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A trio from Olympia Publishing

A couple of weeks ago a marketing bod from Olympia Publishing emailed me with a list of recent books to see if I wanted to read and review any of them. I asked for three that looked interesting. I’ve now read them and present to you, dear readers, the reviews. I’ve also been looking at the Olympia Publishing page, since I’ve never heard of them before I thought I’d also give you my opinion on the quality of the books and anything I’ve gleaned from reading their website.

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Review: ‘What Regency Women Did For Us’ by Rachel Knowles

PubWhat Regency Women Did For Uslished by: Pen & Sword 

Publication Date: 5th April 2017

 ISBN: 9781473882249

Price: £10.39

Blurb

Regency women inhabited a very different world from the one in which we live today. Considered intellectually inferior to men, they received little education and had very few rights. This book tells the inspirational stories of twelve women, from very different backgrounds, who overcame often huge obstacles to achieve success. These women were pioneers, philanthropists and entrepreneurs, authors, scientists and actresses women who made an impact on their world and ours. In her debut non-fiction work, popular history blogger Rachel Knowles tells how each of these remarkable ladies helped change the world they lived in and whose legacy is still evident today. Two hundred years later, their stories are still inspirational.

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Review: ‘Victoria’, by Daisy Goodwin

Published By: St. Martins Press

Publication Date: 22nd November 2016

I.S.B.N.: 9781250045461

Blurb

“They think I am still a little girl who is not capable of being a Queen.”

Lord Melbourne turned to look at Victoria. “They are mistaken. I have not known you long, but I observe in you a natural dignity that cannot be learnt. To me, ma’am, you are every inch a Queen.”

 

In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many thought it was preposterous: Alexandrina — Drina to her family — had always been tightly controlled by her mother and her household, and was surely too unprepossessing to hold the throne. Yet from the moment William IV died, the young Queen startled everyone: abandoning her hated first name in favor of Victoria; insisting, for the first time in her life, on sleeping in a room apart from her mother; resolute about meeting with her ministers alone.

One of those ministers, Lord Melbourne, became Victoria’s private secretary. Perhaps he might have become more than that, except everyone argued she was destined to marry her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. But Victoria had met Albert as a child and found him stiff and critical: surely the last man she would want for a husband….

Drawing on Victoria’s diaries as well as her own brilliant gifts for history and drama, Daisy Goodwin, author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria, brings the young queen even more richly to life in this magnificent novel.

My Review

Biography in novel form. Not half bad either. The development of Victoria during her first few years as queen is developed and explored in a sympathetic manner and with skillful storytelling. Occasionally the biography breaks through the novelisation and it becomes very obvious that the author is dumping information rather than telling the story, but it only happens three or four times and barely detracts from the flow at all.

Definitely one for fans of Victorian history and Queen Vicky herself.

3/5

Review: ‘A Life Discarded’ by Alexander Masters

Published by: Fourth Estate

Publication Date: 5th May 2016

I.S.B.N.: 9780008130770

Format: Hardback

Price: £16.99

Blurb

Unique, transgressive and as funny as its subject, A Life Discarded has all the suspense of a murder mystery. Written with his characteristic warmth, respect and humour, Masters asks you to join him in celebrating an unknown and important life left on the scrap heap.

A Life Discarded is a biographical detective story. In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge. Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out. Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation.

A Life Discarded is a true, shocking, poignant, often hilarious story of an ordinary life. The author of the diaries, known only as ‘I’, is the tragicomic patron saint of everyone who feels their life should have been more successful. Part thrilling detective story, part love story, part social history, A Life Discarded is also an account of two writers’ obsessions: of ‘I’s need to record every second of life and of Masters’ pursuit of this mysterious yet universal diarist.

My Review

I really enjoyed this book, as much a biography of the mysterious diarist as an autobiography of Masters and his friends during the five years he worked on the diaries and writing this book. I sped through it in a matter of hours, the writing kept me transfixed.

Masters is a sensitive biographer, disclosing new information as he learns it, and dealing honestly with his qualms when he learns that the diarist, Laura Francis is still alive. The writing is fluid and engaging, humorous at times and honest.

5/5

I’ve just started studying the life-writing component of my MA Creative Writing. My tutor suggested we should start reading biographies if we didn’t already to get an idea of the diversity of the form. I’ve read biographies in the past, but this was a refreshing change. It only took me four hours to read this book, so I started another one, before I decided to write this review. The book I’m reading at the moment is a biography of Queen Victoria, in the form of fiction. They’re different ways of writing biography but they both work well.

 

Review: The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore

Published by: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 1st May 2017

I.S.B.N.: 9781492649359

Format: Hardback

Price: £20.89

Blurb

The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice…

As World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.

