Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who's Been There by Cheryl Strayed


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who's Been There
Author: Cheryl Strayed
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication Date: 25th March 2013
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

I wasn't Cheryl Strayed's biggest fan when reading Wild. I thought she was entitled, self-centered, and foolish when it came to her lack of planning. I felt the book lacked depth. The flashbacks to her former life not enough to explain her choices and behaviour. Had I read her Dear Sugar columns first, I don't doubt that my enjoyment of Wild would have increased tenfold.

For several years, Cheryl Strayed was the anonymous internet agony aunt for The Rumpus. Each letter in this collection is responded to with compassion, honesty and from a place of personal experience. It's clear she has lived through and witnessed an awful lot of pain in her life. That pain has made her who she is today, and allowed her to respond to those letters like no agony aunt I have ever read. If you can relate to just one letter in this collection then it is completely worth reading.

"Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend, or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familiar, pleading, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humour, and loaded with promises and commitments that we may or may not want to keep. The best thing you can possibly do with your life, is tackle the mother-fucking shit out of love."

Her responses to the letters I could relate to, felt like they were written for me. Words from a very kind, caring, but honest friend. Her words on grief and love made me cry. If you're a fan of Dolly Alderton's Everything I Know About Love, I think you will really enjoy this. If you've suffered bereavement, difficult relationships, difficult friendships, family problems, wedding problems or just generally want to become a better human being, then I implore you to read this.

"Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away, or eat it away, or starve it away, or walk it away, or punch it away, or even therapy it away. It's just there and you have to survive it, you have to endure it. You have to live through it, and love it, and move on, and be better for it, and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams, across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal."

Verdict: Story - 5/5
Writing - 5/5
Insight - 5/5
Enjoyment - 5/5
Overall - 5

The Bookcast Club // Episode 10


Welcome to episode 10, where Alice and I chat recent and current reads, and share our thoughts on the Man Booker long list. If you have any questions or ideas for future episodes please contact us on Twitter @bookcastclub or by email.


Listen in iTunes | Listen on Soundcloud

Books mentioned in this episode:

I'll Be Gone in the Dark - Michelle McNamara

Helter Skelter - Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

Multi Hyphen Method - Emma Gannon

A Sky Painted Gold - Laura Wood

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

Noughts and Crosses - Malorie Blackman

This is Going to Hurt - Adam Kay

Heartburn - Nora Ephron

Conversations with Friends - Sally Rooney

The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead

The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh

Normal People - Sally Rooney

Sabrina - Nick Drnaso

Becoming Unbecoming - Una

Fen - Daisy Johnson

Everything Under - Daisy Johnson

The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan

Warlight - Michael Ondaatje

From a Low and Quiet Sea - Donal Ryan

Links mentioned in this episode:

Ella Risbridger on Twitter

How to Fail Podcast with Sebastian Faulks

Desert Island Dishes Podcast

When the Bluebells Toll


Originally published in the 'Bloom' edition of Creative Countryside Magazine.

Her dress is torn, its hem slick with the detritus of the roadside. Her lungs are full of twenty first century air and she coughs into her palm. She lifts her head to a distant knell, slow, forlonging. A tear runs a gulley through her polluted skin and she turns to face the woodland. The bells have tolled. 

She meanders along the woodland path, longing to feel the snapping of twigs on her arches, the moss between her toes, but her feet are worn thick from the road. She touches a budding branch, tastes the morning dew on her fingers. The sound of the dawn chorus fills her ears. The sun breaks through the spring canopy, illuminating the morning mist. She takes a deep breath and lets the vapour cleanse her lungs. There’s the tinkling of a bell at her feet. She looks down at a single shepard’s hook of violet-blue bells, nodding in gentle unison. As she crouches to examine the upturned petals, their white pollen dusting her fingertips, the mist starts to lift and in the distance the canopy floor starts to sing. 

The ancient carpet of the woodland lies before her, its bells ringing in perfect order, throwing their sweet scent into the air. Their harmony is hard to resist, she meanders deeper into the purple sea and, her head heavy with perfume and song, falters to a stop. Ferns furl around her legs and bring her gently to her knees. They catch at her wrists, weave through her hair, around her neck, pulling her down into the bed of vibrant purple and green. The tolling of the bells grows distant, her breath fills with their scent and the taste of earth, and her world fades from violet to grey.

