Review: Herman Needs A Home, by Lucy Nogura

Blurb

Herman Needs A Home

A little crab’s each for a shell to call home.

When Herman the hermit crab gets too big for his shell, he can’t find a new one that feels just right. With his sister, Hiro, he travels up and down the beach in search of a shell he can call home.

They don’t find a shell, but they do find something else – a pile of rubbish left behind on the sand. But can Herman make a home out of any of it?

My Review

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book and to Love Books Tours for organising this tour. I received a lovely parcel from Lucy Noguera.

Herman and his sister Hiro need new shells, so their family line up and swap shells. Unfortunately, Herman is bigger than any of the others and needs to find a new shell. Hiro and Herman go for a walk on the beach to fins a new shell. Instead they find a large pile of rubbish. Nothing fits right, of course but as night falls, Herman hides in a broken tennis ball. The next day he goes on an unexpected trip.

I reviewed another book by Lucy Noguera last year, SWOP the satsuma sized secret, and really enjoyed it. That came in a lovely parcel, too. This book is for younger children and is beautifully illustrated by Emma Latham. As with SWOP, there is a lesson for young readers. In this case, it’s about the damage rubbish can cause to sealife and ends with a page about how to look after the coast by clearing up rubbish.

The illustrations are lovely, bright and colourful. The paper is high quality, dense and solid, so it’ll last a good long time. The writing is fun and bouncy, and I suggest it’ll be good reading for both parents and children.

I generally send these books to my cousin’s kids, and I’m looking forward to hearing what they think of this one. I think they’ll love it.

TBR Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

Paperback, 351 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by Akashic Books

Blurb

Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.

Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.

When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.

My Review

I’ve reviewed this book on my podcast Everything Is Better With Dragons, episode 2 which will be available soon, but I’m sharing a written review for those who don’t listen to podcasts.

I liked this book.

Aster is clearly Autistic, like Rivers Solomon, and later in the book we learn Aster is probably non-binary too. A bit of intersectional representation! Aster also comes from the lower decks of the arc ship she’s travelling in. The society of the HSS Matilda is highly stratified by skin colour, the darker you are the lower down the ship you live and the worse your living conditions are. Aster, unlike many of her deck mates, has a lot of mobility between decks due to her position as assistant to the Surgeon General, Theo. Aster has a complex relationship with Theo, neither really know what they are to each other beyond their professional relationship, and both struggle to express what they feel for each other.

Complex relationships are a theme in this novel.

Theo has a complex relationship with his uncle, Lieutenant, who eventually becomes Sovereign. Theo is frightened of his uncle and aware that his uncle is highly conflicted about his feelings for Theo.

Lieutenant has a complex relationship with morality. He is attracted to his feminine nephew, appalled by his attraction and also by the ‘pollution’ of the family bloodline represented by Theo’s skin colour. He’s also jealous of Theo’s relationship with Aster. He assumes it’s sexual, although it doesn’t get that far. He can’t punish Theo directly, because they are equals as Commander of the Guard and Surgeon General, but he can hurt Aster. After his ascension to Sovereign, he takes his sadistic hate out on everyone on Q deck, where Aster lives. He claims that his authority comes from a deity, and that as a ‘pure’ human he is better than lower deck residents.

The society in the book is heavily based on the Antebellum South of the U.S., so incredibly unequal, racist and screwed up. Aster and her friend Giselle are irritants in the society they are forced to tolerate. Aster because she is able to code switch in both gender and language, doesn’t get the point of a lot of the social conventions and has the ability to move about. Giselle because she’s bat shit crazy and is happy to cause mayhem and be a Devil. It is her ability to withstand abuse and trauma, and react in unexpected ways that prevent the Guards or any authority from keeping her down.

Another complex relationship, that between Aster and Giselle, defines and triggers major events in the novel. They love and hate each other, but they also need each other. Aster couldn’t interpret her mother’s notes without Giselle, who sees the world from an entirely different angle, possibly upside down and inside out. Giselle is paranoid, and has delusions of persecution; she is convinced someone is trying to poison her for much of the book. She gets into all sorts of places because she wants to hide from her persecutors.

Aster has complex relationships with maternal figures in her life, firstly her absent mother and secondly Q-deck leader, Aint Melusine. Lune, Aster’s mother, left a riddle for her child to unravel, which becomes Aster’s driving interest, along with botany, astronomy and chemistry. It is Aster’s need to answer the question of Lune and where she went that gives Aster the resilience to survive persecution by Lieutenant and to save HSS Matilda from pointless wandering.

