You Can’t Touch my Hair – Review

You Can’t Touch My Hair is the first book from stand-up comedian Phoebe Robinson, and an impressive one at that. Phoebe shares her experiences as a Woman of Colour, both in the media and in her everyday life. We learn about her experiences as a student, her work on tv sets, shopping, and dealing with her hair. While I consider myself relatively well-informed on a lot of issues which affect women of colour, each section of this book taught me even more and made me realise things I’d been blind to as a result of my privilege. One of the really strong elements of this essay collection is Phoebe’s recognition of her dual-audience; those that are African-American women, and those that are not. This book is for everyone.

The casual tone of this book was the only negative aspect for me, but that’s a matter of personal taste. Some of the humour didn’t come across as well as I would have expected. However, this was still a fantastic read and lighter anecdotal portions of the book were juxtaposed well with bigotry and Othering.

A highly informative, enjoyable, and important read.

Holding Up The Universe – Review

This Young Adult novel follows two teens who don’t fit in, for very different reasons. Libby Strout is dealing with ongoing grief after the loss of her mother, her father’s grief, and going to a new school when she was once labelled ‘America’s Fattest Teen’. Jack Masselin is popular at school but has a secret: he can’t recognise faces. Not even those he is closest to, like his mother and brother. The two teens become tangled up in a cruel high school game, which lands them in group counselling together and they form an unlikely friendship.

I had a number of issues with this novel. While it did appear that Niven researched the difficulties of both individuals well, they seemed to be their only characteristics. They were defined by their weight and prosopagnosia. I cannot recall any other traits that either character had. In fact, it seems the two characters are drawn to each other purely because the author has decided to put them together. By that I mean that I didn’t believe the romance, because there was absolutely no chemistry between the Jack and Libby. Their position as outsiders is used by the author as a vehicle for a stereotypical angst-ridden romance. This novel was not believable.

A disappointing read.

Born a Crime – Review

8Born a Crime is a truly fantastic memoir from The Daily Show host Trevor Noah. This book chronciles Noah’s childhood and adolescence in South Africa beginning with his birth, which gives the book its name. Noah is mixed race, born at a time when sexual relationships between white people and black people was illegal; he was born a crime. This led to a number of difficulties throughout his life; he was too white to hang out with black kids, and too black to hang out with white kids. Yet, Noah grew up surrounded by black people and culture, and found it difficult to understand why he wasn’t readily accepted by his peers.

Noah is a truly fantastic story-teller, blending the serious topics of race, bigotry, prejudice, and feminism, with his brilliant sense of humour. Anyone familiar with his comedy will recognise this quality. His voice shines through his writing. However, while we may come to this book for Noah’s story, the truly fascinating individual of Born a Crime is his mother. Noah’s relationship with his mother was paramount in this life, and when you read this book you will understand why. She was a remarkable woman.

The book skips around a lot in time frame, and often it was very unclear what age Noah was in particular sections, and this is my only criticism of Born a Crime. It is an absolutely brilliant read, and I am reluctant to paraphrase any of the remarkable stories he tells, because I will do them no justice. This is a book I want to put in the hands of everyone I know. It is intelligent, it is funny, and above all; Born a Crime is important.

Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith

books4As readers, we understand the profound importance of the public library as a place of education, enjoyment, community, and discovery, and that is exactly what this short story collection celebrates. With widespread cuts being forced upon one of the most wonderful traditions I’ve ever known, Ali Smith joins the campaign to save our public libraries.

This collection is filled with an admiration for reading, books, and words, celebrating how the affect and impact our lives, how they shock us, challenge us, and shape us. As ever, Ali Smith leaves the reader with those very shaping, challenging, and shocking moments, forcing the reader to pause and take notice of what has just been said. Moments of insight and observation are seen throughout the collection.

Each story is prefaced with an opinion piece, from Ali herself and other authors, poets, etc. Each of these short pieces were powerful and important reads, filled with an outpouring of respect and admiration for the public library. It truly emphasised their profound importance.

