Book review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Title: Dark Matter

Author: Blake Crouch

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Pan

Publication date: 11th August 2016

My rating: ★ ★ ★ 


“‘Are you happy in your life?’

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he wakes to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before the man he’s never met smiles down at him and says, ‘Welcome back, my friend.’

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined – one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

My review:

Jason Dessen wakes up after being taken by masked abductors and his life changes drastically as he begins to question who he is and if the home and family he knew really existed. Was he ever just a physics professor or is his research revolutionary, changing the course of human history? Before he knows it he is thrown into a confusing and terrifying race against time as he struggles to battle an unknown enemy. I was immediately captivated by the intense story line and was intrigued to see how the plot would develop.

It is difficult to explore the backbone of Dark Matter without giving too much away as this is the kind of book that readers must go in without any expectations to avoid spoiling too much. Not only is the writing exceptional but the story line included the perfect mix of romance, dystopia  and mystery. I was always kept guessing, eager to find out more about the theory of dark matter and conscious of the villain like characters trying to stand in Jason’s way. There were plenty of surprises along the way as new developments in the plot were introduced and characters’ intentions revealed.

As with Blake Crouch’s other novel, Recursion, there was a lot of confusion as Jason’s journey through time and space progressed and I often had to stop and recall the events in previous chapters as the pace was too fast and the space and time concept too complex. Although I enjoyed the complexity and chaos I would have preferred some more clarity and simple explanations in some of the ideas of parallel universes and I felt that this was lacking at times.

Dark Matter pushes the boundaries of the almost impossible in a brilliant attempt to explore humanity and highlight the existence of other worlds with endless possibilities. I enjoyed the ride despite several moments of confusion and am excited to read any future books by this author. Readers who enjoy deep reflections into humankind and identity will find a lot to love about Dark Matter.

Book review: The Skylark’s Secret by Fiona Valpy

Title: The Skylark’s Secret

Author: Fiona Valpy

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Publication date: 29th September 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★ 


Loch Ewe, 1940. When gamekeeper’s daughter Flora’s remote highland village finds itself the base for the Royal Navy’s Arctic convoys, life in her close-knit community changes forever. In defiance of his disapproving father, the laird’s son falls in love with Flora, and as tensions build in their disrupted home, any chance of their happiness seems doomed.

Decades later, Flora’s daughter, singer Lexie Gordon, is forced to return to the village and to the tiny cottage where she grew up. Having long ago escaped to the bright lights of the West End, London still never truly felt like home. Now back, with a daughter of her own, Lexie learns that her mother—and the hostile-seeming village itself—have long been hiding secrets that make her question everything she thought she knew.

As she pieces together the fragments of her parents’ story, Lexie discovers the courageous, devastating sacrifices made in her name. It’s too late to rekindle her relationship with her mother, but can Lexie find it in her heart to forgive the past, to grieve for all that’s lost, and finally find her place in the world?

My review:

Told in dual timelines and spanning several decades, The Skylark’s Secret explores what it means to be a mother and to find one’s place in the world. Family relationships are tested are friendships are formed with issues such as class and background forming the backbone of this story.

As with other books by this author, setting plays a huge role in shaping the essence of the plot and story line. Scotland, and in particular the village and sea, were an interesting choice and it was fascinating to see the changes between Flora’s story line in the WW2 setting and Lexie’s in the 70s. I skimmed over a lot of the marine language however thoroughly enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the Scottish Highlands.

Historical Fiction told in dual timelines is often hard to follow however the two storylines were beautifully intertwined with a lot of similarities in the two characters’ paths. Unfortunately I couldn’t connect with either of the two main characters in the same way that I usually do with other previous books by this author. Some of the minor characters were quirky and interesting but could not hold my attention and I ultimately left and came back to the book several times.

This is a beautiful story of resilience and compassion with impressive storytelling and a fantastic setting. Despite several slow parts and a set of average characters I finished it with a smile on my face and sense that it will be a pleasurable read for many fans of the genre.

The Skylark’s Secret is out to buy today!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: City of Girls

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication date: 4th June 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


It is the summer of 1940. Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York with her suitcase and sewing machine, exiled by her despairing parents. Although her quicksilver talents with a needle and commitment to mastering the perfect hair roll have been deemed insufficient for her to pass into her sophomore year of Vassar, she soon finds gainful employment as the self-appointed seamstress at the Lily Playhouse, her unconventional Aunt Peg’s charmingly disreputable Manhattan revue theatre. There, Vivian quickly becomes the toast of the showgirls, transforming the trash and tinsel only fit for the cheap seats into creations for goddesses.