Girl Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole


Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently
Author: Emer O'Toole
Publisher: Orion
Publication Date: 5th February 2015
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery
Emer O'Toole once caused a media sensation by growing her body hair and singing 'Get Your Pits Out For The Lads' on national TV. You might think she's crazy - but she has lessons for us all. Protesting against the 'makey-uppy-bulls**t' of gender conditioning, Emer takes us on a hilarious, honest and probing journey through her life - from cross-dressing and head shaving, to pube growing and full-body waxing - exploring the performance of femininity to which we are confined.

Funny, provocative and underpinned with rigorous academic intelligence, this book shows us why and how we should all begin gently to break out of gender stereotypes. Read this book, open up your mind and, hopefully, free your body. GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS is a must-read wake-up call for all young women (and men).

Overall I enjoyed this look at gender roles by Emer O'Toole and I learnt a few things. I mean it turns out I am pretty ignorant to the inner construction of the clitoris and Freud's opinion on an 'immature orgasm.' He was clearly just jealous. But Girls Will Be Girls wasn't quite as insightful as I'd hoped for, and been led to believe, by all the glowing reviews. What I will say is that Emer O'Toole is so incredibly articulate that even though the ideas and theories she put forward weren't that new to me, I kept thinking 'I wish I could put my thoughts together like this'.

I found myself nodding along to her opinions on female bodily freedom compared to men, and the media's role in portraying the perfect female body. This got me thinking (because I'm obsessed) about this year's Love Island. Jack and Dani have just been voted 'sexiest couple' and I think it's fair to say that Jack hasn't got as visible abs as the other boys in the villa. Yet there isn't a single girl in there who could be described as having a 'dad bod'. Mum bod? You know what I mean. Dad bods are cute and cuddly, squidgy bits on a lady are not.

She discusses her body hair in great detail and I'm glad she does. It was great to hear about her discomfort when baring her hairy legs, it's easy to assume that ladies who don't shave have all the confidence in the world. We're culturally conditioned to find hairless female bodies attractive. I personally like a bit of bush and can never understand why all the ladies are bald as a coot down there on Naked Attraction, but there you go. But when we wear feminine clothing we're expected to bare feminine body parts - smooth, hairless skin and flat abs. I can't deny that I'd do a double take if I saw hairy legs in a dress and I like it when books make you question and analyse your own biases and opinions. My problem with Girls Will Be Girls was that I was about 3 hours into a 7 hour audiobook before I felt I was getting anything from it. I'm an instant gratification kinda gal.

There's also a section in the book about a sexual encounter Emer had that, well to be blunt, was very rapey. I was shocked by it, her female friend's were not and her male friend was kinda rebuked for being appalled and shocked by the man's behaviour. I get what Emer was trying to point out, this happens to women all of the time. But by describing her friend's laughing and nodding knowingly and not acknowledging that, actually, we should be shocked and appalled, made me feel quite uncomfortable. If anyone has read the book and has thoughts on this I would love to hear them. I'm thinking that the emphasis should have been less on 'men learn their sex moves from porn and don't understand what's actually pleasurable for a women' and more a conversation around no meaning no and that we should be able to tell a sexual partner what we want, without the fear that we'll be accused of being 'shit in bed'. I think this is what she was trying to say, but it was the one section in the book that I felt was poorly done. And although it came with a trigger warning, it was perhaps the one bit of the book you'd want to get right considering the sensitive nature of the topic.
'Girls can change the world with the way they choose to be girls.'

Emer ends the book by saying that she hopes her readers can take away something from the book that they can use or play with. To emulate the things she has done in her life - growing body hair, 'gender bending' and dressing up as a boy. I can't see me giving it a go myself, but I have questioned the female role in society and my own personal biases. I can highly recommend The Gender Games by Juno Dawson if you would like to read a great book on gender.

I've realised, now I've come to write this review, that my scoring system doesn't really work for non-fiction, so instead of a 'character' score I'm giving an insight score. And when I say 'Story' for non-fiction I guess I mean the depth of the topic covered and how well it is executed.


