my library only stocked book 6. I may have to give in and buy a copy!
7. The Southern Vampire Mysteries
I've known about the existence of Charlaine Harris' mind-reading heroine Sookie Stackhouse since before Ottakar's was taken over by Waterstone's! Ottakar's used to produce a science fiction and fantasy newsletter booklet with reviews and author interviews, it was called Outland and I used to pick up copies in my local branch. Anyway, one issue they reviewed Dead Until Dark and I thought, 'I'd quite like to read that', being a big Buffy fan. Still haven't picked up a copy!
8. Angel by L.A. Weatherly
For some reason, I feel like this book has had a particularly large number of reviews. Perhaps it just feels like it's had more than most books because I actually own a copy and it's on my TBR.
9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
I've heard good things, and bad things, and I watched the film, and the film was enough for me. I don't think I could stomach the book.
10. Nineteen Eighty-Four
I know, 'How can you have a Master's degree and not have read Nineteen Eighty-Four?' Dude, I didn't read To Kill A Mockingbird until 2009! I have read Brave New World though. And Animal Farm. And most of Keep the Aspidistra Flying - I got bored fairly close to the end, decided I'd got the point, and scan read the rest of the book.

There we are! I do plan to do future Top Ten Tuesdays actually on Tuesday. Do you think I should make any of these a higher priority? No promises, but I'm always open to persuasion - New Moon excepted.

Book Review: Dramarama, by E. Lockhart

mint chocolate chip
Picture by gemskiii

Sarah Paulson longs for a life more exciting than the one she's got in boring Brenton. Her 'friends' are totally bland, and her parents don't understand her dissatisfaction, let alone her love of musicals. Everything changes when one day, after her tap dance class, she sees an advert for a musical theatre summer school: The Wildewood Academy for the Performing Arts. At the audition, she recognises a boy she goes to school with, Demi Howard. He recognises her, and most importantly, the Lurking Bigness that she feels she has inside her, waiting to come out and take the world by storm.

Together they reinvent Sarah as Sadye, and she feels like she finally has a true friend. Then Sadye and Demi both get into Wildewood, and they can't wait to get out of Ohio and go. But when they arrive and immerse themselves in the drama and glitter, everything becomes a lot more complicated than it was when they were best friends in Brenton. When Demi needed her as much as she needed him, and he didn't have boyfriends, or lead roles in plays. After their first few arguments, Sadye starts to feel like she's losing him. Will their friendship survive the summer? Will Sadye's Bigness ever stop Lurking?

I loved finding out. In fact, I was so excited to finally be reading Dramarama I think I squeaked as I turned the first few pages. I loved Sadye and Demi immediately. I could really relate to both Sadye's descriptions of her Lurking Bigness, and the trouble she has trying to release her potential. I thought Demi, with his incredible self-belief and talent, was a fantastic character. I also adored the whole world of Wildewood - lunch-table-top performances, rooftop evenings, gossip, glitter, and all. Sadye's roommates are a diverse, fun bunch. I love E. Lockhart's groups of friends. She gets the group dynamic so right. The teachers at Wildewood were completely believable, very flawed, but interesting. Special mentions also go to Lyle's possibly-hopeless love for Demi (I won't spoil it), the cuteness of Theo (oh E. Lockhart! How do you create so many varied and wonderful fictional specimens of attractive boy‽), and the Blake song.

I liked that Sadye struggled with fitting in, which at Wildewood is the same thing as standing out. I could see why she indulged in being cruel to her friends sometimes. And I could understand why Demi disagreed with Sadye's opinions, even though I could also understand all the misgivings she had about her teachers, and I think I would have had them too. It was great seeing Sadye develop over the summer.

Some other reviewers didn't like the ending, I know. I did think it was a bit rushed, because the pace was slower at the start of the book. It felt like there was a lot of build up, and then it was over quite quickly. I didn't have a problem with what actually happened though, it seemed realistic and necessary for Sadye's development as a person.

Dramarama is a fantastic read. Even if you don't know much about musical theatre, I'd give it a go - there are YouTube videos for almost every song mentioned and every reference can be Googled, and it's so much fun!

The BookDepository

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Review: Born Confused, by Tanuja Desai Hidier

To say Dimple Lala feels confused would be an understatement. She is convinced that she was born confused, and that confusion is her ultimate destiny. Her parents want her to be more Indian, but she wants to fit in with the other Americans. Everyone else has it all figured out, so they can't possibly understand her, right? Especially her best friend Gwyn, who is beautiful, confident, and dating wannabe film director Dylan, who is already at university. In fact, the only thing Dimple is sure of, besides her love of photography, is her friendship with Gwyn, even though they have been seeing less and less of each other since Dylan arrived on the scene.

