Discussion: Rating Systems for Books

Hello Bookworms!

I recently found a super interesting post (and subsequent Twitter thread) about star ratings for books. The original post was “Rating My Books” by Martjin Hartman (@MartjinHartman) on his blog thedaybeforeyoucame.com. The post really made me think about how I apply ratings to my own book reviews and how much use they really are. I hope Martjin doesn’t mind me using his blog as inspiration but I had quite a few thoughts of my own that I wanted to share…

In the original post, Martjin asked if there was a better system than a one to five number rating. Now, I’ve seen a lot of you use different ways to rate books – everything from breaking down the book into constituent parts (characters, plot etc.) then working out an average (3.7686543 out of 5!) to using letters (B+ etc.) to ignoring star (or heart, or bananas) ratings entirely. But which way is best? FIGHT!!! Let’s discuss…

If you use a rating system, they can be arbitrary, entirely dependant on your mood at the time and can seem crass if you’re talking about a book that covers a sensitive topic (these war poems were great! Five stars!). You also have the issue of interpretation, where you might see two stars as ok-ish but others may think that you mean terrible. One way round that could be to publish a disclaimer explaining your rating system but I don’t think many people will go searching for it before reading your review. 

Not using a rating system seems like an obvious solution but I quite like having a numeric distillation of my thoughts and feelings – not least because it allows me to easily identify which books I loved/hated for end of year stats!

Now, I don’t want to get too philosophical here but I do think there’s an overarching issue with rating systems that I’ve struggled to get my head around and that’s who is this rating actually for? Obviously, I’m going to rate a book based on my experience of it but because a numerical rating can be taken so out of context it does feel I’m saying 4/5 stars – read this book! or one star – this book is awful! when actually what I’m saying is I liked/disliked this book and if you’re like me, you might enjoy/not enjoy it too. That’s an incredibly difficult idea to convey using quantitative data.

For example, my last review (The Secret Loves of Geek Girls) was really difficult to write and score. I know that I’d absolutely recommend the book to certain people because it’s a well written, fun anthology but I personally failed to connect with it. I didn’t want to put anyone off reading it by giving a low rating, but equally to score it highly would be disingenuous. What number out of five can you give to reflect that? 

The answer is…I don’t know. There are so many problems with rating systems and yet I still kind of like them. Personally, I favour the use of half stars to give a bit more variance but I do tend to stick to the 1-5 rating system (1=terrible, 2.5=average, 3=good, 5=OMG-couldn’t-put-it-down-got-completely-lost-in-it-didn’t-realise-it’s-now-2am). However, I think that slapping a number on a book without somehow showing my working out is a bit, well, arbitrary so I also include a little summary passage explaining my reasons (including whether I think this is a great for you but not for me book). 

AND THAT’S THE BEST I’VE GOT. It’s not perfect (don’t get me started on whether to round up or down half stars for NetGalley/Goodreads or what to do with books I’ve DNF’d) but it seems to work for me.

So, what rating system do you use – if you use one at all? Have you encountered any of the problems that I’ve mentioned above? Let me know in the comments!

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Review: The Secret Loves of Geek Girls by Hope Nicholson

Genre: Comic, Anthology

Similar to: Like an old fashioned Annual but without the puzzles

Could be enjoyed by: Geeks!

Publication date: 9th December 2015

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls is a non-fiction anthology of prose, comics and illustrations from lots of different contributors (including Margaret Atwood and Marjorie Lin) about their own personal experiences of love. The contributors are super diverse, so there’s stories of queerness, asexuality, polyamory, unrequited love, love of fictional characters, friendships…pretty much every type of relationship that you can think of from people of all different backgrounds. With all of the contributors being self confessed geeks, the stories reference various nerdy pastimes such as fandoms, cosplay and online gaming, with overarching themes of not fitting in, not being interested in traditional “girl” stuff, being an awkward obsessive with a whole secret life that no-one else gets. Stuff that I think a lot of us can relate to.

