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Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview Unmarried Women of the Country Estate: Four Stories from 17th-20th Century: Genteel Women Who Did Not Marry by Charlotte Furness (@penswordbooks) A different perspective into women’s history #women’s history

Hi all:

I bring you one of Pen & Sword’s non-fiction titles and a pretty special one. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Unmarried Women of the Country Estate: Four Stories from 17th-20th Century: Genteel Women Who Did Not Marry by Charlotte Furness

Unmarried Women of the Country Estate: Four Stories from 17th-20th Century: Genteel Women Who Did Not Marry by Charlotte Furness

As the fight for women’s rights continues, and whilst men and women alike push for gender equality around the globe, this book aims to introduce readers to four women who, in their own way, challenged and defied the societal expectations of the time in which they lived. Some chose to be writers, some were successful business women, some chose to nurture and protect, some travelled the globe, some were philanthropists. Each one made the conscious decision not to marry a man. Elizabeth Isham of Lamport Hall, Ann Robinson of Saltram, Anne Lister of Shibden Hall and Rosalie Chichester of Arlington Court. These are elite women, all connected to country houses or from noble families throughout the UK, and this book explores to what extent privilege gave them the opportunity to choose the life they wanted, thus guiding the reader to challenge their own beliefs about elite women throughout history. This book is unique in that it brings the stories of real historical women to light – some of which have never been written about before, whilst also offering an introduction to the history of marriage and societal expectations of women. Starting in 1609 and travelling chronologically up to 1949, with a chapter for each woman, this book tells their remarkable stories, revealing how strong, resilient and powerful women have always been.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Unmarried-Women-of-the-Country-Estate-Hardback/p/17955

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unmarried-Women-Country-Estate-17th-20th/dp/1526704382/

https://www.amazon.es/Unmarried-Women-Country-Estate-17th-20th/dp/1526704382/

https://www.amazon.com/Unmarried-Women-Country-Estate-17th-20th/dp/1526704382/

Author Charlotte Furness

About the author:

Charlotte Furness was born and raised in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. After completing a Bachelor Degree in English, and a Masters Degree in Country House Studies at the University of Leicester, she started a career in heritage, working for English Heritage and the trust-managed Lamport Hall. She has also worked at Harewood House, Temple Newsam House and Renishaw Hall.

Whilst working in this field, she has come across many stories which, unless told, would have been lost in the annals of time. She now works as a full-time writer and sees it as her mission to bring these forgotten stories to the attention of as many people as possible, to preserve them so that they can be enjoyed by generations to come.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Charlotte-Furness/e/B07DM3B4G3

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardcover ARC copy of this non-fiction book that I freely chose to review.

At a time when we are trying to recover the history and memories of women of the past, this book is a step in the right direction. It is particularly difficult to find information about working-class women, as they rarely had access to education and/or time to write their own stories. Well-off married women might have a bit more leisure and better access to education, although they are often constrained by the social roles they had to play as wives and mothers, but what about single women of means who didn’t get married? That is the question that Charlotte Furness tries to answer, not exhaustively but rather by choosing four “genteel” women who never got married, from the XVII to the XX century. As she explains, some have been subject to more research and are better known than others (although this is changing), but they also share the fact that they were attached to country states (either because they owned them or because they lived there their entire lives) and also that, luckily for us, they left plenty of written materials for us to peruse, be it letters, diaries, or even, as is the case for Rosalie Chichester, fiction and stories.

The author includes a section of acknowledgements, a note explaining her methodology, a list of plates (there are a number of black and white illustrations and photographs in the book, including portraits and photographs of the women, when available, and also of their relatives and the properties), an introduction where Furness talks about what marriage and married life was like in the periods covered, four chapters, one dedicated to each one of the women, a conclusion, a set of detailed notes (where extra information is provided), a select bibliography (for those who need to find out more), and an index.

The four women chosen are quite different, and the differences go beyond the historical period. Elizabeth Isham was deeply religious, battled with mental health difficulties (as did her mother and sister), and she clearly chose dedicating her life to her religious devotion rather than to a standard family life (there was even discussion about her marrying John Dryden at some point, so it definitely wasn’t due to a lack of prospects); Anne Robinson, stepped up and took on the duties of family life when her sister died, becoming the hostess of Saltram House for her brother-in-law and bringing up her niece and nephew; Anne Lister is a fascinating character, who always challenged the constraints of a woman’s role, took over the property and the business-side of things, and would have married her long-term companion, Ann Walker, if that had been possible at the time; while Rosalie Chichester fits more into the spinster image usually portrayed in fiction and movies: staying at home, living with her mother, involved in many local projects, looking after her animals, and leaving her property to the National Trust. But, she was also an eager traveller, kept detailed diaries, wrote fiction, and was passionate about protecting Arlington Court.

This is not a long book, but it manages to bring to life these four very different women, and, more importantly, tries to make sure we get to hear their own voices, rather than just read the interpretations others might have imposed on them. There are many things we don’t know about them, and, there is plenty more research to be done, but this is a great introduction for readers looking to learn about social history and the history of women from a different perspective.

I enjoyed learning about these four women, their lives, and their historical period, and I’d love to learn more about them. I recommend this book to people interested in women’s history, social history, also those interested in UK country properties, and, in general, readers of history looking for a different approach.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie Croft for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, and to keep reading, liking, clicking, sharing, and smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE OTHER MRS. SAMSON by Ralph Webster (@Ralph_Webster) Biographical historical fiction for fans of women’s stories and XIX and XX narratives #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you novel/fictionalised biography that I found fascinating. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

The Other Mrs. Samson by Ralph Webster

The Other Mrs. Samson by Ralph Webster

Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.

A hidden compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.

From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.

https://www.amazon.com/Other-Mrs-Samson-Ralph-Webster-ebook/dp/B08NYYWMHN/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Other-Mrs-Samson-Ralph-Webster-ebook/dp/B08NYYWMHN/

https://www.amazon.es/Other-Mrs-Samson-Ralph-Webster-ebook/dp/B08NYYWMHN/

Author Ralph Webster

About the author:

Award-winning author Ralph Webster received worldwide acclaim for his first book, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other, which tells the story of his father’s flight from the Holocaust. Voted by readers as a Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards Nominee for Best Memoir/Autobiography, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other, his second book, One More Moon, and now his third book, The Other Mrs. Samson, are proven book club selections for thought-provoking and engaging discussions. Whether in person or online, Ralph welcomes and values his exchanges with readers and makes every effort to participate in conversations about his books. Now retired, he lives with his wife, Ginger, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the U.S.

Please contact Ralph via his websites to schedule via Zoom, Skype, or in person for your book club.

https://www.amazon.com/Ralph-Webster/e/B01HRYKN9Y/

https://ralphwebster-author.com/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I was provided an ARC copy of the novel I freely chose to review. Well, I’m not sure “novel” is the best word to define this book, but more on that, later.

As the description of the book suggests, this is the story of two women, told by them, although somewhat indirectly. This is one of those books (they are also quite a few movies, mostly adaptations of novels), which follow similar plots, or use a similar “frame” to tell a story: somebody finds a book, diary, collection of letters, etc., sometimes belonging to a parent, another relative, a friend, sometimes to somebody they’ve never met, and then, as if in a long flashback, we get to hear (or see) the story of that other person. Most of these stories tend to include some secret or major revelation towards the end, which casts a new light on the characters and their lives. In this book, a couple have inherited a piece of furniture (a lacquered cabinet) from an elderly woman they met through one of their relatives (they had been friends for decades and met regularly to have lunch and share news), and whom they became friendly with after their relative’s passing. By pure chance, they discover a secret drawer in the cabinet and inside there are (with some extra bits) two diaries/documents narrating the stories of two women who’d been married to the same man at very different moments in time (and also at very different historical periods). What makes the book particularly interesting is that in the acknowledgments’ section, the author talks about the process of development of the book, the help he got translating letters, etc., and also the fact that he changed some names, so this is not a work of fiction in its entirety, but rather a fictionalisation of the lives of two women. This makes sense, especially considering that the author (whose work I hadn’t read before) is well known for his work writing/adapting memoirs and biographies. The note doesn’t clarify how much of the content is fictionalised, but I found the category of biographical historical fiction that the book is classed under more than appropriate.