Story - 3/5

Writing - 4/5

Insight - 3/5

Enjoyment - 3/5

Overall - 3.5

The Bookcast Club // Episode 9


Welcome to episode 9, where Alice and I chat recent and current reads, and share our thoughts on chick lit, diets and our experience at the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival. I use the word bullshit a lot. BMI makes me angry. Soz. If you have any questions or ideas for future episodes please contact us on Twitter @bookcastclub or by email.


Listen in iTunes | Listen on Soundcloud

Books mentioned in this episode:

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

Double Fault - Lionel Shriver

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud - Anne Helen Petersen

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Body Positive Power - Megan Jayne Crabbe

About Grace - Anthony Doerr

Everything I Know About Love - Dolly Alderton

Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492–1900 - Simon Schama

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging - Afua Hirsch

The Century Girls: The Final Word from the Women Who've Lived the Past Hundred Years of British History - Tessa Dunlop

The Bletchley Girls - Tessa Dunlop

Links mentioned in this episode:

The Best Life Advice from 20 Fearless Women - The Pool

Hay Festival Player - access Hay talks and content. £10 for a year's subscription.

Dolly Alderton at Hay - subscription required.

Afua Hirsch at Hay - interviewed by Amy Ansell. Subscription required.

Tessa Dunlop at Hay - subscription required.

Laura Thomas - nutritionist, specialising in intuitive eating.

The High Low Podcast

Love Stories Podcast

Maybe we'll meet again somewhere


'Accept each day as a gift without expectations and ... just enjoy the delight of being alive on this earth and all the precious miracles that come with it.' ~ Emmeline Bramble

It's hard to know how to start this post. Do I ease you in gently or just hit you with it. Currently I'm just typing whatever comes into my head. Maybe I'll go with that. Sometimes stream of consciousness is best, I'll edit afterwards. Or maybe not.

On the 19th April I had a miscarriage. It was a missed miscarriage. Ben and I had gone for our 12 week scan the day before, just to be told those dreaded words - 'I'm really sorry to tell you but there's no heartbeat.' I had no signs that I was about to miscarry until the morning of my scan. That morning I noticed a very slight brown discharge. Not enough to overly worry, especially as I was having a scan that morning. But it was clearly sign enough to put doubt in my mind, because as soon as the sonographer started my ultrasound, I knew. I know what a 12 week old baby should look like. He said baby was still quite small but not to worry as I may have just got my dates wrong. I didn't have my dates wrong. Let's just say I'm not the most regular of ovulators and I knew exactly when we had conceived. So, after an internal scan they confirmed what I already knew. Baby had passed away. The little bean was 8.5 weeks old. At my 'booking-in appointment' with my midwife, there was no heartbeat. When I was celebrating with my besties in London, there was no heartbeat. I felt okay. Sad, but okay. What broke my heart was Ben's little face. Pure heartbreak. That's the moment I'll never forget.

So it was over. My brief encounter with motherhood was at an end. We were whisked away into a little room and given our 'options' on a piece of paper. This makes it all sound very cold, but all the nurses in the Early Pregnancy Unit at the N&N were wonderful, as was the sonographer. I didn't expect the level of compassion, love and warmth I received from strangers that day or the week that followed. They must deliver this news every day but I never felt like I was just another number. I want to write the following for both cathartic reasons and in the hope that someone who needs to hear this, finds this post. But if you'd rather not read from this point onward I won't be offended. If you know me personally and don't fancy hearing all about my undercarriage this may be TMI.

Basically I was given three options - let things happen naturally, medical intervention (pills and the like) or surgery. This is where I felt completely lost and very naive. I knew miscarriage was common. My mum went through it more than once. What I didn't know is what happens next. We were due to go on holiday the Friday, even if I'd wanted the surgery they couldn't fit me in until a week later. I could take the pills that day. I'd been very calm and collected until this point and externally I know I stayed calm, but my mind was all over the place. I couldn't take all the information in that the nurse had given us to read. I decided that I wanted to leave it. I hadn't miscarried after 3 weeks of baby passing away so figured the chances of me miscarrying any time soon were fairly slim. I booked a follow up appointment to discuss my 'options' when we got back from holiday. I miscarried the next day.

