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


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Sorry, it’s taken me so long to get this review up but between holidays and other blog posts, it’s just taken a back seat. Before I start I should warn you I love love love this book so I’m a little biased. My obsession has grown to heights of Twilight circa 2009. If, like me, you’re a big fan of the Outlander TV show and books then check out my Why I Love Meraki Candles and Totes by Alohomora Design posts for some Outlander-inspired memorabilia that I love.

Synopsis

Outlander, originally Cross Stitch, is the first of eight mammoth historical fiction novels. It is the tale of a young woman, Claire, a nurse with a passion for botany, who visits Inverness with her husband, a historian called Frank, on a second honeymoon after the ghastly trauma of the Second World War. On a visit to the standing stones at Craigh na Dun, Claire accidentally finds herself ‘falling through’ the stones and, upon sighting a Red Coat officer, she quickly realises she is not in the twentieth-century anymore. She has involuntarily travelled to the same spot… 200 years earlier.

In the 18th century Inverness, Claire is confronted by barbaric Scots and the equally barbaric British Army, especially her husband Frank’s vile ancestor: Captain “Black” Jack Randall. Claire is seen as an outsider – a “sassenach”- by both the Scots and Red Coats and spends most of her time trying to convince one that she is not a spy for the other.

The Good

Mixed with fantasy and historical fiction, this novel is above all else a love story. I am a sucker for romance and if this book does nothing else then it gives you one heck of an epic love story. Romantic lead, wild Highland Jamie, with tousled red locks and kilt, is one of the most swoon-worthy characters I’ve come across in fiction for a long time. However, I love that Gabaldon does not sacrifice some historical reality for the sake of making Jamie a ‘perfect’ man. He is both stubborn, excessively violent and, frankly, a little bit sexist too. But we have to remember that Jamie is 1740s Scottish outlaw and I think Gabaldon tackles this well. Yes, Jamie is rough around the edges but it is his willingness to change and to understand the world of civility that Claire comes from that makes him even more desirable. Plus, Gabaldon gives him some of the cheesiest, loveliest lines in literary history:

And thanking God that I have two hands. That I have two hands to hold you with. To serve you with, to love you with. Thanking God that I am a whole man still, because of you. – Jamie Fraser

And alongside the lovable and stubborn Jamie is Claire Randall and it is this novel’s protagonist that undoubtedly captures the hearts and imaginations of its readers. Claire is one of the best female characters I’ve read. She’s very strong-willed. I don’t want to give away too much plot but there is one scene in which Jamie and Claire get into a bit of a… violent altercation after she disobeys his command. She gives him a colourful display of her swearing repertoire and, I can’t find the exact quotation, but I’m sure she threatens to cut his heart out. It is her strength and conviction that really separates Claire Randall from the Anastasia Steele’s of the book world. And, Jamie loves her no less for her ferocity:

for all she’s a sassenach bitch… with a tongue like an adder’s… with a bum like that… what does it matter if she’s a f-face like a sh-sh-eep? – Jamie Fraser

In true Claire fashion, she proceeds to trip him up after that comment.

The Bad & The Ugly

The biggest complaint I have about Outlander is its length. It’s not a major problem for me as I love the book so much that I was happy for it to go on forever but it is loooong. I’m talking 963-page-and-tiny-font long. However, please don’t let the sheer size of the Outlander series put you off. I inhaled this book far quicker than most 300/400 page books I’ve encountered in the past few months. The length is merely indicative of Gabaldon’s love of intense, and sometimes gory, detail. She envelops you in the sights, smells and scenery of the Scottish Highlands and I love nothing more than when a book welcomes you into its world with open arms like that.

Another little snag: this book promotes itself as fantasy meets historical fiction. As I mentioned earlier, it’s more of a love story than anything else and this can be troubling if it’s not what you bargained for. Gabaldon certainly educates her reader on Scottish history. I’m ashamed to admit as a young Scot how little I knew about the Jacobite uprising and the ’45. I’ve since become more awakened to my heritage and I’m determined to learn more about where I come from. So kudos to Gabaldon for inspiring that.

However, it is on the fantasy side of things that the book does lack a little. Yes, Claire does travel through standing stones and wind up in a different century but other than that the magic is quite unmagical. Most of it is explained away with twentieth-century logic: witchcraft as early medicine, for example. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the magical element and I wonder if this is something that well unfold throughout the series. Claire seems to too readily accept what has happened to her without trying to find more answers so I hope I get those answers in the next few books.

