A typically broad selection in this reading diary, from skincare and sci-fi to anti-racism and mythology. Please let me know what you’ve been reading in the comments.
Skincare by Caroline Hirons
Avoid anything ‘mattifying’ — a promise often made on products for oily skin. Skin is not designed to be ‘matte’. Your skin has plenty of time to be matte when you’re dead.
I’ve followed Caroline’s blog for around 7 years and in that time she’s become ‘The most powerful woman in beauty’. She is a brand consultant and skincare expert and has finally put all that knowledge into book form. Aside from her expertise, it’s full of her personality which is a huge plus. Expect straight-talking and swearing along with myth busting and a breakdown of the routine you need to follow at all ages. As a skincare junkie there wasn’t much I didn’t already know in terms of my own skin but it was a lot of fun and I love the subject. There is a fair amount of repetition but that’s important for newbies in order to get the mass of information across. It’s essentially a training manual for your skin. 4/5
Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
“Remember, white supremacy is not just about individual acts of racism, but rather it is a system of oppression that seeps into and often forms the foundation of many of the regular spaces where you spend your time—school, work, spiritual spaces, health and wellness spaces, and so on.”
Boy, did I learn a lot from this. If you want to be an anti-racist you have to do the work and IT IS work. You have to dig deep and confront the fact that growing up in Western society today means you will have absorbed unconscious beliefs that perpetuate racism. Me and White Supremacy is a 28 day programme that tackles a different topic each day – White Silence, White Exceptionalism, Anti-Blackness etc.
You are given journal prompts to reflect on your own experiences and complicity at the end of each chapter. It is only by doing this that we will build up the resilience that counteracts White Fragility (extreme defensiveness in discussions around racism) and enables us to be true allies to Black people. I may be mixed-race but still benefit from white privilege and I appreciated the author had notes specifically aimed at non-Black people of colour. I did crave more depth, history and context but I can fill those gaps for myself elsewhere.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.”
This is a sci-fi take on an Agatha Christie whodunnit. Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered at 11pm at a party held at the family’s dilapidated country pile, Blackheath. Our protagonist relives the day eight times, waking up each time in the body of a different guest at the party. It is his job to work out who killed Evelyn by the end of the day in order to escape his memories being wiped and the process starting over.
This is a hugely popular book and has won a couple of awards. Unfortunately it just wasn’t for me. I have no interest in murder mysteries and I’ve come to realise I strongly dislike the sci-fi ‘Groundhog Day’ trope of the same day/life being lived over and over again. I find it convoluted and dull. By the time the big twist is revealed I was long over it. I admire Turton for writing it though; the complexity is mind-boggling. 2.5/5
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
I now felt like some reliable epic fantasy and Sanderson is arguably the best in the business right now. This is one of his earlier – at that time -standalone novels. It revolves around the rival kingdoms of Idris and Hallandran. For twenty years, the eldest princess of Idris has been promised to the much-feared God King of Hallandran. At the last minute, the Idris King changes the plan and sends his youngest – and much more naive -daughter instead. As usual with Sanderson the magic is a well thought out system involving colour and the awakening of objects, to put it briefly.
The most interesting characters of the book however were The Returned who are worshipped as Gods. Only one of The Returned, by the name of Lightsong, doesn’t actually believe in the religion that idolises him and this makes for some comic moments. The intrigue picks up pace as war is on the cards but it’s hard not to compare it to the later series he is most known for. Compared to the Mistborn trilogy the ending fell a bit flat but it was an enjoyable enough time and it seems it’s been left open for a sequel eventually. 3.5/5
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
“This is what free people never understand. A slave isn’t a person who’s being treated as a thing. A slave is a thing, as much in her own estimation as in anybody else’s.”
I don’t seem to tire of Greek myth retellings and this one published in 2018 had been on my radar for a while. It centres on the Trojan War from the perspective of Briseis, a young queen who is given to Achilles as a prize of honour when her city is sacked and all the men killed. The surviving women are taken as slaves to the Greeks compound on the beach from which they have laid siege to Troy for nine years. Seeing the well known story through the eyes of Briseis gives us a much more intimate idea of what the women were subjected to in this tale which makes it more interesting but also more brutal. Where the lines are blurred for some of the women, Briseis keeps her boundaries strong, if only in her mind. I really liked her and I can never get enough about the relationship between Achilles and Petroclus, although this novel is in part a rebuttal of the romanticisation of a ruthless warrior. It’s extremely readable but for me, it’s not on the same level as The Song of Achilles or Circe, but well worth a read if you fancy a fresh female take on the Trojan War myth. 3.75/5