strong female characters

Strong female characters are everywhere these days. Right?

Perhaps.

The Damsel in Distress has certainly screamed her last plea for help, and we hear a lot about Kick-Ass Females in both book and movie culture. But it seems to me that we all have a slightly different idea of what makes a woman ‘strong’.

I love a heroine who can fight her way through a room full of henchmen with nothing but a… nail file as much as the next person. (I’m kidding about the nail file. Totally kidding.) I also love a heroine who isn’t afraid to hold her own when faced with a douchey, retro-thinking side character or antagonist who hasn’t yet caught up with the rest of us.

But you know what I love more than that?

Inner strength.

I’m talking about a test of true character in the face of adversity. Or acknowledgement of a fatal flaw and the overcoming of it. Or belief in something no one else believes in and a willingness to stand up for the cause anyway—and triumphing. You get the picture right?

Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: there is nothing wrong with physical strength—hell, I want to be Wonder Woman when I grow up—and a female character who displays physical prowess is generally viewed as capable and fiercely independent. There are more and more women owning their physical capabilities as genderless and in their own right but for the longest time, this type of strength was measurable by comparing it to that of a man. Physical strength was (and sadly in some pockets of the world, still is) viewed as a primarily masculine trait or ability. And this type of strength is but one of many examples.

How many times have we seen (in all media) a woman portrayed/acknowledged as an equal based solely on her ability to fight or play sports or fix a car? That’s cool and all, but these are learnable skills for either sex; not a determining factor of a woman’s strength.

Female characters who demonstrate their ability to overcome the ‘Man’s World’ stigma are nothing short of empowering. But once again, it emphasises the divide between genders. I get that this is important for the sake of progress in equality but I still abhor the way we often use a previously ‘masculine’ skill or ability as a standard measure.

The strengths I appreciate and LOVE to see portrayed are those which are fundamentally HUMAN—without gender biases. For me, this type of strength, the kind which is definitive by character alone, is ten times more liberating.

 

Here are eight of my favourite strong female characters

 

Chiyo / Sayuri from Memoirs of a Geisha

Chiyo’s strength is in her ability to thrive under the crushing hardships; to endure the limitations of her culture even when it means burying her emotions and denying herself fleeting happiness in order to survive long-term. She pursues her goals with a steely yet poignant determination to the height of success then finally an arrangement with the man she loves. 

“Adversity is like a strong wind. I don’t mean just that it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.”
― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

strong female characters - memoirs of a geisha
Vintage / Columbia Pictures / Dreamworks

 

Celie from The Colour Purple

Celie’s strength is an admirable and often unbelievable force. She is resilient yet pure. Despite having every opportunity to turn a ruthless cheek to the world, she doesn’t. Time and time again, I expect her faith to waver but she thrives beneath her misfortunes and comes out the other side stronger than ever with a wider understanding and acceptance of herself and the world she lives in.

“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.”
― Alice Walker, The Colour Purple

strong female characters - the colour purple
Washington Square Press / Warner Bros.

 

Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth’s strength is in her very nature. She is self-assured and principled, and despite the inhibiting time in which she lived, she never swayed from her individuality. She was not afraid to be who she was even under the scathing eye of society. Then, when her prejudices came to light, she readily acknowledged them, admitted and owned her errors, and ultimately overcame them.

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

strong female characters - pride and prejudice
Penguin / Universal

 

Hermione from Harry Potter

Hermione’s strength is embedded in her fierce loyalty and friendship with Harry and Ron, and in her innate sense of what is good and right. She is not afraid to be the odd one out or stand for causes she deems worthy. By embracing and nurturing her smarts and ambition, she saves the day over and over.

“But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. Because there are somethings you can’t go through in life and become friends, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

strong female characters - harry potter
Bloomsbury / Warner Bros.

 

Elinor from Sense and Sensibility

Elinor’s strength is quiet and understated but nevertheless rock-solid. Her sense of propriety and responsibility is both a blessing and a curse and the way in which she bears her family’s hardships is nothing short of admirable. She is the glue that holds the Dashwood family together and although her practical approach leaves her wanting when it comes to matters of the heart, eventually, she strikes a balance within herself and takes a risk. Though she does find happiness, her inner struggle to open up is long and achingly tender, made more poignant by the contrast of her strength and wisdom in all other matters.

“…After all that is bewitching in the idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be said of one’s happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant — it is not fit — it is not possible that it should be so.”
― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

strong female characters - sense and sensibility
Penguin / Columbia Pictures

 

Jo from Little Women

All the women in this book have strength in their own way. For me, Beth stood out for her unwavering compassion but Jo is my favourite. A little like Elizabeth Bennett, Jo is confident and candid and feisty; she is stubborn and leads with her passion—be that of heart or mind—and despite everything thrown at her, her strength is embedded in the fact that she remains true to who she is throughout.

