Suffragette by David Roberts

 

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While I don’t talk about it much on the blog, I am most definitely a feminist and quite politically minded.  This year, the UK celebrates 90 years since the Representation of the People Act 1928 which gave all men and women 21 and over equal right to vote.

For women, it was a long time coming.  Many put their lives on the line and, for that, I am eternally grateful.  It’s why I will never not vote, not when the battle was so hard won.  And it’s why it’s important to me my daughter understands just who has come before her and what they achieved. 

Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era by Mike Rendell

cover131858-mediumWhen I read Queens of Georgian Britain by Catherine Curzon last year, it made me realise how little I knew about the era and how I wanted to know more.  This book was my attempt to do that – or at least start too!

Trailblazing Women is a great taster book, one that has introduced me to a whole raft of women I now want to know more about.  Broken up into sections for the arts, finance, science, and education which feature a chapter on three or four strong, capable, and fascinating women (in some cases), you don’t get a lot of information on any of them.  But you do get enough to whet your appetite to find out more.  

Queens of the Conquest by Alison Weir

Queens of ConquestAnyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I have a thing for books on royalty – well British / English royalty.  I can’t help myself – especially when it comes to Queens.

I find the women who ruled (or almost ruled) my country to be endlessly fascinating, especially those who looked to assert power at a time when females were seen as a lesser class of citizen and the weaker sex – property of their fathers then their husbands.

One of a woman’s main jobs was to marry well – marriages agreed by her parents and those of her future spouse.  Marrying up was the key, or marrying for gain – money, land, or power.  And so it was for the Queens of the Conquest, each of whom found themselves supporting their husbands in their quest for power (bar Empress Maud, who aimed to be a Queen in her own right).

Stacking the Shelves: 23rd September, 2017

STSsmallOnce again, but for the first time in  month, I’m joining in with Tynga at Tynga’s Reviews and Marlene of Reading Reality for Stacking Shelves, where you share the real and virtual books you have added to your shelves in the last week.

Last week, I broke my self imposed Netgalley ban and fell off the wagon in quite spectacular style…mainly because I wished for a few books I wasn’t sure I would get and then there were a few read now’s that caught my eye…you get the picture (and I’m sure you’ve been there).  I also bought a few books too, adding to the virtual shelf – which would probably fall over if it wasn’t, well, virtual!  So, without much more rambling, here are the books I picked up this week…

Wedlock by Wendy Moore

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When Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore, was abducted in Oxford Street in broad daylight in 1786, the whole country was riveted to news of the pursuit.

The only daughter of a wealthy coal magnate, Mary Eleanor had led a charmed youth. Precocious and intelligent, she enjoyed a level of education usually reserved for the sons of the aristocracy. Mary was only eleven when her beloved father died, making her the richest heiress in Britain, and she was soon beset by eager suitors. Her marriage, at eighteen, to the beautiful but aloof Earl of Strathmore, was one of the society weddings of the year. With the death of the earl some eight years later, Mary re-entered society with relish and her salons became magnets for leading Enlightenment thinkers – as well as a host of new suitors keen to court her fortune.

Mary soon fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney, but scandalous rumours were quick to spread. Swearing to defend her honor, Mary’s gallant hero was mortally wounded in a duel – his dying wish that he might marry Mary. Within hours of the ceremony, he seemed to be in the grip of a miraculous recovery …

Wedlock tells the story of one eighteenth-century woman’s experience of a brutal marriage, and her fight to regain her liberty and justice. Subjected to appalling violence, deception, kidnap and betrayal, the life of Mary Eleanor Bowes is a remarkable tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.

I read a lot of books where vulnerable young women fall in love with men that seem too good to be true, only to find themselves trapped in loveless marriages with husbands who have ulterior motives and mean them harm. It’s up to the woman to find an inner strength and fight her way back to freedom. Often after reading these books, I make comments that basically say I find it hard to believe that the men could appear so perfect and the women so gullible (and, yes, I know I keep reading them but I also still enjoy them)

“Convinced of her new husband’s imminent demise, the countess felt no need to reveal to him two quite devasting secrets. and for her part, Mary Eleanor was about to discover some surpring facts about “Captain” Stoney”.

Now I’ve read Wedlock I may never say that again because it’s exactly what happened with Mary Eleanor Bowes, the richest heiress in Georgian England. If anything, her story is more unbelievable, something she even admitted in the story she wrote of her own life, saying that what happened to her was “so uncommon as to stagger the belief of Posterity“.

This is a fascinating story of a woman who seems like she could of achieved great things, despite her sex,  because – unlike most Georgian woman – she had a good education, speaking several languages and being an excellent botanist. Unfortunately, the first man she married set out a stop to her ambition and the second nearly killed her. Her relationship with the second, Andrew Stoney, is the focus of this book and her efforts to escape him.

