5 stars

REVIEW: Nasty Women

Nasty Women is a collection of essays and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the twenty-first century, that was originally funded on Kickstarter (I was one of the many backers).

Nasty Women is a really interesting collection of writing. While they could be called essays, the way a lot of them are written feel more like an insight into someone’s like and how their experiences relate to society as a whole. Naturally there is a focus on feminism here, but there’s also writing about racism, sexuality, class, disability and how all those things and more intersect with feminism and what it means to be a woman today.

Naturally there were some essays I related to more due to shared experiences, but it was great to have my eyes opened to things I wouldn’t normally notice as an able-bodied white woman. The thing I really liked though, was each essay managed to make me empathise with the writer as it was clear they were writing from the heart, often sharing personal fears and tragedies. that being said, some of them were quite funny and some were like hearing a friend talk rather than it being a “proper” essay.

I liked that there were essays I didn’t really expect. A few of them talked about the Punk scene, whether that was being a part of a band or just enjoying the music and atmosphere, and there was one essay, Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-witchcraft in the 21st Century by Alice Tarbuck, that talked about wise women and witches from the past to modern day – it was something I’d never really thought about before.

One line from The Dark Girl’s Enlightenment by Joelle A. Owusu, the final essay in the collection, that stuck with me was the following: ““Not everything is about race.” “Not everything is sexist.” Perhaps not. But enough of it is for it to be an ongoing problem that we simply cannot sweep under the carpet anymore.” It encapsulates that there is so much still to be done for women in this world, even in the West where sometimes the narrative is “women in X country have got it worse than you” Women around the world suffer in different ways, some may seem small to outsiders looking in, but it all hurts.

Nasty Women is a great collection of writing from twenty-two different women. Those essays that talked about Trump’s election or living in a post-Brexit Britain were often the ones that hit home for me, but there are so many touching and interesting essays in here and they are accessible too. 5/5.

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MINI COMIC REVIEWS: Fun Home, Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1 and Filmish

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

This is a graphic novel memoir from Alison Bechdel (yes, she’s the woman who the Bechdel test is named after) about her childhood and adolescence living in her family’s Victorian home with her rather eccentric family. The memoir is mostly about Bechdel and her relationship with her father, which was both very distant and unusual, neither of them understanding one another until she came out as a lesbian, and learning from her mother that her father was a closeted homosexual.

Fun Home isn’t a linear story, with scenes being revisited when you have been given new information. It’s also both funny and farcical at types when Bechdel recounts her dysfunctional family life. I liked the moments when Bechdel looked back on different events with hindsight, you got to see what the teenage her thought at the time and her own ideas of what really happened now she’s older.

Fun Home features a lot of themes including sexuality, gender roles (Alison preferred to wear “men’s clothes” from a young age) suicide and emotional abuse. It’s an interesting and quick read but I never really felled compelled to keep reading. 3/5.

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REVIEW: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian Carter is fed up. She’s fed up with her school’s sexist dress codes, the gross comments from boys in class and how her teachers let it happen. Viv has had enough. Inspired by her mum’s youth as a punk rock Riot Grrrl, Viv creates Moxie, a feminist zine she distributes anonymously to her classmates. Moxie becomes its own thing as girls start sharing it and come together to spread the Moxie message. Before she knows it, Viv has kickstarted a girl revolution.

I adored this book! Moxie is about teenage girls learning about how feminism isn’t a dirty word and that they can stand up to casual sexism in a place where they’re supposed to be safe – school. Seeing Viv and her friends slowly learning what feminism means, that yes it’s about equality but it can also offer a sense of unity, is wonderful to see.

I loved Viv from the very beginning. She’s always been the “good girl who follows the rules” but when the small little jabs that happen day in, day out at school, something inside her ignites and she acts. I can feel Viv’s frustration, fear and excitement with this Moxie movement she almost unwittingly starts. She is kind of making it up as she’s going along and that makes it all the more exciting. I also really liked her friends and how they didn’t always agree on everything, they may have small disagreements, but they still support each other.

