Tag Archives: book review

Book Review: The Trouble With Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is a nostalgia trip back to a childhood in the 1970s. Ten year olds Grace and Tilly have the long, hot, heatwave summer of 1976 ahead of them. They need a project and they decide to find God. They know God is ‘everywhere’ (and each time they say this, they gesture around themselves, waving their arms around).

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blue wall. 

They have decided to find God because Mrs Creasy, a neighbour, has gone missing. This provides the central mystery to this easy to read, nostalgic trip. We quickly get to know the cast of characters who live on the same close as Grace. They know the ins and outs of each others lives and have been a close community for a long time. Very quickly we learn that a *bad thing* happened 10 years previously. This involves child abduction, the ‘weirdo’ at number 11, a house fire, and a death.

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gold glittery shoes

The themes get quite dark, but it’s handled in a very light way, made easier by most of it being told from the perspective of children. There are some very funny exchanges between the ten year olds and the adults. There are some lovely descriptions and a lot of personification is used. I liked this, it gave it an unusual feel, but felt cosy at the same time.

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reading at lunchtime amongst the desk debris.

This was a book club read, and most people really, really enjoyed it. I think the people who go the nostalgia hit for the 1970s liked it the most. I’m not a child of the 1970s, but its close neighbour the 1980s, and lots of the nostalgia was still relevant to me. Payphones and sherbet dip. A local who doesn’t fit in, sexism, and roller skates! It’s a quite light book, though it does deal with dark themes, it still feels like a bit of a break from reading *difficult* books, and a welcome one 🙂 I breezed through all 450 pages in a few days.

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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*sniggers*

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.

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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.

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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.

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

Book Review: What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton hasn’t featured in my life significantly until the last few years. I got particularly interested in US politics (and in politics, in general) during the early 2000s, where a few years living in Chicago made me aware of Obama, and I followed his election particularly closely. I knew who she was, of course, I was a teenager during the 90s. Last year I watched the entire of Gilmore Girls in the Summer and had also been following (with increasing horror) the US election. I was stunned that Donald Trump became the US President. Stunned and also knowing if it really had just happened, then there must be a whole pile of people shouting ‘We knew this would happen! We saw it coming!’ along with a whole series of issues that had led to this seemingly otherworldly outcome. I mean Donald Trump. Donald fucking Trump.

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But being surprised means you aren’t paying enough attention (Hello Brexit!). I wanted to understand more about how this had happened and I wanted to hear Clinton’s opinion on it. Hooray for What Happened – Hillary Clinton’s book on the election.

As well as the story of the 2016 election, we also get quite a lot about Clinton’s life. Her history as being ‘the first woman to…’ is astounding. The chapters on feminism are brilliant and the missed opportunity to break that final, US-based, glass ceiling is a tragedy. She talks about being Secretary of State, her work with the Clinton Foundation, her childhood, her experience as First Lady, and many other aspects of her life.

What Happened begins with Hillary Clinton’s take on the inauguration and the Women’s March that followed it. She explores her decision to attend the inauguration and her feelings about it. She goes on to describe the loss of the election and the month after losing. I found the this part of What Happened so emotional. She describes the loss of the election as true grief. She describes how she coped with this loss, and weaves in how she has coped with loss in her life in general. I cried during parts of What Happened – the mix of how great I think she would have been as President, with the total horror of Trump winning, combined with the fact that I only lost my Dad a few months ago just all came together with a feeling of just how awful it all is. I listen to audiobooks while driving to work, so this wasn’t the best combination. Still, thankfully the overwhelming feeling of this book isn’t self-pitying, or bitter. I came out the other side of What Happened feeling hopeful, and empowered, and more educated about the whole situation.

I’ve read some reviews of What Happened that claim Clinton doesn’t take on any of the blame herself for losing the election. That’s just plain wrong. She goes into lots of detail about her mistakes and things she wishes she did differently. She shoulders the blame she feels she deserves. She also explains where other blame lies – particularly with Russian involvement and the emails scandal. The announcement made by James Comey just days before the election about the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails being reopened is staggering when contrasted with his decision to NOT mention that Trump was also being investigated. This is widely thought to have thrown the election in Trump’s favour, though it doesn’t explain why it was going to be a close race in the first place. Clinton delves into this too and offers a comprehensive guide to why it was going to be a close election.

