Book review – Elizabeth Day – “Friendaholic”


I like a book about friendship so snapped this up when I was emailed about it, and I know I have at least one blog reader who is going to want to know about this one. It wasn’t quite the book I was looking for and made me a little uncomfortable in places, but I did gain a couple of valuable insights. And I have finished reading (or rejecting with good reason) all my eight NetGalley books published in March!

Elizabeth Day – “Friendaholic: Confessions of a Friendship Addict”

(13 December 2022, NetGalley)

The basic premise of this book is that Day finds, during the pandemic lockdown, that her life is empty because she has lost her main interest and hobby, which for her is friendship. We quickly learn, though, that unlike most of us who missed our friends, best and otherwise, and made convoluted arrangements to get a glimpse of them during lockdown, Day has, because of difficult formative experiences in the main, over-stretched herself, taken on every friendship she can gather and failed to maintain boundaries, making herself pretty stressed and miserable as a result. She then examines friendship theories (there are decent footnotes), shares what she’s learned about herself from her inner circle and interrogates her close friends about their friendship.

She creates most of the book out of intimate portrayals of her friendships, both successful and over, and it was this I had trouble with – I can only assume the ones who were current friends gave permission and saw the text pre-publication, but what about the others, and she makes no efforts to hide or blur their identities and it’s easy to identify them; in fact one of them is someone I know slightly, and I found this uncomfortable reading.

Also, Day’s journey through infertility is covered in depth, which I wasn’t expecting, and there’s a really quite upsetting chapter about how destroyed she has been by this (which I totally understand, being childless-not-through-choice myself) and how she is always damaged and reeling when friends get pregnant / appears to bitterly resent when relationships change a bit when friends have children and she has to go to them physically. I notice that friends with children often think those of us without aren’t interested in them, and I am totally happy to go round and wade through nappies when there are smalls around, just as my lovely friends came for wobbly walks and wincy coffees with me after I had my endometriosis operation. While it’s a personal narrative there is a sort of expectation that everyone in that situation feels the same, which feels actively damaging: I don’t want any friend who’s a parent to feel they have to tiptoe round me or think I’m sitting there in seething resentment if I spot a muslin!

There are positives to the book. Although the piece on her friend who had to face a serious health issue and the re-evaluation of all her relationships felt a bit intrusive, it gave a useful report on how it feels to be the person in a friendship whose life has changed, reminding me that friends who have been struck by health issues need to feel they are contributing something to the relationship (my friends who have still provide vital having-my-back attitudes and safe spaces but maybe I’m not good enough at explaining that to them) and the chapter on the death of a friend, as well as the comments on the lack of accepted stages in friendships and the ignoring of the end of friendships as an important thing, are useful. Day makes a solid effort at representing diversity in the book, her mini-interviews on friendship covering older and younger people, LGBTQ+ and straight, and different ethnicities, as well as the friends she writes about in detail including a Black woman and a British Asian man.

This was the second quite personal, confessional book I’ve read in a row and I have to say that this overstepped the mark into the personal for me, and I preferred Katherine May‘s approach. That and my issues with the infertility sections are undoubtedly down to me and my own situation and persona, and I’m sure lots of people will enjoy this book.

Thank you to Fourth Estate for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Friendaholic” was published on 30 March 2023.

Book review – Katherine May – “Enchantment”


I was attracted to his book on NetGalley by the colours and image on the cover and the subtitle “Reawakening Wonder in an Exhausted Age” and I’m glad to say it was even better than I expected it to be. I have a copy of this author’s “The Electricity of Every Living Thing”, given to me by my lovely friend Verity, on my TBR and will be grabbing that to read very soon, too.

Katherine May – “Enchantment: Reawakening Wonder in an Exhausted Age”

(25 January 2023, NetGalley)

I think I’m beginning to understand that the quest is the point. Our sense of enchantment is not triggered only by grand things; the sublime is not hiding in distant landscapes. The awe-inspiring, the numinous, is all around us, all the time. It is transformed by our deliberate attention. It becomes valuable when we value it. It becomes meaningful when we invest it with meaning.

