Step Into My World

Frolicking in the sun, hazy summer days and light nights, they bring joy to so many, including all the members of my immediate family. Me, well I’m missing that gene it seems, as I long for velvety, dark skies outside my window, the soundtrack of rain hitting the pane, a cuppa in hand as I’m tucked under a blanket reading a book. I also save books for Autumn/Winter reading, I’ll get certain novels and just think ‘this needs to be kept for the perfect reading conditions’. These tend to be my most favourite reads. Well, I have recently came across a book that not only fits the bill but exceeds it, I would like to give a real literary description here but what I want to actually say is it is just gorgeously perfect.

Anna James, book wonder, has just had her debut novel published and I knew it would be good but I didn’t expect to fall so deeply in love with it! ‘Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers’ is the first instalment of a trilogy in which we meet Tilly, who lives in a bookshop which is that of all bibliophiles dreams, full of nooks, crannies and delicious sweet treats (all concoctions based on those found in some of our favourite stories, Moonfaces toffee shocks and pop cakes anyone?)

Anna James

The shop, Pages & Co, is run by our young heroines Grandma and Grandpa, who have cared for her since her mother disappeared after her birth. The love of all things bookish runs strong in this family and Tilly fills all her time outside of school reading in her favourite spot or helping out her grandparents in the shop. Things are ticking along as usual when some rather different visitors pop in and begin chatting to Tilly, they seem very familiar to her…infact, it’s as if they’ve walked straight out of her favourite novels. In surprise she welcomes to her world Anne (with an ‘e’) of Green Gables and Alice, just back from Wonderland. As if meeting these two wasn’t strange enough, she soon realises that she is the only one who can see them. As she befriends Anne and Alice they reveal to her that not only can they find their way out of their stories and into Pages & Co, they can transport Tilly back with them, so she disappears into the pages of her beloved books. Both delighted and shocked, on her return from a certain Madhatters Tea Party, she questions her grandparents on what is happening and soon learns that ‘bookwandering’ is something that can happen to only the truest of bookworms, those who get totally lost within a story, to the extent that they think, and even talk to characters, in day to day life.

As Tilly explores her new skill she soon finds that bookwandering may hold dangers she could never have anticipated and she begins to question all that she has believed about her past. As a dubious figure begins to follow her into each story, events are set in motion that cause turmoil not only for her but those she loves.

I adore fiction that celebrates the love of books and I was utterly charmed by characters that I hold dear popping up to see me again in a new setting. Just as I’ve always longed for my letter from Hogwarts, I now will be constantly yearning to join the legion of bookwanderers! Tilly immediately felt like a new friend, with whom I could chat about the important things in life, such as a soft spot for Gilbert Blythe, and her mischievous streak, which leads her into a fair few pickles, makes her even more loveable.

Despite being sent a proof of the book (perks of the job eh?!) I still bought a finished copy as the artwork is so very beautiful.

I recommend this book for any age, it’s too enticing to be missed, but I would love to be able to time travel and have read this when I was younger, I would have fallen head over heals. This is set to be a classic, and just as Tilly reminisces over her childhood favourites, bookworms of the future will do just this over her. I am already waiting longingly to start turning the pages of book two in Tilly’s adventures, and until then, excuse me as I go sit in the corner and try to summon up Lizzie Bennet, she’ll take me with her to Pemberley right?!

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James £12.99 (HarperCollins)

So dear readers, what characters would you like to meet in real life? Any books you would fancy disappearing into? As usual, let us know in the comments below!

If you’d like a notification when new book posts appear on Dog Eared Reads, just drop us an email with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line to dogearedreads1@gmail..com

And until next time,

Happy Reading!

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Step Into My World

Brought to you by Hermes…

Yassas friends, and welcome to a blog I have been thinking over for some time now. Over the last year there has been a dramatic rise in the amount of retellings I have been reading, fairytales reimagined, Shakespeare transported to the current day, Norse myth awoken again by Gaiman, but what really has captured me and took many of my reading hours is those stories looking at the Greek Gods.

