Refugee Week & The Displaced Review

June 18, 2018 in Biography, Memoir, Book Reviews, Non-Fiction, Other Books

This week is the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week. With World Refugee Day occurring on Wednesday 20th June 2018, it feels that this week is the perfect time to share with you one of my most recent reads, The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives.

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Refugee Week & The Displaced Review The Displaced: Refugee Writers On Refugee Lives by Various
Published by Abrams on 10th April 2018
Genres: Essays, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Anthology
Format: Hardback
Source: Publisher

In January 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order stopping entry to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries and dramatically cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States each year. The American people spoke up, with protests, marches, donations, and lawsuits that quickly overturned the order. But the refugee caps remained.

In The Displaced, Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, himself a refugee, brings together a host of prominent refugee writers to explore and illuminate the refugee experience. Featuring original essays by a collection of writers from around the world, The Displaced is an indictment of closing our doors, and a powerful look at what it means to be forced to leave home and find a place of refuge.

Abrams published this anthology of essays back in April and were kind enough to send me a copy. With contributions from 19 prominent refugee writers from around the world, each with their own stories to tell, this is a timely, thought-provoking book that everyone should be reading.

These stories are insightful and emotional. The writers share their lives and experiences – from leaving family behind, to being reunited with parents that they don’t recognise. From finding their identity to carving out a new life in an unknown country.

As one would expect, these essays are all beautifully written. Edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, himself a refugee, all of these pieces pack a punch, in many different ways.

This book is a sadly all-too-needed reminder of the humans who are at the heart of the hideous, fear-inciting stories we see in the mass media.

These stories need to be read. As the world faces an enormous refugee crisis, I have no doubt that these essays will raise awareness of the real-life experiences of refugees and their families. If only we could get copies of this book into the hands of those who need educating most!

For every purchase of this book, Abrams will donate 10% of the cover price (a minimum of $25000 annually) to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) who are a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing humanitarian aid, relief and resettlement to refugees and other victims of oppression and violent conduct.

This is a collection that will stay with you long after you close the back page – and well it should!

Refugee Week 2018



As part of the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week, we are being invited to partake in at least one of 20 simple acts.


You can find the full list of Simple Acts here. Might I encourage you to participate in number 9, read a book about exile.


Obviously, The Displaced fits this description perfectly and I urge you all to read it.

If you are interested in further books on this subject, check out the links provided on the Refugee Week website. Of course, please also feel free to share any title suggestions below.

Remember to share your read online using the hashtag #SimpleActs.



Review: The Unmapped Mind

April 2, 2018 in Biography, Memoir, Book Reviews

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Unmapped Mind The Unmapped Mind: A Memoir of Neurology, Incurable Disease and Learning How To Live by Christian Donlan
Published by Viking on 5th April 2018
Genres: Biography
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

"My daughter took her first steps on the day I was diagnosed - a juxtaposition so perfect, so trite, so filled with the tacky artifice of real life that I am generally too embarrassed to tell anybody about it."

Shortly after his daughter Leontine was born, Christian Donlan's world shifted an inch to the left. He started to miss light switches and door handles when reaching for them. He would injure himself in a hundred stupid ways every day. First playful and then maddening, these strange experiences were the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis, an incurable and degenerative neurological disease.

As his young daughter starts to investigate the world around her, he too finds himself exploring a new landscape - the shifting and bewildering territory of the brain. He is a tourist in his own body, a stranger in a place that plays bizarre tricks on him, from dizzying double vision to mystifying memory loss. Determined to master his new environment, Christian takes us on a fascinating and illuminating journey: through the history of neurology, the joys and anxieties of parenthood, and the ultimate realisation of what, after everything you take for granted has been stripped away from you, is truly important in life.

I enjoy the odd memoir and the description of this particular title grasped my attention. Probably for a variety of reasons 1) my Mum and my Aunt have MS 2) I have my own illness which requires a constant battle of learning how to live and 3) I wanted to learn more about the neurology of MS.

