LIFE UPDATE: Dissertations, Deadlines and Dread

Hello friends! I wanted to write another rambly sort of post, mainly to update you all on where I’ve been and what I’m doing.

If you’ve been following me on Bookstagram (shameless self plug, my username is pagesofachilles!) then you know I haven’t been as active as usual. This is mainly because of two reasons, one much more valid than the other lol. One of the reasons, perhaps the less valid one, is because the algorithm is a mess again. While I don’t post for likes/comments/numbers, it is a little disheartening to see numbers drop post after post, especially when I put so much time into my photos. A part of me wants to hide the number of likes, since I now have this feature. Maybe I will, who knows! For the time being, I’m trying to ignore the gradual decline in likes my posts are getting because it’s kind of frustrating.

The second reason and arguably the more important one is because of my dissertation! I’m in my final year of my Bachelor’s degree and my dissertation is taking up all the free time and energy I have. Not to make this a negative post, but bloody hell is it difficult writing a dissertation when you’re in the throws of a global pandemic and have no access to academic sources. My university library is closed until further notice, meaning I can’t access any of the resources I’m paying for! So a lot of time has been spent trying to find copies of things online or buying them second hand. As I’m writing this post, I’m almost done with my first draft and I’ve never worked on anything as hard as I have this. I’ve poured blood, sweat and tears into this 8000 word project, spent countless hours reading the same poems over and over and honestly? I just want it to be over. I’m exhausted and so mentally drained, but I’m almost there. I can see the finish line, which doesn’t look as bright considering I won’t be having a graduation ceremony, but I’ll still have a degree at the end of it all.

While writing my dissertation, I’ve found that I have no time, or effort, to read for my own enjoyment. This weekend was the first time in almost a month and a half that I picked up a book because I wanted to, not because I had to read it for research purposes. And it was bliss. Escaping the world for a little while was the perfect refresher I needed to start the new week off with motivation and perseverance. Unfortunately, I don’t know when I’ll next have the time to set an entire day aside just for reading. I have deadlines for other papers coming up, dissertation meetings, interviews for potential Master degree courses, and of course, the pandemic still looms over everything. I’m especially craving A Court of Silver Flames, my copy arrived earlier this week but I know I simply don’t have the capacity to start a new fantasy at the moment. I’m saving it for once my first dissertation draft is due, almost as a reward for myself. Avoiding spoilers has been insanely difficult (Maybe don’t post your spoilers online with no warning?? Especially for a book this hyped when not everyone will be able to read it the day of its release??? I’m a little salty about this lol). Anyway, reading has become a saviour in my life once again as it provides me with a stress free safe haven away from my uni work.

I think that’s everything I wanted to say today! I quite enjoyed writing this little update, if anything it helped me clear some of my thoughts and feel more at ease. What are you currently up to? Read anything good lately? Feel free to give me any update! I hope you’re well and staying healthy, remember to wear your masks and drink water!

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BOOK REVIEW: The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes by Francesca Burke [blog tour]

“On the magical island of the Three Kingdoms, disparaged teenagers quest to save their people from dragons, duplicity and dictatorship. This is a book of fairy tales, but not of happy endings. Don’t expect to fall asleep to sweet dreams when you’re done.”

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

RATING: 5/5 ☆
AUTHOR: Francesca Burke
SYNOPSIS: “Princess Amelia’s home, the Kingdom of Mirrors, is on its knees, ravaged by the cantankerous Sapphire Dragon. She must find a way to rid her country of its unwelcome guest and work out how to restore its fortunes before her parents marry her off to clear the kingdom’s debts. Prince Richard of the Valley of Dreams knows he’s not very heroic… he’d rather read about quests than actually go on one. But when he finds himself travelling to a haunted tower, he discovers a treacherous conspiracy that could rip the Three Kingdoms apart… and learns there might be some heroism tucked up his sleeve after all. Esme Delacroix is a psychic living in Stormhaven, the only part of the Three Kingdoms where magic is taboo. A terrifying vision sends Esme and her friend Violet on a perilous quest that shakes Stormhaven and the Three Kingdoms to its core.”
BUY THE BOOK HERE: Authors Links / Amazon / Kobo

Thank you to Francesca Burke for reaching out to me! She’s been so lovely about this entire tour and provided all the information and content necessary, do check her out! Her blog is francescaswords. Welcome to my stop for The Pricess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes book blog tour!

