Currently Listening To – My Top 5 Podcasts

As I continue to work from home and my Disney playlist starts to lose it’s appeal due to how many times I’ve listened to it, I’ve started branching out into a couple of podcasts. So, I thought I’d share a few I’ve really enjoyed in the hope that you might be entertained by them too and possibly suggest some to me also!

1. No Such Thing as a Fish

This is the podcast I’ve been listening to the longest so I guess it’s fair to say it’s my favourite. Created and presented by the QI elves, this fun, light hearted podcast is a mine of information both random and relevant. Each episode contains four main facts that the elves discuss and expand upon, covering subjects from why a farmer might draw a pair of eyes on the back of a cow to why Merlin wasn’t called Myrddin. The best thing about this podcast is it’s variety, the elves research such a wide range of information that listening to it really is “quite interesting”.

On regular occasions whilst listening to Andy, Anna, Dan and James, I pause the podcast to immediately repeat what I have learnt to my boyfriend. I’ve probably retained less than 1% of all of the facts I heard over the last 7 years because there’s just so many of them, but the show has definitely helped me contribute to conversations with wonderful nuggets of information and sparked my interest in lots of different areas. Oh and it’s also hilarious!

Released every Friday at 2pm with most episodes ranging from 20 mins to an hour.
Click here to listen

2. Grounded with Louis Theroux

If, like me, you are a huge Louis Theroux fan then this is an incredibly easy sell! During lockdown last year Louis began recording remote interviews with a wonderful plethora of guests from the worlds of sport, acting, music, comedy and more. Each episode is a generous hour long meaning you really feel like you’re getting to know the guest. Topics range from the serious to the stupid, but always in a well considered and intelligent manner.

As someone who loves biographies I really enjoyed this format as I gained an insight into 20 personalities, some of which I already knew a fair bit about and others that I did not. Some of my favourites were Jon Ronson, Michaela Coel and Frankie Boyle. The show reminded me of Alan Davies’ As Yet Untitled which I absolutely love as it feels much more conversational than some traditional interviews.

Both series available in full (including a bonus episode) on BBC Sounds.
Click here to listen

3. About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge

I only discovered this podcast last year despite it being released in 2018. I read Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race in the same year and it was a turning point read for me. The podcast is in much the same vein as the book, but continues on from the 1980s. Topics covered include Operation Black Votes, the BBC’s White Season, Political Blackness and more. Each episode features a strong selection of guests who range from authors and journalists to activists and politicians.

Wonderfully researched and beautifully stitched together each episode is thought provoking and presents arguments from all sides with Reni offering her own opinions and contributions to conclude. This is a show I will definitely be re-listening to and I’m also really grateful for how each guest and all of the main sources are referenced in the episode notes – perfect for further learning!

All nine episodes are available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Click here to listen

4. You’re Dead to Me

This show is a much more recent discovery for me, less than two weeks ago I think! Hosted by Greg Jenner, Head Nerd of the BBC’s Horrible Histories, every episode he is joined by a historian and a comedian to discuss a historical period, event or figure. It’s a great combination of comedy and good historical discussion. Obviously in a podcast it’s impossible to cover everything, but I think the show really eloquently invites the listener to ask questions about the topics discussed and serves as a great introduction to each of them.

The ‘Nuance Window’, a section where the historian speaks uninterrupted for two minutes, works perfectly to convey to the audience that what has been discussed is by no means everything there is to know about the subject. As a history graduate I’m really grateful for this section, because I think it encourages the listener to question what they have learnt and want to expand upon it.

If you’re keen on history or even if you’ve not really dabbled in it since school, I’d really recommend giving this a go. History is so vast and expansive that it is often daunting to pick where to start, so these episodes are a really wonderful jumping off point. You can learn a little about a lot and see which most interests you. And even if you don’t decide to do any further reading you’ve still expanded your knowledge on a great array of topics!

Released every Friday with all episodes around an hour long available on BBC Sounds.
Click here to listen

5. Call of the Wild

So the last of my top 5 is actually a brand new podcast by the WWF hosted by Cel Spellman about what we can do to help save the planet. The first episode was released this week and I’m really looking forward to continuing with it. As an introduction, show number one is an interview with David Attenborough summing up the current situation we are in and the urgency with which we need to act to protect our planet.

As always it was a joy to listen to David Attenborough speak, his life time of experience and knowledge is so valuable to listen to and I think Cel did a great job of not only interviewing but conveying the immense impact that David’s work has had on the world, in particular to our generation. I’m really looking forward to listening to future episodes, each of which will focus on a different environmental issue and feature guests and listener input. Knowing how urgently the planet needs our help to protect and sustain it I would definitely say that this is a must listen.

Next episode to be released on Wednesday available on Apple Podcasts:
Click here to listen

So I hope I’ve inspired you to try out a few new shows, if I have please let me know what you think of them, or if you have any suggestions for what else I could be listening to let me know if the comments!