Before I started I must admit I’d no idea who Christian Donlan was, so I’d no idea what to expect in terms of writing – wow this man can write! It turns out he’s an award-winning journalist, I can see why. From the first paragraph, I was hooked. You might look at the title of this book and worry that it’ll be a bit heavy-going. Fear not, Donlan’s writing style is absorbing, he makes the ‘technical’ stuff easy to read. Most of all, it’s like sitting down in a room with a friend, chatting. That’s really the best way I can describe this book. Donlan’s writing and his turn of phrase is a delight – subject matter aside.

Donlan shares with us his journey as a thirty-something husband and new father as he discovers that he has MS.

But it’s more than just his story. We learn about neurology and MS itself. Donlan tells the story of his own illness but also educates the reader on the scope, variety, and stages of MS. As I said, my Mum has MS so I have an understanding of the disease, but Mum’s symptoms are largely different from Donlan’s. I knew this could happen, as everyone’s MS is different, but reading about further symptoms and challenges outwith my own, narrow field of vision was illuminating.

Likewise illuminating, inspiring-even is Donlan’s incredible honesty within these pages. As a reader, I felt Donlan was completely open and honest, even when it perhaps might not reflect so well on him. I applaud his bravery and openness.

From my own personal perspective, Donlan’s processing of his diagnosis was, I guess, reassuring. I could relate so much to that realisation that your life isn’t going to be quite like you had envisioned. In fact, I rarely highlight text when I’m reading but there was much of this book that spoke to me, that I felt was worth noting and remembering.

Donlan’s exploration of his relationships with those around him was a further area of great interest to me. It made me consider differing perspectives, not only how hard diagnosis and illness can be on the patient but on those around them too.

I fear I’ve rambled on a bit here, jumping all over – apologies. There is just so much to this book – a glimpse into a family at a turning point in their lives, the honesty, the impressive writing, the informative and educational side. Donlan lets us into his world and I guarantee that everyone will find something to take away from this book.


Review: Every Falling Star

September 10, 2016 in Biography, Memoir, Book Reviews, YA

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Every Falling Star Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, Susan McClelland
Published by Amulet on 13th September 2016
Genres: YA, Memoir
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher

Every Falling Star, the first book to portray contemporary North Korea to a young audience, is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy named Sungju who is forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains. Sungju richly re-creates his scabrous story, depicting what it was like for a boy alone to create a new family with his gang, his “brothers”; to be hungry and to fear arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. This riveting memoir allows young readers to learn about other cultures where freedoms they take for granted do not exist.

Last year I read In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park (I’m kicking myself that I didn’t review it on the blog), the story of her life and escape from North Korea and everything she had to do to stay alive. I subsequently thrust a copy into the hands of friends and family, however it was more of an adult read I guess and I found myself wishing for a similar account for a young adult audience.

So when I discovered Every Falling Star, written with that younger audience in mind, I jumped at the chance to read it. You absolutely do not need to be a young adult to read this though. In fact, I encourage ALL to read it!

Every Falling Star is the memoir of Sungju Lee, a North Korean boy whose family fell out of favour with the regime. They were sent north and Sungju suddenly encountered what life was really like for the majority of his countrymen and women. At the age of twelve, Sungju found himself alone, fending for himself and living on the streets. We follow his story from a privileged life in Pyongyang to living with his ‘brothers’ in his gang, stealing and fighting for their lives while simultaneously trying to avoid imprisonment and perhaps even execution.

This book is thoroughly eye-opening. It’s rare that we in the West hear about life in North Korea so when a book like this comes out – a book that risks the lives of the author and his family who remain in the country, reading it is the least we can do!

