Review: The Scent of Cinnamon – Charles Lambert

039 - The Scent of Cinnamon

041 - The Scent of Cinnamon

Rating – 3*

Firstly, it’s been a while since I wrote a review, so I’m more than a little rusty. Secondly, welcome to the first review in a series I’m going to be calling my Summer of Salt.

The Scent of Cinnamon is a short story collection published by Salt and is full to the brim with stories which completely boggled my mind. As with all short story collection there were some which I didn’t enjoy as much as others, but the collection as a whole is full of mysteries and things which made me think.

The titular story is one which on the surface didn’t seem all that deep, in fact it came across as a little meek and mild but come the end I was really engaged, I loved the direction it went in and genuinely didn’t see the end coming. This was a recurring theme with the whole collection – each story took it’s own path away from what I had cooked up in my head and I don’t think there was even one story in here which was predictable.

The collection spans time and genre, the only thing which really linked each of the stories together being the general writing style and I actually really enjoyed that. I enjoy a themed collection as much as the next person but sometimes it’s nice to have stories which really stand on their own.

My only criticism is that a lot of the stories end very abruptly, and as someone who likes all loose ends gathered up and neatly put in a bow that was really frustrating. I also found several of the stories haven’t really stuck with me, which isn’t great.

Overall this was a pretty solid collection, and if you enjoy very varied collections I’d definitely suggest this. There, I think, is something for everyone – maybe more for some than others. For me it was very middle of the road overall, but it was definitely worth a read!

Review: Forgotten Women: The Scientists – Zing Tsjeng

035 - Forgotten Women The Scientists

035 - Forgotten Women The Scientists

Rating – 4*

I am a sucker for any book which covers feminism, forgotten females in history, female scientists and contains beautiful illustration. This covers all four of those points off nicely and I absolutely loved this book.

I judge any book about female scientists through history on it’s section on Rosalind Franklin. Anyone who knows me will know just how passionate I am about the acknowledgement of that woman and her contribution to the discovery of the double helix of DNA. Naturally I read the section on her in the middle of my local Waterstones and from that moment I knew I had to have this book. I started reading it on the bus home.

As someone who has read several books and essays on this subject in the past, I had heard of a significant number of these women but I never tire of reading different takes on their lives and learning new things about them. If I were to ever put my pen to paper and write a book, I would make it one like this. A book full of inspirational, incredible, intelligent women who made a difference to the world.

Each woman has 3 to 4 pages dedicated to her story, and a beautiful illustration by one of around a dozen (female) artists. Everything about this book is beautiful; it’s just a beautiful object and is now happily sitting in and amongst other books on feminism, gender studies and women’s history like it on my shelf.

The book I would compare this to is Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky. The only difference being this is a more in depth look at a lot of the same women as Women in Science is primarily aimed at children. I’d say this is a must read for anyone out there interested in women’s history, history of science and medicine or even just short, snappy and fun biographies akin to things like Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeline Thien

037 - Do Not Say We Have Nothing

037 - Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Rating – 3*

This book took me what felt like forever to get through, and then left me in a reading slump. Trying to write a review for it has left me stumped too because I don’t even know how to put in to words what I feel about this book.

The scope of this novel, it has to be said, is impressive. It’s a multi-generational family saga set amongst the political backdrop of China over the best part of the last 80 years. We follow the story of several members of the families and how they interconnect in the past and the present day primarily through a handwritten book called The Book of Records. It is through this book within the book that we bridge between past and present day and characters. As such, this book is able to explore the cultural and political history of China through two families and their interweaving lives.

The writing for the most part, while dense, was lyrical and enjoyable to read. My main issue was that I really struggled keeping track of what on earth was going on. The characters didn’t seem to have any definition, which is especially problematic when you’re ping-ponging between decades of history and completely different characters. It isn’t a book you can just relax in to, I found myself constantly having to focus and remember who was related to who and what other names they went by. It got confusing for me very regularly which really put me off picking it up for a few days.

