2017: Most Popular Posts

How on earth is January almost over? I intended to write up a ‘2018 goals’ post but time has escaped me – maybe I still can. As always, a big goal for me is to keep up the momentum on The Fourth Month. I’ve been posting more regularly on The Fourth Month Instagram account so it’s now time to produce more content for the blog.

The Fourth Month journey began back in Summer 2016 when I broke my leg and was relegated to the sofa for about 5 weeks. Since then I’ve focused on books, interiors, wellbeing and general lifestyle posts. Like I did last year, I thought I’d share the top posts of the year to say farewell to 2017 and hullo to 2018.

5. A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES BY SARAH J MAAS

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This review of A Court of Thorns and Roses was my first blog post in 2017 and you guys seemed to enjoy reading my thoughts. It was a book that left me feeling torn. I loved some of the characters and the magical world they inhabit but a lot of this story is problematic. Its troublesome Beauty and the Beast tropes (Stockholm Syndrome and sexual violence) made me feel uneasy but Maas created such a rich and exciting world full of powerful and mysterious characters with this series. I’ve yet to read ACOMAF and, at this point, I doubt I will. Check out my review and let me know what you think.

4. A PUBLISHING POSTGRAD UPDATE

The fourth most popular post in 2017 was my publishing postgrad update. It’s one of the few, if not only, personal posts I’ve written for The Fourth Month. This makes me wonder if you would like to see more personal blogs (let me know in the comments or send me a message). Since writing this in April last year, things have changed even more. I left my job at the Publishing Bureau to pursue work as a Library Assistant. Working with books and children is really my dream job! And, of course, I graduated with a Distinction in MSc Publishing in October last year, which was a massive achievement.

3. 10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE GOING TO UNIVERSITY

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Guest blogger, Zina, makes two appearances in the Top 5 of 2017. This is a witty and in-depth look at the trials and tribulations of University life. It’s a great read for anyone considering going to University but it also resonates with anyone who is at or has been to Uni. This uplifting list hopefully put a few minds at ease last year and I’m sure it’ll stay relevant every year as new students move on to higher education.

2. INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: BOOKS BY FIERCE FEMALES

I am so happy that this list of fiercely feminist books made it to the top of my most-viewed posts in 2017. This post was requested by a friend but it has clearly been enjoyed by many readers. The list featured some of my favourite authors from Charlotte Brontë to Jessie Burton. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books or if you would like see more bookish lists on The Fourth Month.

1. VANITY FEMME GLOW DUST REVIEW

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Stealing the limelight yet again, Zina’s review of Vanity Femme Glow Dust has made the top spot for 2017 (it was also the most viewed blog in 2016). This sparkly review of a cult-classic highlighter gets hits almost every day so I’ve asked my gorgeous make-up artist sister to start writing some make-up reviews in 2018. Follow her on Instagram and subscribe the The Fourth Month to make sure you don’t miss a thing.


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March Reading Round Up

This will be another short round up as I simply haven’t had time to read as much as I would have liked. I’m mostly proud that I’ve only fallen one book behind in my GoodReads challenge. In March, I read Girls Will Be Girls and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and I’ve made a good dent in All The Bright Places. Read on to find out what I thought…

Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently

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I finished this book at the beginning of March. It’s an autobiographical look at gender in modern-day society. I mentioned it in International Women’s Day: Books By Fierce Females because I think it is a fantastic insight into how we perceive and perform gender on an every day basis; from hair removal to the pronouns we use and the assumptions we make about people based on gender. I felt enlightened after reading it and found myself questioning the little things in life. Why is it women ‘do’ housework and men ‘help’? And why oh why does our hair matter so much? O’Toole makes sociological theory very accessible and I loved the combination of humour and light heartedness with a very heavy subject. I 100% recommend this to everyone!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Finally got around the reading the fourth book in the Harry Potter series. I liked it but not as much as I liked Prisoner of Azkaban. I think because I have watched the films and have endured the hype around these books for so many years, I find it difficult to enjoy them in their own right. I just can’t make myself love them as much as I know I should. Having said that, they do provide a great escape after a long, hard day. But seriously, the biggest takeaway from Goblet of Fire is…

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Did Not Finish… Yet

I’ve been listening to Sarah Knight’s The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*** on Audible and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s motivational and there have been some great takeaways. Knight makes you come up with a f*** budget in which you organise the time and energy you spend on certain things in life and how you could put your f*** bucks to better use. It’s making me realise how much energy I put into things that really don’t matter i.e why should I care what people think of me if I don’t want to go out and party every other weekend? But, ultimately, I’m finding it a bit repetitive. It’s more of a series of examples of things you should and shouldn’t give a f*** about and Sarah Knight swearing a lot. I am going to finish it but, like I said, I’m not sure how I feel.

