Between Starshine and Clay by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, a review

Before Starshine and Clay by Sarah Ladipo Manyika was sent to me by the wonderful people over at the publishing house, Footnote. This doesn’t bias my opinion, but I thought you should know ☺️

Between Starshine and Clay: Conversations from the African Diaspora by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

“Conversations with the African diaspora” is the tag line for this book, as Ladipo Manyika interviews and chats with people from across the continents. There were names here I was familiar with, such as Toni Morrison, as well as a lot of individuals I had never heard of before. But each and every person had a fantastic and gripping story to tell and I’ll now follow them eagerly in the future.

The individuals that Ladipo Manyika talks to are: Toni Morrison, Claudia Rankine, Xoliswa Sithole, Wole Soyinka, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Margaret Busby, Anna Deavere Smith, Willard Harris, Michelle Obama, Michael Hastings, Evan Mawarire, and Cory Booker.

This book touches on a lot of topics. From racism, to feminism, to colonisation, gentrification, and dictatorships. All of them talking about the individual impact, as well as the larger effect. I was absorbed in each persons story and whilst I feel like everything wrapped up well, I definitely want to do some more of my own research on each of these people and discover more of their work.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Research: 9, Authenticity: 8, Readability: 9, Personal Impact: 9, Intrigue: 9, Informativeness: 9, Enjoyment: 9, giving an average of 8.86 and a 4.5* rating.

Highlight here for content warnings: discussions of persecution, death, racism, xenophobia, confinement, colonisation, violence, genocide, war, hate crime, classism.

I loved being exposed to so many more individuals that I likely wouldn’t have heard of without this collection. I am definitely bumping this up to 5*! This is a perfect read for me in November (Non-fiction November to be specific) but I recommend it all year round!

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy, a review

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jenette McCurdy has a title designed to shock and intrigue, and it does that well, but the content inside of the book lives up to the title. It’s a dark, humorous, and sad look into the life of an unwilling child star, one who a lot of us grew up with on kids channel Nickelodeon.

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

As soon as I heard about this one, I knew I wanted to grab it. I had heard some about how Jennette’s life had been, but this title meant I knew I would learn so much more. This is an incredibly in depth memoir, Jennette doesn’t hold back. She talks about how her mother’s controlling attitude to Jennette’s stardom impacted her career and her life, as well as her body and her mental health. But she doesn’t shy away from the mistakes that she made herself, making her very human to the readers eyes and for me at least this heightened how much I could empathise with her.

Jennette’s mother wanted everything from her. She wanted her to be a best friend, an eternal child, she wanted to live vicariously through her in child stardom and to dress her up like a doll. Jennette learnt early on how to react to make sure her mother was happy, no matter her real emotions.

McCurdy mentions being discouraged from writing when she was younger, because her mum thought it would take her away from acting. I’m glad that this has been a breakout success because her writing is fantastic! I was completely engaged throughout this book, unable to put it down. I read it over two days, and even then only because I had to go to bed (it was 3am to be fair).

Whilst those of us who watched Jennette as a child star will find it really interesting to learn about the behind the scenes of iCarly, I think those who didn’t know about her stardom will also gain a lot from this book. It discusses child stardom and child abuse in a way that is not specific to that one show, and is something that we still need to think about in this day of TikTok and YouTube channels that are dedicated to children and run by their parents. How would McCurdy’s mum reacted to TikTok if she’d had Jennette now?

On CAWPILE I rated this: Credibility: 10, Authenticity: 9, Writing: 9, Personal impact, 9, Intrigue: 9, Informativeness: 9, and Enjoyment: 9, giving an average of 9.14 and a 5* rating.

I always include trigger warnings, but this book is very heavy so please do check these out before diving in (highlight them to read them, they’re hidden for those who really oppose any sort of spoiler): eating disorder, child abuse, death of parent, vomit, alcoholism, cancer, body shaming, mental illness, grief, panic attacks, addiction, sexual assault, gaslighting, fatphobia, domestic abuse, schizophrenia, self harm, adult/minor relationship, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, dysphoria, rape, paedophilia, infidelity, religious bigotry, stalking, ableism, homophobia, misogyny, abandonment, classism, confinement.