New Year’s Reading Resolutions 2021

So at time of writing I have read 33 books this year, but hoping to make it 34 by the end of the day! Which I think is less than last year, but I didn’t keep count, so I’m not sure. It’s been a strange year for everyone, but I hope you, like I, have found a lot of solace in reading. It has helped me to escape times of loneliness and sadness, by diving into a chapter or two and returning to life afterwards a little more calm.

Having spent the majority of my time this year at home, I’ve realised I generally read while travelling, which probably explains why I’ve read less this year than I did last year. After moving into our flat, the time I spent reading decreased, which makes sense, but I want to use my New Year’s Resolutions for 2021 to ensure I dedicate more time to reading, instead of just playing Mario Odyssey when I can’t be bothered to do anything else! For that reason my first resolution is:

– Read a minimum of 10 pages a day

Mainly because if I start reading I’ll probably carry on for at least another 20 minutes, but if I really don’t have a lot of spare time one day I can still afford to read 10 pages before I go to bed.

Secondly, as much as I love fiction, I want to keep educating myself on topics I am either not familiar with or I am simply interested in learning more about. So my second resolution is:

– Read 2 non-fiction books a month before starting a fiction book

And finally, like many others I’m sure, I came to the realisation this year (far too late of course) that my reading is not very diverse. I want to read about and from more cultures and backgrounds because it interests me, because I want to support the work of all talent authors, not just those that are cis, straight, western and white, and because I am aware of the pressing need for me to educate myself about race and white supremacy. Therefore, my third resolution is:

– Read 1 book a month by an author from a different culture or race

I find that being specific in my resolutions really helps me to stick to them and also to plan for them, for example I have already decided that my first two non-fiction reads of 2021 will be Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, alongside the Guided Journal, and No Logo by Naomi Klein, which I started this year, but never finished as I had to return it to the library, but my friend @nonfictionmillennial has kindly leant me a copy so I can finally finish it!

Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions, book related or otherwise? I saw a lovely post by @book_roast on Instagram that I thought was worth sharing, so I will paraphrase: While a new year is a great time to set goals and think about how we can improve ourselves, it’s also important to remind ourselves of the things we already love about ourselves!

With all that said, thank you for visiting and reading my blog this year, I hope you have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve and that 2021 brings you good fortune!

Over in October

I’m trying to get a little better at posting monthly wrap ups, but work has been incredibly hectic recently so here we are two weeks into November, but never mind! On the plus side I have now finished Rebecca, which I started in October so I can add this to my reviews.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

I was grabbed immediately by the first paragraph in this book, it was so captivating and intriguing that I couldn’t wait to read the rest of the story. As a result of Braithwaite’s fast pace this was a really quick read for me, I imagine it would be easy to read in one day, once you pick it up it’s very hard to put down. The chapters are also really short so I found it easy to return to when I had a spare 10 minutes, I found it a lot more difficult to stop though!

The story was quite different from what I imagined it to be, you follow the lives of the protagonist Korede and, you guessed it, her serial killer sister Ayoola. I assumed the story would be a bit more of a thriller, following how they hid the murders and evaded the police, I was surprised, therefore, to find myself reading about the sisters’ relationship, flicking between the present and their childhood. There’s still the suspense of will they get caught or won’t they, but the main theme of the story is their sisterhood and how far they will go to protect each other. This is not a genre I would usually go for, but I’m really glad that I read it because Braithwaite’s writing is perfect for getting lost in.

The pacing of this book is superb – I cannot express that enough. The story bounces backwards and forwards without ever being confusing, each flashback weaves another element into the story subtly but clearly. The fiction book I read before this was quite taxing, so it was such a wonderful change to have something that was easy to read, exciting and beautifully written.

I also really appreciated the inclusion of an interview conducted by The Observer with Braithwaite, in which she explains the expectations placed upon Nigerian authors to write about the “Nigerian experience”, which she explains is massively different for all Nigerians. It’s always great to hear about the context an author writes in, but especially when I’m reading books by authors from different cultures to my own. White people, myself included, often rely on AOC to educate us on the trauma they experience, but that is not their responsibility. It was wonderful to see Braithwaite stand up for her passion to write fiction, a fiction that resides in Lagos, but is not subject to all of the stereotypes that are often placed upon it by the western world.

Conclusion: Braithwaite won me over from the first paragraph, excellent writing and a fast pace made this hard to put down so I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of her next book in 2021. If you’re looking for a quick, witty, and entertaining story this is the one for you.

Rating: ★★★★

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson

My boyfriend recommended this to me as soon as he’d finished it earlier this year and I’ve finally got around to reading it! I was a little skeptical at first simply because I often equate self help books with diet books, they offer magical solutions to life’s problems, but are generally based on false practise or are very difficult to maintain if you have a full time job. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised by Manson’s philosophies, they are not quick fixes but practices that you keep returning to in the hope that after several years you will focus your attention on the parts of your life that truly matter, and more importantly the parts that you can control or effect.

