The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak @HoZ_Books @jadedgwill #nonfiction #europe #historicalbiographies #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak. This is a brilliant non-fiction book that is such an addictive read. Two formidable women from history doing their utmost to survive and continue their hold on power.

My huge thanks to Jade Gwilliam at Head of Zeus for sending me a gorgeous hardback copy of this book. When it comes to history and books I prefer physical books simply because I can flick back and forth easier to look at maps, graphs and other stuff that is often included.

The remarkable, little-known story of two trailblazing women in the Early Middle Ages who wielded immense power, only to be vilified for daring to rule.

Brunhild was a Spanish princess, raised to be married off for the sake of alliance-building. Her sister-in-law Fredegund started out as a lowly palace slave. And yet—in the 6th-century Merovingian Empire, where women were excluded from noble succession and royal politics was a blood sport—these two iron-willed strategists reigned over vast realms for decades, changing the face of Europe.

The two queens commanded armies and negotiated with kings and popes. They formed coalitions and broke them, mothered children and lost them. They fought a years-long civil war—against each other. With ingenuity and skill, they battled to stay alive in the game of statecraft, and in the process laid the foundations of what would one day be Charlemagne’s empire. Yet after Brunhild and Fredegund’s deaths—one gentle, the other horrific—their stories were rewritten, their names consigned to slander and legend.

In The Dark Queens, award-winning writer Shelley Puhak sets the record straight. She resurrects two very real women in all their complexity, painting a richly detailed portrait of an unfamiliar time and striking at the roots of some of our culture’s stubbornest myths about female power. The Dark Queens offers proof that the relationships between women can transform the world.

MY REVIEW

The Dark Queens is a brilliantly researched book about two queens who helped and ruled parts of Europe in the mid – 500Ad.

Brunhild, born 543AD came from Spain to marry the Merovingian king, Sigibert in 567AD. Her sister-in-law Fredegund was a palace slave, who then went on to also become Queen.

The author has done a fascinating and fabulous job of bringing the lives of these two women to life. Mid 500AD is not a time when women have any power, the only power they have is that they bear sons. Their worth is in their fertility so how on earth did two women rise to become the most prominent rulers of their time?

Using manipulation, spies, poisons, assassins, being quick-witted, devious and above all willing to do what they must. At times doing what men would do.

This is an era when sibling rivalry, family squabbles and arguments can lead to all-out war. Europe is not settled and when kingdoms are split between brothers then there is always going to be sour grapes if one has more than another. The more land one has, the more the others want and so it is important to be aligned with the right side, although which side is the right side is always open to contention. Of course, sides can be swapped.

The author makes the history of Brunhild and Fredegund so easy to read, while there are dates and facts they are incorporated in such a way as to make this really enjoyable reading. Not lists of dates, or who was married to who and when this one killed that one and succeded the throne. But, instead, it follows an almost storylike style. Many times I actually forgot I was reading a factual or non-fiction history book as the author had made it so exciting. It does have a fiction feel and this makes it really accessible reading.

I discovered so many things about these two women and just how hard they worked to get where they got and also to remain there. I was aware of both women from history but didn’t know hardly anything about them.

As I read this I imagined Europe as a chessboard with the Queens, Kings and others being the pieces on a bloody and vicious board. Each one trying to outwit the other, trying to out-think, out-manoeuvre and predict where the other would next strike.

If you have an interest in European history, especially from Medieval times then you really need to pick up this book. It is the story of two women who became powerful leaders in a world of men. Quite an inspiring book and one that shows just what it took to be successful way back in the later part of 500AD.

It is a book I would definitely recommend, brilliant reading, well researched and also loads of notes, bibliography and the like at the end for further reading. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shelley Puhak is the author of The Dark Queens, which is her nonfiction debut. Her essays and articles have appeared in publications like The Atlantic, Creative Nonfiction, and Virginia Quarterly Review; been anthologized in Best American Travel Writing, and designated as Notable in four editions of Best American Essays.​

Shelley is also the author of three award-winning books of poetry. The most recent is Harbinger, a National Poetry Series selection, forthcoming with Ecco/HarperCollins in 2022.