“I’m glad you are poor. I couldn’t bear a rich husband,” said Jo decidedly, adding in a softer tone, “Don’t fear poverty. I’ve known it long enough to lose my dread and be happy working for those I love. . . .”
— Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

strong female characters - little women
Penguin / Columbia Pictures

 

Éowyn from Lord of the Rings

Her strength is in her determination. Éowyn plays her part in battle with admirable physical strength but her real strength though is the fierce motivation she possesses. She wants to give her all to her cause and she’s willing to die to do so.

“What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked.
“A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

strong female characters - lord of the rings
Mariner Books / New Line Cinema

 

Melanie from The Girl with All the Gifts

Her strength is in defying and overcoming the base instincts of who she has become in the horrific dystopian world she lives in. Instead of succumbing to her natural urges, she embraces the humanity within her despite the extreme odds and in doing so, proved to both herself and those around her that strength of will can save us all if we have the nerve to risk everything.

“And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both. But you have to open it to find that out.”
― M.R. Carey, The Girl with All the Gifts

 

strong female characters - the girl with all the gifts
Orbit / Poison Chef / BFI

 

Which strong female characters are on your favourites list? What strengths do you value?

Tell me in the comments.

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

GENRE: YA CONTEMPORARY | PAGES: 320

My rating: ★★★★★

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHO TO TRUST WHEN YOU CAN’T EVEN TRUST YOURSELF?

I look at my hands. One of them says ‘FLORA, BE BRAVE.’

This book swept me up in a wave of intrigue and compassion. Flora Banks is one of the best female characters I’ve read in a while—a powerhouse of inner strength. She just doesn’t remember who she is and what she’s capable of.

I loved Flora’s voice and felt an immediate connection with her from page one. The narrative is chilling—crafted with an alternating pace and clarity depending on Flora’s state of mind. At times it is fluent, teeming with such life that Flora’s spirit and tenacity radiate off the page. Other times, it is purposefully convoluted, repetitive—like actually stepping into the sweeping confusion of a seventeen-year-old amnesiac’s mind.

The repetition does not detract from the story; quite the opposite, in fact. It enhances it in that every subtle word change becomes a clue in the puzzle of Flora’s world. Because that’s what it is: an enigma that propels you from chapter to chapter, neither knowing nor trusting the words even as the story unfurls before you.

Flora’s unique personality, the Cornish and Arctic settings, the story as a whole—they are all refreshingly original and compelling. Add to that the cleverly crafted unreliable narrator and you have yourself an absolute must-read.

See all reviews

 

  the one memory of flora banks

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life. With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Back in September, I spent three solid days shamelessly glued to the PlayStation with Uncharted 4. For those of you who aren’t gamers, Uncharted is a series of role-play action-adventure games featuring Nathan Drake—a wisecracking hunk of beefcake with a penchant for treasure hunting and getting himself into gun-fighting pickles. One could argue that video games can hardly be counted as ‘Book Chat’ material but the Uncharted franchise is so beautifully story-oriented that I’m letting this one slide.

The latest instalment ( Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End) has the main protagonist, Nate, following the trail of real-life pirate Henry Avery, and his colony, in search of a ‘treasure of a lifetime’, all in the name of saving his long-lost brother, Sam. It’s a mashup (as always) of Indiana Jones and Die Hard (but with an even better storyline) and Nate is ridiculously easy on the eye—not to mention a stickler for an impossible mission.

Which got me thinking (not as rare an occurrence as you’d think): Nate’s flaws are plenty but they make him doubly attractive—and relatable—particularly handy, since we can’t possibly relate to his knack for hurling himself willy-nilly off cliffs and the like.

So I decided to make a list. (I love a good list.)

Here are five of Nathan Drake’s character flaws commonly found in a host of other fictional characters from books, TV, and film.

1. OBSESSION

Number one on a LOT of lists, the flaw of obsession is hardly uncommon. Whether it’s a thirst for revenge or a fool’s errand in pursuit of riches or power, characters whose obsessions take command of their lives are aplenty. Nathan Drake is no exception. In earlier games, his reckless need to beat his opponents and uncover the mystery of whatever lost treasure he’s tracking, drove him to extremes. In Uncharted 4, he’s finally out of the thief game, living a normal and oh-so-mundane life. This time, the lure of the treasure is second in line to the need to play hero—and bail out his brother. Nonetheless, the obsession fogs his view, clouding his judgment in more than one instance, and leading him to do things he shouldn’t. Like lie. And steal. And murder people left, right, and centre…

“Let’s see… I ruined my marriage. Drove my best friend away. And now my brother’s gone missing. On the bright side: at least there’s no one around to call me an idiot.” — Nathan Drake, A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog)

Oh, Nate… You idiot.