Exile in New York is no exile at all: here in this strange wartime city of girls, Vivian and her girlfriends mean to be free, to get up to no good, to drink the heady highball of life itself to the last drop. And when the legendary English actress Edna Watson comes to the Lily to star in the company’s most ambitious show ever, Vivian is entranced by the magic that follows in the wake of this true, true star.

But there are hard lessons to be learned, and bitterly regrettable mistakes to be made. Vivian learns that to live the life she wants, she must live many lives, ceaselessly and ingeniously making them new.”

My review:

City of Girls is a riveting story following young Vivian Morris as she moves to New York City. Rebellion, growing up and finding oneself are at the forefront of the first half of the book as Vivian faces several challenges after her move to the big city. The plot develops beautifully as Vivian grows up to be a conflicted woman, both mature and somewhat careless, and she tackles a different set of struggles explored in an equally appealing manner.

The setting in City of Girls is simply exquisite and filled with rich elements and vivid details that made it easy to feel fully immersed. 1940s New York as a backdrop tackles a set of complex issues such as the ongoing war and the responsibilities of young women. I adored the first half of the book and the striking descriptions of the theatre, costumes and nightlife.

As the plot progressed and Vivian matured, she questioned some of the decisions which shaped her life and it was interesting to follow her thought process and see major changes in her personality and her views of the world. Certain important people in her life, such as her parents and her aunt, dipped in and out but the focus was primarily on Vivian and I enjoyed getting to know her as a strong main character.

Another unique aspect of City of Girls was the first person narrative letter format. The entire book is a response to a letter Vivian received from someone revealed from early on without any indication of how the characters are connected. This style of writing was innovative and fitted well with the plot progression and character development.

City of Girls has the perfect blend of beautiful writing and interesting story line. Although some parts felt slow and I lost the connection with the characters, it usually quickly picked up with a revelation or turn in the plot. It was a marvelous read and one I will remember for a long time.

Book review: Beast by Matt Wesolowski

Title: Beast

Author: Matt Wesolowski

Genre: Crime/Horror

Publisher: Orenda Books

Publication date: 20th December 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Elusive online journalist Scott King examines the chilling case of a young vlogger found frozen to death in the legendary local ‘vampire tower’, in another explosive episode of Six Stories…

In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘The Vampire Tower’, where she was later found frozen to death.

Three young men, part of an alleged ‘cult’, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong’. However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.

Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses – people who knew both the victim and the three killers – to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, the tragic and chilling legend of the ‘Ergarth Vampire’…

Both a compulsive, taut and terrifying thriller, and a bleak and distressing look at modern society’s desperation for attention, Beast will unveil a darkness from which you may never return…”

My review:

After reading Changeling last year, I was convinced that The Six Stories series would quickly become one of my favourites and was eager to find out if Beast would live up to its predecessors. I was pleased that it surpassed by expectations in several aspects and managed to devour it in two sittings.

Scott King is back to tell another mysterious tale on his podcast in the same format as in previous books. Elizabeth Barton is brutally murdered in what appears to be a prank gone wrong. I was immediately taken aback by the revelation of the three murderers however this created an even greater need to unravel the mystery surrounding Elizabeth’s murder. He speaks to six witnesses who knew both the victim and murderers which allowed for brilliant character progression and also added an element of mystery. I never felt that there were too many or too few characters and we gradually discovered more through their interviews, including the type of relationship they had with the victim and murderers.

One of the most defining and unique aspects of the Six Stories series is the eerie atmosphere created in each setting. There are always events of supernatural nature hinted to be the cause of the murder and this is blended into the plot exceptionally well, never feeling too unrealistic but rather leaving the reader with an idea to consider as the plot progresses. This happened almost effortlessly in Beast with the vampire legends and I thoroughly enjoyed these supernatural elements. The setting of Ergarth as a small and sleepy town perfectly juxtaposed the horrific events during Elizabeth’s murder and created an ongoing uncertainty and unease until the end.

As the plot progressed and all interviewees had been introduced, I was finding it difficult to understand why the three suspects convicted of the murder performed the horrific act and was unsure of where the story was heading. However, the ending was a perfect representation of the complex nature of human emotions and actions. It left me speculating a set of moral questions as it touched upon relevant current day topics such as the dangers of social media, complex family relationships and the pressures of growing up. A truly magnificent read and brilliant addition to the Six Stories series, Beast quickly became one of my favourite reads of the year and I cannot wait for the next book in this series.

