Female Friendships and Self-Love: a Memoir of Lessons

*Content warning: this book contains a chapter on cancer and death.

Irreverently witty, funny, and heartfelt, Everything I Know About Love is an excellent handbook for navigating life. 

With the key cornerstones of friendship, boyfriends, parents, siblings, friends who become family, work, career and university being at the heart of this book, it is certainly one can relate to.  

The memoir, penned by Dolly Alderton (whose writing is quite simply, beautiful), tracks Dolly’s life from her earliest days transitioning into adolescence, her teenage years, life at university, and throughout her twenties, ending with her 30th birthday.  

With much testament to Dolly’s writing, you almost feel like you know her and have lived through these experiences with her. The book is honest, self-reflective and above all provides self-affirmation – that you are enough. 

The first chapter, ‘Everything I Knew About Love as a Teenager,’ highlights the idealistic and romanticised version of love we all envisioned at a young age. Dolly’s writing in this chapter, and subsequently throughout the whole book, is almost shockingly honest.  

No moment in my life will ever be as embarrassing as when I tried to kiss Sam Leeman and he pulled away from me and I fell over.” 

– Dolly alderton, everything i know about love

The tone of relatability and embarrassment that emanate from the pages highlight how Dolly’s writing can and should resonate with everyone.  

The book then progresses with similar and related chapter titles, ‘Everything I Knew About Love at Twenty-One,’ ‘Everything I Knew About Love at Twenty-Five,’ ‘Reasons to Have a Boyfriend and Reasons Not to Have a Boyfriend,’ ‘Twenty-eight Lessons Learnt in Twenty-eight Years,’ ‘Everything I Know About Love at Twenty-eight,’ and an extended version with the chapter, ‘Everything I Know About Love at Thirty.’  

Each chapter is gut-wrenchingly sincere and genuine, with Dolly exposing and shedding light on her feelings during a particular moment in her life.  

It is a book which can and does provide so many lessons for growing up as a woman and finding your way in the world.  

Dolly’s sincerity shines through the page, particularly when writing about her best friend, Farly.  

Nothing luckier has ever happened in my life than the day Farly sat next to me in a maths lesson in 1999.” 

– dolly alderton, everything i know about love

One of the beauties of this book is how Dolly shows that love does not only have to mean romantic love. The love from female friendships, and the friends which have, in turn, become family, drive this story. From reading this book, it was Dolly’s friends from which she turned to for advice and support. It seems that this type of love – the one forged by years of shared memories and experiences – is the one that is always there. 

This is most certainly true when Dolly talks about the displacement she felt when Farly fell in love and had a boyfriend of her own; 

A reminder that no matter what we lose, no matter how uncertain and unpredictable life gets, some people really do walk next to you forever.” 

– dolly alderton, everything i know about love

Dolly doesn’t just talk about romantic love and the foundation of love in female friendships. Self-love and having an idea of your sense of self is a topic particularly laced throughout this book. For me, self-love is the backdrop to this book.  

Carving out your own identity and developing a sense of self-worth is a journey – and Dolly reflects that beautifully.  

“…the love someone gives you will be a reflection of the love you give yourself. If you can’t treat yourself with kindness, care and patience, chances are someone else won’t either.” 

– dolly alderton, everything i know about love

The love you have for yourself is the most important kind you can have. Discovering yourself along the journey of life, love and relationships is key to developing a sense of self-love and worth. 

For me, ‘Everything I Know About Love,’ is a powerhouse of a book. Dolly’s life lessons, advice and tips are written so straightforwardly and in such an engaging way, that it was difficult to put this book down. 

Her years of making mistakes throughout her twenties and teenage years have resulted in a book which has spoken to a generation of women. Learning from these experiences has made Dolly an exquisite writer.  

The popularity of ‘Everything I Know About Love,’ has also led to a BBC drama adaptation. With seven episodes, the series sums up this memoir in its entirety and showcases just how poignant this book really is.  

Personally, this book is an insight into multiple life lessons, for which I am extremely grateful Dolly shared. It shows that love comes in many different forms, from different avenues and unexpected corners of life.  

It is a story, ultimately, of growing up. Through self-deprecation, wit, humour and total honesty, Dolly has created a book which will continue to teach us about the importance of love. Be it romantic or self-love – but most certainly, about the power of love from female friendship.  

Coffee Time Tuesdays: 3 Recommendations for Christmas

Hello, dear readers! What cheesy Christmas song is playing in the background as you’re reading this? Last year, I had my Christmas playlist on from 1 November, but this year I’m trying to be more reasonable, so I haven’t yet hit play on my wintery soundtrack.

While I wait (im)patiently to be able to blast some cheesy festive classics on repeat for a full month, I decided a TBR is a much more laid-back way to get into the Christmas spirit. After all, books take a while to complete, unlike a playlist which can be on loop several times in one day.

You can’t get bored of a Christmas TBR and it’s never too early to start it. Bonus points that you don’t annoy your neighbours. Reading is apartment-friendly, after all.

I’m not usually organised enough to adapt my TBRs to the changing seasons but even the queen of randomness gets a couple of festive books to read in time for 25 December. So here are three recommendations for any and all jolly bookworms out there.

