Sunday, 11 March 2018

Short Review: 'Scarlet A: The Ethics, Law & Politics of Ordinary Abortion ' by Katie Watson

Abortion is a difficult topic to tackle. Everyone has an opinion, and almost everyone also feels very strongly about those opinions. I myself have always been a big proponent of women being allowed to make the choice that is right for them, which means that the government needs to make sure that healthy and safe options are available. But even though I have read other books about abortion before, Scarlet A offered a lot of new insights and was very well written. Thanks to Oxford University Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/02/2018
Publisher: Oxford University Press

Although Roe v. Wade identified abortion as a constitutional right 45 years ago, it still bears stigma--a proverbial scarlet A. Millions of Americans have participated in or benefited from an abortion, but few want to reveal that they have done so. Approximately one in five pregnancies in the US ends in abortion. Why is something so common, which has been legal so long, still a source of shame and secrecy? Why is it so regularly debated by politicians, and so seldom divulged from friend to friend? This book explores the personal stigma that prevents many from sharing their abortion experiences with friends and family in private conversation, and the structural stigma that keeps it that way. 
In public discussion, both proponents and opponents of abortion's legality tend to focus on extraordinary cases. This tendency keeps the national debate polarized and contentious, and keeps our focus on the cases that occur the least. Professor Katie Watson focuses instead on the cases that happen the most, which she calls "ordinary abortion." Scarlet A gives the reflective reader a more accurate impression of what the majority of American abortion practice really looks like. It explains how our silence around private experience has distorted public opinion, and how including both ordinary abortion and abortion ethics could make our public exchanges more fruitful.
In Scarlet A, Watson wisely and respectfully navigates one of the most divisive topics in contemporary life. This book explains the law of abortion, challenges the toxic politics that make it a public football and private secret, offers tools for more productive private exchanges, and leads the way to a more robust public discussion of abortion ethics. Scarlet A combines storytelling and statistics to bring the story of ordinary abortion out of the shadows, painting a rich, rarely seen picture of how patients and doctors currently think and act, and ultimately inviting readers to tell their own stories and draw their own conclusions.
Key to Scarlet A is what Katie Watson refers to as 'ordinary abortion'. Initially I was confused as to what she was referring to, but once I got it I understood just how important it is to discuss. Watson is right when she says that most conversations around abortion are about those extraordinary cases such as rape, incest, or immediate danger to the well being of the mother and/or child. I myself have never had an abortion, but know friends who have, and not for the reasons mentioned just now. These are the ordinary abortions that Watson discusses in Scarlet A, the abortions that are done because the women aren't ready to be parents, or because they know they don't have the money for a child, or because they simply don't want children and made a mistake. These types of abortions make up the majority of abortion cases, yet they are also the ones that aren't discussed openly and that come with a lot of shame. It is incredibly important that books like Scarlet A address the experiences of these women, especially when they do it as well as Watson does.

Watson accomplishes something almost miraculous with Scarlet A, which is making the abortion debate accessible and, as far as possible, understandable. As an academic, she makes sure to either explain her jargon or to avoid it as much as possible. She shares her own interest and thoughts throughout the book, without influencing her readers, which makes Scarlet A feel more personable than many other books out there. She includes to stories of many different women, and men, about their experiences with abortion, the shame they felt, or that they didn't feel, the anger they faced, the support they received, how their thoughts have evolved since the abortion. Scarlet A also looks into the different Supreme Court cases since Roe vs. Wade that addressed abortion, discusses the terms used in the abortion debate, and much more. I walked away from Scarlet A with a lot more information than I had before, but also with a new perspective on a number of related issues.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Katie Watson manages to make Scarlet A an incredibly accessible book, opening up a debate that is famously tricky and full of loopholes. I'd recommend that everyone interested in knowing more about abortions, about the stories of people who have gone through one, about the politics and the ethics around the debate, read Scarlet A.