Book review: The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Title: The Warehouse

Author: Rob Hart

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Transworld Digital

Publication date: 13th August 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Gun violence, climate change and unemployment have ravaged the United States beyond recognition.

Amid the wreckage, an online retail giant named Cloud reigns supreme. Cloud brands itself not just as an online storefront, but as a global saviour. Yet beneath the sunny exterior lurks something far more sinister.

Paxton never thought he’d be working Security for the company that ruined his life, much less that he’d be moving into one of their sprawling live-work facilities. But compared to what’s left outside, perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. Better still, through his work he meets Zinnia, who fills him with hope for their shared future.

Except that Zinnia is not what she seems. And Paxton, with his all-access security credentials, might just be her meal ticket. As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place.
To beat the system, you have to be inside it. “

My review:

After many riots and protests in the US, Cloud is built as a way to facilitate easy access to everyday items to an entire nation. Life outside Cloud can be cruel to a normal individual with rising unbearable temperatures and thirst for jobs but life inside Cloud provides opportunities and basic needs so the competition for a job there is understandably fierce. The Warehouse contains an eerily familiar dystopian concept, not too far from current day life, which immediately made it feel relatable and chilling. I was already intrigued by the various directions the plot could take.

As the plot progressed, more details are uncovered about the background of Cloud and its creators. The first person POV by the Cloud creator in blog format created an element of mystery surrounding the company and I constantly felt like he could not be trusted. As the story line progressed and small details were revealed I became even more intrigued by the concept behind Cloud and the workings of such a monopoly. The tension never ceased and it always felt like there was something new to learn about Cloud which gave a spooky thriller-like feel to the story.

The characters were unfortunately not to my liking and I could not connect to any of them. Zinia and Paxton were dull and not engaging enough for such a turbulent plot. There was too much unresolved secrecy and deceit surrounding Zinia and I would have appreciated a more devious antagonist. Paxton was too weak and vulnerable for a main character and his presence almost always felt like it was taking away from the plot instead of adding value.

Although the idea behind The Warehouse is creative and alluring, the execution was weak and there were too many loose ends and questions left unanswered. This could merit an extension or even a possible series to compensate for the somewhat rushed and confusing ending. I would be interested to see how Cloud develops with a new set of resilient and strong-willed characters. This dark Sci-Fi novel highlights the injustices of modern day life and brings to light scenarios that society may believe are almost impossible but are entirely realistic in our future. Fans of dystopia may find a lot to speculate on after reading this book.

Book review: Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Title: Big Lies in a Small Town

Author: Diane Chamberlain

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: St Martin’s Press

Publication date: 14th January 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


“North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?”

My review:

Told in two timelines and featuring two strong willed female main characters, Big Little Lies explores the endless possibilities one will go to protect the ones they love. It delves into complex topics such as racism, gender bias and mental illness and, as with other books by this author, the motif, in this case the mural, acts as a magnet to bind both timelines and create a space for these characters to connect in a beautifully expressive way.

The dual timelines were a powerful way to narrate both Anna’s and Morgan’s struggles with important life decisions they made, draw similarities to their life paths as well as bring out the differences. The chapters were long enough to transport the reader to each setting but equally not too overbearing to distract from the switching POVs. The storytelling in both timelines was exceptional with elements of mystery added in, such as what happened to Anna and why this mural was in the hands of the influential black artist, Jesse Williams. These questions kept me fully invested until the end.

Fans of Diane Chamberlain may already be aware of her unique ability to create emotional connections through her fleshed out and complex characters and this book was no exception. I instantly empathised with both Anna and Morgan and wished for a positive outcome for them. Although at first it may seem as if the mural is their only bond, both characters have similar traits which the author explored in great detail.

The ending was satisfying and tied up all loose ends, providing the reader with closure which I always value in Historical Fiction books. Unfortunately the pacing seemed too uneven towards the last few chapters but I appreciated the great level of detail on both character’s backstories. Big Lies in a Small Town is a compelling and emotional book that explores a wide range of themes with great care and highlights Diane Chamberlain’s talent for writing. I highly recommend this book to all Historical Fiction lovers and anyone hoping to read a beautifully told story.