A fantastic read for all who love literature.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

books7Told retrospectively by her older self, Eileen follows a 24-year-old woman who is consumed by self-loathing and perverse fantasies. She spends her days working in a boys’ prison and her evenings/nights taking care of her alcoholic father and shoplifting to get her kicks. The novel is filled with graphic and disgusting descriptions of Eileen’s dreadfully low hygiene standards, and her morally vile thoughts. This is not a read for those who are easily repulsed!

There isn’t too much plot involved in this novel, it is far more accurate to describe Eileen as a character study. We follow Eileen’s growing obsession with the prison’s new counsellor and her gradual involvement with this woman leading her down her darkest path yet, constantly in her retrospective thoughts. However, for this reason, we are at a distance from the action, and the book is filled with telling rather than showing. Of course, the narrator is highly unreliable.

The end of the novel is where we are most present in the action, and I found this section far more interesting than previous sections. However, the twist was not as shocking or gripping as I would have liked. I was left disappointed.

Overall, this book was a decent and promising debut novel, but a forgettable one.

As I Descended – Review

Book: As I Descended
Author: Robin Talley
Publisher: Harlequin (UK) Limited / Mira Ink
Star Rating: 2.75/5 Stars

Upon hearing the premise of this novel I could not resist reading, despite my apprehension towards Talley’s writing. I read What We Left Behind earlier this year and was left quite disappointed. However, I pushed that apprehension aside and my hopes remained high as I went into As I Descended.

This Young Adult novel is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in a high school, so understandably I was terribly excited to see how well the adaptation was executed. Not only that, but Talley makes her usual efforts to include diversity in the novel. Maria and Lily, our Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, are a same-sex couple, one of whom is Hispanic, one of whom is disabled. Supporting charbooks5acters are also on the LGBT+ spectrum. Talley’s inclusion of a wide range of characters is extremely important.

However, as with What We Left Behind, there were moments in the novel where particular lines didn’t sit quite right with me. Talley attempts to juggle so many balls that it is glaringly obvious when she drops one.

Further, the difficulty in writing a Shakespeare adaption is that readers who are familiar with the original will know what’s coming next. As a result of this, I found the plot incredibly boring. Likewise, the characters paled in comparison to the characters they are based on. I felt very little attachment to any of them, which is a stark contrast to my adoration of the play. I did, however, appreciate the little references throughout, and found the modern equivalent of names amusing. I wonder if a reader without knowledge of Macbeth would differ in opinion.

I wish this was a movie. I could easily imagine it as a film, up there with 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s The Man as fun, modern, Shakespeare adaptations. However, it didn’t work as a novel, in my opinion.

Pure – Review

Book: Pure
Author: Andrew Miller
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton / SceptreBooks5.png
Star Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Andrew Miller’s sixth novel, Pure, is a piece of historical fiction which takes place in Paris in 1785. Jean-Baptiste Baratte is summoned to the Palace of Versailles and commissioned to demolish an ancient cemetery and the countless bodies there. While this is done in order to ‘purify’ the land, it only creates an incredibly vile stench from the decomposed bodies.

Personally, I did not enjoy the plot of this novel very much. I didn’t find it particular cultivated and, quite frankly, I was bored by the characters. HOWEVER, I feel this is a very subjective and personal opinion. In all honesty, I’m not that interested in French history.

What I did enjoy about this novel was the staggering and impressive literary techniques used throughout. Miller seamlessly incorporates historical details which evoke the time-period in which the novel is set, food for instance. Similarly, he uses clothing to subtly tell us about his characters’ social class. For instance, Jean-Baptiste transforms himself into an urban sophisticate through his tailored green suit. The theatre section of the novel is a particularly strong moment.

Miller also masterfully makes use of the sense of irony that often comes with historical fiction; the reader knows what happens next. He paints an evocative picture of the sick society, new ideas, and social unrest, which lead to the French Revolution. Likewise, his use of symbolism is a truly fantastic element of the novel. Watch out for The Palace, the elephant, the church, and of course, the cemetery.