The great thing about Moxie is that it tries to show the different sides of feminism. There’s instances where Viv see’s injustices but not all of them as she’s white and it’s not till a girl who’s black explains it to her that she realises where she may not have been as inclusive before and does her best to change her attitude. Another thing was that while it never took the outlook from Viv and the other girls, it took a moment to show how decent guys just don’t always get what it’s like, even when they are nice and don’t like other boy’s sexist behaviour. There’s so many great quotes in Moxie but one of my favourites is “I know all guys aren’t dicks, I get it. But the thing is, when there are so many dickish dudes around you, it gets hard to remember that, you know?” It’s a pretty perfect response to the #NotAllMen argument when women speak out about what they go through.

Moxie is a fantastic book. Seeing the girls of a high school, with all the usual cliques coming together across the social divides that are usually there in high school, is wonderful to read about. It gave me this funny feeling in my chest because so much of what Moxie is about felt so real to me. I loved that it offers this sense of hope and unity, so much so that I ended up getting teary-eyed as I finished Moxie. I loved it so much and it’s currently my favourite read of 2017. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Rider (2017)

After suffering from a near fatal head injury from the rodeo, young cowboy Brady (Brady Jandreau) tries to find a new identity for himself when he is not able to do what he’s always known and loved.

The Rider is interesting as it blurs the line between documentary and drama. Jandreau plays a version of himself, it’s his real-life head injury you see at the start of the film, staples in his head and all. This realisation that this story is so close to home for all the cast involved makes it even more touching and brilliant.

The Rider is about the American heartland and what it means to be a modern cowboy. The dangers these young men face and the difficulty of finding another purpose in life when the rodeo is all they’ve known. Brady is an amazing rider and horse trainer, seeing him with the animals, their connection is clear, so watching him struggle when he can’t do that anymore is tough to watch. Jandreau gives a subtle yet brilliant performance, he’s often quiet and controlled so when the tears or frustration appear it’s even more powerful.

The Rider is just a beautiful film in every way. A beautiful story, stunning cinematography of a gorgeous landscape and haunting music. You don’t need to love horses to fall in love with this film – I certainly don’t. The performances and characters and the subtleties of this film stick with you. It’s a brilliant film about a group of people and a career that seems to be dying out, a very different kind of Western. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – French Polynesia: Frangipani by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Materena Mahi, a professional cleaner and the best listener in all of Tahiti, has a problem. That problem is her daughter Leilani. No matter what she does, Materena can’t seem to get through to her and now there’s rumours there’s a boy who has a motorbike in Leilani’s life. Everything is changing and Materena is beginning to realise that the traditional Tahitian ways no longer apply and she’ll have to adapt to deal with the next generation of women in her family.

Frangipani is lovely. It’s a delightful, and it might sound weird but it’s almost like comforting hug of a read. It is such an easy, chilled out read. Yes there’s arguments between characters and family scandals but they all seem so tame and you just have a feeling these characters will work through it and be OK.

Frangipani is about Materena and her family, and more specifically, about her relationship with her daughter. The story spans about twenty years and over that time you really get to know Materena and understand her. The great thing about Materena is that she adapts. She learns with the changing times; her daughter may confuse her to begin with but she never stops loving her nor wanting the best for her. Seeing Materena and Leilani’s relationship is wonderful. They feel real like a real mother and daughter and so many times I could see echoes of interactions with my own mother in them.

You meet a lot of Materena’s extended family, there’s so many aunties and nieces and boyfriends, that it’s hard to keep up with who’s who at times but that never really bothered me. They are all larger than life characters who often end up in funny situations but there’s still sadness and drama, just like in any family over the years.

Frangipani is well written with a smattering of French words in the dialogue which makes them feel more real and the story grounded. I’ve never been to Tahiti but the way the island and its people are described is now so incredibly vivid in my mind. The setting was just as much a character in this book as Materena and Leilani.

The thing with Frangipani, is that in the grand scheme of things not a lot happened. There were no big twists or huge family secrets revealed, it’s just a woman’s life with her family. It showcases what a strong woman Materena is and it also features so many more interesting and vibrant female characters. Frangipani is about the strength of women and the strength of their relationships. How they support and love one another, are always there to listen or offer words of advice. It’s an uplifting story with a mother and daughter relationship at its heart.

I adored Frangipani. It’s well written, has so many interesting characters that you can’t help but be pulled into their lives. It’s just a wonderful read. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Mask You Live In (2015)

Documentary exploring how culture’s narrow definition of masculinity is harming boys, men and society as a whole and what we can do to try and solve this dangerous problem.