Review: 'The Lonely Hearts Hotel' by Heather O'Neill

Every once in a while you read a book that surprises you at every corner. I wanted to read The Lonely Hearts Hotel from the moment I read the blurb with its promises of fairytales, a circus, love, loss and the Depression, all mixed together. I wondered how Heather O'Neill would bring it all together into one coherent novel, if that was even possible, but I can tell you now that she succeeded! Thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 23/02/2018
Publisher: Quercus Books
'A fairytale laced with gunpowder' Kelly Link  
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with a difference. Set throughout the roaring twenties, it is a wicked fairytale of circus tricks and child prodigies, radical chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians and brooding clowns, set in an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss.  
It is the tale of two dreamers, abandoned in an orphanage where they were fated to meet. Here, in the face of cold, hunger and unpredictable beatings, Rose and Pierrot create a world of their own, shielding the spark of their curiosity from those whose jealousy will eventually tear them apart.  
When they meet again, each will have changed, having struggled through the Depression, through what they have done to fill the absence of the other. But their childhood vision remains - a dream to storm the world, a spectacle, an extravaganza that will lift them out of the gutter and onto a glittering stage.  
Heather O'Neill's pyrotechnical imagination and language are like no other. In this she has crafted a dazzling circus of a novel that takes us from the underbellies of war-time Montreal and Prohibition New York, to a theatre of magic where anything is possible - where an orphan girl can rule the world, and a ruined innocence can be redeemed.

Aaah Magical Realism. Nothing is more fantastical and true than Magical Realism in my mind. Real life is full of of little, magical moments that seem to come straight from a novel. And the beauty of Magical Realism is that the genre's novels celebrate those small moments, it allows the outrageous to be normal and the normal to be magical. Think of  a movie like Pan's Labyrinth, which doesn't hide the horror of this world, but also doesn't let its darkness overshadow the beauty and innocence of childhood and the world. In The Lonely Hearts Hotel O'Neill lets that beauty shine, while also writing about the Depression, depression itself, heartache, abuse, drugs and violence. Although all these things are addressed, The Lonely Hearts Hotel never feels entirely sad or hopeless. Rather O'Neill manages to celebrate the perseverance and beauty of humanity exactly by showing us its lows as well as its highs. Above all, however, the novel is an ode to the imagination and to love.

At the heart of The Lonely Hearts Hotel are Rose and Pierrot. two orphans who meet at an orphanage and brighten their fellow orphans' days with their tricks. Both seemed touched by a fantastical innocence that allows them to wholeheartedly believe in their dreams and hopes, no matter how cold and harsh the world outside themselves really is. Throughout their story there is a sense of fate and doom, as the two are constantly torn apart and almost brought back together as they try to survive in Depression-era Montreal. The novel moves effortlessly between their two narratives, showing us how both mature in the lifepaths set out for them. Whereas Pierrot moves violently from dazzling heights to harrowing lows, Rose lives with a steady, determined belief in her dream of a circus, of freedom, of love. At times O'Neill is very explicit, whether it's about her characters' sexual exploits or their descents into drug use. For some readers this might be a little off-putting, but I loved how honestly O'Neill describes her characters. She doesn't sugarcoat their actions, doesn't hide their madness or the depths to which they sink. But by showing us the lows, the highs are all the more spectacular.

Heather O'Neill's writing is brilliant. I hadn't read her previous books or heard of her, but the magic promised by The Lonely Hearts Hotel captivated me immediately. From the first page, O'Neill delivered on the promise made by the blurb. Not only were the characters she created incredibly interesting, but the way she described them was both loving and honest, which means the reader couldn't help but love them in return. One of the main things I adored about The Lonely Hearts Hotel was how O'Neill set her scenes. Whether it's the orphanage, a hotel, Montreal in winter, New York, a circus act, a casino. O'Neill describes it all in beautiful detail, to the point where I could close my eye at any point during the novel and picture exactly what was going on. The Lonely Hearts Hotel feels like a film noir, one of those classic movies that takes you away for a while, let's you escape and indulge yourself in beautiful language and outrageous characters. I can't wait to dig into Heather O'Neill's other books to get another dose of her writing!

I give this novel...
4 Universes!

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is an outrageously, dangerously beautiful book! Stunningly written by Heather O'Neill, this novel will take you to the most unexpected places and the most dizzying heights. At times the novel's themes are very dark and that may not be for everyone, yet I would encourage all readers to give The Lonely Hearts Hotel a try. You won't regret it!

