Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Review: ‘Stay With Me’ by Ayòbàmi Adébáyò

Stay with MeBeautiful books are often painful. They are the kind of books that reach inside of you and touch that sore spot that makes you want to weep. These aren’t the kinds of books that lay it on thick, where the plot is dramatized just to make you cry. Rather, they are honest books, in which despite all good intentions things go wrong, where people get hurt and nothing could have prevented it. They are the kinds of books that celebrate human life in all its painful glory. Stay With Me was one of those books for me and it will stay with me for a long time. Thanks to Canongate Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 02/03/2017
Publisher: Canongate Books
'There are things even love can't do . . . If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love . . .' 
Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother in-law wants, and she has tried everything - arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair. 
Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.
It shouldn’t be hard to guess from my introduction that I loved this book. Part of why I started a book blog was in order to read more books from across the world because I fervently believe that reading a culture’s literature is one of the key ways of understanding it. There is always an initial hurdle to overcome when reading a book from outside your own culture, whether it is new and strange expressions, traditions and habits you don’t recognize, or settings and names that are foreign to you. However, these end up enriching your reading experience as the book truly allows you to settle into a different place. This was the case with Stay With Me. Adébáyò does not compromise herself for non-Nigerian readers. The book is filled with Nigerian phrases, folklore and traditions, as well as capturing the turbulent years around the military coup. Adébáyò describes her country both honestly and lovingly, and by the end of the book I was desperate to know more about Nigeria.

Parenthood, and especially, motherhood is central to Adébáyò’s Stay With Me. Ayide and Akin want children, desperately, both of their own accord as well as to meet external expectations of a large family. As grandmothers, neighbours and siblings make their wishes known, Ayide and Akin struggle for ways to cope with the pressure in their own ways. Adébáyò captures beautifully how deeply tied maternity is to femininity. To be a mother is to truly become a woman, according to many, and Ayide’s lack of children is taken as a sign of defectiveness. As she resorts to folklore for help, so Akin is pressured to find himself another wife. Without meaning to give anything away, I was very impressed with how Stay With Me showed the blame being placed on Ayide and the pressure being placed on Akin, while their own realities and truths tell them something else. In this quagmire of expectations and wishes, Ayide and Akin find themselves making choice after choice, each understandable and yet damning in its turn. Adébáyò tells their story with a gentleness that is almost painful, while never leaving anything out. By the end of the novel, the reader has been through the wringer with her characters and although they may have wished things had been different, the reader also knows why these things had to happen. Can you tell how carefully I am trying to phrase this so as not to ruin any of it for you?

Stay With Me is beautifully heartbreaking. With an honest tenderness, Adébáyò guides us through the lives of her characters and shows us how the wheel of fortune keeps on rolling. Sometimes you're on top, but before you know it you find yourself at the bottom again. Stay With Me is divided into chapters from Ayide and Akin's point of view, as well as moving back between the present and the past, in order to paint as complete a picture of their lives. By moving in time, Adébáyò is able to show us consequences before the actions, the pain before the happiness, and vice versa. It's hard to describe just how Adébáyò manages to describe her characters' emotions so honestly yet beautifully, to the point where there were moments where reading Stay With Me physically hurt. But in a good way. In the end, Stay With Me is achingly human, full of happiness, sadness, and you should definitely read it. Like now. Go.

I give this novel…

5 Universes!

I adored Stay With Me. It wasn't until the book was over that I truly realised just how much it had truly touched me. Now, days after reading it, Stay With Me is still on my mind and I can't wait to reread it. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone interested in Literary Fiction and African Literature.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Review: 'House of Names' by Colm Tóibín

I love Greek myths and legends so much. They were some of the first stories that ignited my passion for reading and literature and mythology, and they have been a constant companion. I know them in a way you know your childhood home. You can’t necessarily always picture it clearly, but if you close your eyes you always find your way around, remember which step creaks and where the cookies are hidden. As such, adaptations of them strike a double chord with me. They both excite me and worry me, because what are they going to do with my stories? I have had both good and bad experiences with these adaptations, and somehow House of Names falls in between. Thanks to Viking and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 18/05/2017
Publisher: Viking; Penguin Books
'They cut her hair before they dragged her to the place of sacrifice. Her mouth was gagged to stop her cursing her father, her cowardly, two-tongued father. Nonetheless, they heard her muffled screams.' 
On the day of his daughter's wedding, Agamemnon orders her sacrifice.

His daughter is led to her death, and Agamemnon leads his army into battle, where he is rewarded with glorious victory.

Three years later, he returns home and his murderous action has set the entire family - mother, brother, sister - on a path of intimate violence, as they enter a world of hushed commands and soundless journeys through the palace's dungeons and bedchambers. As his wife seeks his death, his daughter, Electra, is the silent observer to the family's game of innocence while his son, Orestes, is sent into bewildering, frightening exile where survival is far from certain. Out of their desolating loss, Electra and Orestes must find a way to right these wrongs of the past even if it means committing themselves to a terrible, barbarous act.
House of Names is a story of intense longing and shocking betrayal. It is a work of great beauty, and daring, from one of our finest living writers.
Greek mythology is a curious beast. On the one hand it pervades Western culture to the extent that everyone will know at least one tale. Our planets are named after the Greek Gods’ Latinized counterparts and Homer is a staple of any literature course. On the other hand, the finer intricacies of it, the way in which the mythology builds on each other, the way our view of it was shaped by those who came after, that makes Greek mythology a tricky thing to truly grasp. Adaptations, then, of these myths and legends find themselves in a precarious position. Some novels go completely the wrong way and try to make Greek mythology something it isn’t, while others try to dig deeper into what the extant tales try to tell us. The Greek myths are as tragic and dramatic as they come, full of careless gods and tortured humans, but they are also full of beautiful images and humanity.

Something about House of Names left me wanting. On the surface there truly is nothing to complain about when it comes to Tóibín’s novel. He treats his characters with respect, he paints beautiful images with his words and has a number of high-stakes moments in his plot. And yet I never truly got involved with it all. Perhaps my standards were too high. When I visited Greece as a child I lived and breathed these stories, knew them inside out and was completely enraptured by them. Their drama, their language, their scope and depth; in comparison to it House of Names fell flat for me. A novel that did incredibly well at capturing the essence of Greek mythology was The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, in which she made the character of Penelope her own while also sinking into the richness that the source material offered her. I liked the chapters around Clytemnestra and Electra, mainly because, like Penelope and Helen, they are sidelined in the originals, yet even those never go me truly got me excited. Also, strangely, in my edition of the book, their chapters are written from the first person, whereas Orestes’ chapters are third person, removing the reader even further from his character.

