reading

Book Review: Rebecca Mascull's Song of the Sea Maid*

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*I was fortunate to receive an eARC of this book before release via NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton. Thank you!*

'In the 18th century, Dawnay Price is an anomaly. An educated foundling, a woman of science in a time when such things are unheard-of, she overcomes her origins to become a natural philosopher.
Against the conventions of the day, and to the alarm of her male contemporaries, she sets sail to Portugal to develop her theories. There she makes some startling discoveries - not only in an ancient cave whose secrets hint at a previously undiscovered civilisation, but also in her own heart. The siren call of science is powerful, but as war approaches she finds herself pulled in another direction by feelings she cannot control.'

Read that description, see that cover, and then tell me you're not interested in this book. I was hooked before I even read the first page, and when I had read the first page, I knew there was no turning back. We are introduced to an orphan, unnamed and happy with her brother, roaming the streets of London. It's the 1700s and the world is full of disease, ruled by religion, and suspicious of anybody interested in 'new' ideas. After a fast-paced introduction, our orphan is now named Dawnay Price and living in a home for children, designed to educate them so they can be send out into the world as apprentices. She is brotherless and scared. For girls in the home, they are to become maids or fulfill other domestic roles, but Dawnay becomes inquisitive, eager to learn to write as well as read, and finds the natural world fascinating. It is a this point our story begins as Dawnay strives to become the natural philosopher her heart, and head, wants her to be.

Song of the Sea Maid is beautifully written. In her endnotes for the novel, Rebecca writes about how she was inspired by and used the style of eighteenth-century prose in her construction of the narrative. She uses '&c' instead of 'etc'. spells 'Menorca' as 'Minorca', and other such period quirks, which I really enjoyed and was surprised I did actually pick up on as I read through the text. Researching the book after reading I also came across a Pinterest board she made whist writing the book, using images of fishing villages, naval battles, and uniforms to help increase the accuracy of her world she harked back to. Fortunately she chose to omit the annoying prose styling of the time of capitalising a huge amount of words in the middle of sentences! 

As you can probably tell at this point, I adored this book. Dawnay Price is possibly one of my favourite characters I've ever read and I loved seeing her journey from ignorant (in the sweetest way possible) orphan girl to woman of science. Her story isn't always a happy one, but that's what makes it such a believable tale. I yearned for Dawnay to have her happy ending and to become the natural philosopher that she wanted to be because, by the end, she felt like a friend to me. Her narrative voice was humorous, emotional, rational, strong, and scared all at once, which it was made her feel real to me. I'm very much looking forward to reading Rebecca's debut The Visitors now as her writing was such a comfort to me over the duration of reading this novel.

Song of the Sea Maid is released on June 18th 2015 and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an amazing female character, loves stories set in the depths of nature, or suffers from a bit of wunderlust. You can almost feel the sun shining through the pages. Five stars from me!

M x

reading

Little Black Classics: Ovid's Fall of Icarus and Apollonius of Rhodes's Jason and Medea

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By now a lot of us have probably seen Penguin's Little Black Classics floating around, whether on the internet or in their local bookshops. For their 80th anniversary, Penguin released 80 short books for 80p each, whether collections of poetry, short stories, snippets from longer epics, or works of non-fiction. I fell head over heels in love with the idea as many other people have, and who wouldn't? They look gorgeous together on a shelf and are the perfect way to be introduced to new forms of writing, the poetry of a particular author, or educate yourself on social issues of the past and present. Their website for the campaign is also absolutely wonderfully designed, I'd highly recommend you check it out.

I picked up twelve of these books to start off my collection and thus far have only read two: Ovid's Fall of Icarus (number 73, taken from Books VIII and IX of Metamorphoses) and Apollonius of Rhodes's Jason and Medea (number 18, taken from a translation of The Voyage of Argo). I adored The Fall of Icarus and now feel fully compelled to pick up a full version of Ovid's Metamorphoses to peruse through. The pace was fast and I found myself recognising so much of the story that wasn't to do with the fall (which itself only took about half a page to be covered). I enjoyed Jason and Medea a lot less, for no real reason other than the story didn't interest me and the pacing was much slower. I'm hoping to pick up a few more of my Little Black Classics soon and will be sure to pop up some reviews when I have done so.

M x

reading

April and May 2015 Reads

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Female writers 14/24 (good!)
Graphic novels 9/24 (we're getting better!)
Non-fiction 0/24 (embarassing.)


