Posted in Non-Fiction

Becoming – Michelle Obama

“So far in my life I have been a lawyer, a vice president at a hospital, and the director of a non-profit that helps young people build meaningful careers. I’ve been a working class black student at a fancy mostly white college. I’ve been the only woman (the only African-American) in all sorts of rooms. I’ve been a bride, a stressed out mother, a daughter torn up by grief, and until recently I was First Lady of the United States of America.”

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Blurb: “In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.”

Unless you’ve been living under rock which has been buried several feet underground, you’ve probably heard of Michelle Obama. For eight years she was First Lady of The United States of America, but as a non-American I only saw bits and pieces of what she used her position to create. So it’s pretty helpful that she decided to write a book all about her life! I always have to listen to non-fiction on Audiobook because I really struggle to read these kind of books otherwise; it also really helps hearing the individual tell their own story and Michelle Obama is really soothing to listen to.

Becoming is split into three sections: “Becoming Me” which lays down her roots and detail the significant moments from her growing years such as her piano teacher and the application advisor at Princeton who told her she didn’t stand a chance of getting in. She talks about the moment when she started to be treated differently due to the colour of her skin along with seemingly small events that she didn’t realise the weight of until she looked back on them with an adult perspective. The next section, “Becoming Us” details how Michelle met Barack Obama, their blossoming relationship, marriage and the family they began to make. The final section details the massive shift in the life of her family when Barack Obama became President of the United States of America. Overall, the book provides the stark reminder that Michelle Obama is just human; a woman trying to raise her child with the best values possible while having to cope with being on the world’s stage during two presidential terms.

I loved reading about the fire that Michelle has in her belly. Everything she does is to fiercely protect her family and her own reputation. She likes to stand on her own feet, not being tied down by her links to other people. She works hard to create new programmes for children and trying to improve health because she can’t bear to sit still doing nothing for eight possible years. She talks candidly about experiencing miscarriage and career sacrifices she makes for her children.

As a non-American, it was really fascinating to learn more about how a presidential run works, voting, campaigning and what happens when a new president enters the White House and what the role of a First Lady actually entails. The most surprising thing to learn from Michelle’s story is actually how much she hates politics. She’s incredibly open about her reservations when Barack started to become interested in politics and how she felt self-conscious when he eventually got into office. Sorry to those really hoping she will, but Michelle shuts down any possibility of herself running for presidency – she really does hate politics.

Listening to the audiobook, there’s something so soothing about Michelle’s voice and the way she talks so eloquently and always has food for thought is incredible. I feel like I’ve walked away from this book with a new outlook on life.

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Posted in lgbt, Non-Fiction, review

The Bi-Ble – Edited by Lauren Nickodemus & Ellen Desmond

“We have always been there – lost in either side of history, almost always hidden away as straight or gay – but we were there and we are here now, even if you don’t see us.”

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Blurb: “Bisexuals inhabit a liminal space between cultures, often misunderstood or dismissed by the straight and LGBTQ+ communities alike. We are the sexual identity most likely to be closeted, most at risk of mental illness, domestic abuse, and even heart disease — but also the least visible. Now, a selection of intersectional bi voices has come together to share stories, helping our voices be heard and our identities seen. It’s time to stand up and spread the word.”

Trigger Warnings: sexual assault, rape, self-harm and suicide.

The Bi-ble does exactly what it says on the tin: it is a collection of essays from various people who have/still do identify as bisexual and their stories. I entered a giveaway for this book and was incredibly excited when I won. Upon reading every single word it had to offer, I feel elated; I have never felt so validated in my life.

While I seem very happy and open about my sexuality now, it has been a long road to get to this point. I’ve gathered my own fair share of stories from: being accused of being exclusionary for only being attracted to men and women, to being asked if I’m now straight because my long-term partner is the opposite sex, asked for threesomes, being told I’m more likely to cheat. Frankly, if you think of the stereotypes associated with bisexuality, I’ve been subject to most of them. And with the LGBT+ community often spewing some of the hatred, it took a long time for me to even go to a pride event for fear that I would be kicked out for not belonging there.

The contributors in this book share their own stories from knowingly using the bisexual label as a stepping stone to coming out as gay, to how sexual assault is not viewed the same when the aggressor and victim are both women, to trans bisexuals. It is a truly amazing collection of people and yet the editors involved are humble enough to state that this book is not reflective of everyone’s experiences.