Tóibín writes very well. He sets scenes up perfectly, captures emotions and mindsets very well and at the end of the book you want more. I personally wanted more because I knew were the story was going and because I was curious how Tóibín would handle it. But I’ve also seen other reviewers saying they wanted more. And yet it is told in a way I can only call dispassionate. The House of Atreus is a doomed house, a cursed house, full of murder, betrayal and vengeance, yet Tóibín brings to it the same passion you would to a shopping list. My problem with House of Names, I think, lies with that he tries to justify or moralize why what happens had to happen. Agamemnon had to sacrifice Iphigenia because he was under pressure from his army. As an outraged mother and sidelined queen, revenge seems a natural option for Clytemnestra. As the only son, Orestes has to avenge his father, even if he is perhaps not quite convinced of it himself. The Greek stories allow for destiny, they deal in absolutes and don’t require moralizing because we recognize that push from destiny. Greek tragedy didn’t really deal with the psychology behind their characters, yet Aeschylus and the others filled their characters with life. By moralizing and attempting to explain, much of the magic is lost and in the end none of the characters are truly likeable. This was my first Tóibín read, and although House of Names convinced me he is a good writer, I don’t know if I’ll want to pick up another one of his books anytime soon.

I give this book…
3 Universes!

Although I enjoyed House of Names, it didn’t blow me away or engrossed me as much as I had hoped. The characterization was there, but left me wanting for something deeper, something more true to the source. House of Names would make for an easy introduction to adaptations of Greek mythology, without requiring a massive knowledge of said mythology.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Review: 'The World of Lore, V1: Monstrous Creatures' by Aaron Mahnke

I was raised on fairy tales and legends from across the world. I remember very clearly the exact shelf on which we had the books through which I would pour, looking for strange stories both from our world and not, full of strange creatures and strange happenings.This translated into an adult fascination with mythology and the persistent question of 'Why?'. So when I saw Magnke's The World of Lore, I could hardly contain my excitement. And it proved to be exactly what I hoped and wanted. Thanks to Headline and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/10/2017
Publisher: Headline; Wildfire
A fascinating, beautifully illustrated guide to the monsters that are part of our collective psyche, from the host of the hit podcast Lore 
They live in shadows - deep in the forest, late in the night, in the dark recesses of our mind. They're spoken of in stories and superstitions, relics of an unenlightened age, old wives' tales, passed down through generations. And yet, no matter how wary and jaded we have become, as individuals or as a society, a part of us remains vulnerable to them. Werewolves and wendigos, poltergeists and vampires, angry elves and vengeful spirits. 
In this beautifully illustrated volume, the host of the hit podcast Lore serves as a guide on a fascinating journey through the history of these terrifying creatures, and explores not only the legends but what they tell us about ourselves. Aaron Mahnke invites us to the desolate Pine Barrens of New Jersey, where the notorious winged, red-eyed Jersey Devil dwells. Mahnke delves into harrowing accounts of cannibalism-some officially documented, others the stuff of speculation . . . perhaps. He visits the dimly lit rooms where séances take place, the European villages where gremlins make mischief, and Key West, Florida, home of a haunted doll named Robert. 
The monsters of folklore have become not only a part of our language but a part of our collective psyche. Whether these beasts and bogeymen are real or just a reflection of our primal fears, we know, on some level, that not every mystery has been explained, and that the unknown still holds the power to strike fear deep in our hearts and souls. 
As Aaron Mahnke reminds us, sometimes the truth is even scarier than the lore...
I am dreadfully unaware of podcasts. It's the one thing I keep telling myself to get more invested in because I actually love listening to people tell me about things they are fascinated by and knowledgeable of. It's like being back at university, and I am one of those people who wishes they could just remain at university indefinitely. The World of Lore is another one of those pushes to finally get my act together and start listening, since this book is based on an incredibly popular podcast, 'Lore', by the author. I'm not surprised the podcast is that popular, since the topic is something that everyone at some point finds themselves fascinated with. As Mahnke argues himself in the book as well, humans yearn for stories that contextualise our existence in this world, that bring order and clarity, that explain what is happening and why, that shift some of the blame away from us and onto something we can't control. And the incredible similarity between all of these stories is what truly fascinates me as well. Whether it's South America, northern Europe or South-East Asia, every culture has tales of trickster spirits, dwarves or elves.

The World of Lore is very well-structured. This may sound like a silly thing to pay attention to, but it's actually very important. Each chapter is clearly defined and the creatures he discusses are well-organised. Rather than jumping from one to the other, Mahnke makes to transition from one to the other logical, showing why they are put together as they are. Each description is a great mixture between history, myth and fact, as Mahnke shares both "documented" cases of creatures appearing as well as the research that has been done to prove or disprove their existence. Can you truly believe hidden, invisible people populate Iceland? Perhaps no, but construction work ignoring "their" sites do run into an awful lot of trouble, don't they? It's this balance that makes The World of Lore so much fun to read, because you always walk away from it wondering if maybe it couldn't actually all be true.

Mahnke's writing is definitely what makes this book. Under anyone else it could have easily become a dry book, full of old facts with no life to them. As The World of Lore is now, I can easily see why the podcast is as popular as it is. Mahnke's writing is direct and to the point, almost as if you're actually sitting down with him and having a conversation. He addresses the reader straight on, shares his own scepticism and fascination, and brings a wealth of information to the table. The book makes you hungry to listen to the podcast, to learn more, and surely that is what every book should do? Mahnke's enthusiasm is infectious and it's scarily easy to just keep reading. I almost missed my metro stop more times than I'd like to admit. This book also has brilliant illustrations, which strike that perfect Tim Burton-balance between amusing and creepy.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

The World of Lore is a great read for anyone even slightly curious about the legends and stories surrounding us. Mahnke collects the best and leaves you wanting more. Never dull, The World of Lore makes you desperate to camp out at night in the hopes to catch something mysterious. I'd recommend this to anyone with even the slightest curiosity! Also, this is the perfect book to read in the run up to Halloween!

