Book Review: Togwotee Passage

For deep thinkers, lovers of the great outdoors and readers who value a character-driven story, this is an ideal read.


The world is facing many reckonings at the moment, but the one that unites all countries, cultures and continents across the world, is the real threat of climate change and human extinction. And this threat is something we have manufactured ourselves, through the repetitive cycle of human greed, overconsumption and the incessant materialist culture that is perpetuated by the capitalist framework.

Togwotee Passage has a very unique feeling and sense of unease carried with it, but always reminds the reader of the beauty of nature and how it’s relationship to us, as human beings, is more than essential. 

It tackles some of the greatest issues of our times, through the exploration of climate change, inequality, and materialism. It is a stark critique of the Western world and our mindset, told through the life and perspective of Calan, living in Wyoming in the 1940s, but feels very close to the present day.

Please note, a copy of this book was kindly gifted to me by the author, in exchange for an honest review.


About the Book

Literary Eco-Fiction, published in 2019. 

Calan flees his family life early on due to the upsets caused by growing up within a dysfunctional family, his father was a drunk and Calan was regularly exposed to his mistreatment of his mother. Due to this, he finds great solace in the outdoors and befriends Derek, a boy who lives on the Shoshone land.

Their friendship blossoms through a shared appreciation of the outdoors and their conversations reveal a deep and philosophical battle centred on the human relationship with nature and our problematic image as the dominant species. Together, they engage in important conversations centred on these issues, which causes readers to think about the world around us.

This book is character-driven, but the plot follows the course of Calan’s life over the years and his reckonings with the world as influenced by many conversations he had with his best friend. 

All of this is intertwined with beautiful descriptions of the natural world and Native American mythology. Through Calan’s relationship and time spent with Derek, the Shoshone Indian culture is revealed and paralleled with his traditional American upbringing. The reader learns about this Native American tribe, which is made up of around 8,000 people living in the Eastern Shoshone in Wyoming, and the many opposites and pitfalls of consumerist, American culture that they oppose.

It’s a book about nature, human selfishness, destruction and relationships all rolled into one. It causes the reader to think, re-assess and re-evaluate the power of the natural world.


About the Author

L. G Cullens is an author born and raised in western Wyoming, the United States. After beginning a career in civil engineering and computer sciences, in his fifties, he decided to pursue woodworking and has since taken up writing.

Cullens is passionate about the natural world and aims to spread awareness of it, which shines through in his book, Togwotee Passage.

To find more information about the author, or contact L.G Cullens, you can visit his website.


My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As soon as I started reading this book I knew two things from the offset. I knew I would like it, and I knew it would be different from anything I have read. 

As a committed fan of literary fiction, the character-driven plot, executed by the protagonist, Calan, already appealed to me.

The story tracks the life of Calan as he navigates the great outdoors and forms a close friendship with Derek, a boy who lives on the Shoshone reservation. Through countless conversations, he learns about the pitfalls of the Western world and the dangers of an excessive materialist mindset and what this can do to our planet.

Through these conversations, and the raising of many philosophical questions to do with climate change, inequality, materialism and the purpose of humanity itself, Cullens exposes the many faults and imperfections at the heart of human life itself. It’s a sharp portrayal of the faults of our species and how our actions damage nature.

Intertwined throughout, are beautiful and charming descriptions of the outdoors, as Calan and Derek go on their many hikes and explore the mountains littered throughout the Wyoming landscape. 

As a lover of the outdoors myself, I couldn’t help but feel enchanted by these descriptions. I found these parts calming to read and Cullen’s words paint a picture of the Wyoming scenery that I am yet to be fortunate enough to explore.

Above all, this book is a deep exploration of someone’s inner thoughts and how they perceive the world around them. It is a plea to look back at nature and treat it with the respect it deserves, but also, a plea to divert from our current mindset and way of life, which is only self-destructing. The destruction of nature is a result of ongoing human selfishness which is at the heart of the story, explored through conversations between Calan and Derek.

Reading this was a pleasurable experience in itself, due to the stunning prose and character-driven plot, but it also caused me to think a great deal. This book reflects on the threat of climate change through the human path of greed, exploitation and capitalism which can overthrow the nature and beautify of the outdoors that we all know and love.

The only aspect of this book I struggled to contend with, was the ending. After documenting the course of Calan’s life thoroughly through the decades, I found the final few chapters confusing and felt like there was no definitive endpoint. I got a bit lost and struggled to see how Calan’s story ended, however, this is a very minor point and may have been missed by my misinterpretation.