I don't want to be too graphic, but I figure if you've read this far then perhaps you want to know. I woke up the next morning feeling a little crampy. Ben went to work and I plopped myself in front of the TV, text my mum to let her know how I was feeling but generally just felt a bit sad and tired. Did lots of Googling, read lots of horror stories about what happens next, how painful it is, how people had to be rushed into hospital by ambulance, how long I should expect to wait, what the surgery was like. How lots of women opt for surgery rather than go through the trauma of miscarrying naturally. At this point I was basically terrified and decided during that Googling sesh that I didn't want to go through it naturally and would book the surgery for when I got home from holiday. However, my body had other plans and when I stood up to make a cup of tea I could tell it was about to kick off. All I can describe the feeling as is similar to when you know your period has started. So I rushed to the toilet and everything gushed out of me. Google had warned me this might happen. The 'options' paperwork suggested I'd experience a heavy period. Yeh right, if a heavy period is like your insides falling out of you, then that's what was happening. I rang Ben and told him to come home so I wasn't alone. Every 15 minutes I'd have to go to the loo to let more of my insides fall out. I felt bits and pieces passing and generally made a right old mess. I was on and off the phone to the EPU during all of this, slightly concerned by how much I was bleeding. Their guidance suggests that if you're filling a super heavy night pad in under an hour then you should go to hospital. No pad could have coped with all that. The nurses at the EPU were so very lovely. They said if I could cope with it at home then it would be much nicer for me than going through it at hospital. They warned me I would pass the baby at some point and I could take it into them if I wanted. After that conversation everything happened to come to a stop. I'd clearly already passed little one. My actual miscarriage was over within a couple of hours.

I didn't feel much pain at all. Mild cramping and back ache. We decided to go on holiday on the Friday. The nurses said that it sounded like the worst was over, to keep an eye on my temperature, pain levels and bleeding and watch out for any foul smells. Vom. I was pretty achey the day after and needed a hot water bottle but we made it to the Lake District in one piece. We knew where the nearest EPU was and I was very glad that I didn't actually miscarry on holiday. I felt pretty shitty all week, like I was recovering from flu. And I did experience a heavy period the whole time. Things also started to smell a bit off. Not foul or like decay as some described it. Just ever so slightly... fishy. TMI! Told you. When we got back home I passed one last bit of tissue and then everything slowed right down to pretty much a stop. I think the smell must have been that last bit of 'stuff.' Grim.

I went back to the EPU this morning for a follow up scan, to check that my body had cleared everything by itself. I really didn't want to have surgery after going through it all anyway, but it does happen. I've been given the all clear. My body had done what it needed to do. I had a celebratory muffin and coffee. Who'd have thought I'd be celebrating my womb emptying itself eh? 'Life is a rich tapestry,' to quote my mother.

I'm okay. We're okay. The majority of the time I'm my usual happy self. I can hold it together as long as someone isn't too nice to me. Don't be nice. I do well on tough love. As you can probably tell I'm pretty matter of fact about things. It just wasn't meant to be. Hopefully next time it will. I can still look at pregnant ladies and smile. I'm surrounded by them, on Instagram (the curse of the algorithm and cookies I expect) and in real life, so I'm glad I genuinely feel happy for them. It's not an act. The things that are difficult are the firsts, the should have beens, the could have beens. The first coffee. The first glass of prosecco. Okay bottle. The rare steak. The Instagram announcement photo I'd planned, up a mountain with Ben and Pip. The Beatrix Potter baby toy I was going to buy. The trousers I bought that are now too big for me. The wedding outfits I was planning because I was going to be oh so pregnant. Our first Christmas. Baby making is fucking hard. Women are fucking heroes.

We were having a listen to lovely Harry Styles on the way to the Lakes. I had full control over the stereo. Obviously! Sign of the Times may not have been the best song choice for holding it together but it's the song I needed.
'Just stop your crying
Have the time of your life
Breaking through the atmosphere
And things are pretty good from here
Remember everything will be alright
We can meet again somewhere
Somewhere far away from here' - Harry Styles

These lines and this post by Emmeline Bramble on Instagram, reminded me to be present. The only thing that is real right now is that I am here. Healthy and loved. I am enough. And anything the future brings, at this moment, is based on pure assumption and anxiety.