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Review: 'The Cave and the Light: Plato versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization' by Arthur Herman

I love reading about philosophy. Growing up in quite an intellectual middle-class family in Europe, there was a lot of attention on developing opinions and understanding how European culture had developed. But still, there is a lot that I don't know and I have always looked for a book that would bring different strands of philosophy and history together in an understandable way. That book is The Cave and the Light and it's been an amazing read. Thanks to Random House and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 24/09/2013
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
A magisterial account of how the two greatest thinkers of the ancient world, Plato and Aristotle, laid the foundations of Western culture—and how their rivalry shaped the essential features of our culture down to the present day
Plato came from a wealthy, connected Athenian family and lived a comfortable upper-class lifestyle until he met an odd little man named Socrates, who showed him a new world of ideas and ideals. Socrates taught Plato that a man must use reason to attain wisdom, and that the life of a lover of wisdom, a philosopher, was the pinnacle of achievement. Plato dedicated himself to living that ideal and went on to create a school, his famed Academy, to teach others the path to enlightenment through contemplation.
However, the same Academy that spread Plato’s teachings also fostered his greatest rival. Born to a family of Greek physicians, Aristotle had learned early on the value of observation and hands-on experience. Rather than rely on pure contemplation, he insisted that the truest path to knowledge is through empirical discovery and exploration of the world around us. Aristotle, Plato’s most brilliant pupil, thus settled on a philosophy very different from his instructor’s and launched a rivalry with profound effects on Western culture.
The two men disagreed on the fundamental purpose of the philosophy. For Plato, the image of the cave summed up man’s destined path, emerging from the darkness of material existence to the light of a higher and more spiritual truth. Aristotle thought otherwise. Instead of rising above mundane reality, he insisted, the philosopher’s job is to explain how the real world works, and how we can find our place in it. Aristotle set up a school in Athens to rival Plato’s Academy: the Lyceum. The competition that ensued between the two schools, and between Plato and Aristotle, set the world on an intellectual adventure that lasted through the Middle Ages and Renaissance and that still continues today.
In The Cave and the Light, Herman lays out his argument for how Plato and Aristotle have influenced Western civilization, as well as the consistent debate about the human soul. What has always fascinated me is how philosophy is both very abstract and far away of daily life, yet also suffuses our daily life. One of my favourite Disney songs starts with a Nietzsche maxim, for example. Many of the thoughts which were so revolutionary and groundbreaking decades and centuries ago are now everyday common sense, and so it's almost shocking to find out just where these thoughts and assumptions originate. And sometimes finding out just where they come from can change how you feel about those thoughts as well. A philosopher who is both brilliant and deeply misogynistic, a philosophy that seemingly leads to freedom only to end up in tyranny. How do you reconcile yourself to a thought process that requires bloodshed? Reading philosophy, discussing it, broadens your mind in a way that is fascinating, and tracking the debate around the soul and purpose of humanity in The Cave and the Light is fascinating.

Herman seems to favour Aristotle's reason and liberty over Plato's mysticism, as do I, but he never lets his own preference override his narrative. From each corner we got both the most inspired of artists and the worst of crimes. Plato gave us the Romantics and their sublime poetry, but also Goebbels' 'big lie' and and Robespierre's terror. Aristotle inspired major advances in science from Archimedes' inventions to the industrial revolution, but also led us to the atomic bomb. Herman prevents his journey through Western civilization from becoming boring or tedious by infusing it with humour and fascinating insights. Socrates' death, Archimedes' inventions, von Humboldt's journeys through South-America, all of these are described beautifully, bringing these figures from the past to life. Despite being long, almost 700 pages, The Cave and the Light never feels like a chore. As such, it would make for a perfect addition to any philosophy syllabus.

In a final chapter, Herman takes a look at the West now, highlighting three key events that may shake Aristotle's hold over us. 9/11, the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the economic crash of 2008; each has left a fundamental mark on Western culture and has raised a whole new range of debates about where it is we are heading. Capitalism and consumerism is being criticised again, especially in relation to the younger (my) generation, while many young people feel a strong disconnect. The falling down or fading away of many "pillars" from our past, such as Christianity and many other traditions, has left a bit of a hole in our soul. Herman suggests a change back to Plato's mysticism, to a new connectedness with the spiritual and the natural, may be coming. As I said, this book is a great read, captivating and engaging, laying bare the connections between people and thoughts across centuries. Herman is the kind of academic writer who manages to infuse his own enthusiasm into his writing and thereby into his reader, inspiring them to go beyond his own writing and do their own research.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Although philosophy isn't for everyone, The Cave and the Light is a key text to understanding how the Western world came to be shaped, why we think of things the way we do and where we might be heading. Herman takes the reader through our history in a way that never feels dull. For those interested in philosophy and Western culture, Herman's book is a must-read.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Review: 'The Incarnations' by Susan Barker

A little over a year ago I moved to Shanghai and had my first true encounter with Chinese history and culture. I have found it to be a fascinating country, whose roots go deep and whose memory goes back far. Living in Shanghai means I’m right in a bustling centre of modernity, of new China with its highrise buildings and chain stores. But here traces still remain of its history, scattered across the city like small reminders of a not too distant past. When I saw The Incarnations I immediately felt drawn to it and new I wanted to read it while in China. I absolutely sank away into this novel and I has added immensely to my fascination with this country. Thanks to  and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 03/07/2014
Publisher: Doubleday
A stunning tale of a Beijing taxi driver being pursued by his twin soul across a thousand years of Chinese history, for fans of David Mitchell. *I dream of us across the centuries… I dream we stagger through the Gobi, the Mongols driving us forth with whips.
I dream of sixteen concubines, plotting to murder the sadistic Emperor Jiajing.
I dream of the Sorceress Wu lowering the blade, her cheeks splattered with your blood. I dream of you as a teenage Red Guard, rampaging through the streets of Beijing.
I am your soulmate, Driver Wang and now I dream of you.
You don't know it yet, but soon I will make you dream of me ....
The Incarnations is a story that spans centuries, but always comes back to temporary human life. Each life, each story, explores different aspects of what it means to be human and to be connected. However, The Incarnations doesn’t aim to elevate humanity to some high, divine state. Rather, it seems determined to show its readers exactly how messy, dirty, disappointing and glorious life can be. None of Barker’s characters are exactly likeable. All make mistakes, some worse than others but all to some definite extent. No one is entirely innocent in Barker’s world, all have been guilty once upon a time, and as these mysterious letters track Wang’s various lives, so they track how we live. The letters sent to Wang chronicle horror, pain, love, torture, kindness and cruelty, and they are beautiful. Is that perhaps oxymoronic? Yes, but it is also true. I wish I could describe this book better, it's actually really frustrating to not be able to encapsulate the effect this book had, so you might just have to take it on good faith.