What a – yes – enchanting book. Exhausted by the constant vigilance and doom-scrolling that seems to have only been made worse by the pandemic lockdowns, May sets out to find a different way of being, remembering simple pleasures taken in nature and the senses from her childhood and looking for them in adulthood, too. Enchantment is defined as “small doses of awe”, everyday interactions that bring joy wherever you find them.

Her personal experiences are of course woven through the book, particularly her interactions with the sea and return to sea-swimming after a loss of confidence, and the importance of friends is emphasised even though she also has adventures with her husband and young son, with one friend accompanying her back into the water and another giving companionship on two transformative visits to an old sacred well.

Even though she’s looking for almost a religious experience, the numinous something that hovers just outside our consciousness, she connects this more to a sense of community and practical and craft abilities and skills that need to be revived and handed down than organised religion.

So personally relatable, whether she’s taking pleasure in the ordinary rather than the sublime, being a poor gardener, collecting minerals as a child or railing against the horror of having your work-from-home home invaded by your spouse full-time during lockdown (ahem), I loved how when, confronted with a holy well, she doesn’t go all woo on us or know what to do, but also doesn’t expect an immediate experience, but has a think and comes back with some personal responses (and her friend). The book is also soaked in Kent, which I enjoyed as a child of that county, although more the Whitstable and Dungeness end than the Weald, but this gave a nice extra angle for me.

Everything in the book seems rooted in practicality, attention and honesty: she loses the ability to absorb herself in a book, struggles with her meditation practice until she realises the whole system of being able to devote oneself to regular meditative times is probably predicated upon not being a mother and freelance but a man with people to look after the “stuff”, and she gives the best explanation of how the tides work I have ever read. It’s almost Iris Murdochian in its insistence on attention and losing oneself in a moment with nature.A lovely book I would definitely return to.

Thank you to Faber & Faber for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Enchantment” was published on 9 March 2023.

Book review – Jacqueline Crooks – “Fire Rush”


I requested this first novel from NetGalley and then quailed a little at the description of a section of it being around gang culture. Then I gave myself a talking-to (even though I can be quite timid in my tastes, I’ve read other strong stuff, including “Yardie” back in the day, and Timothy Mo’s “Sour Sweet”, James Kelman and Magnus Mills) and, helped by Laura Tisdall saying she was enjoying it (her review here, I didn’t read it until I’d written my review) I did pick it up and was very glad I had, instantly absorbed in the beautiful, unusual writing and atmosphere.

Jacqueline Crooks – “Fire Rush”

(19 August 2022, NetGalley)

The air is tangerine-coloured and sweet, the black sea spread out, empty. Lights and beats in the distance. Carlton follows the drums, just like Asase, Rumer and me tracked the bassline in search of raves, back in those dub-dancing times.

Yamaye, Asase and Rumer live on an estate in late-1970s West London and, two women of Jamaican heritage and one of Irish, they live for dub reggae parties, illicit nightclubs, one in a church, and house parties they go searching for. They’ve known each other forever but there are fracture lines – Asase has always taken what she wanted and that includes anything or anyone Yamaye wants or likes, and when Yamaye, our main character, meets gentle Moose, she worries Asase will annex him. But Moose knows his mind and for a while, they work on forming a solid relationship, doing ordinary couple things that are extraordinary for a woman who’s grown up with her physically abusive, scary single dad, her mum a memory and a ghost held inside her bones.

Tragedy, in the form of police brutality, intervenes, and then another act of violence, and while Yamaye grieves and tries to campaign, gathering brief allies, people start to split and return “home”, leaving her with few options. A chance encounter takes her to Bristol and an alarming gang: she holds her own, MCing at a local club, music and her mum always within her, but soon she needs to escape from there, too.

Will she find peace in Jamaica, find Moose’s beloved grandma and even her mum? Will she find the solace of her roots and the strength to escape her chaotic past? Who is that man on the beach and why does he remind her of someone who shouldn’t be there?

An incredibly lyrical patois (nothing explained, no glossary: just as easy or hard to work out as a James Kelman novel), soaked in music and dancing, whips you straight into a sweaty underground club, even though this is not music I’m that familiar with. There are also interactions with layers of history, both the archaeology of the land she lives on in London and collective-unconscious flashbacks to women’s lives as enslaved peoples (it’s also brilliant that many of the characters talk about the slave rebellions in the Caribbean, a story kept alive while it’s not taught by the colonisers).

