Best Books of 2017

December is here, yay! It’s almost Christmas, and 2018 is just around the corner. So it’s time for The Bandwagon’s best books of 2017!

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As usual, I’ve read some absolutely brilliant books this year. It’s always difficult to pick a favourite, so I’ve picked my top 10 books of 2017. The only theme I can pick out is that most of my tops books were written by women. There have been a lot of strong books by women authors lately, and I’m keen to see this theme continue.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

Read my review here.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

Read my review here.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Essex, England, 1645. With a heavy heart, Alice Hopkins returns to the small town she grew up in. Widowed, with child, and without prospects, she is forced to find refuge at the house of her younger brother, Matthew. In the five years she has been gone, the boy she knew has become a man of influence and wealth–but more has changed than merely his fortunes. Alice fears that even as the cruel burns of a childhood accident still mark his face, something terrible has scarred Matthew’s soul.

There is a new darkness in the town, too–frightened whispers are stirring in the streets, and Alice’s blood runs cold with dread when she discovers that Matthew is a ruthless hunter of suspected witches. Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene–and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul.

Alone and surrounded by suspicious eyes, Alice seeks out the fuel firing her brother’s brutal mission–and is drawn into the Hopkins family’s past. There she finds secrets nested within secrets: and at their heart, the poisonous truth. Only by putting her own life and liberty in peril can she defeat this darkest of evils–before more innocent women are forced to the gallows.

Inspired by the real-life story of notorious “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, Beth Underdown’s thrilling debut novel blends spellbinding history with harrowing storytelling for a truly haunting reading experience.

Read my review here.

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Elka barely remembers a time before she knew Trapper.

She was just seven years old, wandering lost and hungry in the wilderness, when the solitary hunter took her in. In the years since then, he’s taught her how to survive in this desolate land where civilization has been destroyed and men are at the mercy of the elements and each other.

But the man Elka thought she knew has been harboring a terrible secret. He’s a killer. A monster. And now that Elka knows the truth, she may be his next victim.

Armed with nothing but her knife and the hard lessons Trapper’s drilled into her, Elka flees into the frozen north in search of her real parents. But judging by the trail of blood dogging her footsteps, she hasn’t left Trapper behind–and he won’t be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she’s going to survive, Elka will have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about the dark road she’s been set on.

The Wolf Road is an intimate cat-and-mouse tale of revenge and redemption, played out against a vast, unforgiving landscape–told by an indomitable young heroine fighting to escape her past and rejoin humanity.

Read my review here.

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent.

Read my review here.

Poison by Galt Niederhoffer

Poison is a literary psychological thriller about a marriage that follows minor betrayal into a bubbling stew of lies, cruelty, manipulation, and danger.

Cass and Ryan Connor have achieved family nirvana. With three kids between them, a cat and a yard, a home they built and feathered, they seem to have the Modern Family dream. Their family, including Cass’ two children from previous relationships, has recently moved to Portland —a new start for their new lives. Cass and Ryan have stable, successful careers, and they are happy. But trouble begins almost imperceptibly. First with small omissions and white lies that happen daily in any marital bedroom. They seem insignificant, but they are quickly followed by a series of denials and feints that mushroom and then cyclone in menace.

With life-or-death stakes and irreversible consequences, Poison is a chilling and irresistible reminder that the closest bond designed to protect and provide for each other and for children can change in a minute.

Read my review here.

I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Molly wakes her mother to go to the toilet. The campsite is strangely blank. The toilet block has gone. Everything else has gone too. This is a place with no sun. No god.

Just four families remain. Each has done something to bring them here – each denies they deserve it. Until they see what’s coming over the horizon, moving irrevocably towards them. Their worst mistake. Their darkest fear.

And for just one of them, their homecoming.

This gripping conceptual horror takes you deep into one of the most macabre and unique imaginations writing in the genre. On family, on children, Lindqvist writes in a way that tears the heart and twists the soul. I Am Behind You turns the world upside down and, disturbing, terrifying and shattering by turns, it will suck you in.

Read my review here.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting . . .

When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure–a silent companion–that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of The Bridge are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition–that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.

A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, this is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect–much like the silent companions themselves.

Read my review here.

The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne

Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters recently stretched themselves to the limit to buy their dream home, a four-bedroom Victorian townhouse in East London. But the cracks are already starting to show. Eleanor is unnerved by the eerie atmosphere in the house and becomes convinced it is making her ill. Whilst Richard remains preoccupied with Zoe, their mercurial twenty-seven-year-old lodger, Eleanor becomes determined to unravel the mystery of the house’s previous owners—including Emily, whose name is written hundreds of times on the walls of the upstairs room.

