Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Power by Naomi Alderman | Book Review

Book: The Power

Author: Naomi Alderman

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 340 Pages

Format: Paperback

Source: Purchased at Daunt Books

Rating: 5/5 Stars

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

The Power is a slow building yet fast paced thrilling story about the violent shift from a patriarch to a matriarch, and I am in love with this story. The story starts with a world that is totally recognizable -- it is our world. And then girls start developing Skeins, which bring with them the ability to produce electricity, and the ability to awaken the Skeins in the bodies of other older women. This allows women and girls to rise up and revolt, something which starts slowly before escalating to a spectacular climax.

I don't want to give away spoilers for the book, because I went in knowing almost nothing and i'd love for people to read it that way. I was blown away by the way this book was written and the way each and every piece came together. From the broader stories of Mother Eve and the connection with religion, to the inclusion of Tunde, a young Nigerian man turned reporter, and our only male narrator, almost everything in this book felt necessary, and it all fit together like an unsettling puzzle. There were sections that were so graphic that I felt myself feeling sick, and there were scenes where tables were turned in their world, and I couldn't look away. Alderman is asking the questions that all women think of in this day and age and she voices it and holds back no punches. "What would happen if men were afraid for their physical wellbeing?" she asks. "What would happen if the women who have been wronged would be able to get their revenge?"

This book was stunning and an absolute powerhouse of emotion. I felt moved by each and every character and with each twist and turn, and with every moment of subversion and every step closer to the center had me leaning in more and more. The only thing that i'm not too sold on is the framing of the novel. But I know people who are in love with this, and i'll leave that for you to decide. For me, it didn't really add anything for me.

Please go read this. God, do it. This is a dark, twisted, eye opening, life changing read. I am so in love with this. 

Friday, 3 November 2017

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher | Book Review

Book: On The Other Side

Author: Carrie Hope Fletcher

Publisher: Little Brown and Company

Pages: 345 Pages

Format: Paperback

Source: Purchased at Waterstones

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A love story like no other, this is the debut novel from Carrie Hope Fletcher, author of the Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller All I Know Now.

Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It's the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she's become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won't open.

Evie's soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it's too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow , some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love . . .
On the Other Side will transport you to a world that is impossible to forget. Powerful, magical and utterly romantic, this is a love story like no other from everyone's favourite 'big sister', Carrie Hope Fletcher.

This was the perfect mix of romance, magical realism, and just absolute joy that it made for such a lovely read. When I picked this up I was really hopeful that it would fulfill the need that I had for a sweet romance with a bit of angst, and the little bit of magic that I always look for in the summer, and lord it filled up that hole perfectly.

The story of Evie Snow and Vincent Winters is one that i've never heard before. The intensity of their love creates high stakes for the story, which were heightened even more by the fairytale-esque wicked stepfamily vibes that Evie's parents brought to the story. While I wish the parents, specifically her mother had been more fleshed out, I understood why they needed to stand as 2D characters. The family elements of the book, while interesting, were not what really held my attention. 

The secrets on the other hand, those captured my attention and held onto it from the first moment. I won't go into detail, but the way that Evie has to communicate those secrets to her loved ones who are still living made for such an interesting situation. Carrie did a wonderful job of creating a bit of suspense; Evie did her job, but whether or not it was enough to get her loved ones to figure it out, we don't know just yet.

And of course, I can't go through this review without discussing my favourite part - the romance. It was a bit manic-pixie-dream-couple, but honestly? I didn't mind it in this. The relationship felt natural and the magical realism in the novel made the quirky backstories more believable. The relationship was sweet and beautiful and gave me little butterflies all while I was reading it. Carrie is a girl after my own heart - a true romantic.

The only negative part about this book was that, at certain moments, it almost felt as if it was trying too hard to be quotable. Sometimes the sentences sounded weird, or moments went on a bit too long. I'm chalking this up to this being a fiction debut, as I have also read All That She Can See and it's a lot less to nonexistent in that one!

All in all, this was a wonderful summery read that was exactly what I needed when I picked it up. If you're looking for a bit of an angsty romance with lovable characters and a sprinkling of magic, pick this up. 

4/5 Stars.

Happy Reading! 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Angels in America by Tony Kushner | Play Review

Book: Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Author: Tony Kushner

Publisher: Nick Hern Books

Pages: 333 Pages

Format: Paperback

Source: Bought at Foyles at Charing Cross

America in the mid-1980s. In the midst of the AIDS crisis and a conservative Reagan administration, New Yorkers grapple with life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell. 
Originally premiered in Britain at the National Theatre, London, where it won the Evening Standard Best Play Award, Tony Kushner's Angels in America went on to win two Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. 
This volume contains both Part One: Millenium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika, and was published alongside a new production in 2017 at the National Theatre, directed by Marianne Elliott and starring Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, James McArdle and Russell Tovey. 
'It ranks as nothing less than one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century.' New York Observer

An epic play that impossibly is so long, but so tightly written. I've been unable to write this review for months because I don't know how to put these thoughts I've been having into words. I don't know how to say this without raving but this is such an important play, and I can't believe it took me this long to actually read.

I went into this with no knowledge of the actual play, and no real expectations. I just knew that it had sold out it's run at the National Theatre in London, and it had won the Pulitzer. That was it. I was not aware of how rich, and incredible, and absolutely brilliant this play is. I don't know how to review this. The way that Kushner writes about these character, about how they are flawed, but beautiful, and they are absolutely human is spectacular. The way he mixed magical realism and the angels is seamless and shocking -- in a story where the reality is brutal and horrific and so hyperreal, I expected the angels to be comical, cartoonish. I expected them to be comic relief. I could not have been farther from the truth. The Angel, and later in Perestroika Angels plural, are so vital to the plot and to the stories of the characters. They completely elevate the text in a way that is beyond words.