A rich, historical narrative written in a sparkling voice, The Radium Girls is the first book that fully explores the strength of extraordinary women in the face of almost impossible circumstances and the astonishing legacy they left behind. 

Kate Moore is a Sunday Times best selling writer with more than a decade’s experience writing and ghosting across varying genres, including memoir, biography, and history. In 2005 she directed a critically acclaimed play about the Radium Girls called ‘These Shining Lives.’ She lives in the UK.


My Review

What an absolutely fascinating story! 

I’ve heard of the Radium Girls, women who worked painting dials for various companies in the U.S. who were killed by the radium they were injesting and the callousness of the companies they worked for. This book provides the human stories of the women, their suffering and their battle for justice, utilising letters, photo albums, the memories of family and friends and documentation such as newspapers and legal papers. The story of these women is inspiring and the author does an excellent job of telling it.

I may have cried somewhat.

Definitely recommended.





Review: Mary Ann Cotton – Dark Angel; Britain’s First Female Serial Killer, by Martin Connelly

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Published by: Pen & Sword History

Published: 1st August 2016

ISBN: 9781473876200

Format: Paperback

Price: £10.39 (from publisher)

Usual disclaimer: book provided in return for an honest review.

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Review: The Shining Woman by Marjorie Bowen

Published by: Endeavour Press

Publication date: 13th May 2016

I.S.B.N: 9781533249647

Blurb

Now chiefly remembered as the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin has often been acclaimed as a prophetess of the emancipation of her sex — a woman who did much to smooth the way for subsequent female triumphs.

But Mary’s life beyond her Vindication – published in 1791, eight years before her death, by her friend Joseph Johnson — was plagued by poverty, misery, and despair, with only a few snatched moments of happiness to keep her going.

Born into a family of impoverished gentility, she spent her childhood as a drudge in her own home, subject to a drunken father and largely responsible for her four younger siblings.

Exposed from a very young age to the power men hold over women, and the scarcity of choice women have in submitting and obeying, Mary formed opinions of the equal rights of women that stayed with her for many years.

As an adult, her ability to make for herself a living through writing and hackwork went a long way towards affirming her beliefs, but she rapidly grew tired of the dullness of her life and longed for companionship.

But ideals and reality often do not coincide, as Mary discovered in her own relationships with men.

Hungry for affection and love, she entered into an affair with Gilbert Imlay and lived with him, having fallen deeply in love with him and knowing he could not be had on any other terms.

The two held significantly different outlooks on love, life, and matrimony. Mary’s letters to Imlay during the course of their relationship, and particularly after the birth of their daughter, Fanny, make clear the desperation with which she sought to hold on to him, long after he wished to wash his hands of her.

Two attempts to take her life likewise marked the despondency with which the affair had left her.

Mary subsequently lived with William Godwin; mentally exhausted and emotionally broken, she was lonely and eager for some imitation of the life she had led with Imlay.

Though Godwin had long been against the institution of marriage, Mary persuaded him into marrying her because she dreaded social ostracism and the brining of a second illegitimate child into a harsh world.

This attempt at returning to conventional societal norms only served to have certain doors permanently shut in her face.

Upon her death she left behind her two daughters, who, however unintentionally, followed very much in their mother’s footsteps, chasing unorthodox relationships and defying convention.

Death served as a release from the unhappiness and anguish that had dogged Mary’s footsteps from birth, leaving behind a legacy that spoke of a strong and proud feminist.

Marjorie Bowen was born in 1885 on Hayling Island in Hampshire. She and her sister grew up in poverty, but Bowen was eventually able to study at the Slade School of Fine Art and later in Paris. Her first novel, the violent historical ‘The Viper of Milan’ (written when she was 16) was rejected by several publishers, who considered it inappropriate for a young woman to have written such a novel. It went on to become a best-seller when eventually published.

Her total output numbers over 150 volumes with the bulk of her work under the ‘Bowen’ pseudonym. She also wrote under the names Joseph Shearing, George R. Preedy, John Winch, Robert Paye and Margaret Campbell.

Bowen died on 22 December 1952, after suffering serious concussion as a result of a fall in her bedroom. This book was previously published under the name George R. Preedy.

My review

This reprint is really showing its age, in the judgemental attitude of the writter and the lack of any analysis. This biography is interesting, admittedly and covers all the necessary details, however the use of direct quotes from surviving letters doesn’t so much support the narrative as weigh it down with repetition and lack of useful analysis or synthesis. There is no discussion of Mary Wollstonecroft’s obvious mental health conditions – if we use her letters as evidence she, and Eliza Wollstonscroft, we’re clearly suffering from depression or PTSD due to their abusive childhood. I had a mixed reaction to this book; I was engrossed by the fascinating life led by its subject but turned off by the authorial style.

If you want a quick lesson about Mary Wollstonecroft this book will provide details, but if you want depth and analysis there are better biographies available.

3/4