Friday, 24 July 2015

March and April Reads

It has been impossibly long since I have blogged because I had been so busy with coursework and then revision and exams and after that I got caught up in the thrill of summer freedom. I really want to keep track of how I felt about the books I have read this year though (although this is going to feel impossible to write) which is why this is coming like 4 months late. Over March and April I only managed to read 7 books and one audio book which is an average one month for me...yay for responsibility preventing me from reading

The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare     90%
(Synopsis for Clockwork Angel) The year is 1978. Tessa Gray descends into London's dark, supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother only to find that her sole allies are the demon-slaying shadow hunters, of which include two mysterious boys that Tessa is attracted two, Will and Jem. Soon they find themselves battling against a secret organisation of  warlocks, vampires, demons and humans equipped with an army of unstoppable clockwork creatures. Out to rule the empire, can Tessa and her allies stop them in time...?
I finally finished this trilogy by marathoning  Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess during this month, although I had already read the first, Clockwork Angel, last year. I was not aware that City of Heavenly Fire had about one thousand and one spoilers in it for this trilogy so I went into it already knowing quite a lot about about what happens which was very annoying because as a result I was so much less engrossed in this trilogy then I had been in The Mortal Instruments. Nevertheless, I still immensely enjoyed this trilogy and actually think it's far better than The Mortal Instruments (which I still love) in terms of the writing, storyline and the characters. The characters were complex and flawed and just wonderfully crafted and it really made this book for me. I also loved the storyline which was really unique and interesting and flowed really well because of the easy writing style. This trilogy gave me all the feels and was heart wrenching but brilliant and I really need Will so that he can quote classic literature to me all day long.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett     85%        
Enter a vanished and unjust world: Jackson Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren't trusted not to steal the silver... There's Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son's tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College,who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared. Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they'd be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell...
This was a reread for me of a much loved book. I actually listened to this on audio book while completing my textiles coursework and I would definitely recommend the audiobook to anyone who is interested in reading this but can't find the time as the voices are done very well and it still managed to engross me just as much. The Help is a novel that I will go back to again and again as it never fails to to hit me with a strong tidal wave of emotion and I know that this is something I will appreciate for, well, forever (excuse the dramatics). Wonderfully written with beautifully crafted characters filled with flaws and subtleties which makes them excellently developed causing me to love some of them even more. The story is heart-wrenching and heart-warming, filled with emotion and the unexpected touch of humour which I always enjoy. The brilliant message in this books makes it a vitally important read for everyone.  
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven     59%
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
My feelings about this book were and still are very weird so this is going to be a very jumbled review with opinions you may not agree with and I haven't even sorted out myself yet. I am really sorry if I offend anyone when writing about the mental illness addressed in this book as that is definitely not my intention. After first finishing this book I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads and you would probably see me saying very different things about it if I had written this when I was supposed to but after a lot of reflection I reduced it to 3 stars and the main reason I didn't reduce it further was due to my original rating of it proving that I clearly enjoyed it. The five stars came down to me thinking this book had a great message about mental illness, loving Theodore Finch, enjoying the story and thinking the writing style was beautiful (even though parts made me cringe and now it all makes me cringe). After thinking about this all maybe a month after reading it, I realised my opinions were beginning to change quite drastically. Not only did the writing and the story lose some of its magic for me as I felt it was rather cliche, cringey and somewhat juvenile (although it has to be said that I still really like the story when I think about it now) but I began to develop quite a big problem with the characters and the message. While I appreciate parts of the message in trying to make people understand that you never really know what is going on in someones life and that mental illness isn't shameful at all, I have a big problem with the way it was executed and dealt with as well as some of the other messages this book had. I have had no personal experience dealing with serious mental illness and if I am correct this author does so I do understand that she may be very good at portraying what it is like to have a mental illness through her characters, however I have had friends who have suffered and have been through a lot with mental illness and so I know that while it can consume them it doesn't make up the whole of who they are. In this book however, I began to feel that the characters merely felt like personifications of their illnesses, as if that was the only thing worth knowing about them - to me it felt as if it was saying that a person's mental illness will become them and that is okay to accept and that people with mental illnesses are all like the characters in this book. I know that there is nothing to be ashamed of in having a mental illness, however I do not think it is okay to promote the characters (such as Theo's) struggles with the illness as little quirks or desirable traits, as if them being their illness is how it is meant to be. To me, it almost feels disrespectful to those who are suffering from these things and are fighting to  make people realise that they aren't their illness, much like someone with cancer, for example, might do so. This is all  just my opinion and I am not even sure it will be my final opinion, I think I will need to reread it at some point to form a full and final opinion about it. Feel free to tell me I am wrong or have got the wrong idea from it if you have read this book, I am really sorry if I have accidentally offended anyone or got the wrong end of the stick with this. I have other problems with the messages in this book too though, one being that it promotes slut shaming, something which I am very against - why do women get called "slut" and shunned for doing what they want and having fun while men are celebrated for the same thing? Anyway that's a rant for another day, but to conclude (after a very long "mini" review), I would recommend that you give this book a try if you are interested, it's a good story that will rip your heart out regardless of some of the problems you may find with it. I would suggest, however, that you go in to it aware of these things so that you can form an opinion for yourself as it is definitely not for everyone.

