#Book Review: Bitch Doctrine by Laurie Penny

bitch doctrineThis was a weird book to read on honeymoon I guess, but that’s how I roll.  Laurie Penny is a brilliant writer, and while I don’t always completely agree with her I love how her white hot passion for equality and her humour jump off the page. This is not a boring treatise, or a dry feminist tract, this is a collection of writing on a variety of subjects ranging from reactions to the US Presidential Campaign in 2016 to transgender rights to online bullying that reads like a page turner.

“When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like prejudice.”

 It will come a surprise to no one that I consider myself a feminist, and I have read a lot of books on the subject. As a result, I can’t say that I learned much I didn’t know from this book – but many people would, and I can highly recommend it on that basis. For readers like myself, to whom the content may not be news per se, I can assure you it is still a brilliantly engaging read that will remind you why you think the way you do. Penny is eminently quotable. Seriously I highlighted so much of the book it would have been easier to highlight what I didn’t like. This is the best form of polemical writing – thoughtful yet action orientated, engaging, and darkly humorous. Read it!

Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults is published by Bloomsbury Circus. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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#Book Review: Indelible by Adelia Saunders

IndelibleI was fascinated by the premise of this debut novel, where a young Lithuanian woman named Magdalena is trying to escape an unusual gift/curse. She can see words written on people’s skin – banal details or profound warnings – and she moves to a country where she can’t speak the language to get some respite from the onslaught of information. As she slowly learns English, she stops wearing her glasses in an attempt to avoid the words on faces and resorts to stumbling around short-sightedly rather than seeing clearly.

I expected the novel to follow Magdalena exclusively, but her story is mixed with two others – Neil, a history student who has Magdalena’s name written under his eye; and his father Richard, who is haunted by a memory of his mother visiting him as a child, even though all the biographers of the now famous writer and beauty say she abandoned him as a baby refusing to ever look at him. The linkages between their lives are developed as the book progresses.

I’ll be honest, I never much cared for Richard, and his passages dragged the novel down for me. Even though he had a better storyline than Neil, he was such a needy drip that I couldn’t warm to him or care about the ‘mystery’ of his mother. I would have liked to have spent more time with Magdalena; her beautiful tragic friend Lena; her mother and her grandmother and left the boys out of it. There is some great writing here, but there is also a lot of meandering and loose ends. It is worth reading, but I can’t say that I was wholly satisfied. That said – the premise was intriguing, the parts I enjoyed were excellent, poignant and haunting. I will be keeping an eye on what this author produces next.

Indelible is published by Bloomsbury. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

#Book Review: Operation Trumpsformation by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly

Op TrumpI’m not sure how popular Ross O’Carroll-Kelly is ‘out foreign’, but since 1998 this satirical creation of journalist Paul Howard has been shining a spotlight on Ireland’s society through the privileged lens of a rich Dublin southside rugby player. This is the fourteenth book in the series (and the RO’CK juggernaut isn’t only books) so he is definitely doing something right, and the formula remains in place for this latest outing.

There’s plenty to take offence at (Ross is still deeply unpleasant and that’s just the start of it) and plenty to laugh at too. Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum; gender identity; Trump and Brexit are all key parts of this particular mix, plus causal references to Irish celebs (“the Happy Pear goys, Vegward I call them”). I confess I had fallen out of touch with the character for his last couple of outings, and reading this book reminded me how funny he can be. If you are a RO’CK fan you will love this; if you are new to him it’s as good a place as any to start.

Operation Trumpsformation is published by Penguin Ireland. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

#Book Review: The Gingerbread House – Kate Beaufoy

the_gingerbread_house_1I read this little gem months ago and am shamefully only getting to writing the review now. This is a deceptively simple tale of teenage Katia, unable to help her family as her recently unemployed mother moves in with her aged grandmother as her carer to save money. We see the family through Katia’s eyes – how desperately her mother missed her father during the week; how cruel the toll of dementia is on an individual and their loved ones; and slowly as the book evolves we uncover another tragedy that sheds light on why a profound sadness is just below the surface in every interaction.

The Gingerbread House is gentle yet gripping – I had to find out what was going to happen, even though much of the book is a skilful capturing of moments and character development rather than driving plot. Little details are softly devastating “On the table next to her is a large-print book, a glasses case and a magnifier. Granny doesn’t read anymore, but she likes to pretend she can. She wears a wrist watch so that she can tell the time, but because she can’t decipher the numerals the time for Granny is always day or dark night or the dusky in-between”. Katia is a beautifully drawn character, and I loved getting to know her. This is a bittersweet, but ultimately life-affirming story, and I highly recommend it.

