Review: Winter Siege by Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman

EBOOK; 359 P.
BANTAM PRESS, 2015/2014
SOURCE: FROM THE PUBLISHER

It’s 12 Century England and the civil war between Queen Matilda and King Stephen is raging. But life in the fens carries on as usual. Until the mercenaries ride through. And a small red-haired girl named Em is snatched and carried off. After the soldiers have finished with her they leave her for dead. But fenland girls are not easy to kill. Although she has lost all memory of her past life including her name, Em survives and teams up with Gwyl – a Breton archer who has almost completely lost faith in humanity. Together Gwyl and his new protege–now crop-headed and disguised as a boy–travel through the countryside giving archery exhibitions. But there is one man who hasn’t forgotten the little red-haired girl. He has some unfinished business with her and he is determined to finish it. And one freezing winter in a castle completely besieged, he might well get his chance…

Winter Siege is a stand-alone historical novel started by the late Diana Norman under her pseudonym Ariana Franklin. It has been completed by her daughter Samantha Norman.

My 2015 began with a small historical fiction kick and in the first few months I read more historical fiction than anything else. So when the lovely people at Bantam approached me with a copy of Winter Siege, I naturally said yes. The book was published as paperback in the beginning of February, but due to a hectic schedule and the length of the novel, I only managed to read it by the end of February.

Winter Siege is set in England in the 1141 against the backdrop of civil war between Matilda,King Henry’s daughter, and Stephen, his nephew. The story follows too separate characters: Em, a young red-headed country girl and the young Lady Maud of Kenniford. The story moves between the two very different lives in the country torn by war. Em is hunted down by soldiers and raped, but survives thanks to Gwyl, a mercenary with a heart. Lady Maud is the daughter of a Master of Kenniford who is married off to a distant Lord in order to save the castle. The two have their own struggles and it surprisingly the war that brings these two together.

I must begin by stating that while I enjoyed reading about these characters and about their struggles in 12th century England, Winter Siege is not my favourite historical fiction of the year. I guess the story suffered a bit from the imminent comparison to Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose that I read recently. The two books have a similar structure in that Franklin’s book is also narrated by an old monk on his death bed. The story is on occasion interrupted by a meta commentary of either the scribe jotting the story down or the monk, which I didn’t really deem necessary. Winter Siege is well-researched and appears very accurate, but the story also had some elements that I found very confusing and/or unrelatable. Nothing compares to Eco, but I was still left hoping for more depth. I enjoyed the character development in the book, and was able to picture the main characters well. I’d recommend Winter Siege to readers of historical fiction and to those who are interested in the political power play of 12th century England.

Winter Siege is set in Cambridgeshire and is one of my “Modern” Detour stops in Reading England 2015.

3/5

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.

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Review: An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

PAPERBACK; 123 P.
PENGUIN, 1986/1895
SOURCE: PURCHASED

A dazzling blend of farce and morality, this play explores human frailty and social hypocrisy. Sir Robert Chiltern’s secret is discovered and exposed. He is accused of having exploited government secrets for his own gain early in his political career. With this revelation from Mrs. Cheveley comes the threat of blackmail and the ruin of Sir Robert’s career. Yet in order to be a successful blackmailer, one’s own reputation must be beyond reproach.

The final play in my collection of The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, An Ideal Husband looks at the married relationships and the idealization of other people. This is a frequent topic in Wilde’s works, especially in one of the plays I read in earlier, Lady Windemere’s Fan. Although slightly longer than the other Wilde plays that I’ve been reading, An Ideal Husband is an entertaining piece that takes only about an afternoon to enjoy.

Unlike the Windemere’s in Lady Windemere’s Fan, the Chilterns are an older, well-situated couple. Sir Robert Chiltern is an esteemed member of parliament and is expected to go higher soon. But when an unexpected guest arrives at one the Mrs Chiltern’s parties, Sir Robert is put to test. He has to face his past that was maybe not as squeaky-clean as his current image. In the fear of losing his position as well as the love of his wife, who adores him, Robert Chiltern has to make a quick decision and negotiate himself out of the mess. The plot offers no more than suspenseful scenes and dramatic revelations that are great fit to stage.

