Pen & Sword TBR Pile Review: Victorian Fashions For Women, by Neil R Storey & Fiona Kay

Hardcover, 248 pages
Published June 30th 2022 by Pen & Sword History
ISBN:1399004166 (ISBN13: 9781399004169)


Victorian Fashions for Women explores the British styles and clothing throughout the long reign of Queen Victoria, from the late 1830s to the first years of the 20th century. Within are a superb overview of the dresses, hats, hair styles, corsetry, undergarments shoes and boots that combined to present the prevailing styles for each decade. From those who had enough money to have day and evening wear and clothes for sports and outdoor activities, to those with limited income and wardrobes or labouring folk with little more than the clothes they stood up in.

All decades are illustrated with original photographs, adverts and contemporary magazine features from the authors’ own remarkable collections, accompanied by a knowledgeable and informative text that describes the fashions, their social history context and influences reflected in the clothes of the time. Laid out in a clear and easy-to-follow chronological order, the key features of styles, decoration and accoutrements will help family historians to date family photographs and will provide a useful resource for students and costume historians or for anyone with a love of fashion and style to enjoy.

My Review

Review number five of the day. Don’t collapse everyone; I know I’ve posted a lot of reviews today, but I stack them up until I find a day to do all the reviews. Today is the day. I woke up early and I’ve had to stay up to wait for my post to be delivered. It was parcels, of meds and sweets. I needed more inhalers. This hot weather is screwing with my asthma so badly that I’m having to use them a lot more than usual. Since I’m awake and haven’t gone back to bed yet, I need to get these reviews done.

As you may know, I enjoy studying history and every area of life has something to tell us about history and society in different time periods, whether it’s food or military actions. Clothes are quite important facets of society and dress history is a growing area. I have visited the V&A museum in the past and was fascinated by the work that went into historical clothing. I also enjoy watching videos on YouTube by dress historians and reenactors, like Morgan Donner, Nicole Rudolph, Abby Cox and Bernadette Banner. It’s an unexpected turn for my interests, I know, because generally I don’t have much interest in clothes, beyond my swimming costumes and fancy underwear. It’s all about comfort for me.

Honestly, upper- and middle-class Victorian clothes look really uncomfortable! Heavy, fussy, and over-decorated. The figure was changed by adding padding and frames, rather than changing the body. Over seventy years fashions and figure changed in a variety of ways, from materials used to the type underwear worn. It really is quite interesting. This book is definitely focused on the dress of middle and upper-class women, because it is those women who could afford the clothes in fashion plates and fashion magazines. The development of fashion magazines and the production of paper patterns in magazines is also mentioned; I have quite a few modern patterns from magazines so the early history of these useful items is interesting to me. It shows that women were making their own fashionable clothes and using the new mechanical sewing machines that were starting to become available to the home sewer. It shows that high fashion was available to everyone if they had the money for material and time to sew.

I would have liked more information on working class clothing and fashions, which were covered only briefly, but I understand the limitations given the information available and the remaining material culture. The writing got a little sludgy at times but wasn’t bad.

Pen & Sword TBR Pile Review: Revolting Recipes From History, by Seren Charrington-Hollins

Hardcover, 216 pages
Published June 16th 2022 by Pen and Sword History
ISBN:1526773023 (ISBN13: 9781526773029)


Nothing causes a stir on social media platforms like a topical discussion on the latest food trend. Modern-day chefs like to think that they are creative and often claim to push boundaries of food creation, but if we want to explore real culinary creativity then we need to look to our ancestors.

Writer and food historian, Seren Charrington-Hollins delves into the history of culinary experimentation to bring us some of the weirdest and most stomach-churning food delicacies to ever grace a dining table. She uncovers the rather gruesome history behind some everyday staples, uncovers bizarre and curious recipes, whilst casting light on foods that have fallen from culinary grace, such as cows udders and tripe; showing that revulsion is just a matter of taste, times and perhaps knowledge.

From pickled brains to headcheese, through to songbirds and nymphs’ thighs, this book explores foods that have evoked disgust and delight in diners depending on culinary perspective.

So pull up a chair, unfold your napkin and get ready for a highly entertaining and enlightening journey to explore what makes a recipe revolting? Be warned; you’ll need a strong stomach and an open mind. 

