Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L Allen

Every Boy Should Have a Man Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: man, pet, bond, wild, dystopian

Every Boy Should Have a Man is a strange fable set at a time when the Earth is suffering from climate change. ‘Man’ is in danger of extinction – partly from lack of habitat, but also because giant ‘Oafs’ are keeping them as pets and eating them.

The book begins with a poor oaf child discovering a female man in a bramble patch. He takes her home to play with and discovers that she is a rare, valuable, talking man. The pair form a close bond, but their happiness is broken when she becomes pregnant:

If she were not pregnant, I would sell her as meat and pay for this expensive house I am building. And when the litter is born, can I sell it to make back some of my money? No. Instead I must surrender the litter to the wealthy! I could save a lot of money by just allowing them to remove her thumbs. I would surely be better off if I lived as a pet. The government protects pets! What about protecting people?

This is a very strange book, but its messages on climate change, slavery and animal ownership are delivered in an effective way. It shouldn’t make any difference, but seeing what life would be like if humans were kept as pets raised some difficult questions. The arguments were extremely powerful and some people might find them too disturbing, but I loved the way it made me stop and think about our treatment of animals.

Every Boy Should Have a Man is a short book. Part of me wants to criticise the fact that it skipped over elements I’d have liked to investigate in more depth, but another was impressed by the amount of subjects covered in such a short time. This probably means it struck exactly the right balance between the two!

The book successfully combined a variety of different myths; giving a modern twist to some old stories and creating new ones which were equally engaging. I loved the fact I had no idea what would happen next and would enjoy talking about some of the issues raised. It would make a fantastic book club choice, but I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different.



The First Bad Man by Miranda July

The First Bad Man Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: weird, life, people, faults, love

The First Bad Man is a very strange book! I have to give it credit for its originality, but unfortunately I could only stand its bizarre characters for a limited amount of time. 

The plot focused on Cheryl, a forty-three-year-old single woman who has an odd outlook on life. At first I found her quirkiness amusing – I loved the initial scenes with the chromotherapist and was intrigued by the painfully awkward way she communicated with others. It was fascinating to read her thoughts and be able to see why her anxieties caused her to make bizarre life choices.

Unfortunately everything seemed to fall apart when Cheryl was forced to take in a teenage house-mate. The book lost its humour and become almost realistic. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at all! 

The writing was excellent throughout and there were some wonderful passages:

Try not to base your decision on this room, it isn’t representative of the whole world. Somewhere the sun is hot on a rubbery leaf, clouds are making shapes and reshaping, a spider web is broken but still works.

The dialogue was also especially good – it’s just a shame that the brilliance wasn’t maintained throughout.

Overall, it’s probably worth reading this odd little book, but be prepared for it’s patchy nature.


2015 Novella

Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel

Kauthar  Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: Islam, rituals, love, extremism, terrifying

Kauthar follows a young woman as she converts to Islam and then becomes increasingly radicalised. The subject matter is particularly pertinent to our society today and I’m pleased that I am now more informed about the issues involved. Unfortunately it lacked the emotional power of her debut, Magda and I found the amount of religious information overwhelming.

Kauthar is only 144 pages long, but it crams a lot into such a small space. The writing is deceptively simple, but contains many sections that force the reader to stop and think about the issues raised. 

The book was very well researched and contained a wealth of information that was new to me, but I occasionally found that too much was explained and this detracted from the story. It is a very hard line to tread, especially when the author is aware that the majority of readers are not familiar with the details of the subject matter, but much of the book felt like a lecture in religious studies, rather than a compelling novel:

And I ask Rabia,’Isn’t Islam misogynistic?’
‘For Allah there is no difference between the soul of a man and the soul of a woman. We are all from Him and we will all return to Him. O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from the twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. However, there is a physical difference between men and women. And Islam and we Muslims accept and acknowledge this difference in our earthly appearance.

It was interesting to see the young woman become increasingly devoted to her religion, but I never felt I truly understood what was going on in her head. I failed to connect to the characters and always felt as though I was a distant observer, rather than someone immersed in the action.

If you’re interested in learning the basic principles of Islam and would like an insight into the process of radicalisation then I recommend Kauthar, but if you’re after a more powerful book I suggest you try Magda instead.


2015 Chunkster Recommended books

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life Source: Personal Copy

Five words from the blurb: college, friendship, decades, New York, trauma

A Little Life is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. The evolving relationship between four college friends over several decades sounds like nothing special, but Yanagihara manages to get under their skin in a way few writers can. I was totally engrossed in their story, unable to stop thinking about them – even long after I’d turned the final page.

