Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Red Tent


Her name is Dinah. In the Bible her fate is merely hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the verses of the Book of Genesis that recount the life of Jacob and his infamous dozen sons. The Red Tent is an extraordinary and engrossing tale of ancient womanhood and family honour. Told in Dinah’s voice, it opens with the story of her mothers – the four wives of Jacob – each of whom embodies unique feminine traits, and concludes with Dinah’s own startling and unforgettable story of betrayal, grief and love. Deeply affecting and intimate, The Red Tent combines outstandingly rich storytelling with an original insight into women’s society in a fascinating period of early history and such is its warmth and candour, it is guaranteed to win the hearts and minds of women across the world.

The Red Tent is a new perspective on an old tale. The story of Jacob/Yaqub is recognised and widely spread in all 3 main monotheistic religions, as are the stories of his father, Isaac and son Joseph (think technicolour dream coat, not Mary). The Red Tent tells the much lesser known story of Dinah, Jacob’s only named daughter.

I’ll say it straight up; if you’re squeamish about sex, menstruation and childbirth, this is not the book for you. The title alludes to the tent in which the women of Dinah’s childhood and early adulthood waited out their periods and gave birth. The story often centres on these topics – Dinah is never hidden from these issues as a child, and trains as a midwife as an adult. For women in this period, time spent in the red tent allowed for bonding and sisterhood in a way that normal working life did not; all of the women’s cycles in the camp were synced (also with the cycle of the moon – yes this is possible), meaning they all spent 3 days together every month. There is a large sense of sisterhood in the book, however it isn’t unrealistic or romanticised – the women disagree and fight on several occasions. Rebecca, Jacob’s mother, ruthlessly casts out Dinah’s cousin because her mother and the women of her camp did not follow the same tradition of the red tent.

Although most of the book is set after Dinah goes to Shechem (it’s not spoilers if the origin texts are thousands of years old!) and therefore features little of the physical red tent after this point, the bonds between women, particularly surrounding childbirth, remain strong. The novel shows woman power at its most real – the good, the bad and the bloody!

For me personally, the book felt almost nostalgic. I was born and raised Catholic, and although I’m not much of a believer now these are figures that I grew up hearing about. I don’t believe that you have to be religious or familiar with the religious teachings of the story to enjoy this book, but for me it added a layer of familiarity that certainly didn’t go amiss. Anita Diamant offers a brilliant new perspective on traditional tales and provides a more well-rounded and sympathetic view of the time period and Dinah’s story. It is incredibly well researched and I would say it would be an intriguing read for anyone.

Have you read this? What did you think? Are you religious?

See you soon,


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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Reasons to Stay Alive

Even more staggeringly, depression is a disease so bad that people are killing themselves because of it in a way they do not kill themselves with any other illness. Yet people still don’t really think depression really is that bad. If they did, they wouldn’t say the things they say.

Reasons to Stay Alive couldn’t have come into my life at a better time. Recent events have been catalysts for what I believe has been a long time coming. If I’m being completely honest, and I always aim to be here, I am in the midst of possibly the worst depressive episode I’ve ever experienced.

This book opens with author Matt Haig at his lowest. He is 24, living in Ibiza, and about to walk off a cliff. Reasons to Stay Alive discusses this, how he got there and how he got out of it. He talks about lying in bed unable to do anything but feel scared – a familiar image right now – and how he got out of this.

Haig struggles with Depression and Anxiety, as do I, however I believe this book could help anyone with mental health problems. If you have a mental illness, read this book. If you want to understand mental illness, read this book. If you care about someone with a mental illness, read this book. This is one of the most honest and real discussions of mental health I’ve ever read. It’s painful, raw, brutal and yet somehow uplifting.

Before reading this book it felt like I had no hope whatsoever – no job, no money, no driving licence, nothing and no reason to work towards anything. Reasons to Stay Alive, however, does something that is so important for recovery when you’re in such a low period – works in baby steps. Smaller than baby steps, in fact, tiny, miniscule ant steps.

Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.

