Thursday, 22 February 2018

Review: 'The Hoarder' by Jess Kidd

An ancient, once-grand home? A feisty, resourceful young woman taking on a grumpy, lonely old man? Sarcastic saints? All of those things sound awesome and I wish more books put together this exact combination of random yet brilliant elements. As you can see, The Hoarder seemed right up my alley, promising generational bitterness and dark mystery. And The Hoarder delivered on many levels, if perhaps not on all of them. Thanks to Canongate Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/02/2018
Publisher: Canongate Books

Maud Drennan - underpaid carer and unintentional psychic - is the latest in a long line of dogsbodies for the ancient, belligerent Cathal Flood. Yet despite her best efforts, Maud is drawn into the mysteries concealed in his filthy, once-grand home. She realises that something is changing: Cathal, and the junk-filled rooms, are opening up to her.
With only her agoraphobic landlady and a troop of sarcastic ghostly saints to help, Maud must uncover what lies beneath Cathal's decades-old hostility, and the strange activities of the house itself. And if someone has hidden a secret there, how far will they go to ensure it remains buried?
The Hoarder beautifully walks the line between a contemporary mystery and a Magical Realism-adjacent fiction book. I had not read anything by Jess Kidd before although I had seen other bloggers raving about her previous work, and after reading The Hoarder I can see why they were so excited. Kidd has that gift that makes something utterly odd seem utterly natural, while something perfectly normal becomes eerily terrifying.Whether it's Cathal Flood's mansion, that goes from imposing to terrifying within seconds, or the saints, who effortlessly go from handing out sarcastic comments to fore-spelling danger, Kidd's The Hoarder will keep you on your feet.

Maud Drennan is a fascinating protagonist. She is a seemingly no-nonsense, straightforward woman who just wants to get the job done, even if that means entering a spooky house haunted by a cantankerous old man. She lives with a delightful if troubled landlady who provides many of the most humorous phrases in the book. But Maud isn't all that she seems. She has her own secrets, buried away so far even the reader doesn't know if they'll ever be uncovered. And then there are the saints that keep appearing, at once helpful and distracting to Maud's mission to declutter Cathal Flood's house and her own mind. Kidd crafts her carefully, never making her too perfect to be relatable, while also dipping into the trope of the unreliable narrator. How much can we trust what Maud is telling us? She is only one person in this tale, after all, and every tale has at least two sides, no? There are some heartbreaking moments in this novel when it comes to family and the history one crafts for oneself. What I mean by that is the tragedy of when we have to face that the life we have crafted for ourselves may not be based on fact, that every family has a closet containing a skeleton or two. The way Kidd allows Maud to confront herself in this novel, gently but determinedly, losing and finding her way as she goes, was fascinating to read.

As I said above, Jess Kidd's writing has a particular magic that makes everything uncanny and beautiful at once. I was gripped by the novel almost immediately, loving the way Kidd crafted her narrative. The Hoarder is filled with absolutely stunning imagery. Whether it's Cathal Flood's mansion, its winding corridors or Maud's childhood memories, Kidd crafts these scenes in delicate and emotive detail until I genuinely felt I could picture them if I closed my eyes. Kidd brings an Irish charm to her novel, largely in Maud's characterization, that made me want to dig deeper into Irish literature as well. One thing that did leave me a little disappointed was that I figured out the "mystery" part of the novel relatively quickly, about a hundred pages before the main character did. Although this didn't lessen my enjoyment of the novel's beauty, it did mean that some parts exploring the mystery dragged a little bit. However, towards the end of the novel there were still a number of twists that made for an exciting finale.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I raced through The hoarder at an unbelievable pace. Even though I figured out parts of the plot beforehand, I wanted to know exactly where Kidd was going to take this story. Full of touching and beautiful moments, The Hoarder has made me determined to get my hands on her next book as soon as I can!