This is such a self-assured debut, although apparently (see Laura’s review) a long time in the making, and, while the author states it’s a fictionalised account of her life, she’s made a beautiful new work out of that, and also has a full bibliography at the back – fair play to her there.

Themes of women and the patriarchy, of women carving out their own lives from the spaces they can, makes it a very attractive book, even though there’s violence and shocking scenes: it’s essentially a warm book of supportive relationships – even between Yamaye and her dad at times, and an amazing read.

Thank you to Jonathan Cape for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Fire Rush” was published on 2 March 2023.

Book review – Paul Morgan-Bentley – “The Equal Parent”


I think I saw this book on one of NetGalley’s emails, and although I’m not a parent (not by choice) myself, I enjoy reading parenting books.

Paul Morgan-Bentley – “The Equal Parent: How Sharing the Load Helps the Whole Family Thrive”

(22 February 2023, NetGalley)

Women cannot ever achieve equality in the workplace if fathers are seen as a rare and wonderful thing at their own children’s doctor appointments, at children’s play groups or at the school gates.

This was an interesting one, being written by a man who is married to a man and raising a child together. Having this very male perspective in the book, I will admit I had to push back against the fact that I was reading a book by a man about how to arrange child-rearing, wondering if he got to publish it because he’s a man. But he does have plenty of useful stuff to say about men and parenting, and as well as it being backed up by research, either things he’s read or interviews he’s conducted with experts and parents, he also shares details of his own family life.

Morgan-Bentley’s central thesis is that men are just as “programmed” to care as women, and that if they have early access to doing the basic care for a baby – encouraged into skin-to-skin contact after birth, not being thrown out of the hospital within hours, taught skills like bathing baby if they don’t know already, if the mother is breastfeeding, still taking on responsibilities around that (e.g. going and getting the baby and putting them back down after the night feed), being responsible for weaning, being allowed to just get on with it and being accepted in areas that are inexplicably women-only (like the baby’s NHS record!), they will be just as able, “natural” and caring as the mother, and the family is likely to achieve – and model – a truer equality than is available now. It is important that this is supported by policy instruments such as use-it-or-lose-it parental leave that does not undermine mothers’ leave, childcare support including financial and alteration of record-keeping to include fathers.

He also has some specific concerns about the way policy handles surrogacy, including naming the surrogate and her male partner on a child’s birth certificate until a court order can be gained, leaving medical records falling short and health professionals calling, for example, their baby’s birth mother about appointments way after they’ve amended the birth certificate.

This is two books in one, really, a narrative of how Morgan-Bentley and his husband Robin negotiated the start and continuation of their family and a more journalistic piece about the rights and responsibilities of fathers (of whatever kind: it’s made clear that genetic links do not automatically generate better parenting), which being clear that it’s not a Fathers For Justice type campaign but a campaign to take pressure off women and enlarge and enhance men’s lives in families.

In terms of intersectionality, there is a section about a trans man as a single father and other trans men in general, quite a lot about gay and lesbian parenting but nothing about the impact of ethnicity on parenting and equality in parenting as far as I recall (this would make it an even bigger book, though). Interesting and with solutions gleaned from best practice.

Thank you to Thread Books for making this available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Equal Parent” was published on 2 March 2023.

Book review – Lauren Fleshman – “Good for a Girl”


Virago Books kindly sent me a copy of this book in return for an honest review in Shiny New Books; as I quite often do, I wanted to share a slightly more personal review, too, so now my review is out on Shiny, here are some more of my thoughts on the book.

Lauren Fleshman – “Good For a Girl: My Life Running in a Man’s World”

(18 January 2023, from the publisher)

Millions of women carry an abundance of positive memories of their time in sport, but they also carry the invisible wounds of their sports experiences. As women, we’ve justified these wounds as normal or internalised the belief that we were to blame. (p. xii)

This is not your ordinary running book. Yes, it includes the story of Lauren’s journey from school athlete through to international competition, but there’s a lot more than that to the book; namely, the damage that the current set-up of competitive athletics in the US, both at school and college level and at professional level, does to young women. I will note that there is a lot about disordered eating and eating disorders in this book that were quite distressing to read about and will be triggering to anyone who has lived with an eating disorder; I am not taking about that much in this review because of the trigger risk for others.