Yesterday I arrived back in the UK from Crete, the land where Zeus grew and developed his strength to take on the Titans and also the home of the Minotaur. I was accompanied by my seven year old nephew, a serious Hercules fan (Disney making sure an interest in antiquity starts young!) Jack, said nephew, has had me seriously brushing up my Titan/God knowledge as at any moment I’m fired with questions like ‘which of his children did Zeus love the most?’, ‘how can they NEVER die?’ and ‘who put the glad in gladiator?’

I’m also just about to start reading yet another retelling this evening, which I’ll mention later, so I really thought it was time I talked about all the great books that are out there if you too have had your interest piqued by those living up on Mount Olympus.

So, where to begin? I think the most sensible place to start would be with my first official Greek myth purchase, from an author who many consider to be The Chosen One when it comes to reading about the immortals, Robert Graves. I collect the Penguin Deluxe Series so wanted this on my shelf both for topic and the smug satisfaction of seeing my series grow (not so smug now, these books are expensive and the ‘collection’ looks more like a small, happy coincidence) This is DENSE, both physically and in its reading, but if you want each Gods story as close to its ‘true’ form, then this is where you’re going to get it (although classicists will debate this, I think to a layman who simply wants the pleasure of the story this stands true) After each tale Graves expands on what we’ve read and his passion and commitment to a topic he clearly loved certainly is never in doubt.

Now for the book that really stoked my passion, and I imagine did so for many others after rightly winning the then Orange Prize for fiction, the glorious ‘Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller. Heavens if I could write one sentence in a lifetime as beautiful as any found in this book I’d be happy. It is utter perfection. Miller focuses on Achilles and the love affair he is often thought to have had with Patroclus, a minor character who creeps up often when Achilles is mentioned, but whose potential impact is much bigger and warrants more page space than that previously given to him. Miller made these characters so real to me my heart ached and it felt as powerful as an encounter with Gods should. I’m jealous of those of you who get to read it for the first time.

Next up is my beloved Colm Toibin. Now I will read anything Toibin publishes, I adore his prose and think he writes women beautifully (you’d think a good author could write men and women well with them all being, well, human after all but…*stares at you Murakami*) but I have to admit I was surprised when ‘House of Names’ came along and I found it was the retelling of a myth, it was not what I had expected from him, but then the magic of Toibin is you know you’re in good hands no matter where he’s going to take you. Used to his quiet Irish villages with women who keep their problems pushed down under a veil of conformity? Get ready for Clytemnestra to come smashing through your expectations and thrill you with vengeance and, well, some gore too! Her wait for Agamemnon to return home after his sacrificing their daughter for a few gusts of wind is tense to say the least, and his times in Troy will have little to compare to the wrath that awaits and the judgement of his surviving two children, Electra and Orestes. This book crackles throughout with energy, reminding you dabbling with those Greeks is a dangerous business!

Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, ‘Home Fire’ by Kamila Shamsie is another impressive retelling, this time of Antigone. Unlike the previous books this is set in modern times and cleverly uses the original plot to form a study on family, identity and religion when three siblings are put under strain due to a massive culture clash. The plot takes us from London, to Syria, to New York, to Iraq and despite its origins coming from around 440 BC, this novel feels entirely relevant.

I’m bringing out another big gun here, prepare for some Margaret Atwood please! ‘The Penelopiad’ is a slim little read but don’t let this fool you into thinking it’s not to be reckoned with. The pesky Battle of Troy raises its head again and Odysseus, as has been well documented, disappeared for a mere ten years afterwards, but what was it like for his wife Penelope back home? Atwood brings the chorus line to life, as it is made up of the famous twelve maids, in a way that brought goosebumps to my skin. I listened to the audiobook and the chanting of their sorrows and curses are the stuff of nightmares.

