Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Review: 'Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf' by Helene Cooper

I am always on the search for non-fiction reads that introduce me to amazing women I have never heard of or teach me about world history I definitely should already know more about. So when I saw Simon & Schuster's recent release Madame President I had to sit down for a second in shame, since I 1. hadn't realised that Libera has a female president, and 2. had to admit I new woefully little about Liberia's civil wars. After this, rather long, second of shame, however, I got right to reading Madame President and I definitely feel a lot more informed about the world I live in. Thanks to Simon & Schuster andNetgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 07/03/2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

The harrowing, but triumphant story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, leader of the Liberian women’s movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first democratically elected female president in African history.
When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the 2005 Liberian presidential election, she demolished a barrier few thought possible, obliterating centuries of patriarchal rule to become the first female elected head of state in Africa’s history. Madame President is the inspiring, often heartbreaking story of Sirleaf’s evolution from an ordinary Liberian mother of four boys to international banking executive, from a victim of domestic violence to a political icon, from a post-war president to a Nobel Peace Prize winner. 
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author Helene Cooper deftly weaves Sirleaf’s personal story into the larger narrative of the coming of age of Liberian women. The highs and lows of Sirleaf’s life are filled with indelible images; from imprisonment in a jail cell for standing up to Liberia’s military government to addressing the United States Congress, from reeling under the onslaught of the Ebola pandemic to signing a deal with Hillary Clinton when she was still Secretary of State that enshrined American support for Liberia’s future.
Sirleaf’s personality shines throughout this riveting biography. Ultimately, Madame President is the story of Liberia’s greatest daughter, and the universal lessons we can all learn from this “Oracle” of African women. 
As said above, I knew hardly anything about Liberia before reading Madame President. I knew Liberia had suffered through incredibly rough civil wars, that Charles Taylor was involved and that Liberia's debt had somehow been forgiven. But how the country came into existence, what its make up was, its resources, its culture, all of that was unfamiliar to me. Despite being a biography for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Madame President also goes into Liberia's history, from its creation for liberated slaves by the United States, through its internal racial struggles, its civil wars and its attempts at recovery, all the way to Ebola. Cooper combines the journeys of Liberia and Ellen, in an attempt to show the ground the two have covered in the past decades alone. Reading Madame President gave me a whole new sense of appreciation for the work done by women all around the world in some of the poorest countries in the world. As a white woman from Europe it is easy to appreciate your own freedom and "understand" the long road still to go for women in other countries. But it is so important for authors such as Helene Cooper, herself born in Liberia, to give voice to the stories and women of their countries so it becomes impossible for anyone to turn a blind eye both to the suffering and progress made by women in third world countries.

Cooper does not spare the reader from the harsh realities of what occurred in Liberia. The Liberian Civil Wars,which together lasted from 1989 to 2003, tore the country apart and created a generation of child soldiers who were abused, drugged and exposed to the worst humanity has to offer at too young an age. As a young child myself, Liberia's civil wars were a distant but present danger, a constant reminder that we in the West couldn't just pretend the world had entered a peaceful age. Cooper does not shy away from describing what happened day after day to the innocent people in Liberia, but also avoids the trap of using it for her own sake. Madame President is not sensationalist or exploitative of the civil wars, but addresses it head on. There is a sense in which it all feels almost impossible. That a country in which an estimated 75% of women has suffered rape and sexual abuse elects a female, Harvard-educated president, who then uses her whole strength and knowledge to get $4.6 billion debt relief, feels like a dream. How is this possible if a country such as America can't even elect the most qualified candidate for president ever because she's female? Cooper manages to bring a feeling of destiny to this journey, which makes Madame President, in the end, a very inspiring read.