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Review: 'The Song of Seven' by Tonke Dragt, trans. Laura Watkinson

We all have those books that are intrinsically linked to our ideas and memories of childhood and family. They are the books passed down by parents, the books that are read to you when you’re young, the books that have become inside jokes. Most of those books for me are either Dutch or German and have literally been passed down to me by my father and mother. One of these is De Zevensprong, a delightful  adventure about storytelling, reading, hidden treasures and friendship. So when adult me saw an English translation of that childhood favourite, I knew I had to get my hands on it and see if that innocent magic would retain its power not only in another language but also on another, older, me. Thanks to Pushkin Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 06/02/2018
Publisher: Pushkin Press
An exciting new stand-alone adventure by the internationally bestselling author of The Letter for the King.
Seven paths, seven unlikely friends, and one extraordinary adventure featuring magicians, secret passages, conspiracies, hidden treasures, a black cat with green eyes and a sealed parchment which predicts the future.At the end of every schoolday, new teacher Mr Van der Steg entertains his pupils with tall tales of incredible events, which he claims really happened to him - involving hungry lions and haunted castles, shipwrecks and desert islands. One day, when he can't think of anything suitably exciting to tell them, he invents a story about a very important letter which he's expecting that evening, with news of a perilous mission. Evening arrives and so, to his surprise, does an enigmatic letter...
And so Mr Van der Steg is drawn into a real-life adventure, featuring a grumpy coachman, a sinister uncle, eccentric ancestors, a hidden treasure, an ancient prophecy and Geert-Jan, a young boy who is being kept prisoner in the mysterious House of Stairs.

So, De Zevensprong, or The Song of Seven, was a major part of my childhood. Some of my favourite memories are of my father reading the book to me when I was young, or Skyping home while at University only to realize my family is binge-watching a Dutch TV adaptation of the book. When a novel is that close to your heart it becomes close to impossible to be objective about it. The same counts for the Harry Potter books, for example. I will defend those books to the death, simply because they have become a part of me and my history. The Song of Seven is special, in a way, because it deals in and of itself with story telling as well. Mr. Van der Steg, a relatively new teacher, entertains his students by telling them wild tales of distant and imagined lands. The children adore the adventure, while he is able to keep them quiet and engaged. All is well, until a new story begins and it comes to life. Stories are no longer a distant thing, suddenly there is danger around the corner and people aren’t who they say they are. What always added to this novel’s magic for me was that it felt so true to the gentle magic of the Eastern provinces of the Netherlands, where folk tales and legends lurk behind every corner and all names and rhymes have meaning and power.

The Song of Seven is a children’s book, but one of those that has something to offer to readers from all ages. At the centre of the novel is teacher Frans Van der Steg, who is still relatively new to his surroundings and his students. Van der Steg is the guiding thread through the novel, desperately wanting to know just what is going on, while trying to live up to the brave heroes of his own tales.  One day, he tells his students he is waiting for a terribly important letter since he can’t think of any stories to tell. Lo and behold, a letter does arrive for him, setting him and his school children on a path of adventure and mystery. The reader is as fresh and unaware as Van der Steg, which means that each of his discoveries and confusions are shared by the reader. Although the novel starts very calmly, the plot really picks up speed about a third into the book and it becomes almost impossible to put down. Tonke Dragt put everything you might want from an adventure story into this book, and yet it never feels to full or unfocused. The mysterious prophecy and confusing Sevenways don’t distract from the importance of friendship and love for adventure that the novel tries to instill.

Tonke Dragt is, rightfully, celebrated in the Netherlands. Her fiction has enriched countless of childhoods with her stories of adventure. Her writing style is straightforward and spare on big words, perfect for the younger readers, and yet, without any fancy frills, Dragt is immensely good at creating atmosphere. Whether it’s the House of Stairs or a rambunctious school class, she describes everything in such a way that you don’t even have to close your eyes to see it. She also doesn’t underestimate her readers, and there are many points in the book that remain mysterious. Dragt retains that sense of magic and legend by not spelling everything out perfectly, nor by giving a reason for everything. Some things just are, and The Song of Seven almost feels like a snapshot, capturing the potential for many more stories to come. De Sevensprong is beautifully translated by Laura Watkinson, who captures the easy flow with which Dragt writes her books, as well as the charming quirks of her characters. I was very happy to see that all the Dutch names were retained, rather than changed, even if they might take some getting used to for English readers. The Song of Seven is the perfect book for adventurous young readers and their parents.

