The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead — New Review

The Underground Railroad was a gift from A, and I’m fairly sure she said she chose it because it had won a load of prizes. It also fits in well with other things I’ve read — books like The Floating Theatre and Sugar Money. I was a bit worried, because of all the prizes, that The Underground Railroad was going to be dense and difficult to read, but it pleasantly surprised me on that score. I found the early chapters very intriguing, especially when the narrative shifted away from Cora’s perspective to that of a slave-catcher called Ridgeway. It took me way longer than it should have to realise The Underground Railroad was set in an alternate history, and I admit I don’t know enough about the details of the America of this period to be sure what pieces are off the rails, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Cora remembered Caesar’s words about the men at the factory who were haunted by the plantation, carrying it here despite the miles. It lived in them. It still lived in all of them, waiting to abuse and taunt, when chance presented itself.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

I can see why people liked The Underground Railroad, especially the first third or so. It reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale in the way it built the story out of both things that did happen and things which didn’t. Certain things that happened to Cora also reminded me of Offred — she was dehumanised in ways that were probably fictional, but felt like they could have been real.

Unfortunately, the middle of the book really let it down, as far as I was concerned. I expected to see more of Ridgeway after we got a taste of his perspective, and I was disappointed he was featured for such a limited amount of time. As for Cora, it’s perfectly understandable that a slave character would have limited agency in the society we’re presented with, but there are long sections of the book where Cora doesn’t do anything, and those didn’t really push the story forward in any satisfying way. Even when Cora does take action, it didn’t have much of an emotional impact on me as a reader.

The afternoon stretched the shadows like taffy…

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

The end picked up, a bit, in that it was certainly interesting to read about the Valentine Farm, and wonder how much of it was based on true historical fact. Sadly, I didn’t really connect to any of the characters. I’d recommend this to readers who enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale because I do think it has some interesting similarities in style, though I have to admit I think The Handmaid’s Tale is probably the better book.

Next, I’ll be reading The Fandom by Anna Day.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Cherry Radford — New Review

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This is the first Lighthouse Book I’ve reviewed for this blog, but not the first I’ve read, and I’m sorry to say this was something of a disappointment. Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall and The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E Pendziwol were both excellent, and I think I would’ve enjoyed them even had they not been about lighthouses. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Cherry Radford, on the other hand, I don’t think I would’ve picked up had it not been for the lighthouse connection. It sounded from the blurb like a fairly ordinary romance, and even featured the dreaded ‘secret from the past’ which I always assume will be something of a cliché.

Their friendship develops. So, she reads, did her father’s but shocking revelations cause Imogen to question whether she ever really knew him.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter

The beginning of the book carried me along easily enough. I think this is the first time I’ve read a Lighthouse Book centred around a lighthouse in the UK, and also the first time the central lighthouse isn’t working. Imogen and her friend visit the lighthouses the same way I would, as a tourist attraction and holiday cottage, rather than being employed in the workings of the lighthouse. By the time I got to the middle of the book, though, I was definitely flagging. The language was fine, without being particularly noteworthy, and the story was a fairly generic romance. Even when, just past the middle of the book, everything started to happen, I still wasn’t that engaged.

Their friendship hangs in the air between their two separate lives, their paths don’t cross, there are no mutual friends to remind one of the other’s existence; at any time, their connection can disappear without consequence.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, Cherry Radford

I almost think I should have been more invested in this book than I was. I’ve never had a twitter romance, but I do have friends I’ve made online, who I only know online and who I connect with over IM clients and websites. Imogen’s experience doesn’t reflect mine at all, though. In fact, Imogen and Santiago being separated by a country’s breadth caused remarkably little angst, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t just as easily have been living in the same town. The book certainly picked up when they were together. I enjoyed those early chapters of Imogen being in Spain more than most of the rest of the book. I was particularly amused that Imogen shared my feelings about Les Misérables.