Helene Cooper strikes a brilliant tone in this biography. I always find biographies challenging reads because the authors have to walk a very fine line. On the one hand their job requires them to make their chosen subject seem like the most interesting person ever. Why otherwise would anyone want to pick up the book and read about them? On the other hand, they can't glorify their subject too much either because readers will see straight through that. Cooper manages to walk that line. She combines Ellen's journey with that of Liberia, managing to cast Ellen both as a woman made by Liberia and a woman who made Liberia. By informing the reader of Liberia's history and Ellen's own life, Madame President is inspirational in showing how anyone can rise through circumstances to help their country and help their people, but also never attempts to only show Ellen's good side. Cooper's portrayal of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf remains human, flawed, strong, inspired, desperate, opportunistic and convinced. After finishing Madame President the reader both has an idea of what it took for Ellen to become and remain President, but also what it takes for anyone to gain and retain power in a country as torn as Liberia.

I give this biography...

4 Universes!

Reading Madame President gave me a lot. Not just new knowledge about Liberia, but also a sense of awe for the ability of humans to rise, struggle, fight and survive. The biography is incredibly well-researched and has left me with a lot of new regions and people to learn about and learn from. I'd recommend this to those interested in African history and Women's stories.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Review: 'Larchfield' by Polly Clark

Put together a poetess, a suffocating small town and a great poet's struggle with his homosexuality and you can have yourself a brilliant novel. However, you could also have a complete trainwreck, as an author tries to deal with too many topics at the same time. Thankfully Polly Clark weaves some beautiful magic in Larchfield, creating a novel that is both exhilarating and painful at the same time. Thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 23/03/2017
Publisher: Quercus Books
It’s early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she’s excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether. 
Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected - rightly - of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears. 
The need for human connection compels these two vulnerable outsiders to find each other and make a reality of their own that will save them both. Echoing the depths of Possession, the elegance of The Stranger's Child and the ingenuity of Longbourn, Larchfield is a beautiful and haunting novel about heroism - the unusual bravery that allows unusual people to go on living; to transcend banality and suffering with the power of their imagination.
At the beginning of this novel I have to admit something shameful. For an English Literature degree holder, I know woefully little about W.H. Auden. I knew he was gay, I had cried over his poem' Funeral Blues' in Four Weddings and a Funeral and have been meaning to read The Orators for a while. But I had never truly connected to him in the way I have to other poets. So when I found Larchfield I saw it as an opportunity to find my way towards Auden in a different way. And now, thanks to Polly Clark, there is a soft spot for Wystan in my heart, a connection to the sense of isolation and otherness that he felt, that echoes in his work. It's s great feat of Clark that she can bring someone like Auden into her novel without treating him as 'larger than life'. There is clear respect for him, but she doesn't hesitate to make him real, make him personal, flawed and thereby fascinating. She also doesn't sacrifice her own characters, Dora and Kit, for him, giving them as much time and personality throughout Larchfield. I found myself walking away from this novel really wanting to read more Auden, as well as return to Scotland, breathe sea air and connect.

At the centre of Larchfield sits Dora, a young woman, a poet, and new mother, who follows her husband to Helensburgh in the hope to start a new life that has everything. But Helensburgh is a small town, with means there are eyes everywhere, loyalties run deep and Christianity and motherhood are sticks to beat newcomers with. Clark paints the stifling closeness, the burden of expectations and the pressure of having to be, beautifully. The growing weight on Dora's shoulders, as she finds her world shrink to her house, then only to the safe spots where no one can hear her, and finally only to Wystan H. Auden. The pressures on Dora, her desperation to remain creative and productive, her fear of not being a good mother, her anger at her husband and her neighbours, and finally her helplessness at being confronted with the seemingly rigid world around her. All of it comes across very well and it all feels credible.They are recognisable burdens for many women and Clark manages to avoid the pitfalls that unfortunately comes from writing about women, avoiding many of the cliches and making Dora feel like a real woman. 

Clark lets the reader enter her characters' minds without forcing the characters to lay themselves bare. Dora's slow descent into utter unhappiness is so gradual and delicate that, although it doesn't come as a surprise, it still hits hard just how harsh it is. Larchfield is filled with characters that are troubled, that have burdens weighing on them, secrets to keep and fears to hide. Clark, by combining modern day Dora and past Auden, shows the continuing struggle of humans to feel included, to belong. Through Auden Clark is able to address the stigma that haunts homosexuals, both then and now, the crippling feeling of otherness and wrongness that pervades much of their lives. Through Dora Clark shows the pressures of modern day motherhood and womanhood, how nothing is every good enough and how the facade of happiness and perfection only deepens the cracks inside. 

