fairytales · Feminist/Gender Equality

Review: Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls (various authors and illustrators).

Review: Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls (various authors and illustrators).

img_0379

Fairy tales fire our imaginations and they shape our understanding and expectations for our lives. So says Kate Pankhurst in her introduction, which explains how some fairy tales were told less often than others, and so became lesser-known or forgotten. As stories die, Pankhurst says, so do their messages. And why should there only be one version of a tale, when braver, bolder characters can tell us the things which make sense in our lives? 

It is a fantastic foreword to a book that aims to change the narrative on female heroines. Why should the princesses sit around waiting to be rescued when they could ride out into the night and take on the darkness themselves? 

This image, incidentally, comes from my favourite fairy tale. In Tam Lin, included here as Fearless Fiona And The Spellbound Knight, the heroine rides out at midnight to confront an evil faerie queen and prevent a young man from being given as tribute to hell. I came to this story through folk music and something about it felt different from the same-old-same-old stories which I knew from repeated tellings. There was something about Tam Lin which, even in my teens, I was unable to explain. 

And of course, that image says it all. The heroine was brave. Not the wimpy, waiting around without complaint brave, but the kind where she took things into her own hands, faced her fears and remained resolute in her position. She had guts. She had authority as a character. 

Forgotten Fairy Tales Of Brave And Brilliant Girls offers young readers this very thing. Girls need to see themselves at the centre of the action from an early age to believe that their strength and intelligence is equal to that of a boy.

img_0380

The stories are retold in a way that is suitable for younger readers. The writing is strong and rich in detail and the book could very definitely grow with the reader and remain a favourite. In fact, these would be lovely to read aloud as a group or to reenact together. Tales included are English, Scottish and European but vary from the best-known stories. This would be a lovely book to help readers think more broadly about fairy tales and folklore and to give them a hunger for more tales. 

The illustrations are bold and colourful and bring the stories to life. I especially love the towering, waving nettles in the illustrations of The Nettle Princess, and the picture of Tam Lin with his armour wrapped in flowers. 

It is always encouraging to see anthologies which aim to challenge outdated narratives. A lovely introduction to the diversity and richness which stories can offer. 

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing and Rontaler Events for my copy. Opinions my own.

blog tour

Blog Tour: Seeing Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Amber Lee Dodd at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

About The Deathless Girls: 

deathless girlsThey say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

(Synopsis from Hachette Children’s) 

 

I was honoured to be invited to take part in the blog tour for The Deathless Girls, and I knew instantly what I wanted to write about. Having seen Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Amber Lee Dodd together at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I wanted to share their words with you. 

Although I will write a full review of The Deathless Girls in a seperate post, I thought it would be nice to reflect on how the event informed my reading of the story. 

 

Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Amber Lee Dodd at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Kiran MH and Amber LD
Amber Lee Dodd (left) and Kiran Millwood Hargrave at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019. [Photograph taken from KMH’s Twitter Feed. Thanks to both authors for permission.] 
‘I read books,’ said award-winning author Kiran Millwood Hargrave, speaking on 24.08.2019 at the 2019 Edinburgh Book Festival alongside Amber Lee Dodd, ‘because nothing much happened in suburbia.’

This not only earned an appreciative laugh from the adults in the audience, it was a sentiment I could relate to. Growing up in Outer London, there was a grey age. Younger children had to be looked after, and so got regular visits to Epping Forest and local parks and even into the city. Failing that, there was soft-play. Between twelve and sixteen or so, we were old enough to entertain themselves but not so big to go on real adventures. The creativity which came out of my friendship group at that age was never matched at any other time. Boredom allowed us to retreat into our dreams.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s books conjure dreams of magical places. Of lands covered in snow, and faraway islands with magic volcanoes. Amber Lee Dodd’s stories are set on Scottish Islands, although she referenced her childhood on the South East Cost as an inspiration for some of the details.

Rather than the high fantasy which has become popular in the post Harry Potter generation, Millwood Hargrave’s books centre around folklore and fairy tales. There is something about them which seems to hark back to the very roots of storytelling. It would be as wonderful to share them aloud and listen to the rhythm of her words as to read them from cover to cover. Although I have yet to read Amber Lee Dodd’s story, this seems to be another thing the two writers have in common. I was drawn right in by her introduction, in which a child undergoes a ritual visit to a magic rock which happens to every islander on their 11th birthday.