They’ve moved on to the bit that always lets it down: the stupid love-at-first-sight between Marius and Cosette. […] Now they’re singing the ‘In my life’ duet — it’s very pretty of course, but then so are they.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, Cherry Radford

The ending — and all the promised secret-related drama — seemed both contrived and rushed. I didn’t really get a sense that the characters had any strong feelings related to what they were discovering, it didn’t change anything about their lives. After reading The Thorn Birds, that was a bit of a disappointment. I suppose this was a much lighter, easier read, but it wasn’t very satisfying. I think if you like this kind of story, there are better examples out there — though, I admit, I’m only capable of recommending You’ve Got Mail as a comparison, because I haven’t read many books in this genre.

Next, I’ll be reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Bookish: Books with Lighthouses on the Cover

I don’t remember when my interest in lighthouses actually started. I know it was before university, because I used to tell my friends N and G that one day I wanted to live in a lighthouse. (N wanted to live in a narrowboat, and G wanted to live in a hot air balloon. We were an eccentrically ambitious lot.) Over the years, it’s become my thing, to the extent that people buy me (much appreciated) lighthouse trinkets, or recommend additions to my collection of books with lighthouses on the cover. A has even promised that if I read enough books with lighthouses on the cover, and rate them, she’ll do me some kind of spreadsheet!

iPiccy-collage

This is my collection as it currently stands – five books I have physical copies of, all of which have lighthouses on the cover. I haven’t read them all yet, but I hope to review all of them in time, as well as keep adding to my collection. I’ll be reviewing The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Cherry Radford soon, and I’ll do a special tag or category for lighthouse books.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick – New Review


I’m not usually a big reader of autobiographies — I don’t even have an autobiography shelf on goodreads, and I obsessively categorise everything. I might never have picked Scrappy Little Nobody up had I not heard Anna Kendrick talk about writing it in some interview or other. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it must have left a good impression, which the book certainly lived up to.

Once I started reading, I connected with Scrappy Little Nobody immediately. It made me laugh within the first couple of pages. Not only that, but one of Anna Kendrick’s stories from her childhood felt like it could have happened to me. When a bully attempted to frame her for writing mean graffiti about her friends, Anna tried to prove it couldn’t have been her by measuring the distance from the ground, and comparing it to her own height.

That’s how you save a friendship: compulsive documentation!

Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick

I’ve done something not entirely dissimilar: when the leaders of my former writing group tried to tell me I wrote too often with C and A, and not enough with anyone else, I counted how many times I’d written with C to prove that they were wrong. I also started including a table alongside my monthly writing report to show that I’d initiated attempts at writing with every other writer. A habit I’ve kept up, even though I’m three writing groups removed from that situation by now. Enough about me: did you know Anna Kendrick kept a notebook of Claudia Kishi’s outfits from The Baby-Sitters Club books?

Claudia was sprawled on the floor, halfway under her bed…She was wearing a wonderful Claudia outfit – a purple-and-white striped bodysuit under a gray jumper-thing. The legs of the bodysuit stretched all the way to her ankles, but she was wearing purple push-down socks anyway. Around her middle was a wide purple belt with a buckle in the shape of a telephone. And on her feet were black ballet slippers.

BSC Outfit Archive

The publisher’s official website informs me that Scrappy Little Nobody is a book of ‘autobiographical essays’, which explains why it jumps around in time a little, rather than being in strictly chronological order. I didn’t particularly feel that each essay had a conclusion, though, they seemed more like collections of anecdotes around a unifying theme — which is pretty much what I wanted, anyway! The voice comes through very well, and Anna Kendrick has succeeded in seeming down-to-earth, despite her fame. Some of the stories touch on topics – drug use, sex and crime – which I was somewhat surprised to find talked about with so much apparent honesty, which helped Scrappy Little Nobody feel authentic and not neutered to be safe for public consumption.

This book might be for you if you liked Is it Just Me? by Miranda Hart, though the style is a little different. (I enjoyed Is it Just Me? but readers who found Miranda too twee are less likely to have that problem with Scrappy Little Nobody.)

Next, I’ll be reading The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Cherry Radford.

Rating: 4 out of 5.