5 books I really, really NEED to read!

My TBR* is currently over 400 books long, and one day I will get around to reading every single one of them, but until that day, there will always be some of them that manage to creep their way up the list, on the basis of being made of awesome. These are five books that have pushed their way up so far that I cannot wait to read them!

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I’ve never been a loud woman. Even when I manage to get a handle of my social anxiety, I doubt very much I will be a loud woman, but this book isn’t so much about being an extrovert, as it is about finding your own voice: the one that’s buried beneath decades of ‘that’s not very ladylike’, and your endless apologies; the one that’s convinced you you’re not worth anything because of how you look, and the one that’s taught you how ‘we don’t talk about that’.
Shrill is about women, regardless of shape, size, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender, binary or non-binary, finding their voices from buried below the ones that have kept us quiet for centuries.

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One of my favourite things as a reader is unexpectedly falling in love with a book. Last year, that happened to me with Max Wirestone’s The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, an unashamedly geeky and hilarious murder mystery, which celebrated the eccentricities of fandoms, with a fish-out-of-water tale of a woman who unexpectedly finds herself embroiled in the weird wonderful world of MMORPGs. I gave it four stars, and ended my review with the phrase ‘[I] really, really hope we see more of Dahlia Moss in the future!’ Thus why I’m so excited for this follow up, The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss. I cannot wait to read more of the ridiculous but wonderful circumstances Dahlia ends up in.

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Another sequel to one of my favourites of 2016, Now I Rise is the second in The Conqueror’s Saga by Kiersten White, which started last Summer with the wonderful, And I Darken. This is an AU story about what would have happened if Vlad the Impaler had actually been a woman. The result is the effortlessly vicious, Lada Dracul, who is the kind of leading lady protagonist I worship. She’s such a dark and complex character, which you simply cannot predict, and who never betrays her own morals and beliefs. We need more ladies like her in the realms of fantasy fiction!

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This is one of those books I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet. Me, who laps up epic fantasy like a cat drinking milk.
If you, like me, have failed at life, because have so far not read this book, The Name of the Wind is the story of Kvothe, an all-powerful wizard, told in the style of a coming-of-age story, through the eyes of the character himself.
I’ve heard nothing but great things and five-starred reviews about this book, and the glorious style in which Patrick Rothfuss writes.
The question is: do I read it or listen to the audiobook?
As always, thoughts always welcomed!

 

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Every once in a while you hear about a book you just know you’re going to be willing to do anything to get your hands on. This year, for me, that book is Lisa Lueddecke’s debut novel A Shiver of Snow and Sky. Everything I have seen and heard about this sounds amazing, and also, incredibly beautiful. The first page preview Lisa shared back in October only confirms that. I love it when authors write with that lyrically poetic style, there’s something magical about it that only helps to further immerse you into the world they’ve crafted. The writing, the cover, EVERYTHING about this book is beautiful, and I cannot wait to read it!

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*My Goodreads TBR, at least. My actual list of every book I want to read doesn’t exist as it would make me cry every time I looked at it and realised that I’ll never reach the end of it!

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The Curious Case of the 5-Star Reviews

Over the past few months I have become addicted to audiobooks, and, as a big fantasy fan, the epic fantasy genre on Audible has become one of my favourite places on the internet. I am gradually working my way through the best sellers list, one book at a time, and, earlier this year, having finished J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I was really excited to come upon Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy.

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Following the lives of forming fencing champion, now crippled torturer, Inquisitor Glokter, pompous and vain Captain Jezal dan Luthar, and bloody Northman, Logen Ninefingers, the First Law trilogy is a multi-arc adventure spanning a world full of war and magic.

It sounded right up my alley, and having got a 4.6 rating out of over 1400 reviews, it seemed like a safe bet that I would enjoy it.

As this blog title might suggest however, I did not, and have been left utterly bewildered as to why it has so many five-star reviews.

Let me hasten to add, my enjoyment was in no way hindered by the wonderful narrator, Steven Pacey, who is so versatile, it’s incredibly easy to forget that just one man is voicing every single character here. It was a wonderful performance from him, so the problem definitely does not lie there.

Instead, my biggest problems lay primarily with the poor structure and terrible handling of female characters.

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The former is almost non-existent. Even by the time I had got halfway through the final book, The Last Argument of Kings, I still did not know where this book was headed, and not in a good way.

A well-written fantasy, especially one on this scale, should have a sense of direction; a gradual build up to the big climax, so that there is a satisfying crescendo, and you finish reading with a firm sense of finality. In the case of this series however, there was none of that. I had no idea what it was all leading up to at any point throughout the three books, and what I would guess to be the actual denouement itself came well before the end of the trilogy, was fairly short-lived, and ended rather abruptly, resulting in a really unsatisfying conclusion to the story.

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But if the structure was bad, then the representation of female characters was atrocious. Even with a forgiving hat on, I could not find any decency in the way the (very few) women in this story were treated.

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With only four female characters of any worth, there is only one who is allowed her own voice: Ferro, and she is not nearly fleshed out enough.

Throughout the story there are continual references to her past history as a slave, which have ultimately left her very closed-off and wary. An understandable reaction, but there is little to no character development throughout the trilogy that sees her recover from this, and the only time we do get a hint of her starting to open up slightly, is when she offers to have sex with one of her fellow travelling companions. These moments are told almost entirely through the eyes of the male characters, and are presented as if she’s somehow “healing” from her past because she’s not being a bitchy prude any more!

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The other three women are treated no better. The strongest of the three is ultimately declared weak when it is revealed she has children, one is viewed, once again, as no more than an object of sexual desire, and the other is frequently treated terribly, neglected and forgotten, but seemingly forgives everyone in spite of all this.

In comparison, the male characters are fully-fleshed out, dynamic and interesting, with many different facets to their personalities, something I would praise if it were not for the clear inequality in gender representation.

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All of this leads me back to my original question: how on earth did this get so many five-star reviews?! Abercrombie did himself admit he was heavily inspired by Tolkien’s works (in a blog post that I couldn’t even finish it was so infuriating!), and, despite being a big fan, it’s fair to say Tolkien wasn’t exactly female-friendly either, but even if these five-star reviewers were just accepting that the epic fantasy genre is infamous for bad female representation, can they not see the difference between including few female characters, and including few female characters that are shockingly reliant on stale sexist stereotypes?!

I pushed through this trilogy in the hopes that it would improve, that my doubts would be resolved in a satisfactory way, but ultimately I feel like I wasted a good thirty hours of my life listening to a misogynistic disappointment.

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