Neither author writes about magic which can be learned. Rather, there is magic in their worlds, and deep inside their characters.

According to Millwood Hargrave, these are some of the first details she learns about a story. As well as learning enough about a setting for her readers to be able to ‘relate to the world’ she finds ways to ‘let magic in’. It is interesting to relate this to her second novel, The Island At The End Of Everything, which is purely historical. It could be said that the traditions and details which some people experience more richly than others are an everyday sort of beauty, although this is only my own interpretation.

Both authors were aware of their young audience and generous with help and advice on starting stories. Neither plans stories in detail – Amber Lee Dodd spoke of finding her characters’ voices and imagining where they might be by the end. Kiran Millwood Hargrave goes in with no idea where the story will end but spoke of the power of images to generate ideas.

They agreed that good writing comes out of the bad and encouraged aspiring writers not to be afraid.

I was touched when they offered the microphone to children in the audience not only to ask questions but to answer one. Participants had different ideas about what made a great introduction, from taking the time to introduce a character to making a world real with sensory details. Millwood Hargrave likes to jump straight in with as little explanation as possible, while Amber Lee Dodd believed a good first chapter helped the reader to hear a character’s voice.

The two authors were well paired. Their work explores similar themes, but their approach to writing was slightly different. The conversation between them was a reminder that stories are, first and foremost, about people and places, and that time spent understanding character or setting is part of the creative process.

What about The Deathless Girls, the novel due out in September which I have been invited to talk about as part of this blog tour?

My reading of The Deathless Girls is richer for having listened to its creator. Although the event focused on Millwood Hargrave’s middle-grade output, I can see in The Deathless Girls the same respect and love for place and tradition. Her characters come to life through their actions and responses to different situations.

Before the end of the first chapter, I felt as if I had fallen into a new world. This deep immersion in a story, so easy to find as a bored child, is harder to discover as adults, but when we do, it leaves a little part of itself behind with us so that we always remember the story.

That is what makes Kiran Millwood Hargrave a true storyteller.

 

Thanks to edpr for inviting me to write about The Deathless Girls as part of a promotional blog tour, and for my copy of the book. Opinions about the story remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

Review: Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

img_9144

Extract:

I am not alone. I have my family around me, and my friends. Marget and I see each other every day. But our friendship is no longer as effortless as it once was. When I talk about the First Mother and her three aspects, or about the Crone and her door, Marget listens politely for a while but soon starts gossiping with my mother about the neighbours or discussing the best remedy for nappy rash and colic with Náraes, who often comes to see us and brings the children. I am no longer one of them. I am an outsider. 

(Maresi Red Mantle. P61. Maria Turtschaninoff.) 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Synopsis:

In a patriarchal world, the Red Abbey has always been the one haven where girls and women can learn. Now Maresi has left the Abbey. Although she could have stayed all her life, she chose to take her knowledge back into the outside world. She journeys back to her home in Rovas filled with ideas about opening a school and passing on all she has learned.

The people of Rovas live by tradition and superstition. Most people are happy to follow in their family’s footsteps, and few of the others have considered it could be otherwise. Maresi fails to pitch her ideas in a way which interests the village people.

Meanwhile, the rule of an oppressive Earl and his followers threatens peace and security in Rovas. People are losing their homes and girls and women are being targeted by soldiers.

Maresi wants to protect her people, but how can she when she is uncertain where she belongs?

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Review:

A feminist epic and compelling narrative which continues the story which began with Maresi. Although this is the third story in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel which tells a story from the time when the abbey is founded.

Anyone who is familiar with the series will be desperate for the next installment. You won’t be disappointed. Although the community which Maresi returns to is less overtly magical than the island and Abbey setting, there is, as Maresi herself discovers, more to her homeland than is apparent from the surface. The First Mother – the three-form goddess who unites the women and girls of the Abbey – is present here too, even if people’s understanding of Her takes a different form.

