Category Archives: non-fiction books

Slayers and Vampires: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorised Oral History of Buffy and Angel – Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman.

This book will be interesting to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or Angel. Though even as a huge Buffy fan, I found it a little too long and repetitive, and a bit too much of a love fest! I enjoyed it, but would have welcomed a bit more criticism. This is probably unfair of me though, because this book is an oral history and isn’t set up as being critical essays. Maybe I just wish that was what I was reading instead!


For those that don’t know, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the best TV series ever. Fact. If you’ve never watched it, then you probably should get on it soon. It’s generally lauded as a groundbreaking, feminist television series with a god-like genius creator, Joss Whedon.

This is definitely the take of the book, and I love Buffy, I love it so much, but wow, I can love it and see its faults and the problems with Whedon.

Firstly, Buffy and Angel generally have a problem with characters of colour. There are hardly any of them, and the ones that do exist generally have unhappy endings. See this article for more detail. The book details things like the network not wanting a black character in the Scooby Gang because they didn’t want to potentially show any interracial relationships. WTF?

Also, Whedon comes in for virtually no criticism at all – despite a completely horrendous account of how Charisma Carpenter was treated after she told them she was pregnant. The quotes with regard to this are awful. She was chastised and basically written off the show. How dare she get pregnant without thinking about the show. Seriously disturbing.

Look, there was a lot of anger about Charisma. I think probably mainly from Joss. It felt a little bit like we were all working our asses off to keep these people employed and it’s, like, you have to take that into consideration before you make any life choices. You just do.

David Fury


A lot of his terrible behaviour is written off with a ‘oh, but he’s a genius, so it’s ok’. It’s not.

I find these anecdotes really terrible:

He loves to make jokes that make actors insecure; he thinks it’s really funny. He loves to say, “By the way, you’re fired,” and then he gets a chuckle out of it. Then he says, “Every time I say that to an actor, they never laugh.” That’s because it’s really not funny Joss.

What a dick!

Still, I really love Buffy (Angel is alright too 🙂 ) and it’s a worth a read if you are a bit of a die hard fan, and there is loads of interesting stories about making the show. You hear from lots of the main characters, the behind the scenes people, and minor characters. It gives a nice insight into the writing and production process.

There’s a truly cringe worthy description of Joss Whedon’s Shakespeare recital parties. It’s presented as a fun thing, but oh god, it sounds so bad!



But back to the brilliance of Buffy:

As Buffy proves time and time again, patriarchy is ever present, but it cannot prevail. The seven seasons of the show depict a world in which institutional, familial, and individual-level patriarchy oppresses and disadvantages women, but it is something that can always be overcome. The fight to end this domination is no easy feat, as there is always a struggle to gain equality and independence. Buffy shows a realistic version of an ideal world: man may try to control women, but their efforts can and will be beaten.

Which is all great, but contrasted with the experiences of some of the actresses on the show, is majorly disappointing.


Slay all day



On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century – Timothy Snyder

This short, powerful book should be read by everyone. Immediately! It is 20 lessons from the twentieth century about tyranny and has been written as a direct response to the Trump presidency. Chilling. More importantly, each lesson tells you what you can be doing to combat this. It’s so good, and only takes an hour (or maybe a little more) to read (128 pages).


I loved that the lessons each give you a practical thing you can do to protect democracy, and combat the rise of tyranny and fascism. These range from supporting institutions to making eye contact and small talk with your neighbours. I loved so many of the lessons but it’s such a short book I don’t want to tell you too many in this review. It is a practical list of 20 things you and I should be doing. Each lesson is backed up with a twentieth century example of where failing to do this particular thing lead directly to the rise of a tyrannical regime.

History does not repeat, but it does instruct.

It’s super short, super smart snippets of analysis and advice and best of all it’s totally accessible.  Read it, read it, read it!

My Top Biography and Memoir Reads for 2017

Having looked at all the non-fiction I’ve read this year, I’ve decided to split them up into science, politics and feminism, and biography and memoir, otherwise I would have a really long blog post summing it all up! I can’t quite believe I’ve managed to read 22 non-fiction books this year! and there’s still a few weeks left… what if I read another incredible book before January?

These are my favourite non-fiction biography and memoir reads for the year, out of the ones I have read this year, not that they were necessarily published this year. Click on the images to go to my longer reviews.


Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored – John Lydon

You will like it if you like John Lydon, or are just generally interested in the Sex Pistols. I am both of these things and I loved it!


