Book Review: Bloody Brilliant Women.

BloodybrillwomenMark recently bought Freya the children’s book, Fantastically Great Women Who Made History, written by Kate Pankhurst.

After reading it with her I remember thinking two things ‘yay for Mark’ and ‘I wish there was something like this for adults’.

BEHOLD, Bloody Brilliant Women.

Journalist and presenter Cathy Newman has plugged a gap in the market and I, for one, am incredibly grateful.

I can’t remember learning about any women in my humanities lessons, although I’m sure there were some – it was 30ish years ago and my memory isn’t what it was.

This book goes further, though, not just highlighting already well known women in Britain but “…the pioneers, revolutionaries and geniuses your history teacher forgot to mention”.

It’s a lively book that isn’t just readable but relatable. It’s also funny in places and definitely makes you think. Suggesting the Bayeux Tapestry could be a precursor to the Daily Mail’s ‘side bar of shame’ is just one example.

It reminds me of a book version of the fantastic programmes by Lucy Worsley or Kate Williams which are as engrossing as they are engaging. In fact, I hope it can somehow be made into a tele series. We need it.

Here’s the blurb:

A fresh, opinionated history of all the brilliant women you should have learned about in school but didn’t.

In this freewheeling history of modern Britain, Cathy Newman writes about the pioneering women who defied the odds to make careers for themselves and alter the course of modern history; women who achieved what they achieved while dismantling hostile, entrenched views about their place in society.

Their role in transforming Britain is fundamental, far greater than has generally been acknowledged, and not just in the arts or education but in fields like medicine, politics, law, engineering and the military.

While a few of the women in this book are now household names, many have faded into oblivion, their personal and collective achievements mere footnotes in history. We know of Emmeline Pankhurst, Vera Brittain, Marie Stopes and Beatrice Webb. But who remembers engineer and motorbike racer Beatrice Shilling, whose ingenious device for the Spitfires’ Rolls-Royce Merlin fixed an often-fatal flaw, allowing the RAF’s planes to beat the German in the Battle of Britain? Or Dorothy Lawrence, the journalist who achieved her ambition to become a WW1 correspondent by pretending to be a man? And developmental biologist Anne McLaren, whose work in genetics paved the way for in vitro fertilisation?

Were it not for women, significant features of modern Britain like council housing, municipal swimming pools and humane laws relating to property ownership, child custody and divorce wouldn’t exist in quite the same way. Women’s drive and talent for utopian thinking created new social and legislative agendas. The women in these pages blazed a trail from the 1918 Representation of the People Act – which allowed some women to vote – through to Margaret Thatcher’s ousting from Downing Street.

Blending meticulous research with information gleaned from memoirs, diaries, letters, novels and other secondary sources, Bloody Brilliant Women uses the stories of some extraordinary lives to tell the tale of 20th and 21st century Britain. It is a history for women and men. A history for our times.

Maybe, because I had been reading Freya’s book, I assumed it would take a similar format; an extended look at one woman at a time. That’s not the case. The eight chapters are on broad themes such as education, women between the wars and a final one bringing things up to the present.

Once I had worked out that I wasn’t just reading a really long introduction, it was fine, possibly even better because it features many, many more bloody brilliant women – although it did require a higher level of concentration than the hour before bed afforded.

As I was reading this book, I felt the might of their power behind me and, as a result, I felt empowered. I definitely think this should be required reading for high school students, of both sexes.

I will be getting a paper copy for Freya’s book shelf because, even if history lessons have improved since my day, I think it will be essential reading when she’s older.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £9.99.

My rating: Four and a half stars.

With thanks to Harper Collins UK/William Collins for the ARC (via NetGalley) in return for an honest review.

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Book Review: Coming Home To Maple Cottage.

maplecottageComing Home To Maple Cottage is the final book in the latest series by Holly Martin – and definitely the one I’ve been waiting for.

I bought the first two but simply couldn’t wait until publication day to find out Isla and Leo’s story so turned to NetGalley to get an early fix.

The story is just as good as I hoped it would be; a rollercoaster of a tale full of heart and humour – and exactly what I’ve come to expect from Holly, who writes with such wonderful warmth.