It's Dimple's sixteenth birthday that sets everything on the road to change. Gwyn's present is a shiny new fake ID, so they are free to explore the bars and clubs of New Jersey and neighbouring New York together. But then her parents take her shopping, and at the mall, Dimple's mother recognises her old friend Radha, who has moved nearby with her son, Karsh. Dimple's parents decide almost immediately to set her up with Karsh, whilst Dimple cringes at the idea of dating a 'suitable boy'. She resists and complains and is convinced that their first meeting is a disaster, but when she sees him again, at a club night where he is DJing, she starts to doubt her own assumptions, and sort out her confusion.

Born Confused has a great cast of characters. Dimple's parents are brilliant, stern and hilarious by turns. I thought Gwyn was a really interesting (yet frustrating) character - the Rayanne Graff of the story - and Dylan and his best friend Julian were easy to dislike. If I talk about Kavita and Sabina and Zara in any detail I'll probably spoil a few surprises for most readers (though I saw them all coming myself), but I thought they were brilliant, and really quotable!

I'll be honest, the plot is predictable. But plot is only the backbone of this novel. Born Confused is all about the details, and even having guessed what was going to happen, it was still a lot of fun being with Dimple as she figures things out, and the writing is great.

That said, the 478 pages of Born Confused put me off starting it for a long time, and it took me weeks to finish. Now that I'm done I'm not sure that it needed all of that weight - there were some descriptive passages that were lovely but took me out of the story a bit too much - when they finished I couldn't remember what had happened before in the scene. I was flicking pages quite a lot to remind myself of what was going on.

Despite the length of the novel, I thought that some elements of the ending were rushed, particularly those concerning Dimple and Gwyn's friendship, and the issues about cultural appropriation. I also wanted to know more about Kavita's sister and her marriage. I did think that the development of Dimple's relationship with her parents was really well done though, and I love how Radha's stories shook everything up. I also feel that I should mention the punctuation. Speech marks are not used in this book, when a character is talking the sentence starts with a dash instead. E.G. -Hello, she said instead of 'Hello,' she said. This didn't bother me too much but I did find it confusing at first because I didn't realise that the dialogue continued after the next dash, rather than after the 's/he said'.

Born Confused is the second of four books I've read so far this summer set during a summer. I didn't plan to theme my reading, it just happened, and I only realised when I was on the fourth book! Right now I'm reading a fifth, so I think I'm going to have to write a post about this phenomenon, with some more summery summer reading suggestions.

The review of Born Confused at Leaving Shangri-La first inspired me to add this book to my wishlist.

The BookDepository

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review: The Butterfly Tattoo, by Philip Pullman

Trailer for the 2008 feature film adaptation of the book, The Butterfly Tattoo.

I can't think of a better way to summarise this short thriller than its opening line: 'Chris Marshall met the girl he was going to kill on a warm night in early June, when one of the colleges in Oxford was holding its summer ball.' Chris is a seventeen-year old boy, working for Barry Miller and his company, Oxford Entertainment Systems. He is between childhood and adulthood, planning on going to university, and still dealing with the break up of his parents' marriage. The girl who becomes the catalyst that changes everything is Jenny, a few years older, more mature, but with a much more unstable life, living in a squat and taking odd jobs. When they find each other, everything becomes sweeter for both of them, but only for a little while, before Barry Miller confides in Chris that there is a man called Carson after him, and asks him to help him build a hideout near the canal.

Chris is a character who rushes into everything. From his romance with Jenny, to the conclusions he jumps to about Barry, he barely takes a moment to question what he is doing, to question himself. He decides to see the world as black and white, even when it makes no sense, even when everything in his own life is about shades of grey. He is the sort of person that I find very frustrating, but that makes a good character. Jenny is more sympathetic, wiser, but more tragic, especially as Chris gives her hope that her life can get better. The reader knows how the story will end at the start and I think this gives the book a strange kind of energy. I knew the two young protagonists were hurtling towards certain doom, even during the happy times, and that made me want to jump into the book and change things (a bit like a Brecht play).

I enjoyed reading The Butterfly Tattoo, but I was glad that it was such a short book. There was far too much telling, and not enough showing, and it was based around the dreaded insta-love, at least on Chris' part. I thought it was pretty clear that Chris was in lust rather than in love because he was infatuated with Jenny from the start, without knowing anything about her. Jenny doesn't get as obsessed as quickly so there is a good contrast there, but I would have liked to have seen him realise that he wasn't really in love with her, or to at least have the author acknowledge it. As for the ending, I predicted what would happen a few pages before it did, but it was still quite creepy and poignant. 

The Butterfly Tattoo is the only book I have read by Philip Pullman that isn't part of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and I was a bit disappointed by it. I think that as it is far shorter than any of those books, it's intended for a much more reluctant reader than I have ever been. I can see it appealing to teenagers who don't read a lot, with its dark subject matter and tight plot. However, The Butterfly Tattoo was originally published in 1992 (as The White Mercedes), reissued in 2005. Nobody in the story has a mobile phone, and if there had been mobile phones, all the disasters in the plot could have been easily averted. I found this distracting enough! The film adaptation was produced in 2008, and I haven't seen it, but I would like to find out how they dealt with this issue.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, by Natasha Walter

Introduction to the book by Lennie Goodings, Publisher at Virago.