What I most liked about the book is the historical sweep and the amount of detail about the periods it covers, and also the two main characters (or the two narrators, to be more specific), Hilda and Katie. As Hilda’s narration also includes details about her grandparents and her parents, we get treated to a chronicle of life from the early XIX century in Germany —the immigration of her ancestors to the United States (and San Francisco in particular) from old Europe, a description of her own life as a well-off debutante and a young woman —through to the late XIX and early XX century. We hear about the fires, the earthquake, we read about what travelling was like, and also about Hilda’s visits to Germany and her contact with a distant cousin who would become her husband, Josef. She moves to Germany, totally changing her husband’s life, and acknowledges her difficulties adapting to a new place, to living with somebody else, and also, later, describes how their life is affected by WWI. Hilda can be spoilt and whimsical, but she is determined to have her own life and not to simply become a doctor’s wife. Katie, on the other hand, is much younger than her husband, her social circumstances and education are very different to those of Josef (and Hilda) and they first meet while she is looking after his elderly mother. This takes place much later (in the late 1920s-early 1930s), and we follow her through a somewhat odd courting, then she joins him in France (he is Jewish and leaves Germany soon after Hitler comes into power), and she adapts her life to his, following him in his increasingly desperate attempts to leave Europe. The two narratives are in the first person, and Hilda and Katie have pretty different personalities which clearly come across in their parts of the story. While Hilda is more expressive and outgoing, Katie has seen a lot of suffering from a very young age, prefers quiet pursuits, and is happy to try to fit in with others and avoid confrontation.

This is a book full of little details that play important parts in the story, objects that come to symbolise aspects of the relationship of the two women with their husbands and also illustrate their personalities (while Hilda doesn’t get on with Josef’s mother and insists on standing her ground, Katie adapts to Josef’s mother’s somewhat overbearing personality and becomes a beloved companion of the old woman; Hilda dislikes the piano seat Josef can’t bear to part with but only convinces him to reupholster it, while Katie convinces him to get a two-seater piano bench; Katie’s father gives her a clock that becomes a stand-in for the past and for old memories and times). As we read the story we come to realise that Josef’s life has changed little, and we can’t help but wonder about the story of these women and about the man himself. There is a twist at the end, which helps explain some things, but it leaves as many questions unanswered as it solves.

I am not sure that there is anything I dislike about the book. By its own nature and the way the story is narrated, there is a lot of telling, but the stories told are so fascinating that I didn’t mind at all, and other than the occasional German word (which is usually translated or explained in the text), the text is easy to read with no sudden jumps in point of view or chronology, apart from the framing story. Katie’s account will, perhaps, be more familiar to readers, as there has been an upsurge in stories about WWII, and I know some readers didn’t feel that part quite matched the intensity of the other, but I was intrigued by the character, her relationship with her husband and her attitude towards life (although I don’t have much, if anything, in common with her). Of course, readers who dislike telling or like elaborate plots that move the story along without a pause might feel frustrated by the story and the style of the narrative, but I liked the way the two stories fitted together and felt the technique used to tell the story is well suited to the material.

I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in XIX and XX century German and American History, to people who enjoy biographies and/or fictionalised biographies, and particularly to those who like to read about women’s lives in the past. If you’re looking for a page-turner full of sensational adventures and larger-than-life characters, on the other hand, this is not the book for you. I look forward to discovering more of the author’s book and will follow his career with interest.

 Thanks to the author for the book, thanks to Rosie and to the members of the team for their ongoing support, thanks to all of you for reading, and make sure you keep safe. ♥

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview A History of Women’s Lives in Eastbourne by Tina Brown (@penswordbooks) Informative, entertaining, inspiring, and part of an important series #UKHistory

Hi all:

I bring you a book for those of you interested in non-fiction and women’s history.

Cover of A History of Women's Lives in Eastbourne by Tina Brown
A History of Women’s Lives in Eastbourne by Tina Brown

A History of Women’s Lives in Eastbourne by Tina Brown

The south east coastal town of Eastbourne is probably best known today for being a popular seaside holiday resort, frequented by the retired generation. It has long, golden beaches and a gentile pace of life and, from that point of view, little has really changed from the mid 1850’s to today. However, for the women of the town and their advancements and achievements, a significant period was between 1850 and 1950, when changes in medicine, education, family life and the right to vote played an important part in their lives. The First and Second World Wars also brought about their own changes and challenges. A History of Women’s Lives in Eastbourne delves deep into these historical subjects and more.

Links:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/A-History-of-Womens-Lives-in-Eastbourne-Paperback/p/15918

https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Womens-Lives-Eastbourne/dp/1526716194/

https://www.amazon.com/History-Womens-Lives-Eastbourne/dp/1526716194/

https://www.amazon.es/History-Womens-Lives-Eastbourne/dp/1526716194/

About the author:

Tina Brown lives and works in East Sussex and runs a business researching and organising historical experiences and guided tours around the area. She has published numerous historical books on her home town of Hastings and is currently working on further titles. Tina is passionate about history and the social changes which have helped to shape how we live today. During the research for this book Tina has spoken with many people who were able to share stories handed down through their families and gather details of the lives of the women who made Eastbourne what is it today. Tina has visited locations, searched archives and interviewed people to try and gain an understanding of what life was like during 1850-1950 for the women of the town.

(Just to clarify matters, the author is not the same Tina Brown who has written about Princess Diana and lives in New York, because when I checked her name on Amazon the other author’s books also came up).

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

This book is one of a series about Women’s Lives, and I recommend you check Pen & Sword’s website if you are interested in a particular city or area, as a large number of books have already been published and you’re likely to find a relevant one (or one might be on the making). I had been intrigued by the collection for a while and finally requested this one because my first job as a junior doctor was in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in the South East of England, I remained in the area for quite a few years and although I visited museums and talked to people about the place, I didn’t learn much about the role of local women and their lives in the past.

Eastbourne felt quite different to what I was used to when I first moved there, with its gentile atmosphere, the seafront, the fancy (if somewhat old-fashioned) hotels, the Victorian pier, and the natural beauty of the Downs and Beachy Head. As the author explains in the description, the book centres on the lives of women from 1850 to 1950, and it also offers a brief but useful background into the history of the period. Although this will not cover new ground for history experts, it will help casual readers place the lives of these local women in context, and it contains gems specific to the local history and to the women´s social history, and it also incorporates previously unpublished personal accounts and those narrated by relatives and friends of women who had lived in the area.

The book is divided into an introduction, seven chapters, a brief bibliography (a good starting point but not too lengthy or detailed), a section of acknowledgments, and an index. The book also includes pictures and illustrations, some belonging to the personal archives of some of the women mentioned, and also postcards and landscapes of the area. I highlighted many details I found interesting as I read it, and I thought I’d share some of those to give you an idea of the kinds of things you might find in this book (and probably others in the series). Chapter One, Education and Professional Life includes, like other chapters, brief biographies of some local women (either women born in Eastbourne or who lived there for significant periods of time), such as Emily Phipps, who studied for the bar and later moved into teaching. She was said to live by this saying: ‘If you make yourself a doormat, do not be surprised if people tread on you’, and Rosalie Harvey, a medical missionary worker, who helped over 1500 sick people, many children and babies, and animals.

Chapter 2, Working Life, included a mention of the life of female smugglers in Eastbourne, the way the people from town helped families affected by WWI, and the touching story of a woman whose biological father was a Canadian soldier in WWII whom she never got to meet, who considered herself lucky because her mother’s husband (who was also a soldier and away for most of the war) accepted her as if she were his own child, and in fact she never discovered she wasn’t his until she was 22.  One of the biographies included in this chapter is that of writer and journalist Angela Carter, who was born in Eastbourne.