Coming Up

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I’m currently reading All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. It’s been in my TBR pile since last summer but for some reason there were always other books to read beforehand. I’m about 200 pages in and I love it. It’s just the kind of fun YA respite I needed to get out of another reading slump. If you haven’t heard about it (i.e you’ve been living under a rock), it’s contemporary fiction folllowing two young adults who are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. It deals with harrowing subjects like domestic abuse, death and depression without overburderning the reader. It’s going to be a film in 2018, I’m looking forward to that, and it won the Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult fiction in 2015. Plus Theodore Finch is such a cute lead character. I like his weirdness and the way he makes up different personas for himself; it reminds me of my own boyfriend.

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Next on my reading list is THE MAKING OF HER by Susan Nott-Bower published by Linen Press – the indie press I’m currently interning for. I was captured by this cover which I just adore. Seriously, it’s so striking and enigmatic. The novel looks at the vulnerabilties of older women in a society which values youth over wisdom and beauty over experience.

A truly intelligent, incisive page-turner with so much to say about women’s lives – a sharp, satisfying treat of a read!
— Kate Harrison, author of The Secret Shopper novels


Sweet Home by Carys Bray

Moving to Edinburgh to study Publishing has changed my life. I’ve worked on so many exciting projects and one of those is launching a Literary Society at Edinburgh Napier University. Myself, Kellie Jones (check out her Booktube) and Sarah Barnard (a fellow book blogger) were surprised to discover that there wasn’t already a bookish society at the University so we teamed up to create one. Shameless plug: if you’re in Edinburgh and want to chat about books, you can join the society here. If you’re not, you can still check out our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages for more info.

We’ve been running monthly book clubs and for our January Book Club, we were reading Sweet Home by the talented Carys Bray. It’s a collection of short stories about family and home life. Here’s my review:

I voted to read Sweet Home for our January Book Club purely based on the cover. You might’ve guessed that I’m a sucker for all things pastel and the aesthetic for Sweet Home is very cute. It also sounded intriguing: a collection of short stories “with psychological insight and a lightness of touch frequently found in fairy tales” and an exploration of “loss, disappointment, frustrated expectations and regret.” I mentioned in my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas that I’m a fan of fairytale retellings so Sweet Home captured my interest.

I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this book. Magic and nostalgia are tangible in a way that reminds me of Jessie Burton‘s writing. Some of the stories pick away at the small and seemingly insignificant moments in life, like a mother taking her daughter to swimming lessons or a bereaving pensioner whose bra gets caught in the hedge. Carys Bray makes the mundane magical with her elegant prose. Certain phrases would just catch my breath: “tentative, slipper-finding feet.” How can someone make putting slippers on sound so delicate?

Other stories are truly fantastical, like the man who carves a baby out of ice, the supermarket that sells live babies in boxes (complete with a reduced section for the less appealing models) and the old woman living in a gingerbread house, a story which is a clear allegory for immigration in modern Britain. These magical tales have a hint of Angela Carter about them, only less sordid and more quaint. Nothing truly leaves the real world.

As the picture of the perfect dollhouse with a burnt roof on the cover suggests, “the real world” and family life are never as perfect as we would like them to be. In particular, many of the parents in this collection are trying to be the best or, at least, better than their own parents, but are continually failing to win the hearts of their children. There is an ocean of misunderstanding between children and their parents in many of these stories and a sense of I won’t turn out like my parents. These are feelings which I’m sure most readers can relate to from God, mum, you just don’t get it! all the way to Why can’t my child see how hard I’m trying? Why can’t I forgive myself for my imperfections? Nobody seems to be winning Mother of the Year award in Sweet Home but it’s the flaws which make these characters so relatable. I found myself nodding along with their struggles not because I know what it’s like to be a parent (not for a long time) or because I’ve ever carved a baby out of ice but because everyone has their own experiences of family that they can draw from.

