Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven


This is a book about so many things. A book aimed at a teenage audience about teenagers. School sucks, there’s homework to be done, parents don’t understand you. If this book is about one thing, it’s about labels. Let me introduce you to our first narrator: Libby Strout. She was once labelled “America’s Fattest Teen.” Our second narrator is Jack Masselin. He’s one of the “coolest boys in school”. He also has Prosopagnosia. (That’s face blindness to you and me, he doesn’t recognise faces.) Holding Up the Universe explores the human beings behind the labels. Jennifer Niven has done it again.

Her first book was a masterpiece that left most readers in tears. When I started reading this book I was scared. I wasn’t ready to have my heart broken again. This is a beautifully told book with a much more uplifting beginning, middle and end. Maybe not an uplifting beginning. The book opens with Libby’s first day at school after several years at home trying to lose weight. Jack is trying to keep up appearances while struggling to keep track of what is happening around him. He may not have kissed his girlfriend one night. This certainly isn’t a pity party, its striving and struggling to take each day as they come. They are both brave.

These two voices are unique and the author just gets it. She writes with humour, warmth and maturity. A diamond in the rough of teen fiction. This book is life affirming. Forget everything any one has ever said about you. You are more than your label. I like to think there are multiple universes but they are inside you. I have the label of the book worm which I love but I also label myself fat and negative which I don’t love. We need to embrace Jack’s way of seeing things. He doesn’t recognise faces which means he has no memory or attachments to your face. We should look at people afresh every time we see them, they not be themselves today. They might be worse but chances are we’re better than we were yesterday because we grow and learn and love. This is what Jennifer Niven does to me! To everyone! She changes perceptions. Thank you.

Watch my video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0v7LnLBKMyI

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers


This is one of the best books I have read this year. Let me introduce you to the crew of the Wayfarer. Captained by Ashby, the Wayfarer is a tunnelling ship made up of 50% spare parts and 50% hope. Engineers Kizzy and Jenks keep the thing in space and Sissix pilots it. That’s just some of the amazing characters that Rosemary Harper meets on the ship. This is the most epic space opera I’ve ever read. Fun comes first but there is also danger and suspense. It does all this while tackling bigger issues one would expect from a universe with more than one species in it.

There are so many differences in biology without taking into consideration culture, climate and whether you’re a good guy or a bad guy. You can’t have a space opera without a light side and a dark side. That would be silly. Take for example the character of Sissix. She proves herself ten times over as a brilliant pilot but she’s a woman and a lizard. I can’t help but draw comparisons to Firefly, it’s impossible not to. While Firefly and Joss Whedon examines a class system, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and Becky Chambers examines race, xenophobia and prejudices. Which is why we love our narrator so much. She uses non-binary pronouns and wants to know the correct way to talk people, pronounce their name and accommodate to their needs. She’s rather adorable about the whole thing. You won’t find a politer or considerate narrator.

Chamber’s world is intense. She has created new species, cultures and languages. (There were so many names and words that I have no hope of pronouncing.) What made this book stand out to me was the space stuff. She puts the science in science fiction. I had no idea when I read this but Chambers was raised by an astrobiology educator, an aerospace engineer, and an Apollo-era rocket scientist. So she knows her stuff. I like to think she consulted her parents on certain paragraphs in her debut novel. While reading, I relished her imagination but now I know her upbringing, I stare at the stars and wonder if the Wayfarer is out there creating a tunnel to our solar system.

Watch my video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKeYFtB_kig

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman


The year Paris takes to the streets. The year Martin Luther King loses his life for a dream. The year Eleanor Maud Portman is born. When God Was a Rabbit is a sequence of snapshots and moments that spans over four decades. Eleanor, now known as Elly, and her family travel from one side of the country to the other; from suburban Essex to Cornwell.

It is a tale of secrets and peculiarities that a normal family wouldn’t go through. Elly doesn’t have the easiest of childhoods and that makes adulthood slightly problematic. Her brother shoulders her secret and plays the perfect big brother; because of that she is braver and stronger than she knows. Her brother moves to New York so Elly spends a lot of time there. Her childhood best friend is in prison and she had an article that documents their letters to one another.

It’s told with simplicity and love. Every sentence was a small work of art and every word served a purpose. Not a single character felt wasted and this book was full of characters all of which served a purposed. They brought out different sides to Elly. Elly is a little lost soul without much direction in her life. She bathes in the eccentricity that sounds her. My parents run a bed and breakfast which seamlessly turned into a rescue home for strange people. Her whole family, blood and otherwise, are charming and content. It was a pleasure to share their joy and heartbreak.

Watch my video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTXQHTwW8ZI

Poison City by Paul Crilley

Poison City by Paul Crilley

poison city

The back of this book compared it to lots of other books and it does have elements of them. You can draw comparisons to many medias and stories as it brings ancient myths, legends and monsters to the modern day. They are an abomination and they have to be stopped. Like the Winchesters stopping the apocalypse in Supernatural. Or Crowley and Aziraphale stopping the apocalypse in Good Omens. Or Shadow stopping an apocalyptic type war of Old Gods versus New Gods in American Gods.

