‘Landlines’ – Raynor Winn

In this third book we see Moth’s condition has worsened. He struggles to prune the trees in the orchard, and feels unbalanced when walking. Having previously seen the restorative power of walking, the decision is made to undertake a walk they’ve always dreamed of.

Perhaps when you are at your low points, and feel there’s nothing to lose, you can find the inner strength to do something that might – by any stretch of the imagination – seem crazy. However, when packaged in this way the walk from Scotland to Cornwall does offer a chance to reconnect with nature, the opportunity to reassess what is important and the time to test one’s resolve in the face of some very challenging circumstances.

As someone who enjoys walking I truly admire what Raynor and Moth have done. As someone who also detests midges, sore feet and heavy rain, I read most of this book feeling I was reading about some kind of personal hell. 

Throughout the book I found myself quite taken by the obvious love of nature and the focus on how we as a race are slowly destroying the world we inhabit. The signs are there of damage to our environment, but these are signs that we are not in a position to heed while engrossed in the small stuff that occupies us so much of the time. Having walked some of the areas they cover in their route, I also found myself recollecting my own walks and how they’ve impacted me. The little connections made along the way – particularly when taking place immediately after COVID lockdown regulations were being eased – were touching, but each of these moments also highlights the shifting attitudes towards walkers/the countryside that seem to be taking place.

It left me with a definite sense of wanting to finally get round to reading The Salt Path – clearly a defining read for many, though each seems to take their own ideas from it – but I’m also wondering if buying husband a copy of this to read might be a mistake! The bug will hit him hard after reading this

‘I’m Glad My Mom Died’ – Jennette McCurdy

This book made me angry and sad. I’m sure it’s not an uncommon story, but it’s rather depressing that nothing appears to change.

I’ve never heard of Jennette McCurdy or seen the show she talks at length about, but it’s a fascinating insight into an industry that – at its heart – seems callous and uncaring, exploiting people for what it can and not caring what happens next.

From the outset it was clear that McCurdy’s story would not be a wholly positive one. She touches on the abusive mother, her eating disorder and experience of therapy with unflinching honesty. Yet there’s always a sense of brittleness, of something being held back – and perhaps this is a coping mechanism, but it did on occasion feel like a rather superficial look at some elements of her experience.

I found myself constantly wondering just how many people were complicit in her abuse. It was evident that some had concerns, from when she was six, but nobody stepped in and did anything. That’s obscene!

The real positive that I took from this was of the signs of someone starting to form a sense of their own identity. It might not be a fully finished journey, but it seems she finishes in a more healthy mindset than she began.


‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ – George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue covers so many areas, but I would urge people to read it, even if you don’t see it as having direct relevance to you.

Part memoir, this series of reflections offer an insight into the author’s life as a child and growing up (as he calls himself) black and queer. We journey from an early memory of having his teeth kicked in at five years old to dealing with the death of a close friend at college and, along the way, get to hear about family members and the various events that he recalls shaping him as he grew up.

I was struck, more than anything, by the love and strength gained from family. Things may not have always been articulated, but there’s a clear sense that when it counted they would have your back. You might be held to account, but you would always be loved – and it strikes me that this may well be the best gift you can give someone.

So many of the memories were tinged with sadness and made me feel angry that they had to be experienced, but if all of us were to pinpoint moments that shaped us I’m sure that not all of them would be positive. As so eloquently written in the latter stages of the book, reading about the experiences of others can help us define ourselves and for this reason alone I would recommend this book. While so much was nothing like my own experiences, that search for yourself and the need to find your family will resonate with most readers.

I’m in awe of Nanny and the devotion she has so clearly inspired. I feel privileged to have been allowed to see inside our author’s head, and grateful to have been given this opportunity.


‘Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl’ – Jeannie Vanasco

This was a fascinating, if depressing, book.
Jeannie is a creative writing lecturer who specialises in memoir writing. She recounts a number of students who tell her stories of rape. Some of those have ended badly. But all of them share the common experience of someone taking away an individual’s right to control what happens to them.
There’s no doubt this is a book that will strike a chord with many readers. Some will feel anger, others will empathise…but, I imagine all will feel a sense of amazement at the way this experience is recounted.
We follow Jeannie through a very unusual experience. She decides to write about the man who raped her fourteen years ago. At the time he was a good friend, but they’ve not really spoken since. He is not the only person to have assaulted Jeannie, and he wasn’t the first, but she gets in touch with him to try and talk to him about the experience.
The story itself was not one you’d expect to find pleasant reading, but I was absorbed to follow her process as she creates this book. Sometimes the narrative felt muddled, yet this reflected the subject/feelings with which she was struggling.
I’m still undecided how I feel about the perpetrator of this crime, or her decision to engage with him. However, reading about her experience and the way she/those close to her respond to this was compelling stuff. There’s no easy way to view such crimes when we see who might do such things/see how common it seems to be, but it certainly stops such things being swept under the carpet and blaming victims for their experience.
Thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.


‘The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their World’ – Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

A seemingly innocuous action, done with little thought of the potential consequences, and I’m fairly certain that many teenagers could identify – to some degree – with this scenario. What will be quite different is that for most of us who carry out a ‘dumb/risky’ action there will be no further impact. Richard was not quite so lucky.

From the outset we are told exactly what happened to the two students involved – Richard and Sasha. Sasha fell asleep on a bus travelling home from school, Richard put a lighter to their skirt and then watched as they were seriously burned. The consequences for both could have been so much more severe, but what we are privy to here is enough.