I give this novel…
5 Universes!

I adored The Song of Seven. It is that simple. In a sense, Tonke Dragt’s books are part of the reason why I have always held the secret ambition to become a writer. Her novels are heartwarming and inspiring, and I’m incredibly happy that her stories will now be available to even more readers.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Review: 'A Burst of Light: and Other Essays' by Audre Lorde

For me reading is not just about enjoyment, but also about improving myself. Some books combine those two aspects, and one of those books is A Burst of Light. A collection of essays and journal entries written by Audre Lorde, this book has a lot to offer to any reader curious about both Lorde and her experiences. It is also an incredibly touching read at times, showing just why Lorde became as influential as she did. Thanks to Dover Publications, Ixia Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 13/09/2017
Publisher: Dover Publications; Ixia Press
"Lorde's words — on race, cancer, intersectionality, parenthood, injustice — burn with relevance 25 years after her death." — O, The Oprah Magazine
Winner of the 1988 Before Columbus Foundation National Book Award, this path-breaking collection of essays is a clarion call to build communities that nurture our spirit. Lorde announces the need for a radical politics of intersectionality while struggling to maintain her own faith as she wages a battle against liver cancer. From reflections on her struggle with the disease to thoughts on lesbian sexuality and African-American identity in a straight white man's world, Lorde's voice remains enduringly relevant in today's political landscape. 
Those who practice and encourage social justice activism frequently quote her exhortation, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." In addition to the journal entries of "A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer," this edition includes an interview, "Sadomasochism: Not About Condemnation," and three essays, "I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities," "Apartheid U.S.A.," and "Turning the Beat Around: Lesbian Parenting 1986," as well as a new Foreword by Sonia Sanchez.
"You don't read Audre Lorde, you feel her." — Essence
The title for this collection of essays is from Audre Lorde’s poem ‘Never To Dream of Spiders’, of which ‘a burst of light’ is the last line. This has always been one of my favourite poems by Lorde, despite the fact it partially makes me sad. I always feel like there is a sense of foreboding doom, of misery and death there. And yet the poem also holds beautiful memories of love and togetherness and a sense of perseverance and strength. The reason I want to explain my thought on the poem is because I think they reflect on A Burst of Light itself as well. The poem’s ‘condemnation within my blood’ refers to Lorde’s battle with cancer, which plays a big role in the essays in this book. However, Lorde’s life was also one marked both by struggle as well as achievement, condemnation and recognition, rejection and acceptance.

Her whole life Audre Lorde fought, and the essays collected in A Burst of Light are a testimony to that. ‘Sadomasocism: Not About Condemnation’ shows Lorde addressing female sexuality, as well as the power play between the sexes both within and without the bedroom. In ‘I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities’ she discusses her identity as both a black woman and a lesbian and the conflict between those two identities. ‘Apartheid U.S.A’ shows both Lorde’s deep care for women and oppressed people around the world as well as the anger that kept her going. Her comparisons between her America and the South African Apartheid regime she sees on the TV are sharp but true. In ‘Turning the Beat Around: Lesbian Parenting 1986’ she discusses the pitfalls of parenting, especially those that appear in your way if society looks sideways at you. The largest part of A Burst of Light is made up of the eponymous ‘A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer’. This is truly where I started understanding the drive that helped Lorde to write and fight so. Her desire to own her own body and to be herself, to be able to live and love freely, it all comes out in these journal entries as we follow Lorde from her diagnosis through different treatments and different moods.

Lorde’s writing is inspiring, especially when she writes about the civil rights movement and feminism. It is fascinating to read the constant work she does, the effort she puts into considering and debating everything, assessing the world we live in and trying to change it for the better. But reading her work has a very different effect on me than, for example, reading Gloria Steinem’s work. Although I like her poetry I have always struggled a little bit with Audre Lorde, and that is also true of A Burst of Light. When I read Steinem’s On the Road there were a lot of things that I could relate to. That is not the case with Audre Lorde. Living as a black, gay woman in America, Lorde had experiences that I will never have to face, that I can only appreciate from a remove but not really identify with. To pretend I could would almost be an affront to Lorde’s work, and so reading A Burst of Light was very much a learning opportunity. I don’t understand all of her anger because it is rooted in how the world was fundamentally different for her than it is for me, but by learning about her I also learn about the experiences of countless women across the world right now. Feminism still has a long road to go to becoming truly intersectional, but by reading A Burst of Light I have found myself moving further down that road.

