6 Books that Changed me For the Better

Here’s to the books that taught me more than I could ever learn at school.


How much of what you were taught in school do you remember? I bet it’s very little. Learning how to add up, write sentences, locate countries, and spell is necessary, but just the start of our education. School sets us up for life and future learning, but we shouldn’t stop there. That’s where reading comes in.

I was lucky enough to enjoy school and did well. Alongside this, I was always a prolific reader. I marched through titles that were probably beyond my age range and emotional maturity at the time, but they certainly left their impact. They challenged me and taught me new ways of thinking that weren’t featured in the textbooks I read in the classroom.

School teaches you facts, knowledge and gives you a skillset, but books have the power to change the way you think. When I say these books changed my life, it refers to how much of an impact they had on me and how I came to think about the world as a result.

Many of these books were read in my early teens when I was discovering my views on social and political issues. Since they have been re-read many times over, but that doesn’t stop them from having a significant impact on shaping me as a person.


One Day, David Nicholls

Fiction

At its core, One Day is a romance novel told over the course of a few decades. It begins in July 1988 when Emma and Dexter have just graduated and documents their friendship through letters. Emma is the perfect narrator; she’s funny, thoughtful and pays attention to every detail. Dexter is her opposite, arrogant, thoughtless in some instances, and forgetful.

As Emma struggles to get her teaching career and writing ambitions off the ground, Dexter swans around the world, living the high life. Their lives couldn’t be more different. However, their friendship, and the letters, remain. It’s a typical ‘will they won’t they’ romance story, but told with a poignancy that stole my heart.

How it impacted me

Emma is portrayed as being incredibly bookish, a little dorky, unfashionable and clumsy, but she is so loveable. I saw a lot of myself in her, and it was the first time I connected with a narrator in a novel and realised it was okay to be all of the above. In fact, it was actually quite likeable. It taught me to embrace my bookish nature, and for that, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Without revealing too much of the ending, this book taught me the value of time and how much difference a single day can make during the course of our lives. It hones in on the importance of decisions, their impact and how our lives can be shaped forever.

“Whatever happens tomorrow, we had today; and I’ll always remember it.” — David Nicholls, One Day


1984, George Orwell

Dystopian fiction

In an imagined totalitarian future, Winston Smith is a low ranking member of ‘the Party’, and he demonstrates his frustration with its surveillance and intrusion into normal life. This is a police state, bound by authoritarian rule and a warning for the nations of Europe at the time of writing, who were descending into totalitarianism and fascism in the midst of World War Two.

At its core is Big Brother, who is watching everybody’s move, but also a state that perpetuates a type of truth founded on lies. 1984 has become associated with the modern trope ‘that’s a bit Orwellian’ as political discourse in the West has fed into post-truth and dangerous narratives. But its impact on our social, political and cultural lives is still significant.

How it impacted me

I read this when I was about 14, and I can still remember when I finished the book and spent several moments after thinking about what I had just read and how much it had blown my mind. I distinctly remember focusing on the idea of “two plus two equals five” (2 + 2 = 5),” as I contemplated the idea that everything I had learned at school could be questioned.

From that moment, I started to question everything more and not just accept things. Obviously, facts are facts, but we should always scrutinise opinion and point of view. In short, it changed my mindset and approach to life.


Jo Cox: More in Common, Brendan Cox

Biography

Jo Cox was an MP (Member of Parliament) who campaigned for togetherness, inclusion and fairness in the face of the rather toxic, Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. The news of her murder by Thomas Mair, who held far-right views, shocked the world.

More in Common tells the story of Jo’s life written by her husband, who survives Jo alongside their children. It reveals a woman who was passionate about politics at all costs but tried to add a human element into everything she did. She held ideas for a better world: less division and more coming together, and this book documents the beginning of her political career. Above all, it reminds us of so much that was lost.

How it impacted me

Voting against Brexit was the second legal vote I cast at the age of 18, and it was the period of time in my life where I was becoming politically aware. The news of Jo Cox’s murder shook me to the core, as it did the world. I remember watching the news roll in that day and not quite believing what I was hearing.

After reading this several years later and realising how much politics in this country lost that day when Jo was murdered, it profoundly impacted me. Jo strove for a less divisive society and believed in hearing all sides of the debate, which shaped how I came to approach politics. Reading this inspired me in many ways, and I will always strive to be more like Jo.

