Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Book Review- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Penelopiad
Author: Margaret Atwood
Series: Canongate Myths
Published:  October 2005
Length:  198 pages
Source: library
Other info: Atwood has written many things, such as The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Heart Goes Last. The Penelopiad was written as part of the Canongate Myths series.
Summary : For Penelope, wife of Odysseus, maintaining a kingdom while her husband was off fighting the Trojan war was not a simple business. Already aggrieved that he had been lured away due to the shocking behaviour of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must bring up her wayward son, face down scandalous rumours and keep over a hundred lustful, greedy and bloodthirsty suitors at bay...And then, when Odysseus finally returns and slaughters the murderous suitors, he brutally hangs Penelope's twelve beloved maids. What were his motives? And what was Penelope really up to? 

Review: Since her husband Odysseus left to fight in the Trojan War, and then gets caught up for ten years on the way back, Penelope has been left running her household, and fighting off suitors who want to marry her, and eat her out of house and home. Now that she's dead, she's ready to tell her side of the tale, as are the twelve maids who were hanged.
According to Goodreads, I read this a few years ago and gave it three stars, but I don't remember doing that. Now I know the Odyssey a bit more, and we're doing a feminist-orientated piece of English coursework, I decided to pick this up, and now I understand things better, I loved it.
There's reinterpretations and challenges to the characters and stories. Obviously, there's those against Odysseus, where there's the question of whether the Cyclops he fought was a monster or a one-eyed barkeeper, and whether his years with Circe and Calypso were spent in brothels or nymphs and witches. But there's also a conversation with Antinous, one of the suitors, explaining why they wanted to marry Penelope so much, and the presentation of Helen as vain, proud, and wanting to conquer men just because she can. Atwood has taken inspiration from multiple sources, not just Homer's epic, but also theories from Robert Graves (who used many writers to inform his work) and Homeric hymns. I like the possibilities this gave Atwood to work with, and the ways she used them.
Penelope's voice often dryly comments on various parts of the stories, and I enjoyed her different insights. What I liked most was the use of the chorus, the twelve maids, whose chapters mostly alternate with Penelope's and change styles each time. Poems, songs, plays, and a transcript of a modern-day murder trial are some of the ways the maids pass their story on in many ways. The writing is well crafted, allowing each of the styles as well as Penelope's main narration to work together to make a story that is intriguing and easy to read.

Overall: Strength 5 tea to a book that makes you think about the different interpretations a myth can have, and provides a new one.

Friday, 23 October 2015

YA Shot Tour- Interview with Lisa Williamson

Today, I’m very excited to welcome Lisa Williamson on the YA Shot tour!
YA Shot is an event that will take place  in Uxbridge on 28 October, organised by Alexia Casale and many other people. Over 71  will be there, tickets are up-to £20, and there’s a full day of panels and booky –MG and YA- things happening!

 Lisa Williamson is the author of The Art of Being Normal, which I reviewed here and really enjoyed. I got the chance to interview her, and I loved her answers, and couldn’t wait to share!

Do you think reading is important for teens today, and why?

I do! I'm convinced those who read fiction make for kinder, more sensitive and empathetic people. Having said that, not every teen is going to be reader and I think it's important we don't ever make anyone feel bad or inadequate about not reading for pleasure. What we should really be doing is finding a way of exposing reluctant readers to the range and breadth of books out there in such a way that doesn't feel enforced. I often meet young people who adore the Hunger Games films but would never think of reading the books. Changing that mindset without being preachy is hard! I often describe my personal experience of reading the Hunger Games for the first time and try to communicate just how intense that was, because instead of sitting in a cinema full of people watching Katniss fight to the death, I was actually there with her, in her head, just the two of us! For me growing up, books represented escape and relaxation. I loved how private and personal my relationship with a book felt, regardless of how many other people I knew had also read it. Reading also helped me figure out who I was, or rather who I wanted to be, and how to make sense of my place in the world. 

Has reading ever done anything for you that you wouldn't mind sharing?

As I mentioned, as a teenager, reading was an escape. When I was thirteen, I was bullied for a short but intense period. Reading made me feel safe and a bit less lonely. I've grown up with the feeling that books are my friend. 

Do you have any stories of people saying how TAOBN has helped them?