Everyone experiences miscarriage and loss differently. It is okay to feel how you're feeling. It's your reality, no one elses. It's okay to be devastated. It's okay not to be. It's okay to cry. It's okay to keep laughing. I am happy to talk about my experience and if you want to get in contact, please do. I'm going to keep talking about my 'journey' whatever that ends up being. Underneath the sadness and tears I had a lot of anger about how taboo miscarriage is. How taboo fertility is in general. Life isn't all rainbows and unicorns, glitter and candyfloss, that would be nice though. It's important to talk about these things or we end up feeling lost and alone at times where we need to feel supported.

I was lucky enough to get a picture of our little bean. It's my proof that it was real. That we were parents, if only for a little while. We made a baby, that feels like a miracle in itself. And maybe we will meet again somewhere. Thanks Harry.

The Bookcast Club // Episode 8


Welcome to episode 8, where Alice and I chat recent and current reads, and share our thoughts on the Women's Prize for Fiction long list as well as our plans for the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival. After a two month break we certainly had a lot to talk about. If you have any questions or ideas for future episodes please contact us on Twitter @bookcastclub or by email.


Listen in iTunes | Listen on Soundcloud

Books mentioned in this episode:

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

The Deep - Nick Cutter

The Troop - Nick Cutter

Bird Box - Josh Malerman

I'll be Gone in the Dark - Michelle McNamara

What Fresh Hell - Lucy Vine

Hot Mess - Lucy Vine

Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult

800 Grapes - Laura Dave

Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondō

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John le Carré

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John le Carré

Everything I Know About Love - Dolly Alderton

Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492–1900 - Simon Schama

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging - Afua Hirsch

The Century Girls: The Final Word from the Women Who've Lived the Past Hundred Years of British History - Tessa Dunlop

Three Things About Elsie - Joanna Cannon

See What I Have Done - Sarah Schmidt

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness - Arundhati Joy

Sing, Unburied, Sing - Jesmyn Ward

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock - Imogen Hermes Gowar

H(A)PPY - Nicola Barker

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife - Meena Kandasamy

Idaho - Emily Ruskovich

A Whole Life - Robert Seethaler

Conversations with Friends - Sally Rooney

The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

Links mentioned in this episode:

Do or Don’t: Very Scary Books

Hay Festival

The High Low Podcast

Love Stories Podcast

Insert Literary Pun Here YouTube channel by Jennifer Helinek

The Bookcast Club // Episode 7


Welcome to episode 7, where Alice and I chat recent and current reads, and share our thoughts on short story collections. We get very animated about dead bodies too. If you have any questions or ideas for future episodes please contact us on Twitter @bookcastclub or by email.


Listen in iTunes | Listen on Soundcloud

Books mentioned in this episode:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

Sugar Money - Jane Harris

Heartburn - Nora Ephron

Crazy Salad - Nora Ephron

Scribble Scribble - Nora Ephron

I Feel Bad About My Neck - Nora Ephron

Past Mortems - Carla Valentine

From Here to Eternity - Caitlin Doughty

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - Caitlin Doughty

Sky Burial - Xinran

No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July

The First Bad Man - Miranda July

How To Breathe Underwater - Julie Orringer

A Possible Life - Sebastian Faulkes

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales - Kirsty Logan

The Opposite of Loneliness - Marina Keegan

Folk - Zoe Gilbert

The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits - Emma Donoghue

The Invisible Bridge - Julie Orringer

The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter

Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales

The Birds - Daphne Du Maurier

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night - Jen Campbell

Links mentioned in this episode:

Costa Short Story Award

New Yorker short stories

Cat Person - Kristen Roupenian

F.A.Q.s - Allegra Goodman

Jen Campbell's writing workshops

Caitlin Doughty's YouTube channel

Sugar Money by Jane Harris


Sugar Money
Author: Jane Harris
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: 3rd October 2017
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery
Martinique, 1765, and brothers Emile and Lucien are charged by their French master, Father Cleophas, with a mission. They must return to Grenada, the island they once called home, and smuggle back the 42 slaves claimed by English invaders at the hospital plantation in Fort Royal. While Lucien, barely in his teens, sees the trip as a great adventure, the older and worldlier Emile has no illusions about the dangers they will face. But with no choice other than to obey Cleophas - and sensing the possibility, however remote, of finding his first love Celeste - he sets out with his brother on this 'reckless venture'.

