The Silk Merchant’s Daughter by Dinah Jefferies

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Another 400 pages of the good stuff

Published by Penguin, 25th Feb 2016, 400 pages, £9.99

Quick description: historical fiction, mystery romance, adventure, 1950s Indochina, war.

Steam?: moderate

Plot: 1952, French Indochina. Since her mother’s death, eighteen-year-old half-French, half-Vietnamese Nicole has been living in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Sylvie. When Sylvie is handed control of the family silk business, Nicole is given an abandoned silk shop in the Vietnamese quarter of Hanoi. But the area is teeming with militant rebels who want to end French rule, by any means possible. For the first time, Nicole is awakened to the corruption of colonial rule – and her own family’s involvement shocks her to the core…

Tran, a notorious Vietnamese insurgent, seems to offer the perfect escape from her troubles, while Mark, a charming American trader, is the man she’s always dreamed of. But who can she trust in this world where no one is what they seem?

I became a fan of Dinah Jefferies after reading The Tea Planter’s Wife, so much drama, secrets, jealousy and heart-ache. I was so pleased to receive this latest release in my book-mail, neatly wrapped in ribbon and surprising me with a thank-you message from the author! Not too shabby..

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I actually preferred this book to Tea Planter… The protagonist, Nicole, is younger, so it has a coming-of-age dimension. She’s also a little bit more gutsy and has a sweet joie de vivre about her, which I warmed up to immediately. This novel is also lighter. There is plenty of mystery , secrets and action-packed moments that will get you very addicted. But there is more joy and happiness that overpowers the sadness.

It might have been my crave to visit Vietnam which drew me into Dinah’s beautiful descriptions of daily life; the streets, the leaves, and the aroma of local food- the author paints it all so vividly. The plot is also a very fast-paced adventure. Nicole constantly meets somebody new, uncovers a new secret, discovers a new location.. She takes a journey, experiencing both the French and Vietminh way of life, and struggling to decide who to support. As the war efforts increase, the novel get ever more gripping as Nicole is drawn in to the middle of it.

Nicole’s relationship with her sister is an element that Dinah excels in; conveying the deepest and darkest side to human behavior. It really tugs against your emotions this one. This complicated sisterhood sits at the heart of the plot. The confusion, conflict and resolution begins and ends the novel. As Nicole finds a way to shape her own identity, this mirrors Vietminh’s enduring resistance and eventual take-over of the French.

The romance here has so many twists and turns. There are crushes, curiosities, doubts, passion, heart-break and tearful reunions. There are more sweet than heated moments and plenty of jealousy and back-stabbing to add to the juice.

To sum it up, this book is wonderful and spent a lot of time resting on my knee.

Thank you Penguin General for my review copy, and your fabulous interns xx

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Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

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Published by Harper Collins, March 2016, 400 pages, £7.99

Quick description: YA dystopia.

Plot: Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan. But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.

I was excited to get my hands on a copy of this, mainly because I am still crying inside after Where Rainbows End. This book got very addictive. Sure, its got loud echoes from Hunger Games and its sisters. I didn’t really find it annoying- or maybe I just haven’t read that many dystopias. Overall it was very thrilling. I love reading about young characters re-discovering the world around them, standing up to injustices, and finding their own voice. Celestine was breezing through life until she saw something that wasn’t right. She spends the rest of the book sticking to her belief and trying to decide between right and wrong.

The Flawed world is less violent than HG- its motive is about keeping society pure from bad judgement and its consequence. This soon spirals out of control. Those at the perfect top are abusing their power, and people start fighting in the street about morals. A revolution is brewing. Celestine gets caught between clashing power-heads as they clamber to use her as a mascot. She also gets caught between two guys, affectionate boyfriend and hulking loner. This all sounds very unoriginal and repetitive, but I think the novel has a clear message (and you can never have too many love triangles).

Its not just about pent-up teen angst- its about how people ignore cruelty unless it directly involves them.

Celestine watches as her neighbor gets dragged away mercilessly, and her sister and boyfriend in turn do the same to her. Once you are flawed, you are branded for life. You have a curfew, a diet, your own section on the bus (sounds horribly familiar?), and people treat you as scum because they feel you deserve it. Of course nobody wants to help you, because they will face the same fate. This attitude applies to bullying, racism, sexism, poverty and other prejudices. Novels like this help you see the daily acts that inspire dystopias. The constant paranoia to be perfect and blend in resonates at any age, but particularly adolescents; which is why its good to be reminded that mistakes make you better.