However…

There was something that didn’t quite click with me and this book. I’m not sure if it was because I found it to be quite US/Canada centric or because I’d never had any kind of super intense relationship with a book/film/comic but I couldn’t see myself reflected in any of the stories. Yes, I could relate to some of the more general themes but because the contributions were so specific it was difficult to see my own brand of geeky weirdness being represented. 

I loved the diversity of the contributors and the attempts to be as broad in scope as possible but I did feel like this resulted in a bit of a mish mash of topics. I think the problem is that the world of geekery is so vast that trying to collect individual experiences and collating them without a strong central theme, or grouping them into sub-topics or whatever was always going to result in quite a jarring reading experience. 

Another issue for me was the short story format that was the basis of the book. Many of the contributions featured such niche interests that for someone outside of that world it could be a little confusing. Some of the terms used were unfamiliar to me and at times I didn’t quite understand what was going on.

Overall, I think that this is a classic case of great for you, but not for me. I’m sure that if you’ve got a particular geeky interest and you see yourself reflected in some of the stories then you’ll absolutely love it, but as someone who hasn’t experienced that world I didn’t quite connect.

Rating: Two and a half “wtf does that mean?” out of five.

 A mixed bag of stories made for a slightly jarring but nonetheless interesting reading experience. I’m just not the right target market for the book.

Viewpoint: Overused Phrases in Book Blogging

Hello bookworms!

I saw a discussion recently about well used phrases in book blogging and it got me thinking. I’m well aware that a lot of the time, I use the same descriptors over and over in my reviews (I also use far too many dashes like a poor man’s Emily Dickinson, but that’s another story). I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing – after all, there’s only so many creative ways to say “I couldn’t put this book down” or “it was a hard read” but I know there’s certain phrases that I try to avoid because for some irrational reason, they really annoy me. Is that weird?

1. Gaiman-esque


As though Neil Gaiman is the only fantasy writer out there. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love most of Gaiman’s work but he seems to be the go-to descriptor for a huge number of books. The annoying thing about this phrase is that Gaiman’s work is so varied that this label gets slapped on pretty much anything that’s a tiny bit sinister but also involves fairies/angels/pantomime villains. Please stop getting my hopes up.

2. Absolutely unputdownable


I said page-turner, not Paige Turner adult actress – honestly, the things you see when you forget to put safe search on.

I am guilty of using this one A LOT (also it’s cousin “an absolute page-turner!) although every time I read it I think “urgh, I sound like a Grazia quote” . Aside from the fact that this is factually incorrect, it just seems like a lazy way of summarising a full on fangirl paragraph about why you loved the book. 

3. The next Harry Potter/Handmaid’s Tale/Hunger Games etc.



I mean, it’s not is it. If it’s so similar to one of the biggest books of a generation it’s just going to be a poor imitation. “The potential to be as big as Harry Potter” is a far more interesting sentence. Top marks if it’s also “Gaiman-esque”.

4. An instant classic



Really? I’m pretty certain that only time will tell what becomes a classic and what falls by the wayside. I see this one far too often for it to have any kind of clout. 

5. I totally shipped the relationship between (insert ridiculously named characters)



…or any other phrases that I’m simply too old to understand. I actually had to ask another blogger what the word “ship” meant in that context and I’m too scared to use it in case I look like someone’s Mum trying to be down with the kids. High five guys…no?

What phrases are you guilty of over-using? What phrase really annoys you? Do you feel like you repeat yourself a lot in your reviews? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

โ€‹“Claim the Stars”

Genre: Sci-fi, YA

Similar to: Illuminae, Top Gun, Star Wars (ish)

Could be enjoyed by: Nerds ๐Ÿ˜‰

Publication date: 6th November 2018

Brandon Sanderson has always been one of those authors that I’ve put into my mental “must read” category – and then never got round to. He’s one of my friend’s favourite authors so I’ve literally been meaning to read the Mistborn Trilogy for years – it sits there on my Kindle shelf looking at me accusingly – but for some reason I’ve always passed it by. So, I was super duper excited to be approved for his latest novel, Skyward, on NetGalley because I thought the addition on a deadline would FINALLY spur me on.