Do not be alarmed by the fact it looks like I read twenty-four books in two months. Nine graphic novels and four short stories very quickly bump up your reading count. However, it has been a pretty good two months of reading, getting into a new series, catching up on some utopian/dystopian fiction for my MA, and starting my venture into using NetGalley to find things to review. 

A good month for reading women too! Fourteen out of twenty-four texts were written by women writers, with the stand out books probably being Cinder, The Female Man, The Art of Asking, Woman on the Edge of Time, and Song of the Sea Maid. Reviews of Palmer's and Mascull's books will hopefully be up soon, and you can read about my thoughts on Woman on the Edge of Time here.

This was also the month I fell in love with, and read both volumes of, Rat Queens. This is by far my favourite comic series at the moment and I am contemplating buying the single issues of this as they come out simply so I don't have to wait for the next trade paperback to be released. However, I'm very good at buying single issues and forgetting to read them because they're so small and just wander off in my bedroom. We will see what happens, but I heartily recommend everyone to pick up a copy of the first volume of Rat Queens to give it a go. The fantasy D&D-inspired universe is fantastically immersive and every single character is as lovable as the next. The dialogue is incredibly witty and anyone craving good female characters will be satisfied by Rat Queens.

I finally delved into my collection of Little Black Classics in April and am planning on writing mini-reviews for the ones I've read over the next few weeks. 

If you want to hear my thoughts on any books I've read over the past two months, or ever really, please check out my Goodreads where you can find all of my star ratings and random thoughts throughout the reading process. 

M x


reading

Two Sci-Fi Reviews: Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness and Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon

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As some of you may already know from following me on Twitter, or from reading previous blog posts, I am currently writing my master's dissertation on feminist science fiction. Considering I was originally intending to write on alternative universes in graphic novels, this topic really did come of of the blue for me when doing some initial research and I couldn't get the idea out of my mind from then on. Early into my reading then I learned that the overwhelming opinion was that I had to start by entering the world of Ursula Le Guin, who I'd heard about recently thanks to a BBC Radio 4 piece celebrating her 85th.

Oddly enough a few days later as I browsed through some second-hand stalls at my local bookshop, I stumbled across not one, not two, but three Le Guin titles for 80p a pop. Definitely not an offer I was going to turn down. After researching the stories of each (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and Four Ways to Forgiveness) I decided The Left Hand of Darkness would be the best place to start regarding my narrowed-down topic of 'utopias'. I must admit, this book was initially rather difficult to get into as someone who has never really read 'hard' sci-fi before. I found it fell into the same category of fantasy when you find yourself overwhelmed by odd names and places that you can't even attempt to pronounce in your head. I think I quite like that about the genre though, making you slow down in your reading an absorb every detail (very good for me, a serial speed-reader). My second issue was the pace of the story, though. It took about half of the volume for me to become invested in the characters and feel like progress was being made, but after that halfway point I was hooked. Although not a great deal happens in the duration of the novel, you get to know the characters, their motivations, their fears, and their desires.

A little background on The Left Hand of Darkness: Genly Ai is a representative sent from a coalition of planets to Gethen to broker a treaty with them in an attempt to get them to join said coalition. The residents of Gethen are 'ambisexual', meaning they spend the majority of the year sexually neutral, only becoming either male or female when they are required to mate. The story covers Genly's encounters with these people, his attempts to understand their ways, as well as his attempts to win favour of the ruling minority in order to add another planet to the coalition. There's a lot of politics involved and this is not a book for those who do not favour detail. Le Guin is an excellent world-builder and at no point did I find myself doubting the details she put in. My only wish was that she put more thought and detail into the idea of 'ambisexuality' as I feel there was so much she could have done with such an interesting topic. 

A week or so later I found myself in London with a group of friends in yet another second-hand book shop. Although not feminist science fiction or a piece on utopia, I picked up a copy of the famous Flowers for Algernon as I had been eager to read it for a while. The basic premise is that of a man with IQ 68, Charlie, who undergoes an experiment in order to artificially increase his intelligence. The experiment has previously been undertaken on a mouse, Algernon, and the story covers the experience of Charlie in his journey through life now as a more intelligent and aware human being, whilst witnessing what this experiment has done to Algernon. It's a heart-wrenching story at times and not something to be read in public. Charlie's childhood reveals itself before his eyes and helps him to understand why he is the way he is. This volume took me very little time to read and I would recommend to anyone wanting to get into science-fiction without heavy amounts of world-building or tech-speak. (You will probably cry.)