Haig writes about how he began to see every moment spent thinking of something normal, without anything about his illness surrounding it, as a moment of hope. You are proving to yourself, without even realising necessarily, that you aren’t completely trapped in this feeling. Even if the ‘normal’ moment only lasts for a second, it’s something. It’s a sign that these moments will come, more and more often, until eventually they will take over the moments spent stuck in the depression.

This book has made things seem just a little bit less hopeless. I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic necessarily (let’s not get crazy now), but every time I catch myself thinking of something other than how terrible I feel, every time my stomach unravels enough to eat something, the book has taught me to take it as a sign. This is a slow process, but I will be okay eventually and for now it’s about the smallest victories.

Not all of this will apply to every situation, not every experience is the same, and I will admit that I cried a lot through the section about love and pretty much whenever he discussed how much he needed & appreciated his now wife (if you’re going through a heartbreak I would recommend skipping it unless you want to get bitter, Matt and Andrea are a wonderful couple). I do think, however, that everyone can learn something from this book. This isn’t a dull, useless self help book, this is real, accurate and helpful. Millions of people are dealing with experiences like Matt Haig’s – this story is one that is literally killing people, and Reasons to stay Alive is tackling this head on. Read it.

See you soon,


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Review Wednesday | Book Review- The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin

‘“Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura’s death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth century history, The Blind Assassin is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal.’

The Blind Assassin is the first Margaret Atwood novel I’ve read. I’d heard rave reviews for The Handmaid’s Tale and The Heart Goes Last, but nothing of The Blind Assassin. It had been sat on the bookshelf in my conservatory for a long time, but I’d thought nothing of it until recently – what a mistake that was.

The Blind Assassin had me hooked from very early on in the story. While Dune, a novel of similar length, had me struggling to get even half way through in weeks (and I’ve still not picked it up again), I finished this book in five days.

The book is split into several view points and narratives. There are often newspaper clippings, invitations and other forms of literature among the text, placing the part of the story in a time and showing a more general perspective before Iris discusses details. The central narrative is that of Iris writing a sort of memoir-cum-letter to her descendents. There is also another narrative, showing extracts of ‘The Blind Assassin’, the revered novel by Laura Chase, which was posthumously published. The novel in the novel is about a couple meeting in secret, and sharing a story about an alien planet – a story in a story in a story.

The main narrative reminds me of The House I Loved in many ways – Iris is an elderly woman writing her life story, much like Rose Bazelet, and often the writing feels similar, despite being set in completely different eras. Both stories lead up to end of life revelations, of similar natures. They differ, however, in what they’re centred around. Iris is mostly focused on Laura’s death, while Rose’s letter to her husband is largely about their home. Iris’ viewpoint, therefore, is often a lot broader –she explores the entire world around her and her sister, rather than centring her story on her own house and street.

The brief explanations I offer here may sound vague and confusing, but this is far from the effect that Atwood’s own words achieve. Atwood manages to write clearly and steer the story incredibly well, even in the most hectic and confusing aspects. While the climax is fast paced and information-heavy, it somehow remains enjoyable. Iris and Atwood both remain calm and clearly know what they’re doing with the text. The result of this is a remarkable novel, full of twists, humour, sadness and mystery. My first foray into the world of Margaret Atwood certainly won’t be my last.

See you soon,


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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Heartborn (ARC Review)

Her guardian angel was pushed.

Keiron was never meant to be anything other than a hero. Born high above in a place of war and deception, he is Heartborn, a being of purity and goodness in a place where violence and deceit are just around every corner.

His disappearance will spark a war he cannot see, for Keiron has pierced the light of days to save a girl he has never met, for reasons he cannot understand. Livvy Foster is seventeen, brave, and broken. With half a heart, she bears the scars of a lifetime of pain and little hope of survival.

Until Keiron arrives.

Continue reading Review Wednesday | Book Review – Heartborn (ARC Review)

Review Wednesday – Book Review: Junk



Tar loves Gemma, but Gemma doesn’t want to be tied down – not to anyone or anything. Gemma wants to fly. But no one can fly forever. One day, somehow, finally, you have to come down.