Image Source

Other obsessive fools we (kind of) relate to:

Regina Mills (Evil Queen) from Once Upon a Time

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Captain Ahab from Moby Dick by Herman Melville

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Lady Macbeth from Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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2. ARROGANCE

So, obviously Nate is a… superfly guy. I know it, you know it, he knows it—and boy, does he milk it. His arrogance gets him into bigger trouble fifty percent of the time but more often than not, it’s his arrogance that gets him out of it in the end. Also, it’s charming as all hell.

Other arrogant bastards we love:

CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean

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Vlad Tepesh from The Night Prince by Jeaniene Frost

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Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries

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3. OVER-PROTECTIVENESS

Of course we all want someone in our lives willing to go the extra mile to protect us and make us feel all warm and cosy and secure at night. But when said person begins omitting truths (blatantly lying) and manipulating events to try to protect us, it can be, quite frankly, annoying. I’m more than capable of deciding whether to risk getting myself killed or not, thank you very much, Nate. I don’t need you to decide for me just to play the big hero… Oh wait, that wouldn’t be ALL bad, I guess… (well, there goes my girl power.)

Other over-protective control freaks we secretly want to hug:

Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries

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Edward Cullen from Twilight (I’m sensing a theme here…)

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(Young) Charles Xavier from X-Men: First Class

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4. SMART ASS-ery

The line is: ‘No one likes a smart ass,’ but I beg to differ. I LOVE a smart ass, but I should point out that this pertains only to the fictional world. Nathan Drake is a one-liner genius, resorting to quick wit and one-uppers against his foes even in the face of mortal peril. 

Flynn: “Found the ships though, didn’t I?”

Nate: “You couldn’t find your ass with both hands.”

— Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Naughty Dog)

Other smart-asses we find hilarious:

Doctor Cox from Scrubs

Source

 

Chandler Bing from Friends

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Damon Salvatore from TVD

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I know! I listed him twice. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

 

5. GREY MORALITY

This is by far one of my favourite character flaws, whether it’s in a book, film or any other media. It’s so deliciously complex, and builds intrigue and excitement around the character. When it comes to morally grey characters, we find ourselves succumbing to their plea, empathising with their cause no matter how ludicrous, and no matter the cost. We tend to overlook their (often) criminal or unjust behaviour, making up ridiculous excuses: ‘I know he just killed nearly an entire army, but he HAS to save his brother, dammit!’ (Me, on Nate.) These folk really know how to spin our moral compasses.

Other morally grey souls we make excuses for:

Thorin Oakenshield from Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Rumpelstiltskin (Mr Gold) from Once Upon a Time

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Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries 

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Last time, I swear.

And there you have it. My list of character flaw observations to justify the hours spent lost in the world of Uncharted when I should have been writing.

It was completely worth it. 🙂

What are your favourite flaws? Who are your favourite flawed characters? Who did I leave off the list? We all know who I didn’t leave off the list. (Still not sorry.) Let me know below in the comments.

As a reader, I enjoy multiple genres of books, and picking a favourite is, for me, not just impossible but criminal. Having said that, there are a few that stand out. These books are the ones I nose-dived my way through; they hooked me at first word and had that can’t-eat can’t-sleep effect. There’s also one other thing they all have in common: the storytelling is fearless. 

Here are my Top 3 Fearless Books

Fearless Books

Forbidden

“You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel.”

 

If ever there’s even such a thing as ‘fearless books’ outside of my reading bubble, this is one that would make the cut with its hands tied behind its back. I will rave about this story until I’m senile or dead. Never have I read a story that compelled me as much as this did to turn a blind eye to the norms of society. The author took a taboo subject—incest—and spun it on its head, with characters so real and relatable that I could do nothing BUT root for them, even though on a basic level I knew I shouldn’t have. The story has never left me, and I dare you to read it and let it haunt you too.

Full review of Forbidden

Fearless Books

The Tied Man

“The summer I met Lilith Bresson, I had begun to die. Not physically, you understand. I had never been that lucky. But each day a little more of my soul disappeared.”

 

I read this one only recently, and it is by far one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever come across. That’s not to say it isn’t good. The writing is brilliant; the fast-paced action, dry (dark) humour, and the isolated setting really lend themselves to the atmosphere of the book. The real fearless quality though is in the characters and the extent of horror of the events. Never have I read something which made me cringe as much as this book did, yet I couldn’t have put it down if you’d paid me to.

Full review of The Tied Man

Fearless Books

The Bell Jar

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

 

A fairly modern classic, The Bell Jar is well-known and well-loved, and one of my all-time favourites. I can relate to so much of Sylvia Plath’s work and her only novel is no exception. The subject centres around the protagonist’s fledging writing career, and her struggle with mental illness (loosely based on Sylvia Plath’s own life). The style of writing is poetic (not for everyone) and Plath demonstrates that remarkable and elusive skill of taking a bleak and morbid situation, and transforming it into compelling prose. This, to me, is as fearless as it gets.