My initial reaction after reading the book is WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG??? Skyward is excellent. I mean really, really good. It made me laugh out loud, it made me cry (something I always say books never make me do, although I’ve written that three times in the past few months) and it made me feel like an idiot for not picking up Mistborn when my friend (and about thirty bloggers) told me to. Sorry guys!

Skyward is the story of Spensa who lives on the planet Detritus, which, as the name suggests, is a junk planet abandoned by it’s previous inhabitants. She was born there to a family who were crew members on a fleet of spacecraft that crash landed on Detritus following a battle with their enemies, the Krell aliens. The survivors created a subterranean world for themselves but faced aeriel attacks from the Krell. They began building spaceships to fight back and as the daughter of a previously disgraced pilot, all that Spensa wants is to sign up to fight. Those in charge, however, have other ideas.

The first thing that struck me about the novel was just the way that it was written. As someone who often takes a little while to settle in to a book (as you can tell from the number of dashes and brackets in my reviews, my internal monologue never shuts up) I read the first fifteen pages without even realising. The novel zooms along with it’s overburners on fire, excitement and adventure on every page. I loved how the answers to my questions were slowly revealed, without any boring info-dumps or obviously fortuitous events. The narrative flowed seamlessly, even through the technical details of how to fly a spaceship. I was hooked from the first sentence to the last.

I loved how all of the characters were depicted in the book, with complex personalities and hidden motivations. Each of them had good and bad traits that often led to errors of judgement or bad behaviour, especially as they were all acting in a highly pressurised environment. I really enjoyed seeing how the characters interacted with each other; arguing, vying for position and using petty insults to cover up the fact that they were all just scared. Psychologically, it was really interesting to see how they used their own quirks to figure each other out and how their diversity eventually became a strength *suppresses urge to spout boring group development theory*.

Unusually for a sci-fi novel (especially one written by a man) the book is pretty female centric and I loved that the female representation was just…there. There was no political point, no-one in the story told Spensa she couldn’t be a pilot because she was a girl – indeed, the head of the defensive federation is a woman and the pilots seemed to be a 50/50 mix of men and women. The book could do easily have gone down the Handmaid’s Tale route, forcing women to keep popping out babies in order to ensure the survival of a small population against a vast number of enemies but Sanderson clearly chose to make Spensa his rebellious MC for reasons other than her gender. I personally found this a refreshing change (and I say that as a feminist – I just think that trope has been done too many times).

I also really, really loved the fact that there was no bloody romance taking up space in the life of a girl who simply wanted to kill space aliens and avenge the death of her father. It was soooo great not to have to deal with cringey teenage attempts at flirting, although I suspect there might be some of that coming in the next instalment *sigh*. 

I loved how the ending to the novel was so difficult to guess and although I had some idea, it was still a surprise. I’ll try not to give too much away but a certain character reminded me very much of AIDAN from Illuminae so I was kept in my toes wondering if he was a reliable narrator or not – and what bearing that would have on the rest of the story. 

Overall, I loved Skyward from the first sentence to the last. Some parts should have been boring (protracted battle flights filled with technical detail, endless comments about mushrooms) yet somehow Sanderson absolutely chuffing nailed it. 

Rating: ๐ŸŒŸFive “no YOU’RE crying at a talking plane” out of five.๐ŸŒŸ

A fearless main character, a seamless narrative and an unexpected ending made Skyward a fantastic read from start to finish.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! 

Calendar Girls November: Favourite Middle Book in a Series

Hello friends!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls!

Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads. It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favorite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post. 

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

Despite not having finished the trilogy (I’ve just been turned down for the final ARC ๐Ÿ˜ข) I had to choose one of my favourite books of recent years…The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden.


I absolutely adored the first installment of the Winternight trilogy (The Bear and the Nightingale – terrible review from years ago here) but the sequel is where Katherine Arden really hits her stride as an author. 
The Winternight Trilogy is the story of Vasilisa, a young girl living in medieval Russia. She has a quiet life in a rural village, despite the fact that sheโ€™s inherited her motherโ€™s gift to see the spirits that protect their agricultural way of life. As Christianity begins to make the villagers forget their old gods, the power of the good spirits weakens and the village becomes threatened. Vasilisa has to flee her home and immediately stumbles into trouble, being dragged ever deeper into the battle between good and evil. Is she strong enough to protect her people?