Stories which have many characters and are set in many different periods of history have to be written in such a way as to not confuse the reader beyond belief. Unfortunately, this book failed at that for me. I think with more defined chapters which outline where in the story the events are taking place would have easily elevated this book to something so much more than it was for me as a reader.

I think I may give Thien’s writing another go in the future, but not too soon because this book actually exhausted me.

Review: Nefertiti – Michelle Moran

038 - Nefertiti

038 - Nefertiti

Rating – 5*

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump, so I decided to pick up a book I loved a number of years ago to try and get me out of it. Interestingly, I managed to pick it up 5 years to the day that I did originally and I loved it just as much a second time around.

The reason I read this book in the first place is because I’ve always loved Egyptian history (mainly due to my finding of The Mummy movies when I was only 7 or 8 and my baby gay self falling in love with Rachel Weisz). There isn’t really much fiction based in Ancient Egypt, definitely not the period in which this book focuses on, which upsets me because I do love it so much however it does mean that the few books set in the 18th Dynasty of Egypt hold a very dear place in my heart.

Like I said, very little is known about this period of history in Egypt – only 10% of this book is factual, the rest is educated guesswork and pure fiction. While on a second read I didn’t find the writing quite as good as I did the first time around, I still thought this book was amazing. The period in which it was written was so beautiful and Moran doesn’t skimp on details of art, architecture and how beautiful the country was at the time.

The book also explores the unrest in Egypt with Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s reign. Akhenaten wanted to be known as a builder and is responsible for the city of Amarna, and was also responsible for the religious shift towards monotheism from polytheism (didn’t work, he is known as a Heretic King). The book is rife with family politics, wars on the verge of breaking out – and it’s around these themes that the book is ultimately based.

I wouldn’t be the first, nor will I be the last, to bring up the likeness of this book to The Other Boleyn Girl. I haven’t read that book in a long time, but ultimately this book is written through the eyes of the overlooked sister of a Queen. Mutnodjmet is an endearing character when compared to her sister Nefertiti and I think that is ultimately what makes this book a lot more compelling to read. Through her sisters eyes you get a very different insight in to the life of the Female Pharaoh – while she was portrayed as a conceited, beautiful girl she was also strong willed, ambitious and ultimately an incredible Queen when out of the grasp of Akhenaten.

I really loved this book. It isn’t a literary masterpiece, but it is definitely still up there as one of my favourite books and reminded me why I love historical fiction so much. It isn’t going to be long before I revisit others of Moran’s books (and maybe visit some for the first time) as I just love the way she writes.

Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

032 - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

032 - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Rating – 5*

I have been desperately in the mood for comfort lately, and when I feel like that I feel the urge to reread. With the third book in the Wayfarers series coming out in July I decided on a cold Saturday afternoon to curl up with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and reintegrate myself with the absolutely wonderful cast of characters and world that Becky Chambers created. I didn’t regret it for one second.

Since I first read this in 2016 I have wanted to reread it. Finally doing that was on a par with rereading Harry Potter, if not better. Reconnecting with the characters in here was much like that catch up you have with old friends you haven’t seen in a couple of years – and you can just pick up where you left off.

For anyone who hasn’t read this book before, a quick summary. We follow the crew of a spaceship called The Wayfarer. The ships job is to create links between areas of the cosmos many lightyears apart – they tunnel. On this ship you have the most incredibly diverse range of characters and personalities, and each of them you fall in love with a little bit. Rosemary is the “main” character – she’s the new girl, and is essentially how we as a reader experience the space they find themselves in as it is her first time up there too. If you as a reader are unsure of something, Rosemary is probably going to ask the stupid question so you don’t have to. That in itself is a genius technique so we don’t feel so confused as readers. We follow this crew as they cross the cosmos and head towards, you guessed it, an angry planet. A planet which is at war with itself. Along the way we learn so much about each of the characters, and they learn a lot about each other. And it’s beautiful.