Ainy Melusine replaced the mother Aster never knew. She is not particularly maternal despite being a Nanny on the upper decks, and teacher to the children of Q deck, but she does her best for Aster who she recognises as an unusual child from an early age and helps her to gain an education beyond that normal for a low deck child. Melusine is also Theo’s mother, which complicates her relationship with both Theo and Aster, as she can’t tell either of them. Theo’s father was a previous Sovereign, and the relationship between him and Melusine was clandestine and considered immoral on the upper decks.

These complicated relationships and characters travel through space on a large arc ship that has been travelling at near light speed for 350 years, although on Earth a thousand years has passed. They are powered by Baby, a miniature star, who provides power for the drive and provides light for the crops on a complicated layering system of fields. The ship is clearly and vividly described as is the society that has evolved in different decks and over the ship as a whole. The contrast between the metal and decay of the lower decks with the lush extravagance of the upper decks provides a visual narrative about the people of the Matilda. Despite the harshness of their lives, the lower deckers are inventive, loving and preserve their own food, languages and storytelling cultures against all odds.

The narrative is broken up with stories that Melusine has told Aster in the past. These stories are colourful and clearly draw on Black American and African stories. Melusine or Aster reflect on the stories and what they mean to them, which brings them seamlessly into the narrative.

The narrative is mostly told from Aster’s perspective but occasionally Theo, Melusine and Giselle have chapters. I found this a really interesting structure and have used a similar structure in my novels. I enjoyed the direct plotline with past events being pulled in as memories that fit into the story seamlessly. There’s no skipping between past and future. It’s a lot less confusing that way, at least for me.

The writing and the language used is particularly effective for showing the different cultures and social structure with its minute gradations based on minor differences in skin tone. The language has impact, especially during traumatic events. Some things are heavily implied and some are outright stated, depending on the needs of the narrative. I have the audiobook as well as the paperback and listening to the story had a strong impact on me.

I really enjoyed this novel. I read the last 100 pages in an afternoon, so engrossed by the action and events, I had to know what happened next, and I’d love to see a sequel.

Review: Fantasy Short Stories, by Suzanne Rogerson

Fantasy Short Stories

A collection of stories featuring favourite characters from Visions of Zarua and ‘Silent Sea Chronicles’, plus a glimpse into the new series, ‘Starlight Prophecy’.

The Guardian

With an assassin picking off wizards one-by-one, Kalesh visits Cassima, a former student, hoping to persuade her to re-join the Royal Wizards and use their protection to keep her family safe.

Kalesh’s newest charge, Paddren, has strange visions which link to a past event known only to a select few. The knowledge hidden in Paddren’s visions is invaluable so Kalesh must guard the boy at any cost.

Can Kalesh keep his students off the assassin’s radar long enough for his order to stop the killer?

Garrick the Protector

Fifteen-year-old Garrick is helping at his uncle’s farm when his cousin’s illegal use of magic threatens the family’s safety.

Mara is in immediate danger from the Assembly who deem all magic as a threat. The only safe place for her is the Turrak Mountains where exiled mystics have found sanctuary alongside the island’s Sentinel.

Can Garrick get Mara to safety before the Assembly catch up with them?

War Wounds

Conscripted to fight off raiders, Calder finds the months of bloody battle unleash a sixth sense buried inside him.

Finally released from duty, he travels home and encounters a mysterious woman who insists his life is destined to serve a higher purpose. Calder rejects her claims, wanting only to return to a simple existence with his wife.

But can Calder pick up his old life when the powers within him have been stirred? And why does he feel such misgivings about his return?

All three stories give readers a tantalising glimpse into the fantasy worlds created by Suzanne Rogerson.

Purchase Link – http://mybook.to/fantasySS

Continue reading “Review: Fantasy Short Stories, by Suzanne Rogerson”

TBR Pile Review: Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree

Paperback, 305 pages
Published February 22nd 2022
ISBN13: 9798985663211

Blurb

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth.

My Review

This book arrived on Monday and to be honest it didn’t make it to the TBR pile. I took it upstairs to add to the pile and instead spent two hours reading. I finished it today. Didn’t have the energy yesterday after work, but I’m okay today. Not going to the Wellbeing Hub at the leisure centre on Monday might have something to do with that. I’m disappointed in myself and my body that a fairly gentle exercise routine two days a week and working one afternoon a week results is enough to knock me off my feet for two to three days. It’s ridiculous.