We begin by focusing on Sasha. Born as Luke this section outlines how they came to view themselves as agender and what that meant for them and their family. There’s a lot of info packed into this section, but it gives a clear insight into some of the issues facing teens exploring their identity.

Next we’re introduced to Richard, a cheeky young boy who wants to achieve. Circumstances seem to play a huge part in his life and the options open to him, but each person has to take responsibility for their actions and live with the consequences of their actions.

As we watch the bus journey unfold, the moment Richard sets Sasha’s skirt on fire is fleeting. However, the repercussions of this moment are enormous.
The story takes us through court appearances, how both families reacted and some of the wider issues involved. It poses a number of questions about hate crime, how teens are treated in the justice system and how we can accommodate difference.

I felt quite humbled reading this, and very fortunate to not be faced with so many of the issues touched on within the pages. While the writing style had an inevitable journalistic tone, the story was engaging and one that needs to be shared. Thank you to NetGalley for granting me access to this book.

‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and other lessons from the crematory’ – Caitlin Doughty

I think there comes a point in everyone’s life when they have to face the thorny issue of death. Until then, it’s one of those things that we know will happen to us but are happy to ignore until we have to. Daft really, considering it’s one of the things we can count on happening.

Having recently had our first close encounter with death as a family the issues of how to celebrate the life of a loved one at a time of immense grief was pertinent. I was intrigued to see what Doughty shared with us about her experiences.

The thing that struck me first was the way Doughty recounted the ins and outs of daily life in her profession. There was a fascinating amount of detail given about what happens to the body after death and the ‘tricks of the trade’. I loved the sense of discovery we went on with Doughty as she explored her own feelings about death, and the details about how other cultures respond to death was interesting. I also felt Doughty was genuinely open to getting us as a society to examine our attitudes to death/funerals and the customs we associate with this very natural event.

The nature of detail given means it will not appeal to everyone. For many, keeping the experience as sanitised as possible will be just fine but it made me question some of the assumptions we have about what will happen to our bodies after we die. It certainly provokes thought.

‘We Can’t Be Friends’ – Cyndy Etler

Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review, and I’m happy to post my thoughts but don’t really want to rate such a personal book.
Cyndy is a hard narrator to get under the skin of. She is quite abrasive, and jumps around topics almost as a coping mechanism when things get too uncomfortable.

We begin with Cyndy returning to high school after months in rehab. We learn she was sent there at fourteen, by her mother, who seemed convinced she was an addict after what could be seen as experimenting. I understand there’s another book chronicling this experience, but the flashbacks we get here are enough to demonstrate how abusive it was.

Any memoir is subject to criticism. We only get that person’s perspective. Their thoughts and emotions are valid, but we never know how someone else would view the situation. Unfortunately, we’re told that Cyndy suffered abuse at the hands of her stepfather which was ignored. We are told her young stepsister is experiencing the same things. But their mother does nothing…I know it’s not her story, but I just cannot comprehend how a parent can hear these things and not take action to benefit their child.

It becomes quite apparent that Cyndy seems to have low self-esteem and is depressed. Her reactions to her peers really illustrate her desperate need to be validated in some way. How she tries to get this validation is understandable, though upsetting to read.

An unflinchingly honest read. Definitely not pleasant, but certainly important.

‘Not Just Jane:Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature’ – Shelley DeWees

Not Just Jane

Due for publication in October 2016, I have to thank the publishers and edelweiss for allowing me the opportunity to review this prior to publication.

Most of us are aware of the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen, but this meticulously researched piece of writing asks us to consider some of the other female writers of the same period. As an English graduate who had not heard of most of these writers it highlighted for me just how the Literary Canon is shaped by the politics and beliefs of others.

The writer’s passion for her subject is evident, and I found this an absorbing read. I don’t know how easy it will be to find some of these writings, but I am keen to try and find some of them.


‘The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer’ – Kate Summerscale

The Wicked Boy


Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the advance copy of this novel. Just as with ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’, I was absorbed by this meticulously researched and fascinating story.

Set in 1895, we see 13 year old Robert and his younger brother, Nattie, spending money that it seems they should not have. They tell neighbours that their mother has gone to visit relatives in Liverpool, and they have been left in the care of a family friend. For ten days their behaviour is not seen as out of the ordinary. Our suspicions are raised by comments about a foul smell coming from the home and Robert pawning much-loved possessions to obtain money.

It is not until their aunt becomes suspicious and forces her way into the family home that we learn the source of the smell. The badly decomposed body of their mother is found upstairs in her bedroom, and Robert confesses to matricide.
Summerscale takes us through the trial at the Old Bailey and details of what happened next. This was packed full of information about the case, but it also included a wealth of details about life and attitudes of the time. We are told of the plea that Robert was insane, and I could not help but be shocked by the generally held beliefs about the effects of educating the poor.

When Robert is sentenced to imprisonment in Broadmoor, that could have been the end of it. What follows seems more a work of fiction, but we learn of the chance Robert was given to start a new life and the way he seizes this opportunity. This, for me, was what made the story special.

‘The Unmumsy Mum’ – Sarah Turner

The Unmumsy Mum

Though it’s title suggests the target audience of this book will mainly be mothers, I think any parent who has ever had “one of those days” will likely empathise with at least one part of this.

Some of the sentiments within were painfully close to the bone; others less so. Frank, honest…and laugh-out-loud funny at times.