As I mentioned at the start, it’s been a long journey to the confident bisexual woman I am now, but this collection reminded me that I am not alone, and that everything I have felt and currently do feel are completely valid. That it is okay to feel like this and that it is not me at fault but the greater society. While horrible to see so many negative experiences (as well as a lot of positive ones) I felt like a weight had been lifted to know that I haven’t gone through it alone.

Another amazing thing about The Bi-ble is that it’s crowdfunded. Meaning that people believed in its worth enough to make it a reality and that is its own form of magic.

If you’re bisexual yourself, or just looking to learn more from others’ lives, this is a great place to start.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

When They Call You A Terrorist – Patrisse Khan-Cullors

“We are not terrorists. I am not a terrorist. I am Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac. I am a survivor. I am stardust.”

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Blurb: “A poetic and powerful memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America—and the co-founding of a movement that demands justice for all in the land of the free.”

Note: I am fully aware of my position of privilege and that there are some aspects it’s not my place to discuss. If you know of any own voices reviews, please let me know and I will add them here.

I discovered this book after Patrisse Khan-Cullors was a special guest on the bookish podcast Mostly Lit and I found her incredibly compelling to listen to. When she read a snippet, I knew I needed to hear her story in full and, of course, I decided to go with the audiobook as I feel this is the best way for me to consume non-fiction.

When They Call You A Terrorist is split into two parts: the first focuses on Patrisse’s life growing up, while the second documents what led to her becoming a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. I expected it to be centred on the latter but as I continued to listen, I became so invested in Patrisse’s life. She talks about growing up in her neighbourhood, her family and how she started to notice particular things as she got older such as how the white girls at her school face no reprimands for smoking weed whereas she ends up in handcuffs. She openly addressees how frequently people she knows are stopped by the police because they happened to match the description of someone who robbed a store, and if the same sort of thing happens to white people. For example: “how many skinny white blonde men have been pulled aside simply because they matched a description?”

Her brother, Monti, forms a lot of the narrative which I found incredibly difficult to read. Frankly, the treatment he’s received is absolutely disgusting and just highlights how much of a stigma there is around mental illness.

As someone who has seen the movement of Black Lives Matter from the media side and conversations online, it was really interesting to see the “behind the scenes” of how the movement started and grew to something more than could possibly be imagined. What I took away from this book, besides the important discussions on diversity, is the reminder that Patrisse Khan-Cullors is just a person. When you think of big movements fighting for change and hear the name of/see the person leading at the front, it’s easy to forget that they are a real person with feelings and life experiences just like everyone else. She talks candidly about struggling with her sexuality, loss, and growing up.

The phrase “it’s a difficult read but it’s so important” is thrown around a lot in refers to books dealing with current events. But if you’re looking for just one to read, I highly recommend you listen to Patrisse’s story.

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Posted in contemporary, discussion, review

Hamilton: The Revolution – Lin Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter

“For all its variety of style and subject, rap is, at the bottom, the music of ambition, the soundtrack of defiance.”

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Blurb: “Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country’s origins for a diverse new generation.”

Hamilton was something that initially passed me by. I was very much aware that it was a hip-hop musical about an American Founding Father and on both counts it was something I just wasn’t interested in. That changed when I found out that Jonathan Groff (known for his TV role in Glee) had a part in the original broadway cast. Shortly after that I passed my driving test and needed some new CDs to blast out on drives. It was in this moment that I came across the Hamilton soundtrack and figured I’d give it a go.

There are not enough words in the English language to describe this musical. Words like “masterpiece” and “genius” just seem to fall far too short of conveying just how spectacular the songs in this show are (sadly, I am yet to see it actually performed on stage).

Hamilton: The Revolution is an absolute must for fans of this show, or musical theatre fans in general. It goes into enormous depth about the origins of Lin-Manuel Mirandra’s interests in this particular historical figure and how he originally intended for the project to be a hip hop album, not a musical. Everything you can possibly imagine from historical context, the original cast, production, costume design, to the initial reaction when it hit broadway is covered in these pages with focused chapters on each.

Every song performed in the show acts as the transition onto the next aspect of the show and are all linked. For example, a chapter about Jonathan Groff getting his part as King George is followed by page spreads of the lyrics to “You’ll Be Back” with footnotes on certain lines where Lin explains what he was trying to convey in the beats, timings and actual words themselves. I feel that the use of spreads dedicated to the shows was one of my favourite parts of this whole book. In a musical where the songs carry so much weight and meaning to them, it was fascinating to see the clever tricks Lin used to make certain phrases as catchy as they are along with historical context along with some facts that he tweaked a bit to fit the songs better.