But ignore all that, you’re not here for updates on my dodgy health and energy levels, you’re here for the book review.

Viv is an orc adventurer, sick of all the travelling and killing. After one final mission she settles down in the town of Thune and opens a coffee shop, an utterly unheard-of venture. Making friends with a giant cat, a succubus in a sweater, a rattkin baker, a hob carpenter, Arcanist (wizard but with scientist overtones) who refuses to drink hot drinks and a musician who invents soft rock, Viv finds a home. She also has to cope with the local crime family demanding protection money and an old companion who thinks her good fortune is unfair. Their friendship sees them through trials and tribulations, and Viv finally finds love.

I enjoyed this novel. The plot is not new. Lots of cosy romances have a similar plot, but none I’ve ever heard of involve fantasy creations. I don’t read romance much, but if you add it to a fantasy setting and don’t make the romance overwhelming, I’m fine with it. I found the characters fun and realistic. The worldbuilding is really good. It’s not heavy handed, but there’s enough detail added as colour, like mentions of far off places and organisations that it comes across as a complex complete world. It was easy to read and I rooted for Viv and her friends.

I had a read of the acknowledgements. It looks like Baldree wrote this book for NaNoWriMo 2021, and somehow managed to publish it by February 2022. The press, Cryptid Press, looks like it’s the author’s own press, so I assume it’s self-published. I also looked briefly at the author’s website https://travisbaldree.com/ which seems to confirm it. It’s well edited. The benefits of having a proper editor and plenty of beta readers. Having tried something similar, without those benefits, I can only doff my overly large hat to Baldree. Nice work.

If you want to try a fantasy that is light and fun, with high fantasy elements, I recommend this novel.

Pen & Sword Review: Carry on Regardless, by Caroline Frost

By Caroline Frost
Imprint: White Owl
Pages: 232
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526774781
Published: 5th May 2022
Expected Re-release Date: 30th June 2022

Blurb

The completely updated story of Carry On, Britain’s largest film franchise, all the way from the gentle capers of the 1950s, through the raucous golden age of the 1960s, to its struggles in the years that followed.

We take a happy walk down memory lane to enjoy again Sid James’s cheeky chuckle, Kenneth Williams’ elongated vowels, Charles Hawtrey’s bespectacled bashfulness and Barbara Windsor’s naughty wiggle.

It all seemed effortless, but exclusive interviews with the series’ remaining stars including Bernard Cribbins, Angela Douglas and Kenneth Cope shed new light on just how much talent and hard work went into creating the laughs. For the first time, the loved ones of some of the franchise’s biggest names – on and off screen – share their personal memories from this unique era.

Was Carry On really as sexist, racist and bigoted as critics claim? Three of the films’ female stars explain why they never felt remotely exploited, plus we take a fresh look at some of the series’ biggest titles and discover that, in reality, they were far more progressive than their detractors would have you believe.

Finally, with constant talk about new films, fresh productions and tantalising speculation about a brand new era of Carry On, we ask – does this unique series still have legs?

My Review

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book. It came with my latest box of books from Pen & Sword. I have always enjoyed the Carry On… films, they are a fond memory from my childhood, where we collected the VHS tapes and then the DVDs. I still have the DVDs but got rid of my tapes when I moved out in 2014. I have always been fascinated by the personalities behind the films, especially the ensemble cast of the 60s who come to mind when I think about the films. I’ve been re-watching the films lately. They’re a nostalgic blanket on a wet Sunday afternoon.

I can also quote quite a few lines from most of the films.

This book is an overview of the films, the cast and crew, going from the earliest film, Carry On Sergeant, to the final film, Carry On Columbus. Over the series the films poked gentle fun at institutions, cracked jokes and threw out double entendre all over the place. Unfortunately, by the late seventies, they struggled to cope with changing social mores and the attempts at keeping up with the times fell flat.

Frost writes from a position of fondness and the author clearly enjoyed interviewing as many people as she could who had been involved, and using the auto/biographies of those she could not, to give a positive view of the films. However, she doesn’t give us many details of the actual production process, and she gets repetitive at times. We hear time and time again how much the cast enjoyed filming, and how it was ‘just like going back to school’ every time they went back to Pinewood Studios. It also gets a bit ‘Great British Humour’ at times, all a bit jingoistic.

