Book Review: “The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper” – Hallie Rubenhold

81ZQ2NrGldLThe Blurb

“Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.

Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight and gives these women back their stories.”

What I thought:

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book! Finally a voice for the women who became the victims of Jack The Ripper. While Jack has become the hero of this story over the century and a half since the Whitechapel murders, Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary Jane can now tell their own stories, and they are ones that will make you weep with pity and frustration.

Mothers, wives, daughters, friends, all these women had, at some point, a family that loved them, some were educated, all suffered at the hands of an unjust and cruel society that failed them over and over again. What Hallie Rubenhold has done with this book, is not only tell a fascinating tale of women’s lives in Victorian times, but she has bestowed some dignity upon them, finally.

Verdict:

Read this! I implore you! Never sentimental, always empathetic, this is a non-fiction book that is as gripping and page-turning as any fiction novel. It’s important and timely but also just a damn good read. Cannot recommend highly enough! I suffered from a huge book hangover after reading The Five and I am still thinking about them now.

 

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Her Majesty Saffy approved heartily!

 

 

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Review: Home by Amanda Berriman

Image result for home amanda berrimanWhat I Thought:

I have thought about what I might write for this review, and have finally come to the conclusion that whatever I write will come nowhere close to doing this book justice. It was one of those books where I started to dread finishing because I didn’t want to leave them behind. It melted my heart but it also broke it.

The funny thing is, I was almost put off reading Home upon realising it was narrated by a four-year-old as I’m not a massive fan of child narrators (except the utterly brilliant Room and Only Child). However, buying Home has turned out to be one of the best bookish decisions I have ever made! Within two pages, I had warmed to Jesika so completely that I wanted to scoop her up in a big fat hug.

Jesika lives with her Mum Tina and baby brother Toby in a high-rise flat with a corrupt Landlord and unsavoury neighbours. This is a story of poverty and struggle and yet it is also a story of bravery and triumph. Some of the themes of the book are not easy to read but seeing it through the eyes of a child adds some distance allowing the book not to take a depressing or gratuitous turn. Every character in this book is so wonderfully drawn that I took pretty much all of them to heart.

There’s not much more I can say about the plot without ruining it and whatever more I do say will never truly capture the beauty and brilliance of this book. The only thing I can say with any certainty is READ IT!

Verdict:

Warning: Jesika will steal your heart. You will not want to leave her behind and you still think about her long after you have set this book down to rest. I cannot recommend highly enough!

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Blog Tour: Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

9781509855582What I Thought:

Many years ago I read a book called Room by Emma Donaghue and fell in love with a small boy. A few weeks ago I read Only Child and fell in love with a different little boy. There was a time when I couldn’t read books narrated by children, as I would find myself cringing at anything that didn’t feel authentic. Room changed that, and now I have a new hero that goes by the name of Zach.

The book opens with Zach and some of his classmates hiding in a cupboard with their teacher as a gunman runs rampage through their school. Zach continues with his story in the aftermath of the massacre as he, his family and the community try to make some sort of sense of the events of that day. Zach is a wonderful character: perceptive, sensitive and very engaging. Despite narrating the chaos and confusion felt by himself and those around him, it was a pleasure to be in his company as he navigated his own unfamiliar emotions and witnessed the alien ones of those closest to him. Being narrated by a child gives the story the wide-eyed, innocent view of the world that only a child could which adds to the heartbreak in a way that a cynical or jaded adult wouldn’t be able to.

This is such an incredibly powerful book and not just because of the subject matter. I am stunned that this is the author’s debut novel as it is written with the assuredness and keen eye of someone who has many more books under her belt. Only Child wrecked me. Several times. My heart broke for the characters in this book. And despite the subject matter, nothing felt gratuitous or shoe-horned in for dramatic effect which is why I’m sure it had such the impact that it did.

Verdict:

This book is a triumph. It crushes you and lifts you back up, it breaks your heart but leaves you optimistic, it holds a mirror up to society and forces you to look beneath the surface at what’s really going on. It will be a long time before I forget Zach and his family. Zach is a special boy and this is a special book – one which I cannot recommend highly enough.

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NB/ Thank you to Jess for inviting me to be part of the blog tour. I read the book voluntarily and opinions are my own. For other reviews of this book, please head over to these other fantastic blogs:

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Throwback Thursday: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen:

 

Image result for water for elephants bookWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen:

This book is a real gem: a rare gem that thrills and shocks simultaneously. This is a beautifully written, well researched, off-beat love story about a young man called Jacob who (having been suddenly orphaned at the age of 22 while at university and in the age of the depression in America) finds himself, quite unexpectedly, working for a circus. Here we are treated to a feast of colourful (many rather unsavoury) characters (with dwarves, bearded ladies and a whole host of animals).  This book is just spectacular – the way that I was immersed into circus life was astounding, I really felt the atmosphere, the sounds, the smells; I was there in the big top, there on the train in the dead of night, there at the raucous after-show parties – Gruen did a fantastic job of setting the scene.

Animals are one of my biggest passions (along with books and travel) and therefore any book containing animals is usually a hit with me. Water for Elephants is not only a love story between Jacob and Marlena (a married woman whom he loves from afar) but also between Jacob and his animals, imparticular an elephant named Rosie whom I also fell in love with.
The story flits between Jacob as an old man in a nursing home (where a circus comes to town which brings back all his memories) and Jacob in the 1930’s during his circus years. This is a wonderfully written, engrossing, captivating novel and I felt lost when I had finished it; I truly had withdrawal symptoms. After now having seen the film, I want to immerse myself in this wonderfully vibrant and chaotic world that is The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. If you think you won’t like a book set in a circus, think again; there’s so much more to it and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Verdict:

An absolute joy! A book that made me laugh, cry, and everything in between. I cannot recommend highly enough.