It Must Be Love, Love, Love

Overall, Outlander and I go together like Jamie and Mrs Fitz’s “parritch.” It has been so long since a book has sparked my imagination the way this series has. If you haven’t read it and are too intimidated by its size or have heard mixed reviews, please put all preconceptions aside and give it a go. I know a few people who didn’t warm to it but I believe everyone should try it at least once.

On a side note, the TV show is also brilliant. I’m notoriously fussy about book to on-screen translations especially with films so I’m glad Starz made these books into full-length series to give it the time and attention each book deserves. It is one of the best adaptions I’ve encountered, it remains very faithful to its book or, at least, as much as you can be to a 1000 page book.

Give it a go and whether you’re a new or old fan of this franchise, keep an eye out for my Outlander inspired giveaway on Instagram – coming ‘verra’ soon. I’ll be featuring gifts from Alohomora Design, Mulderie Wood, Classic Bibliophile and more.

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Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for regular blog updates and lots of bookish photos. I’m currently reading the second Outlander novel, Dragonfly in Amber, so you can be sure to find lots of Jamie, Claire and the Highlands! 

Eating Veggie in Marbella: The Beach House

Hola!

Well, it can’t be summer forever and my nine days in Calahonda have come to a bittersweet end as I write the finale in my three-part ‘Eating Veggie in Marbella’ series. I hope you’ve had the chance to check out my El Oceano and Terra Sana reviews for your next visit to Costa Del Sol and please let me know if you have any veggie-friendly recommendations for my next visit to Marbella. In the meantime, read on for my review of The Beach House in Elviria.

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Love At First Sight?

As the name suggests, The Beach House is located right on the seafront in Elviria. They offer sun, sea and sand on a platter and if you’re a beach-lover then you need to visit this restaurant.

After spotting a photograph of the original ‘Beach House’, an old-fashioned ‘chiriniguito’ on stilts brimming with dishevelled beach bums, it is easy to see what lies at the heart of this salubrious restaurant. While the food and entertainment might be luxurious, it is the freedom and fun of the beach that truly inspires The Beach House. It certainly delivered as we enjoyed a night of wonderful live entertainment, laughter and the added perk of watching the sunlight fade over the ocean.

I mention the entertainment because it was La Negra Mayté Duo that really made our night stand out. You can catch this gorgeous Spanish duo singing and playing funky guitar every Friday night at The Beach House and I highly recommend it; they had everyone up on their feet singing and dancing by the end of the night.

Starters

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 A few of us opted for some lovely Strawberry Daiquiris to start the evening off. While the drinks were not particularly strong, the Daiquiri tasted just like freshly made strawberry jam. Our cocktails were followed by a selection of warm bread, garlic butter and olives. I don’t know how they managed it but The Beach House made us go crazy for such an ordinarily mundane entrée. The seeded bread was mouth-watering especially with a generous helping of garlic butter melting on top. As for the olives, nobody at our table can confess to being fans of olives but these were delicious. There was just something so light and inoffensive about these Mediterranean treats so we scoffed every last one.

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It didn’t stop there. The bread and olives were followed by a delicious teacup filled with roasted aubergine and garlic cream. This little cupful of soup was so dreamy. Would you laugh if I said it tasted like an upper-class Pot Noodle in the best way possible? And so far… all vegetarian-friendly!

For starters, I opted for the vine tomato, chilli, leek and cheese tartlet. I was giddy when the thick slice of cheesy pastry arrived topped with a gorgeous salad and creamy sundried tomato mayonnaise. Every bite melted in my mouth and made me look forward to the next. The other vegetarian option was a caesar salad finished with pesto dressing. It’s not a meal I would’ve chosen myself for fear of it being too plain but I was intrigued to see what would be delivered when my boyfriend ordered it. I was proven wrong as the salad came in a bowl of crisp filo pastry and the most delectable caesar dressing. I have to give The Beach House a lot of credit for making a very simple salad so delicious and I would definitely get this next time I visit.

Main Courses

I apologise for the poor lighting in these pictures but the sun had thoroughly disappeared by the time our main courses arrived so I was relying on the quaint candlelight and the power of my camera flash.