Read my review here.

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The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

I review The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick.

Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent.

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The Growing Season is a book that looks at motherhood from every feminist perspective. With the advent of the pouch, a way of growing babies outside of a female body, heterosexual couples can share the load of pregnancy, reaching for true equality. Gay couples and infertile women can also experience pregnancy in a way they never could have before. With your male partner sharing the pregnancy, women are no longer seen as a burden, a risk.

But there’s a darker side to this equality. With the pregnancy occurring outside of the woman’s body, what do they need women for? Eva – and before her, her mother, Avigail – campaigned against the pouch for this very reason. Arguing for choice, for the respect of motherhood not to be taken away from women, Eva and Avigail fight for what they believe to be a woman’s right. They fail to acknowledge, at least for the most part, how the pouch helps those who cannot have children naturally, until later on, when Eva manages to adopt a wider view.

The Growing Season takes multiple viewpoints into account. Women are also encouraged to transfer their unwanted foetuses to the pouch, rather than opt for abortion. This would satisfy the pro-life groups (or anti-woman, as I prefer to call them), but the issue of funding these unwanted children rears its ugly head. Many pro-life groups dedicate so much time to telling women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies, they fail to address just how the children will be looked after throughout their lives – and who will be responsible.

This is a complicated story, not least because of the subject material. We are getting closer to developing a way for a baby to be grown outside of the female body. While this is a positive step for some groups, it might not be seen as such by others. There will always be clashing perspectives when it comes to something like this, and no one of them is more right – more righteous – than the other.

Sedgwick has taken a common, relevant theme, and turned it into an engaging, dystopian fiction. It’s real enough to be relatable, understandable, but still with that reassuring distance, almost like we’re holding the future at arms length. Read it.

Goodreads

The Battle For ‘Ms’: Why are we so obsessed with titles?

Titles. For some reason, Brits think they’re incredibly important – especially when it comes to women. But why are we so obsessed with determining whether a woman is married or not?

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The above picture outlines the conversation I had this afternoon with a customer service agent while attempting to renew my car insurance. He was going through my details before generating a quote, and decided that ‘Ms’ is the wrong title for a married woman. He was convinced that ‘Ms’ is only for divorced women, and that’s “just the way of things over here”. I want to challenge this misconception, and ask: what’s so wrong with using ‘Ms’?

“Ms.” began to be used as early as the 17th century, along with “Miss” and “Mrs.”, as a title derived from the then formal “Mistress”, which, like Mister, did not originally indicate marital status.
– Spender, Dale (1981). Man Made Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0-7100-0675-2. From Wikipedia.

Simply, I use ‘Ms’ because I do not want my marital status to be known or inferred by my title. My marital status is irrelevant to most things, and I will disclose whether or not I am married to the appropriate channels, but I will continue to use ‘Ms’ for all correspondence, and everything that requires a title.

I’m not entirely sure what’s so difficult to understand about this. Boys are known as ‘Master’ when they’re boys, but by the time they reach early teens, they become ‘Mr’ until they die. Girls are known as ‘Miss’ until they get married, whereupon it’s expected that they will become ‘Mrs’ (and take their husband’s surname, but that’s a whole nother argument). Why does a man have his title changed when he reaches apparent maturity, but a woman’s title is only changed when she marries (or divorces)?

Let me be clear: Women are more than their relationship to men. As a professional in her mid-twenties, ‘Miss’ seems rather young and immature, whereas ‘Ms’ feels more appropriate. Some people do like to use ‘Mrs’ once they marry, and that’s fine too, but, to me, using ‘Ms’ means I am more than my relationship status. I’m simply an adult woman.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, nor is this a new, modern feminist issue. Many women have shared their own ridiculous stories – one explained that their bank wouldn’t let them use ‘Ms’ until they saw their divorce papers, for fuck sake. A couple of members of my own family abused and disowned me because I complained about being referred to as ‘Mrs Husband’s First Name, Husband’s Surname’. There’s so much wrong with that, it’s unreal.msmissmrs

Last year, I was speaking to our utilities company, and mentioned that they couldn’t schedule a call back on that particular date, as I was getting married. I had been using the title ‘Mx’, which is a newer, gender-neutral term. Once the call was finished and I received some confirmation emails, I realised that the customer service agent had changed my title to ‘Miss’, because I was, at the time, unmarried, and they deemed that title to be the correct one. Are these people fucking insane? In what world is it okay to impose your own ideas and beliefs on others (paying customers, too!), and amend their details without asking them? Hell, I wasn’t even informed that my title was being changed, let alone asked.

