Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber

I love Michel Faber.  The Crimson Petal and the White, his rambling Victorian-style novel about the rise of a prostitute, is one of my favourite books ever, and I enjoyed his short story collection The Apple.  I'm also a big fan of the Canongate Myths series, so when I saw that Faber had written an interpretation of the Prometheus story, I was excited!

The story opens with Theo Griepenkerl, an academic, visiting a looted museum in Iraq, looking for artefacts he can ship back to Canada.  Quite accidentally, he stumbles across the archaeological find of the century, nine papyrus scrolls that together are a fifth Gospel, an account of the life and death of Jesus written by a first hand witness.  Overcome with visions of grandeur, Theo wastes no time publishing a translation of the gospel and waits for the praise and money to come rolling in.  But he has under-estimated the impact the controversial gospel will have on the world, from Christians uncomfortable with the portrayal of Christ, to Arabs and atheists.

I think The Fire Gospel suffered from my high expectations of it.  I was expecting the combination of Faber plus Canongate Myths to produce something special, but ultimately I thought The Fire Gospel was just an OK sort of book.  I did really enjoy the satirical tone of the writing (especially the fake Amazon reviews, which I could just imaging being written in real life) and the reactions of different groups of people to the gospel were perceptively observed.  The main character Theo is quite unlikeable in his drive for money and recognition, but this is all part of the satire and Faber pulls it off well.

The main problem I had with The Fire Gospel was that it felt like so many opportunities in the story were missed.  I wanted more examination of reactions to the gospel, more discussion of the effect it had on the major religions and more of the controversy, and I know Faber would have been capable of writing that story.  Instead, I got accounts of Theo's new ability to score with the ladies, and even when something major happens near the end, it's not fully explored.

The Fire Gospel is still an interesting an thought-provoking book that I sped through in just two sittings.  It had a lot of potential, but for me it just missed the mark.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2008
Score: 3 out of 5

Monday, 26 May 2014

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

I've been interested in We Need New Names ever since it first came out, and my interest grew when it was short-listed for the Booker Prize last year.  Told from the point of view of ten year old Darling, it's the story of life in a shanty town called Paradise, in an unnamed African country.  Darling and her friends have a tough life and they dream of escaping to a Western country, away from the poverty and hardship.  But when Darling does get the chance to move to America, she realises that the reality of life as an immigrant can never live up to her expectations.

We Need New Names is one of the best books I've read this year.  It's written in an uncompromising, no-nonsense style that suits the narrator and her experiences.  I'm normally a bit sceptical about adult books written from the perspective of children, but in this case Bulawayo has really pulled it off - Darling is blunt and matter of fact when detailing the realities of her life, and this stops the book becoming too sentimental.

Even though We Need New Names contains lots of hardship, it's not a simple story by any means, and I appreciated the subtleties Bulawayo gets into the novel.  Darling may be forced to steal food that makes her ill to survive in Paradise, and she may have a female friend who is pregnant following a rape, but we get to see the happier side of her life in the shanty too.  Darling has real friends and gets to be a child with them, playing all sorts of games, and this is something that vanishes when she moves to America, causing all of her memories of home to be bitter-sweet.

Being an immigrant in America is shown to be complicated matter as well.  Darling feels the pressure of not fitting in, of being out of step with everyone she knows.  Her relatives are forced to work all hours in physically demanding and sometimes illegal jobs, struggling to make ends meet whilst fielding off demands for money from those back home, who can't believe that America is anything but a land of milk and honey.  Again, I loved that Bulawayo showed the complexity of all of these issues and that life has no simple answers.