I picked this book up absolutely clueless as to what it was – it sounded familiar, but I had no idea just how significant it is. Melvin Burgess’ Junk was the first YA novel of its kind, and certainly unlike any other YA novel I’ve ever read.

Junk celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, and as such Melvin Burgess was awarded the Andersen Press Young Adult Book Prize Special Achievement Award. Andersen Press are also releasing a 20th anniversary edition of the novel. So what makes it so special?

Continue reading Review Wednesday – Book Review: Junk

Review Wednesday – The Book of Other People


‘The Book of Other People’ is about character. Twenty-five or so outstanding writers have been asked by Zadie Smith to make up a fictional character. By any measure, creating character is at the heart of the fictional enterprise, and this book concentrates on writers who share a talent for making something recognizably human out of words (and, in the case of the graphic novelists, pictures).

As the description says, The Book of Other People is a collection of short stories. Compiled by Zadie Smith, the collection is tied together by her simple challenge to the writers; write a character. Sounds easy, right? Believe me, it’s not. The vaguer the brief, the more difficult it can be to write. It’s no surprise, looking at the list of authors, that the characters in this collection are all brilliantly thought out and well rounded. Smith has enlisted some of the best contemporary writers around, including David Mitchell, Nick Hornby, Miranda July, ZZ Packer and Colm Toibin.

Continue reading Review Wednesday – The Book of Other People

Book Review – The House I Loved

‘Rose Bazelet is determined to fight against the destruction of her family home until the very end; as others flee, she stakes her claim in the basement of the house on rue Childebert, ignoring the sounds of change that come closer and closer each day. Attempting to overcome the loneliness of her daily life, she begins to write letters to Armand, her late husband. As Rose delves into her memories, she reveals the secrets held within the walls of her beloved house.’

The House I Loved is set in Paris, 1869, towards the end of Napoleon III’s reign and the height of Georges-Eugene Haussmann’s ‘Renovation of Paris’.  The renovations saw whole neighbourhoods in central Paris demolished and rebuilt in line with Haussmann’s designs. Tatiana de Rosnay’s novel centres around one particular road, the rue Childebert – now part of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Her protagonist, Rose Bazelet, lives on rue Childebert, in her late husband’s family home.

Taken from the front of the book.

The novel is written in the form of an extensive letter, written by Rose to her late husband Armand. Rose is an elderly woman who is set in her ways and is incredibly attached to her home. She sees it as the last link she has to her late husband and beloved mother in law. She often reminisces about happier times, but ends up delving into dark, repressed memories of the house and her life.

Before I read it, I wasn’t sure about this book. While the time period and location seemed interesting, a closed setting such as the basement and the style of writing the book as a letter/series of letters is restricting and been done a lot. I found myself fortunately mistaken in many ways, but I did find it predictable in many ways. It is the kind of novel that you predict the ending of from the start of the novel. Although the story does go off into many tangents, these can also be easily predicted. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in small doses, but I managed to predict large portions of the novel, when I’d much rather be surprised in at least some small way.

Despite this, it was an enjoyable and emotional read. For historical fiction, it was easy to read but informative. If I could go back, I’d have read up on the context a bit beforehand – I knew nothing about it, and while the novel does explain it well I find that when reading historical fiction I prefer to know at least a small amount about the context in order to fully understand it. Tatiana de Rosnay does provide a good level of context and the text was easy to understand without knowing anything else about the time period.

See you soon,

Ro x

Book Review – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

‘Love is not breathlessness; it is not excitement; it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love”, which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.’

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a novel by Louis de Bernieres. Set in 1940s Cephalonia, the novel explores the realities of love, life and war for the people of the island. This review will have spoilers but it was published the year I was born so I think it’s been around long enough!