“We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.” — Jo Cox, maiden speech in Parliament (2016)


The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Classic fiction

As classics come, this is a pretty popular one across the board. Set during the jazz age in the Roaring Twenties, The Great Gatsby tells the story of Jay Gatsby, an outlandishly rich man who is trying to win back the heart of his childhood sweetheart — Daisy Buchanan. Caught between it all is our narrator, Nick Carraway, who moves to Long Island and finds himself as Gatsby’s neighbour, soon frequenting his lavish parties.

It’s a story of love, friendship, excess, wealth, loneliness and revealing all the holes in the promised American Dream.

How it impacted me

I’ve read this more times than I can count. At one point in my life, I would re-read The Great Gatsby every year and marvel at how I would find something new to take note of each time. When I first read it, I was moved by Fitzgerald’s prose, description and symbolism, and it made me realise the possibilities of literature and what words can do.

It’s a work of art, and it made me believe in the power of books to move, inspire and captivate us all. Call me dramatic, but I would never look at any work of literature in the same way again after reading this.


Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

Fiction

Emira is a young, black woman accused of kidnapping two-year-old Briar — the white daughter of the person she babysits for. It is clearly a racially charged accusation, filmed by a few onlookers who upload the footage to social media. This opening act sets the theme for the rest of the novel.

Alix Chamberlain — the mother of Briar and Emira’s employer — continuously boasts that she understands racism and is in the know because she has a handful of black friends. However, her privilege and intolerance towards people of colour are revealed as the story progresses.

This is a tale of race and privilege and how they intertwine with gender and social class. Set in modern-day Philadelphia, it shines a light on our present world and the casual forms of racism that infiltrate every level of society.

How it impacted me

As a white person, I can only understand so much in terms of racism because I am privileged enough never to experience it. I can recognise it and call it out, but I am not subjected to the microaggressions that can happen throughout a person of colour’s everyday life.

This book changed the way I viewed racism by exposing just how subtle it can be. It was useful and enlightening for me to witness a black woman’s perspective on the world and realise how not having to be subject to casual racism daily is a massive privilege.


I could include many more books in this list, but for now, these are the most impactful ones I have read so far. They have either shaped my understanding of the world, my political outlook, or how I understand the social and cultural undercurrents of the world. And for all those reasons, I am immensely grateful for coming across them.

Books have power, and there are certain ones we read during the course of a lifetime that stay with us forever. These are some of mine. What are some of yours?


This was initially published in Books Are Our Superpower 19 April, 2021.

Everything I read in January 2021

The one lesson I took away from this month, was that quality matters more when it comes to reading.


Do you set a reading goal each year for how many books you want to read? When I set a Goodreads reading challenge this year, I realised it felt a bit strange. Setting out the number of books we want to read in a given time slot naturally prioritises quantity rather than quality. 

It made me think. Is it better to read more (and more widely) or to read less, but more deeply? There are benefits to doing both. Although I’ve set myself an arbitrary target for how many books I’d like to read this year — to me — it’s irrelevant if I surpass it or end up reading less. What matters more is what I get out of each book.

In this post — I will be outlining what I read throughout January. Although my Goodreads account tells me I am “behind schedule” to complete my yearly reading goal, I’m not really bothered. 

By reading at a slower pace, I can fully digest each book, pause to reflect on them, and think about what I want to read next. It’s a more leisurely process. So, this is what I read in January 2021. And you’ll notice, there is definitely more quality, rather than quantity.

(Please note that links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you are a UK or US resident, I will receive a small commission if you buy books via these links. All links are included in the book title. Bookshop.org is a website that supports independent bookshops.)


#1 Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams

Fiction, 4/5 stars 

Photo by Sam Lion from Pexels

I read this during bouts of insomnia that I was having at the beginning of the month. It was easy to read in those bleak and quiet hours when everyone else is fast asleep. 

This novel tells the story of Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old British Jamaican who has just decided to go on a “break” from her long term boyfriend, Tom. Whilst she has to live her life without him suddenly, she’s also struggling with motivation at work and with some of her friendships. 

Queenie finds herself attracting (sometimes warranted, sometimes unwarranted) attention from the opposite sex, which she continually strategies and discusses with her group of best friends over WhatsApp. All the while, she hears nothing from Tom and struggles to know where they stand. 