My Review

I actually managed to read and finish a book Pen & Sword sent me within a couple of months of getting it! Actually, I have another one I’ll review soon. I’ve still got a massive Pen & Sword pile to read. I will, eventually get through them all. I read another book by this author, about tea in 2020.

So, why did I read and finish this one so quickly?

Food! I like good food, I like to cook, and I find food a fascinating way to understand societies. Why would anyone eat some of the stuff they have if they didn’t need to? For instance garum sauce – hugely popular in ancient Rome, made of fermented fish. Basically fish left to rot in terracotta pots. Nope, not eating that. Who first thought to try it? And who thought of eating bovine digestive tracts (tripe)? Who gutted a cow and thought, ooh, that looks lovely? Only someone really desperate would consider pigs ears, surely?

And that’s just the stuff people chose to eat.

Imagine thinking you were going to get a decent bit of tinned ham and it turned out to be rotten because the tin wasn’t sealed properly. And you’re on a three year mission to chart the North West Passage. Eurgh! I liked the details about the history of food and the changes in diet over the centuries. It’s mostly Anglo-centric although there are some European and North American stories.

There were some sections that put me right off some foods and some I’m pleased I’ve never eaten. Like goose liver pate. That’s just cruel.

The book started off really strongly but by the last chapter it began to waver a bit and felt like it was unfinished. However, generally a good introduction to food history.

TBR Pile Review: A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, by Adam Rutherford

Paperback, 419 pages
Published November 14th 2017 by W&N (first published September 8th 2016)
ISBN: 1780229070 (ISBN13: 9781780229072)


This is a story about you. It is the history of who you are and how you came to be. It is unique to you, as it is to each of the 100 billion modern humans who have ever drawn breath. But it is also our collective story, because in every one of our genomes we each carry the history of our species births, deaths, disease, war, famine, migration, and a lot of sex.

Since scientists first read the human genome in 2001, it has been subject to all sorts of claims, counterclaims, and myths. In fact, as Adam Rutherford explains, our genomes should be read not as instruction manuals, but as epic poems. DNA determines far less than we have been led to believe about us as individuals, but vastly more about us as a species.

In this captivating journey through the expanding landscape of genetics, Adam Rutherford reveals what our genes now tell us about history, and what history tells us about our genes. From Neanderthals to murder, from redheads to race, dead kings to plague, evolution to epigenetics, this is a demystifying and illuminating new portrait of who we are and how we came to be.

My Review

This is another one of my random books I bought because it looked interesting. I like biology, history and all that connected stuff. Yes, it really is all connected; it makes no sense to teach them as separate subjects, they all overlap. But that’s not really important right now…

Adam Rutherford writes amusingly of genomics, history and archaeology, as he explains how modern humans came to be the only hominids left and where we are now. It’s basic stuff that people really should know, but unfortunately they don’t and that causes a lot of problems in society.

Seriously, how can anyone believe in ‘race’ these days when genomics can show that it doesn’t exist in a scientific sense? I understand it is a social classification that has real effect in the world, race is a social construct that is used to unite people and divide them, to build a social identity and to deny social advantages, but that doesn’t make it any less illogical.

I actually found his discussion of his PhD research fascinating. Eyes are really odd, but clearly not ‘designed’. Like much of the body, it’s really daft and clearly made up of changes over time. Eyes break so easily, they’re so often a mess from the start too. How anyone can believe they were created perfectly by some god is again, beyond me. Octopuses managed to do it better, for crying out loud!

Human evolution is fascinating! No really, I love it. I found the way Rutherford described the multiple times different human species mixed and shared genes really informative.

The book is fairly introductory and includes a glossary and further reading, so it’s a good place to start if you’re interested.

Problems: Adam Rutherford shouldn’t talk about Autism, because he clearly knows nothing; he still refers to us as having Autism Spectrum Disorder. We are not disordered!

