10 Books of Summer Re-Cap

Now that summer is mostly officially over it is time to check how many of the 10 books I listed for my 10 Books of Summer Project I read (spoiler alert: not many!). You can check my original list here.


And the answer is 4. This is why I don’t usually join challenges: even though I love the idea of reading from a list, when it’s time to pick up my next book I usually go by intuition. I feel the need to read this or that and no other book will do. However, I have to admit that sticking  to Cathy’s project made me read books and authors I knew I had to read but I kept putting back on my list or pile. In case you’re interested, here are the links to my reviews:

After You Die by Eva Dolan: high-quality and diverse crime fiction.

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman: My first Lippman! A complex novel, half legal thriller, half character study, and very American – in a good way.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem: an auto-biography on travelling and becoming a woman.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: This project was definitely an opportunity to read great authors for the first time. My first Wharton, but absolutely not my last.

I would like to thank Cathy Brown at 746 Books the opportunity to join and all the hard-work behind the scenes. I am very happy with my reading, even though it is not remotely close to what I expected to read! Can’t wait to join next year.

If you also joined the 20 Books of Summer project, feel free to leave a link below. We’d all love to see what you read🙂



The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

One of my goals for this summer was to read one of the best American novelists, Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937). I was torn between two of her most famous novels The House of Mirth (1905) and The Age of Innocence (1920), but I was keen on making use of the school’s library during the summer semester. One last hurried visit to the library helped me make the decision, as The House of Mirth was available on the public section and ready to be brought home.


The House of Mirth has been a controversial and shocking novel ever since its publication in 1905. It tells the story of Lily Bart, a young New York socialite who, at 29 and still unmarried, is both admired for her beauty and criticised for her single status. Despite her looks, and her charm, Lily was brought up by a superficial mother who made of Lily’s beauty her supposedly only attribute. After her debut at the age of 18 Lily has had many suitors –one of them an Italian prince – but decided not to settle down. The novel takes place on her 29th year, as she struggles to make sense of her waiting, her present and her future.

Even though the idea of becoming an ostracised spinster at age 29 may seem a joke in 2016, when Wharton first published The House of Mirth she shocked the American public by exposing the dark truth behind young women. Wharton openly questions the validity of marriage as a tool for women to lead a socially respectable life through the eyes of Lily, who sees how the husbands of her friends flirt with her. Not only that, but she also sees her female friends engage in affairs with younger men not so behind closed doors as we may believe in the 21st century. Lily, as an outsider and spectator, questions whether she wishes to follow this path, and why she cannot live alone like her male friends do.


Edith Wharton (Undated) From Beinecke Library, Yale University

From a feminist point of view The House of Mirth is a subversive novel that stands with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) as a subversion of traditional and patriarchal narratives. Both Wharton and Chopin created female main characters that offered readers a different take on marriage and motherhood. Throughout the novel we are presented with Lily’s love for life and her need to open her wings and escape the golden cage of marriage and traditional femininity. In her own awakening, Lily ponders on her role and her agency realising she is not free to act upon her wishes with Wharton’s fixation on capitalist femininity as a double-edged sword that compromises beauty and limitations:

“She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.”

“She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making.”

“I was just a screw or cog in the great machine I called life, and when I dropped out of it I found I was of no use anywhere else.”

In her search for happiness and agency Lily encounters a suitor that could make her happy were it not for the social restrictions and her own upbringing. In the height created by the last days of Victorian morals and manners and the American capitalist system, could a woman brought up to be beautiful forget her upbringing and marry for love? Wharton makes Lily’s search for love as interesting as possible by including money, social status, and traditions into the equation. Far from perpetuating a traditional view on romantic love, Lily ponders practically on who to marry and the reasons to do so, or not.

“Don’t you ever mind,” she asked suddenly, “not being rich enough to buy all the books you want?”

The struggle between her own desires, society’s expectations and her social, historical and economic context creates one of the best novels in American literature. Lily Bart is the first attempt by an American female writer to create a strong, subversive woman who wishes to live her life according to her own desires and needs. As a crime fiction reader, I could not but see Lily as a first attempt at creating Amy Dunne, from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, although this comparison may be far-fetched and highly influenced for my love for Flynn’s novel. In any case, throughout the novel we see how Lily’s attempts fail and life erodes her will and her lively attitude:

“She felt a stealing sense of fatigue as she walked; the sparkle had died out of her, and the taste of life was stale on her lips. She hardly knew what she had been seeking, or why the failure to find it had so blotted the light from her sky: she was only aware of a vague sense of failure, of an inner isolation deeper than the loneliness about her.”