Review: 'Folk' by Zoe Gilbert

Fantasy is my jam, and so are short story collections. When you combine the two you basically get a collection of awesome fairy tales, the kind of thing that allows you to steal away into a completely different world for some beautiful escapism. I have chased these types of books down relatively successfully, but clearly the Fates think I haven't done well enough because suddenly Folk appeared on my path. And God was it good! And how beautiful is that cover? Thanks to Bloomsbury Circus and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 08/02/2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Every year they gather, while the girls shoot their arrows and the boys hunt them out. The air is riddled with spiteful shadows – the wounds and fears and furies of a village year. 
On a remote and unforgiving island lies a village unlike any other: Neverness. A girl is snatched by a water bull and dragged to his lair, a babe is born with a wing for an arm and children ask their fortunes of an oracle ox. While the villagers live out their own tales, enchantment always lurks, blighting and blessing in equal measure. 
Folk is a dark and sinuous debut circling the lives of one generation. In this world far from our time and place, the stories of the islanders interweave and overlap, their own folklore twisting fates and changing lives. 
A captivating, magical and haunting debut novel of breathtaking imagination, from the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award.
As I said, both Fantasy and short stories are my thing. My love for them started when I was very young. In my childhood home we had a shelf in the bookcase dedicated purely to fairy tales from all across the world. One of my favourite things to do was pick a book at random from this shelf and sink away into all these different stories that were somehow connected yet all independent as well. There is a magic to fairy tales that doesn't just come back to the actual magic in them. Rather, their magic lies in how they expand the mind, how they cast a different light on old issues, how they mix sweetness with bitterness and beauty with horror. Fairy tales don't explain themselves, at least not the original ones. There are morals there, sure, but you will have to find those for yourself. There is a sense of the ancient to them which nothing else really matches. Where do these stories come from? What inspired them and how do they still inspire? Because of their mysterious origins, fairy tales can belong to anyone and everyone.

In Folk, Zoe Gilbert tells us the stories of Neverness, a mysterious village on a remote island. Each story is told by a different character in the village. These characters come from all ages, different parts of the village and island and even from the different generations living there. This approach allows for Folk to create a sense of connection and tradition without having to info-dump the reader. Characters mentioned casually in one story will become the narrators of another. Events that take place in the foreground in one tale will be referenced in a later tale. Although this is perhaps confusing initially, it really pays off later on in the stories. There is no world-building as such, as one might expect. How did the island come about? Why do the people in Neverness seem so touched by magic? Where do their traditions come from? There are no clear answers to these questions, rather the stories just exist as they are, to be enjoyed as they are. I loved this about them because it allows you to sink into the beauty of each separate story without demanding more from it.

Zoe Gilbert's writing is beautiful. From the very first story she manages to infuse her writing with a sense of suspense , danger and beauty. As the reader gets accustomed to Neverness and its particular peculiarities, Gilbert consistently manages to conjure up a sense of magic and mystery. She moves seamlessly across the village and island, describing its stunning and powerful nature and the effects it has on the island's inhabitants. Her characters are sparsely but carefully drawn. You never get tired of her characters as she keeps their characterisation just subtle enough to make the reader think there must be more, to want to dig deeper. I'm wowed by the fact this is Gilbert's first fiction book, because the deftness with which she writes is masterful. Folk is also beautifully illustrated by Isobel Simonds, the author's aunt. They feel as ancient as the stories and are an incredible addition to the book. I can't wait to get my hands on a hard copy of this book in order to see how the illustrations and stories interplay.

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

I absolutely adored Folk. From the first story I was drawn in by Gilbert's mysterious island and its magical inhabitants. The stories are beautifully human despite the enchantment hovering just below their surface. I can't wait to read more from Zoe Gilbert! I'd recommend this to anyone interested in Short Stories and Magical Realism.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Short Review: 'Hidden Women: The African-American Women Mathematicians who Helped America Win the Space Race' by Rebecca Rissman

I come from a family that is in love with space. Whether it's Star Wars, From the Earth to the Moon, actually applying to ESA, or studying Astronomy, we love the stars. So of course we loved Hidden Figures and the attention it brought to the African-American women who worked tirelessly to support the American space programme and yet weren't recognised for it. Since the movie came out I have been looking for more information on these women, and Hidden Women was a great introductory read. Thanks to Capstone and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/02/2018
Publisher: Capstone

Tells the gripping story of four female African-American mathematicians who literally made it possible to launch US rockets--and astronauts--into space. Tells the thrilling tale of how each woman contributed, the struggles and resistance each experienced, and the amazing results. Consultants currently work for NASA.
When Hidden Figures came out, it spawned a whole range of books on the women central to the story. There were a plethora of them and I found it quite difficult to choose one to start with. African-American women have often had their hard work erased, either by actively hiding their involvement or giving the praise to those already in the spotlight. You can see it even now in America, where African-American women are a leading force in preventing people like Roy Moore winning elections, or organising protests for women's rights. What also adds interest to the women in Hidden Women is that they are a rare breed: women working in STEM. Although at university level women are more likely to study these subjects and do well in them, women still struggle against preconceptions in these fields. From young girls being told to pick Barbies over building sets, to young women being harassed in laboratories, a lot of obstacles still stand in women's ways. It is my hope that books like these, by bringing the stories of these women back, it will inspire more young women to enter these fields and have their contributions rewarded.