Manson’s use of anecdotes, his own and other people’s, are really helpful in contextualising his advice. I also think this made the ideas sink in much better as we are often happy to give others advice but find it hard to take it ourselves, so the idea of him telling you what himself and other people could learn, which on the whole I agreed with, and then turning that lesson back onto the reader was a really effective teaching method.

My only issue with the book is that Manson often uses laddish language to make light of certain situations, in my opinion the jokes don’t land and are border line offensive. This detracts from otherwise great writing, but I am happy to say the frequency of these off hand comments does decrease as the book goes on.

Conclusion: I think this is a book I will return again and again in order to reassess what I value and how this impacts how I view success and positivity. I have definitely found the practices mentioned really applicable in terms of work, right now is quite a stressful period in the lead up to Christmas, so remembering to not be affected by the elements I cannot control has really helped with my mental health. This is definitely worth a read if you need help prioritising your values and also as a reminder that you are enough, your life is not a failure if it doesn’t look like an Instagram page.

Rating: ★★★★

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’ve heard lots of comments saying this is a must read for everyone working on anti-racism and after finishing it I definitely agree. It was a very emotional read as the whole book is a letter addressed to Coates’ son, comparing their lives as young Black men, now and when Coates grew up, with references to his parents’ experiences too.

The fact that the book is a letter to Coates’ son I think is a perfect reflection of how AOC are not writing for the benefit of white people, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves, not to rely on author’s such as Coates’ to teach us. The title refers to Coates watching TV as a child and noticing that the characters shared none of his real life problems creating a gap between the mainstream (white) world and himself. Something that he still sees as existing today if only in a slightly different shape for his son.

Reading anecdotes as opposed to statistics was increasingly powerful and gave life to the data we hear in news bulletins,. Behind each of these stats are hundreds and thousands of families, friends and communities affected by the prejudice that remains prevalent in our society. This is an obvious statement, but it is important to remind ourselves of the individual impact, reading a mixture of both data driven research and personal accounts.

Conclusion: As I said at the beginning this is a must read. I find first hand accounts are often the most impactful as we can see the correlations with our lives, or where we cannot we begin to understand the privilege that we have held without realising. This is a humbling read and one that I urge you to pick up.

Rating: ★★★★★

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

This has been on my TBR for a while, but the release of the Netflix adaptation has pushed it higher up my list and I’m very happy about that. I haven’t read any classics in a while and I immediately felt right at home. The beautifully descriptive language and slightly ridiculous ideas of what love is were comforting and entertaining.

I’m really glad that I had basically no prior knowledge of the contents of this books so I will try not to give too much away if you haven’t read it yet! First of all I fell in love with the language, wonderfully extensive descriptions of houses, landscapes and people make it easy to imagine the story is unfolding right in front of you. Secondly I loved that I never really knew how the major plot was going to develop. There were elements of the story that I found incredibly predictable, but after much bigger reveals I considered that potentially Du Maurier was using these obvious story lines to distract you from the main revelations.

I definitely think this will have lots of reread value, there are hints all along the way for the plot twists, but they are eloquently interwoven to not give too much away. I am unsure on how I feel about the morals of some of the characters, but Du Maurier cleverly makes you care for them so morals become muddled.

My favourite parts of the book are the main character’s imaginary tangents, where she assumes one small thing and then runs away with a story in her head. They resonated with me so much as someone how suffers occasionally with anxiety and I found it really interesting that these traits were included in a book written in 1938.

Conclusion: I’ve tried to review this and say as little as I can about the plot because I truly appreciated not knowing a thing about the book before I started. If you are a fan of classics and mysteries I think you’ll love this because it’s the perfect mixture of stunning, indulgent writing and captivating suspense.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Bone People by Keri Hulme

I originally picked up The Bone People as part of the Avatar: The Last Page Turner readathon, this is not normally a book I would have selected, as it is described as a love story which isn’t really my thing. However, being challenged to include indigenous authors in my TBR encouraged me to consider other books and I was intrigued by the inclusion of Maori myth in the storyline.

In the introduction Hulme explains that it was a challenge to get her book published because of how differently she writes. This is something I noticed straight away and for me it has some great positives, but also some poor negatives. Hulme goes off on a lot of tangents, which I really loved. I felt that she was giving you a back story to each character in a really effective way. Everything is not in chronological order, but is revealed to you as of when you need to know it in the story, building a rich array of characters. However, the somewhat random sequence of events often left me confused, not knowing who was speaking or whether the current event was in the past or present. On occasions I would be 4 or 5 pages into a chapter before I realised who was speaking or where they were, so would need to go back to fully take in what was happening. Having said this I would be interested in reading more of Hulme’s work to see if this is something that is refined later in her career.

The story follows the fates of three main characters. Kerewin, an artist living as a recluse, Joe, a widow trying to bring up his adopted son, and Simon, Joe’s adopted son of indeterminate age who is unable to speak.