Something that I find particularly powerful about this book is the way we see the world  through the innocence of a wealthy North Korean child who is raised to believe that their leader is a God, that the West is waging war on their country and who dreams of commanding in the North Korean army. We follow Sungju as his perception of this world is shattered. We journey with him as he uncovers the truth of the country he lives in and the reality of life in North Korea for those who are not favoured by the regime. Personally, I feel that this eye-opening, uncovering and progressive loss of innocence lends itself well to this younger audience. It makes Sungju more relatable at the outset and therefore what follows is very hard hitting.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Obviously the content is not easy; however if Sungju and thousands like him can live this life, we should embrace the reading of it. It’s an emotional, heart wrenching read that will make you consider your own life and the freedoms that we take for granted.

It is well written, engaging and illuminating. It not only tells the story of Sungju’s life, but educates us on the history of the country. I’m so grateful to Sungju for taking the tremendous risks to share his story.


Review: Sixteen, Sixty-One

September 3, 2013 in Biography, Memoir, Book Reviews

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Sixteen, Sixty-One Sixteen, Sixty-One by Natalie Lucas
Genres: Biography, Memoir
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher

Natalie Lucas was just 15 when she began a close relationship with a man in his early sixties. Matthew opened Natalie’s mind and heart to philosophy and literature. Within months they had entered into the intense, erotic affair that they would disguise as an innocent intergenerational friendship for several years. Together they mocked the small-town busybodies around them, laughing at plebs like her parents and his in-laws, who were all too blinkered by convention to live pure lives. Only Natalie and Matthew were truly free.

Or so she believed. But when Natalie left her hometown for university and decided she wanted to try to live a normal life, Matthew’s affection soon turned into a consuming obsession.

Written with remarkable candor and grace, Sixteen, Sixty-One is more than an account of suburban grooming: it is the gripping story of a young girl’s sexual awakening and journey into womanhood.

16 was her age when the relationship started, 61 was his…hence the title of the book. He was a neighbour, lived just a few doors down from her house. At a neighbourhood party they started to chat and a friendship was formed. They discussed art, literature, philosophy. They played Scrabble and cards. Their relationship moved on over time, both physically and emotionally.

Lucas tells the (true) story of how she became involved with a married man, 45 years her senior. How they hid their relationship from the world, and how ultimately that relationship would affect her life.

I genuinely didn’t know what to expect from this book. I was sent a summary and thought it was a book that deserved to be read. I’m glad I read it.

Lucas is incredibly honest with her writing. She doesn’t skim past awkward parts, she is frank and open. To be honest I found some parts quite hard to read – the physical relationship between them particularly. I kept thinking of people I knew that were 61 ish when I was 16 and it did make me feel really quite uncomfortable. Then again, it opened my eyes and gave me an awareness. Surely that’s a good thing right?

The thing is, she isn’t biased when she writes about that relationship. You can tell from her writing that she was happy at the time. (This is a great skill when you consider everything he puts her through by the end of the book!)

When Natalie leaves home to go to University she decides to use it as a chance to move on. She has wondered for some time about her feelings towards women, and university could be the perfect place to explore these feelings.

Matthew isn’t so happy to just let her go. In fact his behaviour becomes obsessive. No-one knows about the nature of Natalie’s relationship with Matthew and so when things take a difficult turn (that’s probably quite an understatement!) she really is quite alone.

Telling of her journey from teen to adult. From a 15 year old virgin to a teenager embroiled in an erotic affair with an older man. From a confused teenager to a young adult finding her feet and trying to restore some “normalcy” to her life. This is a memoir about growth and progression. It’s maybe not for the overly sensitive,  but it will open your eyes.

I did really enjoy this book. I like the way it’s written. Lucas doesn’t look for sympathy or pity, she is telling her story and she does it with style. Yes, I found it hard to read in places, but I’m glad I did read it. I’m sure there will be quite a range of reactions to this memoir, but for me I admire Lucas’ bravery and candour.

If you fancy giving this book a go I’ve just checked and it’s currently only 99p on Kindle. A bargain!

We were sent a copy of this book free of charge for our consideration. All opinions expressed are entirely our own and completely honest.