I give this book…
4 Universes!

A Burst of Light is a truly inspirational and touching read. Lorde’s love and strength come through so clearly in the essays chosen for this book that I walked away feeling like I’d just had a conversation with her myself. Her bravery in the face of cancer and her determination to do things her way are lessons I will carry with me from now on.

Review: 'When the English Fall' by David Williams

Dystopias abound in contemporary literature, science fiction and literary fiction. Whether it's classics like The Handmaid's Tale and its terrifying prediction about where we might be heading, or modern staples like The Hunger Games that excited countless young readers, there is something about a good dystopian novel that sets it apart from other fiction. It is both art and warning, politics and literature, entertaining and educational. So I like to dig into whatever dystopian novel I can find, to see what it has to offer. When the English Fall was as mind-opening and beautiful as I could have wished. Thanks to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 11/07/2017
Publisher: Algonquin Books
A riveting and unexpected novel that questions whether a peaceful and non- violent community can survive when civilization falls apart.
Again, all are asleep, but I am not. I need sleep, but though I read and I pray, I feel too awake. My mind paces the floor.
There are shots now and again, bursts here and there, far away, and I cannot sleep. I think of this man in his hunger, shot like a rabbit raiding a garden. For what, Lord? For stealing corn intended for pigs and cattle, like the hungry prodigal helpless in a strange land.
I can hear his voice.
When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community is caught up in the devastating aftermath. With their stocked larders and stores of supplies, the Amish are unaffected at first. But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) in the cities become increasingly desperate, they begin to invade nearby farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the gentle communities.
Written as the diary of an Amish farmer named Jacob who tries to protect his family and his way of life, When the English Fall examines the idea of peace in the face of deadly chaos. Should members of a nonviolent society defy their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves? And if they do, can they survive?
David Williams’s debut novel is a thoroughly engrossing look into the closed world of the Amish, as well as a thought-provoking examination of how we live today and what remains if the center cannot hold.
When the English Fall bridges a beautiful gap in dystopian literature. Usually these kinds of novels are set in faraway or fictional countries, or in our distant past where the foundations of the world we know now are hardly recognisable. They are often set in cities, focusing on young people's struggle to become themselves in a society that restricts individuality and emotion. In When the English Fall Williams does something completely different, making his novel one of the most enlightening and eye-opening I have read in the last few months. Some may dispute me calling it a dystopian novel but I feel like it fits, because When the English Fall shows us the downfall and chaos of a society that is both like ours and isn't, a world in which something has gone horrible wrong, a world in which our worst characteristics come to the forefront. Williams protagonists are an Amish family, mostly cut off from the modern day world aside from selective communications. I realized early on in When the English Fall that I had never really considered an apocalypse from their perspective. I also had the even more frightening realization that I would be literally lost if a solar storm like this hit and I'd have to rely on my knowledge of nature and farming. Eye-opening and horrifying indeed.

When the English Fall is also a philosophical novel. The oppositions between natural and manufactured, pacifist and aggressive, independent/alone and co-dependent/supported are all addressed in their own way by Williams. He does so mostly without preaching or becoming judgemental. There is clearly a sense in which he loves the way in which Jacob's family lives, yet he and the reader also senses just how far removed from the "modern world" they are. My favourite member of the family was the young daughter Sadie, who has strange insights into what is to come and what has to happen, while never losing that innocence and determination that signifies youth. Utterly confused and yet strangely calm and determined, she forges along down the path she has been set on, never once doubting her own instincts and the love of her family. It was a strangely empowering portrayal to read, and by the end of When the English Fall I was incredibly fond of her. Williams' novel is part of that fascinating 'found literature' trope that always leaves the reader slightly unsatisfied. What happens next? But what did they do then? How does it "end"? The Handmaid's Tale does the same and I think in part that is what gives books like these their strength; the fact that they don't provide you with all the answers, with an easy lesson to learn, but rather with questions you will have to think about for yourself.