Full review of The Bell Jar

So, fellow bookworms, what would you consider your favourite fearless books? Which of them has a permanent haunt spot in your life? Tell me in the comments.

Writers are often asked if real life events end up in their fiction writing or rather—if their fiction is actually based on true stories. In many cases, my personal answer to this is ‘I sincerely hope not.’ Can you imagine the horror of Stephen King’s daily life if that were true?

Instead of being based on true stories, fiction, as Mr King puts it, is: “the truth inside the lie.”

In the case of my book (a contemporary romantic suspense novel) and other books like it, the horror is entirely more subtle. The realism of it, the fact that it could happen—that it does happen—makes it terrifying.  

As for whether real life has an actual place in my books, Brooke’s situation in Blood’s Veil (no spoilers) is entirely fictional as far as I’m concerned, but my life experience whether through real events, literature or film, have all aided me in creating her and her story. I’ve lived with the crippling aftermath of sexual abuse and I’m no stranger to depression. Some of this seeps into my fiction writing — but it’s organic. I draw on this inner source of inspiration if the moment requires it rather than setting out to write what would essentially be a memoir.

Writing a character like Brooke allowed me to express a tiny fraction of my experience whilst keeping that much-needed distance, but I did this because it was true to her character. 

My current work in progress, Immisceo, is part of a fantasy series. There’s adventure, there’s magic, all in a fictional setting and bygone time—none of which I experienced (wouldn’t that be cool!?) Yet in every story, no matter how exciting or fast-paced or fantastical the plot is, as readers, we relate to the characters. If a character is a likeable dude on a noble life quest, we automatically begin to root for him. If a character is unspeakably evil, we immediately loath them. If they’re somewhere in between—the anti-hero like Severus Snape from Harry Potter or anti-villain like Rumplestiltskin / Mr Gold from Once Upon a Time—we feel a certain kind of kinship with their struggles; it speaks to something within us all—the complexity of the human psyche.


“Has it ever crossed your brilliant mind that I don’t want to do this anymore?”

fiction writing


fiction writing
ONCE UPON A TIME – ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” stars Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold. (ABC/KHAREN HILL)

 

This is where truth comes in. It doesn’t matter if we’re writing or reading about (or watching) a character struggling through the mundane day-to-day routine of a job he hates or battling a terminal illness; or one who is about to take on a fifty-foot dragon… what it all boils down to is real emotion. A human connection with what we see before us.

Fiction Writing vs. Real Life: Blurring the Line

fiction writing
Source: imgkid.com

I’ve never fought a dragon before but I can I recall a time when I felt so scared I could barely breathe or a time when I had to attempt something for the sake of someone else—nothing life-threatening like a living, breathing dragon of course, but the fear and awe are emotions and experiences I’m familiar with.

 

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” Stephen King

Writers take those feelings, those memories, and amplify them tenfold, gives the character a whopping great sword and a pair of balls the size of Texas and—boom! And while the action is fun and exciting, when we witness this as readers or viewers, the part we relate to is the fear, the adrenaline, the sheer wonder of the size of that scaly beast.

So, how often is truth found in fiction? My answer is: always—in terms of human emotion and experience, and everything that makes a story relatable. The rest is a wondrous product of the imagination.

Characters are important, if not the most important aspect of a good story; great characters have to be fully developed with appealing qualities, true to life flaws, and a host of inner desires, conflicts, motivations and goals. Just like all real life folk. Recently though, a statement from another writer brought up the question of judgment of character. Stupid characters in particular.

So. Many. Stupid Characters.

He claims that ‘so many books are filled with stupid characters making stupid choices’, and I can see the point of his statement. On some level, I’m inclined to almost agree—almost. What stops me agreeing is this:

What exactly, in the eyes of the reader, makes for a good character?

Is it strength, and integrity, and intelligence? Quick wit, feistiness, charm? Does physical appearance play a part, if at all? And to what extent? Does the rise-of-the-underdog score more points with you, or do you prefer to witness the shallow-but-popular ass evolving into a relatable 3-D hero? Does a heroine have to be the typical Mary Jane with an unknown destiny awaiting her, and lots of obstacles to rise above?

These are all common themes/tropes within stories (if a little limited).

Whether the book focuses on the main characters themselves, or whether it is driven by plot, every story will have a protagonist with at least one goal, and, as far as the author is concerned, a vast number of motivations and means by which to meet this goal. Authors are human too though, and they write the story they want to write, and read, (which is exactly as it should be.)

In doing this, they can often, unfortunately, piss off the reader. Getting from point A to point B can be done in so many ways that it is impossible to please every single reader; a character choice may seem poor or even dumb to one reader, yet may appear perfectly reasonable to another.

Let me give you a (ridiculously basic) example:

stupid characters snow white
Stupid characters and their stupid fruit.