Chapter 3, Family Life: ‘Home Sweet Home’, highlights how society’s rules and political laws curtailed women’s freedom in all aspects of life, even when it came to dress and fashion. Getting a divorce was very difficult for women, even after changes in the law in the late 1850s and in the 1920s.  Having recently read a book about Lady Astor and her penchant for fashion, I found out in this chapter that Queen Victoria wore a headdress made of bird feathers in 1851 and that sprung a fashion (and resulted in the deaths of a very large number of birds). Reading about the change brought to the lives of women by a minor invention, such as the electric iron, made me reflect upon how hard tasks that might seem easy now were for our ancestors. This chapter also includes imaginative and resourceful war-time recipes, and it mentions the good reputation of Eastbourne schools and, in particular, Eastbourne College (a wonderful building I lived quite close to for a while).

Chapter 4, Quality of Life, talks about the changes brought by the NHS, efforts in welfare, and reforms to the workhouse, and the important role women played in those.

Chapter 5, Social Life, is one of my favourites, and includes some gems, such as the fact that nearby, in Bexhill-on-Sea (where I also worked) in 1901, male and female bathers were allowed to mix in the same beach for the first time. The chapter talks in detail about the Eastbourne Pier (I only knew some details of its history and had heard about the controversy caused by its recent refurbishment, but I haven’t seen it since, so I dare not comment); it also mentions the well-known female tennis tournament at Devonshire Park, and I was very taken by the brief biography of Emily Mary Shackleton, who moved to Eastbourne, and when her famous husband died during one of his expeditions, was left to fend for herself with a considerable debt to settle. She worked tirelessly for the Red Cross and became divisional commissioner for the Girl Guides of Eastbourne. The Luxor cinema was before my time, but from the description, I would love to have seen it, and it had a Compton Organ, a fantastic instrument I was lucky to get to hear at the Penistone Paramount (don’t miss it if you are anywhere near).

Chapter 6, Political Life, places an emphasis on the local suffragist movement and some of the women who took part, including some of their heart wrenching accounts of being imprisoned and going on hunger strike, the way the attempts at reforming gender discriminatory laws were received, the first women mayors of the area, and such puzzling things as the fact that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children wasn’t formed until 1891, almost seventy years after the formation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Chapter 7, Spiritual and Religious Life, talks not only about the churches in Eastbourne, how new denominations became more popular as time passed, and also how the churches started organising social events, clubs, and activities for all ages. This chapter also includes mentions of three ghosts: the redoubt fortress one, the one at Devonshire Park Theatre, and two nurse ghosts at the All Saints Hospital. I have heard about some of them, and considering the author has written books on that topic, I would take it on good authority.

I enjoyed the combination of general history with local events, the biographies of the local women, and, especially, the personal accounts of women who had lived in Eastbourne at the time and shared their experiences (or those passed on by their relatives) with the author. As I have said before, those are the kinds of details that help history come to life and make us understand what a period was truly like, not for politicians and royals, but for the people in the street.

As this is the first book I read in the series, I cannot compare it to others, and I know each one of the volumes is written by a local historian, so their approaches might be quite different. Mine was an early review copy, and I’m sure there will have been changes in the final version, but my only recommendation, based on the copy I had access to, would be to ensure that the biographies are clearly marked as separate from the rest of the text (by using a different type of letter or by encasing them in a box, for example), as currently they are interspersed with the rest of the content of the chapter, and it is not always easy to tell where one finishes and the other one starts again. Some of the topics overlap with each other and that makes the chapters perfect for reading independently, although it results in similar content being mentioned in several chapters when the book is read in one go, but I did not find this a major problem.

I enjoyed this book, which is informative, entertaining, and inspiring, and includes enough information about the general and social history of the period to be suitable for any readers, even those who don’t generally read history. At the same time it contains a wealth of information on the local history of women in Eastbourne, which will satisfy those trying to get a picture of the era, be it for personal interest, research, or as part of an ongoing project (Writers, I’m looking at you). I recommend this title to anybody interested in any of those aspects, and I will be checking other titles in the series.

Thanks to Rosie and the author, thanks to all of your for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (@Tracy_Chevalier) (@BoroughPress) An accurate look at the lot of a woman in England between the wars, recommended to lovers of historical fiction, needlework, and cathedrals

Hi all:

I bring you a novel by an author who’s fast becoming one of my favourites. I hope you enjoy the review as much as I enjoyed the book.

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

If she was to make a mark on the world, she would have to do so in another way…

‘Told with a wealth of detail and narrative intensity’ Penelope Lively

‘I loved it. So compelling and warm and subtle, and very moving’ Bridget Collins

‘Deeply touching … careful, beautiful’ Louisa Young

It is 1932, and the losses of the First World War are still keenly felt.

Violet Speedwell, mourning for both her fiancé and her brother and regarded by society as a ‘surplus woman’ unlikely to marry, resolves to escape her suffocating mother and strike out alone.

A new life awaits her in Winchester. Yes, it is one of draughty boarding-houses and sidelong glances at her naked ring finger from younger colleagues; but it is also a life gleaming with independence and opportunity. Violet falls in with the broderers, a disparate group of women charged with embroidering kneelers for the Cathedral, and is soon entwined in their lives and their secrets. As the almost unthinkable threat of a second Great War appears on the horizon Violet collects a few secrets of her own that could just change everything…

Warm, vivid and beautifully orchestrated, A Single Thread reveals one of our finest modern writers at the peak of her powers.

https://www.amazon.es/Single-Thread-globally-bestselling-Earring-ebook/dp/B07NKWK95D/

https://www.amazon.com/Single-Thread-globally-bestselling-Earring-ebook/dp/B07NKWK95D/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Single-Thread-globally-bestselling-Earring-ebook/dp/B07NKWK95D/

Author Tracy Chevalier
Author Tracy Chevalier

About the author:

Tracy is the author of nine novels, including the international bestseller GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, which has sold over 5 million copies and been made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. American by birth, British by geography, she lives in London with her husband and son. Her latest novel, AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD, is set among the apple trees in Ohio and the redwoods and sequoias of California. Her next book NEW BOY is a re-telling of Othello, set in a Washington DC playground in the 1970s. It’s part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project in which various writers take a Shakespeare play and write what Jeanette Winterson described as a “cover version.” Tracy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has honorary doctorates from her alma maters Oberlin College and the University of East Anglia. Her website www.tchevalier.com will tell you more about her and her books.

https://www.amazon.com/Tracy-Chevalier/e/B000APQH6G/

My review:

I thank NetGally and The Borough Press (Harper Collins) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely decided to review.

I only came to Chevalier’s books quite late (I hadn’t read any of her novels until I caught up with At the Edge of the Orchard, which I loved and whose review you can read here), but I’m fast becoming a fan of her way of bringing history to life and immersing us in worlds that many of us might know little or nothing of and managing to grab our attention and to teach us invaluable facts at the same time. This novel is no different. Although we revisit a historical period that is much closer than those she has visited in other books (the story takes place in the UK the early part of the XX century, in between wars), once we get into the story, we soon discover that things have changed more than we might realise. The social mores of the era seem light years away from ours (although perhaps not everywhere and not for everybody), and, although told in the third person through the eyes of the narrator, Violet Speedwell, we learn what being a single woman (‘a surplus woman’ as the novel explains) was like at the time.