If Robert Graves seems a little intimidating to you then I highly recommend ‘Mythos’ by Stephen Fry. Equally as chunky of a tome but more accessible and this had me frequently laughing as Fry brings his own je n’ais se quoi to the telling. Again I listened to this on audiobook and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The pleasure is in the story telling here, no assessment of the myth or scholarly inquiry, just perfect escapism if you want to listen to the delinquent behaviour of the Gods.

We will finish in not quite a full circle, but a somewhat wonky one with Madeline Miller again (so good we featured her twice) ‘Circe’ arrived in its golden glory this year, oh that gold leafed cover, those end papers, the embossing on the hardback under the dust jacket – be still my beating heart as I stare upon this book lovers dream. Naturally the pressure was on with all clambering to compare this to ‘Song of Achilles’, but these are two very different books to me. For starters Circe, for me certainly, is a lesser known God, so I felt like I did not have that built in tension that I did on beginning Achilles story. Always a bit player in the Odyssey, Miller has breathed life into a God I now find one of the most fascinating. Her battles with her position in life, what it affords her, what she rebels against and the consequences of this are beautifully told and the story is paced so well, never lagging, Miller unfolds the real depths of this character. It didn’t have the same burning intensity for me that I had on first reading ‘Song of Achilles’, but I think I was so swept up on the passion, ‘Circe’ has stayed with me though and has grew into a deep, unshifting love. If I am to point any reader to a Greek myth retelling I will always say Millers name first.

My list of Greek myth doth keep on growing however, and as it seems to be a real trend at the moment I can’t see it slowing down any time soon. So if you enjoyed reading about the above and would like another catch up in the future just let me know in the comments below!

I do want to do a shout out while I’m here. I’m an avid watcher of some very good booktubers, one of whom being Jean from ‘Bookish Thoughts’ on YouTube, you can find her by clicking here , and she has definitely encouraged my reading of Greek Myth. She is studying for her PhD currently and her passion for antiquity shines through every video she makes, I really recommend a watch if you is want to hear somebody talk who is infinitely more qualified than me!

Have you read any retellings? Are you tempted too? And what book is on your bedside table at the moment? As usual chat below and here comes the business bit…

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    and until next time all..

    Happy Reading!

    Brought to you by Hermes…

    Our Most Important Book Yet

    Over in Dog Eared Reads land we’ve been quite quiet for a couple of weeks, and for that please accept profound apologies, health gubbins is still making its presence felt and means reviewing has to be pushed to one side (the reading never stops mind you!) However I received some book post today that I felt had to be addressed on here immediately, a book that is raising money for a mental health condition that is actually the problem plaguing me at the moment – albeit arrived at for very different reasons, and a thoroughly kind hearted and moving project that I’d love if we could send some more readers their way.

    On the 14th June 2017 the country looked on in horror as Grenfell Tower went up in flames and so many lives were lost. Following on from the disaster the government have failed the survivors spectacularly, with the majority of those who lost their home that night still not rehoused. As has so regularly became the case over the last few years with food banks, housing for refugees and more, the public have stepped in to make up for the failure of the state.

    After the tragedy Steve Thompson, R. Martin, Paul Jenkins and Kathy Burke decided to take action. Using Unbound they began a crowd funding campaign to publish a book of short stories, 24 stories in total to represent the 24 floors of the building. They made the decision to have 12 of the works within to be by well known, published authors and the other 12 stories from yet unpublished writers who submitted their work and made the final shortlist. The main goal of this project however is to raise money. Realising that the survivors of this event would be left struggling with PTSD that can be utterly debilitating, the profits from this book will all go to helping out with the psychological damage that echoes long after the night itself.

    ’24 Stories’ came together and was printed on the one year anniversary of the disaster. The stories within are varied, moving, uplifting and upsetting. The team behind the project ensured you are getting a great read for your contribution, with exciting new names to look out for in the future and authors we know well already such as Irvine Welsh, A.L. Kennedy, Nina Stibbe and John Niven to name but a few.