The last part of the book offers Clinton’s thoughts on where work should be focused going forward to try and make positive changes for future US elections. She hopes her experiences in politics will inspire the next leaders, and women and girls everywhere.

It’s tricky looking to UK politics for inspiration. The women who’ve reached the top spot exist but with such differing politics to myself it’s hard to hold them up. Thatcher and May. Please. God. No. This is one reason why Hillary holds such appeal to me. She reflects my politics much more closely. And this is why I felt her pain, and the pain of this lost opportunity to have a female President of the United States, along with so many other people. I wept for the missed opportunity during Hillary’s telling of this tale. But I left the book feeling hopeful, and strong and empowered and looking forward to the future where someone will succeed where Hillary failed at the final hurdle.

I found What Happened to be a fascinating audiobook. It’s nice that Hillary Clinton read it out for me 😀 I would recommend it to anyone interested in Clinton or the election of 2016. I’ve found it has even helped me understand some aspects of the election that I already thought I understood, and now feel much clearer on. I only finished listed to What Happened today and I have so much more of it to go over and digest properly.

Do yourself a favour and listen to this audiobook, or read the paper one – it’s a great book.

 

Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley

Sarah Dunbar is amongst the first black students to attend Jefferson High School, a previously all white high school, in segregated Virginia in 1959. Lies We Tell Ourselves takes us with these students on their hellish first few terms at Jefferson High. Sarah is a lesbian, and she falls badly for Linda Hairston, the white daughter of the most vocal opponent to school integration.

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In Lies We Tell Ourselves, these two girls on the opposite side of the civil rights battle, are drawn together by an attraction both of them wishes they didn’t feel.

This young adult book has a stunningly beautiful cover, the front has Sarah’s silhouette, the back has the silhouette of Linda on, and if you open up the book, they are looking at each other. As a book for young adults, it deals in a fairly light way with the awful nature of Sarah’s experience at Jefferson High. It is still upsetting, and she and the other black students are subjected to daily violence and abuse, but it stops short of the visceral type of description you get in adult books like The Underground Railroad.  This doesn’t stop it from being a really great, eye opening look at what these students must have been through and, in fact, the dedication, to the Norfolk 17, is a reminder that many real life children were on the front line in this hard fought battle.

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I liked the fact that Sarah and Linda are lesbians. I hardly read any books with LGBTQ+ characters, it’s lovely to find one where they are, and it’s not even the main part of the story. It’s important, and helps to change Linda’s mind about her stance on integration, and it’s clear that even though characters in the book disagree on integration, they all agree that being gay is WRONG. It’s important for Linda’s character to feel like she is different for some reason, and she questions just why feeling this way is wrong, and of course it isn’t and it’s just that she has been told it is wrong. This echoes what she has been told about integration, and of course she begins to question her life long held beliefs.

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Sarah, and her little sister Ruth, are amongst ten black students attending Jefferson High School. They are the brightest students from their old high school and have all volunteered to take on this task, though clearly wanting to please their parents takes a role in their decisions. They are put into remedial classes and they suffer terrible abuse every day. The whole school was closed for a term while the local authorities tried to stop the integration.

When you read about a topic, often you notice other references to the same topic cropping up in other areas of you life. While reading this book, I am also listening to the audio book of What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton (not at the exact same time of course!). In What Happened, Hillary describes how she was sent undercover to schools, in 1964, to investigate their refusal to desegregate. She had to pose as the wife of a businessman moving to the area and quizzed school about their policies. Her evidence was used to then prosecute the schools. I can not wait to write my review of this book!

Lies We Tell Ourselves is a great young adult book. You get chapters from the viewpoints of both girls, and each chapter is titled by a lie the girl is telling herself in that chapter, for example: I hate her, or I’m not strong enough to do this. I loved that, and I really enjoyed this book!