The Gingerbread House is published by Black & White publishing. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

#Book Review: The Many Selves of Katherine North – Emma Geen

9781408858431This book has such an original concept, so well executed, that I can’t believe I haven’t heard more hype about it. In a bleak near future, Katherine ‘Kit’ North is a nineteen-year-old woman who has been working for seven years as a phenomenaut. Her role is to project her consciousness into the bodies of lab grown animals to study creatures in their natural settings, and the ‘plasticity’ of brain required to do this usually only exists for a short time in young teenagers. When we first meet Kit, she is a fox, and throughout the book we experience several glorious sections of total immersion in another environment as Kit embodies creatures from whales to snakes. However, Kit has begun to have doubts about the ethics of her company, and embarks on a dangerous investigation in the ‘real’ world.

At the moment of projecting consciousness into another creature, phenomenauts experience ‘Sperlman’s Shock’ – a painful sensory overload and panic as they adjust to their new forms. One of the best elements of the book is the bleeding of the rich life of any other being to the paucity of reality for humans “where Sperlman’s Shock is temporary torture, Come Home is insidious chronic doubt”. Kit’s identity crises readjusting to the human world will resonate with anyone who struggles to feel at home where they are supposed to belong.

“I weave through the morning commute. The humans here always strike me as improbably perpendicular, every chin thrust out with the confidence of a silverback. What is it that gives them such assurance? As if they’re all alphas. A suited man jostles past and I bare my teeth at his glare. This is what the city reduces you to – meat, meat that’s in the way”.

The Many Selves of Katherine North is more of a psychological book than it is purely science fiction, but the best speculative fiction is always more than the setting. This is a skilful examination of empathy and the capacity of the written word (and perhaps ultimately technology) for embodied simulation. As Kit’s perception of the world begins to fragment, the narrative of course becomes more disjointed and paranoid – but in a completely convincing way. This book deserves to be more widely read, and I look forward to more from Emma Geen.

The Many Selves of Katherine North is published by Bloomsbury Circus. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Moonglow – Michael Chabon (book review)

26795307I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced copy of this book, but waited until I reread on holiday to review. I have to put in a disclaimer – I love Michael Chabon. Love him. Except Telegraph Avenue, the last of his I read before this. The problem with loving an author is that you get really nervous about their new books (what if I hate this one? What if I hate it so much it puts me off all the previous ones?!) and so I wanted to be sure that I really did love Moonglow and didn’t just feel relief that he had returned to glowing form.

Moonglow begins with an author’s note that states “I have stuck to facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it”. The book blends facts and fiction as a writer called Mike Chabon listens to the deathbed confessions of his grandfather in this novel/memoir hybrid that unfurls in no particular chronological order and plays with our perspective at every turn.

This is not a dry exercise in literary fiction however, showcasing technical skill with no soul. We come to care deeply for the characters, and despite hurtling from Baltimore to Florida to Germany to a New York prison, forward and back from the 1940s to the present, it all feels effortless and surefooted. Chabon has such a particular way of describing objects vividly, and occasional sentences that stop the heart “She was always threatening rain; he had been born with an umbrella in his hand”.

If I had to sum this book up in one word it would be ‘Chabonesque’ – a stunning return to form from one of my all-time favourite authors.

Moonglow is published by 4th Estate (Harper Collins). I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A History of Running Away – Paula McGrath

41DUL6765KL._SY346_Three women: Jasmine, running away from her drunken mother in rural Ireland in the early 1980s; Ali, an American teenager whose mother has just died tragically, and an unnamed doctor in Dublin, torn between her career and her commitment to care for her elderly mother.  I’m not sure whether it’s a pattern becoming entrenched in writing generally, or just a fluke occurrence in many of the books I have read recently, but here we have another narrative following three different characters until it is revealed how their lives intersect. This book falls into this category, but while we might sometimes have preferences across three equal stories in this book it feels as though the author has a favourite child, and only Jasmine’s story is given sufficient room to breathe.

Jasmine’s story is rollicking, with tense and gritty scenes in London and Dublin, although there are shades of Million Dollar Baby in the boxing mentoring storyline that develops, and a coach who is a tad too pure and wise to ring true. The central female characters are the best written, but among the various people who cross their paths Aidan (a truly horrible, uniquely Catholic sanctimonious git) is particularly well drawn.  The scenes relating to the horror that is the mother and child homes that are a shame on Ireland’s history are also deftly evoked. While there are elements of this book I liked, it felt very uneven – much like an actual braid, if one of the three strands is thicker it all starts to fall apart.

A History of Running Away is published by John Murray. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.