I’ll admit that it took me a long time to finish this book. The writing is incredibly detailed and rich, and as a result can be quite difficult to get into. It’s certainly worth the effort though, and de Bernieres’ characters are incredibly realistic and multidimensional, as is his description of the island.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is for the most part almost like a collection of short stories, as opposed to one novel – it is told through various peoples’ viewpoints, which eventually overlap and merge into one story. Although it was hard to get into, it is easier to tackle if you read it part-by-part. This method of writing is an interesting one, and certainly something de Bernieres does well. In using different viewpoints to tell the story he not only keeps the writing interesting and varied for the reader, but also adds to the effect of the story. This way of writing builds up the world in a way that simple physical description can’t –realistically we all see the world in different ways, and de Bernieres’ characters are no different. Dr Iannis, for example, sees Cephalonia in a largely intellectual way; he sees history, his pride for his home is built on hundreds of years of imperialism and rebellion, survival and victory. Captain Corelli, on the other hand, has no such connection – he simply sees it as a beautiful island. He grows a connection to it, but one completely different to anyone else’s and unaffected by the history and ancestry Dr Iannis associates with the place.

In the same way, we see many different views on life and the war. De Bernieres’ characters are all sympathetic in some way – readers even find themselves sympathising with Gunter Weber, a German soldier who follows Nazi ideology quite firmly. In fact I think while reading it I found myself sympathetic to almost all of the characters – Mussolini and Hitler being obvious exceptions.

The setting of Cephallonia itself is an interesting one, and lends itself to incredibly tragic historical context. In 1943, the island was the location of one of the biggest prisoner of war massacres of World War Two, and yet it isn’t widely known about or discussed. The Massacre of the Acqui Division saw over 5000 Italian soldiers killed. De Bernieres uses Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to give a voice, not only to the island and normal people in the war, but also to those killed in this tragic event. It seems a shame to me that events like this aren’t put into history books, and that we often only see the facts and figures, rather than real stories. De Bernieres is an advocate for social history, and this is obvious throughout Corelli.

Okay, let’s get on to the unpopular opinions. The ending. I know a lot of people who love this book, and for the most part I agree, but I found the ending largely unsatisfying. I understand what de Bernieres was trying to do in separating and later reuniting Pelagia and Corelli, and I realise the effect that leaving the novel on a hopeful note has, particularly in a social commentary like this, but I’d almost have preferred the book to end without the reader knowing what happened to Corelli. Maybe I’m just cynical but it felt like de Bernieres was told to make the ending happier by his publisher. It’s been a few weeks since I finished it, and in that time I’ve come to terms with the ending and why de Bernieres chose to end it that way, but I still can’t say I like it, personally.

All in all, this is a brilliant piece of historical fiction and portrayal of smaller social groups in a largely generalised and politically regarded historical era. Corelli is realistic, funny and surprisingly optimistic. Maybe one day I’ll learn to love the ending. Maybe.

See you soon,

Ro x

Book Review: Dart – Alice Oswald

when the lithe water turns
and its tongue flatters the ferns
do you speak this kind of sound:
whirlpool whisking round?

Dart is a 48 page long poem, based around the River Dart in Devon. The poem explores many different voices, marked in the margins along with a few brief notes. The piece won the 2002 T.S Eliot Prize, and it is easy to see why.

I usually struggle to read long pieces of poetry, and so I was surprised to find that I enjoyed this so much. Again, this came from my boyfriend – he had to read it for a module of his, and started reading it aloud while I was there. I think this approach was what kept me interested; I didn’t read it all aloud, but if I found myself getting tired it helped to imagine it being read out in my head, rather than just reading it. Focusing on the rhythms and beat of the piece not only helped me read it but I think it also adds to the feel of it – there are places with little rhythm and places with a clear beat; this is obviously intentional, and should be read as such.

The River Dart (not my photo)

The narrative itself is a really interesting one. We aren’t physically transported along the river – that is to say, the reader is taken on the journey through the river by the different voices, going from walkers at the source of the river to crabbers and salmon fishers at the estuary, rather than the poem focusing on physical descriptions to show the river’s progression. The only real complaint I have here is that I’d have liked to hear more of many of the voices; we only get snapshots of stories, many even cut off mid-sentence just as you get hooked – but I suppose the river flows through fast, and cutting stories off before they’re finished is one of the ways Oswald reflects this. The voices cut off and overlap, which can be jarring but is also incredibly effective.