We Need New Names is worth reading for the character of Darling alone.  She's vibrant and simply leaps off the page, no matter what situation she is in.  Despite being quite a depressing (yet realistic) read at times, Darling always gives the story life and hope.  I simply loved every page of this book and highly recommend it.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2013
Edition Read: Vintage, 2014
Score: 5 out of 5

Read Alongside:

  1. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddy Ratner - Seven year old Raami lives through the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.  Another excellent child narrator in an adult story.
  2. Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman - Like We Need New Names, this one examines the immigrant experience.  Harri has arrived in London from Ghana, and finds himself mixed up with gangs after the murder of a local teenager.
  3. Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson - Set in Nigeria, Blessing moves to a rural compound with her family in the oil-rich Niger Delta.  Again, another great example of a child narrator.
  4. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I just love Adichie, and this coming of age story has a lot in common with Darling's coming of age when she arrives in America.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Sam Sunday #52: Finally on Maternity Leave!

So my last week at work has been and gone and I am finally on maternity leave.  It doesn't officially start until June 2nd (as this upcoming week is half term), but the important thing is that I now have seven months before I have to go to work again, which is awesome.  Although I'd been looking forward to my last day for ages, and despite work becoming physically difficult, I still had mixed feelings on the actual day.  Finishing work means that my due date is only round the corner!

With this in mind, I've decided to stop delaying and actually pack my hospital bag/ wash the baby clothes / read my childbirth book etc..  Tom's parents bought round the car seat yesterday, and my sister the Moses basket today, so we are in gearing up mode. I've passed the 37 week mark so could technically go into labour at any time but I can't see it happening soon.  I have a feeling I'm going to go past my due date, though hopefully not by too much.  I have a sweep booked in for nine days after, I'm hoping that won't need to happen!

I've been reading lots lately, but I've not been a very good blogger.  I only posted one review this past week, despite having a backlog of at least three to write, and I've hardly visited any blogs or left any comments. Which is a shame, as I've missed keeping up with the blogging world and all of your blogs.  Hopefully I'll have more time this upcoming week to catch up with all of you.

This past week, I decided to be contrary and read a classic that isn't my classics club spin book, as everyone knows I'm awful reading to a list/deadline.  The classic I picked up was Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I ended up enjoying more than I thought I would.  It's a quiet sort of book and reading it was a peaceful experience, like reading Little Women.    I'm also dipping in and out of On the Map by Simon Garfield as my non-fiction pick, and I've just started my first Murakami, Norweigan Wood.

This week, I've been reading:

Review posted:

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Vintage Girl by Hester Browne

Sometimes you need a bit of brain candy, and I picked up The Vintage Girl in the library as I was in the mood for a light, escapist, happily-ever-after type read.  Evie Nicholson loves antiques and is working for a dealer when she gets the opportunity to value family heirlooms at Kettlesheer Castle in Scotland.  A daydreamer and a romantic, Evie's imagination goes into hyper-drive when she learns that she will be at the castle at the same time as traditional ball hosted by the family (including the handsome heir). Caught up with visions of sweeping down staircases Gone With the Wind style and dressing for dinner, Evie pays little attention to the reality of life for the Nicholson family.  Can she learn to take a step back from her fantasy life?

The Vintage Girl was a lot of fun to read.  Hester Browne is a good writer and the story just flows from chapter to chapter, never feeling too short or too long.  The pacing is perfect and the romance, whilst being rather predictable, builds up slowly and avoids the pitfall of insta-love.  Evie herself is easy to relate to as a main character, particularly for someone like me, who also likes to live with her head in the clouds sometimes!  Equally her love interest, Robert, isn't too perfect, and is shown to have a few flaws of his own.

The main tension in the narrative comes from the fact that Robert is expected to marry someone else, someone rich who can use their money to save Kettlesheer Castle from bankruptcy, and is already in a relationship with this person.  But their relationship never felt believable enough to cause any real problems, and Browne made it too easy on Evie and Robert by making Catriona rather unlikeable, to the extent that it was hard to see why Robert was with her in the first place.   Similarly, this problem was solved too easily later in the novel.  I'm not expecting deep depression or anything like that in a novel like The Vintage Girl, but I would have liked the emotions of the situation explained a bit more.