Blog tour: As the Stars Fall by Steve N Lee

54907545. sy475

Title: As the Stars Fall

Author: Steve N Lee

Genre: Fiction

Publication date: 25th August 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★


A desperate dog. A scarred girl. A bond nothing can break.

When a young girl suffering with her own tragedy comes across an injured young dog, she can’t resist helping him. Both having braved the worst the world had to throw at them, the pair quickly form an unbreakable bond. They picture their future as an endless stream of adventures filled with love, laughter, and good times.

But life has one last cruel trick to play…

At one moment heart-warming, the next heart-breaking, this is the story of a devoted dog’s roller coaster journey to be the one thing every good dog dreams of being — a best friend. Through a touching tale, As The Stars Fall explores how compassion can make us whole again and friendship can heal even the most broken of hearts.

If you crave a story of love and loss, of compassion and belonging, of friendship that knows no bounds, you need to read As The Stars Fall.

My review:

As the Stars Fall explores the myriad of emotions when dog and human meet and the special bond that is formed through the eyes of Kai, an injured homeless puppy rescued by a kind girl and her dad. Stories like this are always heartfelt and touching however what made this story truly special was witnessing the exciting and strange sounds, smells and feelings from a dog’s perspective. Details such as the scents in Mia and Dad’s house and finding happiness in the small things at home were original and entertaining. I especially enjoyed seeing Kai progressing from a scared and nervous young puppy to a confident and happy companion to Mia and the friendship that transpired was truly unique.

The characters in As the Stars Fall each have their quirks. I particularly adored the way Mia and Dad’s relationship developed through the years and the special role that Kai played in transforming it. Naturally, Mia and Kai became close friends from the start but it was delightful to see how much joy Kai brought to Mia’s life during the difficult period she was experiencing and likewise, Mia rescued Kai from a life threatening situation to only bring him up to be a cheerful and lively dog.

The story line traces many of the main milestones in a dog’s life but also reveals other less significant moments such as times when he is left home alone which allowed the reader to form an even deeper connection. By the end I almost felt as if Kai was my dog and I was completely immersed in the story. This is largely due to the coherent and emphatic writing and natural flow between chapters. The style was fitting without being too formal or unnatural for a dog’s voice.

I adored As the Stars Fall and was completely captivated by Kai and his adventures. I thank the author for providing this book at a very opportune time as I have always wanted a dog and have been considering making it a reality over the past few months and this book offered a different perspective. I highly recommend this book to any dog lovers or readers who love a brilliant story with realistic characters.

Many thanks to the author for providing an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

As the Stars Fall is out to buy now!

About the author:

Apart from animals and writing, Steve’s passion is travel. He’s visited 58 countries and enjoyed some amazing experiences, including cage-diving with great white sharks, sparring with a monk at a Shaolin temple, and watching a turtle lay eggs on a moonlit beach. He’s explored Machu Picchu, Pompeii, and the Great Wall of China, yet for all that, he’s a man of simple tastes — give him an egg sandwich and the TV remote control, and he’ll be happy for hours!

He lives in the North of England with his partner, Ania, and two black cats who graciously allow Steve and Ania to stay in their house.

Book review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Title: The Guest List

Author: Lucy Foley

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: William Morrow

Publication date: 2nd June 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?”

My review:

Julia and Will are hoping to stun the guests at their exclusive wedding due to take place on a remote island. The couple’s guest list includes a mix of old school friends and close family members and their differences in background and upbringing are highlighted as the day progresses. Several strange and awkward encounters lead to a murder at the limelight of the book.

The Guest List is written through various narratives and involves several time jumps, a mechanism that works to its advantage and encourages the reader to keep guessing. The murder is revealed at the beginning and is explored through the eyes of five characters as an added layer of mystery and suspense. I was surprised to see that the groomsman, Will, was not one of the main POVs and this immediately made me suspicious of his intentions. It was also curious how the author decided to focus on Aoife, the wedding planner, as it seemed an unusual choice but ultimately added a fresh outsider perspective on the wedding which was necessary to understand the event as a whole.

Although I enjoyed experiencing the wedding through various perspectives, none of the characters were especially likable and I was not invested in any of them throughout the entire book. Several hard-hitting topics such as depression and suicide are explored through some of the characters’ POV but there was not enough opportunity to fully delve into these emotions and hardships as the plot focused mostly on the murder. Unfortunately this didn’t allow for character development as too many characters were introduced.