So Fleshman takes us through her experiences through competitive running, but continually relates them to the wider picture as she understands it now. So when she retains her pre-pubescent figure and keeps competitive with the boys, we see how delaying puberty through heavy exercise affects young women’s bone density and other health measures. When girls develop and drop out, we see why this is and how universal it is. When eating disorders or disordered eating become rife, we see an examination of why this happens and the prevalence. When women naturally plateau aged about 19 as their bodies go through further development, we see what happens to their coaching (not good) and how they disappear, discouraged and injured. Then, when she turns professional we see how sponsors make things gendered, how women are penalised if they become pregnant, how women’s sports clothing is much more revealing and tight than men’s for no reason, how catalogues offering women’s apparel include images of models rather than sportswomen.

It’s all pretty damning, and Fleshman has certainly been through the mill. She tries to remain positive, while ending up with stress fractures due to the pressures her body has been under. She fights and fights Nike for women’s equity but is rebuffed, and it’s wonderful when she develops a relationship with the smaller indie brand Oiselle (who I have heard about but not worn), who are actively happy and excited when she reveals she’s planning to have a family. She does real, practical things, becoming a coach herself and sharing honestly on her blog including not-so-perfect images before that was really a thing, and setting up a training diary for young girls that covers all aspects, menstrual health and mental health as well as training sessions.

I made a commitment to grow up and win and fail in public in my little world of running, because I wanted to provide at least one person’s accurate representation of chasing big goals for the next person who searched the internet during a low point. I hoped it would inspire other pro athletes to do the same, and it did. But the biggest winner in the short term was me. The more my life expanded off the track, the more satisfied I was on it. (p. 211)

It’s encouraging to see her activism growing with her community, and her commitment to intersectionality, too: she certainly honours the women from global majority communities who have pushed the agenda with sports sponsors. And at the end of the book she makes a clear call for better support for female athletes including woman-specific training for coaches and qualifications to make sure runners are kept more safe. She’s clear right from the start that this book represents her one voice and that discussion about changing women’s sports must include the voices of global majority people, women with disabilities, trans women and non-binary people (she doesn’t cover issues with the latter much but we can see she is supportive of trans and non-binary rights).  She is honest about her education in social justice around race, finding out how she has white privilege in being allowed to fail more frequently, even while facing sexism, but then still taking time to engage in becoming an “active ally” – and she admits the mistakes she made later in not noticing the overly white advertising of her new sponsor.

The influence of her dad is clear through the book, however hard he was as a father, with alcohol and anger issues, and she’s honest on the ongoing issues she’s had with her sister. Very touching scenes at the end of the book cover his illness and passing. She also talks at the end about the difficulties with her own mental health she had during lockdown and writing the book. The process of applying for colleges and getting professional sponsorship is covered in detail and this can be a little bit bewildering for the British reader, but is perfectly copable-with: all you really have to understand is she had lots of college offers and tried to decide on somewhere that promoted women’s mental health and actively worked against promoting disordered eating. A good, honest and passionate book that offers an interesting track-based and mainly White addition to books such as Alison Mariella Désir’s road-running based “Running While Black” (which she mentions in the resources section).

Thank you to Virago Books for sending me a copy to review honestly on Shiny New Books and here on my personal blog.

A running book with a difference which hopes to make a difference.

Book review – Kate O’Brien – “The Land of Spices”


My second read for Reading Ireland Month, and like “How Green was my Valley”, I took it on holiday, though it was my plane home read and I finished it at home. 

I bought this one in Stratford last October when I met Scott and Andy from America. The books I bought then I shared in this blog post and I haven’t read and reviewed any others of them yet.