This is a dark book in places, and not a light-hearted read. Yet McCurdy manages to make her writing so engaging and so personal that the impact isn’t so rough on the reader. This is one of the best written memoirs I’ve ever read and I’m so glad I listened to the hype and picked this one up.

Are you going to read I’m Glad My Mom Died? And did you watch iCarly when you were younger? I used to love the show!!

Fake Law by The Secret Barrister, a review

Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister, is the second book by this anonymous author I’ve read (the self titled The Secret Barrister being the first). A non-fiction title, by a currently serving British Barrister, explaining in more depth the truth behind those astonishing sounding news articles.

Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies, by The Secret Barrister

We see so many news articles, especially since the prominence of social media, announcing that the state has stopped deportation of a terrorist because he owns a cat, and that they refused to treat your dying baby. But what is the legal truth behind these inflammatory headlines? Surprising few of you, they don’t tell the full truth. They barely tell any truth at all.

This book was fantastic, if anger inducing. Secret Barrister (SB) touches on so many points that the right wing fanatics have attempted to weaponise to further their own aims. SB breaks these down and instead shows the truth of these events. The terrorist with a cat? The cat was mentioned in passing as showing their deep roots, with a partner and a house, in Britain. And they weren’t even a terrorist. The refusal to treat a dying baby? That’s because there were no available treatments left, and it is usual to confirm that with a court order. The media just saw that as clickbait and ran with it.

With so much of the British Justice system rooted in Royal courts and approvals, it was odd to be reading this over the dates of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, with the mention of the Queens Courts, which are of course now the Kings. Something that most likely won’t bother anyone not British/in the Commonwealth, but just a little jarring to read on the day of her death and the days afterwards.

SB does a fantastic job a breaking down the law into something that regular civilians can comprehend, with citations added for those who wish to look into things in more detail. With his unique position of anonymity (he mentions his gender near the end of this book) it means that he can provide insight into how our courts are currently operating without having to pander to anyone.

I was already sceptical of these clickbait articles that we see everywhere on social media and in headlines, but Fake Law has solidified that scepticism. These articles always, either on purpose or through lack of legal knowledge from the reporters, miss out vital information that completely change the perspective.

SB uses some very high profile cases in his examples (Baby P and Jamie Bulger for example) which had a large amount of misinformation around them in the media. With these, and the other cases used (anonymised unless already in the public eye) the book is incredibly interesting. Learning more about these cases that I’ve been brought up with and have seen time and again on the news. But also just seeing how the British Justice system actually functions. Something that common folk don’t usually get to see.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Research: 9, Uniqueness: 9, Readability: 9, Personal Impact: 8, Intrigue: 9, Informativeness: 9, and Enjoyment: 9, giving an average of 8.86 and a 4.5* rating.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: misappropriation of the law, discussions of child death, child abuse, sexual assault, incarceration.

This is an absolutely fascinating book. Of course for those interested in legal proceedings around the world, but also for those who want to know just how badly the media manipulate information surrounding high profile cases. I’m very glad that I picked this up and I’m definitely going to be picking up any other books SB has or will publish.

Super Volcanoes, a review

Super Volcanoes by Robin George Andrews was gifted to me last Christmas by my wonderful, recently passed, Mother-in-Law. If you don’t know me: hi! I have an MSc in GeoHazards and love volcanoes! So it was, of course, the perfect present. And I was so excited to delve in.

This book was bloody fantastic. It is wonderful, insightful, hilarious, and a well-written account of volcanology throughout Earth and into our Solar System. I adored reading out extracts to my partner as I read through and I’m hoping to get him to pick it up one day! And I’ve already sent over a copy to the wonderful Kari from Kar-ing for Books, she’s read it, and she loved it too!

The humour in this book is completely British (Kari is from the US and vouches for this point!) and so goddamn stupid at points, but always in a very fun way. It helps in stopping this book from becoming one of those non-fictions that are dull to read and you stay entertained through every page.