In order to keep this review free of spoilers, I will not discuss the ending, although it is not difficult to imagine for feminist readers. To those who have read it, I would love to hear your opinions, and those of you who have not, The House of Mirth is one of the best contemporary novels in the Western tradition. I cannot still understand how Wharton was not included in any of the programmes in my English and American degree. If this were the case with anyone, I would encourage readers and students alike to pick up Wharton’s books on their own as they are a pure joy to read. And if you are not a literature student, this book will change your life as well as it portrays a long-lost time of decadence, over-spending, and the rigid and the still contemporary battle against a system of values that tried to restrict women to their roles as wives and mothers.

This is review #4 for my  20 Books of Summer project

I’m Back!

Hi, everyone! Just a very quick update to let you all know that I’m back from my little break having spent four wonderful days at the beach after finishing my teaching duties. Activity at Books & Reviews will resume this week, and meanwhile I will try to catch up with all your new posts and updates. I hope you are all having a nice and smooth return to school or work. See you soon!

Elena x

A Little Break: Summer 2016

Dear all,

This summer has been exceptional in many ways. One of the reasons was that I got to keep researching during July to finish some very important work on my thesis that granted me an ‘Excellent’ grade from my university on my yearly plan. After that, I had planned on taking a few weeks off to read, review and recharge. But life had other plans and I was offered a part-time job that would pay for my university fees for the upcoming year. I also happen to love the job, and the two students that I get to tutor. However, this has meant staying in my hometown and working all mornings Monday to Friday. As you can imagine, this means early mornings, and half the time off to do all the things that I had planned, and no time to spend part of my break near the sea, where I am at my happiest. So, while I try to make the most of Spain’s heat wave while teaching, and my free evenings I have been reading less, and not writing at all. I have been meeting with friends, going for long walks, and trying to remember that this is how my Summer Break’16 looks and I should enjoy it.

I will get back to blogging and reviewing as soon as I can, as soon as I recharge and go back to my routine. But for now, it’s all about freedom, sun, and unexpected plans. I hope everyone here has a happy August and we’ll see each other soon!



My Life on The Road by Gloria Steinem

As a feminist, I know there are certain books and certain authors that I should read in order to be as informed as I can about the previous struggles and the many successes of feminist. The reason to impose such a view on myself comes mainly from my love for books, rather than an external obligation. Imagine the internal conversations I had with myself when I realised that I had never read by Gloria Steinem, one of the key figures in feminism and activism in the 20th century. Imagine my reaction when my beloved Margaret Atwood – who I think can do no wrong – recommended Steinem’s autobiography My Life on the Road, as one of the books of 2015 in a list for The Guardian. Imagine,  again, my surprise and my delight when, after talking about this to the boyfriend, he bought me My Life on the Road for no other reason than love for my feminist reading.


My Life on the Road is not a typical autobiography, and I would have not expected anything different from Gloria Steinem, someone who has never done things by the book. Even though she covers everything from her childhood to her current life as a feminist celebrity, she approaches events from a point of view: Her travels. She credits her father for her love for adventure, and she describes how the whole family would get into the car and travel – with no budget – to a destination her father chose randomly. With such a childhood, it is not a surprise to find that Steinem had not spent more than 8 days home during her life, and that she did not create a home until the 1980’s, when she was already in her fifties. It was only fitting then, that I took this book with me on my week to Bath and Cardiff and I started reading it at the airport in Barcelona, among huge amounts of diverse people heading to their destinations all over the world while I wondered what kind of lives they led.

I was surprised to find out that My Life on the Road  only portrays some of Steinem’s travels inside the United States of America rather than her world-wide travels. I was a bit disappointed at first, since I have never been to the States, and I thought I would not be familiar with the interests and motivations behind her enterprises. I was partly right, and partly wrong. Even though I would have love to read about her travels around the world examining the very different ways in which feminism is articulated, she spent a good part of her autobiography giving a voice and making sure we learn about Native American feminism. As a European, we do not get to hear much about the struggles of Native Americans in general, and Steinem goes beyond the all-masculine idea we have of them and presents readers with feminist leaders to whom people like ex-president Bill Clinton thanked for their contributions. Native American feminists are present all over the world, but Steinem devotes a whole chapter to one of them: Wilma Mankiller, who Gloria approaches from a candid perspective both as a friend and as a feminist and introduces readers to a different approach to life:

You cannot think yourself into right living. You live yourself into right thinking – Native Elders