It’s an amusing book — and made me laugh out loud at times. But Queenie, as a narrator, can be frustrating. There’s always a tragedy, always something going wrong. She comes across as a very needy friend — someone I would struggle to deal with, quite frankly. 

But the book also deals with darker issues such as fetishization, black womanhood, and mental health. It’s breezy, chatty and brilliant, but also shines a delicate light on what it’s like to grow up and enter early adulthood as a black woman. This is well worth a read as it strikes a balance between maintaining a sense of contagious humour and talking about real and raw issues.

“Is this what growing into an adult woman is — having to predict and accordingly arrange for the avoidance of sexual harassment?”


#2 The Discomfort of Evening, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Fiction, 3/5 stars 

Forever intrigued by those novels that go on to win the Booker prize, I picked this up and had no real idea of what to expect. As the title tells us, even before our eyes grace the first page, it is a bizarre read. 

At times, the strangeness erodes what could have been a more harrowing, poignant novel. The reader can easily end up reading about incest and animal abuse and be taken aback, even put off from the novel, and may even abandon it altogether. I don’t blame people who have. There’s no forewarning for what is outlined in this novel in such a visceral style. I know that’s the point, but all the same, I can’t help but feel it didn’t work. 

The Discomfort of Eveningis the first novel from the award-winning poet, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Set in the rural Netherlands and featuring a family slowly descending into dysfunction, it paints a harrowing picture of how grief can change people. One day, ten-year-old Jas, the narrator, tells the reader how her brother dies in a tragic incident. She documents how the family dynamic slowly but surely decays. It’s an interesting perspective, which makes the feel of the novel all the more powerful. 

It’s certainly original — even addictive to read — but I thought the levels of discomfort to which it goes to, was unnecessary in parts, and would certainly not engage a general audience. But maybe I’m wrong and missing the point entirely. Who knows? That’s part of the beauty of literature. 

“Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.”


#3 Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

Fiction, 5/5 stars 

No novel is ever universally loved. But as a bookseller, I noticed this was one that flew off the shelves, and everyone raved about it. After being recommended it by a handful of people, I decided to try it. This is a type of novel that is hauntingly beautiful. There is so much sorrow, misfortune and sadness, accompanied by a beautiful landscape and message. I couldn’t stop reading it, and neither did I want to. 

After finishing it, I noticed the reception was more divisive than I had initially understood. Some people said they were bored by the book and even gave up halfway through. But for me, I couldn’t put it down. 

Where the Crawlands Sing is set within a small town on the North Carolina coast. It tells the story of, “Marsh girl” abandoned by her mother and the rest of her family, as they fled from her abusive and violent father. Soon, he leaves too, and Kya is left to fend for herself as a child. She learns how to fish, cook and befriends Nate, who teaches her how to read — as she only managed to attend one day at school. 

Kya has spent most of her life in solitude and at one with nature, making it difficult for her to form close relationships with others. However, something soon blooms between her and Nate as she struggles to navigate those first feelings of love. As soon as things start to work out for her, and she opens herself up, something dreadful happens that has the ability to pull her life all apart — again. 

This novel had all the assets that I believe makes a compelling read. The characters were believable and interesting; the plot was thick with what-ifs, questions and interesting thoughts about childhood, community and social expectations. The story was well told and kept the reader on their seat. I enjoyed it from start to finish and would recommend it to anyone. 

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”


Overview 

In January I read just over 1,000 pages, which is far less than I would usually reach. However, I’m coming away from the month feeling satisfied with what I read and what I’m taking away from each book. 

Each novel I read opened me up to new ideas, experiences and thoughts from different perspectives I would not necessarily encounter in real life. I learnt a lot from each and was reminded of the power of words and how they can make us feel. 


Currently Reading 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

I’ve been reading this for a while. Because it covers the course of an entire day in such depth, I find it quite heavy to read and digest. I’ve been reading it in small chunks, hence why it is taking me so long to finish. 

I do love it though — but realise it is not everyone’s taste. There is something so unique and magical about reading Woolf’s words, and I can’t quite put my figure on what exactly that is. Perhaps I’ll know when I finish it. 