Rebecca Rissman does a great job at introducing the various women she describes. She tracks Katherine Johnson, Miriam Mann, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Annie Easley and Christine Darden, as well as some of the women currently working for NASA. She shows how these women worked their way up, as well as the challenges they faced on the way. African-American women then and now find themselves struggling not only against misogynistic prejudices, but also have to overcome racial stereotypes and active racism. Rissman really manages to convey their passion for the work they do, as well as their determination to let nothing stand in their way. Hidden Women is a great introductory read, giving you some of the details without getting too bogged down. I call it introductory because I would have loved some more information, for Rissman to dig down a little bit deeper into the circumstances of the women, the actual work they did, etc. But this isn't necessarily the book for that. Rissman made sure to consult people currently still working at NASA and the bibliography at the end of the book makes a great jumping off point for future research and reading.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

For those who want to know a little bit more about the African-American women who worked for NASA during the space programme, Hidden Women  is perfect. However, I'm still looking for a book that will really dig into their lives and their work. Recommendations anyone?

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Review: 'The Wicked Cometh' by Laura Carlin

I'm always looking for historical fiction and mystery stories with female protagonists set in Victorian England. Sadly I have also often been burned during that search. It takes a deft touch to combine all those different aspects and not have one of them become disastrous. So when I saw The Wicked Cometh I was immediately intrigued. People are going missing? Wickedness in London? A bright young woman in the midst of it all? I am SO here for it! Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/02/2018
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
'We have no need to protect ourselves from the bad sort because we ARE the bad sort . . .' 
'This newspaper has taken note that the past month has been remarkable for the prevalence of cases where men, women and children are declared missing. Scarcely a week passes without the occurrence of an incident of this type' - The Morning HeraldTuesday 13 September 1831 
Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and the city's vulnerable poor are disappearing from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible. 
When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock. 
But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking. . .
In a sense The Wicked Cometh is a mystery novel that tries to answer a straightforward question: why are people disappearing? But Laura Carlin uses this as a way to address class which, in my eyes, definitely elevates the plot. Hester is poor, incredibly poor, living among equally poor and hungry and cold people in London the 1800s. But her life wasn't always like this. When her parents were alive she enjoyed comfort and education, but now, as an orphan, she has not much to hope for. That is, until pure chance literally throws her in the way of the Brock family where she gets another chance. Through Hester, Carlin is able to show the harsh divide between the rich and poor, how the former can look down upon the latter with disgust and zero awareness of how they came to be poor. The constant clash between expectations and reality are really interesting and add an extra layer of meaning to The Wicked Cometh.

In the next paragraph I'm going to discuss two different themes running through the novel, however, these are pretty much spoilers. So please ignore the rest of this paragraph if you want to remain unspoiled! Still with me? Ok, let's go! At the heart of the wickedness taking place in London lies the working on human corpses in the hope to gain, at least initially, medical knowledge. It is something that also popped up in Rawblood, the contemporary terror of people at the mere thought of human corpses being operated on in order to advance medical knowledge. Carlin strikes a successful balance in showing both the understandable fear of her characters, as well as how her bad guy has lost his subjectivity when it comes to his endeavour. It was done really well I thought, especially combined with The Wicked Cometh's focus on class. The disregard with which the upper class considers the lower really comes out through this plot line. Another theme was love, especially love between women. Carlin worked this out so beautifully in The Wicked Cometh that I was rooting for it before the characters themselves were even truly aware of their feelings. Not once did it feel Carlin would exploit their love for sensationalism, rather she treated it like the previous thing love is.