It is not just the sadness of a mother at the end of her tether that got to me, genuine heartache pervades many of these stories. Death of children, death of siblings, death of spouses; you name it and Carys Bray bravely tackles it in this collection. There’s a story of a young boy and his sister finding a dead bird in the garden and burying it. Later, we discover that the boy’s sister dies and he goes back to uncover the remains of the bird. We see the pain and trauma of death through the innocent and ignorance of childhood and it’s heartwrenching. I finished this book feeling just a little bit sad but hopeful that despite all the horrible things that happen, there is still magic and lightness in the world.

This is a beautiful collection of short stories that captured my heart and started my 2017 reading list off on a high-note. I can’t tell if Bray makes the monotonous more magical or if the magical becomes more grounded in reality? Either way, it is lovely. I’m definitely going to buy and read more Carys Bray because her writing style is very much up my street. Bonus point: she’s really nice and tweeted the Napier Literary Society on the run up to our book club.

Proof of her niceness:

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Have you read anything by Carys Bray? If you have, let me know by commenting below or getting in touch on Twitter and Instagram.

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

My 2017 mantra is Read More, Worry Less. 2016 was a great year for me despite all the political and cultural upheaval that was going on but the big changes (graduating, moving to Edinburgh and starting a degree in Publishing) meant I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked. I just managed to hit my thirty books target on GoodReads and I know that’s a relatively small number compared to some of you bookworms. This year I’d like to read forty books and to help reach my target, I’ve decided to embrace audiobooks. Until now, I had never listened to an audiobook and dismissed it along with eBooks as a poor substitute for the real thing but no more!

Here’s my review of The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo which I listened to on Audible narrated by the author herself.

Recently, I put a plea out on Twitter for advice on audiobooks. Are they good? Worth the money? What kind of books would you recommend listening to? I got a month’s free subscription to Audible, which gives you a free credit towards any audiobook. I had heard The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo was an amazing read from a classmate and I had already proclaimed it as my most anticipated read in 2016 yet never got around to reading it. The lovely @readingandinked recommended it as an audiobook along with Amy Poehler’s autobiography, Lauren Graham’s autobiography and The Power of Habit, which are now all on my radar.

First of all, I am not a big Amy Schumer fan. I’m not not a fan but I’ve only really encountered her in Trainwreck. I’ve not watched her comedy sketches or her TV show so I was fairly in the dark about Amy who seemed to explode onto the comedy scene really quickly. I have friends who love her and I liked that she talks about body positivity and sexuality in a frank and fun way that I can relate to. Although, I am aware that Amy Schumer 100% does not speak for womankind – a point which she makes clear in her book – and that she cannot and does not pretend to represent everyone. However, I personally found myself drawn to her especially after her Pirelli Calander shoot with Annie Lebowitz. THOSE TUMMY ROLLS ARE EVERYTHING!

After listening to The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, I am officially a fan. Having her voice in my ears for eight whole hours made me feel like she’s my best friend. If you’re unsure about Amy Schumer, read this book. Not only is she as witty and self-deprecating as I expected but there were a lot of surprises including her difficult relationship with her parents: a boozy lothario father who becomes a tragic hero when he develops Multiple Sclerosis and a cheating and manipulative mother. She doesn’t hold back about relationships including a rather harrowing account of an abusive relationship with one boyfriend. I had shivers when she talked about her realisation that she was in a violent relationship. Like many women, she thought she couldn’t possibly be a victim. She was a strong, bubbly and intelligent woman yet she found herself in the hands of an abusive lover. Amy makes a plea to her readers to know that this can happen to anyone.