Night – Elie Wiesel

I read this because it’s on the reading challenge list I was trying to read from this year. I honestly had never heard of it before, but it seems it’s very well known in the United States. I don’t know if it’s just generally not as well known in the UK or if its just me? but we certainly didn’t read it at school, or anything like it. I realise we

Night is Elie Wiesel’s incredible story of his experience of the holocaust in Nazi Germany. He spent time in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He wrote it because there were hardly any people who survived who could tell the story, and it must not be forgotten.



Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson

A grim childhood in the grim north. My hometown is on the front cover. It’s like visiting an entirely different world. Combined with Jeanette Winterson’s extreme childhood, where the Apocalypse is just around the corner and books are not allowed, we get a fascinating portrait of life in 1960s working class Accrington.

Despite her childhood, Jeanette Winterson get a place at Oxford University and when she arrives she discovers the sexism and misogyny she now has to contend with. It’s a brilliant book that will make you want to reach for and achieve your own dreams.


Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

I know this isn’t strictly non-fiction. I’d like to think enough of it is to just about get into here! I’ve put this as one of my top of the year because inside it has the line that has made me laugh out loud, in complete hysterics because it’s so funny. I still get a little giggle when I think of it now. We can talk about what it is when you’ve read it too. 😀


Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens – Eddie Izzard

Eddie Izzard didn’t have quite the grim upbringing Jeanette Winterson had, but he has his share of hard times to deal with. Particularly his transgender identity is a struggle during his younger years, and he spent ten years trying and failing to make it as a performer. He had an idyllic childhood until his mother dies when he is six, and he is then shipped off to boarding school – at six years old. His success, when it comes, is lovely.

I had the audiobook version and it must be twice the length of the paper one because Izzard fills it with additional information in the form of numerous extra footnotes.


Here are all the non-fiction books I read this year (click to go to my review):

My Top Politics and Feminism Reads for 2017

Having looked at all the non-fiction I’ve read this year, I’ve decided to split them up into science, politics and feminism, and biography and memoir, otherwise I would have a really long blog post summing it all up! I can’t quite believe I’ve managed to read 22 non-fiction books this year! and there’s still a few weeks left… what if I read another incredible book before January?

These are my favourite non-fiction politics and feminism reads for the year, out of the ones I have read this year, not that they were necessarily published this year. I can’t believe I thought I didn’t like books about politics before this year… how very wrong I was! Click on the images to go to my longer reviews.



Hope In The Dark – Rebecca Solnit

I came to this after hearing it mentioned on the Bookshambles podcast many, many times by Josie Long (this is also why I now have the first Elena Ferrante book on my shelves waiting to be read!). I loved reading this this book with every fibre of my being.

It’s under 150 pages and is a collection of essays on the role of hope in politics, environmental issues, and social problems. The dark is the unknowable future. It’s about how small acts of activism can have huge consequences. It’s about how hope is what’s needed to be an activist. There are examples of all of these things in Hope in the Dark.

Hope in the Dark was written in the aftermath of the re-election of Bush as President of the USA in 2004. I read a version updated to 2016 with a few extra essays about the intervening years. It inspired me to become more politically active – even in small ways – because that can make a difference. While it’s easy to feel like the world is falling apart around us – politically, socially, and environmentally – rather than stepping back and feeling despair and hopelessness (because that shit will get nothing done), we all need to feel hope and take steps to change the future to help change these things. I feel like I can do that after reading Hope in the Dark.


What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton

17 hours of Hillary Rodham Clinton reading her book to me (audiobook!) and I feel sadness at what american voters did last year, I feel like I understand the issues much better than I did before reading this. I know much more about her Clinton’s whole career and the chapters on feminism are excellent. I cried several times during this audiobook, I was so moved by how she talks about the loss of the election and compares it to personal grief, but I left this book feeling hopeful, and empowered.


The Good Immigrant – ed. by Nikesh Shukla

I wasn’t sure where to put The Good Immigrant in my crude categorisation of all non-fiction books, but I decided on politics because immigration is political. Brexit is political and has negatively impacted of the lives of BAME people in the UK. So here it is, in the politics category.

The Good Immigrant is 21 essays by BAME writers living in the UK. The stories deal with many themes, often about how feeling ‘other’ is rubbish, and stories about racism, but there’s also plenty celebrating positive aspects of being an immigrant in the UK. I enjoyed every single essay and it has also given me more writers to follow and find their other work. I would class The Good Immigrant as essential reading for anyone living in the UK. I’ve bought it for several people already! My longer review also inspired some good post-Brexit swearing *bonus*.



Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit

Another collection of essays, another by the amazing Rebecca Solnit, from 2014. This time she is dealing with feminism, and she does it so well. I read Men Explain Things To Me and wished I could have all these perfect arguments at the tip of my tongue whenever I talk about feminism.

The title essay is the one that brought about the phrase mansplaining (though Solnit dislikes the term) and highlights this phenomena many of us have experienced.  The rest of the essays deal with other aspects of just why feminism is still needed and necessary. There is also beautiful artwork between the essays by Ana Teresa Fernandez.

She has a new collection of feminism essays out: The Mother of All Questions : Further Feminisms. I have a copy of this but haven’t started it because I already don’t want it to be over!


Nasty Women – 404Ink

I love this collection of essays (theme!!! I didn’t even know how much I like essay collections before this year!). This time the essays are about being a woman in the 21st century. It was inspired by the Trump election, and of course his nasty woman jibe to Hillary Clinton.

The essays cover a huge range of themes: being fat and taking a flight, gendered violence in punk rock, being Puerto Rican and living under a Trump presidency, contraception, pregnancy, class, racism, loving Courtney Love, being a black woman in Scotland, and many more.

It also introduced me to the music of The Petrol Girls, and I am very grateful for this because they are brilliant!


Here are all the non-fiction books I read this year (click to go to my review):

What were you favourite politics and feminism reads this year?

My Top Science Reads for 2017

Having looked at all the non-fiction I’ve read this year, I’ve decided to split them up into science, politics and feminism, and biography and memoir, otherwise I would have a really long blog post summing it all up! I can’t quite believe I’ve managed to read 22 non-fiction books this year! and there’s still a few weeks left… what if I read another incredible book before January?

These are my favourite non-fiction science reads for the year, out of the ones I have read this year, not that they were necessarily published this year. Click on the images to go to my longer reviews.


Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story – Angela Saini.

Inferior is a wonderful look at the history of scientists letting their own attitudes to women get in the way of the science they are doing. It looks at difficulties faced by female scientists through history, and the discrimination they faced which was then thrown back at them as ‘well look, women just aren’t as good at science’. You wouldn’t let double Nobel prize winning Marie Curie join the French Academy of Sciences because she was not a man. Imagine what all these women could have done with support and access to scientific education!

It looks at what are the actual scientific differences between the sexes, and is a rallying cry to get more women into science to end the dominance of old white men. Ok, that last bit may just be more my feelings after reading it.  As well as being really easy to read and understand, it’s funny (see my review for a bit more on this!).


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot.

Straying into the world of cell biology with this one. Henrietta Lacks was a poor, black women whose cancer cells were taken from her without permission. She died from this aggressive cervical cancer. Her cells turned out to be an immortal cell line (they keep dividing and don’t seem to have a limited number of divisions before they die, like most cells). They have revolutionised many areas of medical research and are known to scientists as HeLa.

The story of the cells would be interesting enough, but the real genius of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of Henrietta’s family. Her children didn’t find out about the cells until 25 years after the original sample was taken. The family had not received any science education and didn’t know what a cell was – they imagined the scientists had Henrietta chopped up in labs, and all sorts of horrific ideas. By the time Rebecca Skloot investigates the story it is a further 20 years later.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a celebration of the advancement of science, and a heart breaking story about the human, and the family, behind those little samples of cells.


Ad Astra: An Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet – Dallas Campbell

This is a beautiful book full of pictures and stories and facts and history all related to leaving planet Earth. Dallas Campbell has found the most interesting stories about the history of space travel, the current state of space travel, and where it might go in the future. You will read about space cats and tortoises, things smuggled into space, astronaut testing, and moon rock detectives. It’s a book I know I will find myself dipping back into many times to re read.


Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

Quiet is about the strengths of introverts. We live in a society that seems to put all the value on extrovert qualities, yet introverts have brilliant things to offer the world. Quiet can help people understand their own introversion, help them accept and recognise its value, and can help extroverts understand the introverts around them.

I’m very clearly an introvert and it was nice to read a book all about how great that is. It also deals with a personal bugbear of mine: that being quiet and being shy are not always the same thing 😀


Here are all the non-fiction books I read this year (click to go to my review):

What were you favourite science reads this year?

Book Review: Ad Astra: An Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet – Dallas Campbell

Who hasn’t dreamed of leaving the planet? In Ad Astra Dallas tells you everything you might need to know to make this happen. From who can currently get you up to space, to what you should pack etc. Every page of Ad Astra is jam packed with stories, facts, beautiful pictures and all the detail you ever wanted to know, and even more that you had no idea you needed to know, but my god, how did you live without this information!?!! I mean, space tortoises and moon rock detectives!