This book is written so well, it’s written in a manner that includes the science and doesn’t talk down to the reader, but at the same time it’s also completely accessible. At first I thought that I might be biased, given this was my area of study, but Kari has agreed with me, and she studied Law so definitely a different realm! But don’t get me wrong, I still learnt stuff from this book! Things that I had never heard of before and that I found fascinating (Ol Doinyo Lengai anyone?), so not only can those who’ve never studied GeoScience enjoy this, but also those who have!

Andrews also isn’t afraid to tackle the unknowns in this field. Aspects of the science which are still being debated about and discussed. There is so much that we still don’t know, about both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial volcanoes. When he tackles these aspects he speaks to so many experts from all sides of each argument, getting all of the points of view (within reason) about these unconfirmed theories. And whilst he does provide his own opinion (given he’s a GeoScientist himself), he makes it clear that the other arguments are valid and have their own points and that we need more evidence to have any conclusions.

On CAWPILE’s non-fiction scale I rated this: Research: 10, Uniqueness: 9, Readability: 9, Personal Impact: 10, Intrigue: 10, Informativeness: 10, and Enjoyment: 10 which gives a score of 9.71 and a 5* rating!

This is one of my favourite ever non-fictions, and at least vies for top spot. It’s such an amazing book and one that I’m so excited to introduce to all of my family and friends! If you’re even vaguely interested in volcanoes throughout our solar system, and the environments and people they impact, I highly, highly recommend this book.

How To Be An Antiracist, a review

I picked this book up in Waterstones post-Christmas half price hardback sale. When I saw it on the shelves I knew I needed to grab some good non-fiction in my life and this seemed like a great one to read. I like to consider myself an ally, but that means doing the work. And I’m 100% not perfect, so this was something I thought could further my self-education. Not being racist isn’t enough, we need to be antiracist.

I definitely learnt a lot from this book. Ibram X. Kendi is a Black author who is most well known for writing Stamped. Within this book he really explores the Black reality of being racist towards oneself, something that I of course had no previous familiarity with. It was really interesting to learn about and gave more depth and understanding to some actions of the Black diaspora (for example colourism).

There were quite a few unexpected points made throughout. Things that white readers just simply wouldn’t think of. And that’s the point of this book. To be antiracist you need to be active rather than passive, and that means understanding more from the point of view of Black (and Asian, and Indigenous) people.

One of the topics touched on within the book is how racism impacts sexuality and gender. Some of the terms that Kendi used are outdated and/or wrong, however, the discussions themselves were all well meaning and you can still discern the authors intention.

I was a little disappointed to notice there wasn’t a section on disability though. This is a marginalised group and I imagine that those who are both disabled and non-white face additional struggles that would’ve suited a place within this book.

Overall, this was a really interesting and enlightening book. I’m working on actioning a lot of the points discussed in here in my day to day life and working towards being actively antiracist.

On CAWPILE I used the new non-fiction system that G added this year, and I rated this book: Credibility/Research: 9, Authenticity/Uniqueness: 9, Writing/Readability: 8, Personal impact: 8, Intruge: 8, Logic/Informativeness: 9, and Enjoyment: 8 which gives an overall score of 8.43 which is a 4.5*.

This is a fantastic book that I would recommend to anyone who is wanting to actively fight racism (i.e. everyone).

The Five, a review

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold is a non-fiction book about the women who were murdered by Jack the Ripper. Instead of focusing on the murderer, however, we focus on the women. Their lives. Their histories. And how they ended up in the slums of London.

Hallie Rubenhold is a historian, so this is very well researched, with endless references at the end of the book (which I love!) and I can’t even imagine just how many hours went into researching this book.

Mary Ann Nichols. Annie Chapman. Elizabeth Stride. Catherine Eddowes. Mary Jane Kelly.

These are the women who came from middle class comfort, from the slums, from Sweden, with families that loved them, or being totally alone in the world.

I loved this book. So so much. We really delve deep into these women’s lives and the lives of their families. We learn exactly how all of them ended up living in their destitute situations and how they were making their living.

These women are often all portrayed as prostitutes and sex workers. Of course there is nothing at all wrong with this, but in Rubenhold’s research she could only find evidence that one of the women worked in this profession. It seems as though the Victorian’s couldn’t imagine a women living in the slums and not being “morally reprehensible” and so they decided that they all must be prostitutes.