I loved this book! There’s really no other way to say it! From the beginning it was entertaining, whimsical and funny. I often believed that fantasy novels had to be serious in order to tell their stories successfully, but Burke proved me wrong. Her humour throughout was what made this collection enjoyable to read, there were moments where I found myself grinning at the screen whilst reading because I was loving it so much.

Her world building is impressive, given that this is a collection of short stories I was worried things would feel incomplete or untold. But it was rather the opposite, I felt as if I was apart of this vivid kingdom she was describing, down to the windows in the buildings and the vendors at the market. It feels very much like coming home, the world is her own but it reminded me of fairy tales I used to read when I was younger. The way she eventually weaves these stories together was a joy, although this world and these characters are only with us for around 200 pages, there’s something welcoming about them that makes us feel safe. As a reader, I felt entirely transported and for the time I was reading this book, I was truly in another world entirely.

Despite being a lighthearted fantasy, Burke does not shy away from current political themes and issues. As the stories progress we learn more about the issues prevalent in this novel: immigration, homophobia, xenophobia and the persecution of groups different than the ruling families. These themes are taken seriously and approached with respect and the necessary attitude needed. I feel that this book would have done wonders if I read it when I was younger, knowing that things like this are not tolerated in a fantasy book reminds us the greater importance of acceptance. I appreciated the representation within this story as well, gender, sexuality and race are not determiners for the characters. While they are sometimes brought up to reminds us of the inequality that is still present, they don’t hold anyone back within the story.

I hope Burke continues to write because she has a knack for it, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of short stories and can’t wait for what else she releases. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend this short story collection! It’ll make you smile if nothing else, which I think everyone could use right now.

BOOK REVIEW: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“How were you supposed to change- in ways both big and small- when your family was always there to remind you of exactly the person you apparently signed an ironclad contract to be?”

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

RATING: 5/5 ☆
AUTHOR: Taylor Jenkins Reid
SYNOPSIS: “Malibu: August, 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over-especially as the offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva. By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.”
BUY THE BOOK HERE: Amazon / Book Depository / Waterstones

The e-ARC of this was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Taylor Jenkins Reid has done it again. Shattered my heart through a single novel, having me want to abandon all responsibilities and go live in Malibu. I don’t know how she consistently writes these strong novels full of powerful women and heartbreaking consequences, but she does it flawlessly. Also, the cover?? I’m not one to usually focus on the book cover but oh my is it gorgeous.

Malibu Rising follows the Riva family, with the first half of the novel focusing on June and Mick Riva. Their whirlwind romance and disastrous attempt at being a family. Reading about these two had my swept away to another time altogether. The atmosphere that Jenkins Reid is able to create through her storytelling is unlike anything I’ve read before. I was in love with Mick the same way June was, and then subsequently betrayed by him in the very same chapter. The relationship of these two characters was the foundation for the rest of the novel, just when you think it can’t get any worse for them, it does.

While perfectly demonstrating the failing relationship of June and Mick, Jenkins Reid also introduces us to the primary protagonist, Nina. She’s headstrong, smart and resilient, refusing to live her life the same way her mother lived hers. Through the major events of her life, we learn why she acts the way she does and how incredibly strong she is. Both June and Nina have a sadness to them, the product of broken families and broken men. But despite this, they shine through everything. They’re written as a perfect balance of women who have had their lives ruined but still persevere in spite of it all. I think their characters are the strongest and most well written, they had such development to them that I forget while reading that they weren’t real people. In saying that, all the side characters were incredibly well developed, considering this is a stand alone. The development we see from them is something I almost expect from a duology, something about these characters feels like we’ve known them a long time, even though they are brand new to us. Every named character added something to this story, I think without even one of them it wouldn’t have felt complete.