Hulme does an amazing job of building these characters and making you feel true affection for them. Simon in particular is such an interesting character despite getting little time as the narrator, possibly reflective of his struggle to be a part of conversation due to his muteness. His story highlights societies lack of acceptance of those with disabilities through ignorance, for example lots of minor characters treat him as though he is deaf. All three of them are by no means morally good characters throughout, but their faults, on the most part, make they more realistic and readable. There is a major caveat to this though. The subject of child abuse is quite a large portion of this book and in my opinion it was not dealt with in a satisfactory manner. Without giving away spoilers I think that the abuser is treated too kindly in the writing and it left me feeling very uncomfortable.

I did, however, really enjoy the inclusion of the Maori language, with translations at the back of the book, as well as Maori legend and culture, it made me really intrigued to learn more about their mythology and way of life.

Conclusion: While I found this to be an interesting read, and I had no struggle with motivation to keep picking it up, I was left feeling uneasy with the topic of child abuse. To give it context the book was written in the 1980s, but I don’t think that should excuse this. I feel that the book ended in the only way it could to somewhat resolve the issues, but I did not enjoy the ending or feel any satisfaction from it. Overall I’m glad I’ve read it, but I don’t think it will ever be on a reread list of mine.

Rating: ★★★

Three Kings

After much anticipation, yesterday was the day that I got to sit down in my living room, with my boyfriend and enjoy some live theatre! As part of the Old Vic’s In Camera season the theatre live streamed the production of a new play, Three Kings by Stephen Beresford starring Andrew Scott.

As this was a new play I had little to go on except the description on the Old Vic’s website:

When Patrick is eight years old his absent father returns unexpectedly and in a brief but memorable encounter, sets him the challenge of ‘The Three Kings’. Years later – recalling that meeting, and the revelations that followed – Patrick traces the events of his father’s life – and takes us on a journey of grandiose plans, aching disappointments and audacious self delusion.
By turns, hilarious and heartbreaking, Three Kings is about fathers and sons, the gifts and burdens of inheritance, and the unfathomable puzzle of human relationships.

I really enjoyed having only a vague idea of what I would be seeing. So often I have preconceptions of plays whether they be from other friends, reviews or books and films. It was refreshing to watch something from a completely fresh perspective, ready to make my own interpretations, unaffected by other opinions.

Scott takes on multiple roles, including Patrick, his father and his brother, seamlessly switching from character to character in continuous dialogue. As stated in the Old Vic description the play explores the relationship between a father and son made from the the few encounters they have and the scraps of information Patrick can find. The story is linear but each scene is a significant jump forward from the last. By doing this Beresford conveys how little the two really see each other, despite the fact that the play is all about their relationship. You are taken on an emotional journey, witnessing the impact upon children who barely see their father, desperate to engage and build a relationship. You are left asking the question is it inevitable that we turn into our parents even if we barely know them?

For an hour long play Three Kings has a lot to give. Beresford is incredibly clever in revealing background information and filling in story line gaps produced by jumping forwards in time. He makes these reveals a part of the dialogue, meaning they are in no way laborsome or distracting, giving the play a great flow and pace. This is of course aided by some brilliant acting. Each of Scott’s characters is distinctive and clear, full of emotion and powerful with it. Although the play focuses on Patrick and his father, Scott’s portrayals of the minor characters inclines you to truly empathise with them, even if this is only fleetingly.

I do wish the play could have been longer, but I think that is more to do with personal preferences, I don’t believe there was any detrimental effect upon the play for being only an hour long.

Just like Lungs, the stripped back stage and lighting, accompanied by the triptych camera style gives a unique intimate feel to the play, as though you are the only person in the audience. While I obviously love the atmosphere of being in a crowded theatre, and I hope, when safe, we are able to go back again soon, I am really appreciating this innovative form of production.

Conclusion: This is a short and powerful play, full of emotion, forcing you to ask questions about parental relationships. Are we destined to become our parents? If so what does that mean for us? Excellent writing and acting are combined to bring to the stage what feels like an effortless production, easy to become absorbed in.

Rating: ★★★★

The play is now completely sold out, but if you are interested in watching an Old Vic In Camera performance head over to their website (link below) on Monday 7th September at 10am to get tickets for Faith Healer by Brian Friel, starring Michael Sheen, Indira Varma and David Threlfall.

Summer Reads

I’ve been a bit less focused on my reading over the past few months due to moving, so instead of a monthly wrap up I thought I’d post reviews of the few books I’ve finished since June.

The Autobiography of Malcom X by Malcolm X with the Assistance of Alex Haley

When George Floyd was murdered back in May and the BLM movement of 2020 began in earnest, I did what I think a lot of bookstagrammers did, I reached for a book to further my education. As a history graduate, naturally I leaned towards an autobiography, one I should have read a long time ago.