I am not sure how to describe Stoney. Sly, sneaky, manipulative, vicious and plain old evil all spring to mind but not seem to fully describe just how awful he was and how much he plotted and connived to marry Mary and get his hands on her fortune. It started before Mary had even met him, when her first husband died, and he set out to London determined to get her to fall in love with him.

Unfortunately, she had another suitor, one she had already agreed to marry – considered legally binding in Georgian England. Undeterred, Stoney plotted with a newspaper to publish letters that alternately besmirched and defended Mary’s reputation before fighting a fake duel in her honour. After his fake duel he lay on his fake deathbed and asked Mary to grant his dying wish and marry him. Thinking he had days to live, she agreed…only to find him miraculously recovered the next day.

Like I said, if it wasn’t true you wouldn’t believe it. But it is and, because of the court documents and newspaper accounts of the day which detailed every element of their relationship from first meeting (because Georgian papers loved celebrity gossip as much as our red tops do today) through to Mary’s brave attempts to leave and divorce Stoney. And she was brave. This was a period when men owned their wives for all intents and purposes, with all their wives money becoming theirs when they married and with their being allowed to “discipline” their wives as long as it was reasonable and confine them “for their own good”.

All this made for a fascinating book about a fascinating woman. It was well written and I learnt so much about the period and the rights of women (plus some random facts like the term Stoney broke comes from Andrew Stoney, who never had any money but his wives). I also have amazing respect for women like Mary Eleanor for standing up for themselves and to society. What Mary Eleanor did “represented another step in the slow march towards the outlying of domestic abuse, wrongful confinement…and rights to retain property”. Without them I wouldn’t have the freedoms I have today and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful to Wendy Moore for writing this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Loved it’s!

Enjoy!

Emma

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Source: Library
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Publication Date: 10th March, 2009
Pages: 502
Format: paperback

Harry's Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith

HARRYS LAST STAND-B-HB.inddWhen I read this book a few weeks ago I hadn’t originally planned on reviewing it, although I’d enjoyed reading it. Then, over the weekend, with Ian Duncan Smith talking about trying to build a fairer Britain all over the news, the book kept coming back to me and I changed my mind because the messages it is trying to get across are ones I think we should be listening to.

Published in 2014, the book is a series of essays which reflect Harry’s thoughts and feelings about growing up in the Great Depression and the pride he felt in the country after the war when we created the welfare state so no one would have to suffer the indignities and inequalities he did as a child. And they show his anger and despair at the dismantling of this welfare state by the then coalition government.

It is a highly emotive but also sobering read. Harry’s sheer frustration at what he sees happening is apparent, as is how little he feels he can do about it – hence the essays. A lot cover the same ground and they follow the same format; snapshots from his childhood followed by a comparison with today’s society.  There are facts and figures woven through which, though few years out of date, are startling and saddening.

There are memories of his life as a young man, newly returned from the war, and as a young husband – a time when he was able to prosper but also lived knowing there was a safety net if things went wrong. It is a safety net he and many others hadn’t experienced as children. It is a safety net that I, as a child of the seventies, grew up expecting to be there for me – though I have been lucky enough to never need it – and my family.

Now, if I’m honest, I don’t think this would be the case. When I see people queuing at food banks on the news or here about the indignities people with disabilities go through to receive support for the necessities for living a decent life, I feel sick…and think it doesn’t take much for any of us to end up there, just one job loss or accident. It’s depressing and frightening – yet it feels like a lot of us have our heads in the sand and think it could never happen to us.

It’s why I decided to write this review after all because it made me think and wonder if I can do anything (I’m not sure what) and also slightly embarrassed I haven’t done much so far but turn out to vote.  Maybe it will do the same for a few others and we can end up with the society Harry dreamt about as a young man.

Emma

April Round-Up

Another month gone – hard to believe we are a quarter of the way through the year.  I know I said it last month (and the month before) but 2015 is flying by.  I am hoping that it starts to slow down so I can enjoy the glorious spring we are having.  Some days, I feel like I don’t even notice how nice it’s been until the sun goes down.  To make sure I get outside more during the week, I have made myself a May resolution to get my garden sorted – worse case, I’ll at least end up sitting out with a book and glass of wine.

Book wise, I managed to find quite a bit of time to read in April and not as much as I’d like to review them (again!).  For the most part, I really liked the majority of books I read and I don’t know if I could chose a favourite because they are all so different.  It’s probably a toss us between Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro.  A close third was Dead Wake by Erik Larson.

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Not so successful for me were Frog Music by Emma Donoghue and Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, neither of which I really got away with.  Sometimes, I find I like a book more after the fact and a week or so later, want to go back and redo my review to make it more positive.  I haven’t felt like that about either of these yet unfortunately and I couldn’t really recommend them.

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A book that has stood the test of time for me was The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, which I first read almost 30 years ago (showing my age!).  I remember it as a powerful, more than a bit disturbing book, and it was just that when I re-read it.  Definitely worth checking out.

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All in all, then, a very good month for me reading wise – especially when you add in the final book in my Play On! challenge, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, which I really enjoyed too.

