Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

33210463On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.

So before I start this review I should probably admit I am a little bit of a fangirl when it comes to Lucy Worsley.  I love her TV shows and her enthusiasm for her subjects.  She is a must-watch for me and now a must-read with Jane Austen at Home, which I loved.

One of the reasons I loved it was that it made Austen accessible.  I know very little about her life and have tried to read a few biographies in the past but I found them dry.  Here, Austen came alive to me, with her life told through the places she lived and the people she lived with.

Of the places, there were quite a few and not all as I might have imagined in my mind.  After the retirement and then death of her father, for many years Jane and her sister Cassandra (as spinsters) and their mother were basically homeless, moving from house to house and relying on family members to put them up or pay their rent.

Some of these places were grand indeed, others not so much with some being described as cold, dark and damp – not necessarily conducive to writing some of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. But then life for Georgian women wasn’t conducive in general to writing other than letters.

There were domestic chores, a lot, and household management to deal with as well as the perception that their job was to grow up and get married.  Women who wrote weren’t looked up to but often looked down upon and Jane lived most of her life as a writer anonymously, only coming out of the shadows later on when her books had become popular.

One of the things Jane did have on her side though was her family, who not only provided her with a place to live but supported her in her writing.  It was her father who bought her her writing desk and initially acted as her agent (before this role was taken up by her brother) and her sister Cassandra was her life-long best friend who took up more than her fair share of chores to allow Jane time to write.

There were still family politics (when are they not?) but for the most part Jane seems to have had a loving, caring, family and this was nice to read about, making her seem human and not just a slightly mythical figure, sat alone at her desk.  Worsley manages to make Jane a real person, someone with a great sense of humour (often quite wicked) who likes to enjoy herself (money permitting).

What she also shows is a woman who knows her own mind and stands by her decisions, including not to marry (unfortunately, it isn’t completely clear if her writing drove this decision, though it seems likely to have, as so much of her life is known through letters and her sister destroyed a lot of these).

At the end of this book, I found that, for me, Austen is a woman to be admired and one who is not now as cold and mysterious as she first appeared.  Perhaps this will not be such a surprise to Janeites and the like, but I think it will be too many, all of whom I hope read, learn from, and enjoy this book.

Emma x

loved-it

Source: Netgally
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd
Publication Date: 18th May, 2017
Format: ebook
Pages: 352
Genre: non-fiction
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Tarot Court Cards for Beginners by Leeza Robertson

32284018For many tarot readers, the court cards are the most challenging cards to work with. But once you become familiar with how these enigmatic cards work, you can turn them into friends and allies that provide powerful insights and advice. Featuring stories, explanations, and simple exercises, this book explores the many facets of pages, knights, kings, and queens to enhance your journey through the tarot.

Author Leeza Robertson approaches the court cards from a variety of angles, exploring the symbols, legends, personalities, messages, and spiritual influences of each card. Providing unique tips, reading techniques, and spread ideas, this book will help you welcome the court cards into your tarot practice.

One of the things I have been trying to learn – on and off – for years, is the how to read tarot cards. I have a couple of sets which I take out regularly, along with a range of books on what the cards mean.  I find them fascinating and am always rather chuffed when I can read a spread without having to refer to these books too much (if at all).

Still, though I have a lot to learn and would class myself as a beginner.  So, having seen Tarot Court Cards for Beginners on Netgalley and seeing that Leeza Robertson’s books get good reviews on Goodreads, I thought this would be a good one to add to my collection.

As the title suggests, this book focuses on the Court cards – King, Queen, Knight and Page or princess, depending on the deck you are using.  Princess cards aren’t something I have come across before and I thought they sounded interesting so I will be looking out for them in my next deck.  The idea behind the book is that understanding the court cards can really add to your readings as they are so influential in the deck.

As the title also says, this book is for beginners and so starts with a brief history of the tarot before moving onto specific language used when reading tarot cards. It then talks about the different suits (there are four) and what they mean before moving onto the cards themselves.  Throughout there are pictures to help you understand what you are seeing and reading.  Read More »

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

imageAs World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.

I first heard of the radium girls after reading my usual crime fiction fare with a book set in 1920’s New York. They weren’t a large part of the book, but the covering up of what the radium was doing to them was a key part of the plot. So, when I saw The Radium Girls, a work of non-fiction that told the story of these women, I jumped at the chance to read it.

I am really glad I did because it shone a light on the lives of a group of incredibly brave women, some of whom literally shone thanks to the radium that stuck to their skin and made its way into their bodies and bones. Nowadays, of course, we think how could it happen but, in the 20’s radium was seen as a cure-all and nothing to be afraid of.  And when people in authority told people without it things, they tended to believe what they were told.