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The Vanished Collection by Pauline Baer de Perignon translated by Natasha Lehrer @jadedgwill @HoZ_Books #nonfiction #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for The Vanished Collection by Pauline Baer de Perignon translated by Natasha Lehrer. This is a fabulous non-fiction book about Pauline’s search for her family’s art collection.

Massive thanks to Jade at Head of Zeus publishers for my hardback copy of this book. I answered a social media call for readers interested in non-fiction books.

It all started with a list of paintings. There, scribbled by a cousin she hadn’t seen for years, were the names of the masters whose works once belonged to her great-grandfather, Jules Strauss: Renoir, Monet, Degas, Tiepolo and more. Pauline Baer de Perignon knew little to nothing about Strauss, or about his vanished, precious art collection. But the list drove her on a frenzied trail of research in the archives of the Louvre and the Dresden museums, through Gestapo records, and to consult with Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. What happened in 1942? And what became of the collection after Nazis seized her great-grandparents’ elegant Parisian apartment? The quest takes Pauline Baer de Perignon from the Occupation of France to the present day as she breaks the silence around the wrenching experiences her family never fully transmitted, and asks what art itself is capable of conveying over time.

MY REVIEW

This is a wonderful and a captivating book about a lost, or I should say, a Vanished Collection of artwork. The author, Pauline Baer de Perignon has written such an absorbing account of her research into her family and a missing art collection.

The collection belonged to Jules Strauss, a well-known collect0r of famous painters, artists and furniture collections. During her research that was initiated by her cousin, she discovers that there are paintings that were lost and have yet to be returned.

The paintings were taken during World War II. There were a lot of German collectors, Hitler himself was one and there were no qualms at the time as to how certain masterpieces ended up in the wrong hands. Trying to discover the provenance of stolen and looted paintings is the only way of returning them to their rightful owners. This is a difficult and long process, and not guaranteed.

The author of this book has written a story of her family’s history as she tracks down information about lost artefacts. It brings several things to light and also makes you realise how things have changed over the years. Documents are lost, destroyed or still need to be catalogued.

This is such an absorbing book to read, it is a fabulous journey into a family’s history and through to its present. This is one for those who like their history and also mysteries as it does become the author’s challenge to piece together all the information she discovered.

After finishing this book I immediately went to the internet to search for the paintings mentioned and also for Jules Strauss himself. This was great as I was able to see the artwork. A brilliant book and one I would definitely recommend.

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Universe: And Our Place Within It by Andrew Newsam @alisonmenziespr @eandtbooks #science #nonfiction #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Universe: And Our Place Within It by Andrew Newsam. This is a very accessible and interesting read for those with a basic curiosity about the Universe.

My huge thanks to Alison at Elliot and Thompson for getting in touch about this book and for sending me a copy from the publisher Eliot & Thompson.

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Everything you ever wanted to know about the universe – and our place within it – in one mind-expanding and highly accessible book.
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What happens inside black holes? Is dark matter real? Could we do anything to prevent being wiped out by an approaching asteroid? Will our explorations of our neighbouring planets reveal life or a new place to settle? What can observations of stars reveal about our origins – and our future?

Professor Andrew Newsam draws on his vast expertise to show us what’s going on beyond the limits of our planet, from our solar system to distant galaxies – and what this tells us about our own place in this vast expanse called ‘the Universe’.

From glowing nebulae to the sweeping majesty of the Milky Way, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Universe will spark your curiosity and help you make sense of the amazing discoveries and fascinating mysteries of the cosmos.

