Review

Review: Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen by Alison Weir

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I learnt about the Tudors endlessly at school. It seemed to be our history topic every other year, but we always started with the infamous Henry VIII, and then moved on to his children. Therefore I really know very little about Henry VII, and his wife Elizabeth, in comparison – particularly Elizabeth, who barely seems to have gotten a mention in the school textbooks. It seemed like this book, by well-known historical writer Alison Weir, would be a good introduction to the ‘first Tudor queen’.

Whilst this book was immensely detailed and clearly Weir cares a lot about the subject matter and did her research very carefully, it perhaps did not feel like the right choice for someone with very little knowledge on Elizabeth to begin with. I just felt glad that I already had a lot of knowledge of later in the period, otherwise I think this book would have been very confusing. For anyone without a prior knowledge of English history, this would not be the right book at all. As you might have noticed, our monarchs have never been creative when it came to choosing names, so history books can often get confusing, what with endless Henrys, Elizabeths, Thomases etc… Obviously this is nothing to do with the author, but I feel like a family tree might have been to some advantage here, especially as the book opens a while before the birth of Elizabeth.

It is also not an easy book to dip in and out of, which I like to do with some history books – some I can read all the way through, others I’d rather just read certain bits. There are chapters only, no sub-chapters or even headings or sub-titles, which made it really quite difficult to work out where I wanted to focus on or not. And whilst some sections were really interesting – for example on Elizabeth’s childhood, her marriage with Henry VII, others were really quite dull. Weir also seems to have a habit of listing items and prices, which seemed unnecessary in some places – although the conversion to modern day currency was interesting, making the opulence of the monarchs all the more clear.

Overall, an interesting book that might be a difficult read for some, and that could definitely have benefited from sub-titles or sub-chapters, easily allowing the reader to pick out sections to read. It feels quite a heavy text without it, and whilst this may work for some, it doesn’t feel like a good place to start for those unfamiliar with this area of history.

Misc.

So You Want To Learn About… SPACE

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I often find myself wishing that I knew so much more about so many different things. Science, languages, different areas of history… there’s so much that I’m missing out on! Over the past few years I’ve been reading more and more non-fiction to try and fill these gaps, so I thought it would be fun to turn this into a blog feature where I recommend non-fiction books based on a certain theme. These will either be ones I’ve chosen myself because I want to read more about them, or ones suggested in the comments – so if there’s anything you want to learn more about, let me know!

Today’s theme is space. As most of you already know, I absolutely LOVE science fiction – whether I’m reading, watching a film or playing video games, I LOVE SPACE!

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BUT – I don’t really know much about it. At least, the real factual stuff. This is something I’ve been wanting to educate myself on for a while (BECAUSE SPACE IS COOL), it is just a matter of finding accessible books because I was never the best at science in school…

So which non-fiction books out there look really good?

A Brief History of Time Cosmos The Hidden Reality

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, Cosmos by Carl Sagan, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

Death by Black Hole Parallel Worlds An Astronaut's Guide

Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Big Bang The Grand Design The Elegant Universe

Big Bang by Simon Singh, The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene

Do you have any recommendations? Which topic would you like to see next?

Thoughts

Thoughts #49: Favourite Non-Fiction Books Written By Women

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As the title suggests, today I wanted to discuss my favourite non-fiction books written by women, as part of Women Writer’s Month. Non-fiction is a topic that’s not often included in the book blogging community when we gush over books, as I have discussed before. I’d love to hear whether you’ve read any of these or have any recommendations; let me know in the comments.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

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Yes Please is Amy Poehler‘s autobiography, or rather anecdotal memoir. Amy is one of my comedy queens and I absolutely love her, a love which began when I first watched Parks & Recreation, where Amy appears as Leslie Knope. It is one of my favourite series ever, one that I can watch again and again and again. This book is typical of her sense of humour and is pretty perfect for any fan of hers – or fan of Parks & Rec.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

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The second of my comedy queens, and often seen on screen with Amy Poehler, Tina Fey has also written a memoir: Bossypants. I read this one more recently, and I’d also recommend it if you’re a big fan of either Saturday Night Live or 30 Rock, as Tina discusses various events that went on behind the scenes of those two shows.