Not only does she know how to write characters well, but Jenkins Reid is able to move a plot on in an unrelenting pace. The switches between June and Mick’s timeline to Nina and her siblings was effortless, perfectly piecing together to tell this story in full. I wasn’t confused by the time jumps, if anything they further the story and made it all more enjoyable. While some of the major twists in the story were predictable, I think that’s what makes it brilliant. You know what’s coming and you look out for any hint that what you’ve predicted, won’t happen, but it does anyway. Knowing what happens doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking to read. Even the ending wasn’t super dramatic, but it felt right for the story. Nothing felt out of character or unnecessary, every detail down to the timings was perfect.

As with her previous books that I’ve read, I know this one will stick with me for a while. It was a pleasure to read, from the very first sentence to the last word. Jenkins Reid has earned her places as one of my top authors and this book further solidifies this, it was a masterpiece.

BOOKSTAGRAM TIPS 101: Props

Hello friends and welcome to a new segment on my blog called Bookstagram Tips 101, where I will be sharing some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way! I’ve been taking photos for my Bookstagram for over two years and during that time I’ve learned a few things about photos.

Todays post will focus on props. Props have boosted my photos lately, although for the longest time I struggled where to find them, how to use them and which ones I wanted. I’ll show you two photos and take you through the process of the props I used and where I found them! Almost all of the ones I’m going to talk about were found on Esty and I live in the UK so your results might be slightly different than mine, but I hope this helps you nonetheless!

Photo #1:

At first glance, this photo might seem a bit busy and overwhelming. But if we break it down, we can see the different layers.

The first thing I always use is an abundance of papers to form the background. Some people prefer to keep their backgrounds simple, for example using a blanket or their bedsheets, which is also totally fine! For this photo I used 100 mixed pages from Complete works of Shakespeare 1908 from JunkAndGeraniums on Etsy. This is a rare item so may not be avaliable for long, but if not don’t worry! A quick Etsy search for “Vintage scrapbook pages” or “Vintage paper bundles” will find you something similar. A quick tip is to look at the reviews and read the description, it’s easy to get distracted and order something that you think will work but when it arrives its nothing like you were expecting.

The second layer of this photo is mainly candles. Bookish candles are easy to find, but I have a few favourites that I always recommend! OrbitingPluto, CosyArtltd and MadameFiction. If you’re already on Bookstagram, you’ll know that there are an abundance of small businesses that sell candles, so it’s entirely up to you and which designs you prefer. When taking photos I like to remove the top and leave them open, mixing colours and designs.

The most noticeable layer in this photo is the cardigan, which of course is optional and exchangeable. Any piece of comfy clothing will do, again depending on what you want to showcase. A jumper, old scarf, or shirt would work here too! It takes a bit of draping and rearranging to get it laid in a way you like, but as do most things when it comes to photo taking. As this photo is Taylor Swift themed, I paired the cardigan with her album. I’ve found that incorporating vinyls/albums is a nice way to bring other interests into my photos.

Other miscellaneous items in this photos are rings, a camera my friend gifted me and other books. While the latter items are hard for me to link as they were gifts/books, I can recommend some places to buy rings from! I’ll try and include a range of lower price, higher price, small companies and larger ones. Ethnasia, Oringo, Jewellery Box, Antiques And Jewellery, Indigo Lune, CreationssByChrissy and Regal Rose. High street stores such as Topshop, H&M, Newlook and Primark also have cute rings for cheap. If you’re looking for rings specifically for photos, I’ve found that any quality will do. However, if you’re looking for rings you can wear that won’t rust, I recommend investing in a few solid pieces from Oringo, Antiques and Jewellery and Jewellery Box.

Photo #2:

The same as the previous photo, at first glance there seems to be a lot going on in this photo. So let’s break it down again!