In fact, the whole book feels like a letter to young people (especially women). Each chapter brings another nugget of wisdom: it’s okay to have shitty parents, it’s fine to admit you’re weak, you’re allowed to make mistakes (like a regrettable lower back tattoo) and it’s cool to be a woman and enjoy having sex. Although, Amy surprised me by admitting that she has only had one ‘one night stand.’ I think her celebrity persona plays upon her open sexuality and I had a preconception that she had had a lot more sex than she actually has. Most of her experiences have been in relationships but by no means does she condemn anyone that has one-night-affairs. I liked that. She wasn’t saying GO HAVE SEX WITH EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING nor was she advocating for only having sex with long-term partners. It was more: you do you (as long as it’s consensual).

However, this book is not just a string of hapless relationships. Amy talks emotively about her father’s illness, about her determination to become a successful comedian (that girl put in some serious graft) and about just being happy with yourself:

Love yourself. You don’t need a man, or a boy, or a self-proclaimed love expert to tell you what you’re worth. Your power comes from who you are and what you do. You don’t need all that noise – that constant hum in the background telling you whether or not you’re good enough.

I love her advocacy for body positivity. She talks about being a frustrated teenager realising that she wasn’t the prettiest girl in the class and naïvely wishing she could actually give herself an eating disorder. She talks about going on a crazy diet with her sister and joining boot camps to lose weight. She also discusses her intense love of pasta. I can relate to all of this as someone who eternally struggles with their weight. One of her body positive rants goes a little something like this…

Enough. Enough with these wafish elves walking your impossible clothing down an ugly runway with ugly lighting and noisy music. Life doesn’t look like that runway. Let’s see some ass up there and not just during the specially themed plus size show. We girls over size 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, we don’t want a special day! We want every day and we want you to get out of our fucking way because we are already here. You are living in the past, all you dated, strange magazines representing the weird fashion world that presents bizarre clothing that no one I have ever met wears.

She also devotes a chapter to ending gun violence in America. Yeah, that might not be what you signed up for with Amy Schumer but it is amazing that she chose to shed light on such a massive issue. I won’t go into too much detail here because I recommend you read the book for yourself. It is emotive and empowering and I’m glad Schumer isn’t letting her light-hearted and funny public persona get in the way of some real talk. Here’s some articles about Amy’s stance on gun violence: Amy Schumer rips Senate ‘cowardice’ on gun votes and Amy Schumer Had a Brilliant Take on Gun Violence Last Night.

I could go on to list more of the surprising moments in this book – it’s not at all what I expected but in the best way possible – but I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. I’m not a reader of autobiographies so this was a first in many ways and I’m glad Schumer broke my autobiography/audio book virginity because it was a wonderful experience. I also recommend listening to her narration because it adds a sense of personal to what is already a very personal book. At times, it’s funny, uplifting and hopeful and sometimes it’s sad, informative and emotional. I definitely recommend this one.


Have you got any audiobook recommendations? I have a credit to use on Audible! Let me know on Twitter or Instagram.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

Hello! Welcome to my first blog post of 2017. Let me start by saying I will be slowly implementing some changes to The Fourth Month by focussing on the kind of content you really want to read. Right now, I split my blog into three parts: books, food and lifestyle. Lifestyle mostly focuses on shopping independent and cruelty-free. By having such diverse topics and not having a “niche”, I fear that I’m isolating some of you so I’m hoping to change that. I also felt because my topic range was wide, I’ve been finding it difficult to sit down and write blog posts. If you have any comments or ideas, I would love to hear them. Like I said, this will be a slow change (I can barely find the time or energy to write a post) so don’t worry.

Now that’s out of the way, this is my review for the incredibly popular A Court of Thorns and Roses by the formidable author, Sarah J Maas. I apologise for any spoilers – be warned!

Sarah J Maas has become an entity in herself. The blonde bombshell has captured the hearts of Young Adult readers all over the world and, as always, I was slightly reluctant to give into the hype that was everywhere by actually reading one of her books. I finally bought ACOTAR in summer but didn’t actually get round to reading it until November. I was lucky enough to do a placement at Scottish Book Trust where I edited Author’s Confessions videos including about twenty minutes of footage from Sarah J Maas herself (check out the video here) so I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about. When I did, I quickly learned that Maas’ writing is as addictive as people say it is but more than slightly problematic. Nevertheless, I engulfed it as quickly as I could whilst juggling university deadlines.

