Book Review – A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
Young Adult/Teen Fiction
Excitable Rating 6/10

I was very excited to see Lindstrom had a second title coming out, as I read his first book Not If I See You First and absolutely loved it (go, go and read it now).  First of all, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Not If I See You First, it was however still very good just not as good.  In his first novel Lindstrom’s protagonist is a blind teen, in A Tragic Kind of Wonderful he moves from physical disability towards mental disorders.  The main character Mel is bipolar though no one outside of her family is aware of this, a secret that it is instantly clear to the reader is very taxing emotionally and physically on Mel.  Using Mel as the narrator of the novel allows for an unreliable narrator, something which Lindstrom is used to doing – Parker in Not If I See You First is limited by her visual impairment and therefore like her we never get the full picture of what is happening to and around her.

Mel it becomes clear is only really just starting to cope again after losing her close friendships in the previous school year, which caused her to have a manic episode – though again no one is aware of the true story – she has also never fully faced what happened to her brother Nolan.  Nolan’s story is only revealed towards the conclusion of the novel, we know only that he too is “like Mel”.

I think Lindstrom deals excellently with the reluctance of people who suffer from mental illnesses to voice their conditions for fear of being regarded differently by those closest to them, Mel’s complete terror at the idea of this is so powerful through his writing.  I really connected to it.

Exciting Features:

  • Bisexuality/Lesbians! YAY!
  • Completely platonic friendship between a boy and a girl, and between a gay girl and a straight girl. YAY!
  • Pretty good explanations of how all mental illnesses affect people differently, they are not the same across the board for all who have them
  • Angst, lots and lots of angst

 

This was an engrossing read for me, I sat down in the morning to read a little and didn’t get back up until I had finished it in the evening.  I would recommend this to anyone who is fan of classic YA fiction.

Thanks for reading
~ The Excitable Feminist

Book Review – A Court of Wings and Ruin

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas
Genre – YA Fantasy
Excitable Rating – 7/10

This is the third and (hopefully not) final instalment in Maas’ second series of YA fantasy titles.  I can’t say anything for her Throne of Glass series as I have not read it, but this series is excellent.  I devoured the first two books in this series in the summer of 2016 and they are SO GOOD.  As this is not the first title in the series I hate to give too much away about what happens, but I shall try to give a comprehensive review all the same.

If you enjoy fantasy which has a focus more on character development and *angst* than plot then this is the series for you.  It is hugely character driven.  Our lead character Feyre is, as always, a complete badass with questionable morals; along with her partner Rhysand who is just *heart eyes*.

While this is not the most highbrow fiction it is extremely readable and enjoyable, I mean who doesn’t love a good bit of steamy sexual tension?  Now that Feyre and Rhys’ relationship has been fully realised, rather than the will-they-won’t-they of the second book, the sexual tension is definitely brought down a notch; with Maas instead focussing more on the familial relationships in Feyre’s life.  Elain and Nesta are both awesome characters, Nesta more so than Elain purely because Elain is featured less.  I really love the light/dark contrast between Elain’s sunny disposition and Nesta’s dark temper.  Maas is clearly devoted to conveying the after effects of trauma in her work, I really appreciate how Elain’s sunniness turns to dull indifference meanwhile Nesta’s surliness becomes chaotic rage.  Nesta is someone you definitely want to be friends with.  Being her enemy would be utterly fatal.

There’s elements of the pacing in this book that aren’t completely spot on, as I previously said these books are very character driven.  So, when Maas has resolved all the myriad different relationships between her cast of characters and actually has to write a conclusion to her epic fantasy series I think she may have ever so slightly stumbled.  In all honesty I wasn’t hugely impressed with how it all tied together, but it was still a really good read with some surprise introductions of new characters towards the end that Maas had hidden up her sleeve… or should I say pen?