Yet, I think the book’s real power to inspire and change women’s life is how Gloria Steinem has lived her life. Even though Mankiller sadly passed away in 2010, we are presented with Steinem’s grief, and how she moved on. Death is present in Gloria’s life as much as her desire to change women’s situation all over the world. While reading, I was reminded that life is both good and bad, but we have a choice to surrender or to keep going. Steinem did not make it California to see her father before he passed away after a bad car accident, and she has regretted this her whole life. But rather than letting it stop her from living, she has learned from the experience and she has moved on as better as she could. Throughout the book we are reminded that we can give up, but we do not have to. We are reminded that life is hard work, but that hard work has its rewards.


A behind-the-scene look at Gloria Steinem’s work at the National Women’s Political Caucasus

One of those rewards – probably the most important – is love. Not romantic love, not love in a traditional, white-wedding way. But love for the people in our lives, and love from them in return. Feminism has the difficult task of trying to dismantle the wide-spread idea that women cannot be friends with other women, because we bicker, and we fight, and we get jealous. Luckily, Steinem’s life of female friendships is proof enough to deconstruct that myth. Being on the road does not mean to be alone, and Gloria’s friends appear at the turn of every page to remind the reader that women can work together successfully. Not only that, but if we support other women who are fighting for women’s rights, and if we help them, we will all benefit in the end. Steinem makes no effort to hide her dislike for those who do not fight for women’s rights, and her political alliances with politicians such as Bella Abzug and Hillary Clinton is patent. I was surprised to read about Betty Friedan’s grudge towards Steinem, and how Gloria herself does not distinguish between Republicans and Democrats, but urges women to forget those labels and support those who will fight for their rights.

In fact, many questions have three or seven or a dozen sides. Sometimes I think the only real division into two is between people who divide everything into two, and those who don’t.

I can’t recommend My Life on the Road enough to every woman out there. Gloria Steinem is a key figure in Western feminism, and although some of her recent comments have been controversial, she is a woman who knows who she is and she is not apologetic about it. At one point I found myself reading about one luxurious Thanksgiving spent with the then partner – who remains wisely unnamed, because this is Gloria’s story after all – in Palm Springs with three very powerful couples, among whom she quotes a snack mogul. It included limousines, private planes, and a private concert by Frank Sinatra. I realised then that I was not reading any feminist biography, but about a very privilege’s one. But, after all the hard work that she has done, could it be otherwise? Should it be? Was it cynical of me to expect less of one of the key women for the feminist movement in America? I do not have an answer, but I believe women should be rewarded for the hard-work they do. Gloria Steinem has done her share, and I am very happy she is giving us the opportunity to peer into her life, and remind us that life is good, and we have the power to make it good for others, but also to ourselves.

Altogether, if I had to pick one place to hang out anywhere, from New York to Cape Town and Australia to Hong Kong, a bookstore would be it.

My Life on the Road is personal, yet well-researched. There are notes, at least 10 for each chapter, and an index, so that anyone looking for specific information regarding anything, from abortion to Florence Kennedy, will be satisfied. Every chapter is also introduced by a picture of Gloria with someone who inspired the chapter – and she makes no distinctions between her mother, with whom she had a troubled relationship, to international politicians – so that we are reminded of the people in our lives, and the importance of love, support, second-opportunities and change. Because, if there is a theme that infuses the book is change, be it through activism, travelling, deaths and births, different jobs, or by simply letting ourselves be free, enjoy life, and break way with traditional ways of being and thinking. But – in Gloria’s spirit– don’t let this review tell you what My Life on the Road is. Go out, find a copy, and experience it for yourself.


This is review #3 for my  20 Books of Summer project

First Time Reading a Classic: And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie

Confession time: I had never read or watched any adaptations of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie. Except for the Family Guy double episode, Psychs and the many other references in popular culture and media that I have watched. But, the original? Nope, never. It does not help that we have kept a literal translation of the original title Ten LIttle Niggers  in Spanish – click here to see it – and when I looked for an English second-hand review copy on Abebooks, I could find none. But, after some failed attempts, and some research, I found the original title, and after last Christmas’ super successful BBC adaptation I knew I had to give it a try.

And Then There Were None cover

Because the book is such a masterpiece and a cultural landmark, I will divide my review in different sections so that I can deal with everything that I have noted down. Also, please keep in mind I am not an expert in Golden Age crime fiction, and my analysis is not an academic one.