MY REVIEW

I am not a scientifically minded person, I struggle with large numbers and most of the stuff goes over my head. What I am though, is curious. It is curiosity that is the start for many/most of the advances in everything we know, build, connect and learn from. So, there is hope for me yet! Maybe 😉

This is a relatively short book and one that I found to be really informative, but most importantly for me, it was also understandable. When I say understandable, I mean that as I read it made sense as the author laid everything out in a basic way. He also made comparisons to things we know.

Anything to do with space or the universe involves some seriously mega numbers. Million is a tiny amount! Millions of millions are a bit larger, but when numbers have 10 or 20 or more zeros in them then it is mind-blowing for this mere mortal. The author put these numbers into a perspective that gave me some idea of the size, this gave the figures a meaning that before I would just go, “yeah that’s beyond me to imagine anything that large”. I think this is what makes this book so interesting and informative, the author breaks things down into manageable and understandable numbers and also terms. Whether he is referring to the difference between fusion or fission, the difference between dark matter or mass, he gives his explanations in basic terms.

This is a book that deals with the Universe from its earliest and continues over billions of years. How guesswork and theories have changed, challenged or proven as advances in observational equipment and computers. Studying the universe is something that will always throw up new questions and quests. There is also a really interesting part about the future of the Universe.

I have to say that this is a book that I found really enjoyable to read. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as such, I expected it to be informative and hopefully, I would learn something as I read. The author has an almost conversational style to his writing, it felt as if he was interacting with me personally as he led me through the mysteries, phenomena, science, discoveries and challenges.

If you are curious about where the universe started and like me have no science background then this book is a wonderful place to start. It has definitely made me more curious. Very accessible to read, understandable with explained jargon and terms, An excellent book to read and one that I would definitely recommend. 

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Put a Wet Paper Towel on it by Lee Parkinson and Adam Parkison #NetyGalley #nonfiction #education @HarperCollinsUK #humour #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for Put a Wet Paper Towel on it by Lee Parkinson and Adam Parkinson. I admit it was the title of this book that definitely caught my eye. I remember that a wet paper towel was used in school for so many things.

A heart-warming and hilarious look at life in the classroom from the teachers who host the most popular UK education podcast, Two Mr Ps in a Pod(Cast).

Have you ever wondered what really happens during the day when your precious little angels are at school?

In this book, The Two Mr Ps will take you on a side-splittingly funny journey through the weird and wonderful world of primary schools. It will also explore the pressures of modern-day teaching, revealing exactly what it takes to wrangle a chaotic classroom (or seven) on a weekly basis. From the absolute characters found in the staffroom to school-trip mishaps and everything else in between, Put A Wet Paper Towel on It is a must-read for teachers and parents alike.

So sit up straight, four legs on your chair, fingers on lips and get ready to take a trip down memory lane. And remember – when in doubt, just put a wet paper towel on it. 

MY REVIEW

This is quite an entertaining book about working in a Primary School in the UK. The title immediately caught my eye as I can remember wet paper towels being used for nose bleeds, cut fingers, grazed knees and many other things.

The authors are brothers, both working in primary Education, one a teacher the other a teaching assistant. The authors provide a background that tells their journey into the classroom, and also rather humorously some of the events that have occurred over the years.

They list various types of personalities that you can find amongst teachers, students and also parents. There are various observations from both about the way the education system keeps evolving and how there seems to be more paperwork than ever before.

Both of the authors have a similar attitude but they also have a very strong ethos when it comes down to teaching and helping those in their care.

While this is a humorous book there are also some very important things discussed and it does highlight the plight of education, schools, politicians and the ever-changing goalposts. This is a nicely balanced book and one that I did enjoy reading. It is one I would happily recommend. 

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Murder: The Biography by Kate Morgan #NetGalley #nonfiction #crime #history #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for Murder: The Biography by Kate Morgan. I requested this e-book from the publisher Harper Collins, via NetGalley. It was a book I had planned to read over the summer! Better late than never.

Totally gripping and brilliantly told, Murder: The Biography is a gruesome and utterly captivating portrait of the legal history of murder.

The stories and the people involved in the history of murder are stranger, darker and more compulsive than any crime fiction.