Shatter Me by Taherah Mafi     78%
Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but the Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal but as long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one cares. With diseases destroying the population, scarce food and birds that can no longer fly, the world is too busy crumbling to worry about a 17-year-old girl. Claiming that their way was the only way to fix things, the Reestablishment threw Juliette into a cell. Now that so many people have died, the few remaining survivors are whispering war and the Reestablishment have changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than just a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she is exactly what the Reestablishment need right now. Juliette has to make a choice: be a weapon...or be a warrior
I really enjoyed this read, managing to fly through it in one evening - yes, it was that addicting. I found the writing style really unique and beautiful and it completely engrossed me from the word go. Taherah Mafi's writing perfectly captured Juliette's mental state helping me to understand her so much more and added complexity to the story. I also really enjoyed the fast-paced, action-filled dystopian story line which, although I wouldn't say was unique, made for a fun and interesting read only emphasised and improved by the romance aspect which I also enjoyed (despite the insta-love). Although I really liked the characters and caught glimpses of their more complex sides (something I assume and hope will be expanded in the next two books), I didn't really form much of a connection with any of them, I think because I found it so fast-paced. For me forming connections with characters is what converts a YA novel from being fluffy and fun to being heart-wrenching and important so that aspect was a bit disappointing but hopefully, that will change once I delve a little further into the Shatter Me world as I definitely enjoyed it enough to want to pick up the next book. All in all, a fun, interesting and beautifully written dystopian (but perhaps a guilty pleasure) read that I would definitely recommend.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller 
 Arthur Miller wrote of his classic play about the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. Based on historical people and real events, Miller's drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumours that women are practising witchcraft galvanise the town's most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbour to testify against neighbour brilliantly illuminate the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence.
I had to read this for school for my Literature exam and because of the deep analysis and everything I am not really sure if and how much I liked it (hence the missing rating). If I had read this in my own time it is hard to say if I would have enjoyed it as it is not something I would usually reach for, but I definitely wouldn't have understood it for all there is to appreciate about it. The themes in this book such as hysteria, theocracy and betrayal are really important and I think that this book holds some really interesting points about oppression in a puritan society as well as the paranoia and hysteria that can build from false accusation in a theocracy. Additionally, the parallel this play draws between the Salem witch trials in the seventeenth century and McCarthyism during the 1950s (the persecution of communists in USA) is incredibly interesting and I now know so much more about both this and Salem witch hunts because of it. The characters are also brilliant- fantastically flawed and realistic and through Arthur Millers commentary in between scenes as well as the dialogue that we witness, we really get a feel for why the characters are desperate enough to do the things that they do. This really helps with the back-story and foreshadowing as well. All in all, it is a very interesting, though somewhat bizarre and strange (which is further highlighted if you have seen the film) read with well written characters and a lot to think about. It is definitely worth picking up just to see what you think.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome     70%
The Walker children - also known as Captain John, Mate Susan, Able Seaman Titty and Ship's Boy Roger - set sail on the Swallow and head for Wild Cat Island. There they camp under open skies, swim in clear water and go fishing for their dinner. But their days are disturbed by the Blackett sisters, the fierce Amazon pirates, The Swallows and Amazons decide to wage war and so begins a summer of unforgettable discoveries and incredible adventure.
This book was a lovely adventure story that I am sure I would have loved when I was a kid - I mean, it certainly isn't a children's classic for nothing. However reading it now, I found it quite difficult to get into because I couldn't relate to any of the characters and it didn't feel like much was happening, even though for the characters a lot was, and this made it slightly boring to read. The story did start to pick up a bit and it was a very lovely and sweet children's adventure that I did really appreciate, this was certainly helped along by the writing style which I also enjoyed. The characters didn't really feel well developed but they were still executed in a way that created a great group dynamic between them which I liked. Although it wasn't the most enjoyable read and I won't be continuing on with the next books, I am still glad that I read this and I definitely appreciate it for what it is.