I had pre-ordered my copy of Ad Astra a few months before it arrived. I was very happy when it arrived as you can see!

It’s the perfect book for dipping into or for a longer read. I’ve come out of Ad Astra with a renewed interest in all things current in space travel. I know more about these current and future space adventures, and I know so much more about the history of space travel from early dreamers, to the people responsible for the first rocket engines. Considering I have a physics background, it’s amazing that I didn’t already know 90% of the information in Ad Astra. 


Rope memory. Fricken’ fabric memory. 

Ad Astra begins with the stories of early dreamers, like Francis Godwin, writer of The Man In The Moone. In 1648 he imagined his hero Francis Gonsales tethering some Lunar Geese to fly to the Moon. This geese story is referred back to all through the book in the loveliest ways and it really helps draw the different aspects of Ad Astra together.



Dallas Campbell is a genius space story detective, and he has written a marvellous, interesting, fascinating book about all things space travel. It is full of beautiful space-related pictures too. As well as all the brilliant facts, there’s poetry, music, and a recipe. I quizzed to see if I am an astronaut (non-spoiler: I am definitely not astronaut material) and now have a list of places I want to visit that hold a special place in the history of space travel, or  hold some of the preciously small amount of moon material we have here on Earth. I also have a list of books to read to get even more information, and a lot of films I need to watch.


Under its cover it’s hiding a beautiful shiny silver spine. 

I loved Ad Astra, and will continue to dip into it to remind myself of some great story I read in it, or to tell someone about some obscure, fascinating space travel fact. I would highly recommend it for anyone who has the slightest interest in space, space travel, or even history!  I forgot to mention earlier that it’s not a huuuge book either, so you can carry it around with you and whip it out at any opportunity to impress your friends and family. 😀

Book Review: Under My Thumb: The Songs That Hate Women and the Women That Love Them – ed. by Rhian E Jones and Eli Davies

As a music lover with my fair share of songs that hate women that I love, I knew I needed to read this book. It is a lot of different essays covering a huge range of genres.


I liked this book, and enjoyed reading all the essays. Though, as is to be expected when a book covers a very narrow topic, it does get a bit repetitive.  There’s hardly any resolution to the stories because of course, these are about problematic songs that the authors love. There’s not realllllly much to say beyond: I love this song, it is problematic, here is my justification for still enjoying it. Having said that, I still really liked reading it!

… how was I supposed to use my feminist ideals to fight the art which had already penetrated my core?

I’ve written before about my own problem music collection and how I listen to a lot of male artists and bands (here’s my post about it) and I also targeted the female artists and bands to watch, at a punk festival I went to in the summer (read about my Rebellion festival adventures here). I must admit, that post is my all time most viewed post ever by a very long way – it got shared amongst some punk fan groups on Facebook that I’m thankful I couldn’t see the comments on (I had a few reported back to me and they were not. very. pleasant.). This was my first little brush with getting negative comments for writing about feminism, and it just makes me admire the women who very publicly talk about these things even more – like the authors of this book!

It also reminded me of one of my favourite Onion articles: Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show. 😀

There are a lot of different essays in Under My Thumb – at least 25. I had an ebook version so it’s not so easy to just look at the contents and count. Some of my favourites are: From Enslavement to Obliteration: Extreme Metal’s Problem With Women by Jasmine Hazel Shadrack, I’ve Got Your Letter, You’ve Got My Song: On Pinkerton -by Marissa Chen, and Breaking Binary Codes: On Being a Female Fan Who Prefers Music Produced by Men by Larissa Wodtke. This last one starts with the line:

As a heterosexual female who often doesn’t identify with femaleness…

I get that and how this can make it easier to dismiss misogyny in music. I enjoyed this exploration of becoming more and more bothered by it and realising why it really does matter.

My own personal relationship with songs that hate women can roughly be summed up by:

  • Elvis Presley – but it was the 1950s so I justify it that way.
  • a lot of punk bands – I don’t listen to the main offending songs.
  • Slaves – a band I love, but increasingly I’m turned off by the number of songs that are really quite horrible about women. I’ve listened out for some positive lyrics about women and I’m not getting very far. It’s increasingly disappointing.

I feel better when I love bands that seem to either hate everyone equally, or write positively about women! Luckily there’s far more of these.


p.s. I received a copy of this book free from netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks netgalley!