If you’re getting cosy with a book these Christmas holidays or looking for something fabulous to read on a trip in the New Year, then check out my reviews for the best winter books for 2018. From dispatches inside a Russian jail with a member of Pussy Riot to the history of vibrators in the USA, there’s definitely something to keep you entertained this winter.
People who believe in freedom and democracy think it will exist forever. That is a mistake. What happened in Russia – what happened to me – could happen anywhere.
When I was jailed for political protest, I learned that prison doesn’t just teach you to follow the rules. It teaches you to think that you can never break them.
It’s inevitable that the prison gates will open at some point. But this doesn’t mean that you leave the ‘prisoner’ category and go straight into the category of ‘the free’. Freedom does not exist unless you fight for it every day. This is the story about how I made a choice.
Most of the books in my winter round-up have been written by someone famous but without the balaclava, you probably wouldn’t recognise Maria Alyokhina’s name. You’ll definitely know who Pussy Riot are though. This book isn’t the definitive account of the short-lived activist band but rather Maria’s personal recollections of what it was like to live through this highly publicised time in her life: the plan, the protest, the arrest, the jail time.
This book is only about 200 pages but it’s powerful in its everydayness. Well, doing activism is pretty normal to me but maybe not so much for everyone – but still, you would imagine by the way that Russia treated these women that they’d tried to blow something up rather than sing a song in a church. One of the things I’ve always found so fascinating about Pussy Riot is how they went from the fringes of Russian society to international icons within a matter of days, and what a huge struggle it was for them to adjust. This book is a nice window into that experience.
Ten years ago, Abby Williams left her hometown behind. Ever since she has tried her best to forget the past. The sinister ‘Game’; the merciless bullying; the night of the bonfire, when The Game stopped.
Most of all, she wants to forget Kaycee Mitchell.
But now Abby must return home. Her task at hand: to investigate Optimal Plastics, the corporation that forms the backbone of the small town. A successful environmental lawyer, she swears things will be different. She is older. Sophisticated. Confident. But once she begins digging, the memories start creeping back and as past and present collide, the investigation turns deadly.
How far would you go to keep the past hidden?
If you have a Netflix account, you’ll probably know who Krysten Ritter is: Jessica Jones, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 – plus a featured spot in season 7 of Gilmore Girls. I love how un-American she looks for TV land with her pale skin and black hair. I also love the fact that she’s written a book, that it’s good and I can totally imagine her playing the lead role.
Abby is a little bit Jessica Jones, in terms of her energy: a dark, haunted seeker-of-truth who is determined to never let anyone fuck with her ever again. She returns to her small hometown after a decade away, ostensibly for work. Abby is an environmental lawyer and her team from Chicago are tasked with investigating the Optimal, the manufacturing plant who may or may not have been polluting the water. We quickly realise that Abby has a lot of ghosts she never laid to rest here and her homecoming is going to stir up a lot more than professional trouble. I really enjoyed this story and hope she writes some more books with awesome female characters.
Sixteen-year-old friends Red, Leo, Rose, and Naomi are misfits; still figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Life isn’t perfect, but music unites them, and they’re excited about what the future holds for their band, Mirror, Mirror. That is until Naomi vanishes before being pulled unconscious out of the river.
She’s left fighting for her life in a coma. The police claim it was a failed suicide attempt, but her friends aren’t convinced. Will Naomi ever wake? What — or perhaps who – led her to that hospital bed? How did her friends fail to spot the warning signs?
While Rose turns to wild partying and Leo is shrouded by black moods, Red sets out to uncover the truth. It’s a journey that will cause Red’s world to crack, exposing the group’s darkest secrets. Nothing will ever be the same again, because once a mirror is shattered, it can’t be fixed.
A teen fiction novel, written by a model, called Mirror Mirror. Your reaction is probably like mine: next! But then Cara Delevingne isn’t really your average model/actress so I was interested to see if she would challenge my initial reaction. My advice for anyone interested in reading this book is: get past the first chapter. I nearly judged the whole book on this and put it down, but thankfully I kept on reading.
The set-up is pretty standard for teen fiction: Red, Leo, Rose, and Naomi lead a pretty dream teen life. The high school friends (one beautiful, one creative, one with a difficult home life, and one outsider) are in a band together and are a bit too cool to be popular. Then Naomi vanishes and the friends have to band together to work out what happened before it’s too late. Pretty standard, right? Well, one of the most interesting things about this story it’s told through the eyes of Red, the outsider. She’s short, ginger, shy, alternative-looking – and a lesbian.
Mixed into the narrative of this teen thriller is a very real perspective of what it’s like to be an LGBT+ teen in high school (even in 2017): constantly walking that tightrope between acceptance and discrimination. It actually paints a vivid picture of how quickly homophobia can rise out of nowhere, making giving the book much more substance than I had anticipated. I think some of this should really be credited to the book’s co-author, Rowan Coleman, who put this novel together with Delevingne. Either way, if you’re looking for some interesting teen fiction from a queer perspective, I definitely recommend checking it out.
In the 1970s a group of pioneering feminist entrepreneurs launched a movement that ultimately changed the way sex was talked about, had, and enjoyed. Boldly reimagining who sex shops were for and the kinds of spaces they could be, these entrepreneurs opened sex-toy stores like Eve’s Garden, Good Vibrations, and Babeland not just as commercial enterprises, but to provide educational and community resources as well. In Vibrator Nation Lynn Comella tells the fascinating history of how these stores raised sexual consciousness, redefined the adult industry, and changed women’s lives. Comella describes a world where sex-positive retailers double as social activists, where products are framed as tools of liberation, and where consumers are willing to pay for the promise of better living-one conversation, vibrator, and orgasm at a time.
An academic text on the history of female sex-toy shops in the USA might not sound like a fascinating read but I really loved it. Comella references the length of time she spent researching this subject multiple times (was it 20 years?) plus how in-depth she went (working in Babeland’s NYC store for example) and it really shows. I loved how comprehensive this exploration of the movement is and the fact that she managed to interview some of the sex-shop pioneers before they passed away.
I really had a sense of how much has changed since the 70s – and even since I bought my first vibrator in the 90s! Quite amazing that a small group of women managed to take female-focussed sex-shops from a sidelined movement to a multi-million dollar industry. It made me want to do a pilgrimage to the West Coast of USA to visit some of the original stores, which may sound a bit weird but this book made me realise what a huge impact these shops had on female (and queer) sexuality in the western world and how, generations later, we are all benefitting from this. I’d love to read about how the movement developed in other countries too. That’s my wishlist for Comella’s next book.
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