‘The Christmas Murder Game’ by Alexandra Benedict

This has to be my all-time favourite festive thriller. Lily Armitage receives a letter from her late aunt inviting her to Endgame House, the old family manor where her mother died 21 years ago. The letter reveals that all of Lily’s estranged cousins will also take part in the game that will decide who inherits the house.

They have 12 days to solve 12 clues and find the keys that will get them to the deeds for the manor. And of course, Lily soon finds out that the Christmas game is particularly deadly this year.

I thoroughly enjoyed this intense and mysterious family drama that keeps you guessing at every stage. It’s fun, rhythmic, and addictive, dark enough to not be cheesy, but not gruesome enough to take away the festive spirit. The Christmas Murder Game is a real Christmas cracker of a book.

‘A German Christmas: Festive Tales From Berlin to Bavaria’

Nothing says Christmas quite like a collection of fairy tales. Personally, I prefer individual stories to entire novels around Christmas time. The memories associated with them are kept more vivid and closer to my heart, because they’re so easy to read and you can devour them in portions.

A German Christmas gathers timeless classics by the Brothers Grimm and Thomas Mann alongside more modern tales, for a perfect collection of festive treats all about the famous and enviable German Christmas.

Eine froehliche Weihnachten — A Merry Christmas — made all the more joyful with these literary treats redolent of candle-lit trees, St. Nikolaus, gingerbread, roast goose and red cabbage, tinsel and stollen cakes, accompanied by plenty of schnapps. — Waterstones

‘Kiss Her Once for Me’ by Alison Cochrun

And the third and final Christmas recommendation is also the hot new release of today’s column. Alison Cochrun, the master that wrote one of my favourite romances of all time, The Charm Offensive, is back with a sapphic Christmas romance that sounds enchanting and thrilling.

There had to be a romance on this list. Kiss Her Once for Me follows Ellie who, after a Christmas Eve meet-cute in a bookstore, is left heartbroken when her new love interest betrays her trust the next morning. Soon after, she loses her dream job, leaving her broke and desperate.

She agrees on a whim to a fake engagement which could be the solution to all her problems, but when her fiance’s sister turns out to be her runaway meet-cute, Jack, Ellie starts considering the reality of her feelings, and what pursuing the woman of her dreams could risk.

This sounds incredible and filled with enough angst to keep my distracted little mind interested. It’s already at the top of my festive TBR.

You can read my review of The Charm Offensive here:

And that’s it for today’s Coffee Time Tuesday. Have you started those festive books yet? What are some of your favourite Christmas reads? Let me know in the comments!

The Book That Everyone Needs To Read

*Trigger warning: this review talks about mental health struggles and disorders such as depression, anxiety, grief, and loss. 

**Content warning: this book contains topics on mental health struggles and disorders such as depression and anxiety. The book also contains topics such as suicide, sexual abuse, grief, loss, and trauma.  

Everyone has mental health. That is obvious. But for some people, it can be difficult to look after it properly. With the stresses of day-to-day life, it is easy to be forgetful to look after yourself. Mental health struggles are nothing to be ashamed of, and the stigma surrounding this topic is problematic. Only from having conversations and developing understandings and insights can we really break down these barriers. And that is what Scarlett Curtis’ ‘It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (and other lies)’ does perfectly. 

The book, a collection of 74 essays from celebrities, activists, and academics, delves deeply into the world of mental health. It is raw and personal in its entirety. It is exactly the kind of book which is needed if we are to break down mental health shame and stigma.  

When I first read this book, it not only educated me, but it also provided me with a source of comfort. Reading this book in my first year of university provided me with the knowledge that I wasn’t alone. Living away from home for the first time at the age of 18, was daunting. It was a completely new city, with new people and a whole new lifestyle. Thinking back to my 18-year-old naivety, I was not prepared for the change. But then again, who really is at that age? 

This book, and all the 74 people within it, became dear friends, and with each new essay I delved into, the more comforted I felt.  

The end of Scarlett Curtis’ introduction at the beginning of the book sums up its importance in its entirety.  

“Above all, take your time, remember to breathe. And I hope, more than anything, that you get something you need from these extraordinary stories.” 

– scarlett curtis, It’s Not ok to feel blue (and other lies)

And that is the heart of this book. The bravery and inspiration from these 74 essayists help pave the way for future conversations. For me, it was an extremely eye-opening read. Everyone struggles – and that is okay.  

Celebrities such as Alistair Campbell, Sam Smith, Fearne Cotton, Dawn O’Porter, Naomi Campbell, Miranda Hart, and Emma Thompson, just to name a few, write frank and honest opinions and insights into their personal struggles.  

The book is split into six sections, each with a different subheading. Each essay is placed under each section relating to its topic. This, for me, was an extremely helpful layout. If you do not want to read the book in order, its contents are laid out in such a way that you can dip in and out whenever you fancy.  

The subheadings also provide support and advice with titles such as; ‘It’s OK Not to Be OK,’ ‘It’s OK To Shout,’ ‘It’s OK To Be Vulnerable,’ and ‘It’s OK To Ask for Help.’ The penultimate section before the ‘Last Words,’ is ultimately a message of hope. The subheading – ‘It Will Be OK,’ highlights this book’s goal – of showing, through other people, that everything will be okay. Mental health struggles are not something to be ashamed of – they are something which even the most famous of people deal with.  