There’s a bit of everything in this story. Intrigue, romance, magic…The Girl in the Tower has it all. I think that one of the best things about the book is the usage of language. It is just so. beautifully. written. You could turn to any page and get at least one exquisite quote. I loved how descriptive the storytelling was, and because the novel is set in Russia the dark, snowy environment leant itself perfectly to such a magical, dark fairytale. It was incredibly atmospheric and evocative, and I loved how Katherine Arden wove Russian words into the narrative in such a way that you understood their meaning even though they bore no resemblance to their English counterparts. So clever.

I really noticed the development of the characters from book one and I loved how we got to find out more about each of them now that they had grown up a bit. I was initially worried that this novel would be the awkward middle bit, where everything is set up for a big finale but not much happens, but it isn’t at all like that. Instead, The Girl in the Tower could almost be read as a stand alone novel as it has a proper beginning, middle and end and a narrative arc all of it’s own.

There are so many other brilliant things about this story that I could go on for hours – the use of “real” Russian mythology, the family dynamics, the relationship between Vasya and her horse Solovey…but I would literally be here for days. You should probably just go and read it for yourselves ๐Ÿ˜œ

So, have you read The Girl in the Tower? What would be your Calendar Girls pick? Let me know in the comments! 


Review: Not That Bad ed. Roxane Gay

โ€‹“Dispatches from rape culture”

Genre: Non-fiction, Anthology

Similar to: Nasty Women, Misogynation by Laura Bates

Could be enjoyed by: Enjoy is not the right word AT ALL but this book is so so important it should be read by everyone.

Publication date: 1st November 2018

Wow. This book is like a gut-punch to your emotions. It’s incredibly powerful, often difficult to read but ultimately incredibly important.

Not That Bad is an anthology of #ownvoices stories about rape, assault and harassment. It’s intersectional, featuring people from many different backgrounds (including men and some “household names” that I’d never heard of, but whatever. Not important. The stories are universal). It features a really broad spectrum of experiences (often in quite graphic detail) but also mixes in everyday harassment stories and casual misogyny -and it’s that that makes the book so relatable. It really illustrates how behaviour that we think of as being low-level (or even acceptable) is really the thin end of a wedge that goes from wolf whistles to rape. 

The book focuses on a lot of the issues that rarely gets discussed – coercion, manipulation and abuses of power all feature. It totally breaks down the myth that rape solely consists of a man dragging you into the bushes when you’re walking home at night and the idea that if you didn’t categorically and loudly say the word no then how could anyone reasonably think that you weren’t gagging for it? I really appreciated how the more grey areas of sexual assault were explored and the bravery of the contributors who said “this is what happened and I don’t know if it was rape but I know it was bad”. 

At many times I felt like throwing this book at a wall (if it had been a paperback I would have – you don’t get that excitement with e-ARCs). Weirdly, what got to me the most wasn’t the experiences of the victims but the responses of the people that they told. The title of the book itself refers to how experiences of sexual assault are downplayed – at least you weren’t killed, at least it happened when you were old enough to deal with it, at least he didn’t hurt you, at least you’re ok now. It’s not that bad. That sentiment seemed to be echoed over and over again. Urgh.

What amazed me was the stories about the perpetrators who didn’t feel like they’d done anything wrong. Obviously all of the stories are shocking but the very idea that someone could rape/assault a woman and genuinely not know was mind blowing. The guy who wrote the “sweet” story of hooking up with his girlfriend by carrying her semi-conscious body to the beach to have sex with her was so wrong on so many levels and genuinely made me feel sick. How did we get to a point where young people could think that situation could be construed as romantic?

I think it’s incredibly important for everyone to read this book but I’d highly recommend doing it in small bites. There’s just…a lot. A lot to process. A lot to get mad about. A lot to make you cry. Also, please think carefully about whether the book is going to be triggering for you. It’s pretty graphic and covers a wide range of experiences so do be careful with your mental health. 