What I found most interesting in the story of Malcolm X was the stark contrast between his life before prison and after. I knew nothing about Malcolm X’s life before he became a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam so it was fascinating to hear about it from his own hand. From an intelligent school boy, told to give up any hopes of becoming a lawyer, Malcom X moved to Detroit as a teenager and began to work. Whilst employed at a railroad company he decided to move to New York and fell into hustling, drug taking and burglary. When he emerged from prison, a converted Muslim and well read man he was ready to absorb all that Elijah Muhammad could teach him. All of his experiences meant that when he became a mosque leader he was in the perfect position to appeal to a wide range of African Americans who had been heavily disadvantaged by white supremacy.

I’m a big fan of autobiographies because you discover so much more about a person’s life than just their public persona. Malcolm X gave so many notorious speeches and was interviewed countless times, but often his words were simply used to build an image of aggression. My main takeaway from reading this book, was how far we have come and how little we have achieved at the same time. And yes, I should have known that before! While many things have changed, POC are undeniably fighting some of the same fights that Malcolm X was fighting 60 years ago and many of the quotes are still apt today.

it’s still a reaction to the society, and it’s a reaction that was produced by the society; and I think that it is the society that produced this that should be attacked, not the reaction that develops among the people who are victims of that negative society.

p. 49

Unless we call one white man, by name, a “devil”, we are not speaking of any individual white man. We are speaking of the collective white man’s historical record. We are speaking of the collective white man’s cruelties, and evils, and greeds, that have seen him act like a devil toward the non-white man. Any intelligent, honest, objective person cannot fail to realize that this white man’s slave trade, and his subsequent devilish actions are directly responsible for not only the presence of this black man in America, but also for the condition in which we find this black man here. You cannot find one black man, I do not care who he is, who has not been personally damaged in some way by the devilish acts of the collective white man!

p. 371

it isn’t the American white man who is racist, but it’s the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man.

p. 489

Additionally, I really enjoyed the discussion on religion. I’ve never read about Islam in much depth so found the topic incredibly interesting. I have consequently, discovered a new interest in the connections between different religions and the similarity in parables across them. This is something I definitely want to read more about in the future. (Any recommendations please let me know!)

Conclusion: I found this book to be an eye opening insight into the life of a black man in mid twentieth century America. Malcolm X not only tells the stories of the Civil Rights movement but also the atmosphere that sparked it and surrounded it which is something you can only really learn from first hand accounts. Although his autobiography was written 55 years ago so much of what is discussed is still relevant; it gives a wonderful context to the movement today, where it came from and what it aims to achieve.

Rating: ★★★★★

How to be Autistic by Charlotte Amelia Poe

I had planned to read How to be Autistic as part of a readathon run by the publisher, Myriad Editions, so I ordered a copy from my local library before lockdown and about four months later I was finally able to read it!

A memoir of Amelia’s life living with Autism, the book began as a video recording entered into an arts competition. Poe is unashamedly honest and darkly witty. I cried within the first 10 pages and was laughing about 5 minutes later. They not only describe the personal trials faced living with Autism, but highlight the lack of medical expertise on the topic at a local level that left them undiagnosed for over 20 years.

The frank honesty made it both a difficult and beautiful read. So many authority figures let Poe down in their childhood and it was heartbreaking to read the way teachers, amongst others, treated them, simply refusing to believe Poe and escalating their anxiety rather than relieving it. Although you feel that many of these people could have shown more empathy regardless, you realise how unaccommodating much of society is to those with Autism. Mainstream media lacks the representation of so many minorities, Autistic people being one of those groups, which results in a lack of understanding. When they are included, Poe points out that they are often reduced to their Autism alone, partly explaining Poe’s obsession with tattoos:

it’s just so nice to be thought of as ‘the girl with all the tattoos’ before ‘the girl with autism’.

p. 94

Conclusion: I strongly urge you to pick up this book! It forced me to face the subconscious prejudices I held regarding Autism and opened my eyes to the lack of resources available to support those who are Autistic. The success of books such as this, I hope will open the door for more Autistic artists, bringing accurate, firsthand stories to the mainstream, rather than interpretations of Autism created by others.

Rating: ★★★★★

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I had seen lots of people reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and had assumed that it was a fictional story, so when I found out it was part one of seven autobiographies by Maya Angelou I was intrigued. Not only have I never read a seven part memoir, but I know shockingly little of Maya Angelou’s life despite seeing her quoted frequently in the media.

The first thing I noticed when reading the book was how beautifully descriptive Angelou’s writing is. I really felt like I was there in each story watching it unfold, holding my breath when she did and sharing her elation in times of joy, i.e. becoming the first black person to work on the San Francisco streetcars. Angelou is masterful in bringing each scene to life and drawing in the reader emotionally.

Like How to be Autistic this is both a joyful and difficult read, but for different reasons. Angelou experienced some unbelievably horrendous events during her childhood, which are not easy to read about, but you must read them. The dark stories, however are surrounded by anecdotes of a loving family and the successes that Angelou reaped in her early life.

