Category Archives: Fleet

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead


The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

The Last Word Review

When I finished reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead I knew that I would struggle for days after. A book that not just gets into every pore of your skin but a lot deeper than that, into your very soul. One book I shall remember for a very long time.


Sometimes to understand the current problems of the current world we live in it takes a novel like Colson’s latest in The Underground Railroad for us to understand our past and were we come from. Set in the years before the Civil War and the sheer horror that was the slave trade this is a story that leaves you in a very dark place where you wonder about the world we live in, even in today’s world.

Georgia and a cotton plantation and Cora a young slave woman is having to deal with the fact of the brutality of being a slave she has witnessed pure evil and also the fact her mother abandoned her when she ran away. Now Cora knows that she faces a life of being a slave and as she knows the fate that awaits her. When she approached by another slave and he talks of the underground railroad Cora’s mind is made up. For Cora a teenage slave girl escaping to the unknown is a brave step into the unknown. Cora now has no choice but to run away her life will never be the same as she is now hunted and not just for escaping. When you have the dreaded slave catcher on your trail you have to run and keep running. The underground railroad is your only hope and salvation.


At times this is not an easy read there are some rather difficult themes to deal with and Colson’s imagination that has turned this into a haunting novel. On Cora’s journey she arrives in one town to what seems like a horror movie scene were what can only be seen as genocide is taking place. Both slaves and anyone caught helping them left hanging from trees as a message to those who think of doing similar and also stench of burning flesh fills the air. The story eloquently shifts from one moment on the surface to a land and a railroad and even stations that run underneath it. The underground railroad actually existed but ‘figuratively’ speaking and how Colson has used history to create this underground railroad into a novel that will affect anyone who reads it.

It is not normal for me to feel a sheer emptiness in the pit of my stomach when reading a novel but the more I read the more it became a tight knotted feeling. The Underground Railroad has been receiving some of the highest praise from President Obama to Oprah Winfrey and many more. Is this a book that deserves this praise? Without doubt the praise is well deserved. This is an extremely brave book as Colson has taken history and created a story to attempted to talk to the world that we live in of the horrors of humanity. To this degree it is a brave book but one that I have no doubt when many read this and the message will be passed to others who will then pick up The Underground Railroad and so in hope the message will go far and wide.

At the end I was left bereft of anything, so many questions I wanted to ask but the words would not come. I was left numb and exhausted by Colson’s mix history mixed with story. Reading The Underground Railroad left me feeling I was staring into the darkest of all nights with no hope of any daylight to come. A brave and important book and one that should not be overlooked.

Thank you to Fleet for the advanced review copy.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is published by Fleet and is now available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.


Now & Again – Charlotte Rogan

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Now & Again by Charlotte Rogan


The Last Word Review


Following on from her 2012 debut novel “The Lifeboat” which was in my view extraordinary and an incredible read, now just released by Fleet comes Charlotte Rogan’s latest Now & Again and if you enjoyed Rogan’s debut like me then this is one book you must add to your Summer reading list.

Now & Again although land based still delivers on a number of fronts that will have the reader thinking along the lines of justice, ethics & morals. Rogan’s latest is set during the last years of the presidency of George W. Bush and opens with Maggie Rayburn who works in a munitions plant discovers a cover up after finding a secret document, smuggling the document out of the plant means her life is about to be turned on its head. After spending time working through the detailed report Maggie comes to realise that there is a more than just a cover up involving her employers and now starts to realise that there is a connection to the environment and birth defects and all this stems from the munitions plant and the work carried out there.


For the community of Red Bud, were they rely on the plant for work, Maggie comes to realise very quickly that the locals are turning against her but Maggie is not one for burying the evidence and her quiet steely resolve makes her a character that you want to get behind and will want to support as she goes about uncovering the truth in a situation like this there is usually a price to pay and for Maggie that price is her relationships with her husband and teenage son.

Meanwhile three soldiers have returned home from a tour in Iraq but they are uneasy and what has gone on and are determined to tell the world the truth about the war headed by Captain Penn Sinclair they set up The three soldier’s role in Now & Again is well constructed and totally believable all are carrying the weight of burden on their return and want the world to know what is really going on in Iraq.

The opening scenes in Iraq are hard hitting and bring the story of the three returning soldier’s alive and also tells of how veterans are treated on their return home. Some may find the two separate stories here confusing and may be left wondering what the connection really is, but for me I think this just confirms my belief that Charlotte Rogan is an author of ‘our’ time and is telling a topical story from Maggie uncovering injustice on the home front to the story of the three soldiers and the war in Iraq.

Now & Again is totally absorbing to read and one that helps us to understand how we as individuals deal with our fight against all form of injustice in public life.

Thank you to Ursula Doyle and Zoe Hood for an advanced review copy.

Now & Again written by Charlotte Rogan is published by Fleet and is out now through Waterstones and all good book shops.


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren


 The Last Word Review


Incredibly open and frank memoir. The natural world through the eyes of a botanical scientist. Witty and an emotional read.


When I left school I had dreams of studying botany and to a degree it worked out for me and I would spend my days and nights studying plant life forms and I would study seeds of all shapes and sizes like an accountant studies figures. Today it still excites me as much as it did in my younger days.

I was delighted when Lab Girl by Hope Jahren landed on my desk as I just knew what would be between the covers.

Lab Girl is a beautiful memoir of a life destined to become a leading botanical scientist. Jahren spent her younger days at her father’s college laboratory in Minnesota the seeds for her future were sown during these days spent under the work benches playing as a child. Now Jahren has her own lab were she spends her days. A place she feels secure and is her place of worship.

Life growing up in Minnesota was never easy the Winters are long and hard and the home life was not happy and Jahren wanted more and her studies took her to UC Berkeley Ph.D. Jahren’s climb to where she is today being born out of determination to succeed, today she is an acclaimed geobiologist with a laboratory that is not only her own but one that is seen as one of the best in the world.

Bill is her loyal partner in her work and the stories of their adventures is something to behold and the scrapes they end up getting themselves into all in the name of science from the United States to Europe. Life was never like this in the early days as they struggled to obtain funding for the work she was so desperate to pursue. Jahren’s dedication to her work comes through every page and she admits to being completely single minded in her approach. She talks openly of her bipolar disorder but this is a memorable memoir full of humour and some of the most anecdotes that are found throughout the book, there was so many to select that it was difficult to choose just one for this review. One line that did stand out for me is ‘Science for war will always pay better that the science for knowledge.’ Apt in these days.

Lab Girl is a beautifully written and is witty and warm, every page was a pure joy and delight to read, it is informative and fascinating and every turn of the page as Jahren recounts the early days struggling to fund even the very basics of living to the workaholic lifestyle desperate to learn and understand.

Anyone who has an interest in the natural world will enjoy reading a fabulous memoir and will look at plants and the natural world through new eyes.

Hope Jahren’s Wikipedia page is worth reading. Here

My thanks to Fleet for a review copy of Lab Girl.

Lab Girl written by Hope Jahren and published by Fleet. Publication is 21 April 2016 and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshop.

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