Similar to photo number one, I used vintage papers as my main background. But this time I used “Bundles Of Over Fifty Pieces Of Vintage And Antique Book Pages & Ephemera” from KarmaCollectablesUk on Etsy. Unlike the Shakespeare pages, this bundle has a range of newspaper clippings, old photographs, book pages, music sheets and gardening magazine sheets. It’s perfect if you’re wanting a range of pages to choose from. I’ve found that for things like this, Etsy is the best place. It has a range of Vintage Ephemera items unlike any other online shopping site. It’s honestly where I get all my props these days.

The next noticeable item in this photo is the tea cup. This item was a little harder to find, originally I was planning on visiting a local charity shop and picking one up there but due to the new lockdown in England, that plan was scrapped. Instead, I found one online! This specific one is from ThisVintageDream on Etsy. Items such as teacups and other homeware goods might take a bit longer to find the one you want, when you first search “Vintage teacup” there are hundreds of results. I found that refining the search to specifically reflect what I wanted was easier. It’s also important to read reviews for these things, especially on how well someone packages something! My tea cup came perfectly wrapped and packaged, thankfully!

Everything else in the photo is smaller, miscellaneous items. The dried orange slices and yarn are from MaryAndAudsOnline on Etsy and the faux flower is from MyNameChain, also on Etsy. The candle is from MadameFiction. For smaller items like this it’s best to search for them individually. It might be cheaper to buy them in bulk from more well known sites, but I’ve found for the best quality ones I turn to Etsy. But as long as you find something that works for you, that’s all that matters!

I have a few Etsy stores saved in my “favourites” that I also wanted to share with you all. Some of these shops I’ve never ordered before, so I cannot 100% vouch for the quality, but from my initial glance they look good! They’re a range of vintage shops, homeware shops and other small businesses.

I hope this helped you in some way, like I said before this is only a guide! I’d love to hear what your favourite prop is! I’m thinking of focusing on filters for my next post, hope to see you all there!

2021 Reading Goals and a look back at 2020

Hello friends, I hope the new year brings you peace and happiness. I realised that for the past month or so I’ve neglected this blog a big (I’m much more active over on my Instagram, pagesofachilles) and I wanted to do more of a chatty catch up type of post. I’m not sure where this post will go, so buckle up and get ready for a very laid back review of the past year and my future goals for reading!

2020, what happened?

Honestly, what didn’t happen last year? It’s easy to say that it was the worst year of my life, between the pandemic and isolation and everything in between, it wasn’t a fun year. I’m in the process of finishing my degree online, which is frustrating and a disappointment. I think the last time I saw my friends was Spring? I can’t remember, it’s been a year since I’ve hugged someone outside of my own household. Holidays were cancelled, my room became my new normality and the outside world is but a distant memory now. I cancelled my gym membership and started at home work outs, which I’ll admit I’m still not the best at. I sometimes lose motivation and forget to do one altogether, but I’m trying! Zoom quizzes were a thing and then they weren’t. And social media has opened my eyes to the injustices in the world on a scale I wasn’t even aware of before. I cried watching the news and yelled profanities at my TV like never before.

Everything I loved about my life vanished over night, from bookstores to cafes to brisk walks in the park. Not to get too heavy, but my mental state took a dive off the deep end, as I’m sure a lot of peoples did. I went through days of depression and anxiety, refusing to leave my bed. And it’s still a struggle. Some days I wake up and I am fed up of living in a pandemic, sick of people refusing to wear a mask or social distance and the evil that seeps from every corner of society. Some days I don’t want to look out from the safe darkness of my duvet. Some days, it’s all too much.

But there were some small glimmers of hope from 2020. I adopted the sweetest and most loving cat, Nero. He’s gotten me through more dark days than I even know.

His first morning home.

I reconnected with some old friends and realised the importance of healthy relationships. I learned more about myself and have slowly started to rebuild my mental health (again, it’s a very long road but I’ve taken the first steps towards looking after myself). I rekindled my love for books and stories and the beauty in becoming lost in a good novel. Music became vital to me, my Spotifty Wrapped was almost twice as long as the previous year. I figured out my academic plans for the next few years, with a few back up plans because if 2020 taught me anything it’s to expect the unexpected. Overall, I focused on myself, which is something I haven’t done in a long time. Putting myself and my mental health first became the norm, instead of plowing ahead with work or uni and ignoring everything else.