For me, this book is tailored with the reader in mind. Its tone of relatability, offerings of friendship and insights into others’ lives and minds, is what makes it such an excellent book.  

‘It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (and other lies)’ also supports mental health charities. 10% of this books’ recommended retail price goes to the charity SHOUT. It is not only the essays and wordsmiths themselves providing support, but the book itself is helping to contribute to the charitable work people provide to those in need.  

One of the essays which stood out the most to me was from the section of ‘It Will Be OK.’ Emma Thompson’s way with words during her essay, or ‘list,’ as she titles it, is warm, inviting and somewhat familiar.  

She starts out by defining what mental health and depression are to her using Shakespeare. She then goes onto adapt the work of Sydney Smith, curating a list for life.  

The key takeaways from Thompson’s list are that eventually, everything will work itself out. Stop blaming or judging yourself for something that is not your fault, and do not compare yourself to others.  

“Don’t think too far ahead. Evening is fine, but tomorrow can look after itself.” 

Emma Thompson, It’s Not ok to feel blue (and other lies)

Her essay stood out to me from the whole book. It is a simple and straightforward admission of her own mental health struggles and her useful advice.  

Miranda Hart’s essay titled, ‘Hello, My Loves,’ is again another example of the warmth emanating from the pages of this book. Simply from the title, its tone is one of familiarity and comfort.  

“Stop judging yourself. Stop punishing yourself. It’s not your fault.” 

– emma thompson, It’s Not ok to feel blue (and other lies)

If you are searching for a book that is warm and comforting, this is for you. The topics within the book are difficult – with words on grief, loss, depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles. But its importance is all encompassing.  

Everyone should read this book – not just for the bravery and inspiration from the writers on the pages, but to truly understand that everyone has mental health. It is not much different from our physical health – in order to survive, we need to look after it properly.

Understanding that, can we then only break the shame and stigma associated with mental health struggles.  

Coffee Time Tuesdays: We’re Back!

Well hello there, dear readers. It’s been an age and a half since I’ve written that. As you may or may not have noticed, the weekly Coffee Time Tuesdays died down for a while.

That’s because I was on holiday all throughout September (and October, a little bit), and coming back to work ended up being quite overwhelming, so I had to drop a few responsibilities and focus on myself for a while.

The other reason why I haven’t written this column in weeks is that my reading has gone downhill completely since our last update. I haven’t finished a book since September. And I’m admitting that shamefully.

I’ve been reading, don’t get me wrong. Just in a chaotic way that has left me with about six or seven current reads, none of which I’m anywhere near the end of.

My 2022 reading challenge will be an enormous failure, but I’ve come to terms with that. Reading shouldn’t be about numbers. I’ve only read 38 books so far this year, my aim being 55. And while I still have time to make that happen, I’m hesitant to say it will.

But enough self-pity. I’m back, and now Coffee Time Tuesdays are a thing again, I’m sure I’ll be inspired to read more. Special thanks to my dear friend, Amanda Kay Oaks, who has recently launched a column herself, for giving me the push I needed to start writing this column again.

If you’d like to read Amanda’s new column, Book News Corner, check out her introduction post on Your Book Friend:

What I’m Reading

My current reads are a bit of a buffet. I’ve started everything, in a desperate attempt to find something that sticks. Firstly, I’m re-reading The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune, the first two books being some of the most uplifting and wholesome books I’ve ever read. The third and final book in the trilogy, Heat Wave, came out in August and I’d love to read it, so I’m refreshing my memory by re-reading the first two.

Then, in desperate need of a moody, autumnal read, I started The Maidens by Alex Michaelides, a dark academia murder mystery I hoped would be the light at the end of my slumpy tunnel. It’s not there yet, but the beginning sounds promising and I am interested to know where the story is headed.

My non-fiction (and audiobook) of choice this month is Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story by Julie K. Brown. The author is the journalist who broke the Epstein story and whose coverage finally got the infamous child sexual predator behind bars. 

It’s an incredibly interesting story — from a purely journalistic point of view, but it’s very difficult to digest. Some of the details are truly harrowing, so if you’re triggered by any kind of mention of sexual harassment and paedophilia, skip this one.

The one book that’s really got me hooked and might be my saving grace is the Forward Book of Poetry 2022. You may not know this, but I’m a poet. Like, a legit one. I have two published collections and I’m working on my third. 

And although I managed to make a name for myself on the Romanian poetry scene, I’m determined to put my foot in the door on the English poetry scene, so I need to familiarise myself with some contemporary poets. The Forward anthology is a gem and one I’ve been savouring this past week.

And finally, I went to a conference in dreamy Edinburgh two weeks ago and that’s where I started Matrix by Lauren Groff. It’s a story of feminism, queerness, female strength and friendship, set in England in the 12th century. Not at all in my comfort zone, but I love the writing style and dark atmosphere.

Shiny New Release

Today’s shiny new release actually came out on 6 October, but bear with, I’ve been absent for a while, so I’m catching up. I could have simply chosen a November release but I really wanted to feature this debut, which looks stunning and sounds even better.