When I opened the First Look jiffy bag from Virago last month to find a copy of Living Dolls, by Natasha Walter, I was really excited. I had read quite a few reviews of this book online, and was intrigued. I was also pleased to see that the Virago Book Club would be including non-fiction titles, it's great to see such a variety of works chosen for the group so far.

Living Dolls is a book that argues that society in the UK is moving backwards, actually becoming more and more sexist, as suggested by the subtitle 'The Return of Sexism'. It is divided into two sections. The first, 'The New Sexism', looks at the impact of the sexist aspects of our culture on girls and women, and the second, 'The New Determinism', examines the so-called science used to justify maintaining the status quo.

I found the first section the most interesting as Natasha Walter spoke to many different people to find out what they thought about the increasingly sexualised culture, and what impact it has on had on them. The descriptions of the way in which the marketing of toys and clothes to little girls has changed recently really resonated with me. I remember that I, growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, practically lived in jeans until the age of 18. The Disney store didn't arrive until my sister and I were already too tall for the princess costumes. As a small child, I used to stare enviously at the racks of velvet or chiffon dresses hanging on racks in the formal corner of the children's departments in shops, but I knew full well that I'd rarely wear them, they just weren't practical, whether I was running about the garden, climbing at the playground, or curling up with books. I didn't want to confine my everyday movements to activities that would keep my clothes nice. It's not as if I were a rebel either, there were very few ostentatiously girlie girls that I knew, jeans were cool. Yet girls today seem obsessed with pink. It's rare that I see a girl wearing jeans and no pink whatsoever, and I suspect that if I were growing up today I'd probably be as pink and frilly as the next wannabe-princess.

The second section is drier, as Walter questions the scientific method behind various psychological studies which have been held up in the press as proof of enduring and natural differences between the sexes. I was a bit shocked that I, who only did A Level Psychology, could easily pick out the flaws with the described studies before she did so in the text, and yet the press take the conclusions of the research at face value. One thing she did describe that I hadn't really thought of before, is the way that when female politicians are criticised for being unfeminine, or not attractive enough, it makes them seem less human, like they're breaking the rules of nature by having unperfect hair. I'd noticed this type of criticism before, and struggled to ignore it, but I'd never thought about it as making them seem inhuman, so that was interesting.

I do have a couple of criticisms of Living Dolls. Firstly, I thought that in the first section she devoted too much time to other people's opinions, and neglected to include as many of her own thoughts. I was often nervous, waiting to find out where the author herself stood, as she'd bring in an argument and quote various sources, but wouldn't say how she felt about it until several pages later. Although I don't agree with Melanie Newman's suggestion that Natasha Walter contradicts herself (I thought that it was perfectly reasonable for her to criticise mainstream pornography whilst acknowledging that there are alternatives to it) I can see where's she's coming from, as Walter gives so much space to general critique and doesn't discuss explicit sexual materials outside the mainstream, all she does is mention that they exist.

I also had trouble with (and this is where I do agree with Melanie Newman's review for the f word) Walter's idea that promiscuity is now seen as as an acceptable choice for teenage girls, and is even celebrated to the extent that it makes girls feel like they have to act that way. It doesn't ring true for me, I think the reality is much more complicated. It would have been interesting if Walter could have spoken to the girls she met in smaller groups, and asked them what they thought of the different possibilities, rather than just about what choices they had made for themselves. I would expect that some of those girls that proclaimed their desire for short-term flings and nothing serious would be (probably cruelly) critical of the girls that wanted long term relationships, and vice versa. Also, although the promiscuity of young women may be tolerated by society in the short term, they are still expected to start chasing the ring, the big white dress and the cradle, eventually. Let us not forget that 3 out of the 4 central women in Sex and the City, which is apparently a inspiration for the teenage girls quoted in Living Dolls, got married in the end, and that the whole series (and two films) revolved around their relationships, no matter how casual, with men.

It's a relatively minor issue, but I found the cover to be a bit strange - it looks slick and modern but it kind of contradicts the text with its image of a slim white woman's body, and the pink banner. I know book blog readers love to debate covers, so feel free to comment even if you've never heard of this book before!

I have to admit that it's difficult for me to judge how convincing Natasha Walter's argument is, because if she were so inclined as to find a choir to preach to, I would be in that choir. I agreed automatically with almost all her points as I studied media and cultural studies at university and have already read about a lot of the things she mentions in greater depth. However, I'm glad that this book has been published and promoted so well, as it is vitally important that people in general, outside academia, consider these issues that impact so much on all our lives. I read Living Dolls really quickly - I was done within a few days, which is unusual for non-fiction - so I expect that most readers would find it quite accessible and easy to read.

I'm going to do a related reading post because quite a few other interesting books were referenced by the author in this one, and there are also other books that I can think of just off the top of my head that are relevant, so watch this space!

The BookDepository


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