I give this novel...
4 Universes!

I was completely taken in by Larchfield. Dora and Auden are wonderful characters that allow readers to join them on their journeys, even if only for a short while. There is both sadness and beauty to be found in Larchfield, and I think that's exactly how it's supposed to be. I'd recommend this to fans of Literary Fiction and Women's Fiction.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Review: 'The Beginning Woods' by Malcom McNeill

I love fairy tales and I love books about fairy tales. There is something about that whole mysterious world full of dark woods, dragons, princesses, talking frogs, wolves and witches that can fascinate me both as a child and an adult. So when I stumbled across a book that promised to delve into fairy tales in a very new and different way, I knew I had to pick it up and devour it. I'm talking, of course, about The Beginning Woods. It feels like a well-worn and trusted classic and yet is beautifully modern and complicated as well, which is a stunning combination. Thanks to Pushkin Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Pub. Date: 1/09/2016
Publisher: Pushkin Press

A MYSTERY NO ONE CAN SOLVE
The Vanishings started without warning. People disappearing into thin air - just piles of clothes left behind. Each day, thousands gone without a trace.
A BABY NO ONE WANTED
Max was abandoned in a bookshop and grows up haunted by memories of his parents. Only he can solve the mystery of the Vanishings.
A SECRET THAT COULD SAVE THE FUTURE
To find the answers, Max must leave this world and enter the Beginning Woods. A realm of magic and terror, life and death.
But can he bear the truth - or will is destroy him?
A STORY THAT WILL TAKE YOU TO ANOTHER WORLD
Greater than your dreams. Darker than your fears. Full of more wonder than you could ever desire. Welcome to the ineffable Beginning Woods...

Clocking in at almost 450 pages, The Beginning Woods is a chunk of a book, which likes to take its time. Some reviews of this novel have taken an issue with its "slow pace", while also complaining about being confused by the plot. These two criticisms surprise me because they feel antithetical to me. The Beginning Woods takes its time, at the beginning, setting up various different plot lines for the reader to become adjusted to before the major story takes off. Rather than jumping from dramatic scene to dramatic scene, McNeill actually lingers on his characters, allowing his readers to sink into them and their minds. This especially counts for Max, the young protagonist of the novel. We get to know Max slowly but surely in the first 100 pages or so, and this kind of pace can be, I guess, off-putting to some who prefer to be dropped straight into the action. But for a novel like The Beginning Woods, which has so much to give for those readers who pay close attention, this kind of pace is a boon because it allows the reader to relax into the prose, be inspired and transported by it. Although it is difficult to maintain this kind of magic over 400+ pages, but for most of The Beginning Woods McNeill manages to bewitch.

At the heart of The Beginning Woods lies the importance and power of words and dreams. The Vanishings that plague the world, the Beginning Woods, Max's quest for his parents, the beautiful fairy tale-esque stories intertwined with the main plot lines; all this comes together to impress upon the reader how important it is to dream. Max comes into the world alone and is haunted by the desire to find his real parents. As the world becomes more and more paranoid about the Vanishings, Max is drawn to the Beginning Woods which seems to hold more questions and only few answers. Max is supported by a very interesting mix of characters, both magical and normal. Through these side-characters McNeill is able to pose some of life's most difficult questions and formulate some potential answers for the reader to figure out. Choosing a teenage boy as a protagonist comes with the same kind of dangers as picking a teenage girl, there is a lot of internal angst to potentially deal with. At times Max's worries and actions can be a bit annoying, but this is also natural for such a long and complex novel.