Radium was used in so many products, including luminous paint – which is what the women used to paint watch dials and instrument panels, pointing the tip of the brush with their tounges and consuming radium each time. It is no wonder they got ill. The fact that it took so long to link their illnesses to radium is perhaps more surprising – but no one considered it for a long time because of the variety of symptoms they suffered through.

Perhaps if the companies the women worked for had been honest about what they knew about the dangers of radium, it might have been clearer sooner, but they weren’t – resulting in the deaths of hundred (thousands possibly) of women. Reading about it is tragic but also left me shocked and angry by the behaviour of their employers.  I know it was a long time ago, but it doesn’t make what they did any more understandable or forgivable.Read More »

Tuesday intro: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Once again I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. In really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week I’m reading non-fiction, which I never read enough of, in the form of The Radium Girls by Kate Moore.  This is what it’s about…

31409135The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice…

As World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.

And here’s how it starts…

Prologue

Paris, France
1901

The scientist had forgotten all about the radium.  It was tucked discreetly within the folds of his waistcoat pocket, enclosed in a slim glass tube in such a small quantity that he could not feel its weight.  He had a lecture to deliver in London, England, and the vial of radium stayed within that shadowy pocket for the entirety of his journey across the sea.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Emma

Wedlock by Wendy Moore

6022200

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

loved-it

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

Tuesday intro: Wedlock

Once again I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. In really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week I’m reading Wedlock by Wendy Moore – with the strapline “How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match”.  So far I’m a hundred or so pages in and I am really enjoying it.  Here’s what it’s about…

6022200When 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.

And, after that rather long “blurb”, here’s a rather long intro…

London, 13th January 19777

Settling down to read his newspaper by the candlelight illuminating the dining room of the Adelphi Tavern, John Hull anticipated a quiet evening. Having opened five years earlier, as an integral part of the vast riverside development designed by the Adam brothers, the Adelphi Tavern and Coffee House had established a reputation for its fine dinners and genteel company. Many an office worker like Hull, a clerk at the Government’s Salt Office, sought refuge from the clamour of the nearby Strand in the tavern’s first-floor dining room with its elegant ceiling panels depicting Pan and Bacchus in pastel shades.  On a Monday evening in January, with the day’s work behind him, Hull could expect to read his undisturbed.

At first, when he heard the two loud bangs, at about 7 p.m., Hull assumed they were caused by a door slamming downstairs. A few minutes later, there was no mistaking the sound of clashing swords. Throwing aside his newspaper, Hull ran down the stairs and tried to open the door to the ground-floor parlour. Finding it locked, and growing increasingly alarmed at the violent clatter from within from within, he shouted for waiters to help him force the door.  Finally bursting into the room, Hull could dimly make out two figures fencing furiously in the dark. Reckless as to his own safety, the clerk grabbed the sword arm of the nearest man, thrust himself between the two duellists and insisted that they lay down their swords. Even so, it was several more minutes before he could persuade the first swordsmen to yield his weapon.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Emma

A Different Class of Murder by Laura Thompson

23510407On 7 November 1974, a nanny named Sandra Rivett was bludgeoned to death in a Belgravia basement. A second woman, Veronica, Countess of Lucan, was also attacked. The man named in court as perpetrator of these crimes, Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, disappeared in the early hours of the following morning. The case, solved in the eyes of the law, has retained its fascination ever since.

Maybe it’s being a child of the 70’s but I have always been slightly fascinated by Lord Lucan and the fact that he disappeared so completely after so obviously (or so I thought) killing his nanny when he meant to be killing his wife.  Maybe it’s that his name still appears in the papers, magazines and books regularly as people try and figure out just where he went after that fateful night.

Whatever the reason for my fascination I’ve never not read an article I’ve come across but till now I’ve never read a book on the subject.  So, when I came across this at the local library and given my recent interest in reading true crime books I thought I would give it a go.  I can’t say it was the best decision I have ever made, though I did learn some interesting facts about Lord Lucan and understood a little more about him and his wife by the end of the book.

Why wasn’t it the best decision?  Because the book is long, it is overly wordy and it flits around so much that I struggled to keep the story straight in my head.  Tales of Lord Lucans of the past and their own misdeeds are woven throughout – this was confusing and, at times, didn’t seem to easily link back to the period in which the Lucan I was interested in way living or his actions (though I think that was the point).

It doesn’t help that Thompson uses language that is academic at times before slipping into a conversational tone and then back again.  Her sentences can be long and I found I was re-reading some passages just to understand exactly what she was saying…and when I did understand I’m not sure I exactly got the point.  It felt like she had so many facts, so much detail, had done so much research that she was determined to get everything in regardless.  A 100 pages shorter and this book might have been a lot more interesting.