I found the discussion of criticism of the films interesting. Certainly the sort of stuff they got away with wouldn’t happen now, such as the black face used in Carry On…Khyber and …Up The Jungle. The roles for women could be a bit limited, although as the author points out, many of the women characters were strong, determined women. Carry on Cabby is a fantastic early example. However, the cheap jokes at the expense of women’s appearances is galling, and actually contributed to Joan Sims’ possible Binge Eating Disorder. I thought that Frost’s attitude to the criticism of what she and others refer to as ‘Woke’ and ‘PC’ critics is a bit hypocritical. People have made valid points about the films and the attitudes they display, and you have to be a very canny viewer to realise there’s a bit more going on.

There is a discussion of the likelihood of new Carry Ons…end the book; there are some deluded people out there that think it could happen. I’m sorry, but times and humour have changed. The films are a snap-shot of a time and place, a period of social change that is reflected in the attitudes of the films and the tension between the past and present in the 1960s and early 1970s. The films also worked because they had an ensemble cast of comedic actors. As we saw with the rebooted ‘St. Trinians’ films, what worked in 1960 doesn’t work in the 2000s; social mores and humour have changed, and there is a dearth of the sorts of comedic actors who would be willing to work as part of an ensemble cast, or with the training on stage, TV and film that the cast had.

Over all, it’s okay, but could be better.

Review: Brazen, by Julia Haart

My Review

Thanks to Anne of Random Things Tours for organising this blog tour and to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.

I found this book fascinating and shocking. The author writes with candour about her struggles, life within the closed community of fundamentalist Judaism her parents adopted, and her journey to freedom. She is not afraid to call out the hypocrisy of fundamental religions and their followers, and identifies the mechanisms of control that permeate them. Her anger is clear and makes it’s appearance several times as she discusses the abuses in her former community, as well as the ways people take advantage of those who escape controlling groups. She trusted people who she thought were good people only to discover that they were cheats and liars. Help from good people, who understood that getting everything is writing and having contracts is the only way to go in business, got her into a better position and eventually her hard work and creative flare saved her business and freed her family.

The author correctly identifies that women are often used to reinforce their own oppression in these groups; teaching the ‘laws’ to the next generation after a lifetime of indoctrination and abuse, by means of indoctrination and abuse, because they’ve been told it’ll make them holy. Since they can’t be holy or good just by being a decent human, only men can be that. Social pressure, gossip and ostracism are tools used to control women by other women; once the system is set up and in place for a couple of generation, the men no longer have to actively police it, they merely passively benefit from it and never question the problem. In some fundamentalist communities, young men are also thrown out and the stories of their struggles to adapt to a world they haven’t been prepared for are used as lessons to keep others in line.

I would be interested to know how she brought her children and ex-husband away from fundamentalism, as he’s now a Modern Orthodox Jew and the children are all in higher education. The denial of education to children and forcing adults into pre-defined roles based on genitalia are major problems in all fundamentalist religious groups, unfortunately.

Haart’s devotion to her children shines through and she is at pains to make it clear that every risk she took was to give them better lives away where they wouldn’t be forced into early marriage or denied an education.

It doesn’t matter which particular prophet they follow, when your god is a psychopath and his priests can get away with manipulating the people, you’re going to get abuse. Fear of being called a bigot often prevents authorities from intervening where they can, such as in the unregulated and unregistered schools children of fundamentalist parents are often sent to, and to ‘schools with a religious ethos’ in the UK. Just because the parents are *insert religion or denomination here* doesn’t mean the children should be subjected to ignorant, outdated ideas and denied an education. And the ‘God/Allah/YHWH/Jehovah says so’ excuse is lazy and stupid. No, a bunch of old men wrote a load of myths and rules about how to live safely at different times over a thousand years and in different cultural contexts and now you’re trying to force that crap on children living in totally different cultural contexts, in a world with more knowledge available than ever before. You want to believe the myths, go ahead, but you don’t get to force that on other people. Can you tell I have little time for the god of Abraham, and a lot of time for his victims? My Gran would be so upset if she read this.

Back to the book

I found the writing spirited and easy to read. It is a heartfelt plea against fundamentalism and a demand for freedom. I found the descriptions of her creative process and the difficulties of starting a business gripping, while her life in her former community and her travels are fascinatingly told. The details of lives usually hidden from the wider world are enough to give anyone pause, and her discussion of her mental health struggles as she fought to escape and then to build a business are compassionate to herself and others. I’m still surprised at how much compassion she has for her ex-husband, given his behaviour, and that she still has a belief in a higher power, but everyone is different.

