Books & Writers

2023 Book Reviews

If you’re familiar with me, you’ll know I try to write book reviews every year, of every book I finish reading.

In 2009, I began to track my reading. It made sense once I began tracking the books I read, then giving them a rating to remind myself if I might want to recommend or read it again, to then write a proper review of each one.

I began writing book reviews in 2013 and an annual summary of the books I read in 2014.

It’s been a very… tumultuous trend – going from 26-ish books a year down to an average of around 5. And I finished my first book of 2023 in May, only completing 3 books the whole year. I think that shares the tone of my 2023 pretty well.

Here’s my reviews with my thoughts of what I did complete!

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May :: The Sugar Jar: Create Boundaries, Embrace Self-Healing, and Enjoy the Sweet Things in Life by Yasmine Cheyenne

5 Stars

I believe I found this author through a podcast, and once I’d heard the author speak, I knew I wanted to hear more. I went to her social media and read a few quotes – that had me hooked. I grabbed the sample, and then bought the whole book.

According to my Kindle, I made 217 notes and highlights throughout this book; many of which were multiple paragraphs long. Going through my own divorce, losing my house and my cats, unlearning a lot of the things I’d been taught to believe about being a ‘good girl’ and although I’m no newbie to a lot of these lessons, this book was a mixture of powerful reminders and new takes on old messages.

There were parts that felt less-relevant to me, and in fact one chapter she states is written for a specific person, but I read it to help me understand what others might experience as well as taking the foundational lessons I believe can apply to many of us. I found the questions at the end of each chapter thought-provoking, and can see this metaphor of the sugar jar (and the kitchen it lives in) being a great one for anyone, but especially women in our current times.

There were definitely a few times I had to re-read a bit to check the meaning, or she used a phrase I wasn’t familiar with, but in terms of the takeaways, I give this book 5 stars.

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June :: This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

4 Stars

This book is so difficult to describe. It reminded me of Astonishing the Gods by Ben Okri in the literary style and the requirement to suspend your understanding of the world to settle into the story. The characters are enticing, and near the end, I found myself finally caring about the world itself.

I skimmed words I didn’t know the meaning of, and definitely missed a bunch of the references. But for a story of two people connecting via letter and going against what they *should* do based on societies expectations, I saw myself and the experience of many modern stories within.

My partner and I fell in love as teenagers via writing letters from different continents, and again as adults 15 years later, we reconnected via email, so I think my attachment and feeling of familiarity won out when the wording of this style was so hard to read and take in.

I think of the memoirs of women leaving their caged lives to follow the spark they know they are here to stoke and shine, and I felt that in this story, watching my own mind unfold. The flow of words reminded me of my brain – mirroring my neurodiversity.

This book is how my mind works. I find comfort in the concepts that are muddled between pretty words I barely know the meaning to and the emotions that are just outside my grasp of understanding.

But this hard to read, with scattered references to seemingly random tangents that then fold back into the original point. There are concepts of story I’m telling but then, a beautiful phrase, then a term I have a random fact about, a connection I can finally make sense of, like calling the Red character ‘Cochineal’.

So I found a depth in this prose that I rarely find, and it’s beautiful. Equally, I feel this is not a simple book to read, and I would really recommend thinking of it as poetry or as a painting instead of worrying about each word’s meaning or placement.

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August :: Existential Kink by Dr Carolyn 

4 Stars

I was very reluctant to read this book. It was sent to me as part of a coaching programme I participated in, and even the prologue triggered a whole lot of discomfort in me, as it felt victim-blaming. I found myself having to ‘reword’ aspects of the book to make sense of the point without the language used making me uncomfortable.

Some key points I found useful were that of considering the ‘function’ of my behaviours as well as the ‘function’ of why I DONT make change – like the benefits of not having what I think I want. I found the quote “we humans tend to make our worlds and our horizons very small, just to avoid discomfort. We put off doing tasks that are key to maintaining our wellbeing and fulfilling our goals” useful to consider how often we *know* what will get us towards a goal but then we don’t *do* it. The reminder that what we see and perceive isn’t a ‘true reality” but always a perception, filtered via our beliefs. “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond all measure.” Understanding how our deepest fears are messengers just like other emotions. The power of not looking for “reasons” to do things, because equally compelling reasons can be found for everything.

There is truth to how we see things through minds shaped by the stories we tell ourselves, which have beliefs form from the language  we use, and there are both conscious and subconscious or unconscious aspects of ourselves that need integrating for us to fully understand ourselves. I can also get behind the idea of how staying broke keeps us from feeling too powerful, too competent, how it keeps our responsibility a little smaller and thus meets a need for certainty when it’s all we’ve ever known. How we keep ourselves small because society tells us we should and we never even thought to question it in some cases.

So there are some core truths that I can say are useful to consider, and some exercises to at least explore what alternative perceptions there may be. However, I have issues with the idea that some people “choose to suffer hardship with the aim to heal for ourselves and thus for the collective.”  This wording has some harmful implications in my opinion – especially if certain types of person read that idea. I am not a fan of the “you magnetised this to you, including being assaulted” even as I understand (or I believe) the author is attempting to show how our perception impacts our choices which may then lead to us getting in patterns of familiarity that are not healthy.

Equally, I think this book could have been written without the victim-shaming and even shame-shaming there did pop up in places. I tried to remain somewhat conscious of my own reactions as I read this, but as a human who has experienced trauma and abuse, I definitely found it hard to ignore some of the phrasing and some things I feel are not as ‘factual’ as they might be written as here.

If you want to delve deep into shadow work, psychology, unravelling some of societal impacts and you feel able to take what you need and leave the rest, I’d recommend this book.  However, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of this book is itself misinterpretation , even as it talks of misinterpreting, as I tried not not misinterpret it.

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Here’s to reading more in 2024!

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