Although, that being said, I am eager to socialise again. The news of the vaccine and a light at the end of the tunnel is pulling me through, knowing there’s an end to this in sight. Once it’s safe, I can’t wait to hug my friends. I’ve already decided I’m hugging them and not letting go. I’m going to travel, get more tattoos, wake up early and appreciate the bustle of busy city streets or the softness of a quiet morning. Things that used to seem boring or a chore to do will become highlights. Cinema trips, gym workouts, early morning commutes and late night trains home. These are things I used to take for granted that will have a whole new meaning to me. And I can’t wait until the world is ready for that again.

Reading in 2020

Given that there was almost nothing else to do, reading took precedent last year. I read a personal record of 137 books, some good, some not so good. I’ll go through some of the best and the worst, quick fire style (with links to my Goodreads reviews where applicable, if you want a full recollection of my thoughts).

The Good:

Honourable Mentions:

The Bad:

2021 goals, reading and otherwise?

Although I set a numerical figure for myself this year (75 books to be exact), I don’t have any massive reading goals for the year. I tried to read a classic every month last year and by October it felt like a chore, I wasn’t enjoying it at all so I stopped after that month. To avoid the same fatigue, I’m allowing myself to read whatever I want this year. Being a mood reader means my tastes often jump around sporadically and my Goodreads yearly wrap up looks a little confusing, but as long as I enjoy most of the books I read, that’s all that matters.

However, that being said I have drafted a very rough list for general reading things I want to try and achieve:

  • Buy less books
  • Request less ARCs
  • Read more sequels
  • DNF more books if I’m not enjoying them.

Anyway, I think that about sums up everything I wanted to talk about. If you’ve made it this far, thank you! I’d love to hear some of your reading goals, if you’ve set yourself any. Happy (belated) New Years, I hope this year is kind to you.

BOOK REVIEW: The Stasi Game by David Young

“In East Germany, no one plays by the rules…”

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

RATING: 3.5/5 ☆
AUTHOR: David Young
SYNOPSIS: “A man’s body is found buried in concrete at a building site in the new town district. When People’s Police homicide captain Karin Müller arrives at the scene, she discovers that all of the body’s identifiable features have been removed – including its fingertips. The deeper Müller digs, the more the Stasi begin to hamper her investigations. She soon realises that this crime is just one part of a clandestine battle between two secret services – the Stasi of East Germany and Britain’s MI6.”
BUY THE BOOK HERE: Amazon / Book Depository

Thank you to the publishers, Zaffre Books, for sending me a copy of this to read! All opinions and thoughts are my own.

Historical Fiction has a way of pulling you in to another time period entirely, Young managed to transport me to several different locations across different time periods within this novel, something I rather enjoyed. His ability to create a scene around you as you read was commendable, as was the rich detail of the main character, Karin Müller.

Müller’s character throughout was something of interest. In some moments I liked her and agreed with her actions and in others I was mentally screaming at her to do something. She was written as a well developed character, her motives and actions made her seem human and riddled with flaws, like the rest of us. Combined with the side characters, Young’s talent in writing real characters is one of the things I enjoyed the most about this book.

The plot was mostly fast paced and a page turner, however with the frequent time jumps and short chapters, I found myself wishing that we stuck with a certain character or event a little longer. There was a disconnect for the first half of the book that made me feel as if we weren’t getting to know any of the characters in detail, it was a lot of jumping back and forth in quick succession. Thankfully, the second half of the book felt more interlinked, the pieces of the puzzle were starting to connect and as a reader it was exciting to see how everything lined up. Plots and people came together and settled in what I thought to be a rewarding ending.

The foundations of this book was strong. Despite being listed a sequel to other Young books, it makes sense as a stand alone and as someone who hadn’t read his other book prior to this one, I understand what was happening and didn’t feel overwhelmed with information or confused. Overall, it read well and kept me entertained whilst I was reading. For fans of Historical Fiction, particularly espionage and secret service Historical Fiction, I recommend this one!