I do, and it's probably been the best part of being a published author. TOABN is told from the point of view of a young transgender person, and although I'd done masses of research and endeavoured to be as authentic and sensitive as possible, I was mindful of my responsibility as an author and, pre-publication, very fearful of 'getting it wrong'. Since the book has been out, I've been overwhelmed by the tweets and emails I've received. One young person said the book gave him the courage to come out to his parents. Another said she'd given it to her friends to help them understand what she's going through. Another said how happy she'd been to see the book displayed proudly in a high street bookshop and how it made her feel like she was no longer 'a freak'. All these messages have moved me deeply and demonstrate just how vital diverse books are! 

Do you think books can help people in ways that other media can't?

Books are an amazing tool for sparking discussion. It can be daunting to have a conversation with your family about, for example, gender identity, but if you use a fictional story as a stimulus, it can be a much easier and safer way in. My boyfriend's mother died recently having suffered from Alzheimer's for a number of years. There is a lot of literature on the subject available online. However, I found the most useful material for helping me understand the disease were fictional titles (namely Still Alice, Elizabeth is Missing and Unbecoming). By inviting me to step into the shoes of a dementia sufferer, my perceptions and understanding were turned upside down and I feel I became more compassionate and patient as a result. Emotions are so powerful and I think stories that tap into this part of our brain have the power to change hearts and minds in a way I just don't think a pamphlet or online article can. 

What's your favourite way of promoting books to teens?

Talking to them! I love talking to teenagers, not just about books but pretty much anything that excites them. I did an event recently where I ended up talking a lot about my personal experiences as a teenager. I was really open about being bullied and being in an emotionally abusive relationship and feeling scared about my future and afterwards several teens came forward and opened up to me in return. I think there's a real expectation that adults have their shit together and I wonder if we're doing teenagers a disservice by not being more open about our thoughts and feelings, even if they're in retrospect. I think it would have made a massive difference to me growing up. 
I also love speaking at literary festivals. A whole festival devoted to books? What's not to love? 

How important do you think compulsory reading eg for GCSEs is?

I think it's very important, even if those young people never go on to read a single book ever again. However, I definitely feel it's time to shake up the reading list. Teenagers are reading the same books I read at school twenty years ago and that's not right. For one, the teachers need to feel passionate about what they're teaching and how can they feel energised and motivated to teach a book when it's the tenth, twentieth, maybe even thirtieth time they've shared it with a class? The books I remember from school are often the ones I got the sense my teacher really got a kick out of teaching us.

I wonder if it's at all practical to introduce weekly or even daily 'story time' in schools? Every time I read aloud in a school, the kids seem to really chill out and actually listen. It made me think of how there's something really relaxing and uniting about listening to a story in a big group. Being read to at school would also mean young people who don't usually read off their own backs would be exposed to stories they would wouldn't be otherwise, and might, just might, be motivated enough by the experience to seek out a book of their own. 

If you could give one book to every teenager, what would it be and why?

Yikes, that's tough! This is perhaps a more female-focussed title (although I think boys should most definitely seek it out too!) but 'Am I Normal Yet?' by Holly Bourne is an utter joy, celebrating female friendship in a way that's not often seen in YA fiction. It's also funny and moving and explores mental health in a way that's really accessible and real. I also recently read 'Goodbye Stranger' by Rebecca Stead. It's for slightly younger readers (the protagonist is twelve) and absolutely nails the nature of adolescent friendships in a very beautiful and understated way. I'm all about the friendship at the moment! 

Reminder: you can find Lisa on Twitter here, TAOBN on Goodreads here, and you can buy it in hardback from Hive or from David Fickling. If you’d like to wait for the paperback, it’ll be here on 7th January 2016.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Theatre Review: Willy's Bitches

 I'm sorry for taking so long to get this up! 