McNeill's writing throughout the novel is stunning, which made it very hard for me to believe this is his first book. As the plot moves along, there are some absolutely stunning moments and images which are incredibly inspired. I often find myself disappointed in Fantasy authors who copy without adding any new life to the old material. In The Beginning Woods there are witches, dragons, giants and ghosts, but the reader meets them in a completely new guise. It is incredibly refreshing to read a Fantasy novel that isn't lazy, that goes beyond and tries to create truly new and different ideas for the genre. Although this kind of experimentation can also go wrong every once in a while, overall I think that The Beginning Woods is a tour-de-force of fantastical experimentation. The Beginning Woods also isn't afraid to go dark and deep, whether it is in reaimagining fairy tale staples or having Max confront his most inner dark secrets. It's the kind of Fantasy novel you feel would inspire children, to read and to dream, and that is one of the best things any book could ever do.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I really loved The Beginning Woods! Although there are lesser moments in the novel, overall it is a fascinating Fantasy novel that celebrates dreaming and imagining, reading and loving. I will most definitely be rereading this novel and trying to find a hardback to add to my Fantasy/Fairy Tale shelf. I'd recommend this to fans of both Fantasy and Young Adult.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Review: 'Miranda and Caliban' by Jacqueline Carey

I didn't read The Tempest until I got to university, despite starting my love affair with Shakespeare years earlier! Unlike most of his other plays, I struggled with The Tempest a lot, confused about many of the characters, the storyline, etc. It took me a long time to develop an appreciation for the play, and up until a few days ago I would have counted it as one of my least favourite plays. And then Jacqueline Carey's Miranda and Caliban happened. Her novel has given me a whole new appreciation for the play, for the different themes playing under the surface and for Carey's excellent writing. Thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book!

Pub. Date: Macmillan-Tor/Forge
Publisher: 14/02/2017

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe. 
We all know the tale of Prospero's quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will? 
In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin—the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge. 
Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship. 
Miranda and Caliban is bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous retelling of The Tempest. With hypnotic prose and a wild imagination, Carey explores the themes of twisted love and unchecked power that lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, while serving up a fresh take on the play's iconic characters.
Adapting any classic piece of literature is a momentous task. You have to find a balance between honouring the original but also creating something new that holds up on its own. And then there is the enormous legacy that comes with someone like Shakespeare, whose name has almost become synonymous with literary excellence. I myself have often felt disparaging towards adaptations or retellings of my favourite books, since I have such an attachment to the originals. Often I have been surprised by how much I ended up loving the adaptations. Since The Tempest has always left me rather confused, I wasn't sure what to expect going into Miranda and Caliban. Would this be a straight up love story that ignores many of the issues thrown up in the play? Would the novel explore these characters in a way the play doesn't? In the end the novel completely blew me out of the water. Carey deals with the opposition between good and bad, ignorance and innocence, servitude and freedom, and brings it all together in a beautiful tragedy. For those fearing a love story, this is not a romance. Love is a part of this story, but there is much more to it.

For me the true power of Miranda and Caliban lies in how Carey liberates her two main characters from the characterisations they have been stuck in. In Shakespeare's play Miranda is very much a side-character to the Prospero-show, the kind of girl who is calm and quiet and falls in love with the first prince she sees. Caliban, on the other hand, is as close to the 'noble savage' archetype as a character can get. He is a monster, the child of a witch and a demon, and Shakespeare himself seems torn between representing him as an unjustly mistreated wretch and a cunning and sly opportunist. In Carey's Miranda and Caliban these two characters are fleshed out, given colour and life and motivations. The novel starts with a six-year old Miranda observing her father's magic, lonely on the island but aware there is a boy out there. When Caliban is lured into the house by Prospero's spells, the novel really takes off as Miranda becomes Caliban's teacher. As they grow up, they both start to strain against Prospero's tight hold over their lives and their realities, as well grow aware of each other and themselves in different ways. Carey really manages to evoke a sense of the loneliness and isolation of the island, as well as the conflicting forces pulling on both Miranda and Caliban. I want to just quickly go into some details regarding both of their characterisations.