M x

P.S. Don't forget to follow me here on Goodreads!

reading

Book Review: Steve Niles's October Faction Volume One*

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*I was fortunate to receive an eARC of this book from NetGalley and Diamond Book Distributors in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!*

If you ever craved as a teenager a hybrid between the Addams Family and Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, you're in for a treat here. October Faction tells the story of a mysterious family in a normal town, seen over by ex-monster hunter Frederick Allan and his even more mysterious wife Dolores. Their children are eager to take up their father's past trade now they've finished school, summoning spirits in their bedroom whilst being bullied in the streets on their way around town. I can't help but see the children as even darker versions of the eldest Baudelaire siblings with their Victorian-style outfits and miserable faces (definitely not a bad thing!). 

The first volume of October Faction collects the first six issues of the series and covers the events that unfold after Doroles is supposedly attacked by a man-machine, kept locked away in a storage unit for unknown reasons. We're introduced to Frederick's ex-partner Lucas, a werewolf, and we also see his strong standing within the community, friendly with the Sheriff and others around him. It was interesting to see how well-integrated he and his wife were when his children were treated like freaks. Probably says something about the cruelty and judgement of teenagers more than anything. I do wish the characters in this volume were slightly better developed, especially Dolores who currently seems to be serving as a damsel in distress who does things to get the attention of her distant husband. Not the strong character I was hoping for, but perhaps she will become more filled out in later issues as she is yet to have a proper storyline.

That aside, I did really enjoy the arc of this volume! The theme of family, especially family among misfits, is something I really loved reading about as a teenager so I would really recommend this to someone in their teens looking to get into slightly darker reading. As I said before, there are a lot of Sandman vibes coming off of this, both in the art style and the gothic subject matter. I think I'll be picking up the next volume because I am interested in where the story goes from here. The ending was satisfying, yet kept me wanting to know more about these witty, creepy characters.

M x

P.S. Don't forget to follow me on Goodreads here!

reading

Book Review: Gemma Correll's The Worrier's Guide to Life*

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*I was fortunate to receive an eARC of this book from NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!*

I LOVE Gemma Correll, no exaggeration. She's up there with Kate Beaton (we all know how I feel about her after my post about Hark! A Vagrant) as one of my favourite comic book artists/illustrators. Again, I can't remember where I first stumbled upon her work, but I remember being surprised and very happy when I saw cards with her designs on being sold in Paperchase. Now she has a book coming out on May 26th and I could not feel happier for her.

The Worrier's Guide to Life is a very funny, clever book, I'm not going to lie about that. The illustrations are hilarious, truthful, and, at times, painfully relatable. She covers a multitude of topics and scenarios that will not be unfamiliar to a fellow worrier, from going to the kitchen when your housemate's have friends over, to that weird crusty thing you've found on the back of your leg that is definitely lethal. In my opinion she perfectly encapsulates what it is like for a lot of twenty-somethings and university graduates to live in this world, eating too much pizza, stopping to play with people's dogs as a way to avoid your daily commitments, and creating duvet burritos when it all gets a bit too much. 

I have no complaints about Gemma's work, only that when reading through the book I felt like I had read them all before. I don't know how much of this isn't brand new material, or whether I've just seen it all recently posted on social media by Gemma herself as promotion for the book, but a lot of it felt very familiar. As I've said, it's in no way bad material, so don't let that put you off if you're unfamiliar with her work! Hers is a world you should probably get acquainted with as you will undoubtedly fall in love.

M x

P.S. Don't forget to follow my reviews on Goodreads here!

reading

Women in Comics: Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant and Mary M. Talbot's Sally Heathcote: Suffragette

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Two of my reading aims for 2015 were to read more written by women and to get back into reading graphic novels and comics. I'd blamed my degree for my decreased reading of everything penned and graphic, but it felt very wrong to blame something on my already-low levels of reading works by women. I know there's been a lot of talk recently in the blogging world, particularly on Twitter (see #ReadWomen for more), about reading more works by women (how many more times can I say women?) and I heartily condone it all. So here are two graphic novels/comics I've read recently written by women! (Spoiler: I loved them both.)