I would recommend The Vintage Girl if you are after a fun, easy read with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.  It's not the best chick-lit novel I have ever read, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Source: Library
First Published: 2013
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Sam Sunday #51: On Starting My Last Week of Work

Beautiful hand-made baby blanket from a colleague :)

I've not written a personal update post since Easter, which feels like a long time.  Part of the reason is that my life just isn't very exciting at the moment - I've reached the stage of pregnancy (36.5 weeks) where all I can do is go to work, eat and sleep.  Managing that is difficult enough, so a social life has certainly gone out of the window!

The good news is that next week is my last week at work, and then I have seven months maternity leave.  It feels strange because on one hand, the pregnancy has really dragged, but on the other I can't believe that I am at this point already.  I won't be sad to go on leave, as I'm really in need of it, but it does make the whole having a baby thing seem much more real and close.

I'm feeling pretty uncomfortable all the time at the moment.  It's nothing near as bad as the horrible sickness of the first trimester (which I'm very grateful for), but I am exhausted, achy, unable to put on my shoes in the morning, and getting out of bed has become rather difficult!  Some days I feel relatively fine but on other days (like today) I just feel blah and physically uncomfortable all day long.  The mini heatwave we're having here in the UK isn't really helping either, and I'm definitely finding it hard to muster up the energy to work with thirty children all day long.

The other part of being so near the end is that the actual giving birth part is very close now and it's scary!  I'm trying not to think about it too much but sometimes I can't help it.  I know that it will come and go and everything will end up fine, but I'm not looking forward to actually doing it at all.  I'm due on June 11th, hopefully I won't go too far overdue.

But for this week I'm determined to just be happy that it's my last week at work for a very long time.  No more planning, no more marking, no more endless meetings and no more giving up all of my evenings and weekends to school work!  Hopefully I'll get in a good two weeks worth of resting and relaxing before the baby arrives, and I'm going to try my hardest to enjoy them.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke

"This book taught me, once and for all, how easily you can escape this world with the help of words!  You can find friends between the pages of a book, wonderful friends!"

The Inkheart books are pure comfort reads for me.  I first read them whilst I was at university and I think I finished up the whole trilogy in a week or so.  I just loved the concept of being able to read yourself in or out of a book, of characters coming to life and changing their stories in front of your eyes. What bookworm hasn't dreamt themselves into the pages of their favourite novel?

Inkspell is the second book in the series (I read and reviewed Inkheart in December), so this review contains spoilers for the first volume.  It's been a year since the events of Inkheart, and Meggie is unable to leave her adventure behind her, remaining utterly obsessed with the Inkworld.  Dustfinger is of course still trying to find his way back into the novel, and he finally seems to have come across a reader capable to reading him and Farid into the Inkworld, Orpheus.  But when Orpheus goes back on his word and Farid is left behind, he seeks out Meggie to try to find another way in.  Despite knowing the dangers of what she is doing, Meggie can't resist reading herself and Farid into the pages of the story.  However, it turns out that the story is a living, breathing thing, that has changed beyond Dustfinger's experiences and the author's intentions.  A dangerous leader, the Adderhead, is rising in the South, and the Inkworld has become a treacherous place for all of the original characters from Inkheart.

It goes without saying that I loved Inkspell; I wouldn't be rereading it if I didn't.  I love that we actually get to go into the Inkworld for the first time in this volume, and that the cast of characters is expanded.  My favourite of the new characters is the Black Prince, the leader of the Motley Folk, a band of travelling performers, and his pet bear.  I love the inventiveness of the Inkworld and also it's straightforwardness - there is a clear line between good and evil.  Normally this is something that would bother me, but it fits really well with the escapism of the novel and the way that the atmosphere captures childhood fantasy classics.

Unfortunately, Inkspell isn't quite as good as Inkheart.  It's longer and more meandering, and probably could have been cut down a bit.  I know that Funke needed to get her characters into the Inkworld for the trilogy to continue, but I find it hard to believe that Meggie would have ever have read herself in, given her experiences in the last novel and Mo's opinions of the world.