Reading it for a second time I picked up so much more of the nuance, more of the depth in the characters, I appreciated the different cultures explored and while I did previously appreciate all of those things I appreciated them so much more. I also really just appreciated the diversity of the characters more on a second read!

One thing that I loved the first time around and loved just as much this time around is how this book focuses on so many different forms of love and family. I still love the idea of feather families – those families you make for yourself – and it gave me the warm fuzzies this time around as it did originally. Yes, I just loved all the relationships and different types of relationship in this book – familial and romantic. It’s just a glorious thing to read.

What I said when I first read it stands – read this book, even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. It’s one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. If you like Vastra and Jenny in Doctor Who, read this. If you enjoyed any sort of space-based TV show (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica etc) read this. It’s not just a great work of science fiction, it’s an incredible work of fiction full stop.

I absolutely cannot wait for the third book set in this world to be released this summer (I have it on preorder already) and I really wish I could experience this book for the first time all over again. I’m really hoping that Netflix pick this up for a series or something because I genuinely believe this is perfect for a series adaptation, and I would absolutely 100% binge watch it.

So yes. If the last 600 words didn’t convince you, please read this book!

Review: Let Them Eat Chaos – Kate Tempest

030 - Let Them Eat Chaos

030 - Let Them Eat Chaos

Rating – 3*

I’ve been really in the mood for poetry as of late, and I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite some time, just waiting for the right moment. I’ve loved both of her previous poetry books. This is going to be a short and sweet review as, honestly, I don’t have much to say on it unfortunately.

This poem – for it’s one long poem much like Brand New Ancients was – was created to be read aloud and I think the fact I didn’t do that is probably the reason I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as her previous poetry work that I’ve read.

The pretext of this is actually quite fantastic – it follows several people in a flat block in South London at 4:18 am. For one reason or another, each of these individuals are awake at this time and we follow their stories as to why. So the premise is good, I just really didn’t enjoy the execution of it.

Unfortunately for me this just missed the mark. I think maybe it’s one of those poems I may have benefited from listening to or reading aloud myself – neither of which I was able to do when I picked it up during an insomnia fuelled night at around midnight! I really didn’t find any way of connecting with this like others have.

I can’t say it was bad because it wasn’t. I think it’s just geared up to a very specific kind of reader and I’m just not that of that kind of reader. At this point I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with her work in the future as both this and her novel missed the mark for me! I guess it’ll be a case of wait and see.

 

Review: Your Soul is a River – Nikita Gil

031 - Your Soul is a River

031 - Your Soul is a River

Rating – 3*

Another day, another review, another book I had high hopes for. After reading only part of Nikita Gill’s second collection – Wild Embers – and falling head over heels in love with it, I bought an eBook copy of her first collection as it isn’t in print in the UK. As with a number of books I’ve read of late, I went in with very high hopes which didn’t quite get met.

This collection is by no means bad. In fact, if I had read this prior to Wild Embers I probably would have enjoyed both collections more. Nikita is an incredible poet; her work is compelling, profound, and very relatable as a reader. It was interesting reading this so soon after reading Wild Embers as I could see so many themes that followed through both collections.

I love the way she’s influenced by science. Science and poetry aren’t things that I would have thought could have been paired so perfectly. In the right hands they’re a match made in heaven and I do truly believe that Nikita’s hands are the right ones. Seeing how her style and writing has developed between the collections is interesting. This collection felt a little rougher, a little more tentative, in Wild Embers it felt like she knew her voice and wasn’t holding back – which is maybe why I enjoyed that more.

Ultimately this collection didn’t resonate with me like her other one did. This felt rougher round the edges – expected as it was her first collection – and a bit more repetitive. I’d still recommend it to anyone who is interested in poetry, as I do think she’s a really good poet to start with as it’s easy to follow and relatable! Overall this was a 3* read for me – but it was a high 3* and it’s definitely a collection I’ll dip in to again in the future.