There’s Richard Parker, the cannibalized cabin boy whose death at the hands of his hungry crewmates led the Victorian courts to decisively outlaw a defence of necessity to murder. Dr Percy Bateman, the incompetent GP whose violent disregard for his patient changed the law on manslaughter. Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in England in the 1950s, played a crucial role in changes to the law around provocation in murder cases. And Archibald Kinloch, the deranged Scottish aristocrat whose fratricidal frenzy paved the way for the defence of diminished responsibility. These, and many more, are the people – victims, killers, lawyers and judges, who unwittingly shaped the history of that most grisly and storied of laws.

Join lawyer and writer Kate Morgan on a dark and macabre journey as she explores the strange stories and mysterious cases that have contributed to UK murder law. The big corporate killers; the vengeful spouses; the sloppy doctors; the abused partners; the shoddy employers; each story a crime and each crime a precedent that has contributed to the law’s dark, murky and, at times, shocking standing 

MY REVIEW


This is a really interesting book to read, it documents the history of murder from when it became a recognised crime to what we see today in courts of law in the UK.

There is quite a long introduction that gives a glimpse into the research that has been brought to this book. The author, a lawyer herself, has covered many aspects and crimes to give quite a comprehensive and detailed background as to what constitutes murder. She differentiates between murder and manslaughter and how manslaughter has various differences when it comes to the courts.

This is a well laid out book, there are little stories and snippets of news from the previous centuries to add evidence. These are also really interesting in their own right and could lead you onto further reading if you were interested in learning more.

I really enjoyed this book, it is quite serious but at times there is some humour to it especially when it comes to some of the documented accounts. This is a book that will appeal to fans of history, criminal history and law in the UK.

I enjoyed this and I would happily recommend it. 

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The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars by Simon Morden @alisonmenziespr @eandtbooks #nonfic #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars by Simon Morden. This is a non-fiction and is quite accessible and readable for the non-science minded among us 😉

My huge thanks to Alison at Eliot & Thompson Books for my advanced copy.

Before I get into my review I thought it would be a good idea to share a few facts.

Mars is the 4th planet from the sun, with Earth being the 3rd.

The diameter of Mars is approx. 4,222, Earths is approx. 7,926

Olympus Mons is one of the tallest volcanos found. It is 13.6miles high, Mount Everest is 5.5miles.

Earths largest volcano is Mauna Kea in Hawaii, it is 6.33miles high, although most of it is below sea level.

I did find this image of Mountains in the Solar System.

https://www.bing.com/images/

What makes Olympus Mons even more impressive is when you see a comparison between the size of Mars next to Earth…

See the source image
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mars,_Earth_size_comparison.jpg

And something that hadn’t even occurred to me until I was reading the book was that we have earthquakes, Mars, well it has marsquakes!

Now to the book…

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The history of Mars is drawn not just on its surface, but also down into its broken bedrock and up into its frigid air. Most of all, it stretches back into deep time, where the trackways of the past have been obliterated by later events, and there is no discernible trace of where they started from or how they travelled, only where they ended up.

As NASA lays it plans for a return to the moon and, from there, a manned mission to Mars, there has never been a better time to acquaint ourselves with the dramatic history and astonishing present of the red planet. Planetary geologist, geophysicist and acclaimed SF author Dr Simon Morden takes us on a vivid guided tour of Mars.

From its formation four and half billion years ago, through an era of cataclysmic meteor strikes and the millions of years during which a vast ocean spanned its entire upper hemisphere, to the long, frozen ages that saw its atmosphere steadily thinning and leaking away into space, Morden presents a tantalising vision of the next planet we will visit.

With a storyteller’s flair, piecing together the latest research and data from the Mars probes, the most up-to-date theories of planetary geology, and informed speculation as to whether there has been life on Mars, The Red Planet is as close as we can get to an eye-witness account of this incredible place. 