David Williams manages to make you care for these characters through their virtue, rather than their suffering. Trust me, I know how saccharine this sounds and I slightly hate myself for putting it that way, but it's true. Jacob and his family are sketched by Williams with a kindness and love that shines in their actions. The way they help each other, support each other, appreciate and trust each other is truly beautiful and is what makes them so dear to the reader. A different aspect of When the English Fall that I really enjoyed was how slowly yet steadily Williams upped the ante. The whole novel is utterly calm and yet there is that consistent edge of danger and uneasiness that makes even the smallest movement suspicious. Perhaps that was one of the strongest messages of the novel, just how quickly those bonds of trust and understanding can fall away and leave everyone to suffer fear and danger alone, but also how strong those bonds can be, and how key to survival.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I adored When the English Fall and all it did. It made me think and question, gasp and smile. Williams describes a frequently explored situation from a previously unexplored angle, adding something new to a rich genre. I definitely can't wait to read whatever he writes next.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Review: 'The Hoarder' by Jess Kidd

An ancient, once-grand home? A feisty, resourceful young woman taking on a grumpy, lonely old man? Sarcastic saints? All of those things sound awesome and I wish more books put together this exact combination of random yet brilliant elements. As you can see, The Hoarder seemed right up my alley, promising generational bitterness and dark mystery. And The Hoarder delivered on many levels, if perhaps not on all of them. Thanks to Canongate Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/02/2018
Publisher: Canongate Books

Maud Drennan - underpaid carer and unintentional psychic - is the latest in a long line of dogsbodies for the ancient, belligerent Cathal Flood. Yet despite her best efforts, Maud is drawn into the mysteries concealed in his filthy, once-grand home. She realises that something is changing: Cathal, and the junk-filled rooms, are opening up to her.
With only her agoraphobic landlady and a troop of sarcastic ghostly saints to help, Maud must uncover what lies beneath Cathal's decades-old hostility, and the strange activities of the house itself. And if someone has hidden a secret there, how far will they go to ensure it remains buried?
The Hoarder beautifully walks the line between a contemporary mystery and a Magical Realism-adjacent fiction book. I had not read anything by Jess Kidd before although I had seen other bloggers raving about her previous work, and after reading The Hoarder I can see why they were so excited. Kidd has that gift that makes something utterly odd seem utterly natural, while something perfectly normal becomes eerily terrifying.Whether it's Cathal Flood's mansion, that goes from imposing to terrifying within seconds, or the saints, who effortlessly go from handing out sarcastic comments to fore-spelling danger, Kidd's The Hoarder will keep you on your feet.

Maud Drennan is a fascinating protagonist. She is a seemingly no-nonsense, straightforward woman who just wants to get the job done, even if that means entering a spooky house haunted by a cantankerous old man. She lives with a delightful if troubled landlady who provides many of the most humorous phrases in the book. But Maud isn't all that she seems. She has her own secrets, buried away so far even the reader doesn't know if they'll ever be uncovered. And then there are the saints that keep appearing, at once helpful and distracting to Maud's mission to declutter Cathal Flood's house and her own mind. Kidd crafts her carefully, never making her too perfect to be relatable, while also dipping into the trope of the unreliable narrator. How much can we trust what Maud is telling us? She is only one person in this tale, after all, and every tale has at least two sides, no? There are some heartbreaking moments in this novel when it comes to family and the history one crafts for oneself. What I mean by that is the tragedy of when we have to face that the life we have crafted for ourselves may not be based on fact, that every family has a closet containing a skeleton or two. The way Kidd allows Maud to confront herself in this novel, gently but determinedly, losing and finding her way as she goes, was fascinating to read.

As I said above, Jess Kidd's writing has a particular magic that makes everything uncanny and beautiful at once. I was gripped by the novel almost immediately, loving the way Kidd crafted her narrative. The Hoarder is filled with absolutely stunning imagery. Whether it's Cathal Flood's mansion, its winding corridors or Maud's childhood memories, Kidd crafts these scenes in delicate and emotive detail until I genuinely felt I could picture them if I closed my eyes. Kidd brings an Irish charm to her novel, largely in Maud's characterization, that made me want to dig deeper into Irish literature as well. One thing that did leave me a little disappointed was that I figured out the "mystery" part of the novel relatively quickly, about a hundred pages before the main character did. Although this didn't lessen my enjoyment of the novel's beauty, it did mean that some parts exploring the mystery dragged a little bit. However, towards the end of the novel there were still a number of twists that made for an exciting finale.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I raced through The hoarder at an unbelievable pace. Even though I figured out parts of the plot beforehand, I wanted to know exactly where Kidd was going to take this story. Full of touching and beautiful moments, The Hoarder has made me determined to get my hands on her next book as soon as I can!