The characters

I was really pleased with the presentation of characters. When we have 10 main characters, it can be quite difficult to get a glimpse into who they are, but Christie devoted a paragraph to each of the main characters at the very beginning of the book. Having said this, I had to make a list with their names and a defining quality – profession, age, gender, etc– and,again, Christie made it very easy to put a label on each of them. But, this does not mean that the characters were plain, in fact, as the story progressed, I could see they were more multi-faceted than expected.

Out of the ten characters, ten were women, and although I was not impressed by them, I was not offended either. If we take into account the lack of racial sensibility of the original title, one could expect a very misogynist book, which was not the case. Having said that, I was obviously very interested in Vera Clayhorn’s story because she was a young, single governess and her story reminded me of The Turn of the Screw so much, I wonder now if Christie was inspired by James’ novel.

The crime

One of the things that disturbs me the most about Golden Age crime fiction is that I do not like the detectives at all. I find Poirot petulant and snobbish, and the few Miss Marple mysteries I have read have not left enough of an impression on me, meaning that I was probably not impressed by her. Luckily for me, there is no detective in And Then There Were None: the story is told by a third person, omnipresent narrator who does not get involved in the story. And, as the title suggests, by the end of novel, no one remains alive.

The Setting

I was most impressed by the setting for two reasons: one is that I love the sea, and the sea-side, and the second is that I am not usually captivated by settings, except for Indridason’s dark and twisted tales in Iceland. But, the cold, and misty English weather gave me nightmares about the sea for three nights in a row. There is something magical about the way Christie makes the environment an accomplice in the crime.

I was also really surprised to find out that the house in the novel is described as modern, with electric lights and white (art deco, I guess) style. In popular adaptations the house is usually represented as a nineteenth-century mansion, three or four stories high and relying on candles.

The ending

Do not worry, no spoilers here! I was surprised by the ending and did not see it coming at all although it was the most logical and reasonable solution to the mystery, and now that I think about it: Of course. Of course!

The verdict

And Then There Were None is a classic in 20th century English literature, not only in the crime fiction tradition. The many, many adaptations of the story have made of it a popular story and a  landmark in contemporary popular culture. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading, and who has seen any of the adaptations.

Now I can’t wait to watch the BBC adaptation, which comes highly recommended by every reader I trust. If you are late to the party too, here is the trailer.

I love how they are making it as dark and twisted as the original text, leaving besides popular believes about it being a ‘cosy’ story. it is not. The sea, and the house will haunt readers in their dreams like modern serial killers haunt their victims. If you have ever taken for granted Christie’s talent – like I did myself – And Then There Were None will surprise you, and then remind you why Christie was labelled the Queen of crime.

Author Interview: Helen MacKinven author of Buy Buy Baby

It’s my turn to bring a very special book tour to an end: Buy Buy Baby by Helen MacKinven in a novel about motherhood, domestic abuse, relationships and what society tells women to measure. In Western, affluent countries motherhood is constructed as a women’s ultimate goal in life, and the only one that will make her happy. Not only that, but the media are also on the hunt of ‘baby bumps’ scrutinising female celebrities’ bodies in every week. Jennifer Aniston wrote a very good article for the Huffington Post on the millions of times she has supposedly been pregnant stating that:

This past month in particular has illuminated for me how much we define a woman’s value based on her marital and maternal status. The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time… but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.

You can read her post here.

Meanwhile, Helen MacKiven has written Buy Buy Baby, a novel about motherhood and how society creates the desire to be a mother at any price in many women. From Goodreads:


Set in and around Glasgow, Buy Buy Baby is a moving and funny story of life, loss and longing.

Packed full of bitchy banter, it follows the bittersweet quest of two very different women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby.

Carol talks to her dog, has an expensive Ebay habit and relies on wine to forget she’s no longer a mum following the death of her young son.

Cheeky besom Julia is career-driven and appears to have it all. But after disastrous attempts at internet dating, she feels there is a baby-shaped hole in her life.

In steps Dan, a total charmer with a solution to their problems.

But only if they are willing to pay the price, on every level…

I am very happy to have Helen MacKinven over to answer some questions about motherhood, her creative process and how important it is for women all ages – but especially young women like me – to navigate motherhood discourses critically. Welcome, Helen, and thank you very much for your time!