This novel wasn’t for me, but as I said, this is a personal opinion. However, if French historical fiction is something you are drawn to, I am certain that you would be enthralled by this book. The skill used in this novel continues to impress me, even long after I’ve read it.

The Trouble With Women – Review

Book: The Trouble With Women
Author: Jacky Fleming
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Star Rating: 4/5Books7.jpg

The Trouble With Women is an amusing, informative, and thoroughly brilliant little read. It was hilariously sarcastic and witty, without forgetting the real seriousness of its subject matter: the oprrssion and erasure of women throughout history.

Each page features a quote, anecdote, or observation, accompanied by an illustration. We hear about the ridiculous things that have been said about women throughout history, for instance, Charles Darwin thought women were feeble with small heads, and therefore didn’t have large enough or capable brains. We also discover many fantastic women from history, most of whom I had never heard of, and that’s exactly the point Fleming is making. These women include Eliza Greer, Margaret Bulkley, and many many more.

My personal favourite observation was Fleming’s comments on ‘genius hair’, but I shall leave that for you to discover yourself if you decide to pick up this book. It’s short, it’s quick, it’s brilliantly funny, and it’s important. A fantastic source of both amusement and information. Would highly recommend.

Lucy and Linh – Review

Book: Lucy and Linh
Author: Alice Pung
Publisher: Random House Childrens
Star Rating: 3.25/5

There are a staggering number of positive elements to this Young Adult contemporary novel. Refreshingly, there is no dominant romance plot, it focuses on social issues, features a ‘why didn’t I see that?!’ twist.

Through a serBook4ies of letters to a mysterious friend named Linh, we follow Lucy Lam, a Chinese-Vietnames refugee who goes to a Catholic school in Melbourne. However, Lucy is awarded a scholarship which enables her to attend the private school Laurinda. Lucy never quite manages to fit in, and observes the strange social hierarchy as an outsider.

I am very pleased to say that this book deals with a number of social issues, including racial prejudice and class prejudice. These elements of the story were executed well and are a valuable and important addition to the novel. Pung demonstrates the ridiculous racial stereotyping that girls of Asian heritage go through in Australia. She likewise highlights the vast economic difference between the classes.

However, I did have some issues with this book. Essentially, a book which had  all the hallmarks of something I would adore was let down by writing which left much to be desired. I found the Mean Girls element of the novel to be rather unrealistic, and while I thought it was important to highlight the unfair way in which teenage girls often treat young male teachers, this simply seemed too far-fetched. Though, I have never been to a private school in Melbourne.

Further, while the twist did evoke the wonderful ‘why didn’t I see that?!’ twist, in hindsight, I don’t think it was crafted brilliantly. I’m not sure why it was necessary and while I understand the author’s intentions with her technique, there could have been a better alternative which conveyed the same message.

Overall, I thought this was a good book, and a good starting point if you are interested in learning more about the cultures featured in the novel. Was it brilliant? No. Had it encouraged me to pick up more Asian-Australian work? Most certainly!

Glass Sword – Book Review

Books: Glass Sword
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Publisher: Orion Publishing
Star Rating: 3/5cover90677-medium.png

Glass Sword picks up straight after the ending of Red Queen. Mare and Cal are being hunted by Maven, the new King of Norta. The race to find the New Bloods, red-blooded people with silver powers, is on. The theme of trust that begun in the first novel is carried through to the second, with Mare unsure of who is truly on her side, as well as the love square. However, I found both much sloppier in this novel. As a general point, Glass Sword suffered from ‘Second Book Syndrome’. It was unnecessarily action-heavy, the characters unoriginal and inconsistent, and the explanations were unclear. For a 400+ page novel, very little plot actually takes place. The majority of the novel is exposition and, quite frankly, poor description.

Nonetheless, I hope that the final book in the series will restore my love of Red Queen. The primary situation which Aveyard sets up in the first novel is enough to encourage me to find out how the adventures conclude!