Category Archives: Book reviews

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really evocative and poetic telling of the lives of one black family in 1930s America. I particularly loved the resilience and independence running through so many of the characters, and the way the lens moves through each of them, telling each backstory in turn.

The only bit I didn’t fully gel with was the ‘threshing floor’, which I found confusing and didn’t ‘get’. I know that’s because religious conversion is an alien thing to me personally, but I felt that the rest of the book bridged that gap and made me understand it from the characters’ points of view, whereas this last bit just spiralled away from my understanding and empathy.

The rest of the book is amazing though, and I would definitely recommend it.

View all my reviews

A Room Called Earth – Madeleine Ryan

A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this book both disappointing and frustrating. I wanted so much to like it as it had been recommended to me. I enjoy internal monologues, and I am actively seeking more neurodivergent perspectives, and I had a sense that I could have liked the character. However, the writing just didn’t do her justice or bring her to life. Though there were occasional moments of observation that stood out I found this book very flat, and so tedious it was actually difficult to read. The big houses, expensive parties, unpleasant people, and sheer materialism of the whole thing was also really offputting, and whilst I appreciate that she stands in contrast to that in some ways, she is also a part of it. The lengthy descriptions of this world (and lengthy descriptions of clothes -yawn) deadened anything else.

View all my reviews

The Overstory -Richard Powers

The Overstory by Richard Powers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After being told repeatedly how much I would love this book (“it has trees in it, you have to read it”) I can now confirm that I do indeed love this book, which tells its human stories alongside the trees that featured in their lives. I did find it distressing at times (I almost cried when the Giant Redwood got cut down), and had to deal with a fair amount of anger and frustration along the way. This is one novel I really did feel.

Not all the storylines were equally compelling and I did find myself skimming bits, so for that reason I think it would get 4 and a half stars if I could work out how to do halves! But it was mostly a gripping read, packed with beautiful descriptions and observations, with the trees as much the stars of the show as the people, and the paths of humans and trees cleverly interwoven. I still think about it almost every day, especially the central theme, which is why so many people blindly uphold a status quo, and what drives the people who stand up against it. An important question now more than ever.

View all my reviews

How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the only book I have ever read that actually rings true to my own experience as a woman. I came of age in the Bridget Jones era, where everyone was saying how relatable those books were and I was thinking ‘um…no’, so to read this was a revelation.

I am so totally in love with this book because it’s so true, and so accurate and so right. The chapters on hair and fat are particularly wonderful. Her perceptive analysis of binge eating is something that really hit home. But there is so much in it, weaving the personal and political and cultural, and hitting targets with pinpoint accuracy. The style is so chatty and light that when those observational gems jump out and hit you, their power takes the breath away.

Also, being me, I was interested in her biographical bits about the music industry (gotta find out who Courtney was…). The laddishness of Britpop came rushing back to me and reminded me all over again why I wasn’t keen on it at the time. And all the stuff about making up relationships in your head… to be honest I thought this was a weird ADHD thing but maybe it isn’t. Of course, if I had talked to neurotypical women more then maybe I would have known that. But we don’t talk about the stuff that matters, as Moran points out a few times in this book.

The writing isn’t flawless, and there were occasions where the style grated on me a little, but this is one of those situations where the experience and the insight, packaged in spiky humour and sharp observation, overwhelm any possible downsides. It is a good book in terms of writing. It is a great book in terms of importance. And that earns it four stars from me.

And also, having read some of the criticism levelled from other reviewers, I can see why I like it so much. I isn’t meant to be a big serious book about feminism, it’s simply one woman’s take on what it is like to be a woman in this day and age in this culture. It never claims to be anything else. And yes, I probably relate to it so much because the writer is similar to me in terms of age, background, experience, taste, culture etc. (though obviously she is waaaaaay cooler). Others reading it and looking for themselves and their experience in it may find some bits don’t relate to them. That’s fine -go and write your own book about your experience of being a woman. I might even read it and broaden my understanding. I also suspect that her worldview (that we are often becoming a little too divided by our ‘identities’, when essentially we all just want to be one of the same human family) is currently out of fashion, though it’s one I wholeheartedly share.