With great characters, a superb narrative set up, and language that is witty, bawdy and thrillingly alive, Sugar Money is a novel to treasure.

I've not enjoyed a book this much in YEARS! It's completely rekindled my love of historical fiction. Jane Harris deals with a period in history, that is truly shameful and horrifying, with grace and without too much whitewashing, although I think there was a little...

My ears strain to discern any sound beyond the massed flutes and recorders of a million frogs and insects. Now and then, fireflies sparkle past my face like fragments of charcoal carried on the breeze.

Our narrator is 12 year old Lucien and I have to say that I've never read a book with such a rounded, believable, non-irritating, child narrator. He is wise beyond his years, speaks with broken English, has childish moments that remind you he is just 12, and yet he carries this story perfectly. I always worry about first person narration, especially from a child's point of view, that we won't get a sense of place. Or if we do, it will seem forced, but his voice never feels like a gimmick, never irritates and the descriptions of the landscape were fitting and evocative. I think it was perfect actually.

There is a sense of foreboding throughout the novel. As soon as they are given the mission by the friars, armed with a power of attorney that neither of them can read properly, you just know it won't have a happy ending. The brothers blossoming relationship, through Lucien's eyes, makes this book even harder to read and at points I really didn't want to finish it, knowing it would be tough.

'Well done bug,' he said. 'Good man.' Well, that was the first time he had ever call me a man. My heart swelled up like a globefish.

Now. Onto the potential whitewashing, I'm still not sure. This is a tricky one. On the one hand I believe this could have been a conscious decision. By narrating from Lucien's point of view perhaps we are protected from some of the horrors the brothers encounter. We know Lucien has been whipped in the past as he has the scars from it, but you get the impression his brother has been through a lot worse. When Lucien does witness some of the brutality later on in the book it is all the more shocking precisely because we haven't encountered it yet. We are reminded that the slaves are simply being offered life as slaves somewhere else, but without being told the horrors that Lucien and Emile face on their own island it's hard not to get caught up in the feeling that they're on a rescue mission. Again, this could be entirely consciously done to emphasise how the other slaves may be feeling, or Jane Harris has actively avoided the brutality of the time in order for the book to be an enjoyable romp. It would make a blumming great book club read let's put it that way.

The ending was disappointing for me. The book didn't end in the right place as far as I was concerned. For those that have read it, I could have done without the neatly tied up, afterword type letters at the end. I think the reader could have come to their own conclusions as to what fate our protagonist ultimately meets.

These criticisms did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I thought it was fantastic and has quickly shot up to one of my favourite historical fiction reads of all time. I want to read more about the slave trade, I am shamefully ignorant so if anyone can recommend any further reading I would appreciate it.

Story - 5/5
Writing - 5/5
Character - 4/5
Memorability - 4/5
Enjoyment - 5/5
Overall rating - 4.5/5

The Bookcast Club // Episode 6


Happy new year! Our first episode of 2018 and Alice and I are talking current and recent reads, and our favourite books of 2017. The podcast is now available on YouTube as well as the usual podcasty places. If you have any questions or ideas for future episodes please contact us on Twitter @bookcastclub or by email.


Listen in iTunes | Listen on Soundcloud

Books mentioned in this episode:

Call Me By Your Name - André Aciman

Folk - Zoe Gilbert

How To Breathe Underwater - Julie Orringer

A Possible Life - Sebastian Faulkes

Fates & Furies - Lauren Groff

The Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff

Three Things About Elsie - Joanna Cannon

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep - Joanna Cannon

The Light Between Oceans - M. L. Stedman

Eric - Shaun Tan

The Red Tree - Shaun Tan

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

After Me Comes the Flood - Sarah Perry

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales - Kirsty Logan

Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller

Idaho - Emily Ruskovich

Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge

How Not to be a Boy - Robert Webb

The Cormoran Strike series - Robert Galbraith

Happy - Fearne Cotton

Links mentioned in this episode:

Costa Short Story Award

Folk by Zoe Gilbert


Author: Zoe Gilbert
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK provided this ARC
Publication Date: 8th February 2018
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery
Every year they gather, while the girls shoot their arrows and the boys hunt them out. The air is riddled with spiteful shadows - the wounds and fears and furies of a village year.