Kate O’Brien – “The Land of Spices”

(18 October 2022, Oxfam Books, Stratford-upon-Avon)

From the beginning, chilled more than she knew by the shock which drove her to the purest form of life that could be found, and hardened in all her defences against herself by the sympathetic bleakness of Sainte Fontaine, she grew into that kind of nun who will never have to trouble about the vow of poverty, because poverty is attractive to her fastidiousness; who has looked chastity in the eyes with exaggerated searching, and finding it in the perverse seduction she needed at a moment of flight from life, accepted it one and for all with proud relief; but who sill have to wrestle with obedience. Not that she does not understand its place in the ideal, or that specific acts of submission trouble her. But because it is a persistently intellectual sacrifice, it is always an idea. (p. 19)

Like “Small Things Like These”, this book centres around a convent in Ireland, however this is a positive story with no laundries, just a school and a community of nuns, their mother convent based in Belgium and Mother Mary Helen, an English woman raised on the Continent who is mistrusted and somewhat feared by the mostly Irish nuns and school girls and the priests who are associated with the school.

The book follows both a linear narrative and a non-linear one, as we follow Anna Murphy’s progress through the school (starting very young, the youngest girl in the school) and dot back and forth through Mary Helen’s life so we only discover mid-way through the book what compelled her to rush into a vocation aged 18. Both women experience tragic losses and both experience spiritual development in this very subtle book, which has no sentimentality or melodrama, but a close and careful look at the petty jealousies and bad behaviour of nuns, school girls and old girls and the ways in which they can console themselves.

There are lovely, touching moments of friendship and fierce defences of what is right: I don’t know much about Kate O’Brien but Clare Boylan in her introduction names her an unsentimental feminist, and there is a strong thread supporting women’s education and right to have their own freedom running through the book. Different kinds of moralities are presented, with Anna’s brother giving his opinion on the nature of their father’s alcoholism and Mary Helen’s father presenting an atheistic view of the world, which makes for interesting contrasts but no lectures or over-philosophising. Another thread is the loss of innocence, again shadowed by the two main characters.

It’s a gently paced book with some remarkable scenes and I very much enjoyed it: I might not have picked it off the charity shop shelves without this challenge to read it for, and I’m glad I did.

I read this book for Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy746Books and it was the second of the two I had hoped to read for the challenge, and completes my Reading Wales / Reading Ireland double challenge with two books for each. It also fills in a year of my Reading the Century project, which hardly ever happens these days!

In another Bookish Beck Serendipity moment, this and “How Green Was My Valley” were published within 3 years of each other (1942 and 1939 respectively) and were set around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, not a gap I encounter frequently – I also note I chose to share a quote from p. 19 of each book!

Book review – Richard Llewellyn – “How Green was my Valley”


It’s Reading Wales 2023 and this is my second read for the Month, read on holiday in Southern Spain, somewhat oddly, although we were staying in quite a working-class area. I bought this especially for the challenge as I’d agreed with Mallika from Literary Potpourri that we would do a buddy read of it (we both read it at the same time and are sharing each other’s reviews but didn’t discuss it separately to these, mainly for reasons of my holiday!). A classic of working-class literature, it reminded me in parts of “The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists” and, while distressing quite a lot of the time, is very well worth reading. Here is Mallika from Literary Potpourri’s review, do go and visit it, too! Do also visit Brona’s interesting piece about the controversies around Llewellyn’s claimed heritage and knowledge/experience (I’m still counting this for Dewithon as it’s set in Wales …).

Richard Llewellyn – “How Green was my Valley”

(13 January 2023, The Heath Bookshop)

In the evening after we had finished tea we all sat on the grass on horse cloths and sang hymns and songs, and we had prizes for the best. Indeed if I was not chosen again for the best voice among the small boys. There is pleased my father was. I will never forget the way he looked when Mr Prosser, St. Bedwas, gave me the sweets.

Singing was in my father as sight is in the eye. Always after that he called me the family soloist. That night he held my hand tight all the way home, with my mother on his other side, and my sisters behind us. (p. 19)

We meet Huw Morgan as a small boy, the youngest in his family, his brothers and sisters settling (or not) into their roles, and we follow him into his late teens; however, his story is being written from much later life, with the horror of a pit slag heap that’s slipped pressing and pressing onto the little house where he was raised and lives now. That gives a feeling of only barely repressed menace throughout the whole book, not particularly needed when everyone is going down badly maintained pits, struggling against the mine owners or struggling at school against bullies and anti-Welsh sentiment.