TV SERIES REVIEW: The Queen’s Gambit

“It takes a strong woman to stay by herself, in a world where people will settle for anything just to say they have something.”

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

RATING: 5/5 ☆
SERIES LENGTH: 7 episodes, ranging from 40 minutes to an hour and ten.
AVALIABLE ON: Netflix
STARRING: Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling, Moses Ingram.

It’s been a while since a series has captured my attention in the same way The Queen’s Gambit did. I blew through all 7 episodes in one night, unable to tear my eyes away from the screen. Anya Taylor-Joy was encapsulating in her portrayal of Beth, she was delightful to watch and every episode she seemed to get better and better. The supporting cast were all brilliant as well, from Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny, to Harry Melling who played a convincing chess champion turned tutor. Every cast member was perfectly casted.

This show dealt with a lot of heavier themes, such as addiction, mental health and sexism. And while some scenes seemed to be played up for certain comedic purposes almost, the overall view seemed to place Beth’s trauma at the heart of everything. Her addiction throughout is taken seriously, we see her spiral and fall into a downwards tunnel through her own doing. Her mother’s struggle with mental health is portrayed through the eyes of young Beth, making the impact of it that much more devastating. Even her adoptive mother’s drinking addiction comes to a startling halt, the affects of which last Beth a lifetime. Beth’s struggles with her own addiction and those who influenced her are acknowledged and not glorified and in the end, the importance of saving herself is made clear, rather than waiting for someone else to save her.

Speaking on self importance, there’s one scene that rings clear in my mind. This isn’t particularly a spoiler as no major plot device is revealed, so I feel that talking about it under the heading of a “spoiler free review” is okay (but if you still want to keep this entire series blank in your mind when watching, feel free to skip this paragraph). When Beth and her best friend, Jolene are talking, Jolene says something that struck me as monumental. Beth thanks her for being there for her, calling her “her Guardian Angel”, to which she replies “I’m not your Guardian Angel. I’m not here to save you. Hell, I can barely save me.” There’s an idea constantly portrayed in film and literature that we can’t save ourselves, someone else always swoops in at the last minute to save us. Hearing this ideology completely smashed in a matter of minutes was incredible, there’s no quick retort from Beth or plot device later on that disproves this idea. Although Beth’s friends do rally around her when she needs them, in the end it’s her that saves herself. She works her way out of the hole she has dug on her own, without any romance-driven male character to save her. This was something that completed the five star rating from me, it was refreshing to see a woman save herself.

Moving onto more materialistic things, the backdrops and outfits of the show were also pleasing to watch. As I was not alive in the 60’s I cannot comment on whether these are entirely historically accurate (although a little research shows that most people seemed to agree that it was), nonetheless the outfits and locations for filming added yet another level of sophistication to this series. Particularly, the way Beth’s house adapts and shapes to reflect her as she grows was interesting to watch. Not a single detail was missed, from her iconic hairstyle to the watch she always wears, every piece in her wardrobe served her a purpose and acted almost a plot device themselves.

There’s a million more things I could talk about that I enjoyed about this series, from the importance of friendships to found family. In concluding my review, I do quickly want to touch upon Beth’s relationship with her adoptive mother. Although I was skeptical of this at first, I found myself loving the way their dynamic played out, with Beth finding solace in Alma and Alma growing as a person due to Beth’s presence in her life. Their scenes together were some of my favourites, I think the perfect word for them is heartwarming. Everything about this series was perfectly planned, plotted and executed. There’s something exciting about a well rounded show like this and I believe it deserves every ounce of praise that it gets.

BOOK REVIEW: Villains of Yore by D. Lawrence-Young [blog tour]

“Take some twenty wickedly British villains. Add their dastardly crimes. Then include their miserable backgrounds. Mix in some nefarious conversations and combine all this together to produce an exciting collection of stories!”