On a remote and unforgiving island lies a village unlike any other: Neverness. A girl is snatched by a water bull and dragged to its lair, a babe is born with a wing for an arm and children ask their fortunes of an oracle ox. While the villagers live out their own tales, enchantment always lurks, blighting and blessing in equal measure.

Folk is a dark and sinuous debut circling the lives of one generation. In this world far from our time and place, the stories of the islanders interweave and overlap, their own folklore twisting fates and changing lives.

A captivating, magical and haunting debut novel of breathtaking imagination, from the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award.

A brilliant read to start 2018. Folk is a collection of short stories (I've seen a few reviews describe Folk as a novel, perhaps it's being marketed as such?) centered on the inhabitants of a village called Neverness. Zoe Gilbert's stories are the perfect balance of weird and twisted but not so removed from reality that they feel unbelievable. I loved the structure of the book, it's not something I've seen done before in a short story collection. Each tale is inextricably linked to another. Each chapter is about a different character in Neverness, but they often reflect on events from previous stories and the villagers pop up in each others tales.

The thing I liked most about this book is the sense of place Zoe Gilbert creates over the course of her short stories. Neverness sounds like a magical place, shrouded in mystery, where folklore is part of their reality. I can picture the rugged landscape, the scent of fish hanging in the air, the roar of the waterfalls and the calling of the kites. It's a dark place with dark secrets and I loved it. Zoe's writing is rich and atmospheric, but not over the top. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading whatever she writes next.

'Wherever Sil has been, though, there is a trace of waterweed in the air, of salt sea-fog and the insides of shells.'

As with any short story collection there are a few that I now can't recollect very well, but my favourites were Prick Song, Long Have I Lain Beside the Water and Verlyn's Blessings - the tale of a man with a wing for an arm.

I believe 'Fishskin, Hairskin' was the story Zoe won the Costa Short Story Award for. You can have a read of this on the Costa Short Story Award website. Great if you want to sample her writing before purchasing.

Story - 4/5
Writing - 4/5
Character - 3/5
Memorability - 3/5
Enjoyment - 5/5
Overall rating - 4/5

The Power by Naomi Alderman


The Power
Author: Naomi Alderman
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 27th October 2016
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery
In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

I think I got sucked into mass hype and prize winning prestige on this one. I am generally a fan of the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction (soon just to be The Women's Prize for Fiction), my kind of books make the short list and it's just for us ladies, which is fabulous. But I think this one won because of the subject matter's relevance in today's society. Even more relevant considering the recent Hollywood scandal. It did not win based on its literary merit. It can't have done. Can it?

First of all, it reads like a young adult novel, albeit with a few marginally graphic 'scenes of a sexual nature'. I hate sneaky YA. I actually don't think it's meant to be YA, it just slips, quite often, into shallow conversation and naff action scenes. And that was my biggest issue with the book, it lacks depth. Excellent premise, poorly executed.

After an initial good start I wanted to see how these women would use their power. Would their roles in society change? Would Naomi Alderman take these women to places of power I couldn't possibly imagine. Would the women use the power for good? Would the world become a better place. The answer is no. The roles of men and women in society were literally reversed. The women become aggressive, violent, wars brake out, men are raped. I don't think any of the female characters used their new found power for good. We're better than that surely? I like to think that with a switch in power, women and men could create a better world together, a different world, a more progressive world. This isn't a feminist piece of work in my opinion, it lacked imagination and wasn't the challenging novel I wanted it to be. Shame.

I listened to this at double speed and can't remember the ending. Think I'd stopped paying attention. The mixed media didn't work for me either. I found it hard to believe that 5000 years in the future we would still be looking at museum exhibits that go 'bing', presumably when you press a button, sending emails and participating in chat rooms.

Story - 3/5
Writing - 2/5
Character - 2/5
Memorability - 4/5
Enjoyment - 1/5
Overall rating - 2.5/5


© Notes to the Moon. Design by FCD.