Snow White in Walt Disney’s animated film
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Snow White

The princess has fled for her life knowing someone wants her dead. She then sets up home with seven little men, and when a scary old lady offers her an apple, she accepts it and immediately takes a bite, no questions asked despite the fact that she is on the lam, and the woman is hideous beyond belief.

Some would call her stupid, and naive; a little clueless. On the other hand, Snow is an innocent fourteen-year-old girl, with (apparently) a heart as pure as her namesake, thus she trusts easily, and wants to see the good in everyone. She doesn’t for a second believe that this little old lady would want to harm her.

stupid characters bella swan twilight
Stupid characters and their stupid hiking trips

Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan in
The Twilight Saga: New Moon Source

A more recent example is… (dare I?)

Bella Swan

Bella is an (apparently) average teenager whose love for Edward is all-consuming, and upon his leaving in New Moon, she all but gives up on normal life for several months at a time.

Some would call this stupid, and weak; a little melodramatic. On the other hand, Bella is a teenager, and we all know that fully grown adults are capable of drama, much less a seventeen-year-old. A breakup is tough on any one of us, and Bella is no exception. Her love for Edward was written to be of such an epic scale that losing it would be like losing a part of herself; anything less than that would make the reader doubt the scale of their love in the first place.

If you’re thinking: ‘What a lame bunch of lame examples!’, first: get yourself a thesaurus; and second: let me offer up a third and final example—one who is not a teenage girl, nor a central character of a fairy tale / young adult romance saga: 

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

stupid characters doctor faustus
Stupid characters and their stupid inability to read the small-print

Illustration from the 1620 edition of The Tragical History
of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus Source

Doctor Faustus is smart; he is highly accomplished in the arts and sciences to the point of feeling dissatisfied with the mediocrity of what little there is left to learn. He is a fully-grown man, a well-established social figure in his time—yet what does he do? He makes a deal with the devil! Pretty stupid, yes? Or no? It could easily be assumed that voluntarily signing a blood-contract with a messenger from the depths of hell pretty much ‘puts the stu in stupid’ (technical term). Yet, whilst there is no question that his choices leading up to—and during—his deal did indeed lack judgment, Faustus was, on the whole, not stupid; self-centred, frivolous, arrogant to the point of self-destruction, and clearly prone to ‘silly’ decisions—but not stupid. His discontentment with life, his initial search for greater meaning—even power—are all too common in the real world, in some form or another; it may not justify his decisions but it does shed light on the reasoning behind it.

Snow White, Bella, and Faustus (jeez, weirdest dinner party ever!) demonstrate that regardless of character traits, flaws, and intentions, every reader is likely to interpret a character in a different way. What is dumb and weak to one person is to another, completely understandable, even to an extent, realistic. We all appreciate and admire smart people and smart choices, fictional or otherwise, but how drab would it be to always be faced with these know-it-all smart-asses, with their excellent lives, rubbing our Average-Joe noses in their success?

Certainly, despite good decisions, a smart character can have things in life go wrong for them as a result of an external source, but can you honestly say you’d enjoy reading the riveting account of how easy it was for them to overcome the obstacle thanks to yet another predictably smart choice? Shortest book ever—and not particularly entertaining; entertainment being the whole point of writing and reading in the first place.

My point is this: despite what appeals to us on a personal level when it comes to our preferences in the characters we write or read about, one thing we all are likely to have in common is that we want our characters to be as real and relatable as possible.

AND HERE’S THE THING…

Real people, smart or otherwise, sometimes make stupid choices, and despite judgment, whether from other writers, readers, or haters, books with outwardly stupid characters making stupid choices will continue to sell, because if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a reason for a character’s moment of idiocy; and more notably, this moment of idiocy amidst the chaos of life is real and relatable.

 

Up From the Grave (Night Huntress #7) by Jeaniene Frost

GENRE: FANTASY, PARANORMAL, ROMANCE | PAGES: 372

My rating: ★★★★

On finally completing this series with Up From the Grave, I had to hold off writing a review for a couple of days for fear of gushing like the book nerd I am. Yet, several days later, I am still full of nothing but gushing love for Cat and Bones and the Night Huntress world, and I’m having to read two books alongside each other just to fill the gaping book hole left in my soul. (I’m nothing if not dramatic.)

On a more serious note – as if being stuck in book limbo isn’t serious – book seven of this series did not disappoint. There was the usual action, the usual Cat vs. villain scenario (although this villain had his introduction in the previous part), and whilst there aren’t as many toe-curling scenes featuring Bones (aka Buffy’s Spike – yum!) as in previous books (hello, married life), there is that same distinct connection between him and Cat, which by this point has developed and escalated into something altogether more magical than vampire sex. (Did I just say that? I take it back.)

