Category Archives: Women’s Fiction

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson


Image Description: book cover of You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson. The cover mostly consists of robin’s egg blue background, with title text and author text up the top of the book, in the foreground is a close-up head-shot of Phoebe Robinson with a serious expression on her face. Her hair is styled in a short-bob style two-toned afro that curls around her face.

Title: You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain
Author: Phoebe Robinson
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads
Publisher and Format: eBook from Plume
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

About the Author:
PHOEBE ROBINSON is a stand-up comedian, writer, and actress whom Vulture.com, Essence, and Esquire have named one of the top comedians to watch. She has appeared on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers and Last Call with Carson Daly; TBS’s Conan, Comedy Central’s Broad City, and @midnight with Chris Hardwick; as well recently landing a recurring role on the new Jill Soloway show for Amazon I Love Dick.
Robinson’s writing has been featured in The Village Voice, NY Mag, and on Glamour.com, TheDailyBeast.com, VanityFair.com, Vulture.com, and NYTimes.com. She was also a staff writer on MTV’s hit talking head show, Girl Code, as well as a consultant on season three of Broad City.
Most recently, she created and starred in Refinery29’s web series Woke Bae and, alongside Jessica Williams, formerly of The Daily Show, she is the creator and costar of the hit WNYC podcast 2 Dope Queens as well as the host of the critically-acclaimed WNYC podcast Sooo Many White Guys. Robinson is the author of the New York Times best-selling book, You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain, a collection of essays about race, gender, and pop culture. Robinson lives and performs stand-up in Brooklyn, NY, and is busy planning her upcoming nuptials to Michael Fassbender.

About the Book:
Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and fresh absurdities every day. Comedian Phoebe Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she’s been unceremoniously relegated to the role of “the black friend,” as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she’s been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel (“isn’t that . . . white people music?”); she’s been called “uppity” for having an opinion in the workplace; she’s been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she’s ready to take these topics to the page—and she’s going to make you laugh as she’s doing it.
Using her trademark wit alongside pop-culture references galore, Robinson explores everything from why Lisa Bonet is “Queen. Bae. Jesus,” to breaking down the terrible nature of casting calls, to giving her less-than-traditional advice to the future female president, and demanding that the NFL clean up its act, all told in the same conversational voice that launched her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, to the top spot on iTunes. As personal as it is political, You Can’t Touch My Hair examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humour and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.

General Observation:
~Diverse Books Reading Challenge: While this novel does address a specific category of racism and microaggressions, the experiences of woman of colour who lives in New York and works as an actress/comedian, it is important that non-white people get the opportunity to share their experiences.
It’s also important for white people to recognise that racism and microaggressions can occur in multiple ways. It not always racial slurs, sometimes it’s white people pretending not to notice that you’ve been standing at the register for fifteen minutes or following you around the store to make sure you’re not shop-lifting.

~Exactly What It Says On The Tin: Phoebe Robinson explains thoroughly why you can’t touch her hair and other racial things people should know by now. Phoebe Robinson goes into detail the complicated relationship people of colour, and especially women of colour, have with their hair. That the choice to have natural hair could be a difficult decision with far reaching consequences.
While I was aware of the racial double-standards that can occur regarding people of colour and their hair, I hadn’t realised just how much time, money, and effort went into maintaining a “passable” or “acceptable” Level of hair presentation. I especially enjoyed the “The History of Hair” chapter.

~Let Me Entertain You: While the novel does dedicate a lot of space to racism in America, it’s not the only thing Phoebe Robinson talks about. My favourite chapters are the series of letters that Phoebe Robinson writes to her niece Olivia, which is kind of a funny coincidence as I also have a niece named Olivia, and I found some of the pearls of wisdom Phoebe Robinson wished to bestow upon her niece amusing and relatable.

In conclusion, due to the racial tensions currently occurring in the United States of America, I can’t help but feel that while this book is funny and engaging, it is also depressingly relevant. To be honest, a lot of the topics covered in the novel seemed obvious to me, but the fact that Phoebe Robinson felt the need to write an entire novel dedicated to these topics prove that it’s not obvious to everyone.

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Beloved by Toni Morrison

Image Description: book cover of Beloved by Toni Morrison
Title: Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
Social Media: Goodreads
Publisher: Vintage Digital, Imprint of Random House
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Format and Price: E-Book at $14.99

About The Author:
Toni Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford), is an American author, editor, and professor who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for being an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”

Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters; among the best known are her novels The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. In 2001 she was named one of “The 30 Most Powerful Women in America” by Ladies’ Home Journal.

About The Book:
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.