The Searcher, Tana French

I love this. I love the feeling of it; it’s so eerie and creepy. It’s definitely a slow burner, which I don’t mind, but I’m intrigued to find out where the story will go. I’m reading this on my Kindle which I use for nighttime reading in bed. I’m about halfway through and enjoying it so far. 


Well, that was my month in reading. Based on my history, I read less this month than I usually do, but I’m not bothered. I’m not trying to race ahead and read as much as possible this year, but take in every read.

I want to value every word on the page and give each story my full attention — rather than always being focused on the next book. 

Thank you for reading


Stuck for what to read? Check out some of my recommendations: 

5 Non-Fiction Books Everyone Should Read

What The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley Teaches us About Friendship

50 Fiction Recommendations for 2021


Please note, this was originally published on Medium in A Thousand Lives.

‘The Discomfort of Evening’: A Disturbing but Compelling Read


The Discomfort of Evening is a novel like no other. In many ways, it is evocative of the traditional literary fiction genre. Told through the perspective of Jas, a 10-year-old girl — it is highly character-driven. 

My qualms with the novel lay in how it portrays discomfort — as it goes beyond certain (usually) respected boundaries. As a result, it may make many readers uncomfortable, with often, little warning. However, it makes for a truly compelling and addictive read. But maybe that’s precisely because it is so uncomfortable and strange? In the same way that many people are compelled to read and watch true crime stories — as readers, we can’t help but read on further despite our raging sense of discomfort. 

All in all — the clue is in the title for this one. In a nutshell, The Discomfort of Evening is a strange novel with a very strange feeling. 


About the Book 

A Discomfort of Evening paints a picture of rural life in the Netherlands, told through the perspective of a 10-year-old girl, Jas. She lives on her family’s farm with her two siblings and parents. One day — pretty early on in the novel — her brother tragically dies, after that, the family dynamic suddenly changes. 

As the whole family struggles to come to terms with death, havoc and strangeness are let loose. The parents start arguing and Jas, as the narrator, lets us know how concerned she is about their lack of love between each other — she picks up on every change. The family as a whole goes down a dark path. 

This culminates in a case of foot and mouth which is discovered on the farm, resulting in the culling of all livestock which not only damages the family business and their livelihood — but is another reminder of the persistence of death. In between this, Jas and her siblings have to face the changing pace of her father’s religious belief. Even though she was used to growing up in a religious household, as these events unfold, her father becomes increasingly driven by religion at all costs. 

And of course, the children rebel in their own ways. And this rebellion is completely disturbing, at times unnecessary, but all the same — completely addictive to read.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is a prize-winning young poet in the Netherlands, add this is their first novel. It won the international booker prize in 2020, and has since, sold many copies worldwide, after being translated from the original Dutch. 


What Makes the novel Disturbing and Discomforting? 

“Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.”

Just from reading the title, we know it’s going to be a strange and uncomfortable read. But I never thought it would be this weird. 

Jas, inevitably, is growing up and exploring her own sexuality — which in itself — is not strange. She documents this with a matter of fact style, evocative of a young child. However, this exploration of herself, and her own sexuality, get incredibly uncomfortable when it involves her brother (who was several years older) and her sister. 

The casualness to which incest is witnessed between two siblings, one 10, and the other in their early teens, is incredibly uncomfortable and disturbing. But, this is not where it stops. When the foot and mouth outbreak happens, a vet comes to the farm to try and help Jas’ father. As a grown man, he tries to groom Jas, a 10-year-old girl, right in front of her parents’ eyes. 

But this sexual discomfort and exploration don’t stop within the family. Jas invites her friend Beth over and her brother assaults her in the cowshed. Evidently, this novel aims to incite discomfort to demonstrate one family’s decay and how disorder can reign. I appreciate the intention — but the delivery using these examples — is unnecessary. 

But there are other disturbing elements — such as animal abuse. Jas shoves an ice cream scoop into the bottom of a cow, which is described viscerally and physically. She treats them with no respect for somebody who has grown up on a farm and developed a love of animals. But perhaps, this is the result of the prevailing family dynamic infiltrating all of her actions. 