I've been a fan of Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant webcomic for longer than I can remember. My 2014 wall calender was Hark! A Vagrant and I remember having long, hilarious conversations about Beaton's comics after class at uni. We were literature students, and jokes about Hamlet were always going to be funny. To summarise quickly, Hark! A Vagrant is a collection of comedic (read: bloody hilarious) comic strips about literature and historical figures. Most of them highlight the poor decisions of these figures, ones we can thankfully look back and laugh at, and sometimes even relate to. It took me far too long to pick up her physical book (published in 2011, for shame) but I was so glad that I did. Although a lot of it is reprints of her webcomics, I couldn't have cared less. Beaton's talent for making me belly-laugh using simply three panels is beyond me and I will be sure to reread this over and over whenever I'm feeling down. I particularly enjoy her damning portrayals of the characters of The Great Gatsby that really do make you realise how awful they all are. How many of us forgot that Daisy had a daughter throughout the whole novel? Apparently Daisy did too. This got a very easy five stars from me.

On a less humorous note, but also only slightly less enjoyable, is Mary M. Talbot's Sally Heathcote: Suffragette. I met Mary's husband Bryan, also a comic book artist, at a festival many years ago after a talk he gave on what was his most recent creation, Grandville Mon Amour (part of a series about an anthropomorphic Detective Inspector badger, also worth a read). I was unaware Mary was also a comic book artist until I saw Sally Heathcote in my local Waterstones and new I had to have it. It tells the story of a fictional suffragette (who I disappointingly didn't know was fictional until I came to look her up afterwards) and her story from being a young maid to a household name as part of the Suffragist movement. The story is a painful one, at times, covering the treatment of women who both did and did not participate in the rallies run by the Pankhurst's. It also tells the story of the split in the movement between the more radical Women's Suffrage Federation and the original Women's Social and Political Union, which also split the Pankhurst family apart. For the most part I found this graphic novel absorbing and hugely educational, but I can't help but feel that it ended far too abruptly and on a note of romance rather than the main thread of the work. Four stars from me.

M x

P.S. Don't forget to follow me on Goodreads here!

advice

P-P-P-Pick Up a Podcast #2

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Flashback to last July and you may remember I featured a post on this very blog about some of my favourite podcasts. Well now, dear friends, we're due an update!

Stories About Stuff

99% Invisible - A podcast about design. Each episode tells a story about something that has been designed, whether a piece of tech, a building, the time system, infrastructure, ANYTHING. Some of the latest episodes, for example, have been about a haunted house, a fake army, locks, barbed wire, the calendar, paper money, airport carpeting, and mascots. I don't think I've ever found an episode NOT interesting. Plus Roman Mars has the most soothing voice on the planet.

Invisibilia - A podcast about invisible things. This is hosted by the wonderful Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel and follows a similar vein to Radiolab and other object-story oriented podcasts. I love how they've taken the theme of 'invisible' and found so many equally interesting but so varied things to talk about. Categories, synesthesia, blindness, and thoughts are all topics they've covered in their first season and I cannot wait for them to come back with more.


Two People Chatting

Call Your Girlfriend - A podcast for long distance besties everywhere. You may remember me harping on about this in my previous post, but this really is the best podcast ever EVER if you want to feel like you're chatting with friends. Amina and Ann are the sassiest and most hilarious women you will ever listen to chat about periods, racism, feminism, and Kanye. I've been listening to them since day one and it's been a whole new world.

Hello Internet - A podcast that is basically Call Your Girlfriend, but with two guys talking about Apple products, plane crashes, mountain climbing, coffee, coffee, and coffee. You may know CGP Grey and Brady Haran from their various Youtube exploits and I got into their podcast way too late in the game, but now I genuinely count down the days until a new one gets put up. The episodes are usually about two hours long and, somehow, still not long enough. I cackle on the train listening to them wind each other up.


Film, Internet and Pop Culture

The Canon - A podcast about what films should be in a theoretical cinema 'canon'. Hosted by two film journalists, each week these choose one film, or two films to pit against each other, and decide whether it would deserve to belong in a film 'canon' if such a thing existed.  I admittedly only listen to the episodes of this show that I've watched the film for, or the competition sounds interesting, but I enjoy it nonetheless. It is a lot of fun listening to people pick apart cinematic masterpieces.