Purchase from Amazon UK or other independent Bookshops from Sept 2nd 2021

MY REVIEW…

What I know about the planet Mars, isn’t much and so I was quite interested when I got the chance to read an advanced copy of The Red Planet.

I do have an interest in life, the universe and planets. Natural history is something that belongs far beyond our planet. I have no science background so what I understand has to be, well, basic. When I saw this book I did a bit of a double-take when I read about the author. He is a sci-fi author who also happens to have degrees in geography and planetary geophysics, so it’s safe to say he knows what he’s on about.

I liked the way this book is laid out, a brief intro from the author and then a trip to the planet Mars. From then the author goes into how Mars was formed, what changes it went through and is still going through. The climate, geography, geology, atmosphere.

For a planet smaller than Earth, this red blob in the night sky seems to have been through it all. A planet that has had impacts leaving massive craters, with a dry dusty atmosphere, frozen areas and one of the largest volcanoes known, it makes earth’s largest volcano in Hawaii more like a peak in comparison.

Throughout this book I was aware that this was on the whole quite understandable, at least while I was reading it, it was. I understood enough to grasp what the author was explaining and for me that is a good thing. There were the odd bits that I just couldn’t grasp but part of me was expecting that as I went into this book. Unless you have more of a science background I think this is quite an approachable book. But even the scientists who have studied this planet for decades still cannot agree on some things. There are various theories surrounding how Mars came to be, what forces sculpted the planet we see, and where, how and when there was water.

If you have an interest in planets, and nature beyond our planet then this is a book that will really appeal to you. I found it fascinating and I really enjoyed reading it. I also found myself internet hopping as I read this book, looking up various items, viewing images and also looking at the most recent news. It is a book that I would happily recommend.

About the Author…

Dr. Simon Morden, B.Sc. (Hons., Sheffield) Ph.D (Newcastle) is a bona fide rocket scientist, having degrees in geology and planetary geophysics. Unfortunately, that sort of thing doesn’t exactly prepare a person for the big wide world of work: he’s been a school caretaker, admin assistant, and PA to a financial advisor. He’s now employed as a part-time teaching assistant at a Gateshead primary school, which he combines with his duties as a house-husband, attempting to keep a crumbling pile of Edwardian masonry upright, wrangling his two children and providing warm places to sleep for the family cats.

His not-so-secret identity as journeyman writer started when he sold the short story Bell, Book and Candle to an anthology, and a chaotic mix of science fiction, fantasy and horror followed. Heart came out to critical acclaim, and Another War was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award, but with The Lost Art, things suddenly got serious. Contracts. Agents. Deadlines. Responsibility. Scary stuff. The Lost Art was subsequently a finalist for the Catalyst Award for best teen fiction.

As well as a writer, he’s been the editor of the British Science Fiction Association’s writers’ magazine Focus, a judge for the Arthur C Clarke awards, and is a regular speaker at the Greenbelt Arts Festival on matters of faith and fiction. In 2009, he was in the winning team for the Rolls Royce Science Prize.

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The Silk Roads: The Extraordinary History that created your World – Children’s Edition by Peter Frankopan #audiobook #20booksofsummer @NetGalley @BloomsburyUK #audioreview

I am delighted to share an audio book review today for The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan. I have this book in hardback and have been meaning t read it for so long. When I saw there was an audio version available via NetGalley I immediately requested a copy. My thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for granting my request to listen and review.

This is a children’s version aimed at those around 11 years and up. A quick listen at just over two and a half hours long.

Set your sails east with this stunningly original new history of the world. Peter Frankopan explores the connections made by people, trade, disease, war, religion, adventure, science and technology in this extraordinary book about how the east married the west with a remarkable voyage at its heart – the journey along the Silk Roads.


From ancient world laws laid down by King Hammurabi and the mighty Persian empire, to terrifying Huns, the rise of Europe, two world wars and politics today, The Silk Roads moves through time and history sewing together the threads from different peoples, empires and continents into a phenomenal history of the globe.