Conclusion: This is a stunningly written memoir that took no time at all to read. I found myself recanting many sections to my boyfriend, because I found them so interesting. The only slight negative I would say is that Angelou very rarely mentions her age which was sometimes confusing at times, but not detrimental to the book. The second volume has been added to my next book buy list and I look forward to delving into more of Angelou’s exquisite storytelling as she documents her early adulthood.

Rating: ★★★★★

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, Translated by Megan McDowell

Little Eyes was part of my latest book buy. I was drawn to the dystopian, Black Mirror like plot and I couldn’t resist the beautiful cover. This is the quickest read I’ve had in quite a while, which mainly comes down to the fact that I couldn’t put it down. The bizarre and brilliant concept depicts our world with the edition of Kentukis, animal shaped robots with cameras inside. You can choose to either, buy a Kentuki and have it live in your house with you, or buy a connection which enables you to control and see through the camera of a random Kentuki, but not speak.

The story flips between different Kentuki-owner relationships in short punchy chapters. This is one of the great strengths of the book, because it does not follow a singular storyline, you find yourself immersed in a richly diverse world with a wide ranging plethora of characters and relationships, some of which you visit only once, some you return to again and again.

The only downside I found was that some of the stories did not have much of a climax. I appreciated that they all had varying levels of drama, because if everything had ended in an extreme way it would have been too much, making the story seem wholly unrealistic. However, I do feel a few of them could have made more of an impact.

Conclusion: I could very easily imagine Little Eyes being turned into a TV show or a movie with great effect because of its excellent concept and its large, well thought out group of characters and scenarios. Until that happens though, if you’re a fan of Black Mirror or dystopian realism pick up this book. You’ll probably finish it in a day or two, but you’ll be thinking about it and talking about it for weeks.

Rating: ★★★★

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!


A few weeks ago I received an email from The Old Vic advertising their live, socially distanced, performance of Lungs, and I immediately set a reminder on my phone to buy tickets on the release date. I’ve been missing the theatre terribly, although I feel very lucky that the National Theatre have been releasing plays on a weekly basis on Youtube, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to once again enjoy the world I love and support an organisation that I really care about.

I’ve seen many productions at The Old Vic, including the last play I saw before lockdown, Endgame, and the idea that it and so many other theatres are in danger of closing down as a consequence of Covid-19 is heartbreaking. Some may think this sounds melodramatic, but theatres are often safe spaces for marginalised groups, breaking new ground, and although the theatre industry still has a long way to go with its inclusivity, it would be an indescribable shame for it to disappear.

I was disappointed that I didn’t have the chance to see Lungs while it was in the theatre, having heard great reviews from friends, so you can imagine how happy I was when The Old Vic announced that it would be their first production since lockdown began. The play, written by Duncan Macmillan, tells the story of a couple, played by Clare Foy and Matt Smith, trying to decide whether they should have a baby considering the rapidly decaying state of the climate. What I had not expected from this description were lines that would have me howling with laughter. The script is so realistically hilarious with Foy’s rambling speeches feeling genuinely anxiety driven, whilst also providing comic relief from some heavy topics.

The story glides effortless from joy to despair and anger to heartbreak. I really connected with Foy’s character and her constant overthinking. I felt like I went on her journey with her and all of the emotions she felt towards Smith’s character I mirrored. To me, this demonstrates how powerful both of their performances were, and, although I have a great passion for sets I was not in anyway distracted or disappointed by the absence of scenery or lighting. The stripped back production gave a much more intimate feel to the play which I think is unique to this type of streamed performance. At first I thought the split screen filming would be a constant reminder that I was watching a stream and would therefore disconnect me from the story, but in fact, it enabled me to focus on each actor’s performance without being drawn in and out or backwards and forwards across the stage.

My only criticism would be that I was expecting a stronger environmental story line and to me it was more of an emotional couples drama. I still thoroughly enjoyed the plot, I just think an opportunity was missed to impress upon the audience the immediate need for action to stop climate change reaching a state where its effects are irreversible.

I believe all of the tickets for Lungs have now sold out, but keep your eyes peeled in the future, because if this play is anything to go by, future productions will be more than worth it!

Also if you have any money spare at the moment and feel like donating some to The Old Vic please click the link below:

I know there are lots of great causes to donate to right now and it can be hard to work out how much to give to each, so just do what’s right for you. Also remember that there are others ways to support organisations such as buying memberships or vouchers, whether these are for yourself or as presents for others.

Accomplished in April Part 2

As promised here is the second part of my April Wrap Up reviewing the second lots of books I read for Book Roast’s Magical Readathon, if you haven’t read Part 1 you can find it here!

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

The story begins by following the fate of Charles Hale, a man who is being stalked by a gang waiting to murder him. The story then proceeds with the repercussions of what happens to him and the desperate actions of the gang leader responsible, 17 year old Pinkie. The narrative jumps from character to character revealing the perspectives of Ida the last person to see Hale before he was met by Pinkie and his gang, Rose an innocent waitress who falls for Pinkie and gets dragged into the gang world, and, of course, Pinkie, a young gang leader trying to assert his authority, but who ultimately trusts no one.