I loved the addition of Katie (even though I could see it coming a mile off), and I liked Cat’s changing instincts surrounding this – it was written in such a way that this transition into her new role was smooth and natural.

Something I did not see coming was this:

SPOILER AHEAD!

“A shock wave knocked me off Bones and sent me sprawling against the other side of the pier. Concussion grenade, I mentally diagnosed. One amped up enough for vampires. Madigan had really upgraded his toys, but before I could scramble back to Bones, I saw something that froze me into immobility. A line appeared in his blood- spattered cheek, dark as pitch and snaking across his skin like a crack in a statue. Then another line appeared, and another one. And another. No. It was the only thought my mind was capable of producing as black lines began to appear all over his skin, zigzagging and splintering off into new, merciless paths. I’d seen the same thing happen to countless vampires before, usually after twisting a silver knife in their hearts, but denial made it impossible for me to believe the same was happening to Bones. He couldn’t be slowly shrivelling before my gaze, true death changing his youthful appearance into something that resembled pottery clay baked too long in an oven. My immobility vanished, replaced by terror such as I’ve never felt. I vaulted across the pier, snatching Bones into my arms while my tears joined the rain in soaking his face. “NO!” Even as the scream left me, the changes in him grew worse. His muscular frame felt like it deflated, the hard lines of his body becoming rubbery before they began to shrink. I clutched him tighter, sobs turning my tears scarlet, while something started to hammer in my chest. It felt as though I were being pummelled on the inside with hard, steady blows. My heartbeat, a part of me registered. It had been silent for almost a year, but now, it pounded more strongly than it ever had when I was a human. Another cry tore out of me when Bones’s skin cracked beneath my hands before sloughing off onto the wooden planks. Frantic, I tried to put it back on, but more flesh began to peel away faster than I could hold it together. Muscle and bone peeked out from those widening spaces, until his face, neck, and arms resembled a gaping slab of meat. But what tore through me like a fire that would never stop burning was his eyes. The dark brown orbs I loved sank into their sockets, dissipating into goo. My scream, high- pitched and agonised, replaced the scrambling sounds of soldiers setting up position around me. I didn’t try to stop them. I sat there, clutching handfuls of what now looked like dried leather, until all I could see underneath Bones’s bullet- riddled clothes was a pale, withered husk. Dimly, I heard Madigan yell, “I said no silver ammo! Who the fuck fired those rounds?” before everything faded except the pain radiating through me. It made the agony I felt when I’d nearly burned to death a blissful memory. That had only destroyed my flesh, but this tore through my soul, taking every emotion and shredding it with knowledge that was too awful to bear. Bones was gone. He’d died right before my eyes because I insisted on taking Madigan down my way.”

If I read this once, I read it at least five more times before I would allow myself to believe it and try to move on. Even then, I was unwilling to let go.

By the time I got to p.149, I was a ridiculous, teary mess. Read the book–you’ll see.

Needless to say, this whole series is on my ‘favourites’ pile. It’s easy reading, feisty, witty, and jam-packed with supernatural action and chemistry. The heroine is strong and sassy, and knows how to handle herself (yay, feminism!), and best of all, these non-sparkling vampires know how to bite.

 

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 Up From the Grave

 

Lately, life has been unnaturally calm for vampires Cat Crawfield and her husband Bones. They should have known better than to relax their guard, because a shocking revelation sends them back into action to stop an all-out war…

A rogue CIA agent is involved in horrifying secret activities that threaten to raise tensions between humans and the undead to dangerous heights. Now Cat and Bones are in a race against time to save their friends from a fate worse than death… because the more secrets they unravel, the deadlier the consequences. And if they fail, their lives—and those of everyone they hold dear — will be hovering on the edge of the grave.

One Grave at a Time (Night Huntress #6) by Jeaniene Frost

GENRE: FANTASY, PARANORMAL, ROMANCE | PAGES: 389

My rating: ★★★★

Whilst book five was slightly disappointing because of a distinct lack of raw connection with Cat and Bones, book six, One Grave at a Time, puts the series back on form.

Once again, Cat and Bones are up against yet another cunning enemy, this time in the form of Kramer – a powerful ghost, disillusioned writer of the historic Malleus Maleficarum, and cruel, twisted rapist and murderer. He has haunted the plane of the living for years, yet annually, on Halloween, he has the ability to cross over into a corporeal form, allowing for his centuries-old ritual of the torture and burning of women, under the archaic system of witch-hunting.

Of all of the villains in this series so far, I enjoyed reading this one the most – perhaps because of my own interests surrounding the witch trials and the unspeakable history of the crimes against those women.

Cat, as always, puts her own (undead) life on the line to hunt down this madman, in yet another lightning joyride from Jeaniene Frost. 

 

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 One Grave at a Time

 

Having narrowly averted an (under)world war, Cat Crawfield wants nothing more than a little downtime with her vampire husband, Bones. Unfortunately, her gift from New Orleans’ voodoo queen just keeps on giving–leading to a personal favor that sends them into battle once again, this time against a villainous spirit.