Although the selection wasn’t vast, the vegetarian options were pleasantly inventive. The vegetarian dish of the day was a spinach and feta linguine with red onion and garlic sauce and you could also choose a Malay style curry with lentils and organic veg and a side of homemade naan, pakora and rice. I chose the pasta dish which tasted a lot better than it looks in my picture. I surprisingly loved the addition of black olives (again, I’m not normally a fan but these were particularly tasty) and the chunks of cheese were heavenly. My boyfriend, Jamie, opted for the curry and I was lucky enough to steal a bite. I was envious of how wonderful it tasted and the pakora was so crunchy and delicious. However, the naan was flavoured with too much aniseed for my liking.

My main and only criticism of The Beach House is the portion size. The main courses were a bit too big. The heat, cocktails and all those entrées made for a stifling end to the meal even if I did manage to squeeze in half a dessert afterwards. Trust me, I am a big eater and even I couldn’t finish off the linguine – as much as I wanted to. I recommend skipping the starter (as wonderful as they were) so that you can really enjoy your main. Then you can sneak in a dessert if you’re still hungry. We shared the chocolate meringue mousse with salted caramel sauce and it was to die for!

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Overall Impression

While there weren’t a whole horde of vegetarian options to choose from, what was there was more than enough to satisfy. Where The Beach House lack in variety for vegetarians, they make up for in an amazing ambience, huge flavour and hearty portions. I would recommend The Beach House to anyone looking for a fun, relaxed evening with fantastic entertainment and tasty food to eat while you watch the waves roll on to the sand.

Follow The Beach House on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or make a reservation by visiting their website

The Muse by Jessie Burton

Why are we so trapped by the hours, the minutes of every day? Why can’t we live the life that’s always out of reach?

As a massive fan of The Miniaturist, it felt like Christmas Day when I came home to my pre-ordered hardback copy of The Muse by Jessie Burton. For a start, the cover illustration is breathtaking. Every detail of Burton’s novels, inside and out, fill me with the magical feeling that I thought I’d left behind in my childhood of Roald Dahl novels. She captures the imagination like no other contemporary author that I can think of. Needless to say, I was slightly apprehensive about how high my hopes had been built but I was not disappointed.

The Muse tells two incredible tales of female artists set over two different time periods: 1967, London and 1936, southern Spain. In 1967, Odelle is a Trinidadian immigrant who has been living in London for five years. She is a struggling writer but her potential is unlocked by her mysterious new boss, Marjorie Quick, who pushes Odelle to go beyond the boundaries of her gender and race and fulfill her dream of being a published author. Odelle is shy and wary; she approaches everything in her life with the utmost caution from career prospects to her romantic life.

No wonder we scaredy-cats retreated into books. Sex was beneath us, because it was beyond us.

In 1936, the struggling artist is stubborn and ferocious, Olive, the daughter of a depressed Hollywood-esque starlet and an Austrian art seller. Olive has been offered a place at the Sade to study art but is unable to attend as she is whisked away by her parents to live in Andalusia because of her mother’s poor mental health. Unlike Odelle, Olive faces life with wild abandonment throwing herself deeply into a love affair with an enigmatic revolutionary, Isaac Robles. However, like Odelle, Olive is frustrated by the boundaries she faces as a female artist; she knows her paintings simply could not sell with her name on them so she and her housemaid, Teresa, construct a plan to get her artwork noticed while remaining invisible. When I think of the women in this novel, I think of the following Toni Morrison quote from Sula about the dangers of ridding a woman of her creative outlet:

Like any artist without an art form, she became dangerous.

As for the settings in The Muse, post-war industrial London and earthy, rural Andalusia lend themselves beautifully to the story and they come alive in Burton’s dense writing style. I expected nothing less after experiencing Burton’s Amsterdam in The Miniaturist. Everything is described in beautiful, painstaking detail. I felt like I could taste and smell the air the characters were breathing and I was completely lost in the ambers and golds of the dry Southern Spanish landscape. I’m visiting Malaga in two weeks time and I can’t wait to pretend I’m Olive Schloss dreamily walking through the old town.

Finishing The Muse feels like the end of a wonderful love affair: I’m heartbroken that it is over, frustrated that I have to wait to fall in love with another book again and frightened that something as exciting and wonderful might not come along anytime soon but it is worth the heartache to have experienced it. The Muse is full of mystery, passion, heartache and the ferocious will to survive in a world that is burning down all around you. I urge you to buy a copy and put it at the top of your summer to-be-read pile so that you too can be whisked away into another space and time by this stunning novel.