Maresi’s crisis goes deeper than her struggle to set up a school. Her story is told in epistolary form, through the letters she sends to her friends and superiors back at the Abbey. What initially seems like regular reports turn into something more like a lone member of a chat group firing off messages into the night. Maresi can’t stop writing. She misses the Abbey, where she so clearly belonged, and her failure to reintegrate into the community forms a large part of her personal crisis. Should she change to fit back in? Can she remain the educated young woman she became at the Abbey? Is anyone even interested in what she has to say? I found this character development interesting because, even though Maresi is brilliant in many ways, she still has her flaws. She considers herself to have outgrown her childhood home and fails at first to see what it still has to teach her.  

For the first time in her life, too, Maresi is grappling with romance. Given the brutal treatment she has seen in the past this is a complex area for her to face.

Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing is masterful. At all times it feels as if she is weaving a myriad of rich threads into a tapestry, and her prose is so beautiful that I read slowly just to enjoy the words. This book spans the generations, too, with a final section looking ahead to the choices Maresi makes in her elder years. The books have always dealt with rites of passage – birth, love and death – and their interconnectivity, but before now we have often seen them in a figurative way. In the rituals and beliefs of the island. This time they hit Maresi’s family straight on.

An extraordinary and complex novel. This series is rich and beautiful, examining the literal and figurative havens women find when confronted with a Patriarchal world. Prepare to cry alongside Maresi, but more than that, be prepared to grow as a result of reading her story.

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my gifted copy of Maresi Red Mantle. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Titles for International Women’s Day – Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women And Born To Ride.

Titles for International Women’s Day – Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women And Born To Ride.

img_8414

Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women by Aitziber Lopez and Luciano Lozano.

Submarine telescopes, Monopoly and Lifeboats. Did you know they were all invented by women? 

Take a look at some inventions, discoveries and innovations which all began in a woman’s mind. This compendium of ideas also celebrates the achievements of women whose names have not always been forefront in design and technology. 

A couple of years ago, there were very few books which celebrated female achievement. Now there is such a wide choice that it can be difficult to know where to begin. This volume is special in that it is also a celebration of creativity and knowledge. It is specifically about women who pursued a solution to an existing problem. From car heaters to a prototype e-reader, the stories behind things we take for granted reveal some fascinating characters. 

img_8409I was particularly interested in the invention of the medical syringe. It is something we have all encountered without giving a second thought. In fact, I prefer not to think about injections, except it turns out that once upon a time they required two hands, meaning an assistant was often required to administer them. Imagine how much worse it would be if the nurse was not able to steady your arm.

The illustrations are expressive and either show the inventions in action or illustrate what life was like without them. Without windscreen wipers, for example, drivers had to stop and wipe the windscreen themselves. The illustration shows a vexed crowd looking on as a bus driver wipes the front down. These humorous pictures will draw readers in and encourage them to question what they might change in the world. 

With a historical bias towards recognising the achievements of men, it is important that we keep showing that everybody is capable of bigger things. A wonderful volume which will open discussion about other people who have created great things or solved everyday problems. 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Born To Ride by Larissa Theule and Kelsey Garrity-Riley

img_8546

What does it take for a girl to do anything? A set of wheels is a good start. 

Louisa Belinda Bellflower lives at a time when the social expectations of girls restrict their activities. Voting is totally out, and riding a bicycle is frowned upon. However, as Louisa has a mind to cycle and she’s not going to let anything get in her way. Not the skirts which can be exchanged for trousers, and certainly not the rumours about ‘bicycle face’. 

Meanwhile, the grown-ups in Louisa’s life are involved in subversive activities of their own. 

A look into the late 1800s and the rise of women’s suffrage movements in America. The most wonderful thing about the book is how the pictures tell a different story to the text. Louisa is certain her cycling will be frowned upon and goes out of her way to hide it, but the pictures show a different story. Louisa is not the only one who wants life to change for women. 

The illustrations continually work in purple. white and a goldish-yellow, which were the colours of the women’s suffrage movements in the USA. I also loved the landscapes. Their winding paths seem to lead off in any possible direction, and they encourage the reader to dream of adventure. 

A book about women’s rights which comes through a specific historical lens. This won my heart with its tenacious heroine and beautiful illustrations. 