The Mask You Live In is an important and accessible documentary. It has educators, psychologists, sociologists, paediatricians as well as political scientists and sports coaches, talking about their experiences as well as what they have learnt about young men and our culture of telling them in very strict terms, what it is to be a man.

This film looks at boys in pre-school, and how from a very early age they find themselves having set rules to follow that are laid out by their classmates. These rules can be “be mean”, “don’t talk to the girls” and if they don’t follow these rules they’ll be pushed out and ignored by their peers. It shows how from a very young age boys are aware of what it is to be a boy and how one of those big “rules” is to not cry or show any emotion besides anger. It becomes clear that not allowing boys and young men to show emotion and telling them to “man up” can be very dangerous – to the boys and their mental health, as well as it leading to substance abuse and violence.

The Mask You Live In examines cultural influences like violent video games as well as films. More often than not the male hero of a film is the strong, silent type who’s always in control, may have a lot of money and he is probably also a character that commits some acts of violence. This is the standard that boys look up to and it’s near-unachievable without the boys losing a part of themselves, or burring they’re emotions. Then there’s the fact that there’s so many depictions of thugs and gangs that are predominantly men of colour, leading these young men to have few positive role models in media.

There are so many great speakers in this film. My favourites were Joe Herman, a Coach and Former NLF Player, who talks about what an important and defining role a coach can have in young men’s lives, especially when they may not have a great male role model at home, and Ashanti Branch, an educator and Youth Advocate who works with boys to try and get them to express themselves and give them a safe space to do so.

Not only are there the professional speakers but there’s interviews with men of all ages from under ten to adulthood, relaying their experiences, who they found to look up to and how they decided what “being a man” means to them – even if it doesn’t fit into the expectations of society or even their family and peers.

The Mask You Live In can be upsetting, shocking and uncomfortable viewing at times, especially as it highlights so much of our everyday language that can have a negative affect on boys and young men. It looks at how young men can feel entitled to success, wealth and women as that’s what is shown in popular culture to be the positive qualities of “being a man”, and how that entitlement can lead to violence and perpetuating rape culture.

The Mask You Live In is more American focused, and that’s especially clear with its statistics to do with gun violence, but what it has to say about society and the media and rape culture and how it all affects boys from a young age is universal. The Mask You Live In is an important documentary that doesn’t necessarily offer a complete set of concrete solutions to society’s narrow definition of masculinity, but it does offer guidance and advice and by pointing out society’s failings when it comes to boys. It allows us to be more educated going forward and helping young men become more comfortable in their own skin. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he has too much fun for that. Neither being kicked out of the finest boarding schools in England nor his father’s disapproval can stop him drinking, gambling or waking up in the arms of women or men. As Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, along with his best friend Percy (who he may be in love with) and his younger sister Felicity, he has one final year of fun until he must return home and to be a part of his father’s business. But things go awry when Monty’s usual recklessness turns their trip abroad into a manhunt across Europe, putting himself and those he cares about in danger.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is so much fun. It’s set in the 1700’s which allows for a different kind of travelling adventure. They can’t get money easily, there’s now quick communication to back home if things go wrong so when you encounter highway men or pirates you’re on your own with just your wits.

Monty, Percy and Felicity are a great trio of characters with interesting dynamics. Felicity was the one I loved straight away. She’s a young lady due to go to finishing school when all she really wants to do is go to the school’s her brother has been kicked out of. But due to her gender and the times that’s not possible, no matter how smart and eager she is. Percy is the nephew of a nobleman but he has never really fitted in to high society due to his Barbadian mother. Even though his childhood must’ve been difficult he is warm and kind and cares about Monty a lot. Monty took longer to grow on me as the problems he ends up facing really help him grow and learn more about himself. He’s selfish and only thinks about how other people’s issues affects him, he’s a charmer and doesn’t think before he acts – all qualities that are often simultaneously infuriating and endearing.

Monty’s voice shines through in the writing, making this 500-page novel fly by. Also, the fact that Monty ends up in almost non-stop escapades definitely helps make it a book that’s difficult to put down. From England, to France and beyond their adventures and the mystery they uncover often verges into the absurd but it’s all told with such charm and wit that it ends up being quite brilliant. Along with all the excitement and threat of danger, there’s still quieter moments between the characters that show they aren’t necessarily cut out for this kind of thing but being together makes them stronger and better.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a great historical adventure story with a bisexual main character, an engaging romance and a colourful cast of characters. 5/5.