    An acknowledgement to those who helped this happen

    Followers of this site will know how passionate I am about the books I read and love, with little else thrilling me more than when a reader gets in touch to say they’ve bought a book due to a recommendation on here, but I do very much realise not every piece of literature I feature will be the one that floats your boat, so some will be skipped over. With this special edition I implore you all, grab a copy and give it a go, you’ll be doing a great thing, karma will thank you and you get hours of reading to boot. I know some may cry out “I don’t read short stories”, but I reckon if ever there was a time to give them another go, well, this is it.

    I wanted to reassure you guys, I put my money where my mouth is & don’t expect you to shell out where I don’t. I backed this project when it was an idea & no stories yet existed, I believe in the power of the written word so strongly. Also please don’t think I went mad and circled my name in red pen in my copy – I did this with iPhone editing wizardry!

    You will be able to request this book from your friendly local bookshop but also please find the direct link below if you want to order online, I’ll pop the bookshop I work in on here but also a second option so I’m not accused of bias! The book is published on June 14th so you can order it now and have it arrive in a week or two as a nice book surprise!

    Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, my stomping ground! Click here and scroll down to ‘book experts at your service’ and fill in your details there!

    And to get it from another indie spreading book love, click here for a link to Foyles.

    *waves pom-poms like a cheerleader* GO ON DOG EARED READERS – GO FORTH AND SPREAD YOUR BOOKWORM KINDNESS!

    Let me know if you get the book and also what you have been reading lately in the comments below. Are you off on holiday and wanting to compile a holiday reading list? We’re more than happy to help so just give a shout!

    As usual if you’d like to subscribe to the blog just send an email with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line to dogearedreads1@gmail.com and you’ll receive a notification when a new review appears.

    Until next time,

    Happy Reading!

    Our Most Important Book Yet

    A Reading Round Up!

    Lately I’ve been reading a lot of new publications and keeping bang up to date on what is coming out in the book world, but this last week or so, well, that’s gone out the window. A lot of books on my shelves who have been nestling there quite comfortably and quietly for some time began shouting to me all of a sudden, demanding their time had come to be read. As you may have seen in the previous post, this didn’t necessarily always work out for the best and some of those books should have blummin’ well shut up, but there we go, we live and learn.

    So I thought for this weeks instalment we’d have an overview rather than anything to in depth, my spring scattering of reads as it were.

    Let’s start with a book I read today in one sitting and that I heard a lot of fanfare about but for some reason didn’t rush to. More fool me. ‘Thornhill’ by Pam Smy is a combination of graphic novel and text chapters, alternating between the two forms, two different time lines and two stories as you go along. This might sound confusing but Smy has made it completely seamless. The illustrations are beautifully creepy, complimenting the dark story line of a young girl being tormented by a fellow resident in a care home.

    Smy was inspired by dilapidated, eerie looking buildings, The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre, and the nods to these classics are clever and clearly made by a true book lover. I thoroughly enjoyed this and the last few pages sent tingles through me, but hey, don’t take my word for it, PHILIP PULLMAN has only gone and endorsed it so what more do you need?!

    Thornhill by Pam Smy £14.99 (David Fickling Books)

    I went quite a few years back with the next story, a retelling of The Turn of the Screw, this gothic horror homage is executed well, enough connections to make the original inspiration clear but enough twists and changes to make it worth the read. Florence is an unreliable narrator at her best, although be warned, as she tells us of her story she uses some of her own ‘language’. Although easy to understand I did find it jarring at first, but after a couple of chapters it became second nature and I was unaware of its effect going forward.