Whilst in the modern day we know (or at least I hope you do) that there is nothing wrong with being a sex worker, it’s simply factually incorrect to state that this was these five women’s linking factor. That isn’t why they were murdered. They were women who unfortunately were deemed as easy targets. They weren’t able to find a bed for the night. They were homeless on the streets.

As you can see, I’m pretty passionate about this after having read this book. And I read this months ago! I really do recommend that you pick this up. It reads very well so should be perfectly accessible to those who aren’t keen on non-fiction books usually and is utterly fascinating to just learn about the day to day life of various women in this time period.

CAWPILE isn’t the best measure for non-fiction books (or at least it wasn’t in 2021, G has updated it for 2022) so I just wrote in the scores to give this book a 5 star rating! But I did make a note to give “enjoyment” a 10/10 score.

This is a fantastic read and in my opinion totally worth the hype that it suddenly got all over bookstagram. I hope you do pick this up and I hope you enjoy it!

No Place to Hide, a review

No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald isn’t exactly a hyped book. But when I spotted it going for free at my old work, I couldn’t resist it. It’s all about Edward Snowden’s NSA leak which is something I’ve wanted to learn more about.

This was incredibly interesting. Greenwald is actually the journalist whom Snowden worked with to release the data, meaning that we get a full rundown of the events. We learn who Greenwald was prior to all this (and a little bit about Snowden too), and how Snowden got in contact with him in the first place. We learn about how Greenwald’s husband was impacted, as well as Greenwald himself. And all of this is on top of what we learn about the leaks themselves.

Greenwald isn’t great at tech, he makes that clear through a few anecdotes of Snowden struggling to get him to use encrypted methods of communication. However, this means that we get some pretty basic and easy to understand explanations of the information that he’s included in this book.

One thing I will never get over is the ridiculous PowerPoint presentations that had been used by the NSA. Now PowerPoint is a great tool, but why was a government organisation using the old rainbow WordArt effect? 😂

I did try and run this through CAWPILE, but in 2021 there wasn’t a non-fiction rating available so I was basically just trying to make it equal my actual rating! So. I gave this book a solid 4 star rating.

If you’re at all interested in this topic, I think this is a really great book to fill up and I’m glad I’ve got this on my non-fiction shelves!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – a review

In light of my blog post about being more chill with my book blog, this is going to be my first post where I don’t sit and write an academic article about my thoughts on a book! Ironic that I’m doing this with a science based book but here we go, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

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This books is a biography written by a white woman, Rebecca Skloot. With this being about a Black woman who was exploited I was concerned about this going in, but she actually addresses this within the book itself. Of course as a white woman I can’t speak on this properly, but it did seem like she really cared for the wellbeing of the Lacks family and wanted to truly tell Henrietta’s story to the world. But I would look for own voices reviews of this to get a view on that part.

I liked that there was science mixed in with the personal, it wasn’t all just about her life and it wasn’t all just about the science, the two intertwined. It shows the impact that the HeLa cells have had on society, saving so many lives, as well as the impact the treatment of Henrietta had both on her and on her family around her. And that difference is pretty stark.

I like that Skloot chose to write about how she got in contact with the family. It shows the exploitation that they’ve been subject to before, as well as hopefully keeping her accountable for how she was getting in contact with them. Given that they’re able to pick this up and read it.

Overall I gave this 4*s. On my CAWPILE spreadsheet I rated it:

  • 10 for characters
  • 7 for atmosphere
  • 7 for writing
  • 8 for plot
  • 9 for intrigue
  • 8 for logic
  • 8 for enjoyment

The CAWPILE rating isn’t designed for non-fiction books so I’ve had to just make this fit for the book the best that I can. And my rating came out at 8.14, so a solid 4 stars!