I am definitely keeping a copy on my shelves for my sons to read when they’re a bit older.

View all my reviews

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really love the concept of this book, of giving life to the women who are overlooked in favour of their killer, and it didn’t let me (or them) down. A really fascinating and moving account of the lives of these five women, showing the ups and downs, and just how quickly and easily they slipped down from safe, respectable lives. All that manual work, childbearing, losing children and parents and lovers to various deaths. It would break anybody.

It is a well researched and beautifully told account of what a society is like with no safety net (and we are heading rapidly back there folks so this is our future as well as our past) but the women are also fleshed out to be the frustrating, mysterious, contradictory people that they were, not the simply depicted prostitutes and fallen women the press of the time called them.

I have only bumped this down from five to four stars for one reason. The author’s irritating habit of saying “she MUST have felt…” and “it MUST have been a factor…”. These are real people and this is real history so I don’t like the use of ‘must’. You can say “she may have felt….” and “it may have meant she….” instead. I know it sounds like a really petty reason but once I noticed it it really bothered me!

View all my reviews

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book started really well, with interesting characters and some lovely observations. Then it all went downhill. Down a steep hill, if I’m honest.

From the shipwreck onwards this book is pretentious, smug and bone achingly boring. It’s not a very long book but it took me ages to read it. I even gave up twice and came back to it, plodding on towards the equally dull ending.

View all my reviews

Nick Hornby – State of the Union

State of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts by Nick Hornby

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There were a couple of good moments of stinging observation (though, only two weeks after I finished it I have forgotten what they were…), but otherwise I found this to be a bit flat and strangely unconvincing. The dialogue seemed too deliberate and unreal somehow, and I found the characters pretty unsympathetic (weirdly, as I have been though a similar experience to them).

A solid, OK read, but nothing remarkable.

View all my reviews

Klara and the Sun -Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am starting to think that the whole AI thing has been done to death so when I read the blurb on the back I was potentially worried. However, whilst this book isn’t groundbreaking it is an interesting and very readable story, with human behaviour viewed through the AI narrator. It is fresh and compelling, though also frustrating, with so much left unexplained, appearing just on the periphery of Klara’s vision, such as the communities the Father now lives in, and the increasingly segregated and violent world they seem to be living in (and what happened to Rosa? Will this be another novel? and what of the technology Rick invented? Will this be used by a future Resistance movement?). I guess I am always most interested in the social and political aspects of stories so I was craving more of that. But leaving things unexplained, and writing with an understated, light touch seems to be in vogue at the moment (the last novel I read before this one was China Room) and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Don’t read on if you don’t want spoilers. I found the ending really upsetting, and in some ways a bit difficult to understand. I could understand that she had outlived her usefulness to that family, but to create a sentient being, and such a clever and useful one at that, and then just dump her at the end, is inexplicably wasteful. Could she not have been sent to another family, or performed some useful work? Also, why did they hold her in such high regard, and indulge her with her plans to ‘help Josie’ without explanation? This also doesn’t quite convince, especially when at the end of the book she seems to be abandoned.

So…. plenty of unanswered questions, but still a very good read.

View all my reviews

China Room -Sunjeev Sahota

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I initially found Mehar’s story compelling and the modern story dull, so I skipped through and read Mehar’s story to the end, then went back and read the other, enjoying it a lot more as a result. However, I may have missed something in doing so as it felt that, although linked in terms of family and themes, the two stories weren’t as interwoven as I expected.

Still, that doesn’t diminish this beautifully written book of quiet heartbreak which has more to it than just the storylines.

View all my reviews

Record of a Spaceborn Few -Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t realise this was part of a trilogy until after I’d read it and it stands alone perfectly well. I found it to be that wonderful, often elusive, combination: easy to read but also thought provoking with depth and scope.

There are ideas and themes here of cultural and personal identity, of links to the past, of how to organise a society for the greatest good, and there are engaging personal stories woven in.

I highly recommend it and will be seeking out the other two books.

View all my reviews