 

Thanks to Quarto Publishing PLC for my gifted copy of Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women, and to Abrams and Chronicle UK for my copy of Born To Ride. Opinions remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

Burning Blog Tour (1)

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

theburning

Some books are worth celebrating. The Burning is such a book. I was delighted to be invited to take part in the blog tour because feminist narratives are something I feel strongly about. 

The Burning is about witch hunts historical and current. It is about a girl who moves escape her past but finds she can’t outrun her problems. Anna is the victim of social media shaming. To escape her feelings, she throws herself into a school project and finds out about Maggie, the victim of a 16th Century witch hunt.

The book is fantastic in every way and I am so pleased to share an extract with you. 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Extract:

Hairbrush. Tampons. Toothbrush. Toothpaste.

The front door opens with a shudder and an ominous creak. Dark blue paint cracks and peels above a tarnished
brass knocker.
Deodorant. Watch. Shoes.
‘Come on,’ Mum pants, heaving two bulging suitcases over the threshold and into the dark hallway.
I’m a list-maker. Lists give me grip. You can hold onto a
list. Doesn’t matter what’s on it. Today it’s everything I had to remember to pack at the last minute. The things I couldn’t put in the car last night because I’d need them this morning. The list has been helping me to breathe. Like a spell to ward off evil. I’ve been chanting it under my breath since I woke up and I haven’t been able to stop. Because, as long as I keep repeating the things I need to remember, somehow I can distract myself. Pretend that I’m not really walking out of my bedroom for the last time. Not really stepping into a car loaded with everything we own. Not really driving past the
park where I fell off my bike for the first time. Not watching the swimming pool where I trained three nights a week disappear in the rear-view mirror.

Hairbrush.
Passing the chippy.
Tampons.
The library.
Toothbrush.
The pet shop where I bought my ill-fated iguana. RIP, Iggy Poppet.
Toothpaste.
But now we’re here. And even the list isn’t powerful enough to blot out the new house in front of me.
I hesitate. Somehow, stepping through the door will make it real. I look back to the car, parked a little way down the street, its doors standing open, more luggage and overstuffed bin bags threatening to spill out. Through the back window, I can see a tatty box labelled anna’s room: diaries, photographs, dad’s books.

Nothing left to go back to go back to anyway. I take a deep breath, adjust the bulky cat carrier under my arm and step inside.

The hallway has a musty smell, its whitewashed walls and wooden ceiling beams lit by one naked bulb. The removal van which whisked away most of our earthly belongings the night before we left has arrived before us and piles of labelled boxes teeter precariously on all sides. Mum’s already bustling through into the big, airy kitchen, which also serves as the living room. There’s one of those big Aga cookers radiating
warmth and our new brick-red sofa, still covered in protective
plastic sheets.

A massive old fireplace dominates the room, empty but framed by a handsome wooden mantelpiece. I empty my pockets, shoving my journey rubbish on top of it. Soggy
Costa cup. Crumpled crisp packet. Half a Mars bar. It looks a bit less imposing now.

Gently, I set down the cat carrier and one very grumpy black cat unfurls out of it like a puff of smoke, letting out an indignant yowl to tell me exactly what he thinks of being
cooped up in the car for so long.

‘Sorry, Cosmo,’ I whisper. I bend down to ruffle his soft fur with my fingertips, craving the comfort of his familiar warmth, but he turns tail with an angry hiss and disappears
through the kitchen window into the back garden. I sort of wish I could follow him.

I shrug off my jacket and half slump onto the crackling, plastic-covered sofa. ‘Don’t even think about it!’ Mum warns.‘We’ve got hours of unpacking ahead of us and the car’s not
even empty yet.’

Suddenly the trees outside shake with a gust of wind, causing an eerie, shrieking moan that sounds like it came from the bones of the house itself. I try to sound sarcastic instead of freaked out. ‘Are you sure this place is fit for human habitation?’

We only looked round the house once on a rushed, blustery weekend at the end of March, driving up from home and haring round Scotland in a whirl, viewing five or six different properties a day, each less inspiring than the last. At the last minute, we squeezed in an extra stop in a tiny fishing village called St Monans, where Mum instantly fell in love with the quaint, crooked streets and peaceful old harbour lined with
pastel-coloured cottages.