Did you know that the track “My Shot” actually took Lin a year to write?

There are many more secrets unveiled in this book that left me dumbfounded. It is mind-blowing the amount of work that, not only he but the rest of the team poured into this show.

I truly believe that Hamilton is a show that will stand the test of time. After all, history has its eyes on you.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Feel Good 101 – Emma Blackery

“If you’re able to take away just one thing for this book that gives you the confidence to make a decision that benefits your life, then I’m glad to have written it.”

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Blurb: “In Feel Good 101, YouTube’s most outspoken star Emma Blackery is finally putting pen to paper to (over)share all her hard-learned life lessons. From standing up to bullies and bad bosses to embracing body confidence and making peace with her brain, Emma speaks with her trademark honesty about the issues she’s faced – including her struggles with anxiety and depression. This is the book Emma wishes she’d had growing up . . . and she’s written it for you”

I have always been skeptical of books written by YouTubers; especially when many of them are life stories written by people the same age as me. When Emma made a video expressing her distaste for a number of YouTubers signing book deals, it was a relief to see a big content creator breaking what had almost become a norm. Which made it an even bigger shock when she took a U-Turn a few months later and announced that she was writing a book.

Feel Good 101 started off as a series on Emma’s channel offering advice on various topics affecting young people, so it seemed only natural for that it to expand into a full book. Emma covers everything you can think of from school, music, mental health, dealing with failure, being bullied and the bully, and of course how she started her channel. It’s very similar to Carrie Hope Fletcher’s book All I Know Now in the sense that rather than attempting to be a self-help book (as Emma frequently makes it clear throughout, this book alone will not solve your problems), each segment is backed up by real life experiences. Emma doesn’t claim to have all of the answers and it’s that flawed, human element that makes this book a pleasure to read.

At first I was unsure whether to pick this up; for the reasons stated earlier. But when I heard there was an audiobook, I decided to use my audible credit. If you’re yet to buy Feel Good 101, I highly recommend the audiobook because it was like listening to one long video and held my attention a lot more than I think reading the book would have because you’re hearing Emma read her story. Oh, and there’s the additional bonus of an interview with YA author Holly Bourne if you opt for the audiobook.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, non fiction, review

Happy Mum, Happy Baby – Giovanna Fletcher

“Our words affect others – we can use them to strengthen or to belittle and crush. I know what I want mine to do.”

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Blurb: “Being a mum is an incredible journey, a remarkable experience that changes how we look, how we feel, who we are. As mothers we are strong, protective, proud. We feel a love like no other. But being a parent can be hard too. It challenges us physically, mentally, emotionally. There are the days where just managing to fit a shower in amidst the endless feeding, entertaining young children and surviving on a lack of sleep feels like an achievement. With so many people ready to offer ‘advice’ on the best way to parent, it can feel like you are getting it all wrong.”

Like many my age, I know Giovanna because of her connection to McFly band member Tom Fletcher. As she set up her own YouTube channel and I started watching, I came to love Giovanna as her own person. I have read all of her fiction books and loved every single one of them. But when she announced she was writing a new book about pregnancy and motherhood, I found myself hesitant.

I am not interested in children. That’s not to say I don’t like them; my cousin has children and I absolutely adore them. I just don’t want children myself. So I decided that this book wasn’t for me and that was ok. I’ve started using Audible again and was looking for something new to listen to and came across Happy Mum, Happy Baby and indulged because it’s narrated by Giovanna. It’s the best decision I could have made. The book mimics Giovanna’s voice entirely and listening to it felt like I was having one long coffee and a chat with her.

As things are in the online world, it’s easy to get a skewed sense of reality. While a parent may seem to be having lots of fun playing around in the garden, the people on the outside won’t see the temper tantrum that same child had just five minutes later – something Giovanna touches on a lot in her YouTube series “mumdays.” She also shares more personal stories within her book along with discussing everything from coming off the pill and how her body changed, to her aversion to breast feeding and how that changed once she had a children herself, to the obvious one… giving birth. I found it really interesting to learn about hypnobirthing which is the technique she used to bring both of her children into the world. She tackles the idea of waiting to announce a pregnancy – typically at the three month mark – and how that can have its own negativity because you then have no one to comfort you if things do go wrong. She discusses at length the negative comments she’s received both online and in person, along with how strangers would suddenly feel the need to express their unsolicited thoughts on her body.

Overall I found this to be an insightful, interesting and frankly hilarious at times read.