Carey turns Miranda into a fully-fledged character. We get to witness her growing from child to woman, becoming more aware of the extent to which her father controls her whole life.  Whether it is her life before the island or the physical realities of becoming a woman, Miranda lives her life constantly in the dark, waiting for Prospero to declare her "ready". I have seen the word 'Stockholm-syndrome' floating around and in a way that does describe Miranda's relationship with her father rather well. She loves him, but that is because he is all she has. She tiptoes around him, yet hangs on his every word. By teaching Caliban, Miranda is given the chance to consider everything around her anew, to attempt to take control of her own life. Carey does the same for Caliban, imbuing his chapters with a painful awareness of his position. His chapters start out as three-word sentences, but as he learns more his chapters grow to become very insightful and beautiful. Carey addresses a lot of the themes that have made Caliban a controversial character. His origins are a point of contention for him, constantly being used to abuse him and put him down, as is his appearance. Carey's Caliban is a very deep and interesting character, who is full of emotions and conflict. As a reader you can't help but ache for both of these characters, who are so deprived and yet struggle to find silver linings.

Carey's writing in Miranda and Caliban is masterful. She captures the fluidity and eloquence of Shakespeare's language without making her writing feel or sound archaic and stuffy. Shakespeare never underestimated the power of words and this is a major theme in The Tempest, which finds a beautiful reflection in Carey's writing. A highlight is Ariel, who is the only character to retain a Shakespearian way of speaking. The novel is saturated with beautiful phrases like the one below:
"Thou art the shoals on which Caliban wilt dash his heart to pieces." 
With language like this it shouldn't come as a surprise that Miranda and Caliban is heartbreaking. As in any tale that is doomed from the start, there is a sense of dread mixed with hope that grows and grows while reading this novel. There is the hope that Miranda and Caliban will free themselves, that what you know must happen won't. In that sense Carey has well and truly mastered the art of retelling a famous story. Even though everyone knows what will happen, it doesn't matter for a single minute because the reader is too caught up in her version of the story. There is not a moment you will get bored of this novel and when it ends you'll wish it hadn't.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I absolutely loved Miranda and Caliban. It is a beautiful novel and a masterful retelling of a Shakespeare classic. Carey infuses her characters with a sense of life they didn't have before and you'll be sorry to see them go at the end of the novel. I'd recommend this to fans of Shakespeare, retellings and literary fiction.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Review: 'The Roanoke Girls' by Amy Engel

If ever there was a book I didn't put down then it's The Roanoke Girls. Fascinated by the blurb I requested it months ago, but then somehow it ended up at the bottom of my TBR pile. Then, on a whim, I started it on a random Tuesday in February and I didn't put my Kindle down till the very last page had been read and devoured. Sometimes a book just hits you at the right time, resonates will all the darkest and best places in you. This happened with The Roanoke Girls and I absolutely loved it. Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 09/03/2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

A gripping, provocative thriller about the twisted secrets families keep, perfect for fans of The Girls.
Beautiful.Rich.Mysterious.Everyone wants to be a Roanoke girl.But you won't when you know the truth. 
Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin at the Roanoke family's rural estate following the suicide of her mother. Over one long, hot summer, Lane experiences the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. 
But what she doesn't know is being a Roanoke girl carries a terrible legacy: either the girls run, or they die. For there is darkness at the heart of Roanoke, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull, she must make her choice…
Quite some time has passed between reading The Roanoke Girls and now reviewing it, which is good because reading Engel's book had my head swimming. There are certain novels out there which simply have the ability to make you sit back and go '...no way. I mean, right? That did not just happen.' The Roanoke Girls is definitely one of those books. I had to go rant and rave on Twitter straight after reading it and there is still a part of me that simply wants to screech about it. I'm guessing it's quite obvious that I loved this book, although it s very difficult for me to pin down exactly why. So please follow me in the paragraphs below as I try and make sense of it!

At the heart of Engel's novel are the three generations of Roanoke girls. The novel largely follows Lane's story, intermingling her present with moments from her past, but also takes little forays into the lives of the other Roanoke girls that have come and gone. It was quite fascinating to see Lane's present through the prism of her own past and the lives of the other girls, as each new addition made everything make a little bit more sense. Lane is a very interesting character, clearly deeply scarred by things that have happened in her past but also unwilling to face those demons. On returning to Roanoke, however, it becomes impossible for her to avoid these demons since they're all around her. Without wanting to spoil anything, I think it is fair to say that the trauma at the heart of this novel is not for the fainthearted. The lives of the Roanoke girls are incredibly fractured and complicated, with a lot of darkness and misery. Combine this with the relative isolation of rural America and you have the perfect recipe for a high-intensity novel that packs an emotional punch.