This absolutely shouldn’t be an issue. If I’m speaking to a company, or anyone really, and I give my title as ‘Ms’, they should damn well accept it, and say no more on the subject. I certainly don’t expect to be argued with on the subject of my own damn title. My question is this: why do you care so much? Let me choose my own title, and be done with it. Until we afford women the same respect as men – and yes, even in little, seemingly insignificant things like this – we will never achieve equality.

S.N. Lemoing talks about the problem of finding a book cover

As an indie author, I have to do a lot of things by myself, and finding a good cover is one of our worst nightmares – unless you’re skilled at graphic design. For those of us who aren’t, we have some solutions: pre-made covers which can be affordable, or attempting photomontage.

 As I write about strong female characters, I have been dealing with even more hard choices each time I have to create a cover for my novels. First, I was browsing through a lot of pre-made covers in many genres: fantasy, thriller, drama, chick-lit, etc. There are some very beautiful works, some are as worthy as covers created by huge publishing houses.

However, it’s clear they’re all in need of a feminist helping hand.

The women represented on them are all overly feminine, wearing gowns and high heels. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but not all women are like this, and these different women should be represented too.

Moreover, all the models look fragile, strike unnatural poses like holding their bare shoulder while looking away. They all seem to be in waiting, probably for Prince Charming or a bad boy who will harass them.

And this is when they’re not naked, offering themselves to the male gaze – or simply dead bodies.

It’s striking how male characters are not illustrated the same way, just as in the movies, on TV, or in any media that we know. Have you ever seen a cover or a film poster showing a man holding his shoulder with a sad patient look, longing for the girl of his dreams? We’re still waiting.

The thing is, for my first novel, I was looking for female warriors with realistic and practical outfits, but I only found two women, hypersexualized, wearing the same stuff we can see on The Hawkeye Initiative.

Then, I was looking for a determined Mexican woman who’s also a police officer, but could only find two Latina characters (yes, because there is also a lack of ethnic diversity): one who was sexy and passive, lying on a bed, and another one who was crying.

For another novel, I was looking for a confident plus size girl, but as the models on the pictures are all tall and thin, and mainly white, nothing matched. Or the few bigger women that could be found looked passive and/or hypersexualized too, which wasn’t the subject of my story at all.

Representation matters, and we need more diverse pictures and illustrations. We need women who aren’t scared, women with confident stares, women who can actually wear clothes and look powerful thanks to independent and self-assured positions. And also different body types.

We need different male models too, because as you scroll the pages, all you can see are bodybuilders, flexing muscles, and it shouldn’t be a standard either. There should be no standard.

S.N. Lemoing is the author of Powerful – Tome 1: The Realm of Harcilor. She was born in 1987 near Paris, France. S N Lemoing

She graduated in Cinematography and English, studied philosophy, literature and lately, at University, she had the chance to follow classes about the Image of Women in the Media as well as the Female Gaze: Women directors. She then worked as a PA for films and TV, and also wrote, directed and produced episodes for 3 webseries and short films.

You can read more about Lemoing, and her book, here.

Introducing: Powerful – Tome 1: The Realm of Harcilor by S. N. Lemoing

The Bandwagon introduces indie author S.N. Lemoing, a fresh feminist voice in the fantasy world.

From the author:

“Several years ago, I wrote this novel to bring some subjects to the fore, such as diverse and powerful female characters, ecology, different families (single parents, large families, poor and rich backgrounds), and diversity of body types. The characters are never totally as they seem to be. The reader can feel a lot of emotions; the story is like a roller-coaster.

About the characters, we have ingenious children and teenagers, a biracial rebel princess and a maimed female warrior, among others. Politics, treason, magical powers, epic battle scenes, a little bit of romance – these are the themes you can find in this story.”

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For twelve years, the power has been usurped at the Realm of Harcilor. Cyr, an erudite, and his adopted son, Kaaz, have formed a secret school.

Indeed, in this world, some people were born endowed with magical abilities: the Silarens.

However, it is not that easy to detect your own powers. They will soon be joined by a mysterious young woman who will provide them with valuable information.

When Litar – the most powerful being of the realm – goes away for two months, they finally foresee the opportunity to act.

Can they win their freedom back? Will they make the right choices?

Grab your copy on Amazon now, or find it on Goodreads. You can keep up to date with the latest book news on the Facebook page.

About The Author

S. N. Lemoing was born in 1987 near Paris, France. S N Lemoing

She graduated in Cinematography and English, studied philosophy, literature and lately, at University, she had the chance to follow classes about the Image of Women in the Media as well as the Female Gaze: Women directors. She then worked as a PA for films and TV, and also wrote, directed and produced episodes for 3 webseries and short films.