Someday, Maybe by Onyi Nwabineli is a debut about love, loss, suicide, race, and coming to terms with grief when you’re the one left behind. Here’s what the publisher says:

Here are three things you should know about my husband:

1. He was the great love of my life despite his penchant for going incommunicado

2. He was, as far as I and everyone else could tell, perfectly happy.

3. On New Year’s Eve, he killed himself

And here is one thing you should know about me:

1. I found him.

Bonus fact: No. I am not okay

Eve is left heartbroken by her husband’s unexpected death, but everyone around her — her friends, her boisterous British-Nigerian family, her toxic mother-in-law — seems to be pushing her to move on. Unable to face the future, Eve begins looking back, delving through the history of her marriage in an attempt to understand where it went wrong. So begins an unconventional love story about loss, resilience, and a heroine bursting with rage and unexpected joy.

I’m writing a novel about a similar female protagonist, who has to deal with the unexpected death of her partner, so this book sounds like it will resonate a lot with me and the story I’m building. I love that it’s called a love story, so we might expect Eve to fall in love again. Finding joy after grief is a difficult feat, so I’m curious to see how this new author will portray that journey.

And that’s it for today’s Coffee Time Tuesday! I’m so happy to get back into writing this column. Let me know what you’ve been reading!

If You Loved ‘The Scarlet Letter’, You’ll Love This Book Even More

Disclaimer: Please note I received a free ARC of this book from Duckworth Books in exchange for my honest review.

In my last Coffee Time Tuesdays column, I admitted I struggle to get into seasonal reads. But because autumn is my favourite season, and my life feels a little more stable this year, I decided to give it another go and dive straight into a truly atmospheric read this month.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Hester, by Laurie Lico Albanese, coming this October from Duckworth Books, imagines who could have been Nathaniel Hawthorne’s original Hester. Albanese, therefore, sets on the quest to tell the story of Isobel Gamble, the fictional lover of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who may have inspired Hester Prynne and who clearly deserves a voice.

But before I dive into why this book was excellent through and through, I need to justify why it’s the perfect autumn read:

  • it’s largely set in Salem
  • witchcraft is a recurring motif
  • our heroine is a descendent of witches, who experiences synesthesia — seen as a sign of madness/magic at the time
  • her husband is an alchemist
  • the atmosphere is cold and dark, with isolated woods, and lonely bays, cottages and secret streets

If you enjoy an atmospheric read, you’ll adore Hester. But that’s not all there is to it. The book is fast-paced and clever, keeping you guessing and longing for answers throughout. Our protagonist is a smart, fierce young woman who would do anything to pursue her dream — running her own dress shop.

And although it’s painful to witness in how many ways men can limit a woman’s potential, Isobel doesn’t allow the obstacles set by her husband, and the misogynistic Salem society, to stop her.

I loved the idea of exploring who inspired the voiceless adulteress in The Scarlet Letter. Laurie Lico Albanese does a stellar job of depicting how the mere attempt of living her own life can bring a woman to ruin, accused of all the faults she never had.

“I recognised Hester as America’s first historical feminist hero and our original badass single mother. And I became increasingly aware that Hawthorne wrote an entire novel about an adulterous woman defying those who shame her, yet he never gave Hester a voice.” — Laurie Lico Albanese

When Isobel falls in love with Nat, the very same Hawthorne who wrote the classic, it is not him who is judged, oppressed, or chased away from his own home. But it is him who writes the book labelling Hester an adulteress, confirming that he, too, believed in society’s scrutiny of women.

The plot itself is fascinating and endearing, making you fight, love, and suffer with Isobel as the story progresses. But my favourite element of the story was the needlework, which becomes a side character in itself, empowering our heroine and speaking her truth, when she is forced to stay silent.

As someone who loves embroidery, it was comforting to read about Isobel turning to her needle in the face of aversion. I loved the writing, which at times becomes almost poetic, as it describes the passion, strength, and certainty behind Isobel’s craft.

Isobel’s synesthesia is also a side character that helpfully tells us if someone is honest, or defying, or affectionate, and helps describe the characters in deeper, more introspective ways. I’ve never seen synesthesia represented in books, much less in historical fiction, and the way it adds another layer to how we see other characters through the heroine’s eyes, creating a colourful web of intuition, is ingenious.

Hester was a pleasure to read from cover to cover, tucked in bed with the rain tapping at my window. It’s the perfect example of how you can live a full life of joy, love, disappointment, and determination alongside the protagonist, all while being still and silent, nose buried among the pages.

Get your copy of Hester and discover the skilled descendent of witches that could have inspired Hawthorne’s story.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end. If you’d like to stick around, please consider signing up for Medium through my referral link. But I don’t like things to go one-sided, so if you’d like me to check out your work, drop a comment!

Coffee Time Tuesdays: Autumn’s in the Air and an August Wrap-Up 

Happy Coffee Time Tuesday, dear readers! I’m writing to you from Romania, where I landed yesterday morning to spend a couple of weeks with my family.

And while the weather is very much still summery here, I can’t help but be excited that in two days, it will be autumn. Autumn is my favourite season and I’m glowing with anticipation for the cosy evenings in my reading blanket, with an equally cosy book, or audiobook and knitting project. I’m itching for light sweaters, trenchcoats, and berets, for chilly mornings, spiced lattes, and pumpkin pies.