The remote island setting contributed to many dark and chilling moments and the author made great use of the scenery to create a disturbing yet realistic backdrop. I could picture some of the events taking place in the secluded setting and could feel the characters’ fear, largely due to the descriptive surroundings. However, some of the later scenes seemed too unrealistic and impractical to take place on the island without any of the other guests taking notice.

The exciting storyline and atmospheric setting established a strong base for a successful thriller. Although I understood the author’s reasons for creating dual timelines and multiple character POVs I didn’t feel that it was executed as well as it could have been with fewer characters. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this thriller as an addictive and quick read.

Book review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Title: Normal People

Author: Sally Rooney

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication date: 28th August 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


“Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.”

My review:

Normal People is a coming of age story exploring human emotions and connections and the difficult moments in life. It aims to promote these themes through the voices of the two main characters, Marianne and Connell, and their differences in upbringing.

The writing style consists of everyday informal speech and lack of quotation marks which puzzled me at first. I struggled to understand why the author chose such an unusual way to write this book but I assume it was implemented to embody real life and represent breaks and silences in dialogue and the human struggle to formulate thoughts and emotions. Although I opposed this writing style at first, I gradually eased into it and by the end found it to be a powerful writing mechanism and one of the main strengths of the book.

The story line in Normal People sometimes feels disjointed due to several flashbacks and time jumps. They added an element of mystery however also disrupted the flow and I don’t believe were the smartest choice for plot continuity. As much as I tried to interpret the plot and guess which direction it was heading in, I felt a little disappointed each time I moved onto a new chapter as there was no depth in the plot and it felt as if the writing was moving aimlessly from one milestone in the characters’ lives to another and by the end it seemed like nothing had transpired between the two main characters which was frustrating.

My main issue with this book was the lack of depth and connection between Marianne and Connell. The author tried almost too hard to convey a deep emotional and physical connection and several moments felt too forced. The dialogue was awkward and stilted and I continuously struggled to understand their reasons to stay together as it appeared that they didn’t have anything in common. The break ups and reconciliations which followed were mostly due to a lack of communication which was exhausting and frustrating to follow. I tried hard to connect with them but ultimately could not understand their intentions or empathise with some of their struggles. Unfortunately the secondary characters were even more bland and one dimensional. They were introduced with the purpose of bringing insight into Marianne and Connell’s background, such as Marianne’s abusive brother and apathetic mother, but were presented without much depth and in a bad light rather than as complex and multidimensional characters.

I struggled to understand the hype surrounding this book after finishing it. Although I appreciate the difficult themes it advocates, I felt that the characters were too unlikable and the execution weak at times. At first I believed that perhaps I was missing something but upon reflection I feel that it is a book that could be interpreted in different ways depending on the reader’s emotional state and current events in their life. I understand why it may have had a significant impact on some readers however for me it left a lot to be desired.

Book review: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Red at the Bone

Author: Jacqueline Woodson

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Publication date: 17th September 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


It’s 2001, the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer, Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony – a celebration that ultimately never took place. Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives – even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

My review:

Red at the Bone illustrates the struggles of an African American family through reflections of sixteen year old Melody and other members of her family. As Melody is about to walk down the stairs at her coming of age ceremony, she contemplates the events that have led up to this day, giving way to a deeper look into her family’s history. The alternating POVs in the following chapters, each focusing on a particular family member, analyses the difficulties the family faced and highlights many important controversies.

Jacqueline Woodson is a master at telling a powerful and compelling story and this book was no exception. The language is vivid and fierce without being too flowery or overbearing. I could have easily highlighted half the book with quotes to look back on as the writing felt fresh and different. This positively influenced the dynamic change in voices in each chapter as each character had their own way of communicating and it was refreshing to see their own version of the events.

Some of the most critical themes in this book were further empowered by the splendid characterisation of Melody’s mother, father, grandmother and grandfather. Her mother, Iris, had Melody at only sixteen years old, mirroring yet also differentiating between both characters’s paths beautifully. We learn more about how the family dealt with the news or Iris’ pregnancy through their POVs where themes such as race, religion and class are explored with an unusual level of intimacy and harshness which I really admired.

Red at the Bone has the ability to prompt many emotions through the combination of impressive storytelling and realistic and fleshed out characters. I would have preferred to see a deeper look into some of the character’s feelings and decisions but nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will be reading many more of Jacqueline Woodson’s books.