If you’ve read The Muse let me know what you thought on Facebook, Twitter, or  Instagram where you can keep up to date with what I’m reading.

N.B: some  comments on my blog from the author herself.

 


To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

 

Candle photographed above is from Mobros Candles and diary is by Mr Wonderful.

What a rollercoaster this book was for me. I was so excited to read this because I adored and completely devoured The Summer I Turned Pretty Series. As far as the Young Adult genre goes, it is easily my favourite series of books. And To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, like Fangirl, has had a lot of hype in the bookstagram community. So it was on my TBR list for quite a while and lay teasingly on my bookshelf while I made it through Senior Honours at University.

Boy, was I disappointed when I opened it up. If you follow me on Instagram then you will have watched my journey through this book: it did not get off to a good start. My first impression was bad – why was a seventeen year old girl calling her parents Daddy and Mommy? Is this an inherently American thing that makes me squirm because I’m British? Secondly, the awful Scottish stereotypes. I saw it coming as soon as I read that Margot was moving to Scotland. I only realised it was St Andrews at the very end of the book, until then Scotland was treated like one big amalgamation and not a variation of very culturally different places. That reached a new level of annoyance when Margot was thinking about joining a “shinty” club. During my four years at Glasgow University not one of my friends or acquaintances ever mentioned a shinty club; I had never even heard of this supposedly Scottish sport. I have since learned it is a thing but it’s traditional and more common in the Highlands than the West coast where I live. Nonetheless, it felt like a lazy and inaccurate stereotype as if Jenny Han googled Scottish sports and picked the most foreign sounding game she could find. Sports like football, rugby and hockey are so much more popular here! I half expected Margot to Skype her sisters eating haggis in a kilt.

I wanted to give up but since I already abandoned Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris last week I felt like I couldn’t give in that easily. Plus I had enjoyed The Summer I Turned Pretty books SO much that I knew I had to give Jenny Han the benefit of the doubt. I was glad I did. While the first 100 pages had been a disappointment, the next 300 were magical. I couldn’t put it down. Yes, there were a few YA clichés: bad boy love interest, a love triangle, and a hopeless family that you love no matter what. However, I could move past them because Jenny Han’s characters are always really well developed and lovable.

While, at first, Lara Jean seemed a very whiny and annoying main character to follow, I grew to love her quirks. Her range of emotions would spike from high to low very quickly and her fleeting interest in more than one boy seemed very authentic for a teenage girl. I don’t know many young girls that sustain a crush for much longer than a few months before moving on to the next love-of-their-life. As far as the love triangle in the novel goes, I was Team Josh until about halfway through when I realised he was also moany and irritating. Not to mention the fact that he kisses his ex-girlfriend’s sister only months after they break up. YET HE CALLS PETER THE DOUCHEBAG?!?!?

I love Kavinsky. Traditionally handsome, arrogantly charming but has a soft squishy heart underneath his cool guy exterior. Everything I want in a romantic lead. I can’t be the only reader that squealed every time Kavinsky was sweet to Lara-Jean’s little sister, Kitty. Their relationship is just adorable. I love Kitty too. She’s spunky, feisty and takes no prisoners – reminds me of my own little sister which is probably why I could relate to Lara Jean as a protagonist so much.

The ending was slightly anti-climactic for me after finally falling in love with the book but I suppose Jenny Han was leaving it very open ended for the sequel. I would have liked more closure between Lara Jean and Kavinsky. It was a smart move on Han and the publishers’ parts because now I just have to buy P.S I Still Love You to find out what happens next.

Have you read To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before? What did you think?

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Originally, I wasn’t going to write a review on this book because dun dun dun I couldn’t actually finish it. Then I realised that it could be more important to write about the books we don’t finish than the ones we can’t get enough of. What stopped me? At what point did I realise my time was too precious to waste on this book? This morning I read an article written by Kenny Pieper on a taboo subject for any avid reader: On Not Finishing Books. It is a brilliant read for any book lover with a case of unfinished-book-guilt and it inspired me to write a review on this novel despite only making it halfway through.

First of all, I was so excited to read this. I’ve read all of Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series and I loved it. Everything about the Stackhouse world drew me in and kept me going for half a dozen books. My expectations for Harris were high. I even included Midnight Crossroad in my Five Books I’m Reading This Summer blog in May. Now I wish I’d reserved that place for something else.