This novel is fast-paced with heap of ugly and compassionate personalities which will get you reeling and welling up with emotion. Let’s hope it keeps up the action because I can’t wait for the sequel.

Many thanks to Harper Collins for my review copy xx

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Happy Chinese New Year

 

Top Feminist Books I’ve read so far

Uno.

EVERYDAY SEXISM by Laura Bates

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Published by Simon & Schuster, April 2015, 384 pages, £7.00

This book is absolutely AMAZING. I recommend it wholeheartedly. I think it should accompany school curriculum. I think every young man and woman should read it. I think copies should be distributed to walkers by in the street. I think if everybody read it the world would be a little better. But its not. And that’s why this book was made. EVERYDAY SEXISM is a project founded by Laura Bates that allows women to express their continued frustration with sexism of all monstrous shapes; the subtle, the gross, the accepted, and the endless. Bates created an online space (www.everydaysexism.com @everydaysexism) which people can share stories and motivate each other to take action. I have shared a few comments. Because sexism is everywhere. And it’s the sneaky ones that happen, get ignored and you realize it a few years later, which are potentially the worst. It means that sexism is normalized.

Bates and a new generation of feminists are on the war-path to strip down whatever you were brought up to think was normal.

This book covers the spectrum of society. It is held by the prism that is infected- social, economic and political. It address education, work, marriage, children, race. It goes through women in media, women in politics, and women portrayed in culture. Each chapter complies a list of tweets, shocking stories shared by the public and factual accounts researched by the author. These are indeed shocking stories, that will leave your mouth gaping at the indecency, the disrespect and the sadness that so many women and men have had to endure. The book highlights the daily jibes to the physical violence. There were so many issues that I had no idea about (which only means there’s so much more). And so many things that got me doing a U-turn. Like why was the media obsessed with Princess Kate’s post-pregant body? And yeah, why do people joke about men and child care?

This book is charged. Its more than just bounded paper. It’s voices that are getting louder.

Let’s hope it wakes a lot of people up and motivate them to see through a change. Believe it or not, I was actually a little worried about reading this in public. I was worried what people would think. Feminism has always gone through an ‘F-word’ stage. But my worry only validates the book even more. Why should I be conscious of what I read. I should be able to read whatever the hell I want!

Be warned though, this book will make you angry. It will get your face all screwed up and maybe even red with anger. And no- we won’t cheer up, take your darlin’ and shove it-.

Two. 

THE BEAUTY MYTH by Naomi Wolf

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Published by Vintage, September 1991, 348 pages, £7.69

Beauty is a construct. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We can all agree with these statements. But how far are we really going to agree? Naomi Wolf does just that. She argues that beauty was created as a means to control women for political reasons. Can this really be true? Wolf believes so. And she argues it, with research, dates and statistics, fiercely. Wolf gets a lot of flak for being too far-fetched. There are some statements I am not sure about. For example, beauty being advertised more fervently to counter any political success women have made, like getting the vote.  In my opinion, beauty is just a chameleon that adapts with time.

Whether or not you agree that beauty is in the hands of rich powerful men, or dieting is like a religious cult, or professional women are pressured to be sexy, any woman would agree that beauty does to some extent imprisons them.

Why do some of us have a go-to technician for our eye-brows? Why do we need to think about anti-aging creams as we near thirty? Let’s think hard about why we ACTUALLY need to wear make-up.

But it’s not just that. Its the fact that, even after reading this book, I still wear it. Once you come to this level of realization, then some of Wolf’s theories will blow your mind.

Three.

VAGINA by Naomi Wolf

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Published by Virago, December 2013, 512 pages, £9.98.

A very striking cover to match a very striking book. I was also conscious about reading this in public. I still think the ‘vagina’ can only really be referenced academically or medically. Otherwise, there is a whole array of distasteful nicknames used for it. I’m glad Naomi Wolf decided to read a book about it. She draws a firm connection between the vagina and the brain. This means that sex affects creativity, intellect and mental balance for a woman. Like The Beauty Myth she pulls out all the research, the stats, the scientific terminology which does get a bit confusing. But I do admit I agree with her. She claims that women have a more deeply ingrained emotional and mental relationship with their reproductive system than men. Chemicals, hormones and nerves form part of this complex system.

