BOOK REVIEW: Free by Lea Ypi

BOOK REVIEW: Free by Lea Ypi

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. Wow! What a memoir. One of the most readable books I have read this year. Ypi writes with clarity and conciseness that is just a pleasure to behold. That isn’t to say that there are not beautiful sentences because there are. The passages describing the civil war are powerful and elegant.

Comparisons to Educated by Tara Westover are apt, but the book also reminded me of The Death of Stalin. The strange and oppressive rules that families living under a dictatorship must abide by. The often funny and farcical situations that arise in both social and professional settings as a result. The coded double-speak and fear of informers influences everything that happens in Ypi’s young life. They are also far too often deadly serious. The section about Lea complaining to neighbours about a lack of Hoxha portrait was nail-bitingly scary. Ypi’s parents hid their true feelings about the regime so well that she believed that they loved it.

Her parents are described with love. Their resilience and industriousness make them admirable, but they have flaws that are also laid bare. Ypi”s mother hates the state and to me came across as an almost Ayn Rand-ish free-market advocate, while her father is an idealist that that dithers. Having to navigate adolescence in a country that goes from dictatorship to democracy is a clever metaphor for the uncertainty of going from childhood to adulthood.

The book ends by asking more questions than it answers. It is a plea for political decisions to be made in a way that keeps in mind that they affect real people. I think the central question is can flawed people devise a way of living that makes us free?

Maybe the best memoir I have read this year and certainly one of the best books of 2021.

Buy the book via this link. They kick me some money!

BOOK Review: Orcs In Space!

BOOK Review: Orcs In Space!

A smashing parody with loads of anarchic humour. The premise is what would happen if the orcs from LOTR managed to hijack the Starship Enterprise.

VIGNEAULT’s art lends plenty of energy and nails the punchlines for all the visual gags (a particular favourite of mine involves rat corpses).

Our orc heroes are as dumb as they are vicious and this set the stage for delightfully silly escapades. From encounters at space bars to fending off bionic bounty hunters and imperialist rat pirates, the enter book moves at a quick pace from one gag to another.

Outside of the orcs, I loved the depiction of Star Bleep as a bunch of way, way too nice, pacifists, obsessed with condiments.

A lovely series for kids (of all ages) who like orcs, Star Trek, and gags about all the things that connect them.

BOOK Review: Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

BOOK Review: Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Fizzing with humour Black Buck is full of dynamic prose. As a satire, it balances earnestness and cynicism almost flawlessly. I love a running gag and Buck being likened to different famous African Americans was cringe-inducingly delightful. Asksaripour’s writing in some ways oddly reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s socioeconomic commentary in the Discworld books. The satire here is firmly aimed at the people in power and the systems they operate in.

It is easy to see this book adapted to the big screen. If it was the 80’s/90’s it would be easy to see Buck being played by a young Eddie Murphy. The novel has vibes from Brewster’s Millions, Trading Places and more recent takedowns of big business such as The Big Short.

The book is not without its flaw. It only really picks up steam and get flying in the middle. The final chapters saw some key characters making decisions that felt less driven by any consistent emotional or logical rationale but rather by Asksaripour’s need to place character’s at certain locations.

Despite this, I had an exceedingly fun time reading Black Buck. Very Highly recommended.

The Crumrin Chronicles Vol. 1 by Ted Naifeh

The Crumrin Chronicles Vol. 1 by Ted Naifeh

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC. I zipped through this. The art is utterly gorgeous. It is has a creepy look using eirie purples and blacks to sublime effect on many pages. The colouring does much of the tone-setting and there is an elegant use of shading that adds heft to both the action and emotional scenes. The comic is gracefully laid out, and I especially liked the thickly inked panels that added to the horror tone.

The characters are well written. Flawed yet likeable in the way the best young protagonists are. I found both Will and Tucker to be charming. Their relationship is well observed. The small and not so small sleights that strain a friendship seem natural despite the supernatural circumstances that the pair find themselves in. The dialogue is flowing and works harmoniously with the images on the page. There was a great balance between the two.

A very well written supernatural teen mystery with pleasing artwork.

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

Garthwaite’s depiction of her as an intelligent and fierce woman who passionately loves her husband, the Duke of York, is compelling. The book is at its best when the two of them verbally spar, Cecily, urging York to be more ambitious and ruthless in order to protect their family while York feels that this is best accomplished by being loyal almost to a fault.

That said the novel features significant time jumps which I felt a bit jarring. As a result, it drifted a bit in the middle until the final conflict is set up. Despite being told in the 3rd person, the narrative focuses on Celcily’s experiences and as result, I occasionally felt a bit lost as to the context in which certain things happen. I also took issue with the depiction of King Henry VI. While not a great king he did lay the foundations of institutions that the UK still benefits from today. For a novel looking to challenge traditional narratives, I felt more could have been done around this.

For the most part, Garthwaite writing is engaging. Cecily is a complex and formidable character that hooks you in. However, the book suffers from uneven pacing. I was tempted to give this four stars. A really good debut novel.

Buy the book here and they kick me some money!

How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers by Tim Harford

How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers by Tim Harford

As a huge fan of More or Less, I was very excited to be given an ARC from Netgalley.


How to Make the World Add Up is a deeply aspirational book. It convincing advocates that numbers and statistics have world-altering powers. Harford wants a world where we all better understand what these numbers mean, how they are calculated and collected, and what if anything we should do about them.


Harford’s writing is full of humanity. He knows for laypeople these are complex and often messy topics but he tackles them with such good nature and humour you can’t help feel enthused. The rules themselves are straightforward enough to follow and the examples Harford uses throughout to illuminate his points are thought-provoking.


Harford like the best communicators makes you feel smart for understanding the concepts he is explaining. How to Make the World Add Up features some of the best storytelling he has ever done and I think he a must-read for everyone unsure about what numbers mentioned to prove a point actually mean.

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On Tyranny Graphic Edition by Timothy Snyder & Nora Krug

On Tyranny Graphic Edition by Timothy Snyder & Nora Krug

This is a sobering polemic on political apathy and a visually stunning reminder of the genuine threat that democracies face.

It cleverly uses historical examples to validate the points about the actions one should take to safeguard their democratic freedoms.

By mixing photographs, collages, and illustrations, Krug expertly amplifies Snyder’s message. The graphic edition is eloquent and impassioned in its call for all of us to make every effort we can to avoid tyranny. It can be rage-inducing to read but at its heart is the significance of being kind, being active and, as the book itself puts it, not accepting the traps of inevitability.

Along with Save It for Later by Nate Powell, On Tyranny is another excellent example of how persuasive graphic novels can be when exploring themes as complex and as perplexing as what we can do as individuals to make our communities and counties better places to live and prosper. Highly recommended.

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Facing The Mountain by Daniel James Brown

Facing The Mountain by Daniel James Brown

One of the best history books I have read this year. Brown has a cinematic style of writing that is highly engaging. There is a rich cast of real-life heroes including soldiers Rudy Tokiwa, Fred Shiosaki and Kats Miho, and conscientious objector Gordon Hirabayashi. Brown’s has a knack for making you very fond of Nisei we meet meaning that every indignity that is placed upon them by a deeply racist American nation is also felt by anyone reading their accounts.

I got a real feel for the complex emotions and motivations that caused these men to serve a country that had treated them and their families so abominably. Even Hirabayashi who refused to enlist did so out of a sense of duty to America. In fact, Hirabayashi’s story might be my favourite, the bravery he needed was just as great as any of those serving in the 442nd.

It is wonderful that this book shines a light on the overlooked contributions Japanese Americans made in WW2. Despite all the awful things they endured I found the book uplifting. A must-read read for ww2 buffs.

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BOOK Review: If You Were There by Francisco Garcia

BOOK Review: If You Were There by Francisco Garcia

Part biography and part reportage If You Were There is an affecting look at missing people in the UK. The best non-fiction changes your perception by making you aware of things.

The difficulty of defining what a missing person is, for example. It was not something I had previously considered, but once Garcia explains why it is troublesome to characterized who is and isn’t missing, it is hard to believe I overlooked it.

Garcia explores the emotional fallout from his father walking out on him when he was a child and mixes this with interviews of professionals who work to find missing people and people whose family members have gone missing.

While reading the book, I picked up a lingering scent about the futility of looking for someone who either doesn’t want to be found or, for one reason or another, can’t be found. The sad emptiness of those left behind. Garcia talks to these people with understanding and empathy. Reading how they fill the void either with misplaced hope or the indignant desire to change things or something else was heartbreaking.

Garcia writes with clarity and does a superb job of weaving his personal accounts with those to whom he talks. It is a striking book that packs a punch both emotionally and intellectually. One of the things that Garcia eloquently illustrates is how rarely there is a clear resolution to these cases, even in those where the missing are found. It is powerful stuff.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. You can buy the book using this affiliate link.

Assholes by Bram Algoed & Micah Stahl

Assholes by Bram Algoed & Micah Stahl

There is something wonderfully freeing about watching awful people behaving badly. Both Simon Kennedy and Chuck Atkins are hilarious and deplorable in equal measure.

The appalling things they say about each other and the people in their lives and the ludicrous levels of ego on display captivated me all the way through all 18 chapters of the book.

For those that like their comedy unfiltered, their protagonists disgraceful and unrepentant, and their golf strewed with discussions about sex and money, this is a must-read.

One of the best compliments I can give is that Simon and Chuck’s snipping at each reminded of Bottom’s Eddie Hitler and Richard “Richie” Richard exchanging barbs. It’s one of the funniest things I have read this year.