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#Bookreview UNSTOPPABLE: MY LIFE SO FAR by Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) (@@PenguinUKBooks) Not only for tennis lovers. A gripping story, of single-mindedness, determination, hard-work and love for the game.

Hi all:

Yes, this review is for a book that’s quite different from what I usually read but I enjoyed it.

Unstoppable: My Story So Far by Maria Sharapova
Unstoppable: My Story So Far by Maria Sharapova

Unstoppable: My Life So Far by Maria Sharapova

From Maria Sharapova, one of our fiercest female athletes, the captivating―and candid―story of her rise from nowhere to tennis stardom, and the unending fight to stay on top.

In 2004, in a stunning upset against the two-time defending champion Serena Williams, seventeen-year-old Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon, becoming an overnight sensation. Out of virtual anonymity, she launched herself onto the international stage. “Maria Mania” was born. Sharapova became a name and face recognizable worldwide. Her success would last: she went on to hold the number-one WTA ranking multiple times, to win four more Grand Slam tournaments, and to become one of the highest-grossing female athletes in the world.

And then―at perhaps the peak of her career―Sharapova came up against the toughest challenge yet: during the 2016 Australian Open, she was charged by the ITF with taking the banned substance meldonium, only recently added to the ITF’s list. The resulting suspension would keep her off the professional courts for fifteen months―a frighteningly long time for any athlete. The media suggested it might be fateful.

But Sharapova’s career has always been driven by her determination and by her dedication to hard work. Her story doesn’t begin with the 2004 Wimbledon championship, but years before, in a small Russian town, where as a five-year-old she played on drab neighborhood courts with precocious concentration. It begins when her father, convinced his daughter could be a star, risked everything to get them to Florida, that sacred land of tennis academies. It begins when the two arrived with only seven hundred dollars and knowing only a few words of English. From that, Sharapova scraped together one of the most influential sports careers in history.

Here, for the first time, is the whole story, and in her own words. Sharapova’s is an unforgettable saga of dedication and fortune. She brings us inside her pivotal matches and illuminates the relationships that have shaped her―with coaches, best friends, boyfriends, and Yuri, her coach, manager, father, and most dedicated fan, describing with honesty and affection their oft-scrutinized relationship. She writes frankly about the suspension. As Sharapova returns to the professional circuit, one thing is clear: the ambition to win that drove her from the public courts of Russia to the manicured lawns of Wimbledon has not diminished.

Sharapova’s Unstoppable is a powerful memoir, resonant in its depiction of the will to win―whatever the odds.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Unstoppable-My-Life-So-Far/dp/1846149843/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unstoppable-My-Life-So-Far-ebook/dp/B073W2TXJ4/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“’Maria Sharapova’s Unstoppable May Just Be the Best Part of Her Comeback Tour.’ . . . This is the bildungsroman of a controversial champion, a portrait of the athlete as an uncommonly driven young woman . . . It’s also a Horatio Alger–worthy tale of rags to riches, with a slightly nihilistic Russian twist. . . . Sharapova’s a careful observer, and Unstoppable is full of astute psychological insights.” ―Julia Felsenthal, Vogue

“Everybody ought to read it.” ―Pam Shriver, tennis champion and ESPN commentator

“A fascinating and well-written (with the help of Vanity Fair journalist Rich Cohen) insight into her struggles, triumphs, obsession with Williams, Russian pessimism and the roots of that famous haughtiness.” ―Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian

“Fiercely honest . . . a refreshing look at the tennis superstar’s rags-to-riches story.” ―Hamptons

“The surprisingly compelling Unstoppable is at its best when recounting Sharapova’s fraught early life . . . It’s apt that Sharapova recruited non-fiction master Rich Cohen as her collaborator here. It’s Cohen’s polish that elevates Unstoppable.” ―David Shaftel, The Financial Times

“A determined journey from the bitter cold and desolation of Siberia to the warm (at times burning) glow of international superstardom . . . All the big matches are relived in a speedy, engaging way, and her prose exudes confidence as she describes her ability to dominate her peers on the tour and how she came to be considered one of the greatest female players of the game. Her writing becomes more vulnerable, frustrated, and interesting when she explores her struggles with Serena

About the author:

Born in Nyagan, Russia, Maria Sharapova moved to the United States when she was seven years old. At seventeen, Sharapova beat Serena Williams to win Wimbledon. She reached the number-one world ranking at eighteen, and has held that ranking a number of times since. To date, she has won five Grand Slams. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I am not a big tennis fan. I was when I was much younger, for a number of years, but then most of the players I followed moved on, I was busy with other things, and although I’ve watched the odd match here and there, I don’t follow it closely any longer. When NetGalley suggested this book and I read the comments I was intrigued. And, from my reading experience, I’d say you don’t need to be a big tennis fan to enjoy this book, although I suspect it might be quite a different experience for those who love tennis more than I do.