Violet, the protagonist, is not the most glamorous and exciting character I’ve come across. She is not special in any way, and that is what makes her story particularly representative of the period. As she often observes, there were many women who had lost male relatives, husbands or fiancées (she lost her older brother and her fiancée) during the Great War, and this generation of women are struggling to find a place for themselves. Some might go on to marry, but others… what kind of life awaits them? Although the style of writing is completely different, the sharp social observations put me in mind of Jane Austen and her novels. (Of course, Jane Austen is buried at Winchester Cathedral, so it all seems to fit). Violet leads a life where she is always conscious of other people’s opinion, of what her mother will think, of what will happen to her in the future (will she end up having to go to live with her younger brother and become the spinster aunt to his children?), of whose company she keeps… And once she leaves her mother’s house and goes to work and live in Winchester, she even has to be careful of how much she eats, as her salary won’t allow for any luxuries or even a hot meal per day. She is far from a conformist and has her moments of rebellion (she has her sherry men), but she is not open-minded or up in arms, at least not when we first meet her. By chance (and due to her love for Winchester Cathedral, inherited from her father, the most significant person in her life) she discovers the broderers, a group of women dedicated to enhancing the cathedral with their embroidery (when you read the author’s note you discover that the group existed and its main character, Louisa Pestel, was a historical figure whose archives are now at the University of Leeds), and although she knows little of embroidery, the thought of making a contribution to such a building and leaving her mark drives her to join in. Although not all is goodwill and camaraderie in the group, it changes Violet’s life, and she and us, readers, meet many other characters that give the story its depth and a strong sense of place and historical truth.

I love the way the author introduces details of embroidery (needlepoint), bell ringing, the history of Winchester Cathedral, and even the landscape of the city and the surrounding area, into the novel seamlessly, without making us feel as if we were reading a touristic guide or a history book. (She brings together all the threads like a skilled embroiderer herself). She is also proficient at descriptions that enlighten without becoming repetitive or overbearing. I get the feeling that she would be an incredible teacher and she’s hold her students enraptured by her words, the same as she does her readers.

The characters are recognisable as types, but they manage to surprise us as well, and the little details she mentions about them and about their behaviours and reactions make them true and genuine, even those who don’t feature prominently in the story. As the story is told from Violet’s point of view we sometimes get biased opinions about the characters, but we also get to see how she changes her perspective when she gains a new understanding of what life might be like for others, and we share in her progressive enlightenment and her new (and more generous) view of things. By the end of the novel, Violet is a totally new person and her life has changed beyond all recognition. Is it a happy ending? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of happiness, but she’s sure come into her own, and I enjoyed it. Do read it and see what you think!

I thought I’d share a few quotes from the book, to give you an idea of what you might find. (I recommend you check a sample of the novel to see if it’s a good fit, and remind you that I accessed an ARC copy, so there might be some changes in the final published version).

Women always studied other women, and did so far more critically than men ever did.

An invisible web ran amongst the women, binding them fast to their common cause, whatever that might be.

It was expected of women like her —unwed and unlikely to— to look after their parents.

She was from an era when daughters were dutiful and deferential to their mothers, at least until they married and deferred to their husbands —not that Mrs Speedwell had ever deferred much to hers.

This is neither a page turner, nor a book for those who love non-stop action. There are adventures and surprises, but those are not earth-shattering but rather in keeping with the main character and her milieu. This is a story centred on the everyday life of a woman in the early 1930s in England, at a time when the country was starting to recover from a war, and people were already worried about the events taking place in Germany. It is a novel about how far women have come (at least in the West) or not, about how some things don’t change easily, about the small acts of rebellion and about finding your own place, about being creative in your own way (both the broderers and the bell ringers made me think of Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Garden), and about ensuring your voice is heard. It is a novel of manners for the XXI Century, and much, much more. I was enchanted and entranced by it, and I recommend it to people interested in Women’s History, UK recent history, the social history of the interwar period, embroidery, bell-ringing, Winchester Cathedral, and good writing.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for her fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview ALL THINGS GEORGIAN: TALES FROM THE LONG EIGHTEENTH CENTURY by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden (@penswordbooks) A beautiful gift for anybody who enjoys Georgian history and art #non-fiction

Hi all:

I bring you a book for those of you who love beautifully illustrated books and the Georgian period.

All Things Georgian: Tales From The Long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden
All Things Georgian: Tales From The Long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

All Things Georgian: Tales From The Long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Take a romp through the long eighteenth-century in this collection of 25 short tales.

Marvel at the Queen’s Ass, gaze at the celestial heavens through the eyes of the past and be amazed by the equestrian feats of the Norwich Nymph. Journey to the debauched French court at Versailles, travel to Covent Garden and take your seat in a box at the theatre and, afterwards, join the mile-high club in a new-fangled hot air balloon.

Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals as we travel through the Georgian era in all its glorious and gruesome glory.

In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1730 and set within the framework of the main events of the era, these tales are accompanied by over 100 stunning color illustrations.

https://www.amazon.com/All-Things-Georgian-Eighteenth-Century/dp/1526744619/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/All-Things-Georgian-Eighteenth-Century/dp/1526744619/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/All-Things-Georgian-Hardback/p/15786

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden
Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

About the authors:

About Joanne Major

Joanne is Lincolnshire born and bred. Originally from the north of the county, she now lives in a village to the south of Lincoln where she happily spends most days half in the present and half in the Georgian era, with an occasional foray into the world of the Victorians. A genealogist of 25-years standing, Joanne, together with Sarah, became distracted from the people she was researching and stumbled accidentally into the path of an eighteenth-century courtesan. Life hasn’t been the same since.

https://www.amazon.com/Joanne-Major/e/B01AY78JWO/

About Sarah Murden

Sarah was living in Hampshire when she first met Joanne via an online genealogy forum. Sarah is slightly more of a ‘nomad’, originally from Nottinghamshire, then moving to the Peak District where she lived for over 20 years, followed by Hampshire for 12 years, she now enjoys the quiet life in a small village in rural Lincolnshire. Having studied Humanities but focusing mainly on history, Sarah has a passion for the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries and could quite happily have lived in the eighteenth-century (only if very wealthy of course!). Together with Joanne she is the joint author of these compelling biographies, the two brought together through their shared passion for history and genealogy.

Joanne and Sarah share a blog, All Things Georgian, where they publish twice weekly with a wide remit of writing about ‘anything and everything’ connected to the Georgian era. Expect everything from extra and exclusive information relating to their biography to articles about false bums and tums (fashion victims are nothing new!) and local murder mysteries. If it grabs their attention, then they hope it will interest their readers too. Nothing is off limits!

https://www.amazon.com/Sarah-Murden/e/B01AY6NUZ6/

And here you can find their blog, All Things Georgian:

https://georgianera.wordpress.com/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

This book would make a perfect present for anybody who loves history and historical anecdote, especially from the Georgian era. There are elements that make it useful for reference (it includes family trees for the Hanover House and for the Stuarts, who were also pretenders to the crown; there is a timeline of the main events, covering the whole era [from 1714, when George I’s reign began, to 1830, when George IV died], a map of the UK highlighting all the towns and locations later mentioned in the book, and a detailed bibliography at the back of the book, listing the sources the authors have used to compile each one of the 25 chapters). This is a beautiful book, full of colour illustrations, that would delight art lovers (there are landscapes highlighting the settings of many of the stories and also, portraits of public figures, aristocrats, and other people who are the protagonists of the stories, some by famous artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds), as well as drawings and cartoons of the period, which help set the stories in their context.

As the authors explain in the introduction, the period has long fascinated people, and not only historians, because it was a quickly evolving era and many events that would change the world took place around this time: the French and the American Revolutions, Napoleon’s rise and fall, technological advances and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and many scientific discoveries as well. The book does not cover the whole era in detail, as it would be impossible, and instead choses to pick up some specific events and historical figures that help highlight different aspects of the time, and manage to create a good picture of the era as a whole.