Lastly, — Jas’ mother is evidently suffering from depression. She makes it clear to Jas, at one point, that she wants to die. The whole family walk on tiptoes around her but don’t attempt to comfort her, or help her in any way. I found this one of the most disturbing elements — it wasn’t one told with graphic imagery — but simmering beneath the surface. The casual dismissal of a mother in complete suffering was far more disturbing and uncomfortable than anything else. 


How the Style of the Book Feeds into this Discomfort 

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld writes vividly, and without limits. They do not shy away from patining a visceral and uncomfortable picture of death, incest or animal abuse. It’s plain and simple for the readers to witness and feel. 

The delivery and imagery created tunes automatically into this sense of discomfort, which could be executed with greater poignancy — if you removed the incest and animal abuse. 

The author draws upon what is obviously disturbing and uncomfortable, I found myself at times, finding it clunky, gimmicky and crying out for attention. 

Through the language, style and narration of certain disturbing events, Rijneveld paints a picture of one family who is on the verge of decay — just as their farm is crumbling around them. It portrays a disturbing account of youth, grief, suffering and everyday life but propels this to new — and often — unworthy heights. 

Fo me, the parts I found most disturbing were less obvious — such as Jas’ mother’s mental decline. More examples of this slow, subtle and simmering discomfort, for me, would have been more effective in displaying the novel’s message. Although certainly unique, I feel as if this novel falls short of what it aims to achieve, and potentially, eliminates a whole bunch of readers. 


Did it Deserve the Booker Prize? 

This novel was a bestseller in the Netherlands before it was translated into English and won the international booker prize in 2020. The author grew up in a strict, religious, Protestant household — which bears a significant resemblance to the one depicted in this novel. 

Rijneveld also experienced the loss of her own brother when she was 3 and this novel, in many ways, is an attempt to document how that impacts a family. 

“Either the family grows closer or it falls apart. As a child, I could see that ours was starting to fall apart.” — Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

In this respect — it’s aims and intentions are noteworthy, making it worth a read. It is a unique way of exploring grief, trauma and growing up within a troublesome family. Rijneveld style of writing makes the novel compelling and addictive. It will also alienate many readers who don’t want to subject themselves to reading about incest and animal abuse in their spare time. 

I can see why it got the Booker prize, but I wouldn’t say it necessarily deserved it — when considering what it was up against. However, as readers, we should remember that just because a novel wins the Booker prize or has critical acclaim, it doesn’t always mean it’s good or better than anything else. 

All in all — this gets a 3/5 for me, as it was a compelling read, which explored many difficult themes. I liked the writing style and can appreciate its execution and what it aimed to do — but I have problems with the disturbance levels portrayed in the novel. And I’m not sure that a mass market of readers would enjoy reading it. But perhaps, that was the point. 


Have you read The Discomfort of Evening, if so, what did you think? I would love to know.


This article was originally published on Medium.com.

Book Review: Knight in Paper Armor

“This is a country of immigrants. Hate it all you want, but immigration is America. I’m America, more than you’ll ever be.”


TW — This book and the following review contains topics relating to hate crimes, antisemitism, xenophobia, racism, violence, torture, suicide, sensory deprivation, traumatic injury/disability, the Holocaust, and emotional abuse.

Beth Shalom is the 93rd state of the 179 United States of America, which is the setting of this stunning work of dystopian fiction. In a place called Heaven’s Hole, a boy named Billy Jakobek has grown up in laboratories, at the hands of Caleb, the force behind the megacorporation, Thorne Century. Caleb’s motivation behind subjecting this boy to countless experimentation is that he’ll be able to harness his powers to create a new type of warfare — one that is “clean. Contained. Beautiful.”

In many ways, it is a world far away from our own — but not far enough away that we cannot see the influence of the contemporary world within every detail. Natalia Gonzalez, one of the main protagonists, is a rebellious young artist, and the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, who falls in love with Billy as their paths cross. Living in Heaven’s Hole, Natalia regularly experiences the deprivation ensured by Thorne Century’s regime, as her family and community work within the factories that keep the regime running. Her world is one of poverty, deprivation, and an endless cycle of suffering. With an eye for creativity and a rebellious spirit, she hopes to one day break out of this cycle.