You can purchase a copy of the book here


Final Thoughts

For deep thinkers, lovers of the great outdoors and readers who value a character-driven story, this is an ideal read and one I enjoyed immensely. My many thanks go to L.G Cullens for providing me with a copy of this book.

“I ask you who’s the more primitive, a culture that believes in respectful coexistence with the natural world that sustains us all, or a culture that is rife with selfish, material greed to the point of trashing this little blue canoe our children will need to get by in?” 

L.G Cullens, 36.

Originally published on Medium in Write and Review, 22 October, 2020.

Book Review: Such a Fun Age

It has been a while since I’ve posted, but after spending lots of time trying to eek this out for as long as possible, I’m back with a review of Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, which was longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. It was the only book on the list that I liked the sound of – and it by far exceeded my expectations.

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid (2019)

Coming of Age/Fiction

Synopsis (Goodreads)

“In the midst of a family crisis one late evening, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her African American babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the local market for distraction. There, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, and Alix’s efforts to right the situation turn out to be good intentions selfishly mismanaged.”

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that feels so close to our current moment. 

Kiley Reid provides, “a beautiful tale of how we live now” (Elizabeth Day). The story is nestled in the city of Philadelphia, and draws upon the social and racial injustices at the heart of modern, American society, through the young, black protagonist, Emria.  

The story alternates between the perspective of Emira and Alix, a white middle-class blogger. They are worlds apart but are brought together by Alix’s employment of Emira as a babysitter for her daughter, Briar. This dual perspective Reid uses allows the two polar experiences of class and race to be played off against each other, which illustrates the existence of Alix’s inherent privilege and mistreatment of Emira. 

Alix struggles to see why her treatment of Emira is problematic, despite making her wear a uniform and her history of only employing black childminders. It’s almost as if she thinks by having a black babysitter, she is doing her bit. Emira is half aware of all this, and it is her boyfriend, Kelley that exposes it more blatantly. But Emira loves looking after Briar and doesn’t want to break that bond between them. And also, the job is a lifeline, in just keeping her above the water. It takes her a while to confront these microaggressions – but the best thing of all, is that she eventually triumphs. 

The novel also looks at the influence of race in relationships. Emira meets Kelley during the incident with the police and then once again on the subway, and they hit it off immediately. But there are many differences between them, and these are explored by drawing upon their relationship,

“Emira had dated one white guy before, and repeatedly hooked up with another during the summer after college. They both loved bringing her to parties, and they told her she should try wearing her hair naturally. And suddenly, in a way they hadn’t in the first few interactions, these white men had a lot to say about government-funded housing, minimum wage, and the quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.”

Reid eloquently raises the potential fetishisation of race in relationships through the perspective of Emira and her group of friends. Emira and Kelley’s relationship is topsy turvy but explored in such a human and real way, that it’s hard not to be drawn in by it. Additionally, through their relationship Reid explores the issue of microaggressions – forms of indirect or subtle forms of racism that can often go unnoticed. There’s a performative element to the type of equality Kelley tries to portray in his social standing and worldview, that doesn’t go unrecognized by Emria,

“Like… I get it, you have a weirdly large amount of black friends, you saw Kendrick Lamar in concert, and now you have a black girlfriend…great.”

Emira

As a white, privileged person, this strikes a chord and left a profound effect on the way I perceive race, and how it influences class and relationships. It is written in a way that makes it embody the current moment. It illustrates the simmering and overt racism that exists within American society, and the small acts of unintentional racism that can go unnoticed. 

Reading this made me laugh, cringe, feel angry, and annoyed all at the same time, but one thing for sure – it touched me completely. I fell in love with Emria’s ballsy personality and sense of determination. Reid provides the reader with characters who come alive through the pages and makes you feel something, and that is the greatest gift a writer can have – I can’t believe this is a debut novel and feel excited at the prospect of Reid writing more in the future. 

This is sharp, witty, well-executed and grips you right from the start – there’s simply no messing about. I would describe it as a millennial coming of age story that combines the important, intertwining messages of class, race, privilege and how to navigate this within families and relationships.


Like many others, I am still learning about the best ways to talk about race. As always, If you think I need to phrase something differently or I’ve said something out of line – please let me know. I won’t take offence but will be thankful you have pointed it out.

Book Review: Salvation Station

Firstly, many thanks to She Writes Press and Book Publicity Services for providing me with a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

Salvation Station, Crime Fiction

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

“When committed female police captain Linda Turner, haunted by the murders of two small children and their pastor father, becomes obsessed with solving the harrowing case, she finds herself wrapped up in a mission to expose a fraudulent religious organization and an unrepentant killer.
 