Although the content of the book mostly centres on events in the UK, there are also a couple of chapters dedicated to French characters (notably one to the attempted escape by Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, to Varennes), and the protagonists do range far and wide, including people from all walks of life. To my delight, there are many episodes dedicated to women (we have male impersonators [probably!], smugglers (high-ranking, as it seems that attempts at keeping the purchases of fine clothing limited to British manufacture made ladies turn very resourceful), actresses, jockeys, astronomers (Caroline Herschel’s story is fascinating), ladies taking to the air in balloons (I have a book on the subject, and I can’t wait to read it), a female bonesetter, a con woman…  There are plenty of men as well, of course, and curious episodes, like that of the Brighton’s travelling windmill, or Queen Anne’s zebra, and some darker happenings, like the assassination attempts on the king’s life, or the trade in dead bodies the resurrection men were involved in.

The authors, who are clearly experts in the subject (and, as mentioned above, have a blog called All Things Georgian, as well), write in a conversational style, and as we read the chapters, it feels as if they were talking about people they knew personally (the same way others would talk about their relatives, or current celebrities), adding titbits of information and connections to other relevant characters as they spin their tale.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the Georgian era, even if the interest is only in passing. The illustrations are an added bonus, and the stories are so varied that most readers will find topics to their liking that will merit further research. This is not a book that will solve the doubts of people wanting to learn everything there is about the Georgian period, but it is a great appetizer, and will provide hours of entertainment and plenty of material for conversation. Don’t forget to check the authors’ other books if you are interested in the subject.

Thanks so much to Rosie and to the authors, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview SUFFRAGETTES (IMAGES OF THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES) by Lauren Willmott (@penswordbooks) #womenshistory

Hi all:

I bring you another book by Pen & Sword, and one that I feel remains very relevant. Re-reading the history of the UK suffragettes and the movement to get votes for women, I could not help but notice similarities with the current situation. The struggle is far from over, but we must always remember those who came before. (Oh, and I couldn’t help also notice similarities with some political events and situations taking place in my country right now, but that isn’t relevant to the book so… I’ll keep my peace).

Suffragettes-Images-of-the-National-Archives-by-Lauren-Willmott
Suffragettes (Images of the National Archives) by Lauren Willmott

Suffragettes (Images of the The National Archives) by Lauren Willmott

1918 was a watershed moment for the development of British democracy: for the first time, some women could vote. The occasion marked the culmination of a fifty-year long, arduous struggle of thousands of women and men up and down the country.

Using unique documents and images held at The National Archives, we will delve into the world of suffrage and trace the journey of these thousands of individuals, fighting to achieve women’s rights in a man’s world, and how they were ultimately able to emerge largely victorious.

https://www.amazon.com/Suffragettes-Images-National-Archives-Willmott/dp/1526729458/

https://www.amazon.com/Suffragettes-Images-National-Archives-Willmott-ebook/dp/B07RL28MGD/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Suffragettes-Images-National-Archives-Willmott-ebook/dp/B07RL28MGD/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Images-of-The-National-Archives-Suffragettes-Paperback/p/15598

About the author:

Lauren spent four years at The National Archives as a records specialist. She has an active interest in gender history, and particularly the changing role of women in British society from the Victorian era to the Second World War. She now works as a curator in a major national museum.

My review:

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

This is one of the types of books this publisher excels at. Experts on a topic with good access to images and visual resources create an informative and compelling narrative of a historically important subject or event, combining easy to read accounts with pictures and documents relevant to the matter that help make it more vivid and memorable in our minds.

In this case, the images of The National Archives about the Suffragettes serve to illustrate the story of the movement in the UK. The fact that the author was a records specialist at the National Archives is evident, as she wisely chooses, from what must be a large selection of material, a variety of documents: comic and cartoon images (of the disparaged “new woman”, wearing trousers or bloomers, ignoring her children, and smoking!), pictures of the women involved (including a fascinating one of Evelyn Manesta, or rather two, one showing clearly that she refused to have her picture taken and therefore somebody was holding her from the back, and then the manipulated version of it, where the person behind her had been removed. No Photoshop yet, but photo manipulation even in the early XX century was already in existence), letters from the women complaining about the conditions in prison, or the fact that they were treated like common criminals, a wonderful image of a boycotted census form, from 1911, with a handwritten note (No persons here, only women!), a picture from 4th June 1913, at Epsom, the Derby Races, where we can see Emily Wilding Davison after being trampled by a horse and another picture of her funeral procession, images of the destruction caused when things escalated…

These wonderful —scary, moving, and incredible, at times— images are accompanied by a brief history of the movement for the women’s vote in the UK. The book is short (under 100 pages) and therefore this is not a very detailed account, but as an introduction to the topic it works well, as it includes the antecedents (how married women had been fighting to try to keep their property for decades, and how they became more and more frustrated on seeing how other countries in “the colonies” like New Zealand and Australia passed more advanced legislation an introduced women’s vote before the UK did), the development of the different associations (Manchester and the Pankhurst women play an important role), their initial peaceful tactics, their focus on deeds and increase in the visibility of their actions, imprisonment, hunger strikes, the pause during WWI (which not everybody was in agreement with), and the final achievement of some sort of vote after the war (in 1918, only for women over 30 who were property owners or married to property owners. It would take 10 years to normalise the situation). The summary is well-written and it is fairly comprehensive, considering the length of the book, although it won’t tell experts anything they didn’t already know.

Although the images include the archival reference, I missed a bibliography, a list of illustrations and an index, but otherwise I found the book great for reference, also as a book to complement a collection for those interested in the topic and a good introduction for people looking for an informative and easy to read account.

If readers are interested in knowing more about the Suffragettes and the efforts to achieve women’s vote in the UK, especially in a particular city or region, I recommend checking the publisher’s website, as they are continually updating their collection Struggle and Suffrage in… (which includes already many cities and counties: Manchester, Leeds, Wales…), and they have other books looking at some of the figures involved in the fight as well. I plan on talking about some of those soon.

Thanks to Rosie and Pen & Sword, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling. Ah, and never forget!

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#Bookreview BAD GIRLS FROM HISTORY: WICKED OR MISUNDERSTOOD? by Dee Gordon (@penswordbooks) Brief biographies of fascinating women, ideal to dip in and be inspired to learn more. #Women’shistory

Hi all:

Now I’m getting behind not only with my reading but also with the posting of reviews (by the time you read this I might be publishing more reviews per week, to keep up), but that isn’t a bad thing, is it?

Bad Girls from History. Wicked or Misunderstood? By Dee Gordon
Bad Girls from History. Wicked or Misunderstood? By Dee Gordon

Bad Girls from History: Wicked or Misunderstood? By Dee Gordon

You won’t be familiar with every one of the huge array of women featured in these pages, but all, familiar or not, leave unanswered questions behind them. The range is extensive, as was the research, with its insight into the lives and minds of women in different centuries, different countries, with diverse cultures and backgrounds, from the poverty-stricken to royalty. Mistresses, murderers, smugglers, pirates, prostitutes, and fanatics with hearts and souls that feature every shade of black (and grey!). From Cleopatra to Ruth Ellis, from Boudicca to Bonnie Parker, from Lady Caroline Lamb to Moll Cutpurse, from Jezebel to Ava Gardner.

Less familiar names include Mary Jeffries, the Victorian brothel-keeper, Belle Starr, the American gambler, and horse thief, La Voisin, the seventeenth-century Queen of all Witches in France but these are random names, to illustrate the variety of the content in store for all those interested in women who defy law and order, for whatever reason.