As much as The Incarnations is about its two central characters, it is also very much about history and fate. History shapes countries, people and destinies, and China has a fascinating history. Barker reaches back centuries for her stories and thereby China itself becomes a character. Reading about these different ages of China, the reader truly grows an appreciation for this fascinating and varied country. The Incarnations moves across a whole range of civilisations, classes and gender roles, from pirates to courtesans, witches to Huns, Red Guards to taxi drivers, and each of these has a place in China. Wang and his mysterious twin spirit have been tied together for centuries, and now it is time Wang wakes up to their history. But would you want to know? Truly know your history, from every moment of bliss to every moment of darkness? As Wang learns more about his past, his present slowly starts to unravel as he begins to reassess and question things he once considered certain. In a way this is also how countries become aware of themselves, acknowledging their past and attempting to come to terms with it. Not every country can do this positively, and as Wang sinks into a strange kind of obsession and paranoia, so some countries do the same with their past.

Susan Barker’s writing is what makes this novel. The Incarnations has a very intricate structure, one which moves across time and also across perspectives. On the one hand we have Wang, the Beijing taxi driver whose life is being turned upside down by the arrival of strange letters. On the other hand there is the sender of said letters, describing not only their current state but also the lives that have come and gone, each iteration of them being both recognizable and utterly other. Barker beautifully combines all these different stories through her own style. The Incarnations is beautifully descriptive, evoking both the harshness of the Gobi Desert and the terror of the Red Guard, without ever sinking into the melodramatic. I found myself both fascinated by the letters and their history, as well as Wang's every day life, devouring it all. Towards the end the intensity of the novel is cranked up. I loved some of the twists at the end and I'm still thinking about them! The Incarnations is a magical reading experience.

I give this novel…
5 Universes!

I absolutely adored The Incarnations! Barker creates such magic in this novel that I simply didn't want it to end. I was enraptured by her visions from the past and have developed a completely new fascination with and appreciation for China. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone interested in Historical Fiction and Chinese history. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Review: 'Bad Girls from History: Wicked or Misunderstood?' by Dee Gordon

When I was still at university I quickly began specialising in women from history. I absolutely loved discovering fascinating upon fascinating women in my text books, seeing how women always rebelled, in one way or another, against the rules imposed upon them by the patriarchy. Those discoveries are one of the things I miss most. A book like Bad Girls from History is like a treasure trove to me. Are some of the women in this book despicable? Absolutely. But each mini biography in Gordon's book is an insight into a period in history, into a certain mindset, into a certain ideology. There is a lot to work with and to think about, and I love both of those things when it comes to historical women. Thanks to Pen & Sword and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 30/09/2017
Publisher: Pen & Sword
 You wont be familiar with every one of the huge array of women featured in these pages, but all, familiar or not, leave unanswered questions behind them. The range is extensive, as was the research, with its insight into the lives and minds of women in different centuries, different countries, with diverse cultures and backgrounds, from the poverty stricken to royalty. 
Mistresses, murderers, smugglers, pirates, prostitutes and fanatics with hearts and souls that feature every shade of black (and grey!). From Cleopatra to Ruth Ellis, from Boudicca to Bonnie Parker, from Lady Caroline Lamb to Moll Cutpurse, from Jezebel to Ava Gardner.
Less familiar names include Mary Jeffries, the Victorian brothel-keeper, Belle Starr, the American gambler and horse thief, La Voisin, the seventeenth-century Queen of all Witches in France but these are random names, to illustrate the variety of the content in store for all those interested in women who defy law and order, for whatever reason.
The risque, the adventurous and the outrageous, the downright nasty and the downright desperate all human (female!) life is here. From the lower stratas of society to the aristocracy, class is not a common denominator. Wicked? Misunderstood? Nave? Foolish? Predatory? Manipulative? Or just out of their time? Read and decide.

So yes, I love women who are considered bad. Jezebel? I wish the Bible had had more of her. Women ruling the Gangs of New York? I’m so here for it. Mata Hari being over the top till the very end? Tell me more! So Godon’s Bad Girls from History was always going to be something I enjoyed. I devoured the book in a day, pouring over the biographies of women forgotten by most. Gordon digs up women ranging from the widely known and infamous, to those reduced to a footnote in most books. What I enjoy most about these types of books is that it shows how women have always forged a path for themselves one way or the other. Did they do so for bad reasons, did they do so with murderous intent? Some definitely. But other women saw opportunities in the small niche allowed for them and exploited it for all they could. This is why I love history, because it shows you that while society may dictate one thing, in the end, most people do what they want anyone. And going down in history as a bad girl always brings with it some respect.

The book is split into six different sections. ‘Courtesans and Mistresses’ contains such illustrious characters as Cleopatra for her affairs with Caesar and Mark Anthony, as well as Kitty Fisher. ‘Madams, Prostitutes and Adulterers’ presents us with the likes of Anne Boleyn and Sidonie Colette. This is perhaps the chapter that had me most confused as some of these, like Boleyn, really didn’t seem to fit. ‘Serial Killers’ is a truly horrendous and fascinating chapter full of women like the Countess Bathory and Lizzie Borden. This was a runner up for my favourite chapter. ‘One Off Killers’ is easier on the mind than the previous chapter, but includes mostly women that haven’t gone down in infamy. ‘Gangsters, Thieves and Con-Artists’ is the chapter for anyone in love with Bonnie & Clyde. Here you will find even more women breaking the law left, right and centre. The book finishes with ‘The Rebel Collection – Pirates, Witches, Megalomaniacs, Exhibitionists’ and since I have a massive penchant for female pirates and witches, I adored some of the women appearing in here. There’s Anne Bonny, Boudicca, Empress Cixi and much more. What this overview hopefully shows is how diverse, in some ways, Bad Girls from History is. There are many women from different walks of life, all of which were considered bad once upon a time. Some of these women, like Bergen-Belsen guard Irma Grese deserve that judgement outright, while many other of the women in this book seem very much a victim of their time.

Gordon passes no judgement in this book, and often also doesn’t go very much deeper into her subjects than the bare boned facts, as far as those are available. As such, Bad Girls from History is more like a dictionary of women who, one way or another, drew attention to themselves. Maybe they wrote beautiful yet divisive poetry like Sappho, maybe they acted outside of normal gender patterns like Calamity Jane. Although I would have liked to see Gordon dig into these women, analyze what led them to their actions, how they were forced into certain situations by gender roles etc., Bad Girls from History is not that book and also never pretends to be. The fact I wanted more, however, shows that Gordon presented and interesting and well-written case. Her biographies are interspersed with humour, small comments upon the actions of this or that woman, and ruminations upon how their actions would be seen now. But mostly she lets these bad girls’ actions speak for them.