Exciting Features:

  • Feyre and Rhys being all lovey-dovey
  • We get to see more of the courts, the Dawn Court is swooon
  • We learn more about the High Lords, so many great characters not enough time spent on each
  • Nesta. Cassian. Flirting… need I say more?
  • Beautiful outfit descriptions as always, Maas has an absolutely gorgeous way of describing a good ball gown
  • Feyre learning to fly

 

I could go on about this series for quite a long time really, I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable nothing offensive about it and for quite fun fantasy it deals with a lot of serious issues very well – and that is something I will always appreciate in a book.

Thanks for reading,
~ The Excitable Feminist

 

Book Review – Skullsworn

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
Genre – Epic Fantasy
Excitable Rating – 9/10

If you have yet to read The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Staveley’s first foray into this world, then go forth and buy it now it’s pretty much the best epic fantasy series I’ve ever read.  His world-building skills easily rival George R. R. Martin and come close to matching Tolkien.

The main character in Skullsworn Pyrre, played a small but vital role in the plot of Staveley’s epic trilogy.  In Skullsworn we get to see some of Pyrre’s origins, and the major events in her life that shape her into the character that appears in TCotUT.

First of all a little basics about Pyrre, she is an acolyte in the priesthood of Ananshael – the God of Death.  Ananshael is very different to Meshkent the God of Pain.  To the order of priests and priestesses who worship the God of Death, death is nothing more than the sweet release at the end of the pain of life.  Because of this theological element to his writing Staveley’s book is peppered with philosophising about life and the nature of death, but like the condiment this only serves to better flavour the narrative as Staveley manages to utilise it just the right amount.  In her training to become a fully qualified priestess of Ananshael Pyrre has to complete a certain number of specific sacrifices to her god, i.e. kill some people.  One of these is a person she loves, unfortunately Pyrre is not in love.  The plot therefore mainly revolves around her trying to spark affections between herself and another character.

Pyrre and her two Witnesses, the people who make sure she successfully completes the sacrifices, travel to Dombang – the city of Pyrre’s birth.  Her two witnesses are Ela and Kossal, the first a beautiful, beguiling and lethally quick woman, the second a quite grumpy but equally deadly older man.  It is easy to see how both characters are large influencers on Pyrre’s outlook, in Staveley’s other titles she appears with the barbed sarcasm of Kossal and the flippancy of Ela with the deadliness of both.

I really loved the relationship between Ela and Kossal, they both clearly loved each other yet it was such a hugely unconventional relationship by most western standards – which is always nice to see in fantasy, or any writing for that matter.

Pyrre’s constant internal conflicts throughout the novel as to whether she is worthy of love, or even capable of it, outside of the relationship with her god are excellently written by Staveley – I really identified with her very universal (I feel) and therefore very human struggles.

All in all this is a really exciting edition to this very engaging fantasy world, I can’t wait to read more of Staveley’s work in the future!

Exciting Features:

  •  Very socially awkward character who is still highly skilled and competent – just not at conversation…
  • Bisexuality! YAY!
  • Sexually promiscuous female character who is in no way shamed for this by the narrative (possibly by some characters, but in a way that makes them the shitty ones).
  • AWESOME twist, I feel bad even putting in that there is a twist it’s just that good.

Sorry for the long delay between posts!
Thanks for reading

~ The Excitable Feminist

 

Book Review – The Method

Author – Shannon Kirk
Genre – Crime/Thriller (suitable for YA readers)
Excitable rating – 8/10

This is your pretty classic set-up of a kidnapped narrative, young girl is held hostage against her will and the narrative is split between her PoV and the FBI agents charged with finding and rescuing her.  The thing that makes this narrative hugely different is the main character, and victim of the kidnapping.  She is a 16yo pregnant girl, sounds pretty vulnerable right?  She is most definitely not.  An above average IQ and a capacity for vengeance that I quite frankly envy make her a formidable captive.  In fact even referring to her as a captive feels completely inaccurate.