Firstly, I want to get the problems out of the way. I can’t really talk about this book without acknowledging the issues. The issue of domestic and sexual abuse in ACOTAR simply cannot and should not be ignored just because Rhysland is pretty delicious. Yes, Maas tries to explain away Rhysland’s horrific behaviour towards Feyre but the arm-breaking, drugging and lap-dancing just crosses a line and quickly becomes a little too 50 shades for my taste.

Also, in a world with faeries and sexy men with bat wings, is it unreasonable to expect a little range in colour, gender or sexuality? I don’t think so. There’s also the issue of cliches and tropes. Female protagonist? Check! Love triangle? Check! Dystopian fantasy? Check! I also really didn’t like how quickly Feyre falls in love with Tamlin without justification. They go from 0 to 100 very quickly.

Having said all of this, I did enjoy reading ACOTAR. Sarah J Maas has a talent for world-building and storytelling. I don’t typically read fantasy but I absolutely adored diving into the world of Prythian. I fell in love with the magical realms and its creatures. The descriptions of its creatures are intoxicating; you can really visualise the world that Feyre inhabits. As someone who has written fantasy in the past, I’m envious of Maas’ ability to build such rich worlds.

I’m also a big fan of fairytale retellings. This is by no means Angela Carter but I do think Maas puts a unique spin on the story of Beauty and the Beast. It takes on a life of its own and Feyre is anything but a humble and quiet ‘beauty.’ I guess it is important to remember that this is a retelling of a traditional fairytale because it helps understand the themes of kidnapping and abduction…

I mentioned Rhysland’s flaws but I do think he is one of the biggest draws to this series. I had heard about him, and seen some interesting illustrations, long before I even picked up the book so I was nervously awaiting my first encounter with him. I didn’t fall in love with Tamlin, he is a typical Beast character: arrogant and suffocating. Rhysland is arrogant too but I knew as soon as he arrived on the scene that he would provide both the comic relief and the sex appeal. His one-liners often made me laugh out loud and his antagonism but his clear attraction to Feyre from the beginning keeps you hanging on to watch their relationship unfold.

Compared to most YA protagonists, I liked Feyre. She is headstrong and very loyal to her family (although she doesn’t really seem to struggle with abandoning them to live a life of luxury with Tamlin). She also can’t read. Her illiteracy gives her a vulnerability and a tangibility that many YA protagonists don’t possess. I liked that she was intelligent and tenacious without having read Tolstoy or Dickens; it was refreshing. In terms of female characters, Feyre’s sister Nesta is probably my favourite from ACOTAR. She’s hot-headed and tempestuous but unexpectedly fights for her sister in the end.

Overall, yes, ACOTAR seems to divide the Young Adult community because of its troublesome Beauty and the Beast tropes (Stockholm Syndrome and a lot of sexual violence) Ultimately, Maas has created a rich and exciting world full of powerful and mysterious characters who will have you wincing sometimes and in awe at others. I’ve been reading ACOMAF on and off since I finished A Court of Thorns and Roses but I just can’t get my teeth into it. Am I missing something?


Have you read any Sarah J Maas books? Where do you weigh in with this one? Let me on Twitter and Instagram.

My Top 5 Books of 2016

Happy New Year everybody! I hope everyone is enjoying the festive period. I have to admit, I have been so lazy and indulgent over the past few weeks so I’m looking forward to getting back to routine. Anyway, it’s time for a round-up of my favourite books out of the 30 I read this year. If you’re interested in seeing what else I read in 2016, check my page out on GoodReads.

1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I joined the Outlander fan club this year when I read Outlander in July. It was a perfect treat after four years of studying books I wasn’t always interested in and I completely fell in love with Gabaldon’s world and characters. I wrote a full review over here but I’ll give you a summary: it’s a love story set in 18th century Inverness, it involves time travelling and features a badass heroine at its centre. I loved reading about Scottish history and I especially loved our favourite Highlander, Jamie Fraser. Being a fan of Outlander has brought me lots of friends on Twitter and Instagram. I also wrote about the book-to-screen adaptation for Scottish Book Trust. A blog which even caught Diana Gabaldon’s attention!