I didn’t particularly enjoy reading about Haart’s post-separation sexual adventures, but that’s just me. Some people might be interested. I found some of the phrasing repetitive. There’s only so many times I can read that returning to Monsey was like returning to jail for her, or that she doesn’t let people take advantage of her now. And it felt like it finished a bit abruptly.

In summary

A worthwhile memoir, and peak into the behind the scenes life of a fashion designer.


About the Author

Julia Haart is the star of the Netflix docuseries My Unorthodox Life.

She is the CEO, co-owner and chief creative officer of Elite World Group, the world’s first talent media agency, which is comprised of 48 global agencies representing the most dynamic and culturally connected talent in the world.

She was previously the creative director of La Perla, the luxury Italian intimates brand, and launched her career as a designer with her namesake shoe collection.

Julia lives in Manhattan.

Instagram: @juliahaart.

Review: The Emergent, by Nadia Afifi

Fiction: FICTION / Science Fiction /
Genetic Engineering
Product format: Paperback
Price: £12.95; $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-78758-666-6
Pages: 320 pp

Blurb

Amira Valdez’s adventures continue in the sequel to The Sentient,as she
finds herself in unprecedented danger. The ruthless new leader of the
fundamentalist Trinity Compound seeks to understand his strange
neurological connection with Amira and unleash an army on an unstable
North America. The first human clone has been born, but thanks to the
mysterious scientist Tony Barlow, it may unlock the secret to human
immortality– or disaster. Together, Amira and Barlow form an uneasy alliance in pursuit of scientific breakthroughs and protection from shared enemies.

But new discoveries uncover dark secrets that Barlow wants to keep hidden.

My Review

Thanks to Anne of Random Things Tours for organising this blog tour, and to Flame Tree Press for sending me a copy of the book.

Oh my goodness me! I just finished reading this novel (28th May 2022), I read the remaining 250 pages of this 310 page book today after getting started on it earlier in the week but being too exhausted to read for most of the week. I think I read most of it in about 4 hours, which is about normal for me. It was a real page-turner, though, because once I got settled with food and fluids, I didn’t move until I finished reading it.

Amira and friends return some months after the end of The Sentient, the first book in this series. After being cleared by Westport Police of any crimes, Amira has been tagged by the Aldwych Council to prevent her escaping before they could bring her to trial. The opening is tense and moving as Amira deals with her fears about what would happen if she was found guilty on spurious charges. She copes by getting drunk the night before her trial and hiding in an ancient vertical farm. Found and returned to civilisation by her friends D’Arcy and Julian, she finds she has more friends than she thought, or at least people who need her for things, including Dr Barlow. Amira also gets a boyfriend, despite her fears and internalised guilt.

What follows is a rollicking adventure that bounces from calm to tension to explosions and back again several times before an ending that is totally unexpected. There are several gun and ship battles, and once again Amira goes into space and has to do some high level clambering around buildings.

The plot was gripping and I liked the character development of Amira as she realises that she can be someone other than the ‘compound girl come good’ through seeing the manipulation of power players in the city. We learn more about the history of the Pandora project and the Cosmics, and see more of the world post-Cataclysm. There’s an eight year period which demands it’s own novel, from Lee, D’Arcy, Maxine or Hadrian’s POV.

There were some minor typographical errors, couldn’t tell if the author meant to use ‘commandeered’ when ‘commanded’ would make more sense. I can see why, in the context, it would sometimes be appropriate, but not always and it could be a mistake.

Audiobook Review: New versions of the Discworld books

I have listened to many Discworld audiobooks, and my favourite narrator is, and will always be, Stephen Briggs. Stephen Briggs was a fan before he was a narrator and it’s possible to tell from listening to his narration. These new editions all have three narrators – a main narrator which changes with the series, Peter Serafinowicz who plays Death, and Bill Nighy as the footnotes.

Continue reading “Audiobook Review: New versions of the Discworld books”

Review: Through A Vet’s Eyes, By Dr Sean Wensley

Gaia | £20.00 | 28th April 2022

Dr Sean Wensley is an award-winning vet and lifelong naturalist who has contributed to animal welfare and conservation projects all over the world. His debut book is about how we can choose a better life for animals, from the chickens we eat to the pets we keep.
As our societies become more urbanised, we are further removed from the reality of where and how our food is produced. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the humanisation of our pets is a risk to their welfare; with 60% of UK dogs being overweight or obese, we are effectively killing them with kindness. Through a Vet’s Eyes seeks to redress this imbalance so that we see all animals as thinking, feeling beings not dissimilar to ourselves.