With stories from each and every corner of society, Frankopan’s magnificent retelling of his literary triumph The Silk Roads, sumptuously illustrated by Neil Packer, is a must-have world history.

My Review…

I have a hardback version of this book but as yet have not read it. When I saw there was an audio version I thought this might be the ideal time to listen instead. I was aware that this is a version that is abridged and aimed at a teen audience and so shorter in length than the actual book.

This narration is excellent to listen to, my only issue was that it finished far too quickly! I was really enjoying the book and I could have listened for a lot longer.

This is the story of the Silk Road, from the first recognition and use of this route to modern-day use. Not only does the author deal with important events on the Silk Road, but he also uses these events to mention other events in the world. This works really well as there are various reference points so you are aware of what else was going on at the time.

So while this is primarily about the Silk Road it is also a world history book. Cross-referencing like this means you get glimpses of social events, cultures, histories. The author explores how political decisions, trade decisions are all part of how we see different countries and their rulers in the world. How money and politics are more important than the people.

Condensing world history down into this version is excellent. It makes this a fascinating listen for those who like history but want a more manageable version. After listening to this I do think I will be picking up my physical copy of the book and also the follow-on book.

A fabulous listen and one I would definitely recommend. 

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The Best, Most Awful Job: Twenty Writers Talk Honestly About Motherhood edited by Katherine May @_katherine_may_ @eandtbooks @alisonmenziespr #nonfic #motherhood #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for The Best, Most Awful Job edited by Katherine May. A book that features 20 women writers who have each wrote about motherhood, the good, the bad and the heart breaking.

My huge thanks to Alison for arranging my copy from Eliot & Thompson Publishers.

Motherhood is life-changing. Joyful. Disorientating. Overwhelming. Intense on every level. It’s the best, most awful job.

The Best, Most Awful Job brings together twenty bold and brilliant women to speak about motherhood in all its raw, heart-wrenching, gloriously impossible forms.

Overturning assumptions, breaking down myths and shattering stereotypes, these writers challenge our perceptions of what it means to be a mother – and ask you to listen.

Contributors include:

Michelle Adams – Javaria Akbar – Charlene Allcott – MiMi Aye – Jodi Bartle – Sharmila Chauhan – Josie George – Leah Hazard – Joanne Limburg – Katherine May – Susana Moreira Marques – Dani McClain – Hollie McNish – Saima Mir – Carolina Alvarado Molk – Emily Morris – Jenny Parrott – Huma Qureshi – Peggy Riley – Michelle Tea – Tiphanie Yanique

You can purchase a copy HERE

My Review…


This is a book of experiences from 20 writers, their experiences of motherhood. Being a mum myself I was intrigued by this title. The Best, Most Awful Job. Yes, being a mum is one of the best things but why is it also the most awful? This book is an open and honest selection of accounts from women who are mothers and from however their path to motherhood was.

The book explored things that are not spoken about after the birth of your child, you know, things down below, will they ever be the same again or how on earth will I ever be able to walk normally! Obviously, things do return and you do walk normally, but often these are not spoken about.

Some of the stories are very poignant and how while pregnant you tend to lose your identity and are often asked “How’s Mum doing?” then after the birth, you are then ignored as people asked about “baby”. I remember knowing loads of mums at school but often didn’t know their names. I was one of the many who became so and so’s Mum.

The 20 authors are from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities. Different countries and cultures. Yet some things are the same no matter where you are from. There are stereotypes and stigmas in all aspects of society and there are some that are very much worse than others.

I can remember with my first child, being in hospital and being treated well as I was a married young mum. The unmarried young mum, who was similar in age discharged herself after two nights as she was not given the same level of support. This was in 1989, and I still remember feeling so sorry for her, but afraid to say anything as the midwife at the hospital tended to be older and if I am honestly quite scary. I will say that by the time I had my final child things had improved, younger more patient-centred midwives were around and they had no prejudice at all.