2. Room by Emma Donoghue

Yet another book-to-screen adaptation, I wanted to read Room before I went to see it in the cinema. I read it back in January and I fell in love. Again, you can read my full review on my blog (it was one of my first ever book reviews) but here’s what I thought of it in short. It has one of the most wonderful first-person narrators I’ve come across: five-year-old Jack. It follows Jack and his mother as they live life as prisoners and are eventually freed. It’s a poignant and emotional story that’ll make you laugh and cry, as cheesy as that is. Mostly, I loved the portrayal of motherhood and the strength that Jack’s Ma finds through her son. It is wonderful – if you haven’t read it yet, do it now!

3. The Muse by Jessie Burton

It is no secret that I adore Jessie Burton’s writing. The Miniaturist is probably one of my favourite books of all time and I wasn’t disappointed with the release of The Muse this year. I wrote a full review which Jessie Burton was delighted with. I believe she said she wanted to laminate it and wear it around her neck, just sayin’. It tells the tales of two struggling female artists set across different time periods: 1967, London and 1936, southern Spain. It is one of those magical books that make you feel cosy and nostalgic but you don’t quite know why. If you haven’t discovered the beauty that is Burton’s writing then put that on your resolution list for 2017.

4. Expecting by Chitra Ramaswamy

I read this surprising book in November because I was on the shadow panel for the Saltire Society Awards. Chitra won the First Book award jointly and it was well deserved. When I first saw it, I thought: ‘No way am I reading a book about pregnancy!‘ However, despite avoiding reading this on public transport or in front of my parents, I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Before you dismiss it as just another book about pregnancy, please give it a chance. It is one of the richest texts I’ve encountered in the past few years; it’s filled with metaphors and allusions to a wide range of literature and it is far from a fluffy read about giving birth. I’d recommend this to any literature lovers and not just expecting parents.

5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I was in two minds about including this book on my list because, well, pretty much everyone except me had read it but I finally gave into my pride and decided to read Harry Potter in 2016. I read the first book in January and I have to confess it is magical. I only wish I had read it when I was younger so I could’ve marvelled at its wonders from a child’s perspective. Nonetheless, I can understand why people are so besotted with this series. I’ve read the first three now and the books are far better than the films which never excited me much. Hopefully, I’ll finish the series in 2017.


Other books I really enjoyed in 2016 include: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Girl on the Train, Ceremony, The Raven Boys, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. 

What books did you guys love in 2016 and what are you looking forward to reading in 2017? Let me know on Twitter and Instagram. I have so many books in my TBR pile for next year so I’ll hopefully get a post up about that in the near future. Happy reading and a very Happy New Year!

 

Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan by Isabel Buchanan

So I’m posting this on a bit of a delay and, for once, it’s not because I forgot or ran out of time but because I wanted to wait until after the Saltire Literary Awards took place before I posted this review. Thanks to the Society of Young Publishers, I was lucky enough to join the Shadow Panel for the First Book Award at the annual Saltire Society Literary Awards. Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan by Isabel Buchanan was the first book I picked up on the list and while it was a slow starter, I enjoyed it in the end.  I wrote this before the awards took place so the winner (a joint victory for Trials and Chitra Ramaswamy’s Expecting) has no bearing on my thoughts.

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Trials: On Death Row In Pakistan is a non-fiction book written by Scottish lawyer, Isabel Buchanan. It chronicles her time working in a new legal chamber in Lahore, Pakistan under the watchful eye of a young and forceful Pakistani lawyer, Sarah Belal, who has made it her life’s mission to defend those condemned to death row in Pakistan. It follows the stories of several condemned inmates, short biographies of the other employees at Sarah’s chambers and tales of controversial blasphemy and unjust laws.

I studied Postcolonial Literature in my undergrad so this isn’t a text that I felt completely unfamiliar entering into. However, because of my studies, I’m hyper aware of the Western desire to portray Pakistan and the “mysterious East” as uncivilized, unfair and  inferior to Anglo-American society. So I approached Trials with enthusiasm to read something different after a summer of Young Adult fiction but also with caution after a year of studying Gayatri Spivak and Edward Said.