Here’s the blurb:

Isla Rosewood is creating a new life for herself and her sweet nephew Elliot in their cosy, yellow-brick family cottage, brimming with special memories. Living in Sandcastle Bay was never part of Isla’s plan but, after her brother Matthew’s tragic accident, her whole world changed as she unexpectedly became a mother to the little boy she adores so much.

Leo Jackson was always known as Matthew’s fun-loving and wild best friend. But now Matthew is gone, it’s time to put his colourful past behind him. His role as Elliot’s godfather is the most important thing to him. And even though Leo and Isla are two very different people, they both want to give Elliot the childhood he deserves.

As the three of them enjoy time together watching fireworks, baking cakes and collecting conkers, Isla begins to see a softer side to charming Leo, with his twinkling eyes and mischievous sense of humour. And, despite herself, she begins to fall for him.

But does Leo feel the same way? Isla knows their situation is complicated but is it too complicated for true love… or will the year end with a happy new beginning for them all?

While I think this book would work as a standalone, I definitely felt more connected to all of the characters knowing a bit more of their backstory from The Holiday Cottage By The Sea and The Cottage On Sunshine Beach. While I enjoyed all three, I think because Isla and Leo’s story had been teased in the other two, this was the one I was most looking forward to.

As always, Holly creates a cast of eclectic, likeable characters who can all see how much Isla and Leo belong together – and do their best to help them along.

Little Elliot provides a fair few comedy moments – along with the indomitable Agatha –  as well as provoking a few tears too.

While I’m happy to know how Isla and Leo’s story concludes, I’m sad that there are no more books in the series.

The only consolation is that hopefully, even as I type, Holly is hard at work on her next book.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £1.99 (via Amazon).

My rating: Five stars.

With thanks to Bookouture for making me very happy by letting me read the ARC (via NetGalley) in return for an honest review.

Book Review: A Respectable Woman.

A respectable womanWith her second book Susanna Bavin has cemented her place as one of the country’s leading family saga writers.

Following the success of her debut, The Deserter’s Daughter, it must have been quite a feat to come up with a story equally as good but, in my opinion, she’s produced something even better.

And I don’t say that lightly, as I loved her first book, but this one charmed me even more.

Here’s the blurb:

After losing all her family in the Great War, Nell is grateful to marry Stan Hibbert. However, five years on, she is just another back-street housewife, making every penny do the work of tuppence and performing miracles with scrag-end. When she discovers that Stan is leading a double-life, she runs away to make a fresh start.

Two years later, Nell has carved out a fulfilling new life for herself and her young children in Manchester, where her neighbours believe she is a respectable widow. But the past is hard to run from, and Nell must fight to protect the life she has made for herself and her children.

From the first page, Susanna pulls you into the backstreets of 1920s Manchester so that when you’re done you’ll be wanting to scrub your front doorstep and send your children out to play in the street with their mates (although no noisy games on a Sunday).

It’s a hard life, especially for a single mother, but you get a real sense of community as Nell’s neighbours pitch in to look after her children while she works – although no matter how hard she toils, she’ll never be allowed to earn as much as a man. Interesting that we are still having similar conversations today.

Along with Nell, there’s a wonderful cast, including swoon-worthy Jim, the solicitor turned window cleaner, Mrs Brent, who takes the family under her wing and later has her kindness repaid, and two lovely young characters in the shape of Alf and the beautifully named Posy.

Then there’s the villain. Susanna seems to have a particular skill for conjuring up nasty pieces of work and Edmund is up there with the best of them. Thinking about him still makes my blood run cold.

The story is so well written, with wonderful little details from the period adding to the colour of the tale.

Having learnt my lesson last time, when I carried on reading long after my bedtime, I gave myself some much needed ‘me time’ while Freya was at school to enjoy this book. I am so pleased I did because, once again, I couldn’t put it down – even to make myself some lunch (unheard of).

I’ve already pre-ordered her next book, The Sewing Room Girl. Hopefully I won’t have too long to wait.

Format: Libby (borrowed from Norfolk Library Service).

My rating: Five stars.