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew

If you enjoy travel writing, then Josie Dew‘s A Ride in the Neon Sun is definitely for you – particularly if you’re a fan of Bill Bryson, because Josie has that same wonderful wit. However, all of her books are about travelling a new country by bicycle. I’ve read a couple of her other travel memoirs and they’ve all been wonderful, but this one was definitely my favourite.

Love and Louis XIV: Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser

Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser is very well-known for writing historical non-fiction, and Love and Louis XIV: Women in the Life of the Sun King is one of the few that I’ve read, although I plan on reading many of her other works. I first read it when I was 18, whilst studying Louis XIV as part of my A Level History course. I’ve been trying to find more books about female historical figures that are also written by women – and if you’re looking for the same, this is a good place to start.

Pompeii by Mary Beard

Pompeii by Mary Beard

Mary Beard is one of my absolute favourite historians – she is so enthusiastic and passionate, I love it. Pompeii is my favourite of all her books so far. Instead of looking at the elite of the town, she takes a look at the life of the ordinary citizen. There is also an accompanying television show if you are interested!

What are some of your favourite non-fiction books written by women?

Review

Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I would definitely consider myself a fangirl. There are so many fandoms I’m a part of, whether they are books, films, television shows or video games. Therefore, a book that discussed all the wonderful parts of being a fangirl seemed pretty damn perfect to me. And according to The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, I am a Potterhead, a Whovian, a Tolkienite, a Bookwalker, a True Believer, a YA Book Nerd, a Whedonite and Girl Who Games – and I am PROUD to be all of those.

As a girl who plays a lot of online games, I have sadly encountered a lot of casual (and sometimes not so casual) sexism. And also a lot of disbelief – I distinctly remember playing one particular online game, and just sitting around chatting to my guild. I always tend to play female characters (normally with red hair!), but I have plenty of male friends who do the same and guys playing as female characters is pretty prevalent in the MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) world. So I was innocently sat around and this guy just came up to me and said ‘So you’re one of those types then’. I asked him what he meant, and he responded with something along the lines of ‘Why the hell would a guy want to play as a female character, it’s so weird’. He had just assumed I was a guy playing as a female character, and by that reasoning ALL girls in the game were actually guys, because A GIRL PLAYING AN ONLINE GAME, THAT CAN’T HAPPEN. I then told him I was actually female and why did it even matter (because it’s a GAME, you can be whoever you want), and he proceeded to try and flirt with me. Nope. No. Not happening. And this is why I was happy to see a chapter on online gaming and how sometimes gender can unnecessarily and sadly have a negative impact on your experience.

There were plenty of other great themes: explaining the whole ‘otaku’ image and why you should avoid certain convention habits like glomping (ugh), a chapter on feminism and awesome women from various fandoms as well as some wonderful references that appealed to my nerdy self. BUT, and this was really quite a major issue, I honestly felt as if the author was just trying too hard to appeal to her audience. Overuse of slang made me cringe regularly and, despite the intended audience probably being girls in their mid-teens to early twenties, a lot of the book felt incredibly childish.

In addition, about three quarters of the book was really basic, self explanatory stuff. You’re going to pick this book up if you’re a fangirl of some kind, therefore you’ve probably already done most of the stuff the author gives advice on: attending conventions, using social media (yeah… really) and other things, most of which were really very dull to read about.

Overall, the book was fun in parts, but really really made me feel embarrassed for fangirls worldwide in others. The last quarter of the book was definitely the strongest – it would kind of be wrong to write a book like this without a chapter on feminism. This was something I greatly approved of, something I honestly feel we need a little more of in our science fiction and fantasy. Also, I’d like to thank the book for providing me with the knowledge that a letter from Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, to her mother, written in 1782, is probably the first recorded use of ‘feels’. Just imagining a duchess flailing around, whining about ‘her feels’ provides me with a great mental image!