I give this book…
3 Universes!

 I really enjoyed Bad Girls from History and found myself racing through its pages. I wanted to know more about those women, more about what they did and why. As such, Gordon's book is a perfect starting point for any reader. The facts on many of these women are scarce, yet Gordon does the best with the material available to her. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in women throughout history.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Paperless Post: Invitations and Parties Made Easy and Fun

Image result for paperless post
Confession time: I'm not always the best at hosting parties. Whether it's my own birthday, a regular get together, or a party for someone else, I always get the jitters. Who do you invite, how do you invite them and how do you keep an eye on who has RSVP'ed. Those are usually the first hurdles that I encounter. And then there is the rush to birthday cards on time, to send people thank you cards and all that jazz. So when earlier this month Paperless Post got in touch with me to try out their service I was very excited! Please keep in mind, Paperless Post provided me with free credits to their website in order for me to test out their service and tell you all about it.

When using any website meant to make things easier for you, it is annoying to find that website being confusing in and of itself. Thankfully, Paperless Post doesn't suffer from this problem. I found it incredibly easy, and fun, to browse through the different card categories, add the best designs to my favourites (there are a lot of favourites!) and then select the one I wanted to use. There are so many designs to choose from, especially in the Invitations category! Also, the design of the website is very sleek and minimalist, allowing the designs to shine on their own. Once selected, Paperless Post takes you through all the steps of customising your card, changing text, font, size and background. Not only can you customise the card, however, there is also the envelope and the option of RSVPs and a return message. Seems so very easy, non? I decided it was time to truly put this to the test!

One of the first things I did was create an invitation to a Twitter chat I co-host with another fabulous blogger, Jorie. The reason this was the first thing I did was because while browsing Paperless Post I realised they had a whole category for Bookclub invitations! Yes, you read that right! One of the many bonuses of Paperless Post is not only the wide variety of cards, but also that they have collaborated with a number of designers to create some beautiful collections of cards, such as kate spade new york and Oscar de la Renta. Once I'd picked the design and customised it, the time came to send out invites and manage my event! And boy were there a lot of many features to help me organise and manage. There is an event page, which will show everyone who responds to your invitation where what is happening and when. Then there is the automatic reply card which means the people you invite don't have to go out of their way to RSVP to you. And on top of all of that, Paperless Post tracks who is attending on your Event Page and even offers attendees a text reminder before the event! I have genuinely never had an easier time planning anything than I have with Paperless Post! I'm now busily planning future events!

Then I took this opportunity to finally send out all those little messages of love, appreciation and thanks that I have been storing up. Sometimes you just want to send a card to someone telling them you love them, or that you're thinking of them, that you appreciate something they helped you with. Since I currently live in China, it has been a lot more difficult to send those messages and Paperless Post is a great way to send those positive vibes towards people. It made me feel great, knowing people I cared for would get a beautifully designed card in their Inbox from me.  Something that, for me, really separated Paperless Post from other online card businesses is that they manage to still retain the experience of receiving a card, as well as the dedication of picking a card and envelope etc. You can spend as much time perfecting a card for a friend, adding those personal touches that they will enjoy, and then they'll receive a lovely little envelope in their mail, which will open itself to reveal your card. What I've heard from friends and family, they have really enjoyed receiving my little cards, which just fills me with happiness! (Below, a card I sent to my little sister!)

My final project was a series of personalised and, in my opinion, brilliant, hilarious and touching birthday cards to be sent to friends and family soon. Now, I wish I could show you these, but, considering that the future recipients may stumble upon this blog, I will have to delay doing so until they have been sent out. I will also definitely be using Paperless Post to send out Christmas cards this year! I used to love the flurry of postal activity in December, but posting from here is both pricey and, often, futile. Paperless Post currently have great Halloween-themes cards available so I can't wait to see what they've got in store for Christmas!

As you can probably guess, my experience with Paperless Post has been overwhelmingly positive! Their service was easy to use, their designs were stunning and everyone who received a card from me was delighted. But perhaps most importantly, Paperless Post really did make organising an event all the easier and I will definitely be using it for future parties as well! If you yourself are looking for a service to make hosting and inviting easier, I'd definitely recommend checking out Paperless Post!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Review: 'Koh-i-Noor' by William Dalrymple, Anita Anand

Exactly two months ago I was browsing through The Guardian’s Culture section when I stumbled upon Maya Jasanoff’sreview for Koh-i-Noor, a book she described as ‘a dynamic and gory history’ of one of the world’s most famous gems. I was immediately fascinated and Tweeted as much. And then, lo and behold, I had the chance to read the book and prove to myself my earlier excitement was completely warranted. I guess I have the Guardian and Jasanoff to thank for this, as much as Dalrymple and Anand. (Also) Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 15/06/2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
The first comprehensive and authoritative history of the Koh-i-Noor, arguably the most celebrated and mythologised jewel in the world.
On 29 March 1849, the ten-year-old Maharajah of the Punjab was ushered into the magnificent Mirrored Hall at the centre of the great Fort in Lahore. There, in a public ceremony, the frightened but dignified child handed over great swathes of the richest country in India in a formal Act of Submission to a private corporation, the East India Company. He was also compelled to hand over to the British monarch, Queen Victoria, perhaps the single most valuable object on the subcontinent: the celebrated Koh-i Noor diamond. The Mountain of Light.
The history of the Koh-i-Noor that was then commissioned by the British may have been one woven together from gossip of Delhi bazaars, but it was to be become the accepted version. Only now is it finally challenged, freeing the diamond from the fog of mythology that has clung to it for so long. The resulting history is one of greed, murder, torture, colonialism and appropriation told through an impressive slice of south and central Asian history. It ends with the jewel in its current controversial setting: in the crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. 
Masterly, powerful and erudite, this is history at its most compelling and invigorating.

Non-fiction has to hit the spot. I often find myself craving a non-fiction read after a few fiction books, wanting to sink into rich history and fascinating detail. But not all non-fiction history books deliver that exquisite break you’re looking for. They’re either too technical and lose themselves in their own topic, or they breeze over the actual history in favour of personal beliefs or arguments. I hate being disappointed by a non-fiction read because it tends to trigger a reading slump with me. Thankfully, Dalrymple and Anand have crafted a brilliant book in which history and narrative go hand in hand. Koh-i-Noor is incredibly enticing, to the point where I was wandering around Shanghai reading, avoiding being hit by taxis only through sheer luck.