Centuries ago, Heinrich Kramer was a witch hunter. Now, every All Hallows Eve, he takes physical form to torture innocent women before burning them alive. This year, however, a determined Cat and Bones must risk all to send him back to the other side of eternity–forever. But how do you kill a killer who’s already long dead?

This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress, #5) BY Jeaniene Frost

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 357

My rating: ★★★

Jeaniene Frost continues to distract me from everything else I should be doing, although I have to admit that part 5 in the series was not as great for me as those before it.

There’s still plenty of action and the writing is superb as always, but unlike the others, this book was a little dull in some places. There are some great scenes, don’t get me wrong, but things don’t seem to pick up until about halfway through. Whether this is simply because of the general plot of this book, or whether it is a reflection of the characters’ developing maturity, I don’t know – perhaps a bit of both – either way, it was slightly disappointing after eating books 1 to 4 like a ravenous book-beast.

I also found myself somewhat distracted by the new additions to the story, in particular, Kira, and Denise’s new ‘situation’. For anyone who read the side novels involving Spade and Denise, and Mencheres and Kira, this wouldn’t be a problem. Maybe it’s my own damn fault for rushing on with this series instead of branching out and getting the full overall story – I just didn’t have enough of an interest in these side characters to read full novels based around them alone. It would have made more sense to read the Night Huntress books 1 to 4, then go to Night Huntress World First Drop of Crimson and Eternal Kiss of Darkness before reading this book as suggested on the author’s site. Oops.

Overall, this won’t stop me from continuing with the series, but I am hoping book six captures more of what drew me to this series in the first place, zoning back in on Cat and Bones.

 

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  This Side of the Grave

 

Danger waits on both sides of the grave.

Half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her vampire husband Bones have fought for their lives, as well as for their relationship. But just when they’ve triumphed over the latest battle, Cat’s new and unexpected abilities threaten to upset a long-standing balance . . .

With the mysterious disappearance of vampires, rumors abound that a species war is brewing. A zealot is inciting tensions between the vampires and ghouls, and if these two powerful groups clash, innocent mortals could become collateral damage. Now Cat and Bones are forced to seek help from a dangerous “ally”; the ghoul queen of New Orleans herself. But the price of her assistance may prove more treacherous than even the threat of a supernatural war . . . to say nothing of the repercussions Cat never imagined.

Destined for an Early Grave (Night Huntress #4) BY Jeaniene Frost 

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 355 

My rating: ★★★★

After having read several reviews that led me to believe the fourth instalment in this series was less than average, I went into this one partly prepared for disappointment. Happily, it never came. Destined for an Early Grave is just as brilliant, in my opinion, as the previous three books.

**Spoiler Ahead**

Cat and Bones are back on form after book three’s slightly lacking absence of steamy scenarios and chemistry. Cat’s transformation is edgy and original, and full of surprise, and her relationship with Bones is put to the test in even more ways.

Jeaniene Frost has done it again, and this is turning out to be one of my favourite series ever.

 

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  Destined for an Early Grave

 

Her deadly dreams leave her in grave danger.

Since half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her undead lover Bones met six years ago, they’ve fought against the rogue undead, battled a vengeful Master vampire, and pledged their devotion with a blood bond. Now it’s time for a vacation. But their hopes for a perfect Paris holiday are dashed when Cat awakes one night in terror. She’s having visions of a vampire named Gregor who’s more powerful than Bones and has ties to her past that even Cat herself didn’t know about.

Gregor believes Cat is his and he won’t stop until he has her. As the battle begins between the vamp who haunts her nightmares and the one who holds her heart, only Cat can break Gregor’s hold over her. She’ll need all the power she can summon in order to bring down the baddest bloodsucker she’s ever faced . . . even if getting that power will result in an early grave.

Halfway to the Grave BY Jeaniene Frost

GENRE: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance | PAGES: 358

My rating: ★★★★

EDIT: Having now devoured the series, Halfway to the Grave is the gateway book into one of my favourite paranormal series EVER. 

Catherine – otherwise known as Cat, Cathy and Kitten; also known as a half-breed, with a penchant for killing other vampires after having discovered that she is the product of a vampire rape. With her prejudice against all of the undead fully drummed into her by her mother, and Cat’s own self-loathing of her very being, she hunts the vampires by night, hoping that someday she’ll cross paths with the one whose blood flows through her.

Instead, she finds Bones: master vampire, hundreds of years old, and more than a match for Cat’s skills, he corners her into a deal: she can live, and hunt, but only on his terms, as part of an ongoing eleven-year search of his own.

This book was refreshingly and amazingly jam-packed with action and chemistry.