Review

Review: A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Despite not having seen the accompanying television series, I pretty much proved Lucy Worsley’s point when I was drawn to this book because of the title. A tale of how the British public have been obsessed with the idea of murder, particularly in the past three hundred years or so, it’s actually quite a lot more than that. Covering the development of the police force, the popularity of horror and true crime novels, famous authors inspired by true crime and other anecdotes like the origins of Madame Tussaud’s, Lucy Worsley manages to pack a lot into one volume.

The first chapter, the story of the Ratcliff Highway Murders, just didn’t do much to grab my attention despite its rather morbid happenings, and I have to admit that I only glanced over much of it – and I actually skipped over many more, but there were some stand-out sections. For example, the chapter on the first appearance of the ‘Penny Dreadful’ was fascinating – these were cheaper alternatives to true crime novels and therefore also accessible to the lower classes. It also explains the name of the recent TV series, which features familiar characters from horror and crime together in one place. There are also sections on authors like Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie – which serves to remind me that I haven’t read anything by either of them!

Although I may have skipped some chapters, this is definitely the sort of history book you can read the entirety of due to Worsley’s writing style, which panders to all. She does not assume the reader is familiar with the history, which makes it perfect for anyone with a new interest in the subject, yet she also does not patronise. However, some areas just unfortunately failed to capture my interest at all. Recommended if you’re interested in the history of criminology and inspiration behind true crime, or fancy reading something a bit more macabre!

Top Lists

Horror October: Top Ten Horror Books On My TBR List

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Today’s Horror October post features the top ten books on my ‘to be read’ list that I want to read most urgently. I’d love to know if any of you have read them, and what you thought! I’ve linked to each book on Goodreads underneath the picture. These are a mix of books from Netgalley and Edelweiss that I still haven’t gotten round to, as well as my own purchases.

TBR Horror

This House Is Haunted by John Boyne, Amity by Micol Ostow and The Haunting Season by Michelle Muto

TBR Horror

The Furies by Mark Alpert

TBR Horror

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

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The Troop by Nick Cutter

TBR Horror

A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley

TBR Horror

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes and The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

TBR Horror

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

Past Features

Turning Off The TV #14: HBO’s Rome

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Welcome to my regular Thursday feature, Turning off the TV! In this feature I recommend books similar to TV shows or films you may have enjoyed, both series and specific episodes.

The TV series this week is: HBO’s Rome.

HBO's Rome

A down-to-earth account of the lives of both illustrious and ordinary Romans set in the last days of the Roman Republic, from Julius Caesar’s civil war of 49 BC to the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.

Yet another series that I haven’t seen, but really need to – especially as it covers one of my favourite periods of history. I can think of so many different books to recommend for fans of this show, so I’ve tried to narrow it down a bit. I’ve included both fiction and non-fiction in today’s feature.

Looking for fiction?

The Aeneid by Virgil Imperium by Robert Harris Ovid the Augustan Scapegoat by Michael Soloman

The Aeneid by Virgil is the classic tale of the foundation of Rome, by Aeneas, a Trojan who escaped the Trojan War and traveled to Italy. I’ve chosen this one not so much because of what it covers, but when it was written – during the fall of the Roman Republic and therefore during the period that Rome is set. Robert Harris’ Imperium follows Cicero, the famous orator, lawyer and politician (and whose name means ‘chickpea’, a fact that will always amuse me), of the Roman Republic. The series is a fictional biography of his life, and features familiar historical figures from the show such as Julius Caesar and Pompey. Ovid: An Augustan Scapegoat by Michael Soloman is set a little after the end of the show: in 14 BC, after the death of Emperor Augustus (Octavian). It uses fact mixed with fiction to create a tale of the poet Ovid, exiled from the Roman Empire and never pardoned.

Or non-fiction?

Rubicon by Tom Holland The Roman Triumph by Mary Beard The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome by Robin Lane Fox

Tom Holland’s Rubicon is a very highly regarded account of the end of the Roman Republic, with lively portraits of historical figures such as Cicero, Cleopatra, Spartacus and Virgil. Mary Beard is quite possibly my favourite historian/classicist EVER, and I had the privilege of meeting her last year, so naturally I have to recommend one of her books! I’ve chosen The Roman Triumph because it’s more of a general look at Rome than some of her other work – although to be honest, I’d recommend any book by her. My final non-fiction book of choice would be The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome by Robin Lane-Fox (who also comes recommended by Mary Beard, if I remember correctly). This book is a pretty brilliant brief account of the ancient world and is wonderfully written. I could list so many more non-fiction books (basically half of my coursebooks for university) but I think that’s enough for now!