The Wicked Cometh is incredibly atmospheric and this is all due to Laura Carlin's beautiful writing. Her London comes to life through her descriptions which are incredibly evocative, whether it's the dirt on the streets or the sound of the crowd. The houses, the people, the weather and mood, it's all described in a way that draws the reader in straightaway. I felt like I was watching a movie sometimes, with the amount of detail Carlin managed to confer to me. Carlin takes a lot of time at the beginning of the novel to set her scene and establish her characters, which may not work for everyone but I loved it. Also, I adored Hester, she was such a scrappy and determined main character who stayed true to herself as much as she could. Carlin makes some choices towards the end of the novel which felt a bit rushed, as if she was trying to tie every story line together into one thread and thereby stretched some of them a bit too far. In a way some of these choices reminded me of the Gothic novels of the time, deeply dramatic and a bit too much, but sadly it didn't really work and betrayed some of the strong plot choices made earlier in the novel. However, this didn't really affect my opinion on the overall novel that much, compared to a different novel I read recently.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I adored The Wicked Cometh with all of its sumptuous details and lovable heroines! I was sucked into the plot straightaway and loved all of the dramatic twists and turns. I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in Historical Fiction and Mystery. I will definitely keeping my eye out for Laura Carlin's next novel.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Review: 'Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong' by Angela Saini

I was a feminist before I knew it. The tenets of feminism were so integral to my life as a young woman it never came to me to truly question it. That is, until my first conversation with someone with other opinions, presenting me with "scientific facts" that undermined everything I thought was true. And so started a journey of reading and researching, digging through decades of misogynistic writing to get as close to the truth as I could. Angela Saini's Inferior came at just the right time and I'm incredibly glad to have read it. Thanks to Fourth Estate and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 30/05/2017
Publisher: Harper Collins; Fourth Estate

From intelligence to emotion, for centuries science has told us that men and women are fundamentally different. But this is not the whole story. 
Shedding light on controversial research and investigating the ferocious gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology, Angela Saini takes readers on an eye-opening journey to uncover how women are being rediscovered. She explores what these revelations mean for us as individuals and as a society, revealing an alternative view of science in which women are included, rather than excluded.
As I said, feminism is quite integral to my being. I also come from quite an academic background, which I always thoughts would be a boon. But there is no single truth when it comes to science and academia. Feminism and science are similar in that sense. They are an ongoing conversation, consistently working on improving themselves, adjusting to new discoveries and full of contention. Those who think scientific discourse is straitlaced and calm is completely wrong. Academics can get vicious, in their own way, and careers are destroyed in the process. Science is a fluid thing, a fact which, to some, disqualifies its findings. However, science has an enormous impact on society. Sometimes research even has more impact on society than on its own field! Freud is no longer an authority in psychology, yet almost every piece of literature and cinema is still deeply affected by it. The same happens with other research, especially now that the Internet easily disseminates it with clickbait-y headlines. I loved the way Saini addressed all of these issues in Inferior and it has definitely opened my eyes to my own response to new research on gender.

In Inferior Saini takes an honest and interested look at how science has discussed women, and especially the difference between women and men. She does so without forcing her own opinions onto the research or judging academics in advance. As such, this book is full of honest discoveries and realisations. I was stunned to find out that despite all of his forward-thinking, Darwin believed women were biologically less evolved than men, biologically made to stay at home, far away from books. I was amazed by how deftly Saini discusses opposing sides. The aim of Inferior is to do away with the idea that women are biologically inferior, but she does so not by outrightly claiming so and then finding theories that support her opinions. Rather she looks at both sides, lays out different arguments, and shows the potential weaknesses in both. Although Inferior doesn't cover everything I found it to be a very interesting read. It is impossible to really answer the question definitely, whether there is a difference between men and women, because the question itself is loaded. But books like Inferior make a good headstart in continuing the conversation.

Angela Saini does a brilliant job in Inferior. I have two family members who are physicists and whenever they talk I can feel my brain start hurting from the lingo. Yes, I am one of those Literature students and although Literary Theory terms are nothing to me, I am a complete novice in most scientific terms. But Saini manages to make the studies she explores gripping and accessible, whether it is the intricacies of the brain or the habits of nomadic tribes. Not once did I get distracted or bored while reading Inferior. Rather I found myself wanting more! I was also immensely impressed by how objective Saini remains throughout the entire book. Although she has her own opinions she doesn't allow those to prejudice her. It becomes really clear from the book that Saini herself is incredibly interested in this topic and that researching and writing it was also a journey for her. It makes reading Inferior a joyous experience and once I finished it I was ravenous for more. I will definitely be browsing through the bibliography to continue my research. Thank you Angela Saini for entertaining me, enlightening me and educating me!

I give this book...