This book looks at motherhood from the perspective of each authors viewpoint. Whether it is a step mum, mum with a disability, mixed-race mum, and many others. I will not mention them all as I want to leave plenty for other readers to discuss.

After reading this book I understand the title much more. Yes, being a mum can have some awful moments, but there are also many, many of the best moments ever.

This is a book that anyone can read, it will be eye-openeing for some, it will make others nod knowingly but most of all it brings the doubts, worries and stereotypes out in the open. We discuss many things and this is another thing we must talk about more, be more open about and not keep the horrible bits hidden. Being open and discussing things makes life so much easier.

A fabulous collection of experiences and it was a pleasure to read. Some are very sad, others warm and hopeful and others make a stand. It is a book that I would definitely recommend.

Many thanks for reading my post, a like or share would be amazing 🙂 xx

Unofficial Britain by Gareth E Rees #UnofficialBritain @alisonmenziespr @eandtbooks #nonfiction #britain #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for a wonderful book that explores the hidden, the obscure, the random and the often missed areas in Britain. Unofficial Britain by Gareth E Rees. The paperback is due for publication on Thursday (8th July) the hardback is already out.

My huge thanks to Alison Menzies for organising my paperback copy from the publisher Elliott & Thompson.

LONGLISTED FOR RSL ONDAATJE PRIZE 2021

‘Terrific… Britain’s urban landscape is just as freighted with myth and mystery as its castles and ancient monuments and [Rees] proves it by unearthing a treasure trove of riveting stories.’ – Sunday Times, Best Books of the Year, 2020
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There is a Britain that exists outside of the official histories and guidebooks – places that lie on the margins, left behind. A Britain in the cracks of the urban facade where unexpected life can flourish. Welcome to UNOFFICIAL BRITAIN.

This is a land of industrial estates, factories and electricity pylons, of motorways and ring roads, of hospitals and housing estates, of roundabouts and flyovers.

Places where modern life speeds past but where people and stories nevertheless collect. Places where human dramas play out: stories of love, violence, fear, boredom and artistic expression. Places of ghost sightings, first kisses, experiments with drugs, refuges for the homeless, hangouts for the outcasts.

Struck by the power of these stories and experiences, Gareth E. Rees set out to explore these spaces and the essential part they have played in the history and geography of our isles. Though mundane and neglected, they can be as powerfully influential in our lives, and imaginations, as any picture postcard tourist destination.

Purchase from Amazon Bookshop.orgWaterstonesHive Amazon

My Review…

The plan was that I was going to read this book over several days. That plan has failed as I read this over two days. I found a book that was informative, brought back memories, made me chuckle and made me see things from a different perspective.

The synopsis for this book is great, it was what really drew me to the book. Places on the margins, places we pass by in our cars, places we see without noticing and how about the things that we are not even aware of even existing as we pass by?

The author has been walking and collecting stories of places that many of us pass by. These areas may be known to a small select few, such as locals or those that regularly use pathways, cycle routes or they are areas that we were aware of when we were younger and have now changed over the years.

landscapes change as do urban settings, where a factory once stood may now be just a shell or it could be a housing estate, school or part of new development. The area of these new builds is built upon the ground that has been used before. they have a history and for some, they are part of their own personal lives. Memories and stories can be built up, sometimes to keep youngsters away from an area because it is dangerous and sometimes with a genuine belief that there is something altogether different going on.

However these stories come about they have gradually worked their way into urban myths. Every area has these myths or there is a mysterious story or tale. The author uses these and other observations to create a book full of whispers, tales, ghostly anecdotes and histories.

He also adds so many things about areas that many of us do not even know about. For example, did you know the infamous Spaghetti Junction has a river below it? I didn’t I just assumed it was a large grey mass of roads and flyovers, if you look on google it is quite surprising how much green there is around this area.