Despite her years of experience investigating homicides for the force, Captain Linda Turner is haunted by the murders of the Hansen family. The two small children, clothed in tattered Disney pajamas, were buried with their father, a pastor, in the flower garden behind a church parsonage in Lincoln, Nebraska. But Mrs. Hansen is nowhere to be found—and neither is the killer.
 
In St. Louis, the televangelist Ray Williams is about to lose his show—until one of his regular attendees approaches him with an idea that will help him save it. Despite his initial misgivings, Ray agrees to give it a try. He can’t deny his attraction to this woman, and besides, she’d assured him the plan is just—God gave her the instructions in a dream.
 
Multiple story lines entwine throughout this compelling mystery, delving into the topics of murder, religious faith, and the inherent dangers in blindly accepting faith as truth. While Reverend Williams is swept up in his newfound success and plans for his wedding, Captain Turner can only hope that she and her team will catch the Hansens’ cunning killer—before more bodies surface.”


Combining a classic whodunit and an exploration of Christianity and blind faith, Kathryn Schleich in her debut novel, creates a unique and gripping read. Schleich combines multiple story-lines to uncover the corruption and horror at the heart of a devout Church community in Nebraska.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Do not be deceived by the disturbing front cover depicting a plastic doll, left abandoned in the leaves. This book despite appearances is not a horror story, but rather, a classic crime fiction whodunit. I had my reservations when I started, as the cover led me to think it would be more of a horror/thriller, but alas, it wasn’t.

The first thing that stood out to me, was that the lead police investigator was a woman, which I loved. Of course, there are some writers within the genre that feature female leads, like Kay Scarpetta in Patricia Cornwell’s novels, but even then, Scarpetta is the chief medical examiner, rather than the lead police role.

It was so refreshing to see and made a change from having a typically male leading character as the head of police. The story features different perspectives, but Linda Turner and Reverend Ray Williams are the main narrators. I got on with Linda as a character and valued her honesty and commitment to solving the horrific crime.

Schleich has an eye for creating great characters. Ray Williams, the Reverend and host of The Road to Calvary, a hit evangelist organization, soon to be a successful TV commercial, is very likeable. Although gullible and a bit haphazard, Ray desperately cares about his local community.

Susannah comes into Ray’s life out of the blue and goes headfirst into wanting to improve The Road to Calvary. Ray falls in love with her ambition and readiness to help, and their relationship blossoms, but all is not what it seems. Susannah from the off is dislikable in her manipulation of Ray – but she also makes him happy, so what’s the problem?

Having a range of good characters for me is key in any good story, and Schleich definitely provides this.

The plot is simple, mirrored on a classic whodunit premise. The reader is hit with a dark and ominous feeling at the beginning and this is continued right through to the end. The chapters are short and sharp and give a sense of pace – which I liked. Aside from the gripping beginning, the novel isn’t suspenseful and not a page-turner by classic definition – but I was so invested that I didn’t need an added incentive to keep reading.

Moreover, I liked the way it wasn’t just a crime novel. Using The Road to Calvary, and other religious overtones, Schleich can make a poignant comment on religion and the notion of blind faith. The story and community in which Ray, Linda and Susannah are a part of, is religious and benevolent by nature, but of course, this is a false misconception.

Without saying too much – the ending was dramatic and satisfying. I would recommend this to anyone who loves a good crime fiction novel with a twist, and for fans of police procedurals.

Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.


Book Review: Alone Together

Many thanks to NetGalley and Central Avenue Publishing for providing me with an e-ARC to review this book. I’m a bit late in finishing it, but the book is now available to buy from all your usual retailers!

Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of Covid-19

Non-fiction

Goodreads Synopsis

ALONE TOGETHER: Love, Grief, and Comfort During the Time of COVID-19 is a collection of essays, poems, and interviews to serve as a lifeline for negotiating how to connect and thrive during this stressful time of isolation as well as a historical perspective that will remain relevant for years to come. All contributing authors and business partners are donating their share to The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit organization that coordinates charitable programs to strengthen the bookselling community.


The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Six months on from the beginning of a global pandemic, it seems a bit early to be reflecting on the experience. Yes, we’ve all experienced a lot in these months, but with second waves springing up across Europe and elsewhere, it feels like the worst is yet to come.

With the publication of Zadie Smith’s Limitations and this, Covid memoirs are now already on the rise. Should we already be writing our experiences of this pandemic when there is so much more to come? Yes and no, I’m not sure of the answer.

I was sceptical about reading Alone Together, a book that combines experiences of the pandemic from 91 authors. I was worried it would be a bit preemptive, and it was to a certain extent, as it only covers the first few months of what is set to be a long-term pandemic. There are natural limitations to this, as it’s an ongoing experience.

