The Return of Mid-Month Mini-Reviews!

Hello Bookworms!

For the first time in what feels like FOREVER I’m returning my previous feature – Mid-Month Mini-Reviews! (Gosh, that’s a lot of hyphens, even for me. Emily Dickinson eat your heart out.)

This, um, year..? I’ve decided to try to tackle my appalling NetGalley backlist so that they don’t banish me from the site entirely. Luckily, I’ve had been given ARC’s of some amazing books through the site (sort of) recently so I get to squee and fangirl all the way through the reviews! Today, I’m looking at non-fiction books from queer authors (yes I meant to post this during Pride month but I got waylaid, ok?)

 

happy fat

Happy Fat by Sophie Hagen

I can’t begin to tell you how much I learnt from reading this book. Sophie Hagen has taken one of the final taboo topics – being fat – and spoken so openly and so beautifully about what it’s like to live in a world that’s constantly treating your size like it’s something that you should definitely, absolutely be ashamed of – regardless of how you feel about yourself. She examines the issue from a variety of different viewpoints, providing her own insights and observations along the way; some of them are funny, some of them heartbreaking but it’s shocking at how aggressively, patronisingly or downright rudely Sophie has been treated.

As a non-fat person, I really appreciated the section where Sophie talked about how to be a good friend to someone who is fat, even though I was cringing at some of the things that I have very definitely said or done in the past and how problematic they are in hindsight.

By the end of this book, I can guarantee that you’ll feel like you’ve had your eyes suddenly opened to just how fat phobic the world actually is (unless of course this is just your lived reality, in which case I apologise for being so blind to it all). Once you’ve read Happy Fat you can’t go back – but I guarantee you’ll be a better person for reading it.

 

The Other Mother by Jen Bristerother

I really loved reading about Jen Brister’s experience of motherhood as “the other mother” – the partner of a woman giving birth to their twins. It provides a totally different perspective on the parenting experience and made me laugh, squirm and never, ever want to have children. Jen doesn’t shy away from the grim realities of motherhood and the *quite literal* amount of shit that having children brings.

What shines through the text is the sheer amount of love that Jen clearly has for her family. From seeing her partner as some kind of breastfeeding goddess (aww) to feeling her heart break a tiny bit every time one of her kids wants to be comforted by his other Mum, the text is imbrued with a sense that, even in the most desperate moments, she wouldn’t change it for the world.

As a child-free person I read this book with a certain amount of smug satisfaction, knowing that I can still go out when I want, book a meal out mere hours before I’m eating, drink too much wine and spend a leisurely day nursing a hangover with no need to get out of bed. I genuinely don’t know how anyone copes with TWO babies let alone one (especially when one of them doesn’t sleep for MONTHS) so I was also left with a huge sense of admiration.

Just don’t read it if you’re pregnant!

 

unicornUnicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi

I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved this memoir – I would have given it six stars if I could. Unicorn is the life story of Amrou Al-Kadhi; growing up in a strict Iraqui Muslim family, battling with the prejudice and racism of public school, dealing with their family’s homophobia to come out as queer and non-binary and finding themselves in their drag alter ego Glamrou (also marine biology and quantum physics seemed to help).

The story has a bit of everything – drama, regret, sadness, anger, love, drugs, loneliness… it’s a real rollercoaster of emotions and my heart went out to Amrou as they were confronted with almost every different type of prejudice that exists – often all at the same time.

As a cis-gendered white woman I found a surprising amount of commonality between Amrou’s feelings growing up and my own (EDIT why do I always write this? I really need to learn that underneath it all, people are all basically the same). In particular, their mother sounds like a Middle Eastern version of my own. I have vivid memories of watching my Mum doing her makeup every morning and tottering round town in stiletto heels and a cloud of hairspray. I could relate to those feelings of power that come from makeup and clothing – the exotic danger of red lipstick and the glamour of an 80’s shoulder pad. Except for me, the thrill of dressing up was seen as cute – for Amrou, it was a shameful betrayal of their culture.

Seeing Amrou battle their own mental health issues to find love and acceptance in the queer drag scene was incredibly uplifting, even though it wasn’t all plain sailing. I loved how Amrou drew strength from the things in their life that they loved to process their own feelings and how this strength formed the basis of a new relationship with their family – especially their Mum. If you’re looking to read an emotional, beautifully written and honest account of how to belong in a world that doesn’t understand you then this is the book for you.

 

Five “Why can’t I be friends with these people?” out of five for them all!

 


Please note that I read these book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley. Thanks NetGalley!

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Review: Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton

‚ÄčGenre: Memoir, Autobiography.

Similar to: Well, it’s a celebrity memoir so…all the other celebrity memoirs?

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of Dolly Parton, obvs.

Publication date: 22nd September 1994

Now, I’m sure you’re all aware of Dolly Parton the country music singer, businesswoman and all around amazing person. I’ve previously blogged about Dolly’s Imagination Library here and talked about how wonderful I think she is. So when I found the inexplicably out-of-print autobiography Dolly: My Life and Other unfinished Business I was immediately excited to read it. 

The first thing to say about this book is hooo-boy, Dolly has led a pretty amazing life. From growing up in the Smokey Mountains to her metoric rise to fame, hers is your quintessential rags to riches story – and when I say rags to riches, I literally mean growing up in rags to becoming a multi-millionaire.

It’s genuinely hard to comprehend the level of poverty that Dolly grew up in. Her home was hand built by her family, it was papered with newspapers to keep the drafts out and the family’s chickens lived underneath it (and used to poke their beaks up between the gaps in the floorboards). I really enjoyed reading about her early life because despite having pretty much nothing, the Parton’s were a resourceful lot and in having to make their own entertainment, Dolly began to hone the singer-songwriter skills that she built her career upon. 