There is high public and political interest in animal welfare, with current attention focused on high-profile topics such as animal sentience, humane and sustainable global agriculture and breeding pets, such as flat-faced dogs, for looks over health. To fully consider and improve the lives of animals, evidence-based information is needed to help us all understand these issues, what they mean from the animals’ perspectives and what we can all do to help.

A polemic with elements of memoir and nature writing, the book takes us through the years in which Sean trained to become a vet and shares his first-hand experience of how animals are treated and used for our benefit. It interrogates the different levels of welfare afforded to them and reveals
how we, as consumers and informed citizens, can reduce our animal welfare footprint through the choices we make every single day.

Continue reading “Review: Through A Vet’s Eyes, By Dr Sean Wensley”

Pen & Sword Review: Broadmoor Women – Tales from Britain’s first criminal lunatic asylum, by Kim Thomas

By Kim Thomas
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526794260
Published: 12th April 2022

Blurb

Broadmoor, Britain’s first asylum for criminal lunatics, was founded in 1863. In the first years of its existence, one in five patients was female. Most had been tried for terrible crimes and sent to Broadmoor after being found not guilty by virtue of insanity. Many had murdered their own children, while others had killed husbands or other family members.

Drawing on Broadmoor’s rich archive, this book tells the story of seven of those women, ranging from a farmer’s daughter in her 20s who shot dead her own mother to a middle-class housewife who drowned her baby daughter. Their moving stories give a glimpse into what nineteenth-century life was like for ordinary women, often struggling with poverty, domestic abuse and repeated childbearing. For some, Broadmoor, with its regime of plain food, fresh air and garden walks, was a respite from the hardships of their previous life. Others were desperate to return to their families.

All but one of the women whose stories are recounted in this book recovered and were released. Their bout of insanity was temporary. Yet the causes of their condition were poorly understood and the treatment rudimentary. As well as providing an in-depth look at the lives of women in Victorian England, the book offers a fascinating insight into the medical profession’s emerging understanding of the causes and treatment of mental illness.

My Review

Rosie Crofts, who does the marketing for Pen & Sword, sent me an email about this book a couple of weeks ago. I sat down and read it over the weekend.

I quite enjoy microhistories; the life of a single person or building can tell you something about the world around them. This book investigates the lives of seven women who were incarcerated in Broadmoor in the first forty years.

Most of them killed their children, one killed her husband and one killed her mother. Most of them had hard lives, limited by social conventions and/or poverty. Respectability was important to them all, and in court could be leveraged by a defendant so that they received a ‘guilty but insane’ or ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ verdict. Often judges and juries were sympathetic to women who killed new born children in ‘puerperal insanity’ or ‘lactation insanity’. Psychiatrists and doctors didn’t really understand what was going on in people’s minds, and were still clinging to the idea that uteruses could cause madness; one particular belief was that women were so fragile that breast feeding for too long would cause madness.

Some of them had pre-existing mental health conditions before they committed their crimes and hadn’t received any or very limited care. Medical care for mental illness was limited at the time, as people were expected to look after their family members and doctors didn’t really understand how brains and hormones worked. Really bad cases were dropped in asylums and either left or experimented on, observed and drugged. Except in rare cases, like Tukes’ Retreat in York where the Quakers believed in calm, purposeful activity and loving kindness.

They averaged about 7 years in Broadmoor and were often released back to their families. Some husbands started petitioning for their release almost immediately after they were convicted, out of love or desperation for someone to care for their children. Returning to their families was often the worst thing that could happen to the women for several years, since it was the family/home environment that triggered the mental breakdown in the first place.

The regime at Broadmoor in the early years was based on improvement and calm, providing patients with a safe place to recover from their madness, time to heal and return to equanimity before being released. The early superintendents took after Dr. Tuke in their care of the patients; nutritious food, rest and care by sympathetic staff. Their regime was based on the latest (in the 1860s) scientific information. It would still be considered good care, now. Unfortunately, in between 1900 and 2000 there was a change in attitudes from care to abuse and back again. Seriously, I’m working on a project about this for work and it gives me nightmares to think about what happened to people with mental illnesses, learning disabilities or who were otherwise neurodivergent in asylums and residential centres.

I found this book interesting, it humanises the history of Broadmoor and gives us a snapshot into the social conditions of the late Victorian period. It would have been interesting to learn about the lives of the women warders alongside the patients. How did some working class women end up as warders and some as patients?

Could have done with some copy editing.