The Koh-i-Noor is a fascinating piece of history, surrounded by myths and legends but very few actual facts. And even the facts we have are obscured by the motivations of those who vied for possession of the diamond. Dalrymple and Anand start at the beginning of the diamond’s history, or at least what we think may have been the beginning. Tracing through the various sources, some never discussed before, Dalrymple and Anand attempt to trace the Koh-i-Noor through history, from Indian mines to te Peacock Throne to the Singh Maharajas and finally all the way to the Tower of London. Not once does their narrative become dry, rather with each new owner, each new home for the diamond, the story becomes more and more fascinating. I’d like to paraphrase Shrek here. History is like an onion; it has layers. And Dalrymple and Anand build up those layers brilliantly. By the end of Koh-i-Noor the reader has an actual understanding of how the diamond came to be so significant, how its reputation grew over the centuries and why so many people died for it. Dalrymple and Anand also don’t shy away from addressing concerns about imperialism and colonialization, especially when it comes to the diamond’s current resting place in London. It’s place in the British crown is, and will remain, controversial.

As I said, Dalrymple and Anand create a fascinating story in Koh-i-Noor. Dalrymple covers the first part of the diamond’s history in the book’s first part, ‘The Jewel in the Throne’, relating tales of close escapes, gruesome deaths and awe-inspiring battles. There is a lot of historical information in this chapter, most of which will be new to many readers, but he presents it in a way that prevents it from becoming too much. He treats his subject with respect, both highlighting the East Indian Trading Company’s circumspect ways of gaining power, as well as the friendly fire that brought the Mughals and Maharajahs down. In ‘The Jewel in the Crown’, the book’s second part, Anand tackles the Koh-i-Noor’s journey and stay in England, from its lukewarm reception at the Great Exhibit to its crucial influence on English classics such as Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. With the diamond now in a completely different cultural sphere, its use and purpose shifts, yet it remains a lightning rod. The book’s two parts come together beautifully and seamlessly, and the book is as much a history of as an ode to the Koh-i-Noor.

I give this book…
4 Universes!

I adored Koh-i-Noor and it made me ravenous for more historical non-fiction, especially if written by Dalrymple and Anand. They present history as something within a modern reader’s grasp, bringing people who lived centuries ago to life and making them and their actions understandable, if not quite sympathetic. I’d definitely recommend this one to fans o historical non-fiction as well as India’s history more specifically. 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Exciting News: Fiction & Feeling

I'm really excited to share some news with you I got from Quirk Books a few days ago! I'm very happy to introduce you to a new publisher: Fiction & Feeling, a UK publishing house aiming to show off the world in all its diverse and complicated glory!
Fiction & Feeling

“Fiction & Feeling are rapidly becoming my favourite new publisher.” -- KIERON GILLEN
“I can't bloody wait to read this book.” -- LAURIE PENNY

I love their logo, the two F's intertwined! Just wait until you hear about their first book, Split!

Tell someone you’re divorced and they look at you differently. The pity, shame, and sense of failing at something that was only supposed to end in death can be a heavy burden to bear.
But it doesn’t have to be.
This book collects essays written by divorced writers exploring what led them to divorce, how they lived through it, and, perhaps most importantly, who they are now that it’s over. Where often divorce represents loss and a feeling of defeat, these essays provide an alternative: divorce as a catalyst in gaining a new sense of self and the discovery of new ways to define success.
It’s not a how-to guide, but many of the essays provide examples of how life after the end of marriage can still be satisfying despite complications, joyful despite awkwardness, or revelatory despite grief. 
Featuring established and emerging writers, the one thing all contributors have in common is they’ve lived through divorce and have offered for this collection moving, challenging, sad, funny, heartbreaking, self-aware reflections of that time in their lives. The writers are from diverse backgrounds and provide essays that are true stories of grief and parenting; of queerness, kink, and compromise; of artistic differences and academic dissonance; of mental health and addiction.

And now for even more exciting news, here is their new collection, Becoming Dangerous: An anthology about ritual and resistance!
bookBECOMING DANGEROUS is a collection of deeply personal essays by marginalised people operating at the intersection of feminism, witchcraft, and resistance to summon power and become fearsome in a world that would prefer them afraid. Contributions from twenty witchy femmes, queer conjurers, and magical rebels create a book of intelligent and challenging essays that will resonate with anyone who’s ever looked for answers outside the typical places.

Rituals, and magic in general, tend to increase in popularity during times of uncertainty and unrest. More people are creating private covens on Facebook, sharing ritualised skincare routines, using tarot readings to make their weekend plans, making offerings to the Goddess, and performing binding spells on their political leaders… And with mainstream media such as broadsheets, Vogue, Stylist and Buzzfeed covering the world of magic this year, what could be a better time to start discovering our own power?   

From the fashion magick of brujas to cripple-witch city-magic; from shoreline rituals to psychotherapy, from ritualistic skincare routines to gardening; from becoming your own higher power to searching for a legendary Scottish warrior woman; —this book is for people who know that now is the time, now is the hour, ours is the magic, ours is the power. 
The Kickstarter project for this collection has gone live TODAY so hop over and consider donating because this is a collection I'm desperate for! Edited by Katie West and Jasmine Elliott, I'm really looking forward to reading this! Witches, rituals, MAGIC!! All of this is exactly what I want to read. And how gorgeous is the cover?

Look for Becoming Dangerous on the 2nd of February, 2018 and I hope we get to see much more from Fiction & Feeling  in the future!

Find Fiction & Feeling on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!