HMK's pic

  1. Why did you choose to write a book about motherhood?

I wanted to explore the yearning that some women feel in their quest to be a mother. I was very lucky to have no problem getting pregnant and neither of the births when I had my two sons was particularly problematic. However, I spent 15 years working as a Road Safety Officer and was involved in many publicity campaigns highlighting the aftermath of a child dying in a road incident. This made me reflect on how I might feel if I was unfortunate enough to experience the same trauma. Would I want to replace the child, like Carol, in Buy Buy Baby? And what if I hadn’t been able to have children naturally? Or struggled to find a suitable partner, like Julia, in my novel? These issues made me wonder how far a woman in those types of situations would go to be a mum. What price would they pay on every level? This triggered the idea of exploring the emotional, psychological, physical, financial and moral implications of the journey Carol and Julia find themselves on because of their desperation to achieve motherhood.

  1. You are a mother – please visit Helen’s guest post at Noami’s here – but have strong views against traditional and essentialist motherhood. How did you arrive to these conclusions (after pregnancy, during motherhood, you knew it all along. As a young woman myself struggling with the representations of motherhood, I would like this question to be as open as you would like).

I’d describe myself as a person first, and it just so happens that I’m also a woman. Whether I’m a mother as well is neither here nor there as regards my sense of self. I wouldn’t say I’m against traditional motherhood, whatever that might mean, what I believe in is doing what is right for you as an individual. I had a wee rant when I woke up to the headlines on Saturday that Andrea Leadsom allegedly claimed that because she is a mother, she was the best candidate for PM as she had a greater stake in the country’s future. This narrow-minded attitude rips my knitting! Of course being a mother has fostered certain skills and attributes in me but that status does not make me superior in any way compared to women who do not have children. I’ve always felt this way and hate the way some women wear the ‘Mummy’ badge with an arrogance that I find distasteful. Being a mum is very important to be me but I’m ‘Helen’, first and foremost. A firm sense of identity should be enough for any woman to be comfortable in their own skin, and for them not to feel under pressure to add an extra label in the misguided belief that it will somehow give them the edge over other women.

HMK with sons

Author Helen MacKinven with her sons, now aged 20 and 23 – (C) Helen MacKiven

  1. The discourses around motherhood have changed a lot in the last two decades. Being a writer and a reader, have you seen this reflected in literature? Could you give us some examples of other novels that question motherhood as some women’s main goal in life?

I’ve always been attracted to ‘interesting’ characters in fiction that aren’t afraid to stick two fingers up at the societal norm. One of my favourite mothers in fiction is Eva Khatchadourian from We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver in which the nature versus nurture debate is examined when a woman finds herself to be the mother of a killer. I can’t think of a better example of a woman discovering that motherhood doesn’t always live up to preconceived ideas. Last year, I went to the Edinburgh Book Festival to hear Meera Syal discuss her novel, The House of Hidden Mothers which was a fascinating insight into the dealings of the corrupt surrogacy market in India. The main character has to confront her desire to be a mother and question the morality of her actions. I also recently read, Dead Babies and Seaside Town by Alice Jolly which is a moving memoir of loss and infertility as Alice battles the system to become a mum again.

  1. Buy Buy Baby is a research project on contemporary motherhood. The title itself is evocative of new and controversial practices such as surrogacy, or even human trafficking. Could you tell us a bit about your research? (Whether this is covered in the media, whether it was difficult to find cases in the UK, if you actually met someone who had experienced any of these practices, etc.)

The first draft of Buy Buy Baby was written six years ago and there have been many developments since the time of the book’s setting. I spent a lot of time researching the various options open to women who are struggling to conceive and there was a wealth of information on the internet. Although I personally haven’t experienced fertility tourism, considered adoption or surrogacy, I know women in my own circle of family and friends who have had to cope with these scenarios. During the first draft, a friend of a friend very kindly offered to share her experience of using a sperm donor so I was fortunate to have access to a real account. My last novel, Talk of the Toun, was very much a case of following the advice to “write what you know” but Buy Buy Baby is an attempt by me to write what I want to know.

  1. Finally, I think it is very important to provide young women (like me!) with challenged views on maternity. Will your next book follow this subversive line?

It’s in my nature to be confrontational (in my writing!) so I’m sure that whatever I write in future will feature dark themes and tackle controversial issues. I’ve got notes and ideas for a new novel set in Scotland after the independence referendum result but with a local historical event related to the Leningrad Siege weaved into the narrative. The novel would be used to feature the solidarity of the Scottish women with those in Russia in the 1940s but with a contemporary context. It would have a feminist and political agenda but I’d hope there would be plenty of opportunity for humour too.

If you wan to check Helen MacKinven’s past blog tour dates and posts for Buy Buy Baby:

blog tour