Book Review of The Female Persuasion

Female persuasionI’m still pondering this eleventh novel by heavenly novelist, Meg Wolitzer. From Wolitzer I can normally expect a kind of fast-paced tour-de-force of the human condition…. Often with very young characters coming into adulthood. The Female Persuasion feels more grown up, more of a thinker, but certainly it lacked the obsessive must-read quality many of her other novels have been characterised by.

In a well-timed move, The Female Persuasion looks at women – their relationships with each other, and beyond this, the women’s movement. At the centre of the novel is Faith Frank, a 60-year-old iconic feminist known for her sexy high boots – a women who has meant a lot to the movement over the years, but is approaching the point of irrelevance. The main character, Greer Kadetsky, meets her at a talk as a Freshman at Ryland University, where her feminism is just awakening after being sexually harassed by an older classmate. Greer’s best friend Zee introduces her to Frank’s work and legacy, but when Frank and Greer make a connection during the event, it is Greer who eventually goes on to work in Faith’s new organisation, sponsored by big business. Zee is left somewhat behind to forge a new meaning in her life, shut out by Greer from access to Faith and as such, the feminist world she longs to live in.

All the women struggle with definitions of feminism here – Zee must find a new way of making a difference without being an activist. In the end, she is the most balanced of the three. Frank’s big business backers radically change her practices as she finds she need to make compromises to keep the money rolling in. Greer’s naivety leads to an inevitable clash with Frank, although doesn’t stop her from having to re-evaluate herself and her attitude to feminism throughout the text – especially in regards to Zee and to her long-time boyfriend Cory whose life is derailed by an unexpected death.

The story is definitely a journey, particularly for Greer who steps into the spotlight of the new feminism at the end of the novel. Finely crafted and thought-provoking, an interesting change of pace from this author.

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Dazzled Book Review of Ready Player One

RP1I never did get to this in the cinemas, and once someone mentioned to me the book was better, I knew I had to read it first.

I picked it up one afternoon as a break from heavier reads.  It was slow going to begin with, even though I was impressed from the beginning by the vivid world that Cline created.  It’s a geek’s heaven – where 80s trivia and video game mastery score you the ultimate cool points – and a top spot in the race for a pretty cool prize. It’s a world you see that is lived largely online – in a virtual world known as the OASIS.  While the real world suffers (as it likely will), in the OASIS you can be who you want, go where you want and even take care of basic necessities like go to school or hang with friends.

When the creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves a secret prize – mastery of the whole system – hidden in an “Easter Egg” (a term gamers will be familiar with).  Naturally, an evil huge corporation is after it – and even more naturally in terms of teen fiction, it is only a few heroic teenagers that stand in their way.

After about 70 or so pages, I found this incredibly difficult to put down.  I got so caught up in the action of the storyline and the developing friendships between the characters.  I still haven’t seen the film – but if it is half as good as this, it would have been worth a watch.  Encourage young readers to get their hands on this – and not to be intimidated by its size.  It’s a great read.

 

Book Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

TTOA_BookThis has been getting quite a bit of press lately, largely because it cannot be simply written off as ‘just another Holocaust novel’ (and heaven forfend we every do that, and stop trying to understand this dark chapter in human history).

The most amazing thing about this quite powerful story – is that it is actually true. Through years of interviewing Heather Morris was able to extract the story of a young man who was saved from the Gas Chambers of Auschwitz by becoming the tattooist responsible for marking every individual who entered those infamous gates.  While Lale feels guilt for every mark he makes, he tries to make amends by sharing his good fortune – from extra food to access to confiscated goods – with those who need them.  Central to his plight to is an unlikely love story with a woman he meets as she enters the camp.  For years their romance nourishes them, and losing each other becomes their greatest fear.  Until of course, Auschwitz reveals more horrors.  Lale is taken to the torture chambers when his actions are discovered, and other characters unfortunately attract the attention of Dr Mengele, whose menacing presence looms over aspects of the story, and whose evil is even felt by the guards.