Even if you don’t think you want children in the future, book is definitely worth checking out.

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Posted in feminism, lgbt, Non-Fiction, review

The Gender Games – Juno Dawson

“Transitioning is not going to mystically solve all the worries in my life. I will still be skint. I will still get lonely sometimes. I will still be driven and overambitious. I’ll still be jealous and competitive. But I will be a woman. I will be Juno. I will be righted. I will be me.”

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Blurb: “Gender isn’t just screwing over trans people, it’s messing with everyone. From little girls who think they can’t be doctors to teenagers who come to expect street harassment. From exclusionist feminists to ‘alt-right’ young men. From men who can’t cry to the women who think they shouldn’t. As her body gets in line with her mind, Juno tells not only her own story, but the story of everyone who is shaped by society’s expectations of gender – and what we can do about it.

Juno Dawson – primarily known for her Young Adult books – announced her transition in 2015 and was met with tremendous support from her readers, the book community and her publisher (who have since gone to lengths to reprint her books under her new name). Following this announcement – though I feel that isn’t the right word to use – Juno went on to talk publicly about her transition in a monthly Glamour Column. I’ve asked her in the past if she was likely to write a book either featuring a trans character or about her own experience of transitioning. She said yes.

I will admit I expected The Gender Games to be all about her experience of transitioning; and doing so in the public eye. Which it is in part, though it focuses on the bigger problem of gender throughout.

Gender is personified, built up to be the creature in the dark ruining everyone’s fun. She talks about growing into a gay man and how she believes that was the label that fit until society developed and “transgender” became more commonly known. She acknowledges the privilege she still had as a gay man when it came to her publishing career; once she compared it to her female counterparts and how they are many spaces for young LGBT people online with this likes of Hannah Hart and Tyler Oakley racking up millions of views and subscribers along with the ever-growing success of Ru Paul’s Drag Race yet none of them are recognised in the so-called “mainstream media.” She goes into details of how men can benefit from feminism if it wasn’t seen as such a dirty word and things such as “you throw like a girl” aren’t helping anyone. She brings in contributors such as Sex & Relationships Youtuber Hannah Witton and drag queen Alaska to illustrate how universal some experiences are.

For me, I learnt a lot about the importance of not taking things at face value. I follow Juno avidly on all her social media and have experienced a sort of pride watching her publically grow but it seemed to lean towards the positive. In The Gender Games the reader really gets to see what goes on behind those glamour columns and Instagram stories. The reader gets to see the hardships, the abuse, the state of our NHS when it comes to dealing with gender, and just how isolating it can be.

She talks about how the LGBT community itself is not perfect and highlights the important stigma around bisexuals – something I have sadly experienced myself -and how a change needs to happen within for those on the outside to take anyone seriously.

Another important factor is that Juno acknowledges she is not perfect. She is aware of her privilege and quick to declare that she knows not everyone had the same resources available to them. She mentions that she messes up too and it’s important to apologise and work on being better. Which is something that I’m sure all of us can do.

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Posted in contemporary, Non-Fiction, review

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson

 

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Blurb: “A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.”

Over the years I’ve seen many examples of public shaming, even within the book community, and recently I’ve become really fascinated with the concept of it.  Jon Ronson decided to explore this idea of being publically shamed by meeting up with various people who have been involved in shamings, whether in the online world or the real one and tells the stories of what happen to that person, how they dealt with it and what happened as a result.

I loved this book for a great many reasons: the main one being how un-biased Jon Ronson remains throughout his investigation. Of course, like any other human beings he has his own opinions but he doesn’t allow those to cloud his ability to lay out the facts. In the situations where two people were involved (for example, the shamer and the one being shamed), he talks to each individual about why they took certain paths and how they feel looking back. In a way, this book gives an understanding of people’s motivations and shows how the little people have now gained immense power. Where once someone saw someone being interviewed on TV and could only sit there in anger at what the person was saying, now that individual can make their views heard online and use that platform to send abuse to said interviewee.

The variety of stories Jon was able to share showcased the idea that shame really can take place anywhere and he even goes on to explore why it is we actually feel shame and if it is possible to go through life not having the ability to not feel shame at all.

The conclusion I drew from my experience reading this book is that there are no winners or losers; only victims.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

The Way We Die Now – Seamus O’Mahony

“The notion of a ‘good death’ is endlessly debated as something desirable and achievable.”