Rating: Four and a half “at least you weren’t killed” out of five .

Powerful, upsetting but so, so important. Huge love and respect for everyone that contributed. 

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! I also read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #22 Read an essay anthology.

 

TL;DR October Review

Hello Bookworms!

The clocks have gone back (causing much confusion), the fire is on and the leaves have created a slippery death trap on the steps going up to my front door. It must be October!

I can’t believe that last month I was on a beach in Devon and this month I’m digging out my massive winter coat but I am enjoying the novelty of getting cosy during the dark, cold nights. 

Due to various illnesses and my non-hubs putting his back out lifting a bag of compost – how glamorous – we haven’t done much in the way of leaving the house this month (non-hubs works at a University so we still succumb to freshers flu every year). We have had the damp issue sorted in the other house though and have finished off a few more bits and pieces in the kitchen so a small amount of progress has been made. 

Allotment/garden wise everything has been tidied up and stored away in preparation for the forthcoming cold weather. Due to a labelling error, all of my winter veg have got somewhat mixed up so I have lots of massive unidentified plants romping away. I’ve also got carrots, parsnips and kale still growing (plus a freezer full of beans) so we’re nicely stocked up for the months ahead. 

I’m ploughing ahead with my reading challenges and I’m nearly there with #Read Harder – I’m having a big push next month to finish off what I can (one of the books is Les Mis which I’m trying to read a chapter a day of, so won’t finish that until the end of December). 

Due to my unshakeable belief that since Winter is upon us there’s nothing to do but eat and hibernate, I’ve been quite busy with my blog this month. I wrote a discussion post about whether ARC’s are actually worth it and introduced a new feature called Viewpoint for which I wrote two posts; Top Bookish Podcasts and I’m a Book Blogger, Not A Publicist (which I wrote in response to some nonsense bit of book blogger bashing on Twitter). I also took part in my first blog tour and also the Calendar Girls meme where I chose The Worst Witch as my favourite book with witches.  

I had a bit of a meh month in terms of the books that I reviewed this month but I guess my little run of consistently high ratings had to end eventually. There were a couple of great picks but the rest were pretty dull ๐Ÿ˜‘. They were:

Giant Days by John Allison: Squee! I loved this graphic novel as it gave me such nostalgia for my first few terms at uni. Really enjoyable. Four out of five.

No Tomorrow by Luke Jennings: The second in the series of books that Killing Eve is based on, this was far superior to the initial novel. Still not as good as the TV series but an enthralling page turner in it’s own right. Four out of five.

Dear Mr. Pop Star by Derek and Dave Philpott: I loved this book for it’s innovation, humour and sense of nostalgia. Brilliant -and also a nice stocking filler for Christmas. Four out of five.

The Life and Times of a Very British Man by Kamal Ahmed: I really wanted to like this book but despite a few interesting chapters it was all a bit dull. Two and a half out of five.

Codename: Villanelle by Luke Jennings: The first novel in the series that Killing Eve was based on, this book was a mish mash of four novellas that just didn’t work for me. Watch the TV show instead. Two and a half out of five.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: Could be summed up as “a woman goes for a long walk in incorrect footwear”. I found it all a bit self indulgent. Two and a half out of five.

So that’s October wrapped up! How was it for you? Have you read any of the books I read last month? Are you a Calendar Girl? Follow the links or let me know in the comments!

Discussion: Are ARC’s Actually Worth It?

Potentially unpopular opinion alert….

Recently, I noticed a bit of a trend with my review ratings being higher than normal. Whereas I’m usually pretty stingy when dishing out stars (two and a half is ok, three is good, five has to be earth shattering) I found I was consistently rating books at around the four star mark and one month even had two five star reviews. Unheard of. So what was going on?

I did a bit of light digging and found that my NetGalley deadlines were pretty quiet for the months in question. Hmmm. When I looked closer, I found that I have a tendency to not enjoy NetGalley ARC’s as much as books I’d obtained from other sources (bought as new, bought second hand, borrowed from the library or a friend). That’s odd, right? 