With Charlaine Harris, I expected darkness, mystery and, most of all, I expected sexiness. The Sookie Stackhouse novels are packed with sex appeal. She created one of the sexiest literary characters of all time: Eric Northman. Coming from an ex-vampire fanatic, it does not get any better than Eric Northman. So when I tucked into Midnight Crossroad I was eagerly anticipating another one of Harris’ beautiful badass male characters and instead I got Manfred Bernardo (yes, that has to be the unsexiest name of all time) He’s a slightly creepy twenty-two year psychic with silver hair and multiple eyebrow piercings. Straight away, I was disappointed. Where was the famous True Blood sex appeal?

So, with a sigh, I told myself it could still be a great murder mystery, just without the seductiveness. 150 pages later: there had been a murder but it was meh and I had not been excited by a single one of Midnight’s multiple residents. Even the town vampire, Lemuel, (yet another incredibly unsexy name) was dull. For some reason, Harris wastes page upon page on monotonous detail. In a town with snake-shifters, vampires, witches and psychics, nothing happens. Even the murder is a non-event. It is discovered at a bloomin’ community picnic. Ultimately, after reading 150 pages, I knew more about what Fiji and her cat had for lunch every day than anything else.

It is rare that I strongly dislike a book. Studying English & Comparative Literature for four years has given me a profound appreciation of the most mundane books and short stories but this takes banality to a new level. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you read the Sookie Stackhouse series if you’re looking for a meaty mystery novel with all things dark fantasy thrown in but do yourself a favour and give the Midnight Texas series a complete miss.

If you finished this book, what did you think? Did it get any better past the halfway point?

Room by Emma Donoghue

I read Room in January this year after one of my best friends recommended it to me. She inhaled the whole thing in a day and for me that’s the sign of a really good book. I knew the film was coming out in February so I put it at the top of my priority list so that I could read it before catching it on the big screen. This book is wonderful and I highly recommend it! It’s one of the few books I’ve given a five star rating to on GoodReads in the past few years. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll keep it quite general but please read it!
First of all, it’s all told from the perspective of a five year old, Jack, which is completely different from any book I’ve ever read. I’ll admit that, at first, it is frustrating reading the voice of a five year old but once you settle into little Jack’s world, you realise he is one of the most rewarding narrators you’ll ever encounter. I also think there’s something to be said about the frustration I felt. My irritation at not being able to wholly grasp Jack’s world because of his limited understanding and his struggle to articulate himself reflects Jack’s frustration as a young child struggling to understand the world around him. Instead of opting for an omniscient voice, Donoghue allows you to fully immerse yourself into the secret life of a five year old. It reminded slightly me of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in this sense. A lot of the mystery in these books stems from the innocent unreliability of their narrators.
The novel deals with the very harrowing subject of abduction and, to a certain extent, the concept of Stockholm syndrome through the naive eyes of little Jack. It could even make a fantastic fictional case study for sociology students. The novel sparked a lot of questions in my mind: How much are we affected by the people around us growing up? Is motherly love the most important thing in the world?
It probes for a lot of debate around social norms. For example, Jack never cuts his hair so when he finally experiences the real world for the first time, people think he’s a little girl. And Ma breastfeeds Jack for the first five years of his life. Apparently a lot of readers have been shocked and felt uncomfortable when Jack asks his mum for “some” and lifts up her shirt to breastfeed but that opens a whole other can of some badass feminist worms that I should leave for another day. When asked about it, Donoghue said it just “seemed entirely natural.” It made me wonder how much of parenting is natural and how much is social expectations? Do we have to dress our children a certain way, cut their hair, stop breastfeeding at a specific age and make sure their talking and walking at the right times too? I’ve spoke to real mothers about this kind of thing and I think the answer is that every child and every parent is different with a different set of needs so why shouldn’t and why wouldn’t Ma nurture her son in the most natural way a mother can in their extreme circumstances?
Okay, I’ve ended up ranting about societal expectations and gender norms more than I planned to and I’ve gone a little off course. Room is a unique book and it deals with such a horrifying and upsetting event in a beautiful and poignant way. Every minute detail is bursting with meaning. As for the film, it was also fantastic but cut way too much out of the book (as always) and didn’t have a patch on the original story but it’s worth seeing for Brie Larsen’s stunning performance. Ultimately, I can’t commend Emma Donoghue enough for her creation and I can’t wait to read another one of her books soon.