Title: Willy’s Bitches
Written By: Shannon Thurstone
Performed by: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Director: Philip Howard
Music: Tamara Saringer 
Seen at: Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh Fringe
Review: Willy’s Bitches is a cabaret show featuring various women of Shakespeare. A variety of characters are used, selected from tragedies, comedies, and histories, and they take you on a journey of classical dialogue and modern music.
 So, there’s a joke in my family that anything I read/watch is gay, feminist, murderous, or Shakespeare. I was looking through the giant list of shows at Edinburgh and I came across this, which promised to be three of these things...I had to go and see it!
My favourites were Rachel Graham as a cold, distant, creepy Lady Macbeth, and Hannah Kerbes and Samantha Taylor Burnes as Beatrice and Kate, drinking and singing a bawdy song. Jenny Douglas was a really strong Julia, who is played with a lot more madness than a)I would have read from Two Gentleman of Verona and b) than Brigid Shine’s sweet and vulnerable Ophelia. Melanie Morton and Shannon Thurston make a great comic pair as Helena and Hermia fighting, while Queen Mary (Ash Henning) was powerful and terrifying.  I’m also in love with how they  performed Lavinia’s part, with eerie harmonising as she emerges following her mutilation, then Lauren Meyer sings a powerful song about rape culture.
The music is really good- I wish they’d released a soundtrack. The harmonies introducing Lavinia sounded brilliant, and every actress had a voice that fit their song. There’s a small band on stage, which provides the men for the women to interplay with, which I liked seeing (Lady Macbeth scaring I think it was the clarinettist, while the guitarist takes the part of York). The music varies between styles, which fit the plays being referenced.
The staging was simple, some chairs and a table, which got moved around as and when needed. By costume, we saw each of the plays being set in very different settings, mixing the canon time period with modern with 50s fashion, and I liked the mixture of aesthetics.
I wasn’t expecting it to be in this format (being listed as a musical, I was expecting all the women to interplay with each other a lot more than they did, and it would have been nice if they had) but the transitions from play to play worked, even if it did just end seemingly randomly following Margaret’s section. I’d have also liked a bit more of the speech to come through, and to get to know a bit more of the women’s stories from what I saw on stage, rather than filling in gaps with research afterwards.

Overall: Strength 4 tea to a strong new take on Shakespeare


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Happy Bisexual Visibility Day!

So, I'm still snowed under with work because fitting everything around a personal statement that needs to be in in two days, four hundred characters shorter than it currently is while still conveying everything I want it to, is making me lose the will to live. Still, I need a break, and I thought I'd do a little post. And it's Bisexual Visibility Day (at least for the next three two hours-it took me a long time to write this). I could do a thoughtful post of what I want or don't want in bisexual representation in fiction/the media, or other analyses. But as I'm kind of tired, so here's a few of some of my favourite bisexual (using my definition of characters  "has the ability to be attracted to 1)people of our own gender and 2)people of other genders") I've encountered in books.

Micah and Drystan from Pantomime by Laura Lam (my review here)
They're really intriguing people-we meet them in a circus,  in book two, they're magicians, Drystan's funny, and Micah's genearlly awesome.  Also, their relationship is adorable (if only Laura hadn't done -that- to Aenea!!!)

Kitty and Delilah from Hollow Pike by James Dawson (my review here)
The last time I read Hollow Pike was a few years ago, and my memory is kind of hazy, but I remember loving how  Kitty stands up for herself,  while Delilah is eternally sweet, and they make a brilliant couple.

Professor Lyall from The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger
I think I remember Akeldama saying that Lyall was bi... If he is, he makes this list- werewolf beta who gained a professorship from studying sheep breeding, makes sarcastic remarks and

Magnus Bane from the Infernal Devices/ Mortal Instruments series  by Cassandra Clare
Once again, another character whose sarky comments make me love them. Also, his magic, his adventures, and his fashion sense.

Olivia, Orsino, and Viola from Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
OK, it's not officially stated, but Orsino does fall for Viola while he believes she's a man, Viola's soliloquy never says she's rejecting Olivia, she just seems to be "argh we're all in love in a A loves B loves C thing", and I don't think  Olivia would have minded too much to have married Viola (believing her to be a man), then later found her a woman, having already fallen in love.