Discussion: January to March Reading Wrap-Up

Quarter 1 Wrap Up Header

Hello my lovely readers, and welcome to a rather different blog post – and one I haven’t done since August last year – a reading wrap up! I gave up doing wrap ups and TBRs because I wasn’t really reading much towards the end of last year and TBRs weren’t working. However, so far this year I’ve read 37 books. THIRTY SEVEN! I was aiming for 2 books a week to meet my goal of 100 books on Good Reads, but currently I’m on track to read around 150 books if I keep up this pace!

General Statistics:-
As I said, I’ve read 37 books so far this year from January to the end of March. The 37 books total 11,998 pages and it works out at an average of 324 pages per book. Which is crazy. I have a spreadsheet which I’ve been logging my reading on since 2012. In 2012 I was happy to have read that many pages in a year so to think I’ve managed to read that many pages in 3 months is incredible!

Diversity:-
Having participated in femmeuary – reading only female authors in February – I’ve somewhat skewed my author gender data, but as it stands 76% (or 28 authors) have been women so far. I’d rather like to keep up with that balance of around 75% female authors as I’m really enjoying what I’m reading so far, and don’t feel like I’m missing anything out!

I’ve also been trying to read from a more diverse range of authors as, I have noticed, my reading is very white – last year I read only 2 books by non-white authors. 2 books. So this year I’ve already surpassed that as 10 of the books – or 27% – have been from authors of a non-white ethnicity. Obviously it’s not ideal to still be around the 25% mark but it’s still a lot more diverse than my previous 2 years reading and, honestly, I’m loving it!

The Books in General:-
Genre wise – just over 50% of my reading has been non-fiction which is something that’s really surprised me when looking at. I know I’ve been reading more non fiction this year simply because I’ve been enjoying it a lot more. I’ve read several memoirs and thanks to the Wellcome prize I’ve also read a large amount of science non-fiction on top of that. This year I’ve also really been enjoying essays and essay collections so I’m pretty sure there’ll be a good balance of fiction to non fiction going forward. Right now as I write this I’m definitely more in a non-fiction mood than I am fiction and, honestly, I’m loving it!

My average rating is 3.6 if I’ve done my maths correctly. I’ve only had one 1* book, and I’ve had nine 5* books (two of which were re-reads in fairness).

Excluding re-reads, my favourite books I’ve read so far this year have been With the End in Mind for non-fiction and for fiction my favourite so far has to be The Gloaming which I do feel is cheating as it was an ARC and isn’t out until the end of next month, but whatever, my blog means my rules and I loved it.

Going Forward in to April:-
I don’t have much in the way of a TBR as such, but I’d like to keep up what I’m doing – as it stands my books per month have been gradually increasing, and while I’m aware it’ll plateau and probably dip at some point, I’d quite like it to keep quite steady at the 10 books a month area. One thing I want to do though is keep the fiction/non-fiction balance at around the 50/50 mark because honestly I am really, really enjoying non fiction lately and I have a lovely little collection of books on gender studies and feminism which I really want to get around to more of over the next few weeks!

If there’s anything anyone would like to see on the blog I’d love to hear from you. I want to do more chatty posts like this, because I feel that I’ve been banging out reviews one after the other (roughly at 1 every 3 days or so at the moment) and not really having time to just blog about reading in general.

I hope you’re all having as productive a reading year as I am so far. Feel free to send me recommendations, on here or on goodreads, as I said I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

Review: A Guide to Being Born – Ramona Ausubel

029 - A Guide to Being Born

029 - A Guide to Being Born

Rating – 2*

This is one of those books which has been sitting there, itching to be read, for a number of years. I think I bought this way, way back on a friends recommendation and have had such high hopes for it since that I just didn’t want to pick it up – it wasn’t quite the right time.