As a result of this cutting off and changing of rhythms, Oswald’s pacing is interesting and well done. Again, this reflects the river; some parts as slower, as the river may slow down, others fast paced, like rapids. The way she uses language and formats the poem also adds to this in an unexpected way – this isn’t set out in one way. Like the changes in voice and rhythm, the formatting of the poem changes regularly and in different ways; sometimes it changes suddenly, others it transitions smoothly.

Oswald’s own words on the piece explain what she is trying to achieve  incredibly well, and I would definitely suggest keeping them in mind if you decide to read this;

‘This poem is made from the language of people who live and work on the Dart. Over the past two years I’ve been recording conversations with people who know the river. I’ve used these records as life-models from which to sketch out a series of characters – linking their voices into a sound-map of the river, a songline from the source to the sea. There are indications in the margin where one voice changes to another. These do not refer to real people or even fixed fictions. All voices should be read as the river’s mutterings.’

I know poetry often seems daunting, especially when it’s this long, but it doesn’t have to be as difficult as all that and Oswald proves this – she’s telling a story, just in a slightly different format. Try it, you’d be surprised.

See you soon,

Ro x

Book Review: The Silkworm


‘When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls private detective Cormoran Strike. At first she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home. But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.’

‘The Silkworm’ is the second novel in the Cormoran Strike series, written by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K Rowling). I worked in a charity shop last summer, and bought this there in September, however only picked it up at the start of this year. ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’, the first book in this series, was appealing and interesting, so I had high hopes for ‘The Silkworm’.

I should say right now that I am a big JKR fan. I grew up with Harry Potter, and devoured ‘The Casual Vacancy’ the day it was released. I look up to her as a writer and enjoy much of her work. It is surprising, then, that I wasn’t massively impressed with this book. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but she lost me several times along the way. As I said, I picked this up at the start of the year. University work along with other things has led me to stop and start it several times, so maybe this is what made it so difficult for me to engage with the plot. Making myself sit down and finish it over the last few days, in order to review it, has improved my opinion of it. It’s well written and clearly well thought out, but still felt over complicated.

Part of the problem was the amount of background characters. While all important to the overall outcome and all well written, it was confusing to keep track of them all and fully keep up with the storyline. I felt like as soon as I got a handle on everyone and started to get on top of the plot, a new character was introduced. The plot itself was convoluted and twisted – this is to be expected in crime fiction, however in this case I didn’t feel like it was necessary to the degree that Rowling took it. There was a lot of backtracking, and much of the process felt repetitive; several interviews made up a large part of the middle of the book, and these were largely forgotten by the end, for example.

One thing Rowling always does well, however, and this is no exception, is write realistic characters. Strike, Robin, Matthew and a few others from ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ return in this, and go through some serious character development. Robin and Matthew finally discuss Robin’s career goals and relationship with Cormoran, who in turn deals with his ex-fiancée’s very public new engagement and subsequent marriage. Robin comes into her own and Strike begins to see her in a more equal light than before; she is no longer seen as just a receptionist but someone with ambition and talent for detective work – which we the readers have seen all along. It’s satisfying to see these characters develop, and the new characters we are introduced to have a lot of depth. I may not have engaged with the plot as well as I’d hoped, but I can’t fault Rowling’s ability to create characters that are believable and relatable.

Overall, the novel was good, but for me personally it was a bit of a disappointment – it didn’t excite me like much of Rowling’s other work. It was a decent read, and I may in fact read the next in the series, however ‘The Casual Vacancy’ triggered a much more passionate reaction in me (as did Harry Potter, quite obviously – although I’m trying to avoid comparisons with that for obvious reasons). I wanted to discuss it and the themes involved in detail, although as a largely political book I suppose that was the aim. ‘The Silkworm’ was enjoyable, but for me it was just too drawn out.

Ro x