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

RATING: 4/5 ☆
AUTHOR: D. Lawrence-Young
SYNOPSIS: “This book describes in an entertaining way through conversations and facts how criminals from Richard Pudlicott (1303) up to the 20th Century Elephant Gang operated on the wrong side of the law to make their fortunes. Reading your way through these 700 years, you will come across well-known characters such as Dick Turpin, Burke and Hare and Moll Cutpurse, as well as some lesser known but equally nasty characters, including Colonel Thomas Blood, Mary Carleton and Jonathan Wild, the ‘Thief-taker General’.”
BUY THE BOOK HERE: Publishers Website / Amazon

Thank you to the publishers, Cranthorpe Millner, for sending me a copy of this to read! And welcome to my stop for the Villains of Yore book release tour!

There’s something that attracts the general public when it comes to wicked crimes. We like to take a glimpse into this lifestyle of murder, theft and general nefarious doings. And Lawrence-Young provides us with that insight into some of Britain’s most evil villains. This book takes a chronological approach, starting as early as 1303 and taking us all the way to the 20th Century. Personally, I found this to be the best way to present these stories. It was easy enough to follow and reading about them against the everchanging backdrop of society as we progressed through the centuries made for an all around encompassing experience.

Something that took me by surprise right away was the tone of the writing. I was going into this mentally preparing for it to be hard hitting and graphic. And while it was true to what happened, it read easier than other non-fictions. There’s an almost colloquial tone to his writing, it feels as if we’re being told these stories by a friend around a campfire. While I enjoyed how this lightened the overall tone of the book, I almost wish it was a bit more heavy. The casualness of the writing took away some of the severity these villains carry and when it comes to crime and villains I want to feel my skin prickle with nerves and unease.

However, in saying that I think some in some way the writing worked as an advantage. It made these stories more accessible for the general audience. These stories didn’t feel as if I was reading a textbook, something that some non-fictions struggle to do. There was a clear injection of personality and life into these characters, they felt real instead of names inside a book. Bearing in mind that these are true stories with real victims, it helped to add to the tangibility of the crimes. Lawrence-Young giving a voice to these people also, in turn, gave a voice to their victims.

The entire book was exciting. Each chapter was researched well and told in a unique way, making the reading experience fun and educational at the same time which is not an easy task to accomplish. I can honestly say that I enjoyed reading about these villains, some of which I had never heard before. There was clearly a lot of work and passion poured into this book and it showed on the pages. I almost didn’t want to finish this, I’d happily read another fifteen recounts of villains from Lawrence-Young’s perspective. Thank you again to Cranthorpe Millner for providing me with a copy of this, it was a wonderful read.

BOOK REVIEW: Dutch Girl by Robert Matzen

“When my mother wanted to teach me a lesson about life,’ said Luca Dotti, ‘she never used stories about her career. She always told stories about the war. The war was very, very important to her. It made her who she was.”

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

RATING: 4/5 ☆
AUTHOR: Robert Matzen
SYNOPSIS: “Twenty-five years after her passing, Audrey Hepburn remains the most beloved of all Hollywood stars, known as much for her role as UNICEF ambassador as for films like Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Several biographies have chronicled her stardom, but none has covered her intense experiences through five years of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. According to her son, Luca Dotti, “The war made my mother who she was.”
BUY THE BOOK HERE: Publishers Website / Amazon / Waterstones

Thank you to the publishers, Mirror Books, for sending me a copy of this to read!

This was an incredibly interesting and well detailed book about one of the most famous Hollywood stars, who I surprisingly knew little about. As I’m sure is the case with most people, I knew Audrey Hepburn for her iconic film roles and modelling career, I was briefly aware of her early life but nothing too remarkable struck me about it. Until I read this book.

Matzen details Hepburn’s life from her early childhood days, growing up under Nazi occupation and her struggle to live in these conditions. We learn about her family, who influenced her and how her early days shaped her entire existence. Although there’s no graphic detail, I appreciate that the horrors of war and trauma were not sugarcoated. Through the voice of Matzen, we learn how truly difficult life was for Hepburn and the stark contrast her final days were to most of her adolescent life. There wasn’t a dull moment, each story and each part of her life recounted was raw and real.