 (From The Burning by Laura Bates.) 

 

The Burning by Laura Bates is out now (paperback £7.99, Simon & Schuster). Thanks for my gifted copy of the book, and for supplying this extract as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Burning by Laura Bates

Blog Tour: The Burning by Laura Bates

theburning

Extract:

I start to read, not taking in the words at first, trying to trick my brain into thinking about something else. But before long I’m genuinely absorbed in the text.

Women who were thought to have broken vital societal rules of behaviour, or to have sinned against God and the church, were punished in a wide variety of different ways. Some punishments were designed to curb particular habits or behaviours, others to shame and humiliate.

 

(The Burning by Laura Bates. P142.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

 Synopsis:

Anna has left her old life behind. The move to Scotland is supposed to be a new start, so she can make friends and go to school safely and live without prejudice. Then the rumours start up again.

A false social media profile brings an old photograph back to light. One Anna never intended to make public in the first place. Now she faces everything from quiet judgment to harassment to outright hatred.

At the same time, she researches the story of another girl for her school project. A girl who lived hundreds of years ago and was judged by her society after catching the attention of a young lord.

Witch hunts past and present are called out in this strong, compelling novel by the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Review:

Feminism is about giving women equal rights to men. The right to have our morals judged on our actions and not our skirt-length. The right to equal pay. To be called by our names instead of endearments from total strangers. If you support those things, it doesn’t matter whether you call it equality, feminism, gender rights, just-plain-humanity or any other name. This is about men and women. This is about human rights.

This vehement anger and derision continually shown towards people searching for equality illustrate why these books are vital. The next generation deserves a world in people are not divided the second they are born.

The focus of the story is on witch hunts. Anna’s school project brings her into contact with the story of Maggie, a girl who was shamed by her society after forced intercourse with a young lord. Maggie’s story is told in haunting scenes which are brought vividly into the reader’s mind. There is no doubt that everything which happens to Maggie is horrific. This forces the reader to confront the similarities between Maggie and Anna’s stories. Although Anna isn’t subjected to the same physical tortures, she too is shunned by her society after someone abuses her trust and makes public the details of her private life.

What shook me was the way this behaviour extended to the adults in Anna’s life. Not only did they fail to challenge the teenagers who destroyed Anna’s reputation and security, but they set an example for young people to follow. Beyond the witch hunts are casual comments about skirt length and women in sport and gossip about the latest shock relationship. The way women criticise their appearance and abilities as a social norm. This is perhaps the most important theme of the book. Our messages go beyond words. It is all very well telling girls they are free to wear whatever they like, but what happens when they are shamed for their choices?

The story also shows that it can be difficult for young people to know where to turn. Facebook and other social media sites currently have policies which make it easy for people to create fake profiles and post incriminating pictures which are often Photoshopped. In the real world, it can be difficult to get help when you are in a situation where people are claiming you have done something wrong. The story calls out such social gaslighting and makes it clear that having a sex life is never wrong, and that the person in the wrong is the one who shares those details without consent. Although there can be great social pressure, we all need to raise awareness of gaslighting because the only way to end it is for everyone to stand together.

The conclusion shows us quite plainly that there is no running from widespread behaviour. So long as society acts as though gender inequalities are acceptable, it won’t be possible for young people to escape those attitudes.

The Exact Opposite Of Okay got people talking last year and The Burning continues the conversation. It honours the voices which have contributed to the Everyday Sexism Project and gives readers an alternative way to respond to gaslighting and social witch hunts. The historical elements remind us that these behaviours are centuries-old and will not change until we change our own responses. A fearless feminist YA novel which we should all shout about.

 

The Burning by Laura Bates is out now (paperback £7.99, Simon & Schuster).

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for my gifted copy of The Burning. Opinions remain my own.

Feminist/Gender Equality · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls

img_7270

Review: Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls

Stories retold by – Julia Bruce 

Illustrators – Olga Baumert, Molley May, Kerry Hyndman, Hannah Tolson, Hannah Peck and Holly Hatam, 

 

Once upon a time there was a girl … 

Join six girls from around the world, in six separate stories, as they set off on an adventure and use their courage, strength, and intelligence to return safely home. 