Buchanan treads a fine line between hard-hitting evidence and enchanting storytelling in this book. The opening page is a perfect example of this as she begins with the story of Mr Hussein who makes “the best chips and curry sauce in East Lothian.” For someone with an aversion to all things legal, except maybe binge-watching Suits on  Netflix, I was put at ease by the gentleness of this opening but make no mistakes: Trials is not a light or easy read and it quickly takes a turn towards a factual hurricane. Case after case, law after law, I was thrust into a world of blasphemy, bad handwriting, and badass women. All of which were, at times, intimidating.

The strong women are my favourite thing about Trials. Gayatri Spivak once said: ‘If, in the contest of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is, even more deeply in shadow.’ (Spivak, Cambridge: 1999) So it was refreshing to read a book set in Pakistan that features two women at the centre fighting for a cause they believe in as opposed to being portrayed as victims. Sarah Belal is one of the coolest women I’ve read in contemporary literature. I’ve since researched Belal a little and she is just as brilliant in real life as Buchanan portrays her in Trials. She’s the founder of Justice Project Pakistan which aims to serve the poorest prisoners facing the harshest punishments in the courts of law. She is incredibly intelligent and relentless in her pursuit of justice. If you don’t read this book then at least google her!

At times I struggled to understand what this book was supposed to be doing. Is it simply a chronicle of Buchanan’s time in Pakistan? Was it supposed to be provocative? Subjective or objective? I appreciated that Trials takes a step away from “court-drama Hollywood portrayal” of advocates and law firms but, at times, I felt like this book lost its path.

At times I got lost in the legal facts and for this reason, I wouldn’t recommend Trials to everyone. However, I do think the stories Buchanan is telling in this book are insurmountably important. Women like Sarah Belal are role models for the next generation of lawyers and activists so I’m glad that I had the opportunity to read it. Mostly I’d recommend this book to budding lawyers and maybe to anyone considering applying to study Law or Sociology at University but unless you have an avid interest in the world of law or postcolonial studies, I’m not too sure this is one for the Christmas list.


Spivak, Gayatri ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ from Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) p32

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

img_4361This blog is long overdue. I started reading Voyager in August but so much has happened since then (I moved to a new city and started my Masters degree) so it has taken me a bit longer to finish it and write a review. If you read my post on Dragonfly in Amber, you’ll know Gabaldon broke my heart with that ending so I was really eager to find out what would happen next. Without further ado, here’s what I thought about the third book in the Outlander series.

This review contains some *SPOILERS* so I won’t be held accountable for ruining anyone’s experience of the book or the third season of the TV show. If you’ve not read it and still want to, avert your eyes to another review!

All Outlander themed candles are from Meraki Candles.

 


1. It’s long.

This might be stating the obvious but I wanted to get it out of the way. I love Outlander, I adore Jamie Fraser but, gosh, these books are too long. On one hand, it means more time to enjoy the characters and Diana Gabaldon’s fascinating world but it also means I am deprived of the sense of achievement I should get when I finish a 400-page long book – three times over. It’s around 1500 pages long and for the first time in the series, I really felt some parts of the story were over-indulgent.

2. Everyone’s old!

Voyager takes place 20 years after Dragonfly in Amber and after the Battle of Culloden. For me, this wasn’t easy to adjust to. No longer is Jamie Fraser a youthful and rampant Highlander completely besotted with Claire. Well, he’s still rampant and besotted just without the youth. So much happens in the time that Jamie and Claire are separated, I felt like they were meeting again as completely different people. Like Claire, I felt like I had to decide whether or not I was willing to love Jamie despite not knowing what kind of man he had become in the twenty years we were apart.

Will ye take me and risk the man that I am, for the sake of the man ye knew...

3. Or dead!

If they’re not old and cynical, they’re not there at all. I was pretty upset about the way Voyager sweeps over some of my favourite characters in the jump through time. There is a very brief mention of Murtagh about 3/4 of the way through the book (I think?) but that’s all. For a character who was so important in the first two books and who meant a lot to me, I would’ve liked for him to feature in Claire and Jamie’s memories more. Every book in the series has a totally different mood and setting but with this means there is a whole host of characters that I grew to love but are left dead and buried in the previous book with no mention in the next. Having said that, I really loved the moment when Claire meets Mother Hildegarde in Paris again and they have a poignant moment for Claire’s first baby, Faith.