Highlight for trigger warnings: mention of sexual abuse, cancer, racism, classism, medial procedures, death

Honestly I really recommend picking this one up. It’s a really interesting book that focuses primarily on the human impacts of the work carried out, both on Henrietta and on what the HeLa cells have been able to achieve and it’s really important to remember and honour the woman who’s cells were stolen, who has enabled so many scientific advancements.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

When I got the email through from NetGalley I almost ignored it. I try not to request too many books, I have a massive tbr as it is! But something in the tag line caught me, and I opened the email up. A book about climate change? Well now this is right up my alley, I can’t not request it! I was so excited that I requested it via ebook and also audiobook, and I got both! I mainly read the book via ebook as I knew I’d want to see the graphs, but I’ll also mention the audiobooks qualities.

Lets start with the audiobook. Now you might be thinking, you just mentioned graphs, why would I want to listen to this via audiobook if I’m able to use another option? Well, Gates and the publishers thought of this! For those of you who use audiobooks due to visual impairments, the graphs are explained well and you will be able to understand the data in them from the way the information is described. For those who listen to audiobooks merely out of preference, this audiobook actually comes with a digital booklet that shows the graphs. Now not only is that pretty cool, but the “text” of the book is also a little different in the audiobook in order for it to reference those graphs and tell you to go hunt them out. I liked this little change that technically doesn’t matter, but it makes the experience of listening to the book that much more immersive. And who doesn’t love those little bits of attention to details!

Bill Gates himself reads the introduction of the audiobook, with Wil Wheaton reading the majority of the book. I personally preferred Wheaton’s reading voice, which was good for me, but I liked that this includes Gates’ voice as well. It allows you to be able to envisage the different inflictions and his tone of voice throughout the rest of the book, as well as adding a level of intimacy and relatability.

Moving away from the audiobook, but sticking with the voice of the book, Gates has a very interpersonal style throughout. It very much feels like he’s sat down for a coffee with you somewhere, going over the data that he has and making an impassioned argument. I think this was a great choice as it will stop those unfamiliar with the subject from feeling as though they are being spoken down to. It also allows for moments of humour and self-clarity which allow you to connect with the author and be more invested in the points he’s making.

Now, onto the guts of the book.

This was such an incredibly interesting read. As someone who has studied climate change from an environmental perspective I’ve always had views and opinions about what needs to be done and the steps that are currently being taken. I’d never, however, seen anything from a business perspective that was actively encouraging taking steps to go green. That? Well that was the biggest takeaway for me from this book. This book not only goes into what can be done about climate change on various levels (more on that in a moment) but it breaks it down to the respective costs, compares this to the costs of how the current methods run, and then talks about the green tax that is present and how this can be reduced through innovation and legislation.

The clear breakdown of the cost of these carbon neutral methods, as well as a clear comparison to current costs, really brings the reality of the economic side of this proposal to light. The reality is that without the backing of those with economic power, it will be all but impossible to reach carbon neutrality. Therefore, these steps which encourage and motivate greener alternatives are so important to implement. The importance of governments, on a local, national, and international level, is clearly demonstrated. With Gates even going as far to provide examples of how they could and should act in order to bring us closer to carbon zero.

In terms of those steps that can be carried out in order to reduce the carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere, these are split up into clear steps. Showing the emitters and what can be done about these. From manufacturing, to farming, to transport and more. Each polluter is mentioned, their impact demonstrated, and various options for how these can be tackled are brought to the table. The weaknesses of the solutions is also mentioned, as without those the arguments aren’t worth a penny. Gates also proposes solutions to these. Sometimes these are concrete, actual options (including options for greener concrete!), and sometimes it is simply stating that we need to carry out more research in these areas. That there needs to be more funding.

Of course Gates has been known to invest in many a start-up or a R&D opportunity. In order to reduce his bias, he doesn’t mention these companies by name throughout the book. I’m sure with a little bit of sleuthing you’d be able to match up the companies that he’s talking about to his investments, but the intent is clear. Regardless of his economic investment in these companies, his investment in the issue itself is just as strong.

This is a book that I wish more people would read. For those who state that they don’t care about the environment I believe it could offer some clarity. For those who are economically focused it could also explain not only why they should care but also how they could benefit from these changes. And overall it would raise awareness. I went into this expecting just a simple little book. I should’ve expected more from Gates. This was an in depth, well researched non-fiction that establishes many useful ground points that can be built upon in order for us to avoid a climate disaster.