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Review: The Pool House by Tasmina Perry

Image result for the pool house tasmina perryWhat I thought:

I have long been aware of the name Tasmina Perry as an author but never been tempted to even venture as far as the first page in any of her books, simply deciding that they weren’t for me. What then drove me to select this on a whim? I have no idea but I am SO glad I did – I loved it!

Mysteries are my favourite genre so when The Pool House started with a murder I was hooked anyway but add a luxurious Hamptons Beach House and I was instantly transported to the glamorous world of young, rich socialites who will do anything to rise to the top. Being everything that I normally despise about society, these self-serving, ruthless individuals, when blended together with sunshine and New York night life, make a heady cocktail of shenanigans that fizz off the pages.

Jem and her husband Dan have moved to NYC from London to live the dream and Dan to pursue his career in publishing. When they are invited to house-share a beach house in the Hamptons with three other couples every weekend in the summer, they jump at the chance. Not quite able to believe their luck, they settle into their new lifestyle quickly and all is well until Jem discovers that the couple who had the room last year didn’t have quite so much luck when Alice was found dead in the swimming pool. With the group reluctant to discuss what happened last summer, Jem – with the help of neighbour and famous thriller writer, Michael Kearney – sets out to uncover what really happened that night, but it seems she may be meddling where she’s not wanted…

Verdict:

This book was so good! I was so engrossed in the story that I could have actually been there and what’s more, I’ve discovered that a lifestyle that would actually be my idea of hell is actually damn good fun to read about. I loved it so much that I’ve gone on to download three more of Perry’s books.

Fun, pacy and with oodles of glamour and also incredibly well written, I am now a firm fan. Highly recommended!

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NB/ I requested a copy of this book on Amazon Vine in return for an honest review. The Pool House by Tasmina Perry is published in the UK in September 2017 by Headline. 

Throwback Thursday: Dog Boy by Eva Hurnung

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen one that I read in 2010 and still plays on my mind even now:

9270148Dog Boy by Eva Hornung:

As soon as I saw this book sitting on a shelf in Waterstones years ago I made a bee line straight for it. I am such a huge animal lover and I am a sucker for books with animals on the cover, in the title or narrated by them. Wolf Totem, Animal Farm, Black Beauty and Life of Pi all feature in my list of favourite books of all time.

Dog Boy is narrated by Ramochka, a four-year-old boy who lives with his mother and his latest “uncle” in a high-rise apartment block in Moscow. After several days of his mum not returning, seeing Uncle moving out all the furniture, and being left to fend for himself in freezing conditions and with no food, he finally ventures outside. Cold and hungry, Ramochka follows a large sandy coloured dog back to her lair. The dog becomes the only source of food, warmth and comfort that Ramochka has available to him and he begins to see the dog as his Mamochka. The puppies that Mamochka is already nursing become his siblings and they accept him into their fold immediately and unquestioningly. The two older siblings, however, take more convincing but eventually, Ramochka becomes a permanent and invaluable member of their little family, all living together in the basement of a derelict church in the harshest of conditions. The longer the new family is together, the more Ramochka begins to forget his old life, and before long he is eating rats and other fresh kills that any one of the pack manages to bring home.

What I loved about this book was the real love and strength of the bond between human and animal. It was amazing to see how the pack of stray dogs view the world, through the eyes of a small boy. The story is alternately shocking, pitiful, heartbreaking, tender, joyful and fascinating. I fell in love, smiled, cried and hoped. To live with this group of animals for a few days was a privilege and one I won’t forget easily.

Verdict:

A highly recommended read. It will lift you up and tear you down but it is truly a wonderful, captivating, must-read.

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Throwback Thursday: Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen Bonjour Tristesse which I read back in 2009.

9780141198750Bonjour Tristesee by Francoise Sagan

This book was written by an 18 year old which, when you consider the richness of the narrative and the emotions involved, I find quite astounding. Or maybe I’ve just got too old and have forgotten how complex emotions are when you’re teetering on the brink of adulthood. Either way, I thought it was brilliantly done.

Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) is a tale of one tragic summer through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl. Spoilt and extrovert, Cecile is used to living the high life with her 40 year old Dad whom she goes out drinking and gambling with as if she were his contemporary. They head off from Paris to a villa in the south of France for 2 months one summer (taking along Elsa, her fathers current girlfriend) and spend the first few weeks doing little else other than sunbathing and swimming in the sea. Then Anne arrives (Cecile’s dead mothers best friend) who is sensible, intelligent and calm (everything Cecile and her father are not). Cecile loves Anne, but having been used to doing exactly as she pleases, she is not pleased when Anne treats her as the child she is and makes her study for her exams. Cecile is adamant that she doesn’t need exams – she is already leading the life she wants (living in luxury and partying none stop). Shortly after, Anne and Cecile’s father announce that they are getting married and here Cecile hatches a plan to stop the wedding at all costs (fearing for the lifestyle she loves with her father and knowing that it will all change). She involves Elsa, the spurned girlfriend, and Cyril, the boy from the next villa whom she has been sleeping with, to help her plot the undoing of the engagement. Everything seems to be going according to plan, and then it all goes horribly wrong…

I loved it. I don’t know if it is because Sagan was the same age as Cecile herself or that she was an incredibly perceptive young lady, but she really captures the fine balance of not being sure whether you’re an adult or a child. Interestingly, although Anne appears to treat her as the latter and her father as a contemporary, Cecile herself says that she feels like their pet kitten (something to be cooed at and petted).

Verdict:

I instantly fell in love with this book. I have since read a few more of Sagan’s books and been similarly blown away by how perceptive of humans and what makes us human she is. An extremely talented writer.

 

Have you read any of Sagan’s books? Any others you would recommend?