Cat is strong and feisty; her temperament makes her unpredictable, and her internal narration is funny, sassy, and a real joy to read. Her spunk gets her into dangerous fixes, yet it is truly liberating, in a generation of fragile-humans-in-the-paranormal-world, to see her get herself out of them, for the majority of the time.

Bones, as the male lead is charismatic and charming, keeping all the mystery and danger of everything a vampire should encompass – a little remnant of Buffy’s Spike. His English wit and vampiric allure is pleasurably more-ish, and set against Cat’s own fiery nature, it is a truly exciting combination.

I loved this book immensely. Each character is well established, and the conflicting prejudices of both species – human and vampire – and then the eventual mingling of the two, really adds interest. I admired the way the author does not hold out on the characters’ fitting opinions on topics in society – politics, religion… It is so refreshing to read something that doesn’t hold back in a bid to cause as little offence as possible. This made the characters really come to life; it added realism.

The ending was left wonderfully open, without being frustratingly so, and I just cannot wait to continue with this series – certainly the best so far – in terms of action, romance, humour, sex, and all things supernatural.

 

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  Halfway to the Grave

 

Flirting with the Grave…

Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, hoping that one of these deadbeats is her father – the one responsible for ruining her mother’s life. Then she’s captured by Bones, a vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unholy partnership.

In exchange for finding her father, Cat agrees to train with the sexy night stalker until her battle reflexes are as sharp as his fangs. She’s amazed she doesn’t end up as his dinner – are there actually good vampires? Pretty soon Bones will have her convinced that being half-dead doesn’t have to be all bad. But before she can enjoy her newfound status as kick-ass demon hunter, Cat and Bones are pursued by a group of killers. Now Cat will have to choose a side . . . and Bones is turning out to be as tempting as any man with a heartbeat.

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

GENRE: Contemporary, YA | PAGES: 246

My rating: ★★★★

The End of Everything is beautiful and disturbing all in the same breath! I loved this book. The writing was amazing – it reminded me a bit of Sylvia Plath’s style. There were some sentences I had to re-read just to fully absorb and appreciate the poetry within the prose.

The protagonist’s voice was strong, mature, and surprisingly insightful for a fourteen year old – yet without being too advanced so as to make it unbelievable. The author did a fantastic job of capturing this middle ground.

The story line was amazing – suspenseful and full of intensity throughout.

I can’t fault it in any way.

Simply brilliant!

 

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  The End of Everything

 

A close-knit street, the clink of glass on glass, summer heat. Two girls on the brink of adolescence, throwing cartwheels on the grass. Two girls who tell each other everything. Until one shimmering afternoon, one of them disappears. Lizzie is left with her dread and her loss, and with a fear that won’t let her be. Had Evie tried to give her a hint of what was coming, a clue that she failed to follow? Caught between her imaginary guilt, her sense of betrayal, her own powerful need, and the needs of the adults around her, Lizzie’s voice is as unforgettable as her story is arresting.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

GENRE: Contemporary, Romance, YA | PAGES: 432

My rating: ★★★★★

My god, Forbidden is amazing. Even with the very, very sensitive topic of incest and child neglect, the story as a whole was immensely touching and so intense I felt the urge to pause between chapters–yet couldn’t!

From page one, the characters came to life for me. It was impossible not to sympathise with their situation; it was as if their very lives were unfolding in front of me, and by the time Maya and Lochan actually took their relationship to the next dangerous level I was already (incredibly) accepting it. I would go as far as admitting that I wanted them to succeed in their plans for a future together.

The ending made my heart ache. It was the ultimate sacrifice to both their family unit and to each other.

The only recommending sentence I need to utter is this: if you like good books, read Forbidden–you won’t be disappointed. 

 

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Forbidden

 

She is pretty and talented – sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But… they are brother and sister. Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

GENRE: Memoir | PAGES: 234

My rating: ★★★★★

I went into this novel rather blindly and I have to say I preferred it that way–it allowed me to make up my own mind. To say that I ‘enjoyed’ this book would seem inappropriate but nevertheless, I’ll admit that I did.

I find Plath’s style thought-provoking and full of imagery. In one review I saw moments ago, it was noted that there was no mention of a diagnosis and hardly any discussion of treatment. I have to say, in the book’s defence, that it would seem that Plath didn’t need to label her protagonist’s illness. Everything seemed to be written as thought processes and emotion and this worked incredibly well given that depression (from my own personal experience) is such an inward and isolating illness. Plath’s likening of this to a bell jar fits perfectly.

She captures the chaos of the mind and puts it on the page so beautifully that I often wanted to read a sentence more than once just to absorb it all over again.

Overall, a brilliant novel and one that will stay with me for a long time.

 “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.” 

 

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The Bell Jar

 

Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things – grades, boyfriend, looks, career – and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Highly readable, witty and disturbing, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel and was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. What it has to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women, is as sharply relevant today as it has always been.