This month my TBR list didn’t go as I had planned. Given the spotlight shone on the BLM movement by the atrocious murder of George Floyd, I felt it critical that I educate myself.
I am ashamed to say I would have said “oh I’m not racist” and moved on with my day. The BLM movement has made me really reflect on that. I looked through my social media, on my bookshelf, even down to my Netflix recently watched – the vast majority of those that I followed, read or watched were white females. This made me think about subconscious bias and I’m committing to make a change to be more inclusive.
This extends to considering the products that I buy, and the models that they use in their campaigns. Additionally, if I ever receive PR products for this blog I will be actively ensuring that their PR list is diverse and representative.
In regards to reading, a resource I have found incredibly useful is this blog post by @dearkatherineanne on Instagram. Her instagram account, and the discussions she has engaged in and shared, have been a great source of information and reflection for me throughout this time and I urge you all to follow her.
This month I’ve chosen a non-fiction and a fiction book from Katherine’s list and will be continuing to work through to recommendations in months to come.
This book is a must read for everyone. The amount of Black history I’ve experienced throughout my time in education has been limited to exposure to the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. The focus has never been on Black history in the UK and this book addresses these education gaps, covering our history of police brutality, slavery, lynchings and education inequality.
Further discussions include the experiences Reni had as a Black Feminist and media outrage at any attempts to diversify (e.g. Idris Elba as James Bond, or a Black Hermione Granger).
I will not review this book, as I feel that would be missing the point. This is educational material that should be compulsory reading in all schools, and for all adults for that matter.
Racial equality is crucial to building a better Britain, it is not a spectator sport and it will take all of us to challenge and address inequality to make a difference.
Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
This is another read highlighted on Katherine’s list.
This week, Queenie won book of the year at the British Book Awards – meaning Candice Carty-Williams is the first Female AND Black author to have won the award. She said she felt proud, but also confused and sad and was hopeful that the industry was changing.
Queenie is a 25-year-old Jamaican-British woman, living in London, working at a local newspaper, seemingly not being understood by anyone in her life. We join Queenie as she is attempting to navigate a break (not break up) with her boyfriend, Tom and journey with her through challenges to her love life, her race and her family.
Many reviews for Queenie have flown around championing Queenie as the new Bridget Jones. Queenie is also a young woman living in London, appearing to be unlucky in love, but I think that is where the similarities end. We get to know Queenie on a much deeper level and see the trauma that she experiences, largely due to being a Black woman, as opposed to Bridget Jones remaining relatively light all the way through.
I really enjoyed the inclusion of the WhatsApp messages between her and her ‘Corgis’ as it felt like Queenie was truly one of my friends and I think that is what Candice Carty-Williams did incredibly well: made the reader really care about Queenie and her decisions. I wanted to fight for Queenie, shake her at times with frustration, and comfort her when she was at her lowest. Queenie was a real character, living in the real world.
The only real reason that I didn’t give this book 5 stars was that I didn’t love it quite as much as The Flat Share or Where the Crawdads Sing – however it was mighty close and I would recommend it to anyone.
Trigger warnings: sexual abuse (although not explicit) and racism.
Breakfast At Bronzefield – Sophie Campbell*
Following a GBH conviction, Sophie is sentenced to 2 years in prison, beginning at Bronzefield and later serving out her sentence at Downview.
As my knowledge of women’s prisons only go as far as what is shown in Orange is the New Black and, prior to this, the TV series Bad Girls, I was fascinated to understand what conditions were truly like, particularly in the UK.
The author highlights key issues within the prison system, in a raw and emotive way. It is clear that she still holds much resentment for the way she, and other inmates, were treated. And it’s not hard to see why when reading her tales of rogue officers, sexual assault, poor mental health support and the lack of resources for inmates to prepare for their release (the author even cites that prisoners are often released homeless and given a tent!) It is easy to see why reoffender rates are so high. Sophie also touches (albeit lightly) on the implications of being Black had on her (and others) in prison.
I do have some issues with the book, though. Sophie is charged with GBH but doesn’t go into what actually happened – which is fine, aside from the fact that there is a strong undertone which suggests she was unfairly convicted. Her behaviour whilst in prison is consistently aggressive towards other inmates and guards with Campbell seeming to see no problems with her actions. It was hard to believe that there were no ‘good’ guards in the whole prison? This led to me feeling that the author was unreliable.
I struggled with the way the novel was written. Sophie mentions university on a number of occasions and the littering of references throughout made it feel like I was reading a university essay – with the odd petty remark around the appearance and smell of other inmates juxtaposing this.
Whilst it was a difficult read, it is clear that the author has overcome many obstacles to get to where she is now. I agree with many of her comments on reform and wish her well in her cause and the future.
*I received this book as an advanced review copy for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo – Christy Lefteri
This is the story of Nuri, a beekeeper, and his wife Afra, an artist, who flee from their beloved home in Aleppo, Syria, due to a heartbreaking event that happens in the midst of a war. Afra is blinded by grief after what she saw in Aleppo and Nuri is struggling to navigate the pair through a broken world to reach an uncertain, but hopefully safe, future in Britain.
This is the first novel I’ve read about refugees and the struggle they face – through no fault of their own – to become safe. The dangerous journey is discussed in great detail and is both inspiring and heartbreaking in equal measures. After I read this book, I immediately googled charities and initiatives that I could support – it really hit home how truly horrendous the plight of a refugee is.
I loved the character of Angeliki, and found her a light in the darkness of that particular leg of their journey. Additionally, the passion and love that Nuri spoke of the bees with shone as a beacon of hope throughout the novel.
The reason this didn’t get a full 5 stars from me is that I guessed one of the major ‘plot twists’ very early on, and I found in parts that it was quite slow. However, it is still definitely worth a read and I would fully recommend it!
Trigger warnings: Rape, Death of children, War
Half A World Away – Mike Gayle
Kerry and Noah could not be more different. Noah – a successful Lawyer with a wife and daughter, and a close knit family living in Primrose Hill; Kerry – a single mother and cleaner, living in a West London housing estate, struggling to make ends meet.
But Kerry and Noah have more in common than they first thought – they are half-siblings separated at birth. Kerry, destined to grow up in care homes and fend for herself, whilst Noah was adopted by a wealthy, white family in a supportive and loving environment.
I warmed to both characters at the start of the novel, and really enjoyed the first half of the book – although it was slightly slow. Once we learn of Kerry’s secret, though, it became incredibly predictable very quickly. Although it was truly heartbreaking in parts, there were aspects that felt like they weren’t given the depth that they deserved. I also really did not get on with the character of Noah’s wife and found myself skimming over their story together.
Having said that, it was enjoyable to read a love story that wasn’t the traditional boy-meets-girl romance. It was a relatively easy read, but not one that I would shout from the rooftops about.
Trigger warnings: Cancer, Miscarriage
Have you got any recommendations? Have you read any of the above novels? I would love to hear what you thought in the comments below!
Until next time! x