Now, I’m not saying that I haven’t found some amazing novels on NetGalley. A quick flick through my book journal shows brilliant books like Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, The Feather Thief, Bitter and The Woman in the Window all came from there, plus many others. However, I definitely feel like there’s a tendency for me to find an ARC a bit meh. Why?

Well, I guess there’s a pretty slick PR department at NetGalley who are professionals at making books sound A-MA-ZING when in reality, they’re probably not. In my reading life, they’re the only professional source of book marketing that I engage with. The only other thing that comes close is authors or blog tour organisers who directly approach me to review their books. The thing is, a direct email is so much more personal that I’m far, far pickier about participating. I have to be almost entirely sure that I’m going to like the novel before I agree to review it because, well, how super awkward would it be to send a negative review directly to the author or the person who was counting on you for some publicity? I have almost zero qualms about sending a negative review to NetGalley though because it’s so…impersonal. I’m just a random person sending feedback via an intermediary. Nothing ever comes of it so there’s no fear. 

Apart from the marketing angle, I guess the idea of free books gives me a kid-in-a-sweet-shop mentality. I want them all! I was exactly the same when I first bought a Kindle and discovered the Top 100 Free chart. Unlimited free books from the comfort of my home! My dreams have been realised! Then I started reading them and found the quality to be…let’s say variable…trending towards the lower end of the scale (again, not knocking anyone, I’ve found some great free books over the years. They just tend to be few and far between). 

But Lucinda, you use the library! Free books! It’s the same thing, right?

Well actually, no. Firstly, the library doesn’t send you vaguely manipulative emails every five minutes telling you that only 100 people will get to read this book now or give you professional marketing literature about a book that they’ve been told to push. The most you’ll get is a “If you liked this you might like…” or an impartial recommendation. Plus you can still only have six books at a time (presumably to stop people like me with no impulse control from turning up with a wheelbarrow and emptying the shelves). The library exists as a publicly funded entity, NetGalley is a profit making PR firm. 

Major. Difference. 

But you must buy books that you don’t like?

Yes of course but since I’m not a millionaire they tend to be considered purchases. I see buying books as a treat, so I need to choose wisely. I’ll spend far more time looking at reviews, reading synopses and shopping around than I would for an ARC. I mean, I could be spending that money on gin.

So, are you going to stop using NetGalley?

Of course not, I’m not an idiot. Free books, remember?!?

Seriously, I don’t think using NetGalley is a bad idea – on the contrary, it’s a brilliant resource for book bloggers like myself. I’ve found lots of amazing novels through the site and I love it when I find out that my request to read something has been approved. I am going to be more restrained though. I’d like to spend more time on my actual, long-standing TBR instead of succumbing to the latest whim. Boringly Annoyingly As always, it seems like moderation is the key. 

What are your thoughts on sites like NetGalley? Do you find a difference in your enjoyment of ARCs vs bought/library books? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Life and Times of a Very British Man by Kamal Ahmed

Genre: Memoir, Adult Non-Fiction

Similar to: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (minus the humour)

Could be enjoyed by: People interested in a personal experience of immigration, racism and “Britishness”

Publication date: 18th October 2018

You might recognise the name of the author – Kamal Ahmed is the BBC’s Chief Economics Editor. From what I’ve seen of him on TV, he appears to be a nice, polite, slightly nerdy guy who talks a lot about facts and figures…and that’s kind of my problem with his book, The Life and Times of a Very British Man. It’s a well researched, coherent discussion of race, culture and immigration in the 20th and 21st Century but it’s all a bit, well, nice. Everything is written about in a very fair and balanced way (even if some of the statements are pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking) and whilst that makes for some interesting soundbites or perhaps a good newspaper article, reading an entire book which seems to be centred around the idea that racism=bad (and here’s some facts to back it up) can be a tiny bit dull. Like, we know that already. Give me more personal interest.