Are you a fan of HBO’s Rome? Do you have any recommendations to add? Are there any series or films you’d like to see recommendations for?

Review

Review: Doctor’s Notes by Rosemary Leonard

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Last week I discussed the careers of book bloggers, and shared with you all that I aim to one day be a museum curator. But what I somehow failed to mention (don’t ask how) in that post is that my current job is a medical receptionist. It’s an interesting job, both enjoyable and very stressful at times. So when I saw this book on Bookbridgr I had to request it, to compare Rosemary’s stories to my own experiences!

There were some truly hilarious stories, and others that were really quite shocking. For example, within the same week Rosemary saw three teenage girls who’d all recently gotten pregnant and were happy to keep the baby as their boyfriends had proposed. And then a couple of weeks later, all three girls came back with another problem. Turns out they all had gonorrhea, had all been seeing the same man, who had gotten them all pregnant and proposed to each and every one. Although on occasion the detail in some tales was a bit grisly and graphic, the information about various medical conditions was fascinating. And of course there were bits that were possibly only funny if you work in a GP surgery – such as rushing to fulfill QOF targets before the end of the financial year (which we were doing at the end of March this year).

However, whilst it was quite enjoyable, at times it felt a little… uncomfortable, in a way. Obviously when it comes to healthcare there is a MAJOR emphasis on confidentiality, and this felt almost like it was breaching that trust at times. I know the names and identities were changed but still – what if someone featured in the book read it and recognised themselves? Sure, no-one else could, but that person would feel humiliated and betrayed. And then of course that left me feeling conflicted over whether I should really have found some of those stories funny, as they happened to real people and had real consequences. The writing style also reminded me of ‘true life’ stories in those trashy magazines that we love to hate (‘My father is also my brother!‘, I married a serial killer!‘ etc). Unfortunately, what let the book down the most in my eyes was how judgmental I felt Rosemary was at times. She makes far too many comments on class and appearance, and whilst I understand that doctors may see people in a different way because they’re used to making visual assessments, there was really no need for it here.

Overall, a light and quick read – occasionally cringe-inducing and able of making the reader feel rather uncomfortable – but interesting nonetheless. Worth the read if you work in a similar environment, if only for the familiarity.

Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: February 2014

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Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

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Last month I read a total of eight books – less than January, but no novellas or graphic novels this time. Cash: The Autobiography of Johnny Cash (with Patrick Carr), Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick, Lockstep by Karl Schroeder, Paper Towns by John Green, The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson and The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris.

Standout books include The Final Empire, The Gospel of Loki and Cash: The Autobiography of Johnny Cash – one of my favourite musicians ever, his life was absolutely fascinating to read about. I’ve now read twenty-three books towards my goal of fifty this year, but I’m unsure about raising it just yet.

Challenge progress:

  • I read four more books towards the Avengers vs. X-Men Challenge, and managed to beat this month’s boss – Crimson Dynamo! Gooooo X-Men! *waves mutant flag*
  • Another one ticked off of the Dragons & Jetpacks Ultimate Booklist Challenge, which handily also happened to be February’s Fantasy Book of the Month!
  • I’m slowly finishing off my TBR Pile 2013 Challenge – I achieved my goal for the year last year, but I had a list of thirty books, and aimed to read at least fifteen in 2013. Now I want to read the rest throughout 2014.
  • And finally, the Review Copy Clean-up Challenge! I read three review copies this month, which isn’t quite as many as I’d hoped to – but my Netgalley ratio is now 55.5%, which is a bonus. I still have to review one of the books, although that one was from Goodreads.

Currently reading:

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Reviews on the blog this month:

Other posts:

Upcoming:

  • A couple of reviews, including She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick and The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.
  • A post about my time at the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which I visited on 19th February!
  • The usual discussions and features will return, minus Weekly Roundup which has become rather infrequent as I’m trying to not buy books. CRAZY, I know.