She is BAD ASS.   I am totally in love with her characterisation, the way Kirk describes her internal workings, how her borderline sociopathic mind operates kept me completely riveted to the page.

That is actually the other thing that made this title stand out to me from other crime/thrillers, the writing was really beautiful.  Kirk’s vocabulary and usage of it are just stunning on the page.

One thing that I am personally intrigued by is the delineation between legal and moralistic retribution.  Kirk is completely willing to have her characters move away from legality, but although this may be a grey area legally our moral compass as the reader feels that the deeds acted out by the characters are not only just but necessary as we realise the law does not always have a strong or long enough reach.

Exciting Features

  • Completely brilliant main character, who’s internal monologue is both funny and edgy
  • Classic grumpy FBI agents – with great backstories
  • Main character is a 16yo pregnant girl who refuses to be the victim, and Kirk handles writing about her pregnancy really well
  • Perfect blend of action, beautiful prose, and snark

 

Thanks for reading!

~ The Excitable Feminist

(Sorry about the long gap between posts, I’ve moved house!)

 

Book Review – The Bear and The Serpent

The Bear and The Serpent by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Genre – Epic Fantasy
Excitable Rating – 7/10

This is the amazing sequel to a book I have previously reviewed, The Tiger and The Wolf, and I am so glad to say that Tchaikovsky keeps the good stuff coming.

Brief re-cap (if you can’t be bothered with the link) this is a fantasy world where all people have an animal soul within them which they can transform into, the peoples of this world are then divided up into societies based on the animal totems they possess.

At the end of the first book we were left with the knowledge that a great and ancient doom faced the characters of this tale – what this great and terrible doom specifically was or if it was even real, was yet to be revealed.  Fear not brave reader the suspense ends with this book!  While not an entirely original plot point (I mean who really cares if the plot is original it’s what you do with the detail, am I right?) this is not disappointing in any way.

In a now quite familiar trope of epic fantasy the world is separated by two conflicts one of the supernatural and one of political intrigue (think White Walkers vs. the fight for King’s Landing) – one that is actually used in another excellent series The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley, if you’re fed up of only getting references to Game of Thrones in fantasy reviews (yes I know I just did that).

So in the North we have Loud Thunder, as contracted by his Mother (spiritual leader of the bear-people, they all call her Mother), attempting to bring together all of the tribes of the Crown of the World and turn them into A Force To Be Reckoned With.  With deep-seated feuds between the Tigers and the Wolves, Wolves and Deer, the Eyrie and everyone, and the Bears being generally unsociable this does not go well.

While in the South in the Sun River Nation Maniye Many Tracks and her warband of misfits help Asmander to defend the heir-apparent (supposedly) Kasra (means King basically) Tecuman.  The reason he needs defending is due to him being a twin and his sister Tecumet has also been told by spiritual advisors that she is the one true Kasra.  So we have a good ol’ fashioned fight for the throne, which takes places in the murky swamps of the estuary – allowing Tchaikovsky to introduce more animal peoples such as Toad and Chameleon.  My only complaint of this is that due to his reluctance in some cases to use the actual name of an animal, I’m not really sure why that is, meant that I was unable to deduce specifically which species he was referring to – for example The Stone People.  Are they rhinoceroses or armadillos or tortoises, though they move too fast for that really… They may even be badgers from their description at times? Honestly it didn’t take away from the story in particular it just made me mildly confused.

Overall I very much enjoyed this sequel, as with all secondary titles in a series it has issues of momentum in that it needs intrigue and action but without drawing anything to a finality, but I think Tchaikovsky handles this really well.  I can’t wait to return again to this world where the animal within us all really can come out to play!