To be fair, Ahmed does interweave his personal experiences of growing up in 1970’s Britain as the mixed race child of a white British mother and a black Sudanese father but I struggled to connect to his annecdotes. I have a real issue with writers who describe their lives in a very matter of fact way because I find it hard to empathise with them and I personally found the slightly detached writing style didn’t engage me. It didn’t help that facts and figures were so freely sprinkled throughout the text, like a final year student trying to shoehorn in a load of references to their dissertation. I found that the overall effect was one of polite discomfort – a dispassionate cry of “something should be done about this!” but what was lacking was any kind of passion. I wanted more anger, more drama, more discussion of real world implications. Not another statistic from an ONS survey.

There were however some parts of the book that were really gripping. There was a dissection of the Enoch Powell “Rivers of Blood” speech that was very well written and super informative. I’d never even considered the content of the speech before (I literally knew those three words) and it was fascinating to look at the wider political climate at the time it was written and the implications on the rhetoric of politicians today surrounding the issue of immigration. I was also fascinated to read about Ahmed’s trip to Sudan and his feelings about the idea of “going home” to a country that was as alien to him as any tourist. Naively, I expected him to feel some kind of connection to the land, then I realised what a ridiculous notion this is -and started wondering what had informed that view…

Overall, The Life and Times of a Very British Man simply wasn’t for me. It’s well written, well researched and forms a cohesive argument but I struggled to engage with the author. Ironically, if he’d been a bit less British-stiff-upper-lip about the whole thing I perhaps would have enjoyed it more. 

Rating: Two and a half “is that the bloke off the telly?” out of five.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! 

 

Viewpoint: Top Bookish Podcasts

Hello Bookworms! 

Despite the fact that I recently heard someone say “I know they’re old fashioned but I like listening to podcasts” (to which I replied “they’ve literally just been invented”) I thought I’d share the love of my favourite bookish/book based shows. Podcasts have been a complete revelation to me – I listen to them every day and unlike an audiobook they require far less concentration, so I often tune in when I’m pottering round the house, getting ready in the mornings or cooking. I’m always on the lookout for new recommendations so let me know what I’m missing out on in the comments!

In no particular order, my extra special bookish faves are…

1. The Mortified Podcast

This is a brilliant NSFW show where participants read out diary entries from their youth to a live audience – with predictably hilarious results. The diary entries are just SO teenage and feature all of the expected drama, angst and terrible emo poetry that you’d expect. If you ever want to have a good nostalgic laugh then this is the podcast for you.

2. Susan Calman’s Mrs Brightside

Susan Calan is a stand up comedian and wrote the book Cheer up Love about living with depression. In Mrs Brightside, she expands on her own experiences to talk to other comedians about their issues with mental health and discusses their thoughts with warmth and humour. Super interesting, honest and funny (despite the subject matter) I’d highly recommend it. 

3. The Baby-Sitters Club Club

If you were a child of the 80’s and 90’s then you would have been hard pushed to have missed the books of Stoneybrook’s own Ann M Martin. Her ridiculously long running series The Baby Sitters Club had over 200 volumes published between 1986 – 2000 and this podcast aims to discuss each book in turn. That sounds quite dull but the presenters apply a ludicrous amount of clinical dissection to every novel, finding everything from crazy conspiracy theories to religious overtones. My favourite segment is “b-b-b-burn of the weeeek” where the hosts choose the sickest burn they can find. Hilarious!

4. My Dad Wrote a Porno

You’d need to have been living under a rock if you haven’t heard about this podcast but the reputation it’s gained is well deserved. Honestly, I’ve never laughed so hard at something so bad. The basic premise is that James’ dad has written a series of books called Belinda Blinked which are the WORST pieces of erotic fiction ever – that he then reads out to his friends. Cringey, ridiculous and anatomically impossible, the show is definitely NSFW and will make you laugh, exclaim and recoil in horror in equal measure. 

5. Books and Authors

This is the bookish podcast from BBC Radio Four and incorporates the shows A Good Read and Open Book. Depending on which show is featured, it’s either a general chit-chat about all things bookish or a book club style discussion with two celebrity guests about their favourite novels. Highly informative and interesting (even if it can be a bit high brow) this is a great short show to listen to.

What are your favourite bookish podcasts? Do you have any recommendations?  Do you listen to any of the shows that I’ve chosen? Let me know in the comments!