However, I was surprised at the volume and diversity of experience this collection of poems, essays, interviews and personal stories manages to convey. It was never going to be an easy book to read – so I read it in small, regulated doses over a month. I enjoyed it more than I thought – and gained a lot from learning about the range of experiences the book shines a light on.


Covid-19 has affected the whole world, but this book reminds us that every experience of the pandemic has been different. “Today we may all be required to wear a mask. But our masks are unequal.” (W. Ralph Eubanks) Which is part of the beauty of the book. It gives voices to the multitude of different experiences of the pandemic and the range of difficulties faced. From caring for loved ones, trying to home-school and overall – just trying to stay sane and afloat in our tumultuous world. It’s a book about every felt aspect of the pandemic – love, loss, grief, comfort, connecting, and moving forward.


Although it is American-centric, as a UK reader, it shines a light onto the experience of Covid-19 from across the pond. It features words from 91 writers that I had never heard of and I found myself Googling authors and adding their books to my TBR list – you could say I learnt a lot about new writers. Alongside every poem, essay or interview is a brief description of the author and their works which I found useful and noteworthy


I found the essays to be the most enjoyable to read. Although only ever a few pages long, I felt it gave a more in-depth view to understanding the person’s experience of the pandemic. They were all beautifully written, as they would be, but deeply insightful.


The entire book is self-reflective by nature and harrowing at times to read – since we are still very much living through it. Although preemptive, readers will gain a lot from reading this. It will become one of those books that are studied when trying to make sense of our current history. Hopefully future historians will realise the diversity at the heart of experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.


What I read in August ~ 2020

August was a good reading month. On the whole, I was very impressed with most of the things I read, including feeling a warm wave of nostalgia, having read the long-awaited latest instalment in the Twilight series. Although I haven’t read as many books, as usual, two of them were over 700 pages! I hope you all managed to have a good reading month too! What were your favourite reads? 

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race Reni Eddo-Lodge, Non-fiction

This is an essential read for everyone. Reni Eddo-Lodge reveals in her emotionally charged long-from essay the deep, systemic racism at the heart of British society. With chapters on feminism, class and the criminal justice system it is a thematic demonstration of how racism is embedded within every level. Eddo-Lodge challenges readers to recognise their own bias and learn to listen – and it is evocative and completely compelling. It explains complicated concepts in a broad and uncomplicated manner, making it fully accessible, acting as a great starting point for learning about race.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Midnight Sun Stephanie Meyer, Fiction

For die-hard fans of Twilight, this is a must-read. Written as an addition to the Twilight series, readers finally get to see Edward’s version of events. Reading this gave me a greater appreciation for the Twilight world and I was interested to see things through Edward’s perspective, as he has long been branded as the creepy boyfriend. Granted, this won’t make sense unless you are familiar with the series but it offers more of an in-depth background to the Cullen’s and the Vampire world. Reading this filled me with the nostalgia of my teenage years. The over 700 page novel of mostly Edward’s inner thoughts and feelings won’t be for everyone – but for die hard fans it is bliss.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Little Friend Donna Tartt, Fiction

Donna Tartt’s first novel is full of initial intrigue as the story follows Harriet, a young girl, who tries to uncover the murderer behind Robin, her younger brother who was found dead in the family yard many years ago. The premise offers an initial hook and Tartt delivers a dreamy and evocative description of Alexandria, Mississippi in the 1970s, but fails to deliver a coherent plot and ending to what would have been, a fascinating novel. As a dedicated Tartt fan, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and was left wanting more of an explanation. Nonetheless, it is still a beautifully written book, but with no definitive ending. Literary fiction by nature focuses on character development, but this does not mean the plot should have to suffer. This is brilliantly demonstrated with Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

How I Learned to Hate in Ohio David Stuart MacLean, Fiction

This book is a portrayal of hate in multiple forms, demonstrated within one community in Ohio in the 1980s. Told through the perspective of Barry Nadler, and the small community he is a part of, the novel explores racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and white, middle-class discontent which shines a light on the division that can encapsulate small communities. It’s not a plot-driven novel but an in-depth social commentary told through one person’s inner monologue. The book only really gets ‘exciting’ at the end but keeps the pace through short, snappy chapters. I think this book is important and necessary, but I was constantly waiting for something to happen and when it did, felt unfulfilled.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This takes me up to 45 books completed out of my 50 to read for this year. I am ahead of my Goodreads challenge for the first time in years which makes me really happy. For once, I won’t be ending the year wishing I had read more, but smiling because I have. And, because I have documented it all!

Happy reading everyone.


Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.


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