Maria (Masha) Sharapova’s autobiography is the story of her rise to success (not quite a rag to riches story, but not far from it either), and one that stresses the importance of hard-work, determination, and single-mindedness. And yes, she does talk about the doping and the ban too. In fact, the book starts briefly with that and then goes back to the very beginning, when she started hitting balls with her father, Yuri, when she was four. The way she talks about hitting a ball and how it makes her feel calm and in control reminded me of meditation techniques. The adventures of little Maria (nobody could pronounce her Russian name in the USA) and her father once he decides she must train in the United States to become the best in the world are horrifying at times and they seem to have often been lucky coming across people who helped them for no reason at all (although perhaps seeing a little girl and her strange father lost in America might have moved people to offer some assistance).

Maria’s writing style is very matter-of-fact and she does not delve on feelings or personal matters too much. (Yes, she does talk about her life, she talks about her mother trying to get to America, and mention that she would talk to her on the phone once a week, but she does not elaborate on how she felt spending years away from her, other than to say how much better she felt when she finally joined them and reflection on the fact that you don’t realise how much you’ve missed somebody until you are reunited with them. Interestingly enough, in her acknowledgments, she thanks her mother first). She mentions friends every so often, but she’s very clear that she’s never wanted to make friends with anybody in the tennis circuit as that would have interfered with her performance when she faced them on the court. This seems to have been her attitude from very early on, and she reflects on how even when she was a pupil at a tennis academy she knew these girls would end up being her opponents in the future. She finds it impossible to believe that other players might have real friends in the tennis world, and it is difficult to know if she cannot believe anybody could see things differently, or perhaps she closed off her emotions to protect herself from a very young age and although it has helped her get where she wanted, there was a price to be paid. (She does write about being the odd one out in the tennis academy, having nothing, living hand-to-mouth and also about her wonder and amazement when she was invited to a big house for the first time. Yes, she talks about a tough life and it is not surprising she wanted to win and make things better).

There isn’t a lot of gossip either. She does talk about other tennis players, but mostly about the characteristics of their game and what that meant for her. Some of her descriptions are funny, bordering on the unkind, and she is very observant, at least when it comes to tennis. She does talk about a couple of boyfriends and some early crushes, but you won’t learn much about her romantic life from this book (it seems she’s been far too busy with her career, and she makes some interesting comments about genre and men finding it difficult to not be the most important thing in a woman’s life, that are hardly surprising but help give an insight into the life of female elite athletes). And then, she talks about Serena Williams. I’ve read quite a few reviews that comment on her attitude towards Serena. As mentioned above, I wonder if she sometimes ascribes to other people her own motivations. I am sure Serena was surprised and upset when she beat her at Wimbledon when she was only seventeen, but their record since has been pretty impressive for Serena (she’s won 17 out of the 19 matches they have played) and I’m sure Maria must have thought about this long and hard. I suspect if you’re a big fan of Serena Williams you might take issue with this book, but I think she’s trying to make sense of the results of their confrontations and to find some justification that does not involve only their respective playing styles.

The book is very good at illustrating what it takes to get to the top, even if you have the talent, how hard it is, and also, how difficult it is to remain there. As these elite athletes must start at a very young age, it is not only the individuals who work hard but also their parents. What effect that has on the child is a good question, and one without an easy answer. The writing style is conversational and one gets the feeling that this is probably how Maria writes and talks (she does quote from her diary at times). A word of warning. There are some swear words scattered around the pages, although I did not find it excessive (but I’ve read reviews mentioning it, so I guess I’m not as shockable as others).

I found it a compelling read, especially the early part of the book, and very difficult to put down. A fascinating story that makes for a great read, even if you’re not big tennis fans, and an intriguing woman I’m sure we’ll keep hearing about.

Some quotes from the book. (No spoiler, but the last one is the ending of the book).