When these two character’s cross paths — their worlds collide. Together, they aim to bring down the megacorporation Thorne Century and strive to create a better world. But it is not that easy, defeating Caleb will be the biggest fight of all. This novel is entirely dystopian in feel, scope, and intent — but it contains elements of fantasy, science fiction and young adult themes — in being narrated by two teenagers who fall in love despite the crumbling world around them. However, it is also rooted in our world. It shines a light on the everyday xenophobia, antisemitism, class inequality and capitalist exploitation which is rife within the US — and the rest of the world.

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


About the Author

Nicholas Conley is a full-time writer — who has written for several publications such as Vox, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Reporter, Dictionary.com and others. He is also the author of four books, Knight in Paper Armour being his most recent one.

Nicholas is Jewish and a descendent of Ashkenazic refuges from Russia and Sephardic refugees who fled from the Spanish inquisition. On a personal level, he is a great believer in human rights, social justice, systemic reforms and living in a fairer world — for all.

“… we all share the same world. We’re all in this together. No matter what, we should do the best we can to take care of each other.” — Nicholas Conley 

You can find out more about Nicholas Conley via his website.


My review

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Image courtesy of Nicholas Conley

My first thought upon finishing this book was “wow” — it sounds cliché, but it is entirely accurate. Upon writing up my notes when I finished the book — there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to give this a 5/5, there’s simply nothing that I can fault. I am incredibly grateful to Nicholas for asking if I would like to review his book because it is not the kind of book I would have picked up myself.

So what did I like about this book?

Firstly — I found the ideas woven throughout this book utterly compelling — and could empathize with the struggles of Natalia Gonzalez because of her belief in a fairer society. Despite being a dystopian novel through and through, it draws upon many sentiments that we are currently dealing with globally in social, cultural, and political life. Thorne Century, the megacorporation which controls all the aspects of life for those who live in Heaven’s Hole, is, in a way, a metaphor for capitalism itself.

It crushes people’s ambition, perpetuates inequality just by existing, and fails to bring about a fairer way of life. Caleb, the perpetrator and manipulator of Billy Jakobek, is a power-hungry individual — who rules Heaven’s Hole for his own benefit. This is a vision of society that is divided along the lines of ethnicity, race, economic status and gender — thus, in many ways, it mirrors our world. However, this is a creative, dystopian state which provides enough fantasy to escape from our world.

Therefore — I resonated with this book because it felt current and there is so much to unpack. In many ways, it contains the classic element of good versus evil. Still, it is told with so many complexities that reading it, is enough to make you stop in your tracks and re-evaluate the world around you. 2020 has been dominated by American politics and the continuous systemic racism that lingers — and in this novel — it lays bear this influence within a unique, fast-paced and believable story.

As well as the ideas, I loved the characters and execution of this novel. I empathised with Natalia, who becomes somewhat of a revolutionary figure in the book with her opposition to Thorne Century, and I saw a lot of myself in her. She ardently believes that through a collective effort and vision, we can change the systems of oppression that ensnare us. As a character, she is also good-humoured and utterly likeable.

Billy Jakobek is a complex character who spends most of his time within a tank monitored by Caleb for the harnessing of his psychic abilities. He is subject to countless experiments and deprived of living in the real world — until he meets Natalia. Many themes in this novel also evoke the feeling of a classic coming of age story — but set amongst a dystopian state — it is truly original and enthralling.

The book is fast-paced, full of action and chops and changes between different character perspectives. It keeps you reading with every twist and turn, as you follow Billy and Natalia’s hopes of creating a better world. Crucially it also had a very satisfying ending which is essential for me when giving out five-star ratings. Often, if I give a book a 4-star rating, it will mean that I was left dissatisfied, but this is far from the case here. The ending to this whirlwind of a book was satisfying, heart-warming and convincing.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes dystopian novels that distract you from the present, but also make poignant points about the way we live now. And importantly, the systems that dominate our world and perpetuate multiple forms of inequality. This book is endlessly captivating and provides us with an essential insight into our contemporary world.


For fans of dystopian novels and readers of fantasy and sci-fi, this is the perfect book. I went into it not knowing what to expect but came away utterly mesmerised.

Knights in Paper Armor was published in September 2020 and is available to buy in paperback or as an e-book on Amazon.


I regularly accept review requests, if you’re an author and would like me to review your book, please visit my contact page for more information or to get in touch.


Book Review: The Stone in My Pocket

Mysterious goings-on are filtered through this coming of age novel with unique twists and turns.