I’ll let you in on a fun(ny) fact about me: I’m awful at reading seasonal books. Every year, I try my best to pick my TBR in accordance with the season, and every year, without fail, I end up with a coastal romance in October, and a Christmas mystery in February. 

This year might be different, though. Because it’s been a summer full of new beginnings and incredible positive change, and I’m determined to have the sound of dry leaves, the smell of cinnamon, and the chill of autumn air dominate my last few months of this year’s reading challenge.

So join me today, as I look back on what books I finished in August and try to close a sunny chapter of my reading in 2022. Stick with me, as I have an enticing new release at the end.

My August Wrap-Up

It’s no secret I love me some queer romance, especially in the summer. Because here’s the deal: you know how most readers get all excited and giddy about summer because it’s prime time to make a dent in your TBR? 

Well, that’s not me. Summer is all about my comfort genres and feel-good books. For some reason, it’s peak slump season for me, and nothing else will get me out of it.

I read four books in August. Two 4-star ratings, one 3-star rating, and one 5-star rating.

I kicked the month off with Shooting Martha, by David Thewlis, a solid 4-star exploration of grief and family trauma. This book was thrilling, weird, heartbreaking, and kind of entertaining at the same time. A famous film director whose wife, Martha, has recently died by suicide, hires an actress who looks exactly like his dead wife to — wait for this —  play his dead wife while he shoots his latest film. For inspiration. 

How does anyone come up with a premise like that? As Betty, the actress in question, settles into her (admittedly creepy) role, she starts to uncover the carefully buried family drama that unfolded before Martha took her own life. It was the perfect character-study-meets-thriller and it was beautifully handled. Trigger warning for some pretty graphic descriptions of corpses.

Then, since I needed something a little lighter, I picked up Out of Character by Annabeth Albert, who’s great at writing geeky queer romance. This was a very sweet enemies-to-lovers rom-com, with a D&D type of game at its core, bringing the characters together through cosplay and hunting of rare cards. If you’re a gamer or a geek of any kind, you’ll appreciate this book.

Husband Material by Alexis Hall, one of my two most anticipated sequels of 2022, soon followed. This is my 5-star read of the month. We revisit the sweet and incredibly flawed Luc and Oliver from Boyfriend Material two years into their relationship, trying to navigate the next logical step in their life as a couple.

As everyone around them seems to be getting married, Luc, being Luc (and if you know Luc, you know what I mean) panic-proposes to Oliver and the two are thrown into the whirlwind of organising a wedding as a gay couple with very different preferences for expressing their identity. 

All of Alexis Hall’s books are a joy to read. They’re exactly feel-good books in every sense of the phrase. The characters are well-rounded and relatable, but very funny and engaging, the stories are peak cuteness and swoon, and the conflicts are well-chosen and handled carefully. I loved it.

My summer ended with Emery Lee’s Cafe con Lychee, which was my 3-star read of the month. It’s a sweet, enemies-to-lovers (I swear I don’t seek this trope out), YA queer romance where two teens come together to try to save their parents’ respective cafes from a new competitor. It was a bit of a slow burn for me, but an overall nice story. Trigger warning for homophobia.

Hot New Release

I wonder, when the weather will be a lot colder, if I should stop calling these ‘hot’ new releases.

Anyway, today’s pick is Belladonna by Adalyn Grace, described by Stephanie Garber as “a deliciously deadly Gothic romance”. And all those words combined, as we head into autumn? Yes, please!

Cover courtesy of Goodreads.

Our main character, Signa, is an orphan who was raised by different guardians interested mainly in her wealth, all of whom died untimely and strange deaths.

Ok, I can’t resist. Basically the romance is between Signa and Death. Yes, Death. As in, the shadow-demon thingy that takes us to the other side. Yes, the one with the scythe and the hood.

Do you really need to know more than that?

There’s also a murder investigation and some tense family dynamics, if romance with literal Death wasn’t enough to convince you.

Belladonna comes out today, August 30. 

And that’s it for today’s Coffee Time Tuesday, the last one of the summer. What are your thoughts on seasonal reading and do you have an autumn TBR? Let me know in the comments!

‘Washed Over’ Will Open Your Eyes to The Complexities of Identity and Language

Disclaimer: Please note I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

This is not the first time we’ve featured Ghanaian-American writer Reinfred Addo’s work at Coffee Time Reviews. You can read more about Reinfred’s author journey in our Author Spotlight interview with him:

Washed Over…or Things Dedicated, Reinfred’s latest poetry collection, resonated with me in many profound and almost unspeakable ways. From the connection between names and identity, to nationality and labels, to language and how we can bend it and play around with it to express ourselves, Washed Over is a eulogy to the long-neglected colours in ourselves.

The collection compiles five parts, each exploring the nature of humanity, what is and isn’t perceived as natural, the nature of obsession and devotion and the antithesis between them, and circles back to humanity towards the end.

The opening poem, On Names…Dziedzorm, sets the tone for the entire book, with the poet setting out to explain where his middle name comes from, how it’s pronounced, what it means and all the different ways in which it can be written. It’s a declaration of identity: this is who I am, this is the first thing you need to know about me.

Names are the ancestral pillars of identity. And the ugly truth of our world is that people who don’t have Western-known names are bound to prejudice, or simply laziness to try to respect how to correctly pronounce their names. That commitment to accurate pronunciation is quickly being erased from the Western conscience.