This collection of bedtime stories features familiar tales, such as the Snow Queen, but the stories are told with a difference. Every story has a girl at the centre. Hansel and Gretel? Try Gretel and Hansel. It was Gretel who pushed the witch in the oven and saved her brother. Without spelling it out, the stories show readers that girls can be intelligent, brave and resourceful. 

It also features girls from around the world. It is so important for young readers to see that people from different cultures can encounter the same feelings and demonstrate the same skills. 

The book is a beautiful collection of fairy tales. It would make a lovely present for a younger child or a less-confident reader – the stories are short enough that nobody will lose patience and there is a full-colour illustration on every other page. 

A different illustrator was chosen to work on each story. This adds to the experience because without reading a single word each story has a unique feel. Every story has a decorative title spread and beautiful full-page illustrations. 

Not only is this a wonderful collection of fairy tales, it puts girls at the centre and shows how much they can do. This would be a wonderful book to keep on a bedside table or to share with a class in KS1/Lower KS2. 

 

Thanks to Ladybird Books for my copy of Ladybird Tales Of Adventurous Girls. Opinions my own.

 

Guest Post

Orphan Monster Spy Blog Tour

ORPHAN MONSTER SPY BLOG TOUR GRAPHIC

Matt Killeen author photo.jpgToday is my stop on the Orphan Monster Spy blog tour. Protaganist Sarah is a good example of a female character who knows her own mind and makes her own decisions. Matt has written about his female heroes and today he celebrates singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette. 

I’m so excited to welcome Matt to my blog. 

birdAlanis Morissette

 Alanis was not the first female artist to swear and tell it like it was. She wasn’t the first to complain about abuse in the music business in song. She wasn’t the first to scream and talk explicitly about sex and heartache. She wasn’t even the first person to play the harmonica that badly in a professional setting.

 Yet there was something about her that sounded genuinely new. There was virtually no analogy, metaphor or simile at work in most of her lyrics. She hopes that her ex-boyfriend feels her having sex with someone else. So that’s what she says.

 Again, it was not unique, but it was the moment when 33 million people stumped up £12 for Jagged Little Pill to hear her go for it over and over again. It was the point when the entire world decided it wanted to hear a woman speak, without any filter whatsoever, from the darkest and most transgressive of her desires and hatreds, to the wildest of her dreams and the most heinous of her wounds. All in so many words.

 Figuratively and lyrically she managed to exist simultaneously as “beautiful” and “ugly”, good and bad, equally comfortable with either, equally dismissive of both. She seemed so triumphant and so lost, so powerful and yet so vulnerable. Even her descriptions of sex manage to be detailed without being pornographic. And all this rendered complexity, all this terrifying, deep and murky raucousness was melodic, accessible and catchy. Perfect pop. It played the game, changed the rules and won.

 One of the few obfuscations on the album, using similes throughout, is the track that’s most dubiously derided. No, her examples aren’t ironic – but in fact, she doesn’t insist these things are ironic, she just asks us if that’s what we’d call them. It took me years to realise that it was all about meeting the man of her dreams and then meeting his wife…an event that left her lost for words. It’s an admission of weakness, so embarrassing that it can only have been true. What it probably was for a supposed former infatuation junkie, was typical.

 It was an album released by a woman – it appeared on Madonna’s Maverick label – when every other company had passed on it. It outsold her boss, the Beatles, Guns N’ Roses and even Adele hasn’t done better. It remains the 13th highest selling album of all time, the second best-selling album by any woman. That may not be meaningful – Shania Twain is number one after all – but it was the Wonder Woman of its day, proving conclusively that the public would stump up cash to hear a woman speak for herself.

 She suffered through all this to an extent and took a sharp turn in style in its aftermath. She became ever more introspective and concentrated on self-care to the detriment of her sales and arguably the quality and importance of her music. Certainly, her work no longer resonated with the numbers of people it had done.