Engel's writing is perfect for this novel. Her characters come to life in a way that feels gritty and real, yet she also never tones down on the drama that makes this novel so addictive. Dialogue in novels can feel forced sometimes, especially if an author wants to get across a character's complicated feelings. The way Engel addresses some of the quite, to extremely, controversial topics in her novel, however, never feels forced or awkward. Sure, it's shocking and there is also the excitement of reading something scandalous, but The Roanoke Girls never feels like an exercise in sensationalism. Engel manages to combine the stories of the Roanoke girls with a whodunnit-story, which keeps the pace high and means you never get tired of exploring Lane's mind and history. This is the perfect book to get yourself excited again, to feel the rush of wanting to turn every single page and miss absolutely nothing.

I give this book...

5 Universes!

I loved The Roanoke Girls and I still can't quite do it justice when I talk about it. Engel creates fascinating characters and a story that grips you by the throat and doesn't let go. The last page is both a relief and a disappointment. I'd definitely recommend this to everyone who like mysteries and thrillers and don't mind taking a trip to the dark side.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Short review: 'Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color' by Erté

Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full ColorI have a bit of a passion for the ballet and the opera. I remember the first time I went to the ballet and saw Carmen. I was absolutely taken in by the vibrancy of the movements and, of course, by the costumes. And yet I'd never heard of Erté and his stunning designs. So when I saw Dover's book of his colour designs I knew I wanted to peek into this fabulous world behind the curtains. Thanks to Dover Publications and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/10/2016
Publisher: Dover Publications

A fan-bearing slave girl, a worshipper of Horus, the wife of a Russian boyar, Ceres, a mermaid, and a gypsy dancer are among the 49 theatrical costumes selected for this tribute to the work of the Russian-born, Paris-bred designer Erté (Romain de Tirtoff). Spanning the years 1911 to 1975, these extravagant, imaginative designs include costumes for well-known personalities, Folies-Bergère shows, editions of George White's Scandals, and ballets.
Many exotic and historical fashions include Egyptian, Chinese, Persian, Japanese, Russian, and French styles. The lavish, flowing costumes are complemented by different colors to create different moods: deep, lustrous purples, reds, and browns for dynamic, vibrant figures; ochre, sienna, orange, and beige for more formal characters; and pale blue, lavenders, greens, grays, and blacks for people of mystery and hidden powers. As dazzling as Erté’s color graphics and as witty as his fashion designs, this compilation merits the attention of costume designers, artists, theater people, costume aficionados, and all who appreciate the treatment of costume design as a fine art.
Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color is a great coffee table-book, in all the best ways. Coffee table-books are often ridiculed, as if being placed on a coffee table implies a sense of neglect or 'I don't really care'-attitude. In our house, the books placed on the coffee table were treated with a completely opposite attitude. These were the books you enjoyed looking through, whose illustrations could capture your attention until your coffee was long cold. They were also the types of books you'd enjoy guests looking through, always with a sense of 'look at the beautiful things I read'. It is in that sense that I call Erté's Theatrical Costumes in Full Color a coffee table-book.

I absolutely loved looking through the illustrations in this book. Ranging across the world for inspiration, Erté's costumes are incredibly vibrant and stunning. What I loved was how all of it looked so elegant and intricate and yet so fluid at the same time. With no stretch of the imagination could I see these costumes in motion on the stages of ballet and opera houses. At the same time these costumes had a theatricality to it that I would like to see in more movie costumes. Especially the Octopus costume was brilliant, in that it both actually looked like an octopus while still being a costume. I know that sounds like a stupid statement but you have to see the sketch to know what I mean. Naturally this is a book only for those who enjoy costume design. If it is not your thing of course you won't enjoy this, but if even the slightest part of you also loves the theatre you will get some pleasure out of this book.

I give this collection...

