Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
This is the first book I have read by Libba Bray who is, in fact, quite the prolific author and incredibly popular amongst fans of Young Adult literature. My interest was peaked in Bray’s writing after reading an article she had written here for EW that Monica from SheMightBeMonica shared online. Upon reading Bray’s article I immediately ordered both A Great and Terrible Beauty and Beauty Queens by the author. Seeing her discuss the influences and objectives of her young adult work made me see them in a much more complex light than perhaps the blurbs alone would have. Not only did my first foray into her work not disappoint, it far exceeded all of my expectations. A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first in her Gemma Doyle series and what a beginning it is.
The year is 1895 and our story follows Gemma Doyle, a young woman from a wealthy English family who has spent her entire life thus far growing up in India. After tragedy strikes, however, her life is uprooted and she is sent to board at a girls’ finishing school in England. Her life in England is far more than elocution lessons and keeping up with this season’s latest fashions; Miss Doyle is haunted by visions of another world, one both terrifying and beautiful.
This book melds together 19th century Britain, female friendships, sexual awakenings and magic. The story and characters are engaging and mysterious with so much more bubbling under the surface. There is so much I enjoyed about this first book in the series that it is difficult to condense my feelings for you in one blog post, but here I go.
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Around the world, the 8th of March is International Women’s Day. Originally founded in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the women who have fought for change and is an opportunity to discuss current issues faced by different people across the world and what can be done to initiate change, inspired by those who have gone before us.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight just a few individuals, groups, projects and reading materials that you can watch, read, follow and get involved in.
You can also watch my International Women’s Day Reading List video here.
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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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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 Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
What can I say about this book that I haven’t said before? Probably nothing so that’s why I’m going to start at the beginning and probably repeat some things that the 3 people who have actually watched every single one of my YouTube videos will have heard before.
This post is not a book review per say but the first in a series of posts sharing with you the ‘books that made me’; this is to say the books that have stuck with me since the day I read them, that have had an impact on the decisions I have made, the way I perceive the world and the person I am today, big or small. You can assume that I recommend each and everyone of these books before I say anything else and what I’d like to do here is just give some context to what that book has meant to me in my life.
So back to The Penelopiad.
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My boyfriend and I recently watched 17 Again: a film where Zac Efron plays the part of a middle age man who through divine janitorial intervention is transformed back into his 17 year old self and has to attend high school with his two teenage children. The film was fine, made me laugh, nothing out of this world. This is not a film review.
During the film Zac Efron’s character delivered an instructional speech to three girls who finding him attractive, decide to get their flirt on and let him know they are interested. His words (I’m quoting from memory here) were:
Girls! ‘If you don’t respect yourselves, how will men ever be able to respect you.’
Stop right there Zac Efron, or more accurately the screenwriters of 17 Again! Please, this is enough. This is another phrase I hear constantly especially in films and television. And it is seemingly portrayed as empowering message to young women… does no one else see the problem here?
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Let me preface this post by pointing out that I can honestly say that no woman has had a greater and more positive impact on my life than my mother. This post will highlight women who I do not personally know, however, that have still managed to provide me with positive role-models during different ages and phases in my life without even realising it.
It can sometimes be difficult as a girl or a woman to find other women to look up to. If you want to be a comedian it might be hard to see yourself on panel shows along side male comedians, who although often incredibly intelligent and witty you may find it harder to see yourself in or feel you can emulate in your career goals. I myself wish to write and especially write academic material. Unfortunately, however, academia is still a very male dominated sphere. Once again that is not to say the men who have worked hard to attain their doctorates are not incredibly deserving of their university positions but as a young woman striving to find her place it can be difficult when the books you are reading and the lectures you are attending are so often delivered by men. It is not unnatural to wonder, especially in the insecure, malleable age post-high school whilst making your first forays into higher education, is there a place for me here? And I was raised by strong, unsilenceable socialist feminists who told me I could be anything I wanted to be.
I wanted, therefore, to write this post and focus in on three women in the media that have inspired me in various different ways and might in turn inspire you too.
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