Exciting Features:

  • Existential crisis of Venat – hard-man Komodo Dragon turned pondering intellectual (sort-of)
  • Maniye just annihilating anyone in her path with her massive ancient beast soul
  • Hesprec Essen Skese continuing to be as sarcastic as ever
  • More lore about the fantasy world and its history
  • Like hardly any romance, even the tiny bits of romance are done in such a subtle way as to be completely irrelevant to the plot but a nice touch

With special thanks to Adrian Tchaikovsky for the lovely signed edition!

Thanks for reading,

~ The Excitable Feminist

For a little bit more on the book, spoilers included, read below…

Continue reading “Book Review – The Bear and The Serpent”

Book Review – Homegoing

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Genre – Historical/Contemporary Fiction
Excitable Rating – 9/10

Gyasi’s superb debut novel tells first of all the stories of two Ghanaian women in the late 1700’s: Effia Otcher and Esi Asare.  The plot then follows the subsequent six generations of these two women’s families, quite a massive undertaking considering it is a novel of 300 pages.

The novel begins on the Gold Coast, now called Ghana, in Fanteland and Asanteland.  Slavery is already an established trade, warring tribes selling the unfortunates of the losing side to the British or any other nation involved in the slave trade.  The novel deals mainly with these themes of slavery and with the loss of connection to their history which many black African-Americans have been forced into experiencing through the brutalities of slavery.  As a parallel we also see the evolution of Ghana as well, as it is forced through colonial rule into completely unnatural routes in its history such as adopting Christianity and learning English instead of tribal languages; highlighting the disconnect between each new generation and the last.

Effia Otcher is raised under the abusive governance of the woman she believes is her mother, eventually ending up married to a white man in Cape Coast Castle.

Esi Asare is raised lovingly by her parents but is captured by a rival tribe and sold into slavery.

With these very different beginnings we see two families move through lives of subjugation and contrasting lives of privilege.  What I really feel this novel highlights, aside from its very powerful narrative on race and gender relations in America and Sub-Saharan Africa, is the myriad ways in which humankind causes humankind to suffer but also the myriad ways in which powerful loving connections can get you through almost any difficulty you may face.

Despite only maybe an average of around 20 pages per character Gyasi paints such a vivid window into their lives that you can’t help but know all of them as intimately as if you had lived all their life beside them – that is the power of this writing.  It is breath-taking.

‘When Marjorie had asked her father again when he had known he liked Esther, he said he had always known.  He said it was born in him, that he breathed it in with the first breeze of Edweso, that it moved in him like the harmattan.’

Reading this line I had to take a moments pause, as I did on many occasions throughout this novel, to take in the depth of simple profound feeling that exudes from the writing.
Gyasi has a gift.

Excitable Features:

  • Lots of historical and cultural facts, told in a really honest way through beautiful writing
  • Plenty of wonderfully diverse female characters
  • A book about race relations in America actually written by a black woman! (looking at you The Help…)
  • There are so many things I want to talk about but I don’t want to spoil any of the amazing writing!
  • Read if you enjoy authors such as Louise O’Neill or Taiye Selasi

Read this book, read it like your life depends on it!

Thanks for reading
~ The Excitable Feminist

Film Review – Moana

Moana – Directed by John Musker & Ron Clements
Genre – Children’s/Disney Classic
Excitable Rating – 8/10

(Disney gets its own genre right?!)

First of all, what an awesome addition to the Disney Princess line-up; I love Moana!

The film opens on a pacific island, where we meet completely adorable baby Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) playing near the sea.  There’s even these cool water snake things, turns out the sea has a personality!  Moana’s father, their people’s chief, is completely against anyone going beyond the reef which encircles the island – something which clashes with Moana’s very soul as she is completely enthralled with the idea of travelling the open ocean. (All told through song)

Enter kooky grandmother, here to tell you to follow your dreams no matter what anyone tells you and that tattoos look badass at any age! (Somewhat told through song)

Moana does eventually leave her island home in search of the demi-god Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson YES THE ROCK!!) the hero who is supposed to return the heart of Te Fiti (ancient spirit who is essentially the creator of all life) and stop evil from spreading across the world.  Standard Disney fair.