The will to write without boundaries led her to become an independent author. Her first novel is POWERFUL – T1: The Realm of Harcilor, a fantasy novel acclaimed by more than 85 French literary bloggers.

Her second book is a sassy chick-lit ‘Mes 7 ex’ (My seven exes), and the 3rd one ‘SHEWOLF’, urban fantasy genre, has been read by 1200+ readers and stayed on the Amazon’s Supernatural top 15 for 5 months.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr 

The Handmaid’s Tale: Heart of glass

The Handmaid’s Tale hit our screens in the UK on Channel 4 three weeks ago, several weeks behind the US.

Please note, there will be spoilers for the first three episodes below. Proceed with caution.

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In Gilead, women are ranked on how useful they are to society. If they’re fertile, they become a Handmaid, subjected to rape by their Commander, and expected to bear children. Written in 1985, this story is still harshly poignant. The TV show takes this story even further, bringing it into the present day, and showing just how close we are to such a world.

Last week, viewers were shocked by the harsh storylines. Ofglen, a lesbian, was considered a gender traitor, and, since she’s still fertile, was allowed to live. But she was subjected to a horror that women and girls still face today – FGM. I’ve seen complaints about the violence depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale, but let me tell you this – the violence brought against women every day is very real, and, in order to do it justice, it must be shown.

Everything about The Handmaid’s Tale is real. It may be a story, but author Margaret Atwood claims that she didn’t make anything up – everything she wrote about had happened to women at some point in history. And I can believe it.

In episode 3, we also discover the slow disintegration of society, and the removal of women’s rights. Offred describes it perfectly: “Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it”. The women lost access to their money, their jobs – their freedom. Joan – Offred’s pre-Gilead name – and her friend Moira attend a protest, where the army opens fire, killing civilians. They show Joan, Moira, and Luke, Joan’s husband, in their home, discussing what had happened. “I’ll look after you,” Luke says, and every female viewer clenches their fists. That’s not the point, Luke.

Moira explodes at Luke, calling him part of the problem. This scene shines a light on the microaggressions women have to deal with every day, dealing with men who, thinking they’re helping, are actually contributing to the problem.

The music accompanying the fallout of the protest is Heart of Glass by Blondie, the Crabtree Remix. It’s slower, darker, haunting. Every episode so far has left me reeling. My fists are tight balls throughout each episode, my jaw clenched. Tears are barely held back. Because this is reality, not some dystopian fiction. The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t just some TV show to entertain the masses on a Sunday evening. It’s so much more than that – it’s our lives.

General Election 2017: The future is female

In about 5 hours, the polling stations will close, and the first constituencies will start to declare. Will it be Labour? Will it be Tory? Or will the country be divided once again? The polls have been all over the place, the bookies unsure, but what I do know is this: more women are getting involved than ever before.

Back in May, I wrote about the importance of politics, of voting, and the history of women’s suffrage. I wrote about how women almost have a duty to vote, to pay respect to the women who came before them. Women under 30 are the least likely to vote, according to #SHEvotes, a statistic I can only face with utter horror. But are women less likely to vote because they’re less likely to feel represented within politics? There may be something to that. Thankfully, more and more women are getting stuck in, carving a path for young women to pursue a career in politics.

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The Telegraph

The Women’s Equality Party is, of course, in the lead, with all of their candidates being women, and Labour is second with an almost equal 40%. The Green Party and SNP follow close behind – and with Nicola Sturgeon at the helm in Scotland, I dare any woman to not be inspired.

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“Politics aside – I hope girls everywhere look at this photograph, and believe nothing should be off limits for them.” – Nicola Sturgeon, Twitter

Our current Prime Minister is a woman, yes, but she is also a Tory, and she, like Thatcher (and other British female leaders), is not interested in pushing for equality. But Sturgeon is right. While May and her Tory government may stand for everything I hate, I’m still proud to be able to say that we have had two female leaders. And with more women getting involved, who knows where politics is going? I want to see an equally split cabinet, I want to be represented in Parliament, I want issues specific to women being addressed. And I want to see women succeeding.

I almost ran in my local election last month. I would have been another woman standing for the Women’s Equality Party, but I decided against it, for multiple reasons. But having the chance, the option, the opportunity, to stand as an MP and represent the women of the country, is an opportunity I’m thrilled to have, and I will never forget the hardships women faced in order for me to have it.

We have had less than 100 years of all women being able to vote. Although I’m waiting with baited breath to hear the result of the election, I’m also interested in how many women voted this year – and how many young people. Since Brexit, more young people have been taking notice of politics, getting involved with discussions on social media. And why not – it’s our future, after all. Let’s fight for it.

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Did you vote? How are you hoping it will go? Let me know in the comments!