A Little Life deals with many difficult subjects – including paedophilia, physical abuse and suicide. Some people will find it too disturbing to read the more graphic scenes, but I thought it was important they were included. The way these events rippled through the lives of everyone, no matter how indirectly they were involved, was skilfully shown and I especially liked the way mental health and the pursuit of happiness was explored:

But these were days of self-fulfilment, where settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble. Somewhere, surrendering to what seemed to be your fate had changed from being dignified to being a sign of your own cowardice. There were times when the pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive, as if happiness were something that everyone should and could attain, and that any sort of compromise in its pursuit was somehow your fault.

The length of the book (700+ pages) will be daunting for some, but I loved the detail of this novel. It meant I could picture every aspect of their lives; imagine myself visiting their houses and be able to predict how they’d react to different scenarios. It’s rare to discover a book where a cast of characters are developed to this extent; to witness the strength of friendship and to investigate how it responds to the strains of life.

I have to admit that I wasn’t enthralled by the first 200 pages. The quality of the writing was outstanding, but I disliked the way the book switched between each of the men – it threw me out of the story and I felt as though I was having to start a new book on beginning each chapter. Luckily, about a quarter of the way through the book, everything came together and I remained hooked for the rest of the novel.

I loved Yanagihara’s debut, The People in the Trees, but A Little Life is even better. It has a much simpler plot, but the characters have more depth. It’s still well worth reading both books, but it is wonderful to see a writer develop and create something with the potential to become a classic.

A Little Life is an outstanding novel. It will probably make you cry but, worst of all, it will make all the other books you try for months afterwards feel insignificant.


2015 Non Fiction

Educating Ruby by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas

Educating Ruby: What Our Children Really Need to Learn Source: Personal Copy

Five words from the blurb: schools, progressive, change, children, confidence

I’m currently trying to decide which secondary school to send my children to, so I bought a copy of this book in the hope it might give me an idea of what to look for when I’m visiting them. It proved excellent for this purpose, but was also good at pointing out what parents can do to help their children within the home.

Educating Ruby states that our current education system fails to teach children what they really need to know to thrive in the outside world. It’s current focus on passing exams means that children falter when confronted with the skills needed for employment. The book argues that the education system needs to change radically in order to teach children to work with others, to communicate effectively, and to have the confidence needed to chase their dreams. It also questions the topics that should be taught in schools – suggesting that learning about finance, cookery and sex might be of more use than trigonometry or the Tudors.

Some parts of this book felt like an uncontrolled rant but beneath the surface it contained a lot of interesting points. It made suggestions for how to improve a child’s social skills, both as a parent and as a professional within the school environment, and gave numerous examples of how to make lessons more interesting and engage children in creative thought:

A few years ago we worked with a teacher in a school in Milton Keynes who undertook some research into ways of making reading and writing fun for her Year 1 children in ‘Elephants’ class. The teacher chose Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss as a book to read together (a good choice given its central character is Sam-I-Am who is reluctant to try things out but gradually learns to ‘give it a go’). She equipped the Elephants with paper, pencils and clipboards and asked where they’d like to do their writing. They chose to try in the classroom with the lights off and powered by torches, in the staffroom (achieved after a bit of negotiation!), lying on the floor in the school library, in the school grounds and even in the local park. This simple but imaginative approach worked well. Accompanied by the normal phonics and handwriting practice, the confidence of the Elephant class increased, the teacher told us, as did the fluency and skill of their writing. 

It became increasingly useful as it neared the end – especially because it backed up many of its proposals with scientific research or examples for further reading.  

Educating Ruby makes a compelling case for changing the way children are taught in schools. I hope that the ideas discussed within this book can be introduced into schools and more people come to appreciate that exam success is not the most important thing a child can achieve.



July/August Summary and Plans for September

I’ve had a very busy summer, spending time with friends and family. I’ve managed to keep up the reading, but haven’t been able to keep this blog up to date. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that now things are getting back to normal.

Over the summer I read two outstanding books: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Both go on to my list of all-time favourites and I hope that you love them as much as I did.

Books of the Summer:

Shantaram A Little Life

Books Reviewed in July/August:

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts 

All Involved by Ryan Gattis 

The Bridge Over the Drina by Ivo Andric 

Blackass by A Igoni Barrett 

Familiar Wars by Julietta Harvey 

Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen 

The Loney Andrew Michael Hurley 

Under the Skin by Michel Faber 

Plans for September

I’m a bit behind with reviews. I hope to catch up in the next few weeks, but here are a few words to give you an idea of my thoughts on the books I’ve finished recently:

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh Gripping, but flawed

Swallow This by Joanna Blythman Scary!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara A masterpiece

Educating Ruby by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas Insightful

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand Lacking emotion

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson Too long

The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas Too fragmentented

Cafe Europa by Slavenka Drakulic Fascinating, but dated

I haven’t thought about what I’m going to read next as I’m too busy unpacking! I need to have a good look at all the books I have here and try to prioritise them. I’ll update my sidebar as I work through the outstanding reviews.

I hope you all had a great summer and I look forward to catching up with you soon.