On Names…Dziedzorm ends with “Long live happiness!” further solidifying the general failure to recognise foreign names, while the poet resigns to the English meaning of his name: I am happy. But my interpretation is that, in the end, it’s all about keeping other people happy. We twist and adapt our non-Western names to the western lack of effort. It’s the easy thing to do. 

“I am Happy” is what they call me,

Happiness is my birthright.

Washed Over also covers themes of race and police brutality, in a very gentle but sharp way, which keeps the tone of the collection while also sending a strong, important message. The entire collection has a prosaic nature to it: it’s like the author takes you through different micro-episodes of his life from which he drew meaning.

It’s not overly edited or overly stripped down, the poetry flows as a story. It’s an admirable thing to be able to keep the campfire-tale style of the book while also covering heavy themes. 

Macroaggressions…Get Stabbed or Get Punished perfectly encapsulates the main message and tone of the book: this is my reality as a Ghanaian man living in America. This is what happened to me on a random school day. This is why I’m telling you this story. Simple, easy-to-grasp meaning that packs a punch right from the title.

Well, principal said I provoked the girl to threaten me with

that knife, meaning he thought there was plenty 

of blame for both sides, code that he wanted to punish me too.

He gave me in-school detention and musta felt he

was being really gracious ‘cos he gave me a warning: next time,

my punisher probably wouldn’t be quite this lenient.

The collection ends with Life’s Students, a poem that beautifully and completely honours life in all its glory and people’s cohabitating within our little sphere of the universe. I believe the true power in Reinfred’s writing is his ability to bring beauty back to poetry as a craft, while not shying away from the uglier parts of the world that we need to look straight in the eye.

I’m awake in a flow of cosmic dust

and of learning and of beings, and they 

are here and I am here and we are stirring.

If you read poetry and if you don’t read poetry, Washed Over is the poetry you need to read. The hope, the serenity and the strength it invites us to draw from unity with our own kin are rare feelings I’ve encountered in contemporary poetry. 

What Reinfred Dziedzorm Addo truly does best is marry truth and beauty. And as a fellow modern poet, I can vouch that’s an impressive feat for our craft.

You can purchase Washed Over…or Things Dedicated here. For the first year of publication, some of the proceeds will be donated to Dopen Mic, the Civic Media Center, and the Library Of Africa & The African Diaspora (LOATAD).

Coffee Time Tuesdays: 5 New Releases for Summer

Welcome to Coffee Time Tuesdays, where we cover what we’ve been reading, planning to read, and what new releases we’ve had our eyes on in the past week.

Summer is swiftly coming to an end, although the heatwave is still intense here in the North of England (I never thought I’d say that). And as it always seems to be the case around mid-August, I’m a little stuck, to be honest.

Late summer is a funny time. The air gets that chill that makes me crave autumn, but the sun is still high, the coffee still iced, and the holiday mood is still up and running, so I never know what to read.

Hoping I’m not alone in experiencing a confused reading appetite around the end of a season, I decided to make today a summer special column, giving you not just one new release, but five. In doing so, I hope to stretch the summer feeling for as long as possible and make these last two weeks of the season memorable enough for all of us, at least in the realm of books.

1. ‘Mercury Picture Presents’ by Anthony Marra

Release date: 4 August

Genre: Historical fiction

Ok, I admit I first chose Mercury Picture Presents for the cover. It’s the most perfect, late-summer cover. But then the plot really drew me in and I think it’s a very widely-appealing plot too.

The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini’s Italy to 1940s Los Angeles-a timeless story of love, deceit, and sacrifice from the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. — John Murray Press

This sounds like the mid-century sister of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, where we have a strong, resilient female protagonist in search of a better life that can defy the political injustice of the world. If you’ve read any of my recent articles about books, you know I’m slowly developing a preference for books with a cinema subplot, and this sounds perfect.

Hollywood, political unrest, and a female associate producer who tries to push European talent overseas during a time of war, where the continent is decimated by violence. What more can you ask for?

2. ‘Carrie Soto Is Back’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Release date: 30 august

Genre: Fiction

I had to. I simply had to. I could not have compiled a list of late-summer book releases without the queen that is Taylor Jenkins Reid. Carrie Soto Is Back follows a famous fictional tennis player who, after retiring, has her record broken before her very eyes.

So Carrie Soto, in true Taylor Jenkins Reid main character fashion, decides to come out of retirement for one last game, in a fierce and determined attempt to reclaim her record.

Thank you, Taylor Jenkins Reid, for the escapism we all need. —Pandora Sykes

I know this comes out on the second to last day of summer, but come on. Are we even going to hide how much we try to squeeze one more book into our monthly reads on those last couple of days? Might as well do it with a tried and tested addictive author.

3. ‘Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club’ by Roselle Lim

Release date: 18 August

Genre: Magical realism

I don’t know about you, but the end of the summer usually comes with nostalgia for me. You know, the classic blues that it will get darker and darker, and the year is almost over, and why didn’t I do more over summer? 

Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club sounds like it understands that feeling. This sweet magical realism story follows failed matchmaker Sophie Go as she tries to salvage her reputation and convinces seven men in their 70s that she will find love for them.

I like the idea of looking for love later in life and I think this could be the sweet, wholesome story I will need as I transition into the autumn mood.