Review: 'The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror' by Joyce Carol Oates

The Doll-Master and Other Tales of TerrorI have been wanting to read something by Joyce Carol Oates for ages. She has always been at the top of my list when it comes to wanting to read dark fiction, the kind of fiction that twists you up a little bit. So when I saw there was a new collection coming out featuring six of her stories, I knew the time had come. Thanks to Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 03/05/3016
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
From one of our most important contemporary writers, The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror is a bold, haunting collection of six stories.
In the title story, a young boy becomes obsessed with his cousin’s doll after she tragically passes away from leukemia. As he grows older, he begins to collect “found dolls” from the surrounding neighborhoods and stores his treasures in the abandoned carriage house on his family's estate. But just what kind of dolls are they? In “Gun Accident,” a teenage girl is thrilled when her favorite teacher asks her to house-sit, even on short notice. But when an intruder forces his way into the house while the girl is there, the fate of more than one life is changed forever. In “Equatorial,” set in the exotic Galapagos, an affluent American wife experiences disorienting assaults upon her sense of who her charismatic husband really is, and what his plans may be for her. 
In The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror, Joyce Carol Oates evokes the “fascination of the abomination” that is at the core of the most profound, the most unsettling, and the most memorable of dark mystery fiction.
I had mixed feelings about this collection. On the one hand The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror are exquisitely written, but on the other hand there was a lack of terror for me. Technically the difference between terror and horror is that terror is that feeling of anticipation and fear before something terrifying happens, whereas horror focuses on the feelings during and after the terrifying event. In that sense, Oates' stories do fit into the terror genre because all of them build up beautifully to a moment and then abruptly leave us before anything truly happens. But to me The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror felt much more like suspense stories, the focus being not so much on the horrifying events we were anticipating, but rather on the characters themselves, on how twisted and messed up human beings can be, how we lie to ourselves and others. In a way each story could be its own psychological thriller, exploring the dark recesses of the human mind. So the mixed feeling I ended up with was one related to the title, mostly, rather than to the stories behind the cover

'The Doll-Master' is a story of loss, which slowly but surely turns into something else. A young boy loses his cousin and steals her doll to feel closer to her. When this doll is taken away by a strict father, however, he begins collecting lost dolls. But not all is what it seems. In 'Soldier' Oates puts the reader into the mind of a man accused of killing a black teen in cold blood. It is a very uncomfortable place to be and Oates builds the tension very well as to whether he's a "hero" or a villain. In 'Gun Accident', perhaps one of my favourite stories from the collection, we see a young woman remembering a past trauma. It is an incredibly real-feeling story, which is perhaps why it is so effective. 'Equatorial' is an interesting story in which a wife becomes more and more concerned her husband is planning to kill her. Oates excels at making her an unreliable narrator, though, so the reader is constantly in doubt as to what is actually happening. 'Big Momma' is perhaps the most straight-forward horror story of the collection, with something big and dangerous lurking in the dark. A young and lonely girl is taken in by a classmate's family and finally given all the attention and love she so craves. But not all is as it seems. Finally, 'Mystery, Inc.' is the most literary and meta of the stories, a crime story within a crime story, as well as an ode to all the mystery and crime writers that have come before. It doesn't entirely fit into the collection, but I think I'm not the only one who loved it.

Oates is a great writer. All of her characters are dissected so carefully and laid bare so completely, despite the brevity of the short stories, that the reader truly get into their mind. It is here that the real power of The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror lies and it is also why I was slightly disappointed. These stories aren't necessarily terror but rather beautiful suspense. Oates creates these fascinating characters and immersive atmospheres in which the reader is constantly swinging from one opinion to the other. Who can be trusted? Who is telling the truth? What will happen once the story ends? The stories flow so easily and are so beautiful in their own way that I truly wanted to read way more. By calling this a collection of 'Tales of Terror' I feel Oates was done wrong because it is selling the wrong aspect of her work. Not every terror tale needs gore and death, but that is what most readers will want and expect from a terror-collection. Think of these tales as psychological suspense tales and you'll be more than satisfied.

I give this collection...

3 Universes!

I loved Oates' writing and will definitely be reading more of her work. The stories in The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror are fascinating, if not necessarily terrifying the way you might be expecting, and they will definitely stay with you after you finish them. The rating is largely relating to the disappointment over the title and the expectations it caused.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Guest Post by Lisa K: A Little Bookstore and 'The Satanic Verses'

Back in July I posted teasers from Salman Rushdie's The Golden House, which I greatly enjoyed. But then I received a comment on the post by Lisa from Lisa K's Book Reviews that truly intrigued me. In it, she spoke of her experiences when The Satanic Verses first came out, the controversy it caused across the world and what that meant for her.  I immediately got in touch with her and am truly blessed she agreed to write a guest post for us about that time. Before we go into her writing, however, I want to add a quick note. For those who know little about the controversy around the book, and about Rushdie's writing in general, it is perhaps worth reading up on it in order to understand the outrage and offence it caused. Literature has an incredibly power to inspire people, both to creativity and to anger. Add to that mix the explosive element of religion, and you have yourself a literary Molotov cocktail. Although the threats and intimidation Lisa writes about below are never justified, it is something we as readers can perhaps understand considering our own passion for books.

I'm honoured to share that guest post with you now!

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While I have no doubt The Golden House is an amazing piece of writing, after all, Salman Rushdie has been authoring books for several decades now, each time I hear of a new Rushdie book, memories return to me of another book of his that caused a very frightening time for booksellers.
Image result for the satanic versesIn 1988 I managed a small bookstore for two years. A dream job for me since I’m an avid reader. I was happy in my world of books and magazines. My sister worked in the same mall (She also managed a bookstore, one much larger than mine), so we got to have lunch together, drive to work together. I loved every minute of it. Until September 1988 and the release of Salman Rusdie’s The Santanic Verses. I’m not sure how many of you remember when that book was first released, but I’m not likely to ever forget.
In The Satanic Verses, like many of Rushdie’s books, the author used real life events and people to create his fictional stories. He used accounts from historians in the part of the story dealing with the satanic verses. While winning many awards for this work of fiction, there was outrage among Muslims claiming it was blasphemy and it was mocking their faith. Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushie’s death, which in turn led to assassination attempts on the author.
The Muslim community wasn’t just angry with Salman Rushdie, they were angry with any of us selling his book. They demanded we stop selling the books or “something bad would happen”. I couldn’t believe things were this bad over a work of fiction. My sister and I kept the books on our shelves (When we weren’t sold out). Sure, we’d read about the threats, heard about them on the news, but in our corner of Delaware nothing had happened.
One day my sister informed me her store had been the target of threats. Threats meaning, bombs, guns, all around “You’ll die if you continue to sell the book” type threats. My sister, never one to give in to anyone, kept her books displayed. If I remember correctly, she even ordered more copies and made a bigger display. I kept mine out as well. I figure I was too little to target. I was wrong.
The Golden HouseWhile working alone one day, a woman came into my store. I had The Satanic Verses on display in my store window. She approached me at the register and insisted I stop selling the books. I told her I couldn’t do that. The book was a bestseller, and the owner of my store wouldn’t be happy if I removed them. She quickly informed me that if I didn’t remove them bad things would happen to me and the store. I told her again I could only do what my bosses told me to do. She informed me that I was making a big mistake. She let me know I would pay for not removing the books. That I would be sorry. She would be back, but not alone. With that, she turned and left. Now, I was only twenty-one years old at the time, and she had managed to scare the life out of me. From that day on, until everything calmed down, I sold the book from under my counter.
I have always regretted giving in. I chalk it up to my young age. The me I am today . . . well, if that happened, I would build the biggest display I could, plaster my windows with posters of the cover, and stand at the store entrance waving the book and yelling “Come and get it!”
I haven’t followed the career of Salman Rushdie, too many bad memories I guess. I knew he had written many more books, but I honestly didn’t know he was still writing until I read about The Golden House here on Juli’s blog. While I won’t be reading the author’s new book (Nothing to do with bad memories. I’m a cozy mystery reader, so this one isn’t for me), I wish Mr. Rushdie all the best, and hope he sees great sales!
Lisa K of Lisa Ks Book Reviews
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Lisa! I haven't read The Satanic Verses myself yet, mainly because I always struggled connecting with Rushdie's writing. That is, until I read The Golden House. If you have time, check out my review for it.