Review: 'Folk' by Zoe Gilbert

Fantasy is my jam, and so are short story collections. When you combine the two you basically get a collection of awesome fairy tales, the kind of thing that allows you to steal away into a completely different world for some beautiful escapism. I have chased these types of books down relatively successfully, but clearly the Fates think I haven't done well enough because suddenly Folk appeared on my path. And God was it good! And how beautiful is that cover? Thanks to Bloomsbury Circus and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 08/02/2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Every year they gather, while the girls shoot their arrows and the boys hunt them out. The air is riddled with spiteful shadows – the wounds and fears and furies of a village year. 
On a remote and unforgiving island lies a village unlike any other: Neverness. A girl is snatched by a water bull and dragged to his lair, a babe is born with a wing for an arm and children ask their fortunes of an oracle ox. While the villagers live out their own tales, enchantment always lurks, blighting and blessing in equal measure. 
Folk is a dark and sinuous debut circling the lives of one generation. In this world far from our time and place, the stories of the islanders interweave and overlap, their own folklore twisting fates and changing lives. 
A captivating, magical and haunting debut novel of breathtaking imagination, from the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award.
As I said, both Fantasy and short stories are my thing. My love for them started when I was very young. In my childhood home we had a shelf in the bookcase dedicated purely to fairy tales from all across the world. One of my favourite things to do was pick a book at random from this shelf and sink away into all these different stories that were somehow connected yet all independent as well. There is a magic to fairy tales that doesn't just come back to the actual magic in them. Rather, their magic lies in how they expand the mind, how they cast a different light on old issues, how they mix sweetness with bitterness and beauty with horror. Fairy tales don't explain themselves, at least not the original ones. There are morals there, sure, but you will have to find those for yourself. There is a sense of the ancient to them which nothing else really matches. Where do these stories come from? What inspired them and how do they still inspire? Because of their mysterious origins, fairy tales can belong to anyone and everyone.

In Folk, Zoe Gilbert tells us the stories of Neverness, a mysterious village on a remote island. Each story is told by a different character in the village. These characters come from all ages, different parts of the village and island and even from the different generations living there. This approach allows for Folk to create a sense of connection and tradition without having to info-dump the reader. Characters mentioned casually in one story will become the narrators of another. Events that take place in the foreground in one tale will be referenced in a later tale. Although this is perhaps confusing initially, it really pays off later on in the stories. There is no world-building as such, as one might expect. How did the island come about? Why do the people in Neverness seem so touched by magic? Where do their traditions come from? There are no clear answers to these questions, rather the stories just exist as they are, to be enjoyed as they are. I loved this about them because it allows you to sink into the beauty of each separate story without demanding more from it.

Zoe Gilbert's writing is beautiful. From the very first story she manages to infuse her writing with a sense of suspense , danger and beauty. As the reader gets accustomed to Neverness and its particular peculiarities, Gilbert consistently manages to conjure up a sense of magic and mystery. She moves seamlessly across the village and island, describing its stunning and powerful nature and the effects it has on the island's inhabitants. Her characters are sparsely but carefully drawn. You never get tired of her characters as she keeps their characterisation just subtle enough to make the reader think there must be more, to want to dig deeper. I'm wowed by the fact this is Gilbert's first fiction book, because the deftness with which she writes is masterful. Folk is also beautifully illustrated by Isobel Simonds, the author's aunt. They feel as ancient as the stories and are an incredible addition to the book. I can't wait to get my hands on a hard copy of this book in order to see how the illustrations and stories interplay.

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

I absolutely adored Folk. From the first story I was drawn in by Gilbert's mysterious island and its magical inhabitants. The stories are beautifully human despite the enchantment hovering just below their surface. I can't wait to read more from Zoe Gilbert! I'd recommend this to anyone interested in Short Stories and Magical Realism.