4. ‘Dogs of Summer’ by Andrea Abreu, translated by Julia Sanches

Release date: 2 August

Genre: Fiction

This bold exploration of girlhood and queerness follows Shit and Isora, two best friends who discover themselves over one summer that changes everything.

A rich and prophetic world of women and low, grey clouds that merge with the sea. Pure poetry. —  Pilar Quintana

I would normally detail more on the plot, but I think Dogs of Summer is the kind of book that needs to be experienced through its characters. What happens doesn’t seem that important, and the book doesn’t have a plot-driven online footprint. But if you think girlhood, love, desire, queerness and friendship are themes you would enjoy, pick this book up.

5. ‘Witches’ by Brenda Lozano, translated by Heather Cleary

Release date: 16 August

Genre: Fiction/Magical realism

What sounds like a story of women supporting women in navigating the world and the multi-faceted nature of womanhood, Witches would be the perfect story to take you from summer to early autumn in a gripping, diverse, and bewitching fashion.

This is the story of who Feliciana is, and of who Paloma was.

I had wanted to get to know them, but I realised right away that the people I needed to know better were my sister Leandra and my mother. Myself. I came to understand that you can’t really know another woman until you know yourself… — Brenda Lozano, ‘Witches’

The murder of Paloma, a trans curandera (healer), prompts an investigation bringing journalist Zoe from Mexico City into the small and old-fashioned town where she lived. There, Zoe partners up with Feliciana, Paloma’s cousin, and together they try to come to terms with their identities, their power to make a change, and the unfair world they inhabit.

And that’s it for this week’s Coffee Time Tuesday! Can you relate to the late-summer reading slump and has any of these books caught your eye? Let me know in the comments!

The Book of the Summer

A Brief Introduction

It’s been a while since I’ve taken pen in hand and sat down to write. Fear not, dear reader; I have spent the time in your service.

Gabrielle Zevin has the hot book, the must-read book, the book of the summer. The reviews are breathless, the blurbs are eye-popping, and a movie is on the way.


Because I am a nice guy and never want to waste my reader’s time, I decided I would read all of her books in the hopes you would read my review over the 5,000 other reviews currently on the web. (I’m always looking for ways to add value.)

Her Books that I’ve Completed

#1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a best-seller. It’s about a widowed bookseller, so of course, it takes place in a bookstore. Over the course of the book, JOY gradually returns to the bookseller’s life.

I love this book, and apparently, lots of you do as well, as it’s being made into a movie.

#2. The plot of Young Jane Young is based roughly on the Monica Lewinsky affair. (Google it.) Much like Lewinsky, our protagonist has taken power back in her life.

This is a good book and an essential book to boot. The narrator is a voice I, a White middle-class male, have rarely heard.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. (And isn’t it nice to enjoy and learn at the same time?)

#3. The Hole We’re In is timely enough that I checked the release date. They published it in 2010, but boy, oh boy, is this book still relevant today.

It’s about a religiously conservative family. (Two parents and three kids.) The story opens with the father leaving his job to return to graduate school, placing the family in financial distress. The financial pressure splinters the family in other ways.

The father is racist and a hypocrite who drives his daughter away.

We follow the family down through the years.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the turn to the right we’ve made here in America. The book never explicitly states, but I assume abortion is illegal, as one character travels to Canada to have one.

I found the book timely and engaging and would highly recommend it. This book is probably my favorite of the four.

On a side note, I worry about our empathy, and I wish we had a way to explicitly teach it in schools. (Especially in the U.S.) (Maybe books?)

For instance, I get that some of you are pro-life, but how do you tell a 10-year-old she has to have her rapist’s baby? If I’ve learned anything in my college-level years, it’s being wary of moral absolutes and those that attempt to impose them.

#4. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a YA novel, and it’s interesting, it held my attention, and it too has a movie. The thing I liked most, though, is the protagonist has three guys she could legitimately be in a relationship with. Zevin builds tension, and we don’t find out whom the girl picks until the very end. (It’s almost a mystery book about romance.)

In the spirit of complete honesty, I am currently listening to All These Things I’ve Done. It’s a teen book, and it’s good, but I find myself getting distracted and don’t know that I’ll finish. (Besides, I have another hot author I’m itching to review.) (I’ve officially given up. I’m listening to The Final Girl Support Group. — Voted the best horror novel of 2021 by Goodreads, but also referred to as a wickedly humorous thriller. What a combination!)

The Headliner

Tomorrow And Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Be careful when you read reviews, as you certainly don’t want to spoil this book, and I guarantee it will be spoiled if you know anything that happens from the middle of the book onward.

It’s a love story, sort of, but it’s certainly not a romance, and it’s nothing that I’ve ever read before. The book jacket tells us it’s about two friends, but I would argue strenuously that it’s really about three friends. (Two males and one female.)(Yes, this matters a lot.)

The story takes place in the world of video game design. I imagine that may be a negative for some of you, but don’t let it bother you, as the setting only enhances the story. (A main character completes an incredible act of love revolving around a video game.)

So, the numbers

It’s # 7 on the NY Times hardcover fiction books, and it’s been on the list ever since it came out four weeks ago.

It’s an editor’s pick at Amazon.