Find Lisa K on Facebook, Twitter and of course on her own blog! Also, please do share your thoughts on what Lisa has written or any similar experiences you have had yourself. Be warned, I will not allow offensive comments on my blog. Would you like to write a guest post? Do email me!

Review: 'The Golden House' by Salman Rushdie

I have had a rough time with Rushdie in the past. I had heard about the controversy around The Satanic Verses but didn't know enough about it to truly register it. And then at university I was made to read Shame and as we all know, being made to read something significantly diminishes the chance you'll enjoy it. So Rushdie and I parted ways for a long time after that, until I saw The Golden House. And my interest was peaked again. Thanks to Random House and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 05/09/2017
Publisher: Random House
A modern American epic set against the panorama of contemporary politics and culture—a hurtling, page-turning mystery that is equal parts The Great Gatsby and The Bonfire of the Vanities  
On the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, an enigmatic billionaire from foreign shores takes up residence in the architectural jewel of “the Gardens,” a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village. The neighborhood is a bubble within a bubble, and the residents are immediately intrigued by the eccentric newcomer and his family. 
Along with his improbable name, untraceable accent, and unmistakable whiff of danger, Nero Golden has brought along his three adult sons: agoraphobic, alcoholic Petya, whose rambling soliloquies are the curse of a tortured mind; Apu, the flamboyant artist, sexually and spiritually omnivorous, famous on twenty blocks; and D, at twenty-two the baby of the family, harboring an explosive secret even from himself. There is no mother, no wife; at least not until Vasilisa, a sleek Russian expat, snags the septuagenarian Nero, becoming the queen to his king—a queen in want of an heir.  
Our guide to the Goldens’ world is their neighbor René, an ambitious young filmmaker. As research for a movie about the Goldens, he ingratiates himself into their household. Seduced by their mystique, he is inevitably implicated in their quarrels, their infidelities, and, indeed, their crimes. Meanwhile, like a bad joke, a certain comic-book villain embarks upon a crass presidential run that turns New York upside-down.  
Set against the strange and exuberant backdrop of current American culture and politics, The Golden House also marks Salman Rushdie’s triumphant and exciting return to realism. The result is a modern epic of love and terrorism, loss and reinvention—a powerful, timely story told with the daring and panache that make Salman Rushdie the standard-bearer of our dark new age.
The Golden House is a truly modern book, a book that delights in the 21st century.  Rushdie's characters live in the New York of now and throughout the novel he infuses the narrative with references to 21st century politics, pop culture and more. There is art, there is music, literature, the 2016 election, movies, clowns in the streets, so much makes an appearance in The Golden House that it is almost overwhelming. I personally adore social commentary in novels. I feel like it is one of literature's duties to reflect upon its own time and to draw lessons from it for readers. Think of how Les Miserables or War and Peace comment on Russia and France, and how both are obsessed with Napoleon. These novels told me more about the influence of Napoleon than my history teacher ever did. And so when I find a novel like The Golden House, which plunges itself headfirst into one of the oddest few decades to date, I can't help but love how topical and relevant is it. Will it feel dated in a decade or so? Perhaps, but it will always be a product of its time, a kind of ode to the optimism of the early years and the downward spiral of the latter years.

Despite having an initial dislike for Shame, I have come to majorly appreciate it for the way in which Rushdie consistently manages to weave together myth and fact, legend and reality. His take on Magical Realism consistently astounds me \and he does so again in The Golden House. On the one hand it is deeply rooted in the modern world, and yet it is also magical. Baba Yaga personified makes an appearance, there is a magic childhood, and myth and legend suffuses everything. What perhaps topped my fascination with the Magical Realism in the novel, is how incredibly meta this book is. At the heart is a young filmmaker who dubs himself René, leaving it up to the reader to guess whether that is his real name. In a meandering style he tells us of the Golden patriarch and his three sons as they move into his neighbourhood in New York. He doesn't just tell us their story, René shapes it into an idea for a movie. He considers how to best present the different people, what symbolism lies in their lives and how exactly this story will even end. As he uncovers more and more about the Goldens he gets more and more drawn into their lives, until he is a key part of the story he is crafting. This set-up is mind boggling, in ways, as the readder is constantly questioning what exactly is the truth, but then truth is one of the themes at the heart of the novel. The Golden House is a glorious puzzle that is well worth undertaking despite its countless pieces.

Rushdie really doesn't need me praising his writing style, and yet I will do so anyway. The Golden House is beautiful, how it blends together past and present, how its sentences run on and on and yet never lose their strength, how it doesn't forget itself in the middle of its social commentary. The style of this novel is flamboyant and effluent, and yet concise and meaningful at the same time. It always feel as if each of these words is supposed to be there, is necessary. Much like a Bach piece, take on word out and the whole thing may collapse. The Golden House is the kind of novel that comments upon the human condition, and that sounds more frightful than it is. With flawed yet human characters, plot lines that are too ridiculous not to be true, Rushdie poses the questions that lie at the core of our minds. What is good and evil? Can one be both at the same time? And what does that say about us?

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I absolutely loved The Golden House and devoured it way quicker than I expected. This novel has something of everything and paints a truly human picture of the last few decades. Are any of the characters likeable? I couldn't really say, but their story will teach you something about yourself. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in Literary Fiction.

I also have a great guest post up, by Lisa K., about The Satanic Verses in celebration of the release of The Golden House.