If you follow any of the links above, you’ll get to the reviews themselves and hopefully find something that you fancy reading.  You might also notice that, halfway through the month, I decided to stop giving books ratings out of five.  You can read why here but in a nutshell it was because it didn’t feel right for me.  Saying if I liked, loved or really didn’t care for a book felt much better and it’s what I’ve decided to go with.  So far, so good – though I’m still agonising over Goodreads reviews but you can’t have everything right?

And that’s it for April.  Let’s see what May holds. How was your month?

Emma

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

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This is what I knew about the Lusitania before I read Dead Wake:

1. It was sunk by a German submarine on 7th May, 1915

2. There were no survivors

3. The sinking led to America joining World War I

Rather, this is what I thought I knew because it turns out that, other than the date, I didn’t know anything at all.  There were survivors (although not many – 764 out of nearly 2,000 passengers and crew) and America didn’t join the war for another two years.  I am always amazed by how little I know about what I think I know!

After reading Dead Wake, I obviously know a lot more – more than I ever thought I would about the world of luxury ocean liners definitely – and I do feel just a little bit wiser as a result.  The facts and figures, though, were the least important or interesting part of the book for me.  It was the people, whose stories I got to hear thanks to detailed records, diaries, journal and letters that have been preserved (including the log of the U-boat captain responsible for sinking the Lusitania).

By using these, Erik Larson does a brilliant job of turning a 100 year old tragedy into something that feels very real.  I felt connected to the people he described and was genuinely affected when I realised that some of the people I was reading about, who I thought were telling their stories after the fact, hadn’t made it and their words had come from their letters, diaries and the memories of others.

The records showed a level of naivety (or innocence?) that amazed me.  The passengers just didn’t think they were at risk, despite a German warning published in newspapers that the Lusitania was fair game, and Cunard was convinced the ship was too fast and too big to sink.  In this age of heightened security it is hard to imagine but I have to remember this is a different time, one where the rules of war were changing but no one quite understood how much.

Erik Larson does a good job of setting the scene for the world as it was and creating a sense of place and time.  My only complaint here would be that, given the US didn’t enter the war in 1915, he spent a little too much time on Woodrow Wilson’s personal life.  For me, these are the only bit that dragged and I found my eyes skimming these sections.

Otherwise though, I found the book absorbing.  It was well written with enough detail to fill in the many gaps in my knowledge without feeling dry.  The personal aspect I mentioned earlier really helped with this but so did the language, which wasn’t overly technical.  There was also a nice mix of pace, with short chapters here and there – maybe a letter or a telegraph – to break things up.

The only other thing I would have liked is some pictures but his was an e-book and a review copy so I am not sure if you’d get those in the paper version.  It would have helped me (and stopped me reverting to google).  This though is minor and wouldn’t stop me recommending it – liked it a lot!

Emma

Note: this is a review copy but all thoughts, feelings, and comments are my own.

The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

Title: The Woman Who Would Be King
Author: Kara Cooney
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography, History
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 3 out of 5

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When Hatshepsut’s husband, King Thutmose II died early in his reign, they had not produced a male heir to continue the dynasty. Thutmose did, however, have a son by a lesser wife and at the age of two, it was this little boy who came to the throne as Thutmose III. Too young to reign in his own right, Hatshepsut, as wife of the previous King and daughter of the one before that (Thutmose I) became Regent, ruling in his name.

In ancient Egypt, a wife or mother of a young king acting as Regent until he reached a suitable age to rule wasn’t unknown or that unusual. What made Hatshepsut different though was that, rather than relinquishing power when Thutmose III came of age, she gradually built up her own power and position, eventually being crowned co-king.  Not only that, she ruled successfully and peacefully for 22 years, unheard of for a woman ruler not only in Egypt but anywhere else in the world at the time.

Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

Title: Love and Louis XIV
Author: Antonia Fraser
Genre: History, Biography
Format: Audio Book (narrated by Julia Franklin)
Release Date:2007 (paperback) 2012 (audio book)
Duration: 14:19:48
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Louis XIV, who called himself the Sun King, was born late in his mother’s life – she was 36 which, for the period, meant she was almost elderly. The first, and therefore most treasured son, his birth was seen as a miracle and from the day he was born his mother – Anne of Austria – doted on him. At the age of five his father, the King of France died, leaving him a “child-king”, with his mother acting as regent. For the next eight years, until he reached the age of majority and could rule in his own right, Anne of Austria raised her son and ruled France in his name. A pious woman, with a strict morale code, she defended his future right to be King and taught him that one day he would rule France as an absolute monarch and the world would be shaped to his desires.

This relationship with his mother was probably the most important relationship in his life and framed how he ruled France and his future relationships women – both his wife, Marie-Therese of Spain, and his mistresses, of which there were many including three significant ones, two of whom he had children with. It is these relationships Antonio Fraser focuses on in her book, which is sub-titled: The Women in the Life of the Sun King.