5 Universes!

I enormously enjoyed reading Inferior. Despite its content, Saini manages to make this an entertaining and gripping read, easy to understand and challenging to grapple with. I'd recommend this to anyone interested both in science and in the history of women.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Review: 'Swansong' by Kerry Andrew

I only spent a year in Scotland but I fell in love with its rugged charm and haunting nature. Ever since that year I have been looking for more books set in Scotland, especially because I adore its folk takes and culture. So a folk song adaptation set in the Scottish Highlands? Count me in! Swansong looked to be right up my street so of course I had to check it out. Thanks to Jonathan Cape and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 25/01/2018
Publisher: Vintage; Jonathan Cape
In this stunningly assured, immersive and vividly atmospheric first novel, a young woman comes face-to-face with the volatile, haunted wilderness of the Scottish Highlands. 
Polly Vaughan is trying to escape the ravaging guilt of a disturbing incident in London by heading north to the Scottish Highlands. As soon as she arrives, this spirited, funny, alert young woman goes looking for drink, drugs and sex – finding them all quickly, and unsatisfactorily, with the barman in the only pub. She also finds a fresh kind of fear, alone in this eerie, myth-drenched landscape. Increasingly prone to visions or visitations – floating white shapes in the waters of the loch or in the woods – she is terrified and fascinated by a man she came across in the forest on her first evening, apparently tearing apart a bird. Who is this strange loner? And what is his sinister secret? 
Kerry Andrew is a fresh new voice in British fiction; one that comes from a deep understanding of the folk songs, mythologies and oral traditions of these islands. Her powerful metaphoric language gives Swansong a charged, hallucinatory quality that is unique, uncanny and deeply disquieting.
I'm a big fan of Magical Realism, it is one of my favourite genres. When done well, it can lift an "ordinary" story into the extraordinary, adding beautiful touches that explain the inexplicable. Human life, especially our interior, mental life, is incredibly complex and confusing and it is difficult to encompass that in a straightforward narrative. By weaving magic into their stories, authors are able to explain things that otherwise they could not. Swansong does this, bringing metaphors and folktales to the story of a lost young woman. My eye was immediately drawn by Andrew's use of folk song and mythologies as inspirations for her book. Rife with history and culture, these folk songs, despite their age, still ring true in some way, strike a chord that can't be quieted. Just for this I find it worthwhile reading Magical Realism, to find new words to describe my thoughts, new images in which to capture my feelings. Swansong, with its dark and haunting imagery, does just that.

Swansong is quite a complicated read at times. The novel is a mix between a coming-of-age novel, a mystery thriller and magical realism. On the one hand Andrew's novel is grounded in the relatively realistic troubles of young Polly Vaughan whose life is slowly unravelling, but on the other hand Swansong soars above that, mixing the magical with the realist. Polly is not always a likeable character. Actually, most of the time you want to shake her and tell her to pull herself together. But then I remember myself at university, how terrifying it can be to suddenly have to stand on your own two feet, to deal with all the consequences of stupid actions and to push through it all somehow. So although you can't always empathise with Polly, you can understand her. Polly is just as in the dark as the reader, arriving in a completely different environment where things have been brewing under the surface for a while. As she slowly loses herself in the woods the question becomes, who will she be when she emerges?

Part of what intrigued me about Swansong was Kerry Andrew's writing. Initially I struggled getting into the mood of the novel, as Polly's narration is quite choppy. Her thoughts are quick and jumbled, she is panicking and stressing, torn between regretting the past and trying to forget it. Once I got into it, however, it really started working for me. Thanks to the writing you really get into the main character's head and it contrasted beautifully to the more magical and lyrical moments in the novel. One of the best things about this novel are Andrew's beautiful descriptions of the Scottish Highlands. Having been there, Swansong felt a little bit like a return to that landscape. Andrew takes you on a journey through a ravaged young woman's mind and although it isn't always comfortable or understandable, you do end up caring for her. Aside from her story, an ancient 'whodunnit' mystery pops up, adding to Polly's desire for answers and fear of the past. At time it almost feels like too much, but Andrew manages to strike a good balance.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Although I struggled with Swansong at times, something about Andrew's novel gripped me. Andrew allows you to sink away into her landscape and the drama she creates, until it becomes almost too much. I'd recommend it to those who enjoy Magical Realism and Suspense.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Review: 'Her Body and Other Parties' by Carmen Maria Machado