Resourcefulness and love win out here, even in the darkest of times.  At times I questioned how all this could be true – but once again, it is proven that truth is stranger than fiction.  Definitely one I would recommend.

Book Review of The Fates Divide

fates divideI was a fan of the first book in this series – the one that followed Veronica Roth’s immensely popular Divergent series.

The Fates Divide continues the love story of Cyra and Akos, although this narrative tears them apart – for a while at least.  Now that Cyra has overthrown her brother, there is nothing that forces Akos to stay with her.  Confused and hurt by their responses to this freedom, the pair separate, only to be told that their fates are even more intertwined than they thought.  In fact, a twisted secret at their births ensures the two were destined to meet.

In the background, war is stirring.  While Cyra does not condone the actions and traditions of her people, she cannot see them conquered.  Not can she see them come under the power of Lazmet Noavek – the father she thought long dead.

There is tremendous character development for Cyra in this novel.  Now she is no longer ruled by fear of her family, her true character comes to the forefront.  She finds that she has a lot more to love for that she once thought.  There is also some interesting sub-plotting around Eijeh – the next Oracle who was servant to the Noavek family and questionably loyal to the family that has tried to re-embrace him after his captivity.

I’m not sure why this hasn’t been more popular – I think it’s a well-realised science fiction world with intriguing characters and the promise of more mysteries to unfold. Worth a try.

Book Review of Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

too soon oldThis book was a gift from a friend and a wonderful choice for me.  In it, Gordon Livingstone M.D. writes a series of essays pondering everything from love to thinking and expectations.

Livingstone has an interesting perspective and much of this book was originally published in different formats on an online forum for bereaved parents.  Although Livingstone was there to find solace after the death of his two children – one through illness and another through suicide – his fellow participants found much hope and reason in his writings.  I did too.

The only thing I found myself battering against was his pragmatic statements about the nature of love.  He believes that the idea of true and everlasting love leads us astray.  While I agree that dangerously romanticising the idea of the perfect relationship may in fact be getting in the way of many people’s happiness, I’d like to think there are people out there who can grow and change together in warmth and happiness.  But perhaps I’m just over-romanticising that too.

Well worth a read – and lovely short essays that can be picked up and re-read whenever you need.

Book Review of Everything I Never Told You

Everything+I+Never+Told+You+-+Celeste+NgRecently I read – and loved- Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Burning.  What a wonderful book, full of intriguing characters and situations that keep you interested for the entirety of the narrative.  If you too loved this book, and are looking for a repeat in Everything I Never Told You, you wont find it. It’s a very different book – difficult, challenging and painful to read sometimes.

It starts with a family is crisis. Middle child Lydia has gone missing.  When her body is found in the lake, the police conclude that it is suicide.  Her parents are astonished – isn’t Lydia their smart, pretty girl?  With plenty of friends?  A whole, bright future ahead of her? But her brother is less surprised.. and when he begins to share his memories of Lydia with the reader, we see a family that has been deluding itself for some time.

This is an incredibly sad story – of parents whose expectations became too much for their daughter to bear.  Nit because they didn’t love her – but because they loved her so much they wanted her to have every opportunity that they didn’t.  In this way, they began to play out their own missed opportunities through her.  And her love was so great she did everything she could to be that person they wanted – even hiding her own solitude and growing desperation for freedom. It’s hard to read stories of love gone so wrong, reminding us that even the best of intentions don’t always produce the best of outcomes. But it is a story worth telling – and probably one worth reading.  But outside of the focus on family and family secrets, very different to her other book.

Book Review of Future Directions in Wellbeing

future directions in wellbeingThis is probably the best set of essays I have read in a long time, and a really great contribution to my professional reading this year.

All of these essays are Positive Education focussed, but varied in their approach to this.  Some suggest extensions to existing practices, some look at measurement techniques, character strengths, social media, staff wellbeing, international projects, policy, mindfulness and more.

I get the impression I will be dipping in and out of this a lot, referencing the different studies and using them to inform my own.  The chapters are short and very readable, you could read an essay a day for a month and consider it tremendous PD.

A pricey item, but definitely worth the investment.