Review: A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

A Cosmology of Monsters is described as a literary horror novel,, which isn’t a bad description. The plotting is strong, especially for a first novel, but I found the writing style barren and unemotional. I got used to it by the end, but it did feel like I was ready a newspaper account rather than a literary novel.

The book keeps a sense of dread throughout, people keep disappearing, the tension is ratcheted up well. I was hoping for a big ending, which didn’t work for me. I was expecting explanations, conclusions, but I found the lack of clarity in the ending unsatisfactory.

Still, a solid 4 stars, and an author to look out for. I’m sure the quote from Stephen King on the cover will ensure this books finds its way into many homes.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half delves into identity – does colour, or sex, define you? Or is that just the given, and you can identify and become whoever you choose?

The book spans 30-40 years – following the lives of two young twins living in Jim Crow southern states, where being black means you can be killed without retribution. And as the title says, one of those twins decides it’s time to move on.

Well written, with believable characters and good voices, this is an excellent novel.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Better Half: On the Genetic Superiority of Women by Sharon Moalem

Men have XY chromosomes, women have two Xs. That extra X gives women a level of redundancy – if something bad happens, whether that be dodgy DNA or an infectious disease, the female body can chose between those two Xs and select the stronger. As a result, women live longer healthier lives.

That’s the jist of the Better Half – but Sharon goes into various anecdotes and case studies, that though often go a bit too deep into medicine for a lay person, are always interesting. Some of the conclusions seem a little stretched, such as the XY benefited the women in the Donner Party (the American pioneers who resorted to cannibalism when trapped over the winter) – I suspect it’s more to do with the men out hunting in the cold – but there’s lot of useful information packed into those pages.

Well worth a read. I would’ve given it a 4.5 (as too much medical info) but rounding up to a 5!

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry

I enjoyed The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep – just not as much as I hoped I would. There’s a lot to like – a large dose of fantasy, interesting characters, some good debate on Dickens’s fiction – but there was a lot I struggled with to.

The dialogue was too dense and too verbose, a sure sign that it’s forced and lacking reality. The same conversations were had multiple times, and each one could have been drastically reduced, so combined they became laborious.

Likewise the relationship between the brothers, without giving anything away, the same incident was continuously repeated to make sure we understood. As Browne and King said in their excellent “Self-editing for Fiction Writers”, pay the reader the complement of assuming they’re intelligent – if it’s said right, it doesn’t need that level of repetition.

With some editing, this book could’ve been excellent (instead of just good), I felt it was a missed opportunity.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life by Rosamund Dean

I’ve been meditating now for a couple of years, and have been significantly over-drinking for three decades, so when Kevin Rose (a guy I have a lot of time for) mentioned this book on his podcast I thought I’d give it a try. One key aspect of this book is it’s not about stopping drinking, it’s about reducing your intake. I drink too much, but I like it, and though alcohol is a large part of my life which I have no desire to lose, I am happy to shed a few dozen units a week.

If you’re not into meditation or mindfulness, which is basically consciousness of your thoughts and self-querying, this book probably won’t work for you. For me, however, it was a fun read with some good tips. Why are you reaching for the gin? If it’s to mask a problem, that problem will still be there tomorrow, so will the gin help more than say a clean tonic or mint tea!?

Simple advice in a chatty self-deprecating style, this is very readable, fun and helpful.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

I must admit this book was a disappointment. I normally love Man Booker shortlisted novels, but this became a slog. Independent (though loosely linked) chapters detail a specific woman – mostly black, mostly non-binary/LGBQT. Each chapter in isolation is well written and interesting. The problem is that with a dozen or so of them, without a running narrative or theme, it’s hard to feel emotion for the women and you end up not particularly caring about them. The book feels like poetry, chapters can be read in any order, but the sum didn’t feel as great as its parts.

Still, I did enjoy the writing, I felt the plot was missing – 4 stars.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

This book is praised everywhere – from Tim Ferriss, Derek Sivers, Seth Godin, the list goes on, so it’s frustrating that I found it a huge struggle. The first half is full of trite, one-paragraph case studies that go along the lines of, “Timmy struggles to adapt, he’s got a fixed mindset”, “Evie likes to learn, she’s got a growth mindset,”, rinse and repeat for a hundred or so pages. The cases shoehorn in the mindset terminology, and were for too repetitive without adding any value. Halfway through the book turns to business and mentoring, particularly children, and these sections were more interesting, provided you skim those case studies.

Each section (there’s eight of them) has a bullet point summary at the end – I did feel the preceding chapter just padded that summary.

Not bad, just too repetitive.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Equal: A Story of Women, Men and Money by Carrie Gracie

This is an interesting book about Carrie Gracie’s battle to get pay equality at the BBC. I’m a strong believer in equality, whether that be religious, ethnicity, gender, or whatever, everyone should be paid on the merit of their output, and not by any other criteria. At the end of the book, Carrie lists some useful tactics that can be implemented by both employers and employees, and these certainly do have value.

My problem with this kind of book, hence the 4 stars and not 5, is that the arguments need to be unbiased and reasonable. There were several places where inequality was cited, to which I disagree. One huge example was the usefulness of the regulation where employers have to publish the median gender pay gap across their workforce. As Carrie said, “Ryanair topped the table for airlines, with a median gender pay gap of 71.8 per cent.” This is bound to happen – pilots are paid huge sums, and they tend to be male. Ryanair recruit from a talent pool, if there are fewer female pilots seeking work, there will be fewer women flying their planes, and therefore more women on the lower grade, lower paid, roles. Equality in that instance should mean hostesses, male or female, are paid the same, and pilots, whether male or female, are paid the same. There was no discussion in the book about whether those figures can be misleading or worthless – it was always a case of if the number show a disparity, then that must be bad for women.

However, a thought provoking book that needs to be read.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Body Tourists by Jane Rogers

Jane Rogers’ Body Tourists made me think of Kate Mascarenhas’s The Psychology of Time Travel. Both are traditionally male written genres, and the woman’s perspective gives it twists where a male author would be less likely to go. In Kate’s book, she dipped into what time travel would mean to relationships, how would you be paid, or copy with family deaths, interesting ideas. Body Tourists, likewise, explored relationships – what would you do if you could resolve that dispute you had with somebody who died? The tourists were varied, each bringing something different to the story, but I did feel the end was rushed, and could’ve done with a bit more expansion. A good read nonetheless, and recommended.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

I was torn between giving this 4 or 5 stars. I loved Station Eleven, Emily’s previous novel – and many of the same ingredients are used in this latest outing, The Glass Hotel. Multiple narratives twisted over numerous timelines, held together with beautifully poetic writing. Emily is expert at weaving threads and foreshadowing plot lines, while keeping the story moving forward. My only issue was that I felt some sections were bloated and could’ve done with a trim, but a minor gripe for an otherwise excellent novel, so 5*!

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.