General Observations:

~It’s Personal: This book is surprisingly personal for me, which might sound weird as a white Australian woman, but there is logic behind it. As a child, my parents were the type of people who would urged me to watch anti-racist movies, read anti-racist books and books about World War Two, my favourite movie as a child was the movie adaptation of The Colour Purple (unfortunately I’ve yet to read the book). The movie adaptation of Beloved was one of those movies that I watched as a child and it has stuck with me my whole life, even though I didn’t always understand all the deeper sub-text and history behind it. It wasn’t until I began reading Beloved that I realised there was a sub-conscious connection between this book and one of my WIP novel ideas (one I had created when I was a teenager). The image of Sethe with a tree carved into her back formed the germ of an idea of a novel and a character who also had her own tree to bear. As a result, this book is very important to me, and I fear my review will not do it justice.

~A way with words: Toni Morrison takes on the enormous and difficult task of giving a potentially fictionalised account of what could have happened regarding the Margret Garner case. Toni Morrison manages to convey a balanced point of view of the situation. Sethe is humanised and her choices are made understandable. Sethe is characterised as a maternal woman who loves her family, so that even when the reader is made aware of the fact that Sethe murdered her own daughter, the reader is capable to seeing it for what it would otherwise be depicted, not a monstrous act of mindless violence and rage, but a desperate act born of limited choices. But Toni Morrison also depicts the judgement and morality of the situation by the character representation of the women from the town and Paul D, however, in the end the women from the town and Paul D are willing to put their personal feelings aside and offer Sethe the help she needs. I don’t think anyone but Toni Morrison could write this book, she’s just such a phenomenal writer who understands her characters so well. I would describe Toni Morrison’s writing style as poetical but at times obscure, it would often take me a few re-reads of a page and sometimes a whole chapter before I fully understood what the chapter was trying to convey. The chapters narrated by Beloved and Paul D were, for me, the hardest to understand, but given what they represented as symbols of slavery and racism, this was understandable.

In conclusion, I hold a special place for this book in my bookshelf, it’s an intensive read but it is worthy of the effort, Toni Morrison is an amazing writer and this is an amazing book, just please go read it.

References:

~Lister, R 2009, ‘Toni Morrison and the Novel’ in Reading Toni Morrison, Santa Barbara: Greenwood, pp. 13-22

~Morrison, J 2003, ‘Chapter Eight: Toni Morrison: blackness and the historical imagination,’ Contemporary Fiction, London: Routledge, pp. 115-32

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The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

The Natural Way of Things
Title: The Natural Way of Things
Author: Charlotte Wood
Social Media: Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Format and Price: E-Book at $17.79

About The Author:
The Australian newspaper has described Charlotte Wood as “one of our most original and provocative writers.”

She is the author of five novels and a book of non-fiction. Her latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, won the 2016 Indie Book of the Year and Indie Fiction Book of the Year prizes, was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and longlisted for the Miles Franklin. It will be published in the UK and North America in 2016. Charlotte was also editor of the short story anthology Brothers and Sisters, and for three years edited The Writer’s Room Interviews magazine. Her work has been shortlisted for various prizes including the Christina Stead, Kibble and Miles Franklin Awards. ​Two novels — The Children and The Natural Way of Things — have been optioned for feature films.

About The Book:
Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage – a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted.

Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a ‘nurse’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl’s past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue – but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

The Natural Way of Things is a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted. Most of all, it is the story of two friends, their sisterly love and courage.

With extraordinary echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies, The Natural Way of Things is a compulsively readable, scarifying and deeply moving contemporary novel. It confirms Charlotte Wood’s position as one of our most thoughtful, provocative and fearless truth-tellers, as she unflinchingly reveals us and our world to ourselves.

General Observations:
~Feminist Think Piece: There’s a reason why this book won The Stella Prize for 2016. It very metaphorical, symbolic and very literary. I can imagine this book being very decisive and possibly polarizing, not just among literary critics but also among Feminist Readers such as myself. Books like these need to be studied at university level to give forum to conversation about Misogyny, Sexism (internalized or otherwise) and Domestic Violence in Australia.

Especially since a woman is murdered once a week due to Domestic Violence in Australia. However, I get the impression that this book was written for someone who isn’t that familiar with Feminism or doesn’t read Feminist literature/articles (though I will not proclaim myself to be an expert on Feminism), because sometimes the symbolism (while is still necessary) does sometimes come across as heavy-handed (such as the make-up as a symbol).

~Rule of Symbolism: I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the ending made me angry, however I understand that perhaps the ending was supposed to make me angry. I was supposed to want the women’s uprising and for the women to hijack the metaphorical bus. However I was mostly angry because the heavy use of symbolism. One of the symbols used is the giant Electric Fence of Death, it’s literally used to contain EVERYONE (not just the women) and one of the women use it to kill themselves. No-one can get in and no-one can get out. But it did make me wonder how and why there were so many rabbits and at least one kangaroo inside the confines of the fence (I get it, “Symbolism”, but symbolism should still have a degree of practicality).