Off the blog:

Well as I mentioned, I was ill at the end of February… I had really bad tonsillitis in November (during Sci-Fi Month!) so I was really worried it would be another case of that – but luckily it was just a throat infection and cold. Earlier in the month I visited the Harry Potter Studio Tour with one of my best friends which was amazing, but more on that in another post! I then had another best friend to stay for a few days, and it was so lovely to see her – we met up with another friend from uni and had a lovely day out at a National Trust place nearby, then went out for tapas in the evening. I’m really quite scared at how fast the year is going, see as I’ll be moving to the Netherlands in mid-August and I have a LOT to sort out before then. Better get on it!

And that was my February! I remember writing up the Review Copy Cleanup post quite clearly, so I think it’s gone a *little* too quickly for my liking. How was your month?

Thoughts

Thoughts #12: Neglected Non-Fiction

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There is one thing I’ve noticed a definite lack of in the blogosphere.

Non-fiction.

Personally, I love many genres of non-fiction: autobiographies, memories, history and archaeology books, books on nature, science, linguistics… But it feels that many bloggers don’t have a particular interest, or at least don’t share it. So why is it not a common feature amongst the blogs?

  • It can be quite difficult to review (apparently I’ve reviewed only six non-fiction books since starting the blog), which means that whilst my fellow bloggers may enjoy non-fiction, it’s difficult to feature on the blog.
  • How do you review something that is fact? You can’t criticise so many of the different areas you would look at for a work of fiction. It seriously reduces the amount you can really say about the book.
  • Some people read to escape to other worlds, so non-fiction just doesn’t work for them.
  • I know that when I was at university, I avoided reading any history or archaeology books that were NOT relevant to my course, because I had so much to take in anyway, and didn’t want to end up remembering stuff about Henry VIII when my course was in ancient history! So perhaps, for that same reason, many fellow bloggers who are still studying prefer to avoid non-fiction.

I thought perhaps I’d share some of my favourite non-fiction books, in various categories, and hopefully you can share yours with me!

History & archaeology

Pompeii by Mary Beard The Borgias by Christopher Hibbert Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

This is perhaps, along with travel, one of my more read areas of non-fiction – as my degree was in ancient history and archaeology. I’ll read about almost any period of history up until the twentieth century. Mary Beard is one of my favourite classicists so anything by her is good. I also have a particular interest in the Borgia family (so much scheming!), and Louis XIV after studying him for History A Level when I was 18. I think books like this can often have a reputation for being stuffy, written by scholars who know everything about these ancient worlds and nothing about the present day one. And whilst that may be the case with some books of this type, there are so many wonderfully written and accessible history books. You could start with books that accompany a TV series of the same subject, as they’re often written for people who are learning along with the show.

Travel

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson

If you’ve not yet read anything by either Bill Bryson or Josie Dew, then step on it! The two write very witty travel accounts – Bryson travelling alone by car (normally), and Dew alone by bicycle. They both capture the spirit of the countries they visit, and somehow poke fun at various elements of culture without being offensive in any way. Words cannot describe how excited I was last year when I realised there was a Bill Bryson book I hadn’t read yet – and so I got to experience that first read through joy!

Biography & memoir

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson 35488 How To Be A Woman

When it comes to biographies and memoirs, to me they either have to be witty and perhaps a bit self-deprecating, or of truly fascinating lives. Some memoirs I’ve read just don’t have either – even after the ‘big break through’. Or perhaps it was just how they were written. Once again, Bill Bryson makes the list with his autobiography, as does Caitlin Moran with her hilarious anecdotes of her younger self. And I recently read Johnny Cash’s autobiography and absolutely LOVED it. He is one of my very favourite musicians and had such an interesting life – plus the way it was told was just wonderful. He rambles from tale to tale, nothing is in chronological order – but it works. It’s as if you were sat there, having drinks with him and listening to him talk about his life.

What about you – do you enjoy reading non-fiction? What are your favourite genres of non-fiction? If you don’t enjoy it, tell me why! Why do you think it’s not often featured on book blogs?