3 Universes!

Overall this was a great collection of prints. Although there is a lack of information to them, regarding when they were designed and for what etc., they are stunning on their own. I would love to own a hardcover of this book. 3 Universes is due to how selective the readership for this collection is and that it is largely a photo collection.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review: 'Lying in Wait' by Liz Nugent

I love me a good thriller, especially if it is all wrapped up in dysfunctional family relationships. Thrillers can, unfortunately, be very repetitive, especially with how many thrillers are saturating the market at the moment. Sometimes stories stand out, however, with how different or interesting they are. I've been blessed enough to read, and see, some brilliant thrillers in the last few months and I'm definitely adding Liz Nugent's Lying in Wait to that list. Thanks to Penguin Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 29/12/2016
Publisher: Penguin Books UK

The last people who expect to be meeting with a drug-addicted prostitute are a respected judge and his reclusive wife. And they certainly don't plan to kill her and bury her in their exquisite suburban garden.
Yet Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons find themselves in this unfortunate situation.
While Lydia does all she can to protect their innocent son Laurence and their social standing, her husband begins to falls apart.
But Laurence is not as naïve as Lydia thinks. And his obsession with the dead girl's family may be the undoing of his own.
One of the best things about Lying in Wait is that it grips you right from the beginning with a brilliant opening line:
'My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.'
Not only does it put you right into the mess of the situation, it also immediately gives you a good idea of the characters you will be dealing with. Nugent has split up her novel into separate chapters with separate narrators: Lydia, Laurence and Karen. Having different narrators can both work for and against a novel. On the one hand it will give you a number of  different perspectives upon the same event, priceless in thrillers, but on the other hand it can also distract from the story the novel is trying to tell. I'm sure we've all read novels with multiple narrators where we ended up hating, at least, one of the narrator's chapters passionately. Thankfully no such thing happens in Lying in Wait. Rather, Nugent masterfully crafts her narrative through her characters, never forgetting she is the one who is telling the story in the end. What one character reveals the other shows us unknowingly, what one feels the other senses, while what one does the other completely misinterprets. Being stuck inside three different heads makes for a surprisingly claustrophobic read.

Nugent deals with a lot of different themes within this novel. Of course there is the main story (the whodunnit of sorts), but around that swirl story lines about gender and class. Set in the Ireland of the last century, the women in Lying in Wait find themselves dealing with the expectations of others regarding their behaviour, looks and future. Whether it's sex, pregnancy, marriage, divorce, or simply having a job, Nugent addresses these issues in the stories of Lydia, Annie, Karen and Helen. What makes their portrayal different from other novels depicting women's issues, however, is that Nugent doesn't avoid to discuss class as well. Whereas Lydia is upper class and expects to be treated as such, Annie, Karen and Helen are working class. This divide expresses itself in much more than just the gross outlines of their characters, it colours their journeys throughout the book and shapes their actions and psyches. Although it used to be easy to forget about class as a major Issue, what between feminism and racism being major conversation topics, but with recent events such as Brexit and Trump, it has come right back to the forefront of our social consciousness and it is rewarding to see authors having already brought it back in their works as well.

Liz Nugent is brilliant at slowly but surely developing her characters over hundreds of pages. None of her main characters are the same towards the end of the novel. As I said above, part of this novel is about dysfunctional family relationships, at the heart of which lies love. Whether it is mother-son, husband-wife, sister-sister, once it comes to loving and living together, every reader knows relationships can become difficult. A good author doesn't just know this, but knows how to use it for their novel. Nugent does the latter, the family relationships becoming central to how characters act. The murder, which happens even before the start of the novel, is like the match that sets of the fuse in all the characters' relationships. Nugent's novel covers a range of years, yet never does her story loose its immediacy. Her writing is gripping, not letting the reader go until the last year and then just dropping them into nothing. Lying in Wait is a roller coaster of a read that never really lets you go.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Lying in Wait genuinely had me by the throat for a few days. Even when I put it down and walked away it was right in the back of my mind. Nugent has definitely won a fan in me with her thrilling writing and great character development. I'd recommend this to fans of psychological thrillers!