Sometimes you come to a book because you have heard so much about it that it becomes impossible to avoid. I often try to do so anyway, until the hype dies down and I can actually enjoy it naturally, without ridiculous expectations. I do the same for movies, which is why I still refuse to watch Easy A. The same was happening with Her Body And Other Parties, only that I was intrigued by its premise that I still went for it. As a consequence I had pretty high expectations of Machado, and she managed to meet each and every single one of them. Thanks to Serpent's Tail and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 14/12/2017
Publisher: Serpent's Tail

SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FICTION PRIZE 2017 'Brilliantly inventive and blazingly smart' Garth Greenwell 'Impossible, imperfect, unforgettable' Roxane Gay 'A wild thing ... covered in sequins and scales, blazing with the influence of fabulists from Angela Carter to Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi' New York Times  
In her provocative debut, Carmen Maria Machado demolishes the borders between magical realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. Startling narratives map the realities of women's lives and the violence visited on their bodies, both in myth and in practice. A wife refuses her husband's entreaties to remove the mysterious green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague spreads across the earth. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery about a store's dresses. One woman's surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted house guest. Bodies become inconsequential, humans become monstrous, and anger becomes erotic. A dark, shimmering slice into womanhood, Her Body and Other Parties is wicked and exquisite.
I adored this collection. There is simply no other way of putting it. What I adore about short story collections is how they allow authors the space to explore different topics, writing styles etc. while uniting them under a single theme or idea. Her Body and Other Parties does this beautifully. From the very first story, Machado turns a sharp eye to the female body and all that affects it. Growing up female often means that you grow up torn, constantly questioning and doubting your body and how it looks. Why is your hair like that? Why are your legs not thinner? How dare you wear a bikini if you're not skinny? What I myself have realised over time is that it takes very long before you actually come to appreciate your body, its strength and power. In Her Body and Other Parties Machado looks at the female body from different angles, at its ability to create life, to feel love and lust, to be used and abused, to house a fragile mind. She truly does something unique here and I will be returning to this collection often.

The stories in Her Body and Other Parties are stunning. From the first tale, 'The Husband Stitch', Machado drags you into the world of women's bodies and the tales these tell. In a sense 'The Husband Stitch' is the best example of that, as the narrator chronicles her life with her husband and the mystery of the ribbon around her neck, while relating tales she has heard of other women. There is a mystical suspense to the story which consistently leaves the reader with a sense of unease and fear, yet also a desperate desire to know, to look into the darkness and confront what you find there. This feeling continues throughout all the stories, whether it's the tragically lyrical 'Mothers' or the horrifying 'Eight Bites'.The collection's last story, 'Difficult at Parties' is a perfect finale for Her Body and Other Parties, combining Machado's clear-eyed observations, a sense of lurking unease, and a revelation that feels like a punch in the throat. 

Carmen Maria Machado weaves magic with her words in Her Body and Other Parties. Usually I don't like it when blurbs draw connections between new authors and well-established "Greats" because it sets unfair and impossible expectations. In this case, however, those comparisons are completely justified. I was struck by how much the spirit of Her Body and Other Parties did indeed remind me of Angela Carter. Not because of its theme or topics, but because of the bravado and inventiveness with which Machado writes. These stories are a tour-de-force, each taking a different approach, working with a different style, and yet bringing home its point with a gentle forcefulness. You have a story like 'The Husband Stitch' which is filled with little asides, instructing readers how to "perform" certain emotions and events in case they're reading the story out loud. There is 'Especially Heinous', one of my personal favourites, which reads like an episode guide for Law & Order: SVU but with completely new and wildly outrageous stories. 'The Resident' feels like a psychological thriller, while 'Inventory' configures itself both as a memoir of relationships as well as a dystopian story. And throughout it all Machado's writing is sharp and precise, ranging between beautifully descriptive and provocatively uncanny. 


Her Body and Other Stories has so much to offer to a reader willing to dive in, no holds barred. Each story will throw up a different question to which there is perhaps no immediate answer. But that is what good books are supposed to do, make you wonder and doubt, reassess and discover. Her Body and Other Stories will make an incredible addition to anyone's bookshelf!

I give this collection...

5 Universes!

I loved Her Body and Other Parties and for once think that the hype is completely justified. There are not enough words to praise this collection and what it tries to do. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to be surprised and shocked, engaged and horrified, provoked and soothed. GO READ THIS BOOK!