Oscar Wilde belongs to a class of his own and I am quite sad to see that I don’t own a larger reservoir of his works. I finished reading And Ideal Husband at the end of February, and though it isn’t as haunting as The Picture of Dorian Gray, the story is still very much vivid in my head. In the play Wilde pokes fun at the society that encourages men and women to set high expectations for each other and is more focused on the person’s image than their personality. It also explores the gender-based assumptions in a surprising depth. Upon reading Wilde’s satire, I couldn’t help but to see how the play would be adapted to a modern setting and be considered very current. An Ideal Husband is almost a farce, but the witty dialogue and the japes aimed at the society offer also a more critical reading of the play and its characters. I’ll definitely be re-reading the play in the future and will probably find something new every time. I cannot but highly recommend Oscar Wilde and An Ideal Husband for all those who enjoy their wit quick and dry and with a healthy dose of ridicule.

4/5

You silly Arthur! If you knew anything about…anything, which you don’t, you would know that I adore you. Everyone in London knows it except you. It is a public scandal the way I adore you. — I wonder you consent to have anything to say to me. I have no character left at all. At least, I feel so happy that I am quite sure I have no character left at all.

Despite the fact that most of the events take indoors, An Ideal Husband is my London stop for Reading England 2015. For more outside action around the city, I’d recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray.

reading england

Review: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

EBOOK; 32 P.
VINTAGE, 2014
SOURCE: PURCHASED

From Goodreads:

What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay – adapted from her much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. With humour and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century – one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviours that marginalise women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences – in the U.S., in her native Nigeria – offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike. Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a best-selling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today – and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.

As the blurb says, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award-winning novelist who was born in Nigeria and later moved to United States. She is an incredibly smart, educated and well-spoken person, and after reading this essay, I really want to read her other works. We Should All Be Feminists was originally a TEDx talk that she did in Euston in 2012 and that she later adapted into an essay. It has also been sampled in Beyoncé’s song, Flawless.

In We Should All Be Feminists Adichie shares her experiences of being a woman in Nigeria. Things she can and cannot do; things that are not available for her because of her gender. And although many of these things are not problems that women in developed countries face, she manages to swiftly weave in also issues that women in developed countries relate to. In addition to this, Adichie explains how her identity as a feminist or, as she jokingly calls it, “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men and Who Likes to Wear Lip Gloss and High Heels for Herself and Not For Men” developed.

We Should All Be Feminists is a short 30 page essay that should be read by both men and women. It convincingly lays down the arguments for feminism and also the reasons why the existing gender stereotypes are harmful. Gender is a social concept and thus subject to change. Adichie’s essay is definitely one that I can read again and again, and I’d highly recommend it for everyone who is interested in feminism. If you don’t have the time to read it, you can also watch and listen to Adichie’s TEDxEuston talk on YouTube.

4.5/5

Review: Never Trust a Happy Song by Natalie Bina

PAPERBACK; 246 P.
CREATESPACE, 2014
SOURCE: FROM THE AUTHOR

When Cassidy Diamond is admitted to a prestigious summer program at Stanford University, she looks forward to being surrounded by people just like herself: smart, studious, and antisocial. But when Cassidy is assigned to stay with the Harper family and meets their vivacious and uninhibited daughter Grace, the two girls clash at first sight. Cassidy is determined to not let Grace distract her from her studies, while Grace wants to show Cassidy that maybe her grades aren’t all she has going for her, and that life might be about more than building the perfect resume.

A few months ago an author approached me to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing her YA book, Never Trust a Happy Song. I was a bit hesitant at first, because I’ve lately felt that I’ve “outgrown” the YA genre. However, the premise of the book sounded interesting and I felt that at least I could relate to the problem of trying to balance life and studies. And I’m so glad that I did read this, because it was such a joy to read – a Sunday well spent!