The risqué, the adventurous and the outrageous, the downright nasty and the downright desperate all human (female!) life is here. From the lower strata of society to the aristocracy, class is not a common denominator. Wicked? Misunderstood? Nave? Foolish? Predatory? Manipulative? Or just out of their time? Read and decide.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bad-Girls-History-Wicked-Misunderstood-ebook/dp/B0772QGVDY/

https://www.amazon.com/Bad-Girls-History-Wicked-Misunderstood-ebook/dp/B0772QGVDY/

Author Dee Gordon
Author Dee Gordon

About the author:

Dee Gordon is passionate about her East End roots and about Southend on Sea, her home for thirty years. Both these passions are highlighted in her books about these areas, and she has been writing full time since selling her London-based recruitment business in 2000. The writing fits round her caring role (she has an adult autistic son who is deaf and has other disabilities) and the many talks she gives in the local community to raise money for local charities. For more info about Dee and her books visit www.deegordon-writer.com.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dee-Gordon/e/B0034OVLOS/

My review:

Thanks to Alex and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Although totally unplanned, I find myself writing this review on the International Women’s Day 2018. One can’t help but wonder about the title of the book, not so much the wicked or misunderstood part (some definitely seem to fall into one of the two categories, while many share characteristics of both, although that depends on the point of view), but the Bad Girls. In my opinion, it makes perfect sense for the argument of the book, as the expression bad woman has a certain meaning and connotations attached to it (very moralistic and misogynistic), while perhaps bad girl allows for a more playful and varied reading. And it has nothing to do with age (the catalogue of historical figures examined by the author includes a large number of women who died quite young, but there are others who lived to ripe old ages as well). It is, ultimately, a matter of self-definition. But I digress.

This book shares a collection of brief biographies (the vast majority are under a couple of pages long), of women, organised in a number of chapters that group women in several categories (although some overlap and the author has to make a choice as to which group a particular figure belongs to). These chapters are: 1) Courtesans and Mistresses; 2) Madams, Prostitutes, and Adulterers; 3) Serial Killers; 4) ‘One-Off’ Killers; 5) Gangsters, Thieves and Con-Artists; 6) The Rebel Collection – Pirates, Witches, Megalomaniacs, Exhibitionists. The book also contains a brief bibliography (I guess otherwise a second volume would have been necessary just to include all the sources), and there are pictures of the women (portraits, photographs, illustrations), and also documents, newspaper cuttings, letters…

Although I was familiar with quite a few of the women featured (in the case of Mata Hari, for example, I had read a book about her not long ago, although in many others I still discovered things I didn’t know) there were also quite a number that I had heard the names of but didn’t know much about, and others that were completely new to me. I have no doubt that most people reading this book will think about other women they would have added to the collection, but I would say all of the women included deserve to be there. This is not a judgment of character though, as that is not what this book is about. The author’s style is engaging and, despite the briefness of the vignettes, she manages to make these women compelling (and horrifying in some cases), and she is at pains to try and paint as balanced a picture as possible, rather than just present them according to the prevalent morality of their time. Reality and legend are sometimes difficult to tell apart, but the author, tries (and at times acknowledges defeat and provides the most interesting versions of a woman’s story available).

Among the many women in the book, I was particularly intrigued by Jane Digby (1807-1881), a lover of travel and an adventurer who also had a talent for choosing interesting men, Enriqueta Martí (1868-1913), who lived in Barcelona and who, according to recent research might not have been guilty of the horrific crimes she was accused of (I won’t talk about it in detail, but let’s say that, if it was true, she was not called The Vampire of Barcelona for nothing), Princess Caraboo (aka Mary Baker: 1791-1864), who knew how to come up with a good story, or Georgia Tann (1891-1950), that I felt intrigued by when I read that Joan Crawford (who has featured in one of my recent reads) had been one of her clients. But there are many others, and of course, this is a book that will inspire readers to do further research and look into the lives of some of these women (or even write about them).

The women in each chapter are organised in alphabetical order, and that means we jump from historical period to historical period, backward and forward, but there is enough information to allow us to get a sense of how society saw these women and how class, patronage, social status, money… influenced the way they were treated. There are personal comments by the author, but she is non-judgemental and it is impossible to read this book, especially some of the chapters, without thinking about the lot of women, about how times have changed (but not as much as we would like to think, as evidenced by recent developments and campaigns), and about how behaviours that from a modern perspective might show strength of character, intelligence, and independence, at the time could condemn a woman in the eyes of society, ruining her reputation and/or destroying her life.

A book to dip in to learn about social history and the role of women, and also one that will inspire readers to read more about some of these women (and others) that, for better or worse, have left a mark. A great starting point for further research into the topic, and a book that will make us reflect about the role of women then and now.

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

[amazon_link asins=’0393313484,0525432795,0316001945,1857024699,B01BCDT85Q,1683690257,B009W748I2,B019OI2HJ0′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’3aa6dd07-22e1-11e8-90a8-5710519bb517′]

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#Bookreview WHAT REGENCY WOMEN DID FOR US by Rachel Knowles (@RegencyHistory) (@penswordbooks) #history #Regency A gripping book about twelve extraordinary women

Hi, all:

I bring you a review of a non-fiction book from the Pen & Sword history collection. A great read.

What Regency Women Did for Us by Rachel Knowles
What Regency Women Did for Us by Rachel Knowles

What Regency Women Did For Us by Rachel Knowles A gripping book about twelve extraordinary women

Regency women inhabited a very different world from the one in which we live today. Considered intellectually inferior to men, they received little education and had very few rights. This book tells the inspirational stories of twelve women, from very different backgrounds, who overcame often huge obstacles to achieve success. These women were pioneers, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs, authors, scientists and actresses women who made an impact on their world and ours. In her debut nonfiction work, popular history blogger Rachel Knowles tells how each of these remarkable ladies helped change the world they lived in and whose legacy is still evident today. Two hundred years later, their stories are still inspirational.

https://www.amazon.com/What-Regency-Women-Did-Us-ebook/dp/B06ZXZ3NHS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Regency-Women-Did-Us-ebook/dp/B06ZXZ3NHS/

Author Rachel Knowles
Author Rachel Knowles

About the author

Rachel Knowles is the author of the popular Regency History blog. She lives in Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew, and has four grown-up daughters.
Please visit Rachel’s website: www.regencyhistory.net

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Knowles/e/B00XYK33RA/

My review:

I received a copy of this paperback from Pen & Sword History and I freely chose to review the book.

This is another great book by Pen & Sword that are quickly becoming one of my favourite publishing companies for non-fiction books.

This small volume is packed with information. After a brief introduction that sets the Regency period, particularly how life was for women at the time, the book discusses the lives of twelve women who played an important role in the UK during that period. As the author comments, they were not the only women of note at the time, but they did make a significant difference to Britain, and a difference that survives to this day. They come from all walks of life, their professions or interests are diverse, some were married and had children but half of them never married, and I must confess that although I knew some of them, I had never heard of the others. And I learned a great deal by reading this book even about the ones I was somewhat familiar with.

By now, you must be wondering who these twelve women are.

Chapter 1 is dedicated to Eleanor Coade, whom the author calls ‘the king’s stone maker’, a business woman who took charge of the artificial stone manufactory that bore her name and was very good at creating a high-quality product and also at marketing. I had never realised that many of the statues, garden sculptures, and facades of buildings I have visited were made using her stone.

Chapter 2 introduces us to Caroline Herschel, who always keen to assist her brother, became an astronomer of note in her own right (and she discovered many comets).

Sarah Siddons, the actress that lifted the reputation of actresses and well known for her tragic roles, is discussed in chapter 3.

Marie Tussaud, of Madame Tussaud’s fame, is the subject of chapter 4. And although I was familiar with the wax museum, I discovered I didn’t know much about this fascinating woman.

Chapter 5 is dedicated to Mary Parminter, mountaineer, traveller, and benefactress to other women.

Writer and mother of historical fiction Maria Edgeworth is discussed in chapter 6.

In chapter 7 we learn about Jane Marcet, a woman so eager to learn and to help others learn, that she wrote the chemistry for dummies of the period, so that women and people who had not had access to much formal education could understand the subject. She used the format of a dialogue between female students and teacher and also provided examples of experiments that could easily be done at home. Faraday gave her credit for his early steps in science and she was very well regarded and a best-seller of the time.

Chapter 8 is taken up by Sarah Guppy, who was an amateur engineer and although did not always get credit for her inventions she truly deserves to be in this book.