The final thing that frustrated me is that, whilst I didn’t expect to get any closer to the answer, Thompson seems to have her own opinion on what happened but doesn’t want to just come out and say it so she skirts around it.  I wanted to either be presented with the facts to make my own decision or be presented with a scenario, an argument that I could either agree or disagree with.  I got neither.

It isn’t all bad, like I said, I did find out some things about Lucan I wasn’t aware of before and I did get a feel for the life he and his friends were living – one outside of that most people were living at the time – but it just feels like it could have been so much better.  A shame but I was left feeling deflated by the book and disappointed – not for me.

Emma

Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

imageIn May 2010, 24 year old Shannan Gilbert went missing. Despite a frantic call to 911, police were slow to respond, possibly because Shannan was an escort and so – it could be assumed – not worth the police’s time.

After ongoing pressure from her family, a search was finally carried out. Shannon wasn’t found…but the bodies of four other women were, all just skeletons and all carefully wrapped in burlap.

The bodies were Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Lynn Costello. All were escorts, prostitues who met their clients through Craigslist. And all had been missing for months or years.

Long Island, it seemed, had a serial killer. One whose body count grew as more and more bodies were found (11 in total) whilst police seemed incapable of making progress or making an arrest. This despite some questionable behaviour by residents of the gated community alongside where the bodies were found.

Robert Kolker tells the story from when Shannan went missing to a conclusion that isn’t a conclusion because the killer has still not being found. He opens, though, with each dead girls life, taking you back to where they were born, how they were raised, who their families were. And how they ended up as escorts.

They are incredibly detailed and touching portraits. Kolker does a great job of getting you to see beyond the label of prostitute and understand what drove each woman and see how she ended up where she ended up. Theirs are story of foster care gone wrong, abuse, family breakdown but also a desire to make more of themselves, to earn enough money to help themselves, get an education, care for their family.

Theirs are not stories that should be ignored. And yet, they were because of who they were. Which is the other part of this book. It shines the light on how the police failed to investigate properly, how they didn’t take family and friends who filed missing person reports seriously, who ignored 911 calls and lost time finding vital clues. It is shocking and sad. And it wouldn’t have happened if these women hadn’t been prostitutes.

I don’t normally read true crime but this caught my eye at the library. The stories of the women drew me in. The who-dunit element kept me reading. Kilmer approaches it with his journalistic eye and writes in a clear, journalistic, style. It worked, though it didn’t mean it was without emotion. It was – sad and tragic and frustrating in equal measures. For a horrid subject, I enjoyed reading it and felt I learnt a lot about a case I knew nothing about. For those who like true crime, this would be a recommended read.

emma

 

 

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

23705512After reading Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost), I have the OVERWHELMING desire to type in capitals (which is something I NEVER do) because this is how Day writes and it’s slightly contagious, as is her positive attitude and outlook on life.

As a result, I was SLIGHTLY in love with her by the end of the book and DEFINITELY want to be her friend (not just one of her 20 million twitter followers, which I’ve been for  a while). I also want to quit my job, throw caution to the wind, and start doing something I love instead of just something that pays the bills – which is what Day did, sort of, because hers is very much also a caution to the wind type of life.

Home schooled, along with her brother, by an unconventional mother who tried to follow the curriculum before GIVING UP and letting her kids learn naturally, the result was Felicia became really good and Math and Violin (which seems a PERFECT match), getting into college early, but had no friends other than ONLINE.  This was the early days of the internet and chat rooms were new, as were the games Felicia and her brother played.

It was the start of a lifelong love affair with the internet, online gaming and Felicia’s need to connect online, all of which came in really useful when she decided that rather than play one more bit-part secretary, she would start her own web series, The Guild, making her a star in one small (or large as it’s the internet, which is basically HUGE) corner of the universe – someone people knew as more than the geeky redhead from Buffy and Supernatural (which, if I’m honest is how I knew her *shame-faced*).

The book is ROUGHLY in three parts – the home schooling / college years, The Guild years, and then the post-Guild years take up the last third.  After all the success they were rockier than Day maybe anticipated but also written with incredible HONESTY which as they touched on mental health issues and this is an area I work in, I really appreciated.

Woven throughout is Felicia’s love story with the intranet, which changed her life, a fair dose of feminism (because gaming is by all accounts a “man’s world”), and a lot of funny – this book made me LAUGH!. By the end I felt I had been on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster but I have to say I really enjoyed the ride.  I also felt inspired.  I may not be quite ready to quit my job and move to Hollywood but I do feel like life should be about taking more risks than I ever do so you never know…

Emma

p.s. If you hadn’t have guessed, I would definitely recommend the book – loved it!.

Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US

 

 

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