    Florence and Giles by John Harding £8.99 (Harper Collins)

    Next up is actually a newbie, the latest offering by Amy Sackville, ‘Painter to the King’. Now this ticked many boxes for me, historical fiction, based on a true story and then art thrown in for good measure, but this box ticking all sounds terribly clinical, one thing this novel certainly isn’t. The two words I would use to describe it are rich and fluid. You may ask what I’m on about but bear with me. We chart the career of the great artist Velázquez from the moment he was summoned by King Philip IV of Spain in 1622 and his progression within the court both professionally and personally. His close encounters with the King mean that we also learn about the struggles of the royal family to produce an heir and keep control of a country with problems arising from every possible angle.

    As I say I found this book to be rich, in both lavish historical detail but also the masterful way in which Sackville describes the act of painting itself, smells and textures all but have you peering over shoulders looking at the canvas yourself. Fluid may seem an odd description but the prose was just that for me, every now and then our narrator changes and we skip to an unnamed woman looking at these art works in their current settings, but there is no real distinguishing between speakers, just a dash used to indicate a new viewpoint. This often reminded me of the great Hilary Mantel and her style in Wolf Hall, perhaps not for everybody but for me certainly making it an immersive experience.

    Painter to the King by Amy Sackville £14.99 (Granta Books)

    Last but by no means least a huge shout out to ‘Me Mam. Me Dad. Me.’ Now I promise there was no bias here, I may be a Geordie and this Newcastle based tale is chocker full of lush, local dialect, but I did not allow this to sway my opinion, this is just a bloody excellent book. It’s a slim little read and I don’t want to give away too much, but we have a 14 year old called Danny who quickly had me as a fan with his heart of gold. His mam has just recently got herself a new boyfriend and before he can blink they’re being moved in to his much bigger, much fancier house. It quickly transpires that this new addition to their family isn’t the blessing he first appeared however, and as Danny begins to learn about just how dangerous this could be to his beloved mam, he decides to take action. This is one of those books where the author hasn’t put a word out of place, a total gem.

    Me Mam. Me Dad. ME. By Malcolm Duffy £10.99 (Head of Zeus)

    So there we go, a summing up of a handful of my recent reads, I hope they intrigued and tempted you to go look them up! Let me know if any particularly takes your fancy and what you have been reading lately in the comments below!

    As always we have lots of great books coming your way so if you want to sign up for notifications, here are the details…

    • To subscribe to the blog, just send an email to dogearedreads1@gmail.com with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line & we’ll sort that out for you!

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    and until next time all..

    Happy Reading!

    A Reading Round Up!

    Murakami, Misogyny and Me

    Please note for this blog there will be huge spoilers littered through out in relation to the novels ‘1Q84’ and ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage’.

    A trigger warning also needs to be issued due to discussion of rape and sexual assault.

    Thirdly – usually on this blog we like colour, pictures etc. As you will read, the topics below don’t really lend themselves to fun related images, so please excuse the dense text.

    As an avid reader who likes to immerse myself every which way possible in the world of books, I have for some time known of the often revered Haruki Murakami. With his books selling in the millions all over the world, adaptations not just on the big screen but on stage, turned into song and even inspiring video games, his reach is certainly wide. It was around four years ago I decided to make my first literary encounter with him and I chose quite the challenge, for reasons that will make you judge me as either a person with long pockets or very shrewd.

    Having been given a token for a free audiobook I began having a look at my options. There were many that took my fancy, usually around the eight to nine hour mark and, if I’d been paying, costing around £10. I then happened upon 1Q84, released that week in its epic proportions, three books making the whole. I’d heard so much buzz around this book I flagged it as a potential option, then, working out with this choice my 1 token would get me around £35 of reading, I jumped straight in. See, tight purse strings, don’t judge me.