 As a music journalist, I might bemoan the reasons behind her later choices. She once said of her change in intensity, that singing Jagged Little Pill live, night after night, hadn’t resolved anything for her but made her more angry. This suggests that she thought that it was supposed to be cathartic for her. She was the shaman, she was there to heal the tribe, not herself. Of course, there speaks that part of us all that likes our rock-stars to burn bright and then be a bit dead.

 As a fan, I could talk about the crushing disappointment of her meditative later material, or the fact that the 2005 acoustic version appeared to show someone who didn’t know what made her greatest achievement worth listening to.

 But as a feminist, she decided she was done. So that has to be good enough for me. Maybe what she gave us of herself should be enough for everyone. She was just a singer. She was not a spokesperson or shaman. She was just a woman. But wow, what a woman.

 

Thanks to Matt for your wonderful piece. Tomorrow’s stop is at Be My Anchor.

Non-Fiction · Picture Books

Review: Amazing Women by Lucy Beevor and Sarah Green

img_4915-1

img_4944
Temple Grandin

Amazing Women celebrates the lives and achievements of 101 great women. It features women from different fields and cultures. Modern-day to historical figures. Their lives are related in digestible fact-files which relate their stories as well as key dates. 

The thing I love most about this book is the design. When I saw the front cover I wanted to flick through and read about every one of those women, and the same thing happened when I looked inside. The book is high on ‘flickability’. It is the kind of book you want to thumb through, to flick backwards and forwards between the pages. The pastel colour palette and fantastic illustrations remind of a really modern blog or website. 

img_4943

The key message of the book is to be your true self. Every story in the book is inspiring, but the way to achieve great things is not to try to be someone else but to work hard in the areas where you excel. With a large number of books about inspirational women in the market place this is a really good message. A handy resources section at the back gives young readers some ideas of where to look next. This is a lovely addition. Young people with a new interest often don’t know where to turn for more information.

img_4940

My only criticism is that the book talks about some women in the present day – what they are doing now and how old they are. Unless new editions are printed this puts a lifespan on the book because this information will date. Nevertheless it is a great title and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking to improve their knowledge of influential women.

 

 

 

Feminist/Gender Equality · Non-Fiction

Review: Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls 2

img_4885

Once upon a time there was a girl … and she did great things. Goodnight stories for Rebel Girls is the internationally successful hit of 2017. To date a million copies have been sold. Here’s the second volume, in all its glory! Turns out there were more great women that one book could hold. 

img_4894Stories of real women are told in a fairytale tone. Every story follows the same formula: once upon a time there was a girl … and one day something happened to spark her interest … and she became … If you have read John Yorke, you will know all stories follow a similar structure. The effect of writing about real women in this way is extraordinary. You don’t need to know the history or the geography to get into their tales. It is possible to get into every single story without prior knowledge. The best way into a subject can be to relate to a character or an event. 

Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls 2 may introduce readers to new interests. 

The second effect of narrating the stories as a fairytale is empathy. A factfile of dates and events could not have told me that Yeonmi Park grew up believing Kim Jong-Il could read her mind. It could not have given me that insight into life under a dictatorship. 

img_4893Illustrators from around the world have contributed to make this extra-special. I love the variety of art-work. The different styles keep things interesting, and I would buy this book for the illustrations alone. They remind me of vintage posters. Ones you might actually put on your walls. Alongside the illustrations there is a motivational quote from the women. It would be possible to flick through the book and read the quotes when you are in need of motivation. 

img_4895Words highlighted in red are defined in a glossary, and a contents page lists women with their field of excellence next to their names. I was delighted that neither the book nor the contents page is divided by field. There is no sense of one field being pushed over another, no suggestion that one destiny is more likely. Children’s content sometimes makes this mistake, pushing STEM and law over arts-subjects, and anything over stories of adventure. These real-life stories disprove this approach. Every one of these women achieved something great, and every one started by finding:

  • what she was best at 
  • an opportunity or a situation which turned her interest into action. 

The foreword is addressed to children and adults, in response to the phenomenal readership established by Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls. Whoever you are, whatever your situation, it encourages you to REBEL – to find your interests or causes and strive to make something of them. I have never read a book which speaks so directly to so many people. This is our history, our world. These are our stories. Read and rebel. 

Louise Nettleton

Big thanks to Riot Comms for my copy of Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls 2. Opinions my own.