One such example is the make-up and feminine luxuries being used as a symbol of male oppression and the acceptance of make-up as women accepting male oppression (despite the fact that these women have been essentially living in a concentration camp for over six months, if they want to wear make-up, that’s their choice). The whole point of Feminism is for women to be able to make the choice themselves, not have the choice forced upon them. Simply going from one extreme (no make-up, no showering/bathing, no access to plumbing, no access to clean clothes) to the other (make-up and other feminine hygiene products like sanitary napkins, toilet access on a bus) is still enforcing the patriarchal belief that people are entitled to tell women what they can and can’t do with regards to personal presentation.

~Two Dimensional Characters: I understand that this is a character-orientated novel, and not my preferred plot-orientated novel, however while the subject is fascinating and interesting, the characters are not engaging enough the carry the novel. Yolanda and Verla are the only two characters the Readers get an intimate perspective from and the pace of their character arch is slow to read, the Reader only gets shallow snippets of the other eight women, despite the fact that Hettie and Nancy are two of the few characters actively pushing the plot along (although I understand why Verla uses the more passive-aggressive method of carefully and meticulously planning her next phase of attack, waiting for the right moment is all she can do). The three guards (Boncer, Teddy and Nancy) are all symbolic, so they lack any exploration or depth (or at least until some of the characters start dying, then the readers gets glimpses into the possibilities of their character but nothing concrete or real).

While Yolanda and Verla grow and change (whether it’s positive or negative is a debate in and of itself) over the course of the novel, none of the other characters do. While this could be argued that this is an intentional message about static characters and their refusal to grow or change or that if women that accept subjection in exchange for privileges won’t advance, this isn’t interesting enough to hold my attention, I found this novel difficult to continue reading and felt the novel lost momentum after the plot-point of how the mysterious Hardings isn’t showing up and they (guards and prisoners) were trapped at this supposedly abandoned cattle station.

All in all, The Natural Way of Things is a good book, it’s well written and I would definitely recommend people read it. However it’s not my style of novel (character orientated), I didn’t find it engaging enough and I didn’t find it realistic enough in its application of symbolism. I think the idea behind it is great, but I honestly think it should either be a short story or essay, or even a collection of short stories with “The Natural Way of Things” being the first story and then a series of short stories/chapters detailing and exploring the other characters (who they were, what motivated them, why they were there). However perhaps that’s just me, I understand that even though as a reader I have a strong inclination towards character resolution, however the reality of the matter is that some people don’t change and sometimes there aren’t neat resolutions or easy answers.

The Beast's Garden by Kate Forsyth

The Beast's Garden
Title: The Beast’s Garden
Author: Kate Forsyth
Social Media: Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter
Publisher: Random House Books Australia
Source: Book supplied by Collins Booksellers – Bacchus Marsh
Rating: 5 out of 5

About The Author:
Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the award-winning & internationally bestselling author of more than 35 books for both adults and children. Her books for adults include ‘The Wild Girl’, the love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales; ‘Bitter Greens’, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale; and the bestselling fantasy series ‘Witches of Eileanan’ Her books for children include ‘The Impossible Quest’, ‘The Gypsy Crown’, ‘The Puzzle Ring’, and ‘The Starkin Crown’. Kate has a doctorate in fairytale studies, a Masters of Creative Writing, a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, and is an accredited master storyteller.

About The Book:
The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.

General Observations:
~Topic of Interest: My parents were the type of people who got me to read books like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Silver Sword as a child, insisted I watch movies such as Schindler’s List and Nuremberg. My father is also a HUGE history enthusiast, which has been very influential. So World War Two is something I naturally know a lot about, however what I loved about this book is the obviously large amount of research involved, apparently Kate Forsyth spent two years researching this and at the end of the novel there’s a full chapter dedicated to the books and various resources Kate Forsyth had used (all authors should do this).

~Multiple View Points: One of this novel’s strengths is that it has multiple view points, after all War affects people in different ways, all the different view points blend together well and create strong realistic characters and great narrative conflict, from my perspective the novel wouldn’t be as interesting as it if it was all from Ava’s point of view. I really enjoyed reading chapters featuring The Red Orchestra

~Earn Your Happy Ending: To a very serious level. Things do work out in the end in a way that’s satisfying and realistic. For once, the romantic sub-plot doesn’t take over the story and it’s a vital part of the narrative. I think it also helps that Ava and Leo are interesting three-dimensional characters.

Overall, please go read it, it’s a great book written by an Australian Author (what more can I say?). Please feel free to leave a World War Two Book Recommendation in the comments.

Recommended Reading List:
~The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

~Hitler’s Daughter by Jackie French

~The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

~Sapphire Skies by Belinda Alexandra

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