Never Trust a Happy Song begins with Cassidy and her mom driving to Stanford, where Cassidy is going to spend the next three months studying maths and physics. This is the second summer that Cassidy spends studying, but unlike last summer, this time she is placed in a host family – the Harpers. From the get-go Cassidy feels like a stranger in the house: the family jokes with one another, does small talk during dinners, and the daughter, Grace, keeps following her around, inviting her to go bowling, shopping, etc. The summer program in Stanford is no joke, and Cassidy has to keep her head in the game if she wants to get good grades – which, according to her parents, she’ll need to ensure she’ll get to an Ivy League college. However, as she becomes more accustomed to living with the Harpers, she slowly starts to question whether she is making the right decisions.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the book although high school was ages ago. Never Trust a Happy Song reminded me of both the academic and social pressures that are at work, but also about the importance of making your own decisions. Cassidy’s mother is one of those “tiger mothers” that keep pushing their children to work harder in order for them to gain success. Reading about Cassidy’s experience and about finding her own voice was sort of inspiring. The only thing that bothered me slightly was the fact that in the beginning of the book I had some trouble picturing the characters. However, as the story progressed the characters also began to grow and pull the story together. Besides that, there were also some scenes that could have been developed further to push the envelope. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Never Trust a Happy Song and I’d recommend it to everyone who’s feeling unsure about the future or anxious about applying to college/university.

Never Trust a Happy Song will be re-released as an ebook on March 10th.

4/5

The unspoken words pressed down like a new form of gravity.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.

Update of sorts

midterms1

Gosh, I’m not really good at this consistent blogging thing. Midterms always manage to surprise me with their intensity, and my blogging backlist just keeps growing and growing. This post is just to let you know that I’m working on writing reviews for the last 5 books I’ve read and that they should be appearing in your blog feeds during the next few weeks. In the meanwhile, I’ll be writing those research papers and revising for exams. Hopefully I’ll be in the clear by the end of March and will have some more time and energy to devote to blogging. x

February Reads and March Plans

Hello, friends!

February was not an easy month for me. Sure, a lot of fun and exciting things happened in February – such as a fun one-day adventure to the coastal city of Turku – but I also felt very tired and stressed during the month. I guess I fell into a sort of reading and blogging slump around the middle of February, because first I had no time to read and later, when I would have had time, I didn’t feel like reading. However, I did manage to complete 5 books (plus one that I technically finished today, but will count for February, because that’s when I read most of it) in February, so my slump wasn’t really as bad as I thought it was.

Books I read in February:

Terrifying Tales is a collection of seven short ghost stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. I had previously only read Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven, so I was positively surprised by how scary and creepy these stories were even though they were written in the 19th century. My favourites were The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado and The Masque of the Red Death, but there were also some stories that didn’t really do anything for me. For example, I found The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter to be too much like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Overall, I really enjoyed Poe’s writing style and would like to read more of his short stories. 3.5/5

Books on my TBR:

  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl (currently reading)
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  • Never Trust a Happy Song by Natalie Bina

I started reading Night Film at the end of February, but because it is huge I’m only about halfway through. It is very good in a way that is not too creepy but definitely ominous, and I especially love how the book has been put together with all its pictures and websites. The story of Night Film, in short, follows a journalist who is trying to solve the case of a famous film director’s daughter’s suicide. The director, specialised in underground horror films, has not made a public appearance since 1977, and the journalist believes there is some terrible secret behind the whole family.

Since I am not sure how much reading time I will be having in March, I decided to keep my March TBR short and add on more books only if I have time. I’d love to be able to read dozens of books at the same time, but unfortunately that’s just not me. My February TBR was overly ambitious, so there were a lot of books that I didn’t get the chance to read in the month. Thus I transferred all the leftover titles to my March TBR along with The Snow Child which I picked up from the library by chance. Maybe this month I’ll actually complete reading my TBR?

Cheers! x