Jane Austen is the subject of chapter 9. Although she died during the period, the author chose to include her. She is probably the most famous woman in the book, and the one I knew more about, but I learned some new things and her chapter is a good introduction to readers who are not familiar with her life, works, and period.

Harriot Mellon had an awful childhood but she went on to become an actress and eventually a banker, and her private bank exists to this day. And her legacy, that found its way into many charitable causes, has also endured.

Elizabeth Fry is perhaps best known for having been on the back of the £5 note for a while. I read about her when I studied Criminology, as she was a big prison reformer, but I did not know about her role in creating a training school for nurses well before Florence Nightingale, and her life is fascinating. She was a truly passionate and generous woman, always devoted to improving the lives of others.

The last woman the author chooses to include is Mary Anning. She was from humble origins but became a great fossilist and her fossils are still on display in many museums today.

Knowles has chosen a fantastic group of women to write about. Her writing style is fluid, easy to follow, and includes both information about the personal lives of these women and about their contributions to the period. These brief biographical chapters are a good introduction to anybody who wants to get some idea about what women’s lives were like at the time, whilst at the same time providing a glimpse into what made these twelve women extraordinary. Their intelligence, their determination, and their passion shine through in those few pages. I must confess I would be happy to read a whole book on any and all of these women.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in women’s history or looking for an introduction into the Regency Period that looks more closely at the role women played. It is a gripping read and I hope it will go some way to help these women get the attention they deserve.

Thanks so much to Pen & Sword (Alex in particular), to the author, and thanks to all of you for reading, and don’t forget to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

[amazon_link asins=’158297280X,B00KSERAQA,0141395206,1624860648,0892365579,B073RLV6B1,0199537550,0230103421′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’27cd3667-aa82-11e7-8054-61c661fb7a00′]

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Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan (@Egangoonsquad) Historical fiction for those interested in the history of New York, women’s history during WWII, and followers of Egan’s career.

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Hi all:

I bring you a review of a book that I was very intrigued about as I’d read one of the previous books by the writer. This one couldn’t have been more different. It is a good book, but for some reason, I didn’t quite connect with it.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

‘One of the most dazzling novelists writing today . . . It is simply stunning; thrilling, heartbreaking and unputdownable‘ the Bookseller, Book of the Month.

The long-awaited novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon SquadManhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression.

‘We’re going to see the sea,’ Anna whispered.

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have been murdered.

Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan’s first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America and the world. Manhattan Beach is a magnificent novel by one of the greatest writers of our time.

‘Egan’s precise, calm underwater prose is a persistent pleasure’ Daily Telegraph

‘A stunningly resourceful writer’ Guardian

Review

Praise for Jennifer Egan:

“Jennifer Egan may well be the best living American novelist.”

(Joe Klein Time)

“Jennifer Egan is a writer of tremendous intelligence and grace.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

“Jennifer Egan is . . . dizzyingly inventive.” (The Washington Post)

“Is there anything Egan can’t do?”  (The New York Times Book Review (cover review))

Advanced Praise for Manhattan Beach:

“Egan’s propulsive, surprising, ravishing, and revelatory saga, a covertly profound page-turner that will transport and transform every reader, casts us all as divers in the deep, searching for answers, hope, and ascension.”  (Booklist (starred review))

“Tremendously assured and rich, moving from depictions of violence and crime to deep tenderness. The book’s emotional power once again demonstrates Egan’s extraordinary gifts.”  (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“After stretching the boundaries of fiction in myriad ways…Egan does perhaps the only thing left that could surprise: she writes a thoroughly traditional novel. Realistically detailed, poetically charged, and utterly satisfying: apparently there’s nothing Egan can’t do.”  (Kirkus (starred review))

https://www.amazon.com/Manhattan-Beach-Jennifer-Egan-ebook/dp/B06XDG7YFC/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Manhattan-Beach-Jennifer-Egan-ebook/dp/B06XDG7YFC/

Author Jennifer Egan
Author Jennifer Egan (Photo credit: Pieter M. Van Hattem)

About the author:

Jennifer Egan was born in Chicago, where her paternal grandfather was a police commander and bodyguard for President Truman during his visits to that city. She was raised in San Francisco and studied at the University of Pennsylvania and St. John’s College, Cambridge, in England. In those student years she did a lot of traveling, often with a backpack: China, the former USSR, Japan, much of Europe, and those travels became the basis for her first novel, The Invisible Circus, and her story collection, Emerald City. She came to New York in 1987 and worked an array of wacky jobs while learning to write: catering at the World Trade Center; joining the word processing pool at a midtown law firm; serving as the private secretary for the Countess of Romanones, an OSS spy-turned-Spanish Countess (by marriage), who wrote a series of bestsellers about her spying experiences and famous friends.
Egan has published short stories in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta and McSweeney’s. Her first novel, The Invisible Circus, came out in 1995 and was released as a movie starring Cameron Diaz in 2001. Her second novel, Look at Me, was a National Book Award Finalist in 2001, and her third, The Keep, was a national bestseller. Also a journalist, Egan has written many cover stories for the New York Times Magazine on topics ranging from young fashion models to the secret online lives of closeted gay teens. Her 2002 cover story on homeless children received the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award, and her 2008 story on bipolar children won an Outstanding Media Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book (due for publication in October) that I freely chose to review.

I read Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad a few years back and I was fascinated by its language, the stories, the way the story was told, and its inventiveness. When I saw Egan’s new book on offer at NetGalley I couldn’t resist. I have not read any of Egan’s other novels, but this one is very different from A Visit. For starters, this is a historical fiction novel. Both from the content of the novel and from the author’s acknowledgements at the end, we get a clear sense of how much research has gone into it. The novel covers a period around World War II, in New York and the surrounding area, and focuses on three stories that are interconnected, and are also connected to seafaring, the seafront, New York, and to the war era. The story goes backwards and forwards at times, sometimes through the memories of the characters, and sometimes within the same chapter, we get to see how that particular character got to that point. Although the story is narrated in the third person, we are firmly inside the character’s heads, and we can be at sea one minute, and the next at home remembering one gesture, a smile…

Anna Kerrigan is the strongest character and the one we spend more time with. We follow her story and know of her circumstances: a severely disabled sister, a father who disappears, and a mother who decides to go back to her family. Anna is a young woman, independent and determined to live her own life. She has never made peace with her father’s disappearance and remembers a strange encounter, when she accompanied her father as a child, with a man later revealed to be a gangster. Anna’s story was the one I was most interested in. Partly, because she was the character we got to know in more detail, partly because of her eagerness and determination, as she decides to become a diver and does not give up until she achieves her goal (at a time when being a woman severely limited one’s options, even during the war, when there were a few more openings, as she was already working at the Navy Yard). Her relationship with her sister, her training to become a diver (and you feel as if you were with her inside the incredibly heavy suit), and her obsession with finding out what happened to her father make her somebody to root for, although I found it difficult to engage at an emotional level with the character (it was as if she was contemplating herself at a distance and always analysing what she was doing, except for some brief moments when we get a sense of what she is feeling).

Dexter Styles is a strange character: he married a woman of the upper-class, and he has a good relationship with her father and her family, but by that point he was already involved in some shady deals and the underbelly of New York clubs and gambling joints, and he is smart, elegant, classy, but also ruthless and a gangster. I’ve read in a number of reviews that there are better books about New York gangsters of the period, and although I don’t recall having read any, I suspect that is true. I found the background of the character interesting, and his thoughts about the links between banking, politics, legal business, and illegal enterprises illuminating, but I am not sure I would say I completely got to know the character and did not feel particularly attached to it. (His relationship with Anna is a strange one. Perhaps it feels as if it was fate at work, but although I could understand to a certain extent Anna’s curiosity and attraction, Styles did not appear to be a man who’d risk everything for a fling. And yet…).