4. Trust nobody.

And we quickly realise that Jamie really isn’t the same anymore. He lies to Claire about having a kid and being married… TO LAOGHAIRE!? This was pretty unsettling and I’m not sure if I can bear to watch it unfold when Season 3 airs. Marrying Laoghaire was one thing but the constant secrecy and lies really stuck in my throat. And Claire’s ability to gloss over his life after throwing a small temper tantrum? I’m not sure I would forgive my Jamie quite as easily.

4. That Reunion Though.

 

Now that I got my least favourite bits out of the way, I can tell you all about the best bits and the moment I was desperately waiting for was the scene where Claire and Jamie see each other again after 20 years apart. It didn’t disappoint. Gabaldon kept me waiting and the tension that builds from the moment Claire returns to 18th century Scotland is unbearable. Will she find him? What will he say? It turns out nothing: when they do meet again, Jamie faints. And it is perfectly adorable in every way:

“You’re real,” he whispered. I had thought him pale already. Now all vestiges of color drained from his face. His eyes rolled up and he slumped to the floor in a shower of papers and oddments that had been sitting on the press – he fell rather gracefully for such a large man, I thought abstractedly.

He quickly wakes up and from this point on I’m just a big ball of messy emotions.

The tears spilled down my cheeks, only to soak into the rough cloth of his shirt as he pulled me hard against him.

Oh and…

I don’t know how long we sat there on the dusty floor, crying in each other’s arms with the longing of twenty years spilling down our faces.

For every time I complain about the length of these books or some of the absurd decisions made by the characters, Gabaldon wins me over again with her ability to break my heart and mend it over and over again. I know Gabaldon doesn’t want Outlander to be known as a love story. It is so much more than that but, for me, and I’m sure most fans of this book, it is the way Gabaldon writes Claire and Jamie’s epic love story that captures my heart every time.

5. Jamie’s a Publisher!

Many of you will know I’m studying a Masters degree in Publishing in Edinburgh so I was over the moon to discover Jamie’s new career in Voyager is running a printing press in Edinburgh under the guise of ‘Alexander Malcolm.’ It was fascinating to read about printing presses in the same city that I am studying the art of making books myself. Now when I wander around the cobbled streets of the old city, I can envision wild Highland Jamie up to no good with Fergus by his side. Jamie and I really are soulmates after all.

6. Lord John Grey

While some of my favourite characters are left behind in Dragonfly in Amber (Murtagh and Master Raymond), there are lots of characters introduced (or re-introduced in this case) in Voyager. Lord John Grey did, in fact, appear in Dragonfly in Amber as the young boy who tries to “save” Claire from Jamie and the brutish Highlanders on the eve of the Battle of Prestonpans. We see a lot more of him, all grown up, in this book and he is a really intriguing character. He’s homosexual at a time when it was very much illegal and, like everyone in the Outlander world, he’s got the hots for Jamie. What intrigues me is the feeling that Jamie has a deep affection for LJG in return. There is a bromance going on there in the end that I want to read more of and I know that Lord John plays a big role throughout the series so I’m excited to see how he develops as a character!

7. Geillis Returns (Again)

Oh My God. This was the big shocker that redeemed Voyager for me when I thought I was going to give up. Why didn’t I see this coming? I really enjoyed reading about future Geillis (a.k.a Gillian Edgar). Partly because it was fun hearing that she was a righteous SNP activist. One of the best scenes in the novel is when Roger, Claire and Brianna watch Geillis travel through the stones after sacrificing her husband. Gellis is one of the most badass characters in the whole series and her crazy return at the end as Mrs Abernathy was chilling.


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Overall, I really enjoyed Voyager – I just wish it was 400 pages shorter! I guess I just keep looking for that magic spark I had with Outlander but every book brings something completely different: different settings, characters and moods. I am (trying to be) on a book buying ban for the next few weeks/months until I work my way through my ever-expanding TBR pile so this time I mean it when I say I’m not buying Drums of Autumn for a long time or at least until I can no longer withstand not knowing what happens next.

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