I could spend days on this play. I could write essays on this -- which i'm doing now. But there are some things in specific that I want to talk about. One of the things that I can't get out of my head is the quote Louis says in Part One: Millenium Approaches, when he goes on about racism and racial struggles in America and claims that there is no spiritual or racial past. He says:

There are no gods here, no ghosts and spirits in America, there are no angels in America, no spiritual past, no racial past, there's only the political, and the decoys and the ploys to maneuver around the inescapable battle of politics.

I cannot get this out of my head. I swear to God I don't agree with Louis on most things, but this. I understand what he's getting at. There is only the political in this country, and I think that Kushner's reduction of the country's racial history to this point is so fascinating. The idea that all things in America, even ideologies and prejudices, were brought to this country politically, is an idea that while I don't fully agree with, I understand it. Louis is a problematic character, but I see more of myself in him than I really care to share. His inability to cope with illness, his fear of being left alone, and especially his line to the rabbi at the beginning of Millennium Approaches: "I'm afraid of the crimes I may commit".

Another part I want to talk about are the angels and Prior's prophecy. There are plot spoilers ahead. Warning you now.

The prophecy that is given to Prior is awful, and it comes about because Heaven is in a state of abandon and disarray. God has left, abandoned his angels and his world, and Prior's prophecy is for the world to stop moving, migrating, and progressing. Maybe, since movement has caused God to leave, stillness will bring him back. This is a troubling idea, which is brought up throughout the whole play. There's Sister Ella Chapter, who has become a real estate agent because it's "a way of saying: Have a house! Stay put!" There's the start of Part 1, where we see the funeral of Louis' grandmother, an Eastern European Jew who immigrated to the US. We are literally seeing the funeral of an immigrant. There are so many conversations on this topic, and it's inescapable, especially when the final act of Perestroika comes along.

And the line that kills me, that made me cry the first time reading it, and that made me sob when I saw it live, was Prior rejecting the prophecy. "I want more life", he says. He doesn't care that his standard of living is declining because of his health. He wants more life, and he wants movement and progression, and I was so struck by the simplicity in which he says this. "I want more life."

And then the play ends with an address to the audience, that people won't die silent deaths anymore, and that one day we will all bathe in the fountain of Bethesda and become clean again. And then Prior, still a prophet, blesses the audience, in the most beautiful way i've ever seen a piece of theatre end:

"I bless you: More Life."

All I can say at this point, is let the great work begin. 

Thanks for reading, and please let me know if you've read this. I cannot wait to discuss this play with more people.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

After Anatevka by Alexandra Silber | Book Review

Book: After Anatevka

Author: Alexandra Silber

Publisher: Pegasus Books

Pages: 336 Pages

Format: Hardcover

Source: Sent to me for review by Pegasus Books

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Thank you to Pegasus Books for sending me a finished copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Thanks Pegasus!

The world knows well the tale of Tevye, the beloved Jewish dairyman from the shtetl Anatevka of Tsarist Russia. In stories originally written by Sholem Aleichem and then made world-famous in the celebrated musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, his wife Golde, and their five daughters dealt with the outside influences that were encroaching upon their humble lives. But what happened to those remarkable characters after the curtain fell?

In After Anatevka, Alexandra Silber picks up where “Fiddler” left off. Second-eldest daughter Hodel takes center stage as she attempts to join her Socialist-leaning fiancĂ© Perchik to the outer reaches of a Siberian work camp. But before Hodel and Perchik can finally be together, they both face extraordinary hurdles and adversaries—both personal and political—attempting to keep them apart at all costs.

A love story set against a backdrop of some of the greatest violence in European history, After Anatevaka is a stunning conclusion to a tale that has gripped audiences around the globe for decades.

"God only knows when we shall see each other again" are the last words uttered by Hodel, Tevye's second eldest before she gets on a train to Siberia, leaving her home in Anatevka to follow Perchick, her revolutionary intended. This is a moment that has always stuck with me in Fiddler, as she is the dark horse character -- we never learn what happens to her after this moment. Alexandra Silber is maybe one of the most qualified people to continue Hodel's story. She played Hodel in the West End, and then played her older sister Tzeitel on Broadway, and you can tell from the way she speaks about her she has a huge connection with her.

The story is darker than I originally thought it would be, but in the end i'm happy it was written this way. Hodel is properly tested through this, and it subverts her traditional life that is seen in Fiddler. Everything about her new life is new, and watching Hodel conjure up the strength and courage to fight her way forward is so incredible.

I have so much to say about this, but mostly, It felt like a breath of fresh air. It felt good to know that Hodel and Perchick were okay. Seeing Hodel walk away from her life to follow love was scary, terrifying even, and getting the reunion between the two of them made everything worth it. Aside from the lovebirds, the new cast of side characters were lovely additions, and the cameos by Chava and Tzeitel, and even one from (my love) Motel, rooted this story so beautifully.

If you're not a fan of Fiddler or don't know the plot, you'll be very confused by a lot of this, but if you even know a little bit about this beautiful story, you will find so many answers and so much depth between these pages. Hodel's story is spectacular and allows her to shine in a brand new way.