    Not surprisingly this book took a hell of a lot of listening too, but luckily I had a decent commute either side of work so I thought it would be some escapism from the office (this was before my time as a bookseller). The first two books were read by a single man and woman, then the third section had another man join in to voice a recently introduced character. I hated the way he played him, making him rasp and wheeze his way through every sentence, I found myself wincing every time he spoke. By the time I finished listening to 1Q84 my opinion was, to say the least, not good. I’ll go into my many qualms with it in more detail soon, but I did also acknowledge that maybe the style of reading had effected me and I may have enjoyed it more if I’d read the text instead of listening to it. Wary, I stepped away from his fiction for some time.

    Skip to this present week and I was deciding what I wanted to pick off my shelves. My eyes landed upon ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage ‘. Again I remembered this coming out to great fanfare and when a damaged copy had came up for grabs at work I’d taken it, thinking maybe this would be the novel that made me see the Murakami light. It came home with me and then sat there for an age, I never really wanted to open that first page until this week when it somehow ‘clicked’. I often feel like I can’t force reading a book, they seem to have their own magic to me that makes them suddenly want to be read, it’s not me choosing but in their instructing me that now is the time.

    Now I wonder if you’ve seen the film Silver Linings Playbook? There is a standout moment in the film where, in total frustration with an author, Bradley Coopers character smashes a window as he hurls a book through it. Good god was I close to doing that as I finished this novel. It now appears apparent I didn’t have simply a 1Q84 problem, I very much have a Murakami problem.

    To summarise the plot of 1Q84 is an incredibly difficult task, but this strand of the story is central to the whole and where I had the most problems. We are introduced to a woman, Aomame, who is basically an assassin, working for an older lady who has hired her to kill men who are harming women. She is incredibly skilled at carrying out these murders undetected and using a unique tool that kills quickly and efficiently. So far I could get with this story, we have an interesting antihero to follow here. She is asked to take on a case where her target will be an older man, known as ‘The Leader’, who is running some kind of cult. This cult is basically made up of very young girls (we first find out about its existence from a 10 year old escapee) who are raped and assaulted regularly by The Leader.

    When Aomame is about to carry out the killing of the Leader, she ends up in a discussion with him where he explains how he regularly goes into some kind of trance and basically cannot move/control what his body does when these rapes occur e.g. it is not his fault and is (according to him) not really rape. Aomame accepts this and the story goes on from there with this really not being explored or criticised further, we move on from here being expected to accept that other worldly forces make a man rape children and that he really didn’t mean to, so there we go, poor, helpless man.

    In ‘Colourless Tsukuru…’ the concept of the novel again begins intriguingly. A man in his mid 30’s, Tsukuru, had been in a tight knit friendship group with four others for many years of his youth. The five had a closeness few ever experience, believing that each part of them provided an essential part to the whole. When the time came for university Tsukuru was the only member of the gang to move away from their home town, and on a return trip finds out that his friends have all cut him off, refusing to speak to him or explain why they’ve made this decision. The story begins when, fifteen or so years later, it is suggested to him he should find out what happened. Through questioning three of the four friends we learn that one of the women in the group reported to the others that Tsukuru had raped her. None of them actually believed her but went along with it as they decided she ‘didn’t seem well’, even though they all admitted she had clearly been raped and left pregnant. Tsukuru thinks he didn’t rape her physically, but he also believes he might have done so in a ‘dream state’ of which he had no control of. This young women was later murdered , strangled to death, and he also thinks he may also have done this, again in his ‘don’t blame me I can’t help it dream-state’. He even goes so far as to suggest that she wanted to be strangled and murdered. Again, this is just kind of accepted by everyone in the book, he visits each of his past friends and their reaction can be summed up, to a fault, as, ‘oh yeah, she was definitely raped and said it was you, but we all knew it couldn’t have been, you’re just such a nice guy!’

    Now, you’re going to need to tell me Murakami readers – is the rape of women and children a common theme in the rest of his books? Do they all present a story line of ‘poor man, he just couldn’t help doing that bit of rape, there are greater forces he can’t control’? Obviously this is hugely problematic and the light handed way the topic is dealt with, each rapist given an apparently unarguable defence of their attacks therefore whitewashing them of any guilt, is completely sickening. It’s a very small step from those nausearing comments on line of ‘we have to have prostitution to help poor men. They have to deal with urges so uncontrollable if we didn’t have prostitutes of course it’s only natural they’d end up raping women’. When it comes to sex does Murakami similarly believe men have no agency over their actions? Can anything be excused?