Still, Inkspell is perfect comfort reading that allows you to escape into a magical fantasy world.  It's old fashioned in tone and manages to take me back to my childhood without patronising me.  I remember being disappointed with Inkdeath, the final book in the trilogy, when I read it the first time, so I can't wait to get on to rereading it so I can see if my opinion has changed.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2005
Edition Read: Chicken House, 2006
Score: 4 out of 5

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Bout of Books Update #2 - Tuesday & Wednesday

Bit of a slower reading day than Monday, even though I was home earlier from work.  I was feeling really tired and icky, and sometimes curling up in bed with youtube videos and Netflix is the only option!  I am pretty useless in the evenings at the moment, I can't wait for my maternity leave to start so that I can rest a bit more in the day and maybe actually socialise with my husband in the evenings.  I did read for one hour and continued with We Need New Names, which was on the fast track to becoming a 5 star read.

Day: 2/7
Books Started: 1 (We Need New Names)
Books Completed: 0
Time Spent Reading: 1 hour
Pages Read: 140 (this book is unputdownable)

I actually slept through most of the night on Tuesday, so was feeling much perkier on Wednesday.  Was able to leave work at a very decent hour and headed to my parents house for dinner.  My car has it's MOT this Saturday (and really needs to pass it), so my Dad kindly spent some time checking it over for me and giving it the Dad seal of approval.  Tom also washed it, so now it looks like a car that is loved, rather than a car that has been neglected!  We spent a lovely evening out, had a great dinner and I definitely felt more refreshed afterwards.

I managed to meet my goal of reading for one hour, which meant that I finished We Need New Names (and it definitely was a 5 star read, can't wait to write my review of this one).  I was going to be good and pick my next read from my readathon stack, but Michel Faber's The Fire Gospel was just calling to me.  It's about the discovery of a controversial fifth gospel and the way the world reacts.  It's pretty short, so I should finish it within 2 days.

Day: 3/7
Books Started: 2
Books Completed: 1 - We Need New Names
Time Spent Reading: 1 hour
Pages Read: 135 

I'm loving the readathon so far, and I'm excited that there are still 4 days to go!  How are you getting on?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Bout of Books Update #1 and Classics Club Spin Number Announced.

Day: 1/7
Books Started: 1 (We Need New Names)
Books Completed: 0
Time Spent Reading: 1 hour and 30 mins
Pages Read: 130

I'm going to try to post updates throughout Bout of Books as much as possible.  I don't think I'll have time to take part in any chats or challenges, but I should be able to update on my progress a few times throughout the week.

I'm really pleased with my reading from the first day.  Monday is my busiest work-day as I have meetings in the evening as well as a full day's teaching load, so I'm thrilled that I managed to squeeze in an hour and a half of reading, exceeding my goal of one hour.  It helps that We Need New Names is such an engrossing book.  It's about a girl called Darling living in a shanty town and dreaming of escaping to the West and it's simply written but very powerful.  I can't wait to pick it up again tonight, especially as I'm almost half way through already.

Tonight I'm on track to meet my goal of an hour, but I can't see myself exceeding it by much.  I think I'll get close to finishing We Need New Names, so I'm already starting to think of what I should read next.  Maybe A Girl is a Half Formed Thing?

In other bookish news, the Classics Club announced the lucky spin number as #1, which means I'll be picking up Lord of the Flies soon.  I'm quite excited to start it - my husband loves it - so it's good that I've had a push to finally take it off my shelf.  As a teacher, I find group dynamics between groups of children fascinating, especially the way children act completely differently when they are away from their parents.  Hopefully I will enjoy it!

If you're taking part in the readathon, how are you getting on?
And are you pleased with your spin number?

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Bout of Books #10: Signing Up & Goals

Next week is the Bout of Books readathon, and after much deliberation, I've decided to take part.   I've participated once before and had a lot of fun, so it'll be nice to join in.  My goals this time are going to be modest, as I'm working and 36 weeks pregnant.  However, I do need to rest more, so sitting down in the evening with a book can only be a good thing.  Got to get as many books in as possible before the baby is born!  With that in mind, my only goal is to read for one hour a day. I'm not fussed about how many pages I read or how many books I finish.