“Why would I want to read about the paranormal when I was living it?”

Overview

In the dead of night, Nathan Love suddenly hears a strange voice in his garden, accompanied by a shadowed figure watching over him. Immediately, his world is tinted with a sense of strangeness, that he cannot quite work out. 

After a visit to his local bookshop, Nathan soon ends up with a Saturday job there and finds himself apart of a spiritual circle group, led by the owner of the bookshop, Iris.

Nathan hopes that in joining this group, he will be able to uncover the mystery of the shadowed figure he saw in this bedroom. All of this, he keeps from his parents. After all, his mother is a devout Catholic and his father has always turned a nose up to his strange stories. 

Through a mixture of messages, spirits and realisations, Nathan is led to believe that the shadowed figure was a reincarnation of his Grandfather who recently passed away, and Nathan believes that he is trying to convey a message to the family.

Strange goings-on, struggles at school and difficulties with making friends make the experience of adolescence one that is fraught with difficulties. Nathan is not close with his parents and finds solace in his job at the bookshop and the friendships made within the circle group. But sooner rather than later, the strangeness and questions in his life will be uncovered.

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


About the Author

Matthew Keeley is the author of two novels, A Stone in My Pocket being the most recent, due to Covid related delays, this is now due to be published in early 2021 by The Conrad Press. His debut novel, Turning the Hourglass, was published in 2019. 

Whilst being a full-time author and writer, Matthew also teaches English to secondary school pupils. He likes to write within the realms of speculative fiction, magic realism and literary fiction.

You can find out more information about Matthew and the expected release of A Stone in My Pocket, via his website.


My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First and foremost, what I loved about this book was the immediate hook. The mysterious figure seen in Nathan’s garden is enough to keep anyone reading. 

Immediately the reader has all sorts of questions “who is the figure?” “what is it doing here?” “what does this mean for Nathan and his family?” are just a few that crossed my mind in the first few pages. Being gripping from the start is always a good thing, but the result of the story was told in such a fast-paced and well-structured manner, that the remainder of the novel was never a disappointment.

Due to the initial hook — the rest of the story is spent trying to explain the mysterious happenings that occurred in Nathan’s garden and what this could mean. Nathan, the protagonist, aims to finds answers to this by joining a spiritual circle, where he truly immerses himself in the medium world.

Everything about the story contains an element of strangeness, from the eerie small-town setting to the use of a protagonist who never quite fits in -  this is a coming of age novel with unique twists and turns.

Nathan spends a considerable amount of time working in the bookshop where he also attends his circle meetings, which naturally appealed to me, as someone who also loves bookshops. There’s something special about a novel that heavily features all things bookish. 

Image via Uplash

The range of characters presented and how they are woven throughout the story to unravel the mysterious goings-on is impressive. 

Nathan as the protagonist is naturally flawed and a confused adolescent who has never really fit in with his peers or family. He is trying to navigate through his life and struggles with school as his mind is preoccupied with solving the strange goings-on that happened outside his bedroom window. I valued his perspective, and it was nice to delve into the mindset of a quirky adolescent — for once.

Iris, the owner of the bookshop, is also a fabulously crafted character who symbolises the sense of strangeness carried throughout the book. She is presented as almost a mother or grandmother figure to Nathan, who finds himself more and more detached from his parents as he tries to keep his activities within the circle group a secret.

The premise is alluring, and the delivery was very sophisticated with the crafting of interesting characters and a suspenseful plot. It had an explosive ending, which I shall not reveal, but all of Nathan’s secrets are suddenly exposed to his parents and everything unravels before his eyes. 

I found the ending to be quite abrupt, which I was slightly disappointed with, given the suspense carried throughout the story. In this way, the story could have benefited from tying up some loose ends. 

Overall, I enjoyed this novel despite it not being a story I would not normally turn to. I am not a massive lover of the supernatural, especially in fiction, but I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and ended up enjoying it. I liked the characters, premise, setting and sense of unrelenting strangeness that filtered throughout the story.


A coming of age novel with a sense of eerie strangeness. For lovers of the supernatural, magic realism and character-driven stories — this is a brilliant read from start to finish.

Many thanks to the author, Matthew Keeley for providing me with a free copy of this book


Originally published on Medium in Write and Review, [insert date]