    It will perhaps come as no surprise that along with such alarming plot lines, the characterisation of women seems to be extremely limited. I became so incredulous reading ‘Colorless Tsukuru…’ that I actually became slightly hysterical with laughter at one point, as within the space of a page one female characters breasts were described twice. This was not a scene that was in anyway sexual, but it appears to be a woman and appear in a Murakami novel you simply must have your breasts described every time you walk on to the page. I couldn’t tell you a huge amount about this character as she was stocky, not pretty, so didn’t warrant much discussion apart from a brief acknowledgment of being ‘quirky, funny in a dry way’. Of course she was, that’s all the comedy fat girl can ever be right?

    This is in stark contrast to the character who was raped. Again I’d like to tell you about her personality but I can’t. Her body was described in great detail, especially her breasts (of course), her slender, porcelain white legs and her long black hair. The repetition of these descriptions clearly signified that body parts equal the whole of a woman, there is no need to describe their character as your body is a signifier that explains the type of person you are anyway. Women, we’re as flat as the conversations to be found on the pages of this book.

    Let me not mislead you into thinking that this is an author who cannot write a well rounded, layered protagonist, hell no. Nuanced characters do walk these pages, but to be worthy of writing so they must have a penis. And heavens above does Murakami like to talk about this appendage, they may as well publish the book with a pop up Gherkin tower it is so unsubtle. Take this moment:

    And right then…he had an erection. A heroic, perfect, rock hard erection. So massively hard he could barely believe it.

    Give. Me. Strength.

    I do not believe, as some do, that male authors cannot write authentic female voices, Colm Toibin being a writer who in my option does so beautifully. What I do believe is that Murakami does not think women have a role that warrant a voice or an agenda of their own, they simply exist on the side lines of the main story, a vehicle for a man to use to move through his life when needed. Sexual objectification, belittlement and repeated, sanctioned violence against women is not fiction I want to be reading, and hold my hands up as to being totally lost as to why so many seem so eager to?

    In his back catalogue there can be found a book called ‘Men Without Women’, I have a horrible compulsion to discover what he has to say on this one, but in an act of self preservation Murakami has been removed from my shelves as I remind my self of the rule ‘fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’.

    Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any Murakami and if you’re a fan or not. Are any of his books less morally dubious?! I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts!

    It will be back to normal service on the book reviewing front next week I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear, and thank you for bearing with me through my rant!

    Until next time,

    Happy Reading!

    Murakami, Misogyny and Me

    Is it Written in the Stars?

    I was first introduced to Nikesh Shukla through his fantastic work with ‘The Good Immigrant’, a collection of essays from fifteen British black, Asian or minority ethnic writers. Shukla brought this work together after a crowd funding campaign that quickly gathered momentum. It is a truly impressive book that I believe is essential reading for all.

    Now writing weekly columns for The Guardian that are thoroughly enjoyable, he is a writer who’s work I will now always investigate, and he didn’t leave me hanging long as just this week there has been the publication of his new novel ‘The One Who Wrote Destiny’.

    This is a novel that features several narrators, jumping from voice to voice just as we jump from one country to another. These stories all link to one central whole, the family of Mukesh. The book opens during his younger years, having just arrived in the UK from Kenya, then moving forward 30 or so years in the future as we hear from each of his children and others who are encountered along the way.