I loved the opening chapter of this book as the author deals with pylons. Yeah, those large metal structures that line the landscape providing electricity. I did chuckle as he mentions how they reminded him of triffids and aliens. I remember for me it was the alien crafts from H.G Wells War of the Worlds that they reminded me of as I grew up, and don’t get me started on how the Daleks used to scare me!!!.

Talking of growing up, the author is a similar age to me and I think this helped me to relate as he mentions films, TV programs and things from the ’70s that I grew up with. This sparked memories and things I had forgotten about over the years.

This is a book that really resonated with me. It is a book that is packed with randomness and also a whole lot of good stuff (apologies for the lack of finesse there!) It is a book of obscure tales, of snippets of history and of things hidden from many in our fast-paced lives.

Stories of our present are as important as those of our pasts. It is our experiences today that are the future history and I think this sort of book is great. It allows you to return and check things out, it prompts you to look things up and it encourages curiosity to go out and discover more. I have made a few notes from this book as to things I want to look at and explore more, it will probably be done from my computer and who knows where it will lead me next.

The author also has a fabulous website called Unofficial Britain, this is jam-packed with amazing stories, pictures, articles and it is well worth a look at.

This is a really good book to read and ponder over, to discover and learn more about the places on the edge, on the margins, where we pass and what we miss. It is one I would very definitely recommend.

About the Author…

Gareth E. Rees is founder of the popular Unofficial Britain website and author of three books, Marshland (2013), The Stone Tide (2018) and Car Park Life, which was published to rave reviews in 2019. Born in Germany, brought up in Scotland the the north of England, he lived in London for many years before moving to Hastings. The modern myths and folklore of place have always driven his writing, which includes horror and weird fiction tales for numerous anthologies, including The Best of British Fantasy 2019.

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Paperback Publication Day for: Into the Tangled Bank by Lev Parikian @LevParikian @alisonmenziespr @eandtbooks #nature #bookreview

I am delighted to re-share my review today for a book that I read and loved last year. Into the Tangled Bank: In Which Our Author Ventures Outdoors to Consider the British in Nature by Lev Parikian.

I did read the hardback copy of this book supplied by Alison Menzies from Elliot & Thompson publishers and today see’s the publication of the paperback version.

Let me share more about this fabulous book…

Lev Parikian is on a journey to discover the quirks, habits and foibles of how the British experience nature. He sets out to explore the many, and particular, ways that he, and we, experience the natural world – beginning face down on the pavement outside his home then moving outwards to garden, local patch, wildlife reserve, craggy coastline and as far afield as the dark hills of Skye. He visits the haunts of famous nature lovers – reaching back to the likes of Charles Darwin, Etta Lemon, Gavin Maxwell, John Clare and Emma Turner – to examine their insatiable curiosity and follow in their footsteps.

And everywhere he meets not only nature, but nature lovers of all varieties. The author reveals how our collective relationship with nature has changed over the centuries, what our actions mean for nature and what being a nature lover in Britain might mean today. 

My Review…

I really enjoyed reading this book as I followed Lev’s observations on how people and nature interact. Lev has such an easy style to his writing and as well as various facts there is also a nice level of humour. The book is littered with various interesting facts from history, nature and life.

Lev looks at various aspects of nature including our own gardens, parks and open green areas. He notices various things about human nature and how people with certain interest can chat about things for quite a while. As a gardener I found myself sniggering about they way gardeners can talk about “their patch” what they grow, the pests and bugs.

Lev’s observations of people in nature draw together different walks of life. From the dog-walkers, to the gardeners, the photographers to the birdwatchers. These observations make a really enjoyable read and many times I found myself nodding my head in agreement or as I read sections thought “this is me!”.

A book that is ideal for dipping in and out of, in fact I read most of this book sat in the garden have a break from the weeding, trimming and filling bird feeders and it was the perfect spot.

A refreshing read that I think various people would really enjoy, and I am sure any nature lover, or those who spend time outdoors and then reads this book will find themselves in it at some point. A good book about the observations of an author and one I would happily recommend, its a fabulous read.

Purchase from – AMAZON UK

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