Book Review of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

espwI can’t remember where I read something positive about this book, but when it came time to binge on audiobooks over the school holidays, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows popped up on my list. And it was delightful.

Much of the story surrounds Nikki – a thoroughly modern Punjabi woman living in London who is largely sceptical and disregarding of many traditional elements of her culture, which she sees as behind the times and irrelevant to her own life. After dropping out of her law degree, she takes a job teaching what’s she thinks will be creative writing to women at the local temple … but it turns out few are able to read and write in English. Nikki resigns herself to the idea of teaching basic literacy to the older women – mainly widows – until serendipitously the women are accidentally presented with a book of erotic stories mixed in with the basic texts she bought for them.

This leads to the sharing of unexpected longings, experiences and desires. Nikki is forced to rethink all of her ideas about the lives of traditional Indian women. While shy and reserved, many possess deep wells of feeling and sexuality she never expected. Eventually the whole class comes to embrace the idea of documenting erotic stories and the women of the local community become quietly fascinated too.

But behind all this is the darker side that was responsible for many of Nikki’s preconceived ideas. There are definitely pockets of the community stuck in incredibly traditional and conservative thinking – and who will bully mentally and physically any woman who looks to step outside her place. In places, the story takes a sinister undertone when exploring this.

But ultimately this is a heartwarming story of self-discovery and liberation for many of the characters. I challenge you not to enjoy this.


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.

Raving Book Review of The Power

the power.jpgThis book has been sitting on my bedside table for months… and I have been making my way through the pile with the sneaking suspicion that this would be amazing.

It was.  This is the best book I have read this year.

The Power imagines a world where women begin to demonstrate a capacity to cause pain via electric shock via touch.  First a few teenage girls cause pain and injury to those around them, but gradually they discover a capacity to wake the power up in each other.  Some have tremendous capacity, some learn ways to control, master, use and abuse it.

It causes a dramatic shift in the power structure of society on all levels – politics, religion, and the armed forces.

The narrative follows a few select characters witnessing and in fact shaping events that create an entirely new society – one based on female domination and complete subjugation of men.  No longer the weaker sex, I would argue that women do to men all that they have been subjected to across history – and more.

It’s a frightening but completely absorbing vision that asks us to acknowledge the transformative nature of power and how absolutely it can corrupt everyone.

The ending of the story is brilliant, as is framed equally as cleverly as a work of historical research looking back at the events that framed their civilisation by a tentative male author, and an understanding female critical friend – and even in this relationship is the dynamic of men and women explored.

This is everything – smart, well-paced and incredibly readable.  This is worthy of the award it received and the acclaim it is starting to get.

Book Review of Star Wars Psychology

star-wars-psychologyOne for the fans.

This series of essays links psychology principles to the Star Wars films – well, Episodes 1 – 6 that is (imagine the field day they would have with Kylo Ren!).

Some of the essays aim to use psychology to help readers understand characters, for example many focus on Anakin Skywalker across the six films and others aim to use Star Wars to help us understand psychological principles (i.e. the reverse). Both are pretty successful.

It was recommended to me by a friend who is a psychologist who had never seen a Star Wars film until the Christmas holidays, and has now seen them all multiple times and has several of these books (even I’m only planning on reading one!).

The content varies from dealing with grief, to mindfulness, relationships, the nature of good and evil and small investigations of how we view droids, loss of limbs (which happens to both Luke and Anakin), mentoring and the portrayal of women in the series.

There were some fascinating essays but I wouldn’t recommend you read this in one sitting – it’s better spread amongst other reading.  Just pick it up and read an essay when you feel like it.

Book Review of Big Little Lies

BLLI avoided reading this incredibly popular book for quite some time, assuming it might be pretty average chick lit written only for mass appeal.  But I have to admit, I listened to this on audio and was completely spellbound.  I listened to it every moment I could and towards the end actually found myself sitting and doing nothing just so I could listen.

There are probably two reasons for Liane Moriarty’s success with this novel.  The first is with clever storytelling.  The blurb will tell you the book focusses around a death at a school trivia night, and this is true – but there is plenty  of drama in the lead up to this, and Moriarty cleverly capitalises on this by revealing just a little bit of detail at a time. the story of the months before the trivia night is interspersed with the interviews and investigations after the fact.  Every little tidbit gets your brain going – who died and how?

Secondly, there are actually some incredibly serious issues at play here – the foremost of which is violence against women.  You’ve probably heard about this already.  And also the difficulties of class, family and divorce.   So no, not as light as I thought it was.  And more importantly, Moriarty seems to actually have something to say about all of these issues.  All are dealt with in complex ways, and believable ones.  The characters in this novel could have been incredibly two-dimensional, but they’re not.  There is a kernel of emotional truth in all the choices that they make.

I’m glad I finally got to Big Little Lies.  If you haven’t yet, I would definitely recommend it.



When I heard that one of the nominees for the Man Booker this year was a collection of poetry, I was surprised.  How can a collection of poems compare with some of the rare and beautiful stories that have taken the title before?

But Milk and Honey is exceptional. Every so often you pick up a volume of poems and feel like the poet is speaking your language. Rupi Kaur is such a poet for me.  Concerned with themes of love, loss and feminism, almost every page of poetry was relatable and exquisite – from the short four-line poems to the longer epics charting whole relationships.  I have included some in this review just so you can experience it yourself.

I was inspired by this collection – and have thus made two promises to myself.  The first is to write more poems – because if a volume like this can have this impact on me, then maybe poetry is worth pursuing.  Secondly, I will pick up any volume of poems that resonates with me like this.

I haven’t read the title that eventually won – Lincoln in the Bardo – but I have picked up Kaur’s second volume of poetry. And that says something powerful.


Book Review of Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping BeautiesStephen King co-wrote this novel with his son Owen, passing the chapters between them and re-writing each other.  The result is a novel that feels very much like King himself – his stamp is all over it.

Sleeping Beauties imagines a world in which women fall asleep and begin constructing some kind of cocoon. It’s a dangerous kind of slumber – when someone attempts to wake them unnatural strength and aggression is the result.  The world of men goes pretty much as you would expect – sense and reason fall very much by the wayside.  King is clearly a feminist.

Meanwhile, the women wake up in an alternative setting and begin setting up their own society which, while technologically behind the times, is pretty successful.  Time passes differently there, and while the Aurora virus has only taken hold in the real world for a few days, a year or more passes in the world of the sleeping women.

Behind it all is Evie Black, the supernatural force you would come to expect from a Stephen King novel.  Both malevolent and insightful, its hard to cast her as either hero or villain. She clearly sits somewhere in between.  Awake and safe in a prison cell, she forms much of the conflict in the text as the characters battle for what to do with her.

Nothing extraordinary here, this novel is very much “in the pocket” for King.  No more than a comfortable read.