The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley

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Title: The Arrival of Missives

Author: Aliya Whiteley

Publisher: Unsung Stories

Feeling: Expectant

★★★★

Prior to reading this novella I had read Aliya Whiteley’s other short novel The Beauty and a selection of her short stories; all of which deeply unsettled and disturbed me (The Beauty genuinely gave me nightmares). This is not a criticism, however, Whiteley’s writing is beautifully addictive and I was ready to read anything she wrote. I, therefore, instantly requested a copy of The Arrival of the Missives upon its release. For one reason or another, it took me a few months before I actually got a chance to read it but as soon as I arrived back at my parents home in Edinburgh for Christmas, where my books currently reside, I picked it up off the shelf. A decision I do not regret! I sped through this book, I quite literally could not put it down and it has made me all the more excited to see what Whiteley comes out with next.

The premise of the story begins with our protagonist Shirley, a 17-year-old girl about to complete her schooling and living on a farm in rural, post World War 1 Britain. We are made aware from the offset of the novel that she has feelings for her 24-year-old school teacher Mr. Tiller who returned from the war permanently injured. It is her intention, however, to make her feelings known to him now that her schooling is coming to an end in order for them to be together. From that point on absolutely nothing goes as you would expect it to.

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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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Title: The Wonder

Author: Emma Donoghue

Publisher: Picador

Feeling: Steady

★★★★

I was a little apprehensive to pick up Emma Donoghue’s latest novel. Having previously read two of her other works and absolutely adored both I had high expectations for anything else she wrote. High expectations, can, sometimes be a terrible burden for any book to handle. The Wonder, however, bore my hopes steadfastly throughout my reading experience and assured me that Donoghue’s beautiful prose are here to stay.

The story is set in 1850’s Ireland and follows our protagonist Libby, an Englishwoman unfamiliar with rural Ireland. She was trained as a nurse by the renowned Florence Nightingale and thus comes with a certain reputation. She has been specifically hired to watch over Anna, an eleven year old Irish girl who has supposedly not allowed a morsel of food to pass her lips in the past four months. Naturally a collective of authority figures including priest and doctor wish to discover whether this is due to divine intervention or some trick that is being played; it is Libby’s duty to find out.

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100 Women Writers

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I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of lists, especially from mainstream outlets, suggesting ‘100 Books You Should Have Read in Your Lifetime’ are dominated by male authors. Fantastic authors with great books, sure, but nevertheless unrepresentative of the population makeup. My mum and I have a penchant for scrolling through these lists together and seeing how many of the books on it we have read – my mum in particular likes to set herself the goal of reading as many of these books as possible. More often than not, however, we despair at the overwhelming gender bias they present. Even when I sought out specifically female focused lists of ‘100 Authors You Must Read’ they did not offer 100 female authors but 100 books by female authors many of which were written by the same authors.

This is in no way due to a lack of phenomenal women writers to chose from. As fantastic as Jane Austen is (you will see her featured here) there are many more women writers out there. So I have decided to curate my own list of ‘100 Women Writers I Need To Read In My Lifetime’. The women on this list go as far back as antiquity and as far forward as the 21st century. They have been pulled from the suggestions on the standard ‘100 Books To Read’ lists, my own experience with women writers who have made important contributions to literature and recommendations from my mum (with a few adages from friends). Each and every one deserves to be on this list but it didn’t take long for me to realise 100 was a very small number; this list is, therefore, by no means exhaustive.

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Smoke by Dan Vyleta

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Title: Smoke

Author: Dan Vyleta

Publisher: Orion

Feeling: Confused

★★½

It brings me a little sadness to review this book because despite an exciting beginning I had unfortunately fallen completely out of love with it by the end.

The premise of this book is undeniably unique and undoubtedly what peaked my interest when I was offered a copy to review from the publisher. The story takes place in an England unlike that that exists now; potentially a future version of the country but one that feels as though it is set a couple of hundred years in the past. That is, with one major difference: smoke. In the world that Vyleta has created smoke is an inescapable phenomenon. It is seen as a physical manifestation of sin amongst humans. When individuals lie, act through aggression or lust or even just think uncouth thoughts they begin to smoke. The reason for smoke it is not, however, as clear cut as it might seem. In fact what really created smoke was one of the fascinating mysteries that had me engaged in the story from the beginning; I wanted answers.

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Awesome Internet Links

Back in January I did a roundup of links to articles and general internet tomfoolery I had enjoyed that month for your perusal (see here). Although I haven’t managed to post regular monthly roundups of awesome internet links I am feeling the urge to share some things with all of you in one place again so perhaps this will become an irregular, unscheduled form of post here on my blog if you enjoy it. But without further ado here are some links to things I have discovered online in the recent weeks!

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The Hunger Games the 2nd Time Around

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Over the span of the last week, I have re-read Suzanne Collins’ entire Hunger Games trilogy for the second time and what an adventure it has been. I originally read the trilogy shortly after the first film was released on DVD and I watched it one night not expecting much but coming away thoroughly surprised and impressed. After that I just had to read the books; I had to know what happened to Katniss, Peeta & the rest of the citizens of Panem. So I delved in with the first book in the series only to learn so much more than the film had shared with me and continued to zoom through books two and three. I was honestly shocked by how these books actually managed to successfully live up to the hype I had been hearing from left, right and centre; just based on past experience.

Now, four years on, I decided it was time to re-read the series for the first time. I am an avid re-reader as much as I am an avid reader. If life is proving stressful there is nothing I find more soothing than to return to a story that brought me joy the first time around and re-emerse myself in its pages. The re-read often provides with me with as equally an exciting journey as the original read, a return to old emotions and the discovery of new. The Hunger Games did not disappoint. Everything I enjoyed about the series the first time around was waiting for me and something extra too.

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The Left-wing Labour Cult

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Photograph: A Labour Party contingent during a 1980s demonstration to protect a woman’s right to choose. On the farthest left hand side is my mum and with her some of those fantastic friends I mention.

This is a response to not only Hadley Freeman’s latest article for The Guardian (which in short describes Corbyn supporters as cult members) but the many pieces carrying similar sentiments I have seen since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader.

For once I am going to up sell myself because I think it is necessary under these circumstances: I am an intelligent young woman and I consider myself to be equally compassionate and empathetic. I have been engaged in politics since the day my mum stood outside a polling station to support the Labour party, adorned with a red rosette and a baby in a sling (me). I continued to attend political rallies and demonstrations throughout my childhood and adulthood. I wrote the only vaguely political articles for my high-school newspaper in my final years of attendance. I got involved in student protests against the rise in tuition fees and government cuts during my undergraduate degree. I founded an intersectional feminist bookclub online to provide a safe space for those who were interested to discuss feminist literature without fear of being attacked. I have first hand experience of online abuse for daring to even mention I might have opinions; stupid little girl.

I also joined the Labour Party in early 2014 because despite having campaigned against Tony Blair’s policies on multiple occasions I saw an opportunity to be a part of an organisation that was founded on left-wing ideologies and may very well, with support, be able to provide a real alternative to the gruesome austerity measures put in place by the Conservative party. This was before Jeremy Corbyn was even nominated to run in the next year’s leadership election. That is not to say that my opinion as a member is of any more value than those who joined because of Corbyn; they too were inspired by the possibility of a political party, founded by trade unions (more cults?), that might once again defend the rights of the majority in the UK.

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