Huw has a temper on him and inflicts some damage on people, but that’s seen, I think, to not in the end help, as he’s still stuck where he started out, alone and looking back at the green grass of his youth, now obscured by slag heaps (this book was published in 1939, long before the horror of Aberfan; now the Valleys have been greened again by various initiatives, whether or not that will help the social and economic deprivation they have experienced).

There is a feeling of progressive doom about the whole book, as Huw’s siblings push against their constraints and end up leaving, his sister makes a choice of husband that may not be the best and Huw’s chance to escape may not be taken up. There are also some absolutely brutal scenes, especially when the community seeks justice for the assault and death of a child, and the passages where a long strike brings starvation to the people. Huw’s father is the centre of his life, even though he fundamentally disagrees with the actions of his own sons towards unionising, and, appropriate for a review published on Mother’s Day, you can only feel sorry for his poor mother, though she has her own flashes of temper and giddiness, as she is forced to watch her children leave, not able to understand the map of their travels she’s shown.

gbThere are flashes of positivity and possibility, with the local clergyman providing education in books, morals and carpentry, and humour, especially with the bad boys, Dai and Cyfartha, who wreak havoc and revenge wherever they go (but are revealed to be devoted and loving friends (a couple?) as the story goes on). And there are of course beautiful descriptions and all done in a Welsh way of speaking which is done beautifully and not clumsily, feels authentic and was probably quite surprising at the time. As it winds to its conclusion, it feels both inevitable and gutting: a book you have to sit with for a while after finishing it.

Both a classic story of coming of age and an impassioned appeal against capitalism, it’s an absorbing read that I am happy to highly recommend

This was Book 2 read for Reading Wales 2023.

Book review – Monica Macias – “Black Girl From Pyongyang”


My second NetGalley read of the month and a very interesting one at that. Who would have thought you would read a book about someone from West Africa moving to North Korea?

Monica Macias – “Black Girl from Pyongyang”

(08 November 2022, NetGalley)

From that day on, I realised that I had no choice but to accept the order and discipline of the school, and finally embraced the rigours of the life I had been given. Even now, as an adult, structure is threaded through my daily habits. This lifestyle has helped me to focus on my tasks and goals, to be productive and manage stress successfully.

As seen in the quote above, this book records an exercise in taking what you’re given and trying to do the best you can with it, and you can’t help but admire Macias for doing that under the circumstances. Born in Equatorial Guinea, West Africa, to a Guinean father and Spanish mother, Monica and her siblings and mother are sent to North Korea when she, the youngest, is seven, for their own safety as her father becomes president of the country after its independence from Spain (and quite soon afterwards is assassinated by his own nephew in a coup). From then on we are given a life story which involves quite a lot of work but also quite a lot of flying around the world, and a narrative that the two strong man country leaders she is raised by are benevolent and misunderstood by the rest of the world.

Monica is placed in a military-style school (there are no others) and we are surprised to read that girls are introduced to the school just for Monica and her older sister to have classmates, matched to their height so a few years older, as Monica is really tall for her age! It seems to be that you are not allowed to have real friends, too, as the child she is closest to is only allowed to be a friend and watcher. Then her mum goes back home to look after her oldest brother, who had been sent to Cuba, and Monica resolves to forget her previous life and become only Korean, to such an extent that she forgets Spanish, her native tongue, then can’t communicate with her mum (there’s a long string of regret about their relationship).

Monica’s eyes are gradually opened to the single-perspective education she’s received, and matures from running away from an American she encounters on a permitted trip to Bejing to living in New York for three years. She moves to Spain first, then various countries, hustling away doing cleaning and shop jobs to keep going, spending quite a lot of time researching her father and their home country and working out whether their reputation is warranted (she apparently interviews thousands of people and presumably there’s another book in that). The main person she quotes and bonds with is one of her father’s former colleagues, who becomes yet another father figure for her.

At some time in the 2010s she publishes the book up until then in Korean, then promotes it when living in South Korea. Then later she’s written the rest again herself and published it all in English, after various encounters such as meeting North Korean defectors. She also puts herself through a Master’s at SOAS so as to understand her father’s actions and reputation. Some of the book is a little dry and/or repetitive, and she uses some unusual terms when defining language around racism and world unity, but it does in the main hold the interest, and it’s certainly an unusual story that makes you think about the reputations different countries have in other countries. There isn’t much self-reflection or acceptance of what might be true in bad reputations – North Korea’s food insecurity is brushed over as a difficult time for the country that people don’t really understand.