One comparison I found particularly harrowing was Hepburn’s comparison to Anne Frank. Although I have read Anne Frank’s Diary, I was unaware that she and Audrey were almost identical in age, appearance and situations. This is something that we learn haunts Hepburn for the rest of her life, how differently their lives turned out. Tinged with grief and survivors guilt, Hepburn struggles so much with this that she repeatedly turns down roles of playing Anne Frank in films for fear of reliving the experiences of war that hit too close to home for her. Personally, I found this to be one of the most pivotal points in the book, Matzen does a commendable job of telling us Hepburn’s trauma without glorifying it or doing a discredit to her memory.

The way he carefully recounts her entire life chronologically is appreciated, the book reads easily and not at one point did I feel confused or not understand where we were. The limited flash forwards are dropped into the book with precision and planning, they create a wider picture and help us, as readers, better understand why certain things end up affecting Hepburn the way they do. Learning that much of her early life lead to her becoming a humanitarian and a UNICEF ambassador helped to better understand her as a person, stripped back of all the Hollywood glamour. At the root of her character, we can see that she was like anyone else who lived through the war. Traumatised and haunted but brave and incredibly inspiring.

As someone who idolised Hepburn for years due to her roles on the screen, reading this only furthered my awe of this woman. Matzen does a wonderful job of telling her story as accurately and honestly as I’m sure she would have wanted. Coming away from this book I feel an overwhelming amount of emotions, mostly admiration for Hepburn who lived with her demons every day and still managed to do everything for others. I’m grateful to have read this and learned a little more about the icon that was Audrey Hepburn.

BOOK REVIEW: Hold on Edna! by Aneira Thomas

“The birth of the National Health Service – the UK’s greatest asset – coincided with the birth of one little girl in South Wales, Aneira ‘Nye’ Thomas, the first baby to be delivered by the NHS.”

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

RATING: 4/5 ☆
AUTHOR: Aneira Thomas
SYNOPSIS: “Nye’s story follows generations of her family who battled to survive before the NHS was launched, through to those who went on to dedicate their lives to working for the NHS – and also, ultimately, to be saved by it. An emotive, extraordinary and yet uplifting reminder of a time not so long ago, when the value of your life came down to how much you had in your pocket. It is a touching and entertaining human drama, but more importantly – a fierce defence of the most important accomplishment this country has ever and will ever achieve.”
BUY THE BOOK HERE: Publishers Website / Amazon

Thank you to the publishers, Mirror Books, for sending me a copy of this to read!

Right away, this book surprised me with the directness of the story telling. We’re thrown head first into this family’s history, straight to the moment of birth.

Starting off with such an adventurous beginning, there’s a risk the book could lose momentum. However, this isn’t the case. We’re carefully taken through the generations of Thomas’ family, each one is told with care and kindness that is so often missed in true story novels. Each person we’re introduced to is explained to us in detail, their characteristics and their personalities. The way they have been brought to life is incredibly well done, given that there must have been only stories and documentations to work off of.

There isn’t a dull moment in this memoir, something I believe is down to the captivating writing of Thomas. This could easily have fallen short or flat or felt too personal for the reader to connect to, but she makes these names familiar to us and in a way, we feel connected to them. Although this does fall prey to a few telltale signs of a debut author, such as over description or dramatisation in some parts, overall it reads very well. There’s isn’t any awkwardness to the writing, something I was surprised by. It’s clear that a lot of time, effort and love went into telling her family’s history.

The timing of this book is also impeccable. I’m sure Thomas wasn’t expecting her book to be released amidst a pandemic but it adds another layer of appreciation to this already heartwarming true story. While we’re reading about people suffering from injuries and illnesses that today would be a simple trip to the GP, it adds gravitas to the situation we’re all in. Those of us lucky enough to access the NHS realise how much of it we may have taken for granted, knowing that if we break our ankle we have somewhere to go where we’ll be treated, without it being a financial burden. I finished this book with a sense of ease, a welcome reminder that the NHS has always been there for me and will continue to do so. This was a brilliant debut novel and I’m grateful that I was given a chance to read it!