Have you read any of these books, what did you think of them?

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

Today, Sunday the 8th of March, it is International Women's Day, and as I was planning to write this soon anyway, no day seemed more fitting than a day which is dedicated to the very same cause that Everyday Sexism is: a greater awareness for female equality.
Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates is a book brimming with feminism and is based on and outlines a gender equality campaign that strives to make women and girls' voices heard and help ignorant people understand that sexism is still a big issue. Sick and tired of the constant sexist harassment that herself and other women receive on a day-to-day basis, in 2012 Laura Bates established the Everyday Sexism Project. Every girl and woman has a story, a story of discrimination and prejudice because of their gender, and the Everyday Sexism Project is a way to use an online space and social media (through the project's website and Twitter) for ordinary women all over the world to come together and share their stories. They range from rape and domestic abuse or sexual harassment on the street, to losing a job after becoming pregnant as well as a whole host of other stories that scream to people, loud and clear, that sexism is still a very prominent issue today. The project is showing women everywhere that they are not alone in this struggle, proving wrong those who say sexism is dead and empowering and inspiring women to stand up and shout back.

This book, written by Laura Bates, pulls all these stories together, all the things that have been learnt from the project as well as vital statistics. She addresses the major issues that women face due to sexism with a strong and intelligent voice that forces people to recognise that sexism truly is endemic- socially, politically and economically. Following a foreword by Sarah Brown and an introduction fittingly called Everybody Has a Tipping Point the book holds 12 different sections that outline some of the most important topics within the issue of sexism. These sections are: Silenced Women: The Invisible Problem; Women in Politics; Girls; Young Women Learning; Women in Public Spaces; Women in the Media; Women in the Workplace; Motherhood; Double Discrimination; What About the Men?; Women Under Threat and finally, People Standing Up. Each separate section starts with some extremely well researched vital statistics, followed by a brief introduction to the topic before proceeding to showcase some of the stories that women have shared with the project, the author's response to this as well as a more in-depth explanation surrounding the topic about why this is an issue. Some glorious feminist rants are also thrown in there for good measure.
In my opinion, this book was fantastic: inspiring, informational and wonderfully interesting. Although I already considered myself a feminist, knew quite a bit about this topic and already wanted to do something about this huge issue, I learnt so much from this book and found myself becoming increasingly eager to make a difference. I found that this book was extremely well-researched and these snippets of information and facts brilliantly supported the fantastic arguments surrounding the many important sub-topics within this issue, a lot of which I have already used in countless rants and arguments with misogynists and ignorant people alike.  
I also thought that it was extremely well written. Laura Bates managed to get her points her across very clearly so that everything she wrote about made so much sense - it seemed like she had the answers to everything. Her writing was also very emotive and powerful which really inspired me and made me feel so many emotions, something that I believe is very important in a non-fiction book where issue are tackled and it's aims are to make people more aware of the problem. 
The vital statistics at the beginning of each chapter were, in my opinion, a valuable addition to the book because they introduced the sub-topic and gave me more of an insight. It also gave me some perspective of the main issues and the scale of the problem. Furthermore, I felt that it really aided in the understanding of the section throughout the rest of the chapter and gave Laura Bates writing, opinions and information validity. 
The stories from so many women and girls were a really powerful tool in the book and really demonstrated that this is a problem that affects so many, not just the odd few. I really enjoyed this aspect because it also ensures that girls and women everywhere know that they are not alone. Many of the stories made me feel very emotional, showcasing that this is the reality for so many girls and women portraying the monumental issue that this is. 