I've also read other books featuring bisexual characters- Far From You, Grasshopper Jungle, Adaptation... I can't make my mind think of them right now- but I wouldn't be putting them on this list because the characters weren't as memorable. And sorry for such a short post! I hope to be able to concentrate on blogging soon... *needs sleep first*

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Book Review- This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Title:   This is Where It Ends

Author:  Marieke Nijkamp
Series:   N/A
Published:    5th January 2016
Length:  292 pages
Source: The #TIWIEUKTour organised by Luna of Luna’s Little Library
Summary :  10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won't open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Review: This is the story of a school shooting, told as it happens from the perspectives of the shooter's sister Autumn, Autumn's girlfriend Sylv, Sylv's brother Tom├ís, and the shooter's ex-girlfriend, Claire. 
I wanted to read this because it's an amazing setup, and Marieke is brilliant on Twitter.
This was a would-be-one-sitting-if-life-didnt-get-in-the-way book.  It starts normally, setting up friendships and relationships (quite a few, and it’s a little confusing   because there’s lots of people introduced at the same time but you pick it up as you carry on)  to start with it’s just a normal school day  but after 10.05 it's full on until the end. There's books where you can't stop reading, then there's this.
I liked the multimedia approach, showing tweets, blogs, and texts from those involved and on the outside. The helplessness of everyone on the outside comes through, and I liked the way Marieke showed how tragedy doesn’t just affect those there.
Emotions. All the emotions for everyone. Particularly on page 212 of the proof, where one character slips into the conditional and that’s one of the most heartbreaking parts in the book (there's a few). But everywhere you see characters you know and don't know and fear for them and need to know what's going to happen.
I think the biggest thing about this book for me is how immediate it is. I’m  someone who’s grown up in the UK, where the last school shooting happened in 1996, before I was born, and was followed by pressure groups and the banning of handguns. As a result, when we hear of things like this happening, it’s horrifying and upsetting but you still feel distanced because, despite knowing that this could happen anywhere, living in the UK with its strict gun control laws makes it  harder to imagine a society where there’s the possibility of something like this happening and you practise what to do if it does, despite knowing that this is some people’s reality.
 TIWIE does one of the things I like most about reading contemporary/realistic fiction: make different situations real. The fully diverse cast of victims, survivors, and shooter is developed, and we see their dreams, their experiences, and lives. We see the people involved as people, not just names in a news report, which is, I think, why TIWIE is so hard hitting.

Overall:  Strength 5 tea to one of the most intense books I've ever read.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Theatre Review: Secret Shakespeare by William Shakespeare and The Handlebards

So, my Edinburgh Fringe theatre reviews are ready to be posted! They’ll come as often as I can, but I have a lot of school work to do, plus I’m doing work exp
erience at a law firm and ugh travelling is tiring. They’ll come though. And book reviews will resume shortly, and maybe some other things. Thanks for sticking around!   

Title:  Secret Shakespeare (A Shakespeare play, but I can't say which one)
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: James Farrell & Emma Sampson
Performed by: The Handlebards
Major cast:  Calum Hughes Mcintosh,  Callum Brodie, Tom Dixon, Paul Moss
Seen at:  ...somewhere pretty.

Review: The Handlebards are four actors who have been cycling up from London to Edinburgh, carrying their costumes and props, and stopping every so often to perform a show. Secret Shakespeare is where the audience joins them to meet up in the city centre, get given bikes, ride out about 5 miles-ish, and then enjoy the show. I'm not allowed to tell you much about the play in specifics, due to the secret thing, but I'll say what I can.
The ride was easy, even for someone who hasn't ridden for years, and led by professionals. We cycled through parts of the city I probably would never have seen if I'd spent all my time in the centre, so that was nice.
The location was beautiful. Beautiful behind the audience, beautiful behind the stage, it was a great place to be. It's an open air show, with tents providing the wings and gazebos for the audience to sit under. Oh, and the rain wasn't too bad!
When they said what play they were doing, I was very happy. I hadn't seen it before, but I was familiar with the storyline.
I love the puppetry. It's first used to illustrate the exposition speech, which was very useful because it is a confusing set up. It's later used to represent characters in some scenes where there's meant to be more than four characters on stage. Other ways of getting around the "only four actors" thing includes holding out key identifying costume pieces, audience participation, and plates.
The multiroling is superb. All four actors have to switch costumes and characters very very quickly, sometimes speaking back to themselves. Costume, voice, and movement changes make clearly defined characters. I really enjoyed the characterisation, especially of the women.
I did find it going a bit too fast in places, and I'm not sure if it's because of the Handlebards format or the writing. Probably both. Despite this, I really enjoyed the show.

Overall:  Strength 5 tea to an inventive take on an old play, and a great evening out.

Links:  Company