I was really looking forward to reading this having heard so many good things about it. Unfortunately, I found it quite a tough read. The sentence structure and flow was quite odd and caused me to reread lines again and again to fully understand what was happening. Having said this, I did find the plot intriguing and wanted to discover what would happen next, it just took an awfully long time to get there.

My main issue with the book was that I constantly felt like I knew more than the characters and I was simply waiting for them to catch up with what I had read in the previous chapter. This really slowed the pace down and made it a bit of a chore to read. I am glad though, that I finished it and I do think that the story rounded up quite neatly and satisfactorily.

Conclusion: I thought that the overall plot for this book was great, however, the pacing really put me off and the sentence structure added to my negative view. I am not opposed to watching either of the films made of Brighton Rock as I do think some of the pace could improved with a more streamline text – not something I often say about book to film adaptations. I think Greene’s writing style is something you either get on with or you don’t. If you’ve enjoyed other books of his or you get the chance to read the first chapter and enjoy it definitely stick with it, but if like me you find the first few pages a struggle, I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t get much easier.

Rating: ★★★

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

I enjoy poetry from time to time, but I haven’t sat down with a book of poetry since school, so I was excited to read Allen Ginsberg’s work. I watched a film about him several years ago and was taken aback by his extraordinary life. I would say that having seen the film definitely helped a little in understanding his poetry as it gave a context to his writing. Honestly though, I was still quite lost reading Howl. It is probably the longest poem I’ve ever read and even after reading summaries and analyses of it, I still felt like I was missing something. I could appreciate the rhythm and flow of the writing and understand that it was skilful, but I felt more at home with his shorter poems because I was able to grasp more meaning from them.

My favourite of his poems was Sunflower Sutra, which discusses identity and how society and your environment can affect and blur the understanding of your own self. I felt a strong connection to this because of my conflicted feelings about money. We live in a capitalist society so my dreams for the future have been built around the idea of buying a house and having a well paid job that allows me to go on holiday and buy new gadgets and clothes when I please. But recently, I’ve become more concerned with the effects of my decisions upon the environment – hence I haven’t purchased any new clothes for about a year now and I have made some changes to more sustainable products in my beauty routine. So how do I uphold my morals and maintain my identity in a society that is based on consumerism? The other reason I really loved this particular poem was that I felt it was so universal. Pretty much everyone is told to be something different than themselves by society and I thought it was an encouraging plea from Ginsberg, telling his readers to remember who they really are and what they ultimately believe in.

Conclusion: I think I needed to ease myself back in to the world of poetry a bit more gradually to fully appreciate Howl, so I think this is a book I will revisit in the future. As I have said though, I thoroughly enjoyed some of the shorter poems and look forward to including more poetry in my future reading, although I think it might be one at a time rather than a book at a time.

Rating: ★★★ – this was affected by my ability to understand the poetry rather than the quality of it

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Muggle Studies

I loved this book! From the first page I was drawn in by the different writing style and within the first 20 pages or so I felt a really strong emotional connection with the main character. The story is written in the hand of Christopher, a 15 year old who, it is implied, is on the autism spectrum. This is conveyed by both the style of writing, which is very to the point and direct, as well as through Christopher’s explanations of why he finds it hard to understand other people.

He begins by telling the reader how he came across his neighbour’s murdered dog on one of his night time walks and aims to solve the mystery of who committed the crime and along the way write a thrilling whodunnit. The story, however, develops into a heat warming tale of a family trying, and often failing, to accommodate each others differences.

I found the writing style truly effective as it enhanced my ability to empathise with Christopher and helped me to better understand his perspective. The story line felt well paced as you discover things at the same time as Christopher, but you are also able to pick up on hints here and there, that he includes, but does not give much weight to, to keep you eagerly anticipating what will happen next.

I am not overly familiar with autism and what knowledge I have is mainly derived from TV shows. Therefore, I did take the time to see how others, much better informed than I, regarded the portrayal Haddon creates. The general feeling seems to be that he has done an excellent job in including autism within the story, elevating the narrative, without making it the focus.

Conclusion: This is one of the most emotionally powerful books I have read in a long time. I cried a lot, I laughed a lot and I found it agonisingly hard to put down. I would easily recommend Haddon’s masterpiece to anyone and everyone. It’s a lesson in kindness, but more importantly in understanding that we don’t all think and respond to situations in the same way and that these differences shouldn’t be used to separate us but to help us all become more empathetic.

Rating: ★★★★★

Inside the Whale and Other Essays by George Orwell

This was a mixed bag. The book is a collection of essays about a variety of topics including writing reviews, politics and lots more, including Orwell’s own personal experiences and those of others. Some of the essays I really enjoyed as I could recognise Orwell’s wonderful story telling structure and descriptive writing. I felt this most strongly in Down the Mine as I could see clearly in my mind the tunnels that Orwell was taking me down and feel the burn of the excruciating physical labour he was witnessing.