As I'm a fickle reader, I've picked out a wide range of books that I can choose from, depending on my mood.  The stack on the left are shorter books I own, and the stack on the right are from the library.  These are the books I'll be choosing from:

Library Books:
  • A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimar McBride - This one's on the Bailey's Prize short-list, so I grabbed it when I saw it on the new books shelf.  The style of writing seems to be quite unusual, so I have a feeling I'll either love it or hate it.
  • The Vintage Girl by Hester Browne - My easy read pick, I know I'll just race through this one.  It's a romance about a girl who is cataloguing heirlooms in a Scottish castle.  Perfect escapism!
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight - Another quick, easy read.  A teenage girl misses her plane and then falls in love with someone whilst stuck at the airport.
  • Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin - This has been on my wishlist for a while.  It's set in Rwanda and is the story of a woman running a baking business, through which she comes to know the stories of the women in her community.
Books I Own:
  • 10 Billion by Stephen Emmott - This is a non-fiction book about what will happen to the planet when the human population reaches 10 billion.  It's mainly graphs and images, so is the quickest book I have on my potentials list.  I will definitely be reading this at some point.
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones - Set in Bourgainville, a tropical island on the brink of civil war, a white teacher uses Great Expectations as his only textbook.
  • A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo - This was on the Orange Prize shortlist a few years back.  Zhang is a Chinese migrant to London, who falls in love with an older English man, despite not being able to speak English.
  • We Need New Names by NoViolet  Bulawayo - I am determined to finally read this, I've been wanting to ever since it was first published.
  • Minaret by Leila Aboulela - Najwa comes from a wealthy Sudanese family, but circumstances have made her into a cleaner in London.
  • The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna - A story centred around childbirth through time may not be the best choice right now, but I am drawn to it.
So those are my potential reads - but I reserve the right to change my mind entirely and read nothing from the list!  As I won't be able to read them all, are there any books you think I should pick out first?

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin

Bolanle is the fourth wife of Baba Segi, and she is childless.  Already an outsider in the family home as the only wife to hold a university degree, her inability to conceive gives the other wives ammunition against her. First wife Iya Segi sees Bolanle as a threat to her dominance, third wife Iya Femi doesn't like being upstaged by a newcomer, and second wife Iya Tope is beaten down and unable to speak up on Bolanle's behalf. Seen as snobbish and different, Bolanle is isolated and unwelcome.  Finally, Baba Segi decides to take Bolanle to the hospital, where the medical investigations into Bolanle's fertility have some unexpected results, exposing the secrets of all the wives.

I've seen The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives described elsewhere as a tragicomedy, and that label is just perfect for it.  Shoneyin deals with some pretty weighty issues like the role of women in Nigerian society, the views of different classes on polygamy and domestic abuse, but it's always done with a light touch and a bit of black humour.  Baba Segi wants to keep his wives hidden away, announces that Bolanle's infertility shames him and doesn't hesitate to assault her, but he's also a comically pathetic figure, bought down by the women in his life.  Shoneyin's talent for finding the humour and pathos in tragic situations means that the book never feels too depressing or preachy.

As I read The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, I was most interested in the examination of the role of women in Nigeria.  There's references to domestic violence being seen as a waste of police time, a woman discussing her rape is assumed to be a liar and women are frowned upon for wearing trousers.  Through the wives' stories and the power they had seized for themselves over the course of their marriage, Shoneyin's novel is quietly feminist, and we get to see glimpses of a newer Nigeria, in which women are more valued. Of course, whilst I was reading this novel, the news was full of the story about the kidnapping of 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and the intent to sell them into slavery, so it's clear that women still have a long way to go.

I really would recommend The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives.  It examines some interesting issues through a story that is quick, engaging and a lot of fun to read.  If I had the time, I could have read it all in one sitting. It shines a light on a polygamous marriage in Africa in a non-judgemental way and it's a book that hasn't really left my thoughts since I finished reading it.