It wouldn’t be a Disney film if it all didn’t work out in the end.  What makes this film important and different is that it offers a view of a culture mainly alien for Western audiences, and as we know representation is SO important particularly in media aimed at children.

I loved this film, the music was beautiful, the animation was stunning and the characters were fun with lots of interesting injections of Pacific Islander cultures – many of which I will be looking up more about.

Hopefully Disney can continue to build upon diversity in its films, Moana is certainly a good start.

Exciting Features:

  • PIG SIDEKICK – Little Pua, my only complaint is that this little chappy didn’t get more screen time.
  • HeiHei – crazy chicken sidekick, generally hilarious
  • Hermit Crab – I’D RATHER BE SHINYYY
  • Messages about environmentalism and awareness
  • LOTS OF ENCOURAGING YOUNG GIRLS TO BE BOLD AND FEARLESS YAY!
  • Strong female lead showing a demi-god how its done

 

Thanks for reading
~ The Excitable Feminist

 

Book Review – The Beauty Myth

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf in the Vintage Pocket Feminist Classics Series
Genre – Feminist Theory
Excitable Rating – 10/10

The only question I have is WHY THE HECK DID I NOT READ THIS SOONER??
Not only is this an astounding piece of feminist theory, its rhetoric has a relevance in everyday life that I have never experienced before when reading a feminist text.  Just absolutely brilliant in both the methodical an impassioned way in which Wolf puts all of her arguments across.

Obviously being a classic, I don’t feel I have much to add to the massive analysis and discussion that already exists about this piece of writing so I shall swiftly segue into quotes I felt the need to highlight while I read.  Things that I suspect will stick with me forever.  So instead of exciting features I present…

Exciting Quotes:

‘The double standard for appearance is a constant reminder that men are worth more and need not try as hard.’

‘Female culture’s greatest writers share the search for radiance, a beauty that has meaning.’

‘A girl learns that stories happen to “beautiful” women, whether they are interesting or not.  And interesting or not, stories do not happen to women who are not “beautiful”.’

‘Female sexuality is turned inside out from birth, so “beauty” can take its place, keeping women’s eyes lowered to their own bodies, glancing up only to check their reflections in the eyes of men.’

‘Whenever we dismiss or do not hear a woman on television or in print because our attention has been drawn to her size or makeup or clothing or hairstyle, the beauty myth is working with optimum efficiency.’

As the edition I purchased is only 100 pages rather than the roughly 500 pages of the full text I will definitely be reading the full book when I get the chance.  Until then this book will be getting handed out to anyone and everyone I can persuade to read it.

It is ultimately uplifting in a way that much feminist theory fails to be.  I feel driven towards change both on a personal level and on a social level.  Please, if you can, read it. Read it now.

Thanks for reading!

~ The Excitable feminist

 

Film Review – How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town

How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town – Directed by Jeremy LaLonde
Genre – Comedy
Excitable Rating – 5/10

Before you say anything, I know I have given this a higher rating that Doctor Strange, this is because they are from different genres.  As a comedy this ranks about average, not particularly brilliant, but it has got a good few laughs in there.  As a fantasy/sci-fi film it ranks in the minus figures and is really, in my opinion, incomparable to the likes of Doctor Strange.  But I digress…

Ok premise: Small town Canada.  We open on two teens (hetero) about to embark on their first sexual endeavour, things do not go well.  Events conspire so that the girl, Cassie Cranston (Jewel Staite), ends up streaking through her very conservative small town.  The judgement that follows fuels her decision to leave town and not return for 20 years…

~~ 20 years later ~~

Cassie is now a successful sex columnist in some big city (sorry Canada I do not know you well enough) but must return to her home town of Beaver’s Ridge (excellent small town name said with straight faces for the entirety of the film) due to the passing of her mother.  Her high school sweetheart, Adam (Ennis Esmer), is now married to her former bully, Heather (Lauren Lee Smith) in a rather unhappy and sexually clinical marriage.  Due to Adam’s inability to get Heather pregnant, Heather decides she needs access to some of the good man juice; and what better way than to plan an orgy?
Hilarity (kind-of?) ensues.