Anyone can be composed and cool while winning, when everything is going according to plan. But how do you deal with a losing streak? That’s the big question —that’s what separates the professionals from the cautionary tales.

Because no one can be great every day. Can you get it done on the ugly days, when you feel like garbage and the tank is empty? That’s the question.

That’s how it has to be when you get a little older. You need to go twice as hard to look half as natural. You need to double your effort to get the same result. In other words, practice is everything.

Before all this happened I was thinking only about the finish line. How it would end, how I would make my exit. But I don’t think about that anymore. Now I think only about playing. As long as I can. As hard as I can. Until they take down the nets. Until they burn my rackets. Until they stop me…

From checking some of the reviews I’m aware the paper copies of the book include some pictures, but the ARC copy I got didn’t, so I can’t comment on those. Ah, I almost forgot, she believes in retail therapy as the answer to upsets and problems. Just in case you were wondering.

Thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Books UK, and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview CHILDHOOD AND DEATH IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND by Sarah Seaton (@penswordbooks) A sobering picture of the Victorian era and a must read for those interested in social history #socialhistory #VictorianHistory

Hi all:

Today I bring you a pretty hard book to read, not because of the writing style, but because of the subject.

Childhood & Death in Victorian England by Sarah Seaton
Childhood & Death in Victorian England by Sarah Seaton

Childhood and Death in Victorian England by Sarah Seaton.

In this fascinating book, the reader is taken on a journey of real life accounts of Victorian children, how they lived, worked, played and ultimately died. Many of these stories have remained hidden for over 100 years. They are now unearthed to reveal the hardship and cruel conditions experienced by many youngsters, such as a traveling fair child, an apprentice at sea and a trapper. The lives of the children of prostitutes, servant girls, debutantes and married women all intermingle, unified by one common factor – death.

Drawing on actual instances of Infanticide and baby farming the reader is taken into a world of unmarried mothers, whose shame at being pregnant drove them to carry out horrendous crimes yet walk free from court, without consequence. For others, they were not so lucky.

The Victorian children in this publication lived in the rapidly changing world of the Industrial Revolution. With the introduction of the New Poor Law in 1834 the future for some pauper children changed – but not for the better. Studies have also unearthed a religious sect known as the ‘Peculiar People’ and gives an insight into their beliefs.

This book is not recommended for those easily offended as it does contain graphic descriptions of some child murders, although not intended to glorify the tragedies, they were necessary to inform the reader of the horrific extent that some killers went to.

This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in the social history of the Victorian period.

https://www.amazon.com/Childhood-Death-Victorian-England-Seaton-ebook/dp/B073WGBR1H/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Childhood-Death-Victorian-England-Seaton-ebook/dp/B073WGBR1H/

https://www.amazon.com/Childhood-Death-Victorian-England-Seaton/dp/1473877024/

About the Author

Sarah Seaton has a Masters degree in Local and Regional History from the University of Nottingham. She taught the subject for Derbyshire County Council, The University of Nottingham and the WEA. Sarah is the author of The Derby Book of Days, The History of Greasley Parish Church, Nottinghamshire and War Time Memories of the Amber Valley* (*for Derbyshire County Council); she has regularly written articles in the Nottingham Post and is editor for the Nottinghamshire Local History Association’s The Nottinghamshire Historian magazine.

My review:

Thanks to Alex from Pen & Sword for providing me with a review paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

After working as a forensic psychiatrist for a number of years, I guess death and what brings it about is something I’ve given a fair amount of thought to. I have always been more interested in social history, and the everyday lives of people in other historical periods than I am about battles, war, etc. (I am intrigued by some of the people who get to make the decisions and fight in the battles, but not so much by the actual specifics). Old records being what they are, the adage about the two things that are certain in life, death and taxes, comes to mind. And although the subject of the book might appear particularly morbid, examining death records and other information about the deaths, in particular of children, tells us a great deal about what society was like at the time. Because what more important for the future of a nation than its children?

I live in quite an old village and one can find gravestones from three or four centuries back and I could not help but notice that many of those buried in the Victorian period were babies and very young children. Sometimes there were families who lost quite a number of children in quick succession. And although I had read about poor sanitation, deaths at birth, and illnesses of the period, and I knew that life for poor children was harder at the time, I had never spent much time reading about it. When I saw this book I felt perhaps it was time I did.

In the introduction, the author explains that she had a similar experience to mine. While researching newspapers and archives for another book, she came across many items about dead children and thought they deserved to have their stories told.