I think the book can be quite repetitive and you can tell that some of the theories are based on personal experience. Most chapters go back to confirm but repeat the above theory. However, I liked learning about the history of the vagina, which I actually knew very little of. My favorite chapter was the ‘Vagina began as Sacred’ in earliest western records and how it became ‘profane’, ‘shameful’ and ‘hateful’. I think the various cultural references to the vagina and its connection to language fascinating.

The term hysteria- hyster- comes from the Greek word for ‘womb’ (173).

Four.

HOW TO BE A WOMAN by Caitlin Moran

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Published by Ebury Press, June 2011, 312 pages, £6.29

Honestly, I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would. I like to read Moran’s columns now and then. I think she is FUNNY and has an envious affinity with words. This book was a bit too rude and squeamish for me. I still think it was try-to-control-yourself-in-public hilarious though. Moran basically rambles about her life from her first period up until the present. She stops off on the way to re-visit sex, beauty, marriage and childbirth. She talks about how she tried to figure out and is still figuring, what it means to be a woman, and how bloody hard it is.

It’s hard to take most of the book seriously. It’s like having a tipsy chat with Moran at the pub. However, at the end of each section, she switches it up and lays down some solid arguments about sexism. I liked how she attacks marriage and how it is supposed to be the climax of a woman’s life. She talks about the fury of being told to ask women she was interviewing (as a music journalist) when they were going to have children. It just really needed to be in there, claimed her editor. I also admired how she explains her unashamed decision for an abortion.

Feminism is about having a vagina and wanting to take charge of it

I feel like the majority of bad press books like these get comes from thinking readers will start adopting the beliefs of the author to the minute detail. (What are you exactly panicking about?). Have a little respect. Nobody reads something and then gets ‘brainwashed’ by every single theory. Its about listening to another voice and seeing something through another’s eyes. Only then can you hear your own voice and see something you want to share. 

Happy reading xx

The Stylist by Rosie Nixon

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Published by Mira UK, 11 Feb 2016, 384 pages, £7.99

Quick Description: Light, fashion comedy.

Steam?: none

Plot: When fashion boutique worker Amber Green is mistakenly offered a job as assistant to infamous, jet-setting ‘stylist to the stars’ Mona Armstrong, she hits the ground running, helping to style some of Hollywood’s hottest (and craziest) starlets. As awards season spins into action Mona is in hot demand and Amber’s life turned upside down. Suddenly she catching the attention of two very different suitors, TV producer Rob and Hollywood bad boy rising star Liam. How will Amber keep her head? And what the hell will everyone wear? The Stylist is a fast-paced, fun-packed rummage through the ultimate dressing up box.

This book is just fun. Its enjoyable, light and incredibly funny at times. It offered a nice distraction travelling to work in the mornings when the cold was clinging onto my eye-lashes. There must be an easier way to read with gloves on? When I read the plot and looked at the page count, I wondered how much there is to fill. But there wasn’t a moment where I felt like I was reading filler paragraphs. The books is very fast paced and has plenty of interesting personalities that are exploding with craziness. There is always something to be entertained by. The plot is constantly moving onto the next crisis involving A-listers and dresses that poor Amber is thrust into the middle of. We start off at the Golden Globes, to the BAFTAs, to the Oscars and wind up at the biggest celebrity wedding of the year.

There is a sense of mystery which creeps in with Mona Armstrong, threatening to strip away the glamorous lifestyle. There is also an unattainable love interest which adds another level of intrigue. But on the whole, the focus is one woman’s determination to survive in this cut throat industry where everyone and everything seems bonkers. You do have to like fashion to enjoy this. If only we could see the ultimate eye-candy haul Amber is swimming through. I wasn’t really sure how it was going to end, because by the middle of the read your thinking anything could happen really, but I think it had a neat finish. I suppose I would have wanted something a little more explosive. Anyway, its cute, care-free and feel-good.

Many thanks to Cara Thompson from Mira for my copy xxx

#tangotime #pinky

@Rosie_Nixon