I think I may have gone in to this book with expectations far too high because, well, I didn’t enjoy it. Ausubel’s writing is beautiful, there’s no escaping that. How she uses language, her turns of phrase, her imagery and atmosphere is incredible but the actual stories as separate entities? Those I didn’t enjoy so much.

So many reviews of this collection say that they (as readers) were swept up in her worlds, and loved the creativity and whimsy of what she created. Said that stories in here were beautiful. For me, I didn’t get that. Some of the stories physically repulsed me – and I get that that was the intention, to blur those lines between reality and fiction, to have questionable ethics and plots to make you think. But, honestly, some of it for me went too far over the line for me to enjoy.

I so wanted to love this book, but in the end I carried on reading out of a sense of obligation. Not because I necessarily wanted to. I hoped – fruitlessly – that I would find that story in here, that one that made me forget all the faults and issues I had, the one that swept me up and made me love this collection as everyone else on my GoodReads friends list seems to. But it didn’t happen. The stories did get better, but not enough for me to recall them at any given moment – never mind a week after the event in a review! And the stories I do remember I don’t particularly wish I could, I wish I could erase them from my memory.

As I said, Ausubel is clearly a talented writer to evoke this emotion from me – because I don’t think I’d feel so passionately about a book being packed full of stories I disliked if I hated the writing. I’d have just thrown it to one side and forgotten about it. But, with this book, I didn’t feel I could do that. Only go in to this book with a strong stomach and preparation that it isn’t quite the ‘Cath Kidston’ of short story collections like many of the reviews make you believe.

Review: Behave – Robert Sapolsky

028 - Behave

028 - Behave

Rating – 3*

This was another book on the Wellcome longlist, and one that as soon as I read about I knew I wanted to read. It was possibly one of the more difficult books to read – it came in at around 800 pages with footnotes and appendices – and while not easy to read, it certainly was an enlightening one.

The first 100 pages are essentially a neuroscience and behaviour primer. To understand the rest of the book, it’s essential to grasp the basics. I appreciated this as I have not done any neuroscience, or behavioural science, ever. The book spans history, and how our brains have influenced behaviour – and how we’ve learnt from history too.

There are sections on many controversial topics, and while I don’t agree with his politics or his view points on many of them, he does at least attempt to give both sides of an argument. I found the chapter on crime and punishment fascinating, how we deal with criminals, and criminal behaviour and how that links in to their own biochemistry. Also, a rather controversial topic is youth offenders – can we really punish them as adults when the prefrontal cortex of their brain hasn’t fully developed until early to mid-twenties? The prefrontal cortex is the region of the brain which deals with reasoning and logic. It doesn’t skirt around difficult topics, that much is sure.

Where his passions really shone through is in the area he is famous for – primate behaviour. I know nothing about this area, but one of my friends is an anthropologist and when she found out I had this book was itching to get her hands on it (so she’s borrowing it!) as his research on primate behaviour is internationally renowned. Having had her explain things to me, and then reading this book, I think I understand why she likes him so much as an author because the bit of the book on that subject was possibly one of the more readable sections!

Of all the books I’ve read for the prize (and I succeeded in all but one of the longlist), this was certainly the most academic of them. In parts it read a bit too much like a textbook, which is why I found myself drifting in and out of focus while reading it, and why I ultimately gave it only 3 stars. It isn’t that it is bad, it’s that it’s dense – it’s a very, very vast topic and it’s dealt with incredibly well. It’s just dense. I don’t think it’s fair for me to judge this book on my reading experience – the content was incredible, the writing was good, but my attention span waned and that’s my reasoning for 3 stars.

I think if this book were to be released as an audiobook, I’d jump on it because I do think I’d be able to take a hell of a lot more in that way! Come the 200 page mark I was itching for an audio version of this book – and unfortunately it doesn’t exist on Audible UK!

Needless to say, I had my issues with this book. It wasn’t bad, it was just clunky! Definitely one which will be better on audio, and definitely one to be read slowly. Even over 10 days I think I may have read it too fast!