The Dinner Party Download - A podcast that is near impossible to describe. This is such a mix of a show, taking the form of a dinner party. Each week they might, among other things, start with an icebreaker joke told by a famous face, discuss news of the week you might not have heard, concoct cocktails based on historical stories, interview actors or musicians about their recent projects, get DJs to create a dinner party mix for you to use. The list goes on really. It's a good listen if you want some fun anecdotes, and every episode they have a good 3-4 high profile guests that are always interesting to hear talk. I would particularly recommend a recent episode that aired featuring Oscar Isaac.

Nerdette Podcast - A podcast about all things nerdy, with a side of feminism. This podcast is for anyone who is a little bit nerdy about anything. And I mean anything. Featuring interviews with exciting people, including Scott McCloud and Margaret Atwood, there's always something to discover and become a new nerd about!

Plumbing the Death Star - A podcast where a bunch of Aussie(?) guys ask ridiculous (but also very decent!) questions about pop culture, like why the hell is Hawkeye in the Avengers? And is Daredevil a better Batman than Batman? It's a lot of fun.

Everything!

Stuff Mom Never Told You - A podcast about anything a woman could be interested in. This podcast is my new love and I've been binge-listening for a long time now. Cristen and Caroline discuss important issues regarding gender in different parts of society, including obvious examples such as tabloid magazines and social justice warriors, to less obvious topics like women in construction and trophy wives. It's an amazing listen and I always learn something new or find myself looking at things in a different way afterwards.

I hope this gives you a few new things to try out and you fall in love with these podcasts like I have! Please leave any recommendations you have in the comments as I am a complete podcast fiend and will never give up until I've found ALL OF THE GOOD ONES.

M x

reading

Book Review: Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time

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'Marge Piercy's bestselling novel is both a gripping drama of survival and a Utopian epic. The story of Connie Ramos - 27, Mexican-American, labelled inadequate, unfairly incarcerated in a mental hospital - becomes the turning point for a book about war, a vision of an idyllic future and a moving narrative of essential human dignity. Emotionally compelling, politically searing, this is a landmark novel by a writer of dazzling abilities.'

Long time, no speak! (Certainly not the first time I've said that on here). I'll update you on my life goings on in a following post, but for now I'm going to talk a bit about the most recent book I've finished and how much I bloody loved it. This is the book that's gotten me back into reading, and, hopefully, back into blogging.

Woman on the Edge of Time is the story of Connie, a thirty-seven year old Hispanic woman living in the 1970s who has recently been committed to a mental institution by her brother after she violently attacked her niece's abusive pimp. This book isn't a light read, as you can already tell. When trapped within the institution, Connie begins to slip in and out of time with the help of Luciente, a woman she dreams about and, on one confusing occasion, speaks to on the street before the events of the novel.

Luciente takes Connie to her world, Mattapoisett. This world is the future, or a possible future depending on how the events of the world unfold, and is the image of utopian bliss (once Connie wraps her head around their different ways of doing things, like gestating babies outside of the body and men breastfeeding). Everybody in Luciente's society is treated as an equal, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, ability. They live sustainable lives, preserving their land and using technology in a way that helps them provide for each other and doesn't leave destruction in its wake.

As Connie slips between her present and Luciente's future, she is still, physically, in the institution, undergoing invasive and potentially dangerous brain surgery as doctors attempt to 'cure' her. It's a difficult read at times as the entire text is saturated in both racial and sexual injustice, as well as injustice towards her coming from a poor socioeconomic background and having a history of drug abuse.

I loved the way the story was told, using a realistic 'voice' for Connie rather than your regular narration. Occasionally she speaks Spanish or uses phrases that come from her culture, creating the true character of Connie, rather than a flat one. She has hobbies, tragic stories of past loves, family relationships, thoughts about sex and violence, all of the things a real person experiences in their life, which is what makes her story even more painful to read. The characters of both Mattapoisett and the mental institution in which Connie is living are all fantastically written, and I really enjoyed seeing parallels between their personalities and motivations, despite from being two very different times and very different places. Society has made a complete 180 degree turn, but sometimes the brightest burning personalities remain the same.

I'm incredibly eager to pick up more of Piercy's books after finishing Woman on the Edge of Time as I found her writing style so incredibly immersive and emotive, I think many things I read in the next few weeks are going to feel empty compared to this. I would recommend this to anyone interested in reading fiction about gender and race, as well as anyone interested in getting into science fiction but don't want to jump in the deep end. I cannot sing this book's praises enough.

M x