It’s only #43 in the USA today, but it’s new.

How about these blurbs?

“Utterly brilliant. In this sweeping, gorgeously written novel, Gabrielle Zevin charts the beauty, tenacity, and fragility of human love and creativity. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is one of the best books I’ve ever read.”

John Green! John Green said this! (I know exclamation points are for lazy writers, but holy buckets Batman, John Green is a great writer, all-around good guy, and hero to librarians everywhere.) (Go out and read his books right this very instant.)

“It’s the sort of book that comes around once in a decade — a magnificent feat of storytelling.”… “Gabrielle Zevin is one of our greatest living novelists, and Tomorrow just may be her magnum opus. Remarkable.

Rebecca Serle

What do I think?

I don’t recall the last time I purchased a hardcover book. I have no more room for books in the house, yet I bought this one, and it’s well worth it. (I belong to three online libraries, so I could have waited..)

It’s a Barnes and Noble book club book. I’d love to discuss the book with other people.

It is absolutely worthy of a re-read. For instance, the very last sentence of the book says, “He would know her handwriting anywhere.”

I swear that’s a reference to something that happens early in the book, but I can’t find it for the life of me. Ugghh. (I want to say this is important, but it’s probably not. I’ve spent over an hour now trying to confirm my hypothesis.)

It’s true to life; it arouses your emotions and holds your attention.

It’s deep. I found that I looked at my past relationships in a new light.

It’s well worth your time and money.

Coffee Time Tuesdays: Birthday Haul and a Hot New Release

I turned 24 last Wednesday and when I tell you I died and went to heaven that day, I promise I’m not exaggerating.

Welcome to Coffee Time Tuesdays, our weekly bookish column where we share what we’ve been reading, how we’ve been feeling about books, and a hot new release (almost) every week. 

I couldn’t help making this one a birthday special, since this year my birthday was a huge bookish success.

The day started with a cup of coffee at the Corn Exchange, a beautiful historical building, where they serve the best coffee in town. Then, my partner, rather inspiringly, suggested we get some plants to mark my birthday, which is how I got my little work-from-home companion, August, a baby fern who is literally the love of my life right now.

We then went on a quest to find some fancy yarn. As you may know, I’m a knitter, and this year on my birthday, my partner decided not to buy me anything in advance, but instead to make the day a full gift shopping experience.

Well, all the nice yarn stores were closed, so our initial plan of getting one of each: plant, yarn, book, tea/coffee, quickly turned into replacing the yarn with books.

I spent over an hour in Waterstones trying to decide what book I wanted. At first, my partner suggested a signed hardback (‘so it’s special’). But none of the ones available interested me much.

So we shily made our way to the buy one get one half the price table. This table happened to be filled with Women’s Prize shortlists which I’d been eyeing for months. I picked up one after the other, trying to no avail to make my mind up.

My partner suggested I pick up a book I’ve been wanting for a while, but also look for a wild card, a book I’d never heard of that caught my eye on the spot. I picked up Matrix by Lauren Groff, fangirled to him about it, and put it back down. Then I picked up The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak, fangirled some more, then put it down. I then spotted The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, and I lost my mind completely over it. I couldn’t let it go. 

Bear with me, we’re coming to the moment when I died and went to heaven. 

So I was set on The Great Circle and thought I’d take his advice and look for a wild card. Shooting Martha, by David Thewlis was by far the worthy winner here.

Lo and behold, dear reader, after an exhaustive hour of browsing for books, I finally had my choices. So as I was making my way to the checkout, my partner turned around, went back to the table, picked up Matrix and The Island of Missing Trees and added them to the stack. ‘You know what, it’s your birthday, if you want them, we’ll get them all’.

My birthday book haul. Photo by the author.

And this is how I spent the rest of the day with a stack of books clutched tightly to my chest, labelling it the best birthday I’ve had in years. 

I’m so excited to get to all of these books. And the fact that they’re gifts means I won’t ever donate them, which is what I do with most of my physical books. I started Shooting Martha the other day and it’s wonderful. I’ve realised I’m enjoying books with cinematography subplots a lot. Plain Bad Heroines, another successful gift from the legendary partner, started this little niche.

You might think I’m very easily pleased — and that might be true, but this is not the point. I don’t normally go to the bookstore to buy stacks of books. I usually buy one, or two books at the most. So this was a very special experience for me and it’s definitely got me excited about reading again.

Hot New Release

It would be fitting for me to stop losing it over my wonderful birthday book haul now and keep my promise to you: your hot new recommendation of the week.

If, like me, you tend to get a little slower in your reading towards the end of the summer, I’ve got just the book for you. The Family Remains, Lisa Jewell’s sequel to her super popular The Family Upstairs, comes out today. 

I’ve read Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell and it’s one of the most haunting thrillers I’ve ever come across, so a duology or potential series from her sounds incredible. I think thrillers are ideal right now, when summer is getting windier and maybe a little chillier, to get out on the balcony in the evenings and feel the changing waters of the weather in tune with your fast-paced book.

And this is it for today’s Coffee Time Tuesday. Have you read any of the books I bought on my birthday? And would you be interested in awards shortlists being featured more often at Coffee Time Reviews? I never know how much influence literary prizes have on readers. Do you trust a book to be good if it won awards? Let me know in the comments!