    The story of this family is an interesting one, where there is an emotional distance between all – caused by events in the past not easily healed, yet there still seemed to me to be love there too. Complex family relations reflect complex identity problems. Shukla again touches on the notion of being a ‘good immigrant’. When Mukesh arrives in England he quickly learns not all want to offer a hospitable welcome, the best way to get by is to be quiet, live life as the ‘good immigrant’, following the narrow idea of a what makes an acceptable resident of the UK if they were not born here. He finds himself confused and shocked by his children who often go against this, his daughter, Neha, being loud in a pub, not even considering implications this will have, his comedian son, Raks, standing on stage examining and laughing at what it is to be ‘other’.

    These now grown children have worries of their own however, with health problems that dog the family appearing with what seems alarming predictability, and a whole new set of questions to be looked at on discussing race and identity in the public sphere. The very visible, violent racism their father experienced now changed to daily ”micro-aggressions’ they endure. As you read their story you wonder if they will find the answers and acceptance they are looking for, and if old ghosts can be laid to rest.

    Other than the authors work I don’t know a huge amount about him, but moments of this story felt very autobiographical to me, even if it wasn’t the narrative arc that matches his own experiences it felt like the emotion and questioning over issues like identity were such an authentic voice, issues that have been thought over for days, months and years. Do we have to tap into the past to find our future or do we forge ahead and determine our own path?

    As a reader I loved this book for absorbing me into a story and introducing me to multifaceted characters who challenge me, as a person with no experience of immigration and the way this presents a whole new layer of life to navigate I am grateful to Shukla for helping to push my understanding a little further, knowing no two peoples experience is the same but that the journey is never an easy one.

    No matter what you think of destiny make sure it’s in your future to get a copy of this book!

    The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla £14.99 (Atlantic Books)

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    Is it Written in the Stars?

    “No one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land” Warsan Shire

    We’ve featured a lot of stories about brave and inspiring women and girls lately, but today we are shining the spot light on a boy who encourages us all to appreciate what we have and to always hang on to hope.

    Boy 87 by Ele Fountain is an eye opening read, showing readers how perilous life can be for those born without some of the freedoms we are blessed to have. In the last few years we have seen more refugees moving around the globe at any time since World War Two, and although at first the news and our papers seemed to be filled with images of people desperately trying to make their way across oceans to safety, it seems as if we have somehow become desensitised to the situation and it has been pushed to the back of the agenda. Boy 87 focuses on a young boy, Shif, who plans to make such a journey, but the book clearly shows that the horror doesn’t simply begin and end with a boat journey, but what a person has to do to try and grab at this chance of freedom.

    We are never told exactly where Shif is from, although it has been suggested with Fountain having lived herself in Addis Ababa while she wrote this book, it appears to be somewhere of East African origin.

    Ele Fountain

    Shif lives with his mum and younger sister, and goes to school each day with his best friend, and neighbour, Bini. The two are sharp as they come, and their hard work and talents have paid off at school, seeing them moved up a couple of years to study. It’s not just their academic abilities that link them together though, as both boys no longer have their fathers around, although due to very different circumstances.

    Life begins to change when one day armed soldiers start hanging around their school making everybody uneasy. When Shif leaves his home one evening to pick up some injera, he is spotted by the police, and although they call after him something within tells him to run and hide back at home. From that instance wheels are set in motion to change this young boys life forever, as his mother reveals a family past kept hidden from him and the consequences this could now create for them all.

    Injera

    My heart was in my mouth throughout this book. Shif is a loyal, kind and dedicated boy who I took to immediately and as I became caught up in his story something kept tugging at me to remember this is the story of so many out there. I think this is a great read for young readers as it explains the human side of a story that can seem so complex and unknowable. Fiction allows us to travel alongside somebody and empathise in a way that facts and figures printed in a newspaper column will never do.

    Shif, and all those he represents, is going to play on in my mind for a long time, and I think this is only right. We need to never forget those who are clinging on for survival and put their faith and hope in vessels not worthy to carry them.

    Boy 87 by Ele Fountain £7.99 (Pushkin Press)

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    “No one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land” Warsan Shire