Book Review: Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire, a story about a British Muslim family and their involvement with radicalisation. Isma is the older sister, and has acted in a parental role to her younger siblings since their mother died when she was a teenager. The younger siblings are Aneeka and her twin brother, Parvaiz. He has gone abroad to join the media wing of ISIS. Parvaiz is persuaded this is the right thing to do after meeting some men who knew, and fought with, his father – he was a jihadist and died on his way to Guantanamo.

He didn’t know how to break out of these currents of history, how to shake free of the demons he had attached to his own heels.

Isma is studying in America for her doctorate, and she meets the son of the British Home Secretary, Eamonn, while she is there and she has a brits abroad based friendship with him. He, intrigued by her family story (she talks about her father, but not her younger brother) meets up with Aneeka when he’s back in London. Beautiful, captivating Aneeka sees this as an opportunity to get her twin home without him being punished…

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I’ve read a bit about Home Fire since it got on the Man Booker Prize longlist this year. I also heard an interview with Kamila Shamsie about it on Open Book on Radio 4. Home Fire is a retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone. I, clearly enough to anyone who knows me or has read my blog before, have no idea about the story of Sophocles! So I have bought the Penguin Little Black Classic of it to read later on.

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My poorly kindle and my favourite bag.

I found this story of a British Muslim family captivating. Their father’s association with ISIS and the effect it has on them is interesting. Other aspects of being a British Muslim are also explored, as you’d expect from a story like this. Eamonn has his father’s success to deal with too. I’m sure I will have more to say about Home Fire after I have read Antigone!

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Beer and Home Fire.

P.S. I received a free copy of Home Fire from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks NetGalley.

Book Review: Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller

I really enjoyed Swimming Lessons.  It’s about Ingrid, a 20 year old English student who becomes the wife of her University tutor, Gil, after he decides she would make good wife and mother material. I listened to the audio book version.

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We get the story firstly via Flora, one of Ingrid and Gil’s daughters. She is called to Gil’s home, by her sister Nan, because he has had a fall at the seaside and is in hospital. Gil at this point is portrayed as elderly and not well at all. Though given the timeline of the story he must only be in his mid 60s to 70 maybe. We find out that Ingrid disappeared when Flora was 11. We don’t know if she ran away, drowned when swimming (as her clothes on the beach suggest), or if she ended her own life.

We get Ingrid’s story from letters she wrote to Gil, before her disappearance, that she hid in the books they have taking over their home – there are thousands of books piled all over the house. Here she describes how they met, and their early years together. She describes life at that time and we get how she feels before she disappears. She hides these letters in the books that are taking over the house. I loved that each letter she wrote was hidden in a book with a title that was relevant to that part of the story. Will anyone ever find the letters?

Essentially Gil is a life wrecking womaniser. He is 40 when he seduces Ingrid and he treats her terribly from day 1. It was interesting to get all these different versions of Gil, from exciting, unpredictable University tutor, to frail, broken old man. I had a picture of him in my mind as looking like Bill Nighy and I couldn’t shake it off. I’m not sure if that helped or not!

The relationships between the characters is wonderfully complicated. They all seem like real, complicated, often despicable, human beings. There isn’t any one who shines as being the ‘good’ character. Ingrid is certainly very hard done by, but isn’t beyond making choices that from the reader’s perpective seem terrible. No spoilers here though!

The mystery of what happens/ed to Ingrid makes you want to sail through this story. I loved how the pieces gradually come together and you build up the story until you start getting an idea of Ingrid’s state of mind towards the end of the book.

The full circle of life is explored in Swimming Lessons. We have birth, death, love affairs, friendships, siblings, parents and offspring, it’s all in here. It explores the idea of knowing the truth of a situation versus staying in the dark and having hope.  Morality and faithfulness, and the sacrifices often expected from women during marriage and having children are other themes. The central mystery of what happened to Ingrid stays constant throughout the story too. A page-turning look at complicated family relationships.