The other thing that growing up poor seemed to do for Dolly was to keep her humble. The book is peppered with her self-deprecating humour and jokes about her trashy apperance, her plastic surgery, the fact that her dad assumed that when she went home with her newly bleached hair and disposable income that she’d become a prostitute. She alludes to having had affairs (although she denies the lesbian ones as just good friends) but is hilariously honest about literally everything else – from not having children to her medical problems to her favourite cosmetic surgeons (there is genuinely a list of recommendations and contact details in the back). Dollly is fabulously un-classy in a way that most people would try to hide but she just doesn’t care – and that makes her life even more fun to read about. I loved her refreshing honesty and how her writing oozed with her warmth and intelligence.

I was slightly concerned that as a Christian, Dolly would stray into the realms of being preachy or judgemental but this never happened. She seems to live her life caring about and helping everyone – regardless of their background, sexuality or religion. There is a lot of talk about God but it’s always positive  – almost her own blend of Dolly wisdom and spirituality. I loved how her faith in God translated to her belief in charity, her championing of various causes and her attitude to helping out all of the members of her absolutely massive family. 

I will say that the autiobiography rambles a bit – it’s not exactly chronological and not being a country music fan I wasn’t always aware of the people that she was talking about but it was still hugely enjoyable. 

Overall, I loved reading about Dolly and her super-inspirational take on life. She’s had such a lot happen to her that it’s almost too much to fit in to a novel. Case in point? She gets abducted by aliens and writes about the experience for all of ONE PAGE. Amazing. Dolly Parton, I will always love you (oooh wahhhh).

Rating: Four ‘It’s a good thing I was born a girl, otherwise I’d be a drag queen’ out of five.

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #12 Read a celebrity memoir.

 

Review: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

I’m a big fan of Chris Peckham. I have fond memories of him on the Really Wild Show as a child with his blonde mohican haircut and his passionate, borderline obsessive interest in animals and the natural world. As a fellow nature lover, I’ve also enjoyed watching him on Springwatch and Autumnwatch, especially trying to spot when he was  shoehorning The Jesus and Mary Chain or The Smiths lyrics into his pieces to camera. Therefore, I was excited to see that Chris had written his autobiography, “Fingers in the Sparkle Jar”. I was hoping for something exciting, a bit off the wall and just…different, a bit like Chris himself.

Well, this book is certainly different.

Unlike many autobiographies, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a series of captured moments, mostly from Chris’ childhood in the 1970’s. There’s a heavy emphasis on the wildlife he went in search of and the pets that he and his family owned. Interspersed throughout the text are more emotional passages about personal life (bullying, failed attempts at chatting up girls etc.) Every so often, there’s a jarring passage about Chris’ counselling sessions, where it becomes obvious that he had, at some point, been suicidal and had clearly suffered from bouts of depression. It’s clear that Chris’ dark thoughts were related to his inability to get along with other people (the book is full of references to how he simply didn’t fit in with his peers) and it becomes obvious that something else is going on. It transpires that, although not diagnosed until years later, Chris has Aspergers – although I’m not sure if this is made clear in the text or if I just knew that already. It’s so sad to see how much Chris suffered, but also uplifting to see how his focus and attention to detail made him into one of the foremost British naturalists alive today.

The book itself is almost entirely focused on animals. In some ways, Chris had a really idyllic childhood, free to roam the countryside to birdwatch, catch frogs, collect birds eggs etc. Occasionally this obsession with animals can become a bit gross – there’s a lot of examining poo, dissecting dead creatures and putting tadpoles in your mouth to see what they tasted of. In some ways Chris almost came across as cruel when he did things like steal birds eggs from nests, trapped insects in jars until they died and at one point even stole a live bird of prey from the wild to raise as his own pet. However, I think this was just an example of an autistic child trying to understand the world around them and not considering the feelings of others when there was something that he wanted.

Throughout the book, Chris recounts many of his memories involving animals and in particular, a very touching relationship with his pet Kestrel. Much of the book is focused on this relationship, with almost no discussion of his feelings towards his family (I sense that he pretty much ignored them) or friends (I don’t think he had any). It seemed that Chris put all of his emotions into caring for the bird and it was heartbreaking to see what happened when it inevitably passed away.

I did find the way that this book was written quite hard to follow. There’s an approximation of linear progression but the narrative does jump around, making it difficult to imagine what age Chris is and what events have happened previously. It’s obvious that Chris is highly intelligent but he uses very flowery prose to frame each vignette of memory – to the point where his allegories, similies and metaphors were so opaque that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. This made me feel like I was almost being kept as arm’s length as a reader – as if by explaining the scene as poetically as possible Chris could skip the emotive part. As such, I found it difficult to connect to the book and really struggled to get into it.

There’s a TV programme that went along with the book which was shown on BBC2 and went even further into Chris’ life. Even though many of the stories in the book were discussed, the programme also focused on Chris’ personal life and we got to see his sister, his partner and his stepdaughter from a previous relationship. Seeing Chris in the context of his family really helped me to engage with his story and I enjoyed the programme far more than the book.

Overall, this book is a truly honest, brave memoir of a troubled boy/young man and his escape into the natural world as a coping mechanism. It’s sad, funny, disgusting, weird and wonderful – exactly like Chris himself. I just wished I could have engaged more with the writing, as the accompanying TV programme was brilliant.

Rating: 3.5/5
A raw, visceral account of a difficult childhood. Honest, revolting and moving in equal measure, but written in a way that I found difficult to follow. It’s almost like Chris wanted to keep the reader at arms length…

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #6 Read a book about nature.