The Shelf by Helly Acton: 3.5/5

If you love reality tv and are looking for a fun, easy-read then The Shelf is for you. Told from the perspective of Amy, the book follows 6 women who are dumped on the new reality show ‘The Shelf’ and then compete in different challenges to be named The Keeper (and winner of £1 million) whilst living together in a house for 4 weeks.

Although this book wouldn’t have been my first choice in a bookshop, I got it through a book subscription service and it was the perfect book for a busy week. It was light-hearted, funny and I couldn’t put it down. It was truly as addictive as any good reality tv show is and that is the genius behind it. It is not trying to be anything but fun.

I’ll admit there are a few heavy-handed comments on sexism and less than subtle commentary on the more toxic aspects of reality tv, but it all comes from the right place. You are not being told to give up binging love island or stop talking about love is blind, instead this book fully appreciates the joy those shows can bring you. The Shelf knows that at the end of a long day, vegging on the sofa to some mindless episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians is exactly what you need, it just also shows how quickly things can escalate for those more directly involved in some of the shows being aired.

At the times the book also leaned a bit further into being cheesy than I usually go for, particularly in the final few chapters, but that didn’t surprise me. I knew what I was getting with this book and it definitely delivered.

For me this book was a solid 3.5/5 stars because I enjoyed it and that’s all. Was it one of the best books I’ve ever read? No. But did I have fun reading it? Yes. I couldn’t put this book down, reading it in just a couple of days, and would definitely recommend it.

An American Marriage

Tayari Jones

I had wanted to read An American Marriage, last year’s winner of the women’s prize for fiction, for a while now so when a friend offered to lend me her copy just as I was finishing my last book, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, I jumped at the chance.

The novel follows the story of a newly-wed African American couple after Roy gets convicted for a crime that Celestial is sure he didn’t commit. Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The start of the book is told through the letters the couple send to one another. The choice to structure the story in this way is an interesting one as it means that we simultaneously have access to some of the most intimate aspects of their lives whilst also only ever receiving an edited snapshot. You are privy only to what they each wish to share with the other, which you know must not be a complete story, but also gain insight into incredibly personal matters you would only ever share with the person closest to you. Although at points this was somewhat frustrating, I generally enjoyed this structure as it also gave the book a nice balance in perspectives.

The second two thirds of the book then alternate in perspective of the three main protagonists which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite realising I didn’t especially like any of them as characters. However, I think that my dislike of the three protagonists only served to add to the tragic element of the book. I was frustrated by all three of the main characters of this novel but found myself unable to fault any of them for their actions which was an interesting attitude to have to a novel and has also left me unable to decide how much I enjoyed reading it.

However, that is not to say that I do not have a great appreciation for this novel, and I without a doubt think that it tells an important story in a beautifully written way. This book explores race politics and the prejudice within the justice system and law enforcement in America, particularly in southern states. I felt that I was given an insight into a world and culture so far removed from my own which makes this book an invaluable book.

Overall, when finishing this book I was left with a feeling of sadness and an inability to to entirely pinpoint the origin of my frustration with this book but with no doubt in the value of this story being told.