 

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Blurb: “We have lost the ability to deal with death.  Most of our friends and beloved relations will die in a busy hospital in the care of strangers, doctors and nurses they have known at best for a couple of weeks. They may not even know they are dying, victims of the kindly lie that there is still hope. They are unlikely to see even their family doctor in their final hours, robbed of their dignity and fed through a tube after a long series of excessive and hopeless medical interventions. This is the starting point of Seamus O’mahony’s thoughtful, moving and unforgettable book on the western way of death.” 

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This week I’m going to be talking about the wonderful, happy topic of… death.
The Way We Die Now is a non-fiction book written by consultant gastro-enterologist Seamus O’Mahony in which he discusses the situations he’s experiences he’s experienced through his work in the medical profession.

What drew me to this book was the idea of how death is perceived in modern day and how some of us choose to face and acknowledge it while others choose to avoid it. He talks about how some family members have forced uncomfortable procedures onto patients in the hopes of prolonging the death of their loved ones, how religion approaches death, and how critics and writers over the years have expressed their thoughts on it.

He offers an insight into the life of someone who sees death almost every day when so many have become “sheltered” from it: which he explores in his discussion of terms such as “passed on” being used to say that someone has died.

However, I struggled to enjoy this book. Not because of the dreary topic, but because it read like a critical essay and the jargon was not something I understood (after finishing the ebook I discovered the glossary at the end so maybe that was fault of my own).

Apart from that, O’Mahony puts across a lot of points that have made me sit back and think about death.
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Posted in contemporary, feminism, Non-Fiction, review

How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran

“Would Jane Austen’s Characters have spent pages and pages discussing all the relationships in their social circle if they’d been a bit more in control of their own destinies? Would women fret themselves half to death over how they look, and who fancies them, if this wasn’t the main thing they were still judged on? Would we give so much of a shit about our thighs if we, as a sex, owned the majority of the world’s wealth, instead of men?”

 

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“It’s a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby? Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.”
How To Be A Woman is a book that I have been eyeing up on various bookshelves for many years. I’ve physically picked it up a few times, declaring I would buy it, only to put it down again. The title alone exudes female empowerment and when Emma Watson announced the book as the April read for her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf it simply felt like the universe was telling me, at twenty-two years old, it is time to learn how to be a woman.

I didn’t know anything about Caitlin Moran except that her books tackle political issues and feminism. After research, I now know that Caitlin was a music journalist for Melody Music at the age of sixteen, hosted a Channel 4 music show and works for The Times. Also, she’s a novelist.

In this book, Caitlin puts across the fact that while the “traditional feminist issues” are important to talk about, the typical little things women go through day to day is just as important. At first I was taken aback by the comment as there are horrible things happening to woman around the world but as I continued reading, I started to understand the point she was making. The firsts, the things that see a girl turning into a woman are terrifying when they happen: first bra, first period, first time experiencing sexism and so on. This book is marketed as “part memoir, part rant” and it definitely lives up to that.

Throughout the book I tried relating my experiences to the things she was saying and I reached the sudden realisation that there are an alarming number of expectations and levels of judgement placed on girls becoming women and some of those continue in womanhood. For example, I was the first out of my friendship group to get her period, so I was plied with questions and the go-to person when my friends got theirs too. But when they found out I used sanitary towels and had no intention of using tampons, it was like I’d just told them I’d killed a man. Even now, there’s still judgement when people learn this about me. Another example is that I grew up being frequently asked if I had a boyfriend yet / when was I going to get a boyfriend. Secretly I was discovering my sexuality and seriously crushing on girls; later I would learn that I’m bisexual. Even when I skipped off to university, every time I came home or spoke to my dad on the phone he would ask if I had a boyfriend yet. When I would tell him I didn’t and pointed out that the reason I had gone to university was because I wanted to continue learning and become a better writer. He would then tell me most people find their “life-long partners” at University and suddenly I had a ticking relationship timer in front of me.

One big issue I had with this book is in the “I Am A Feminist” chapter, Caitlin helps the reader understand if they are a feminist by saying “do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? If you answered yes to both then you’re a feminist.” While this book is very female orientated, I know a lot of male feminists and it just felt like an “us and them” divide was being created. Also it’s not inter-sectional feminism which is a big problem. This is white,middle-class feminism which caused me to leave the reading experience feeling quite disheartened.

This book gave me a lot of food for thought and Caitlin is harsh and honest in the way she attacks these topics and there’s some humour added in for an extra flair. She uses interesting but oddly fitting imagery such as referring to a woman’s reproductive system as a “hamster cage with tunnels going everywhere.”

What more could you possibly need in a book?

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