Source: Personal copy (kindle)
First Published: 2009
Score: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Classics Club Spin #6

It's time for another Classics Club Spin!  I debated whether or not to take part in this one, as I'm having a baby in about five weeks and all, but I love the spin and will aim to read the book chosen when my maternity leave starts in three weeks time (which I can not wait for, by the way!).  As always, I've used a random number generator to select 20 books from my list that I've not ticked off yet.  Some of them are new reads, some of them are rereads that I haven't actually reread yet.

My list:
  1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  2. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  3. O Pioneers by Willa Cather
  4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (will be a reread)
  5. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
  6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  7. The Good Earth by Pearl Buck
  8. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  9. A Little Princess by Frances Hogdson Burnett (reread)
  10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (reread)
  11. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  12. Tess of D'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
  13. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  14. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (reread)
  15. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker (reread)
  16. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  17. Dracula by Bram Stoker (reread)
  18. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  19. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  20. Othello by William Shakespeare
I'm happy with the list - the only one I'm apprehensive about is Moby Dick.  But in a way, it would be a good thing if it is picked, as I may require a push to get to it!

Have you read any of these titles?  Anything I should be hoping for?

Monday, 5 May 2014

100 Happy Days Update #2

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Day 10: Marking finally finished!
Side-note: Of course it has piled up again since then....

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Day 11: Never has a long hot bath with Radox seemed more appealing....

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Day 12: I have the comfiest cat ever.

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Day 13: Catching up on Game of Thrones.

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Day 14: Time to revisit an old favourite

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Day 15: Summery fingernails.

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Day 16: Baby shopping......5 and a bit weeks to go.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Jephte's Daughter by Naomi Ragen

Although Batsheva has been bought up as a Hasidic Jew, she has always been indulged by her wealthy father and allowed to taste more freedom than her school friends.  She reads Western literature, pursues photography and dreams of living her own life before becoming married.  But when Batsheva turns eighteen, her father arranges for her to marry a scholar in Jerusalem, and she is sent half way across the world, away from everything she knows.  Isaac Harshen follows his religion strictly and wastes no time in destroying her books and 'training' her in the ways of being a Hasidic wife.  Gradually Batsheva's freedoms are curtailed, her actions are punished, and her marriage becomes an abusive cage.  When she tries to reach out to her family and others in Hasidic society, they remind her that marriage is forever and that husbands are to be obeyed.  Batsheva has retained some of her spirit, but is it enough to enable her to challenge the society she has always known?

Jephte's Daughter was published in 1989, and was apparently quite controversial in it's portrayal of women and domestic abuse in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.  I have to admit that it was the religious aspect of the book that drew me to it; I am non-religious myself so am always fascinated by stories set in societies that are so different from my own.  I can't imagine what it would be like to have religion at the centre of your life, to have so many rules to follow, and to be so withdrawn from other beliefs and lifestyles.  Batsheva's religion in Jephte's Daughter forms part of her cage; divorce is seriously frowned upon, and being married to a respected scholar like Isaac is seen as the pinnacle of a woman's life anyway.  It's hard for her to complain about the loss of intellectual freedom when she isn't expected to think.  But although Ragen shows us this downside of such isolated, strict religious communities, she also shows the love Batsheva has for her religion, and the way she wrote about Jewish beliefs and communities was fascinating.

Jephte's Daughter is really a book of two halves.  The first half deals with Batsheva's marriage and the domestic abuse, and the second is about what comes after, and the issues she has to face as a consequence. I much preferred the first half of the novel; I felt it was a powerful portrayal of an abusive marriage, and strongly written.  I was rooting for Batsheva and had an enormous amount of sympathy for her.  Unfortunately the second half was a bit of a let down.  Batsheva's journey to regain her confidence was delicately handled, but some plot events felt unrealistic, especially something convenient that happened at the end of the novel (mentioning no plot spoilers).  Things fell into place a little too easily, and I felt like this distracted from the power of the first sections.

Still, I've never read anything quite like Jephte's Daughter before.  It reminded me in some ways of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston;  it had similar themes of a woman finding herself and not letting others define her.  I would recommend it, and will look out for more books by Ragen in the future.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1989
Edition Read: St Martin's, 2010
Score: 3.5 out of 5