Eddie, Anna’s father, makes a surprise appearance later in the book and we get to learn something that by that point we have suspected for a while. From the reviews I’ve read, I’m probably one of the only people who enjoyed Eddie’s story, well, some parts of it. I love Melville (and the book opens with one of his quotes) and when Eddie is at sea, in the Merchant Navy, and his ship sinks, there were moments that I found truly engaging and touching. He is not a sympathetic character overall, as he takes a terribly selfish decision at one point in the book, but seems to redeem himself (or is at least trying) by the end.

This is a long book, but despite that, I felt the end was a bit rushed. We discover things that had been hidden for most of the book, several characters make life-changing decisions in quick succession, and I was not totally convinced that the decisions fitted the psychological makeup of the characters or the rest of the story, although it is a satisfying ending in many ways.

The novel’s rhythm is slow, although as I mentioned above, it seems to speed up at the end. There are jumps forward and backwards in time, that I did not find particularly difficult to follow, but it does require a degree of alertness. There are fascinating secondary characters (Nell, the bosun…), and the writing is beautifully descriptive and can make us share in the experiences of the characters at times, but I also felt it didn’t invite a full emotional engagement with them. I was not a hundred per cent sure that the separate stories interconnected seamlessly enough or fitted in together, and I suspect different readers will like some of the characters more than others, although none are totally blameless or sympathetic. An interesting book for those who love historical fiction of that period, especially those who enjoy women’s history, and I’d also recommend it to those who love seafaring adventures and/or are curious about Egan’s career.

Thanks to Lady Amber and the author, 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 WOMEN IN THE GREAT WAR (@penswordbooks) by Stephen Wynn (@Winnie2013) and Tanya Wynn. Heroines that must be remembered #WWI #history

Hi all:

As you know, I discovered Pen & Sword Books a while back and I’ve been exploring their catalogue. Today I bring you a book that I think will pique the interest of many.

Women in the Great War by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn
Women in the Great War by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn

Women in the Great War by Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn

The First World War was fought on two fronts. In a military sense it was fought on the battlefields throughout Europe, the Gallipoli peninsular and other such theaters of war, but on the Home Front it was the arduous efforts of women that kept the country running.

Before the war women in the workplace were employed in such jobs as domestic service, clerical work, shop assistants, teachers or as barmaids. These jobs were nearly all undertaken by single women, as once they were married their job swiftly became that a of a wife, mother and home maker. The outbreak of the war changed all of that. Suddenly, women were catapulted into a whole new sphere of work that had previously been the sole domain of men. Women began to work in munitions factories, as nurses in military hospitals, bus drivers, mechanics, taxi drivers, as well as running homes and looking after children, all whilst worrying about their men folk who were away fighting a war in some foreign clime, not knowing if they were ever going to see them again.

With the work came a wage, which provided women with financial freedom for the first time, as well as an element of independence and social integration, which they would have possibly never otherwise experienced. Women were not paid the same wages as men for doing the same work, but what they did earn was much more than they had ever earned before.

This was also a time of the suffrage movement, who wanted more out of life for women. Accordingly, some of these women were reluctant to stop working, with some of these being sacked so that returning soldiers could have their prewar jobs back. Whilst, tens of thousands of women were left widowed, many with young children to bring up. Despite all of this, one thing was for sure, for lots of women there was no going back to how things had been before the war. There was only going to be one way, and that was forward.

https://www.amazon.com/Women-Great-War-Stephen-Wynn-ebook/dp/B071VRTK81/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Women-Great-War-Stephen-Wynn-ebook/dp/B071VRTK81/

Here you can find it in the Pen & Sword catalogue:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Women-in-the-Great-War-Paperback/p/13490

About the authors:

Stephen Wynn is a retired Police officer who served with Essex Police for thirty years. His first book, Two Sons in a War Zone: Afghanistan: The True Story of a Fathers Conflict, was published in 2010. It is his personal account of his sons’ first tours in Afghanistan. Both of his grandparents served in and survived the First World War. Stephen and Tanya Wynn are a husband and wife team who are collaborating for the first time with this title. They have been married for twelve years and outside of writing enjoy the simplicities of life. They spend most mornings walking their four German Shepherd dogs at a time when most normal people are still sound asleep. Tanya has always taken a keen interest in the previous titles Stephen has written, so much so that the title for this book was her idea.

You can find his other books here:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Stephen-Wynn/a/2452

My review:

Thanks to Pen & Sword for sending me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I’m not sure why but as I read this book I realised I had read much more about World War II than about the Great War, and having a degree in American Studies, I had read a fair bit about American women’s war efforts (during WWII) but knew very little about what women had done during WWI, other than through some war novels where they would appear as nurses, but little else. That was one of the reasons why I was interested in this book from the Pen & Sword’s catalogue. At a time when women didn’t have the vote but were fighting for it, the war and the changes it brought had an enormous impact on the lives of British women (and women in general).

The book is divided into a number of chapters that after setting up the scene (Chapter 1. Women in General), discuss the different organisations and roles women took up during the war. We have chapters dedicated to women who became munition workers (yes, it was not only Rosie the Riveter who took up that task, and it’s amazing to think that women whose roles were so restricted at the time took to heavy factory work with such enthusiasm, despite the risks involved, although there was fun to be had too, like the women’s football teams organised at some of the factories), the Voluntary Air Detachments (Agatha Christie was employed by the VAD as a nurse and dispenser, and it seems her knowledge of medications and substances was to prove very handy in her writing career), The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, to reflect Queen Mary’s patronage), Women’s Legion and Other Women’s Organisations (including some like the Women’s Land Army, Women Police Volunteer, The Women’s Forage Corps [that required a great deal of physical strength]).

The chapter entitled Individual Women of the Great War includes fascinating stories, most of them worthy of a whole book, like those of Dorothy Lawrence, who dressed as a man and became a soldier although never actually fought, several spies, among them one of the best known and remembered Edith Louisa Cavell, a nurse, and perhaps my favourite, Flora Sanders, who was born in Yorkshire and actually fought in the war and became a Captain in the Serbian Army (and yes, in this case they knew she was a woman but did not seem to mind very much). Another favourite of mine has to be Violet Constance Jessop ‘the unsinkable’ who worked as a stewardess in a number of liners and survived the thinking of three big ships, including the Titanic’s. That never put her off and she worked at sea her whole career and died of old age.

There is a chapter dedicated to those who lost their lives during the war (and were not included in one of the previous chapters). The authors have checked a number of archives and list as many details as are available for these 241 women. For some, there’s only a name, date, and age (and where they were serving), for others there is more information. Reading through the list, that I am sure will be of great help to researchers looking for information on the subject, I was surprised by how many nurses died of what now would be considered pretty trivial illnesses (influenza, many of pneumonia, some of the nurses in far away locations died of dysentery, some of undiagnosed illnesses, or appendicitis) making evident not only how much medical science has advanced but also the precarious and exhausting conditions under which they worked, putting their duty before their own health. Quite a number went down with ships that had either been bombed or had hit mines, and some were unfortunate enough to be killed during raids when they were back home on a permit. In some cases, families lost several members to the war and one can only imagine the effects that must have had on their surviving relatives.

The last chapter mentions Queen Mary and Princess Mary’s war efforts, which had a great impact on monetary donations and on enlistment of both men and women. The conclusion reminds us that women had a great role to play during the Great War, both at home and indeed close to the action.

The book is well researched and combines specific data with personal stories, making it of interest to both researchers and readers who want to know more about that historical period, in particular about women’s history. Some chapters, like the one dedicated to individual women, are a good starting point to encourage further reading and engage the curiosity of those not so familiar with the topic.

A fitting homage to those women, who, as the authors write in the conclusion, should also be honoured on Remembrance Day.

Thanks to Pen & Sword for sharing with me their fabulous catalogue, thanks to the authors for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and if you read any books, REVIEW (don’t worry, the review does not have to be as long as mine. I just don’t know when to shut up!)

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