Although the book is respectful and tries to bring to light what the conditions were like, the nature of the material can make for a hard reading. I won’t go into details, but if you are very sensitive you might want to look away now or stop reading.

Seaton divides her book into five chapters.

Chapter one: Industrial Mishaps and Misdemeanours, brings home how hard life what for poor children, especially (but not only) orphans, children who ended up in the workhouse, and who were working from as young as four. And we’re not talking about easy jobs. They went to sea, working in fishing boats (yes, many drowned or were severely abused, beaten up and killed), the mines (opening and closing air shaft for hours on end, and quite a few died when there was flooding, some not far from where I live), textile factories (crushed by the machines), chimney sweeps (yes, no Mary Poppins romanticism here. Small kids could go up the chimneys easily and sometimes burn inside too)… The author notes that the laws changed, first increasing the age at what children were allowed to start working (the Ten Hour Bill in 1832 stated that no child under 9 could work and those under 18 should not work for longer than 10 hours per day and only 8 on Saturdays), and later insisting that all children should have access to education, and that helped avoid the worse of the abuse (that was not considered abuse at the time).

Chapter two: Accidents. It is strange to read this chapter and imagine a time when mothers might go out or go to work and leave their children under the care of another child, only a few years older than his or her charges, when children would play in a room with a live fire and no protection (there are a large number of deaths by fire), or would go out and play by a river and drown, or be run over.

Chapter three: Poverty, Paupers and Health, centres on matters of health, illnesses, poor diets, and also the fact that many illegitimate children were sent away to women who usually would take many children for money, feed them little or nothing, and keep what were called ‘baby farms’. At the time it was common to give children laudanum if they felt unwell, and many of them died of opium overdoses. As the author notes, while nowadays there are many services and programmes offering information and help to new mothers on how to bring up a child, and there is support in place, charities, welfare services, doctors and midwives who offer practical advice and support, that was not the case at the time, and even children from well-off families could die in circumstances that seem incredible to us now.

Chapter four: Manslaughter, Murder and Circumstantial Evidence, is a particularly hard one to read. The author notes that some of these crimes remind us that some things don’t change much and there are incidents that are remarkably similar to recent ones, but the chapter includes from murders where the criminal was clearly mentally disturbed, to others that caused outrage for their cruelty. At that point in history the police were becoming a better organised and official body and they were starting to use techniques that would allow them to trace evidence and use it to catch the criminals (newspapers used to wrap body parts with names or addresses on it feature prominently). This is a horrific chapter, but one that would be of interest to mystery writers considering setting their novels in this historical period.

Chapter five: Newborn and Early Infant Deaths. Many of these are the result of illegitimate births, with young mothers who usually had hidden their pregnancy and at the moment of birth got desperate, out of options and with no support. But there are also cases of women who offered their services ‘adopting’ children only to neglect them or actively kill them. It is of note that although newborn and infant deaths were very high at the time, very few of these were reported as homicides.

The author concludes that although at the beginning she talks about modern children having little freedom compared to their Victorian counterparts, we must acknowledge that the circumstances have changed for the better and now society puts a lot of emphasis on protecting children. There is the welfare state, better transportation, many of the illnesses that decimated children have disappeared or can be cured…  (Of course, the book looks at the subject in Victorian England, and the comparisons are to current circumstances in the UK. We all know not all societies are respectful of children’s lives even today).

This is a hard book to read. It does paint a sobering picture of the Victorian era, as it centres mostly on those whose stories were not important enough to make it into the big chronicles and the Historic books in capital letters. The author uses newspaper articles to illustrate the specific cases she chooses, but also archival materials. The book offers detailed accounts of the events, and reflects the opinion of the time, leaving most of the personal comments or interpretations to the beginning or end of the chapters, although she mostly lets the facts speak for themselves. We read witness testimonies, coroner’s reports, inquests, all fairly objectively reported, but the nature of the material makes it poignant.

The paperback version contains pictures, mostly illustrations from newspapers, but also photographs of the period and some modern ones of some of the locations, in black and white.

This is a well-researched book that would be of interest to people researching the social history of the Victorian period, particularly as it pertains to the treatment of children, to writers looking for background on the period, but it is not a light read or a standard history book of the era. It goes to show that truth can, and it often is, more terrifying than fiction.

Thanks very much to Pen & Sword and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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