With other essays I felt like I was missing the context and sometimes an interest in the subject matter as the topics discussed are incredibly varied. Even in the ones I didn’t enjoy as much, however, I did catch snippets of opinions and thought processes that I could relate back to 1984 and Animal Farm which kept me more engaged.

Conclusion: This is not a book I would normally pick up. At university I was used to cherry picking the articles I needed, so would usually have only read one or two of the essays within a book like this. I think I would be better suited in the future to reverting to this process and reading essays such as these alongside others on similar topics rather than trying to read the whole book from start to finish. This is not a criticism of placing all of these texts together, but more of a suggestion that they should be respected and require further reading to fully digest their meaning.

Rating: ★★★ – again this is partly a rating based on my ability to derive meaning from all of the essays rather than a condemnation of the writing itself

Accomplished in April – Part 1

Book Total: 8

UPDATE: I have removed my comments regarding Harry Potter following J.K. Rowling’ s transphobic comments as I no longer wish to in anyway endorse her work.

So for April I took part in Book Roast’s Magical Readathon. Setting myself a target of 12 books in a month was a bit of a stretch considering in March I only read 3, so I’m pretty proud of finishing 8!

Pleases note that in light of J.K. Rowling’ s recent comments Book Roast will no longer be hosting this readathon, but is planning something new which I am sure will be wonderful.

I’ve split this post into two so I can give an in depth review of each of the books, hopefully, without you getting bored!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Subject: Care of Magical Creatures

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in sixth form for A-Level English. I’ve been meaning to reread it ever since Channel 4 announced they were airing the TV series and now I finally have. I think I enjoyed it even more on this reread than I did the first time, partially due to the lack of pressure to truly understand it for my coursework and also due to my developed understanding of the political framework.

For those that haven’t read it, The Handmaid’s Tale introduces you to a dystopian world where the American government has been overthrown by a totalitarian regime that restructures society to conform to an exaggerated, old fashioned family model. High society husbands work while their wives remain at home with Marthas who help with housework and a handmaiden who carries their offspring. The story follows the fate of Offred, who is part of the first wave of Handmaiden’s. The narrative switches between Offred’s life as a Handmaiden, her past life and the path that connects the two.

Many have commented that the book seems to remain relevant despite being published 35 years ago. This is partly because the world Atwood constructs always seems only a few steps away – big steps, but not unimaginable. However, I also think it demonstrates how much more there is to achieve in sex equality, by which I mean both equality between the sexes and sexual equality. Although this is obviously an extreme depiction, it is based on an evolution of ideas that many people subscribe to today. For example the idea that women don’t enjoy sex and it is an obligation required of them. Or that a women’s role is to raise children and a family cannot be complete without them.

Atwood builds a fully formed world in which it is easy to imagine yourself within. Also, unlike other novels in which it sometimes seems contrite that you happen to be following the one person who acts against evil, Atwood includes several characters with similar outlooks to Offred. This complexity gives you a sense that you are following one of many narratives rather than a bespoke singular perspective.

Conclusion: It is not an original opinion, but I think The Handmaid’s Tale is a must read. I’m incredibly grateful that I got to read it as a young adult and I am really happy that the TV show has bought the story to a whole new audience. The first time I read this it was more of a fascinating imaginary world, while the reread helped me to see the reflections in today’s society. Consequently I am now really motivated to read more feminist writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

Rating: ★★★★★

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Subject: Ancient Runes

I picked this up a couple of years ago in a charity shop along with Fleming’s second Bond novel Live and Let Die and wasn’t really sure what to expect, having never really read any spy books except for the Alex Rider series. I found the introduction, written by Alan Judd, really informative and thought it helped to bring an extra level of authenticity to the story, knowing Fleming’s background.

I’m going to get the misogyny out of the way right away. Some of the descriptions of women in this book from the narrator and from Bond are appalling, to the point where I had to reread lines several times, because I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. If you manage to see past Fleming’s less than satisfactory descriptions of women you can begin to appreciate his elaborate illustrations of places and clothing.

The story is well thought out and full of suspense. I found myself unable to put the book down, constantly wanting to know what happened next, even though I had already seen the movie and knew the general plot. I somewhat expected the action and pace to be impeded in comparison to the film, but I was wrong. The action is fast paced, but you still get a clear picture of the entire scene which is something I was really impressed by.

Conclusion: If you can ignore the sexism this is a really enjoyable read. I can completely understand why movie makers chose to transform Fleming’s stories into films and why these plots have remained popular ever since. The mixture of mystery, luxurious lifestyle and action make for an enthralling read that was hard to put down.

Rating: ★★★★ (This is a rating that ignores the sexism- something that I would not normally do, but I hope that the majority of people who read this will laugh at the absurdity of the misogyny rather than take it seriously, even though I don’t think that this was Fleming’s intention)