Thank you to Duckworth for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Black Girl from Pyongyang” was published on 02 March 2023.

An interesting Bookish Beck Serendipity: in this and “How Green Was My Valley“, we find people entering an educational institution (here university, there the second school the narrator attends) and being forbidden to speak their native language, instead only English.

Book review – Nikesh Shukla – “Stand Up”


Finally getting through my NetGalley reading, though also continuing with Reading Ireland and Reading Wales, here’s an entertaining YA read from campaigner and author Nikesh Shukla (he edited the Good Immigrant books and has also written “Coconut Unlimited” which I’m fairly sure is somewhere on my Kindle.

Nikesh Shukla – “Stand Up”

(30 January 2023, NetGalley)

‘Come on, dude, I’m trying to work. I’m not a walking encyclopaedia of India, just cos I’m brown. I don’t ask you whie guy shit like why Kanye is actually a proper artiste or why Mad Men’s sexism and racism is actually cool or why railways were a good exchange for all the resource- and asset-stripping the British empire did, right? You can’t just go around assuming people like me will drop everything to answer your facile questions that you’ve decided we must know the answers to because of the colour of our skin. I would tell you what word we use to describe that behaviour but I’m actually just wondering, seeing as it’s my job to do so, that your wine is looking a little low. Would you like another bottle?’

Madhu is 17 and her Kenyan Indian parents have been running a shop since shortly after they arrived in England, although they’ve moved away from living over it into a flat and Madhu works at a pizza place rather than in the shop. She misses her older sister, whose story we gradually discover, and she’s feeling pressured to apply for law at university when what she really wants to do is stand-up comedy.

When she tries an open mic night for the first time, Madhu freezes and panics, but then her take-down of a friend’s ex, filmed and shared without her permission goes viral and she’s invited to go on her comedy idol’s TV show. However, idols can become nemeses and when, after practising and learning with the support of enemy-to-friend Jazz (there’s a fair bit of not judging by first appearances as Jazz’z mum seems awful at first but comes out with some good stuff) and an inclusive cafe locally, the experience with Kareena isn’t what she expected, and that “you can’t be what you can’t see” role models can also be super-protective of their unicorn status, she can either buckle down and do what she’s supposed to do or push through for her dreams.

Set in Bristol, a nice change from London-based books, and full of realistic micro- and macro-aggressions, friendships and struggle, it’s a nicely done novel, with learning points but a good dose of humour.

Thank you to Hachette Children’s Group for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Stand Up” was published on 2 March 2023.

Book review – Maya Angelou – “Even the Stars Look Lonesome”


I got the bus into town on my own on Saturday and picked this book of essays up to read on the way there and back – and pretty well finished it at the end of my journey. Sometimes it’s nice to just grab something from the shelf to enjoy in a day, isn’t it? This one arrived for my birthday from Ali – it was a special birthday hence the huge pile of books – and of these I have read but a few so far but they are on the top shelf of the TBR. You’ll see a few NetGalley reads from now on as I pick all those up (eight of them, oops!) but here’s a print delight.

Maya Angelou – “Even the Stars Look Lonesome”

(21 January 2021, from Ali)

The first Africans were brought to this country in 1619. I do not mean to cast aspersions on my white brothers and sisters who take such pride in having descended from the Pilgrims, but I would remind them that the Africans landed in 1619, which was one year before the arrival of the Mayflower. We have experienced every indignity the sadistic mind of man could devise. We have been lynched and drowned and beleaguered and belittled and begrudged and befuddled. And yet, here we are. Still here. Here. (p. 125)

Uncompromising, straight-spoken and always up for doing some reframing, here we have Angelou’s essays mainly as an older woman, in her 60s and talking about ageing and also the loss of her mum (with some great stories about her mum to accompany that). She discusses Africa and attitudes to the continent and its countries, tells stories from her past and tells it how it is. Visiting a museum including slave huts, she’s horrified to see a sanitised history of a horrific past, and near the end of the book calls passionately for museums and galleries that show Black people their own faces and experiences reflected back to them. As always, powerful and interesting, and the book could have happily been twice as long!

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