Many extremely important topics are addressed in this book. For example, Laura Bates writes about the society's ignorant view of feminists' as "feminazis" who think women should rule the world when in actual fact all we want is equal rights for both men and women and this is why everyone should be a feminist. If you believe in equal rights for both men and women, when asked if you are a feminist, regardless of your sex or gender (because it does affect men too), your immediate response should be yes
The issue of cat calling and the media's representation of women is also talked about, addressing the misconception that commenting on a female's physical appearance and consequently making them feel vulnerable and insecure is okay; as if it doesn't matter if you are a straight A student, or someone who dedicates all her time to charity, people will always comment on what your wearing first, or the amount of cleavage that you are showing. It is making people believe that behaviour like this does no harm, that its fine to sexually objectify and oppress women even thought, evidently, it's not. 
The topic of sexual and domestic violence is a huge theme addressed in this book and is an issue that I have always, and even more so after reading this book, feel extremely passionate about. 1 in 3 women will experience rape or domestic violence and every 6 minutes a female is raped causing millions and millions of girls and women (even ones who haven't experienced it) to feel extremely vulnerable and alone as well as terrified simply walking down the street and yet these women are still being accused of attention-seeking, lying and are being convinced that they are the ones to blame while so many aren't believed, so many abusers walk free and hundreds of thousands of them stay quiet about what they have seen, what has happened to them, because of fear of being accused for something that isn't true, fear that they will be blamed for wearing a short skirt or getting a little too drunk. Let me tell you something though, women and girls can wear what they want and do what they want. We can show off our bodies and flirt and drink and that doesn't matter in the slightest because we are in charge of our own bodies and not giving our consent is still just as valid regardless. Sexual, and violent, abuse is never the victim's, or survivor's, fault. They should not be blamed.
In the book, women and girls are also shown standing up against all of this, and this is what empowered me the most. It showed how little reason there is for this oppression, objectification and harassment. Women can be strong, smart and witty and still *shock...horror* wear a short dress with a low cut top or upload a selfie on Instagram with their cleavage on show if that's what they want to do. Just like how men can be strong, smart and witty and upload a selfie on Instagram without a shirt on if that's what they want to do. Ask yourself this, in what way is that any different? 

So many other issues (including more global ones) are addressed that are equally important and need to be equally targeted which is why this book is an extremely important and inspiring read that is making a huge difference and I honestly believe that it is essential for everyone to read it. I can't recommend it enough. Although, as Laura Bates herself states, Everyday Sexism is not a book that offers solutions to any of these problems, nor does it aim to, it is one that raises awareness for sexism and that is where we must start in order to fight it. By getting women, and men, to shout out and say enough is enough, awareness is being raised and those who are ignorant are being forced to realise that sexism is still very much a problem, that there are many things that need to change. 

Enough is enough.