Orgy squad consists of Cassie, who instructs; Heather & Adam (married); Bruce and Alice (divorced… well almost); and Chester. Other characters also come in and out as the film progresses.

This film is pretty funny, doesn’t have the most laughs I’ve ever had watching a film.  But still enjoyable for an actually very vanilla RomCom (despite it’s title).  It also deals with small town prejudice pretty well, though the actual sex stuff was more just for laughs and was not particularly sex positive or gender equal.  Definitely a film to watch with some friends, or your parents (it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be), once you’re a few drinks into an evening.

Exciting Features:

  • The classic small town nerd is played by none other than Orphan Black’s Kristian Bruun!
  • Gay sex scene (m/m)!
  • Totally calls out small town racism! And it’s done in a way that the townspeople are clearly the joke for being so ignorant!
  • The character Polly (Tommie-Amber Pirie) is majorly swoon in a hipster/nerd way. I love her. I want to be her. Overall I am confused, but not unhappy.

 

If you do not expect to much from this film it will not disappoint you!

Thanks for reading!

~ The Excitable Feminist

Book Review – ink

ink – Alice Broadway
Genre – Teen/Fantasy
Excitable Rating – 7/10

This book reads almost like a fairytale, around which much of its plot actually revolves, and is also why the genre I’ve chosen is Teen rather than YA.  While I think older readers will enjoy this book it’s totally suitable for readers as young as 12 (or younger if advanced readers).

ink is set in the town of Saintstone, of undisclosed location (fairytale!), in which everyone gets regular tattoos cataloguing their lives both government issued ones and personal – SO AWESOME! Broadway has created a society in which everything in a person’s life is inked onto their skin.  The narrative is told through the eyes of teen on the cusp of adulthood Leora, whose father has just passed away; though this is not something considered so terrible in Saintstone as the aforementioned catalogue of tattoos are flayed from the body and bound into a Skin Book (slightly eww but also cool?) which the family keeps so they can forever read the story of their relative and they therefore won’t be forgotten.

As the book begins with Leora as a teen moving into adulthood, we initially see this world through the naive eyes of a child and as the narrative progresses more of the drawbacks of a government able to permanently view of all of your life choices becomes apparent.  Leora’s complete indoctrination into her society’s beliefs at the beginning of the narrative being slowly stripped away as she grapples with grief for the loss of her father and fear of him being forgotten is a powerful way of talking about mortality and also how much control government’s should have over their citizens.

All fairytales must have a villain, in ink there are the blanks.  These are people without tattoos, to Leora terrifying creatures of nightmare from her bedtime stories; to the reader they are the Katniss Everdeens and Tris Priors – people who refuse to be categorised and controlled.  Broadway’s subversion of this by giving us a viewpoint from within the confines of the society rather than as an Outsider makes for an exciting read.

 

Exciting Features:

  • Female lead who has stretch marks and talks about having stretch marks!
  • Includes sections of fairytales from their culture, though they have a slightly more Brothers Grimm than Disney feel to them.
  • Tattoos can be “read”, Leora has this gift and can read the story behind a person’s tattoo
  • No distracting lovey-dovey stuff, just some mild crushing. No dystopian earth-shattering obstacle-conquering love here my friends (refreshing, no?)

I could talk about this book quite a lot.  If you too, like me, enjoy a bit of dystopia mixed up with some fairytale with a smattering of kick-ass tattoos then you shall also rather enjoy this book!

 – There is no picture for this post purely because I lent the book to a colleague as soon as I finished it! –

Thanks for reading!
~ The Excitable Feminist