This book has slightly more order than the examples given. “The name’s Gideon Tau, but everyone just calls me London. I work for the Delphic Division, the occult investigative unit of the South African Police Service.” Like the Men in Black but for the supernatural rather than the extra-terrestrial. Like Die Hard, London is practically on his own against a group of bad guys trying to save everyone! Things are exploding! Like Taken, he’s a father who wants justice and revenge. All these things make me very happy.

What it does have, like the given examples, is a sense of humour. Everything’s trying to kill us and we’re all going to die but why have we got to be so glum about it? In the words of Roger Murtaugh: “I’m getting too old for this shit.” London isn’t old in his body but he’s old in his heart. He doesn’t have time for your games or your plans to end the world. Neither does his sidekick Dog. That’s his name. And he is a dog. A swearing, booze drinking magic dog. There is a lot of violence and a lot of swearing and I loved it a whole lot. It’s a crime book with sinister plots, seedy dealings and ugly bad guys. But those bad guys are supercharged monsters and that makes for a slight more interesting whodunit.

Watch my video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxiORnXZfwY

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

apple tree yard

This book was shortlisted for the CWA Steel Dagger for Best Thriller and the Specsavers National Book Awards Crime & Thriller of the Year. I read the back and it gave me chills. “Yvonne Carmichael meets a stranger and she is drawn into a passionate affair. Keeping the two halves of her life separate seems easy at first. But she can’t control what happens next.” I judged it was another domesticated thriller. A woman makes a mistake, holds a great secret and is a misunderstood victim in so many ways. It is not that.

Told in two halves the affair and the trail, at the centre a crime of passion and jealousy. I started this book with a very negative attitude but it’s cleverer than that. I found it to be more sophisticated in both its telling and its subject. Yvonne is at a staff party, gets drunk and is raped by a member of staff. Because the affair, she can’t go to the police. Instead, she has a very interesting and frank conversation about her chances of having her rapist convicted. What she did that day, wore that day and drunk that day should not be taking into consideration but it would be. Disgusting, unjust and true.

The second half of the book was the trail. This I found fascinating. What a clever way of causing speculation and doubt than with a court case and two versions of ‘the truth’. We are not told the ins and outs of the crime itself. We hear the medical examiner. We hear from witnesses who saw her parked outside. We hear from the victim’s family telling us what a wonderful person they were. The author does not lie or withhold information or twist words to trick us for a big reveal. It is Yvonne and her lover and their lawyers. Part psychological thriller and part courtroom drama.

Watch my video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cY9KudcY1I

The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain

The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain

midwifes confession

“I don’t know how to tell you what I did.” This is the start of a letter a midwife writes before her suicide. Her two best friends are going through her things and they discover a terrible secret that will destroy everything it touches because the author wants to shoe horn as much tragedy and drama into one book as possible. As you can sense from my tone, I didn’t like this book too much. My first problem was with the title. There was no confession. Curiosity killed the cat and its whole family. This was the Midwife’s Fuck Up.

Spoilers. Duh.

Tara and Emerson are going through Noelle’s things. Noelle is the midwife. Noelle delivered Emerson’s baby after numerous miscarriages. Noelle also delivered Tara’s baby at home. It was a difficult birth in the dead of night. Both mother and baby almost died. Tara lost both of her parents in a car accident and then she lost her husband. Count it: three people die in car accidents! Noelle also was a surrogate a number of times without her best friends knowing. Noelle also slept with one her best friend’s husband. I’ve not even touched upon the big fat secret yet! It was all too much. No one in this book had it easy or was happy in the slightest. Maybe Noelle because she no longer had to suffer under the author’s venomous ink.

It was all too much. There was no subtly or shades of grey. Every part of Tara and Emerson lives were tainted and not just by Noelle! I couldn’t take it seriously as a book. Although it did make me cry. In my defence, the language at the end was very emotive. It was also unrealistic. How can you find out your best friend dropped and killed your baby, and then replaced it with a comatose woman’s child, without swearing at least once?! They spoke in sweeping statements of instant forgiveness and declarations of love. The whole book stunk like a TV movie.

Watch my video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKr39hTrkRA

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides


This is story of metamorphosis. Like Middlesex, the origins are Greek. The word metamorphosis comes from the Greek metamorphoun which means to transform or change shape. Now that linguistics lesson is out the way, we can talk about the book. There are several transformations. The Stephanides family transform from Greek to American. It is our narrator Cal that goes through the biggest transformation: ‘I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974.’

Despite Cal’s metamorphosis from Calliope to Cal, we don’t hear a lot about it. Instead she looks back at the life of her parents and grandparents and the changes and challenge they had to face. I don’t pretend to know about Greek culture or story telling but I recognise parts from my Introduction to Literature course at university when I should have read Homer and Ovid. I do remember this, story rarely existed in written form. Instead it was word of mouth, stories travelled through being told and passed on. This is how I like to think about this novel. Cal is telling what her parents told her and what her grandparent told her parents and what her great grandparents told her grandparents.

It was a fascinating read. The Stephanides have faced many tragedies yet I felt we’d only skimmed the surface. The novel concentrates more on the grandparents and I wanted to know more about Cal. His transformation from female to male was touched upon; the moment he realises what has been ‘wrong’ this whole time was told in great detail but not how he made those changes. He simply cut his hair, changed his clothes and ran. In the modern day moment, Cal has a good job. There’s a big gap in his story that I wanted more off. I would have happily read Middlesex: The Trilogy.

Watch my video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBhhUxxau04