Archive | April, 2018

Van has finished reading… Deeds Not Words by Helen Pankhurst

23 Apr


Abigail Heyman   Ada Lovelace   Ada E Yonath   Alanis Morrisette   Ali Smith   Alice Walker   Alicia Stott   Alison Wolfe   Alva Myrdal   Anais Nin   Angela Carter   Angela Davis   Anne Conway   Anne Goodwin   Annie Besant   Annie Easley   Annie Kenney   Annie Liebowitz   Arabella Scott   Artemisia Gentileschi   Audre Lorde   Audrey Hepburn   Barbara Hepworth   Barbara Houlaniki   Barbara Mcclintock   Barbara Nessim   Beatrice Greig   Bebe   Bell Hooks   Baroness Bertha Sophie Felicita Von Suttner   Beryl Swain   Beth Ditto   Betty Williams   Bettye Lane   Billie Holiday   Bonnie Raitt   Bridget Riley   Caitlin Moran   Carol W Greider   Carole King   Carole Shields   Caroline Herschel   Carrie Brownstein   Carrie Mae  Weems   Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin   Charlotte Despard   Charlotte Marsh   Cheryl James   Chien-Shiung Wu   Chimananda Ngoze Adichie   Christiane Nusslein-Volhard   Cindy Sherman   Claire Messud   Clara Barton   Clara Peeters   Claudia Rankine   Coco Chanel   Cyndi Lauper   Daisy Dugdale   Donna Ferrato   Dora Marsden   Doria Shafik   Doris Lessing   Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin   Dusty Springfield   Efua Dorkenoo   Elena Piscopia   Elizabeth Blackwell   Elizabeth Thompson   Elizabeth Garrett Anderson   Elizabeth H Blackburn   Ellen Johnson Sirleaf   Emilie Du Chatelet   Emily Greene Balch   Emily Wilding Davison   Emmy Noether   Ernestine Mills   Esther Lederberg   Eva Gore-Booth   Evelyn Glennie   Ewa Partum   Fahma Mohamed   Fanny Workman   Flora Drummond   Flora Sandes   Florence Nightingale   Florence Sabin   Frances Gordon   Francoise Barre-Sinousi   Frida Kahlo   Fusae Ichikawa   George Eliot   Georgia O’Keeffe   Gertrude B Elion   Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell   Gerty Cori   Grace Jones   Guerilla Girls   Han Kang   Hannah Wilke   Harriet Tubman   Harriet Taylor Mill   Helen Sharman   Henrietta Swan Leavitt   Hope Jahren   Hypatia Of Alexandria   Inge Lehmann   Irene Joliot-Curie   Iris Murdoch   Jane Addams   Jasvinder Sanghera   Jayne County   Jenni Rivera   Jessy Bulbo   Jill Lepore   Jk Rowling   Joan Armatrading   Joan Jett   Joanne Harris   Jody Williams   Joni Mitchell   Josephine Baker   Jude Kelly   Judith Resnik   Judy Chicago   K D Lang   Karen Finley   Karin Mack   Kate Bush   Katharine Hepburn   Kathleen Hanna   Kathryn Bigelow   Katsushika Oi   Kim Deal   Laura Bates   Laura Maria Caterina Bassi   Lauren Groff   Lauren Laverne   Leslie Feist   Leyla Hussain   Leymah Gbowee   Lilian Lenton   Lin Zongsu   Linda B Buck   Liora K   Lise Meitner   Lissa Evans   Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun   Lynn Hershman Leeson   Mabel Capper   Mairead Corrigan   Malala Yousefzai   Mamie Smith   Margaret Atwood   Margaret Cavendish   Margaret Harrison   Margaret Mee   Margaret Pike   Margaret Sanger   Maria Agnesi   Maria Alyokhina   Maria Goepport Mayer   Marian Anderson   Marie Curie   Marie Stopes   Marie Tharp   Marion Coates Hansen   Marion Wallace Dunlop   Mary Anning   Mary Beard   Mary Cassatt   Mary Leakey   Mary Quant   Mary Somerville   Mary Beth Edelson   Lady Mary Leigh Chudleigh   Lady Mary Wortley Montague   Maud Crofts   Maya Angelou   May-Britt Moser   Michelle Obama   Millicent Fawcett   Miriam Makeba   Missy Elliott   Molly Neuman   Mother Theresa   Muriel Lester   Nadezhda Tolokonnikova   Nancy Wake   Nimko Ali   Nina Simone   Patricia Era Bath   Pauline Black   Peggy Whitson   Poly Styrene   Prunella Clough   Quarraisha Abdool Karim   Rajaa Cherkauoi El Moursli   Rebecca Lenkiewicz   Rebecca Mascull   Renate Eisenegger   Rigoberta Menchu Tum   Rita Levi-Montalcini   Rosa Parkes   Rosalind Franklin   Rosalyn Yalow   Rose Lamartine Yates   Roxane Gay   Ruth Brown   Sainab Abdi   Sally Ride   Sarah Lucas   Sarah Maple   Sarah Waters   Sarah Jane Baines   Sheila Tobias   Shelley Harris   Shirin Ebadi   Shirin Neshat   Shirley Jackson   Simone De Beauvoir   Siouxsie Sioux   Siri Hustvedt   Sister Rosetta Tharpe   Sojourner Truth   Sophie Germain   Sophie Tucker   Soyeon Yi   Susan B Anthony   Suzanne Vega   Suzi Quattro   Svetlana Savitskaya   Tawakkol Karman   Tori Amos   Una Dugdale   Ursula Le Guin   Valentina Tereshkova   Valie Export   Vera Wentworth   Viola Desmond   Violet Bland   Violette Szabo   Virginia Apgar   Viv Albertine   Wanda Diaz-Merced   Wangari Maathai   Warsan Shire   Winifred Goldring   Yekaterina Samutsevich   Youyou Tu

And you, and you, and you


Words Not Deeds was published by Sceptre on 6th February 2018 ISBN:978147364858


You can find Helen Pankhurst on Twitter @HelenPankhurst

Van has finished reading… Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

18 Apr

speak no evil

There are copious novels about what it’s like to be other – as indeed there are many ways to be other – but there’s something different about Uzodinma Iweala’s Speak No Evil, something almost counter to the usual run of things. There’s the ‘good life’ the protagonist, Niru, has – growing up in a good neighbourhood in Washington state, attending a good school, enjoying the luxury of an early admission to Harvard. Set against that the fact that Niru is a black boy in a white man’s world, a point that is ever-present and subtly conveyed. It’s rarely the brash glare of racism but rather the protagonist’s perspective on how his white peers view black culture, and how homogenous that view is. One of my favourite lines this year rises from this point. During a class discussing Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man the teacher leaves the classroom in a silent rage. When his all-white classmates look to Niru he says, ‘don’t look at me. I’m invisible.’

Then there is the fact that Niru is gay. Coming from a conservative Nigerian family, this is a big deal indeed – and this is where the something different comes in because it seems to me that, rather than being set against his father, despite the homophobia, despite the zeal with which that hatred is applied Niru would love nothing more than to be the image of his father: a strong, proud Nigerian man. It’s not America’s freedoms that Niru clings to. Not the new culture, the culture of his surroundings but those of a country he doesn’t call home – indeed, a country as a gay man it would now be dangerous for him to call home. And therein lies the heart of Speak No Evil: What are you true to; what do you sacrifice?

With father and son there’s some really nice character work going on. Niru comes across as a good boy, a dutiful son despite the force of his resentment and yet at times I found him a good deal less that sympathetic, even selfish. And then there’s his father, a man so well-rendered I feel quite confident I’ve actually met him. His is a huge presence, domineering and physical, proud of his appearance, and yet those principles of his, so rooted in the family and even in the face of his enemies appear to spring from a place of protection. His refrain: Do your parents know you’re here? No? I’ll call you a taxi.

As a reader I love that moment when you realise the full import of what earlier seemed a throwaway line or an incidental detail. Louise Doughty did the throwaway line perfectly in Apple Tree Yard and in Speak No Evil Uzodinma Iweala slips an incidental detail by us with consummate ease. When that moment of realisation comes it’s an absolute joy, affording that glimpse of foreknowledge that ratchets the tension while the tight writing keeps you glued to the page. It’s very nicely done.

Tight writing is an apt phrase for Speak No Evil, a novel that punches well above its word count. If you’re a quick reader you’ll probably devour it in a couple of sittings but fast or slow the impact is there, and the fallout is such that you’ll probably be thinking about it for days afterwards.


Speak No Evil was published by John Murrays on 8th March 2018 ISBN:9780719523700

My thanks to Alice Herbert at Hodder for allowing me to review this book

Van has finished reading… Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

9 Apr

lab girl 1

I do like a good nature documentary. I’m not alone in this, I know. That heady mix of weird and wonderful creatures with their little niches of behaviour and brilliance is captivating. Add a certain Mr Attenborough’s elucidating commentary and I’m apt to learn a thing or two along the way.


In our house the cries of ‘ooh, look at that’, ‘I wonder if that’s a …’, ‘wow, what a beautiful …’ tend to be reserved for the background. Let’s face it, even if it’s a sloth climbing along a branch it still moves more than the foliage it travels past. I’m fascinated by orchids. There are over 25,000 species of orchid, with flowers so different you wouldn’t believe they’re part of the same family. There are whole plants that will balance on your finger and plants that can grow taller than a house. There are evolutionary developments that are so niche it’s a wonder they’re still alive, there’s heady perfume and rank stench, there’s stunningly beautiful and really quite ugly too and in all of them there’s the sheer wonder that they’ve grown from seeds so small you need magnification to see them. So where is the nature documentary about this family of plants? What do the commissioners of nature documentaries say?

Well, the trouble is they don’t really ‘do’ much, do they.

And I give you, commissioners of nature documentaries, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, because plants do ‘do’ much and Professor Jahren has the proof.


The cover of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren says it’s a story of trees, science and love but you don’t have to be into trees or science to enjoy it because I think primarily this is a story of love. That love comes in many forms, the most enduring – and perhaps the most endearing too – is that shared with Bill. It’s the one that at the same time makes the least and the most sense. Perhaps it’s that while they both spend inordinate amounts of time trying to find out why certain things are, when it comes to their relationship they are interested only in the fact that it is. After all, if it ain’t broke…

Don’t let all that sciencey stuff give you the wrong impression either. Although there is research in there (the Sitka Willows I found particularly fascinating, the telling thereof taking me back to Eucalyptus-lined streams in Andalucia) Professor Jahren writes with feeling. Chapter 8 in part three is perhaps the most moving description of incipient motherhood I’ve read. At once it’s both spare and emotional, which packs quite a punch.

There’s another thing I love about this book which really shouldn’t be a thing at all. It should appear so small and normal as to go by not unnoticed but accepted, unchallenged. It’s the designation Professor Jahren uses when talking in general terms: ‘when a scientist does this or that she…’; ‘when a professor says this or that she…’, ‘…but she finally did turn into a tiger.’

It makes me smile, but still a little sadly. That it’s there is a good thing; that it still needs to be there is not.

And then there’s quite possibly the loveliest thing I’ve read so far this year, shortly after that tiger line. ‘This house is full of people who love you’.

Whoever you are, may there always be someone who is ready to say this to you!



Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl is a captivating, funny and uplifting view into the scientific life. It’s also wise and warm and erudite on the gift of living. But please, Professor Jahren, I’d love to know – the orchids in the glasshouse where you grew the sweet potato, and the orchids that line the big tree at the roundabout in Hawaii, what genus?


Lab Girl was published by Fleet on 5th April 2016 ISBN:9780349006208

You can find Professor Jahren on Twitter @HopeJahren.


My particular thanks to Fleet for allowing me to review me this book.