His grasp of human sex and gender is limited. He often refers to ‘the two sexes’ and ‘male is XY, female is XX’, completely ignoring the fact that sex is more complicated than that, and he dismisses intersex people in a footnote as negligible disorders. Way back in 2016 I reviewed a book on the subject that clearly explains how much variety there is in human sex and gender. He also uses ‘male’ and ‘women’, rather than ‘male’ and ‘female’, or ‘men’ and ‘women’; it’s confusing and I’m not sure why he does it. In context, it doesn’t make sense. If you’re talking about sex or presumed sex (because someone’s external genitalia may be one thing but their chromosomes and hormones could be different) use male, female or intersex; if you’re talking about gender, use gender labels – men, women, non-binary, agender etc.

Definitely one to read and share with all your embarrassing relatives.

TBR Pile Review: Madness in Civilization, by Andrew Scull

Paperback, 448 pages
Published September 1st 2016 by Thames and Hudson Ltd (first published March 23rd 2015)
ISBN: 050029254X (ISBN13: 9780500292549)


This ambitious volume, worldwide in scope and ranging from antiquity to the present, examines the human encounter with Unreason in all its manifestations, the challenges it poses to society and our responses to it. In twelve chapters organized chronologically from the Bible to Freud, from exorcism to mesmerism, from Bedlam to Victorian asylums, from the theory of humours to modern pharmacology, Andrew Scull writes compellingly about madness, its meanings, its consequences and our attempts to understand and treat it. 

My Review

I was recommended this book for some reason and I’ve been reading it for months as part of my research for the neurodivergent history project for work. I finished it the other day and I’m just getting around to reviewing it.

This book is very densely written covering several thousand years. I wouldn’t agree with the blurb that it is global in scope, it is much more focused on Europe and North America, with occasional excursions to other places colonised by European countries and even fewer discussions of places outside of those areas. Africa, most of Asia and all of South America are ignored. It’s very Anglo-centric. Most of the book really only covers the history of psychiatry in England, France and Germany, with some reference to the U.S. later in the book. It’s going to be helpful for my heritage project, but I would have liked to read more about the rest of the world.

I found the sections on madness in the arts fascinating. I had read something about it in Those They Called Idiots, by Simon Jarrett. This book doesn’t cover learning disability, but madness was often conflated with idiocy in the past. If you were too much hard work for your family to care for, you could quite possibly end up in an asylum or workhouse. The presentation of madness in art and literature, as with disability, changed and influenced how people saw madness and disability.

Problems with the book: Scull clearly knows nothing about Autism or being Autistic, and repeats the lie that there’s an epidemic of Autism. He treats other highly heritable neurodivergencies, such as schizophrenia, equally badly and with limited understanding.

Scull clearly doesn’t like psychiatry as a profession, which is fair enough. A lot of people have been harmed by psychiatry and the narrow ideas of psychiatrists using diagnostic manuals as check lists rather than understanding individual patients. His cynicism gets a bit much at times though.

Generally, not a bad book but approach with caution.

TBR Pile Review: The Little Book of Humanism: Universal Lessons on Finding Purpose, Meaning and Joy, By Andrew Copson and Alice Roberts

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 4th 2020 by Piatkus 
(first published January 1st 2020)
ISBN: 0349425469 (ISBN13: 9780349425467)


We all want to lead a happy life. Traditionally, when in need of guidance, comfort or inspiration, many people turn to religion. But there has been another way to learn how to live well – the humanist way – and in today’s more secular world, it is more relevant than ever.

In The Little Book of Humanism, Alice Roberts and Andrew Copson share over two thousand years of humanist wisdom through an uplifting collection of stories, quotes and meditations on how to live an ethical and fulfilling life, grounded in reason and humanity.

With universal insights and beautiful original illustrations, The Little Book of Humanism is a perfect introduction to and a timeless anthology of humanist thought from some of history and today’s greatest thinkers.

We all want to lead a happy life. Traditionally, when in need of guidance, comfort or inspiration, many people turn to religion. But there has been another way to learn how to live well – the humanist way – and in today’s more secular world, it is more relevant than ever.

In The Little Book of Humanism, Alice Roberts and Andrew Copson share over two thousand years of humanist wisdom through an uplifting collection of stories, quotes and meditations on how to live an ethical and fulfilling life, grounded in reason and humanity.

With universal insights and beautiful original illustrations, The Little Book of Humanism is a perfect introduction to and a timeless anthology of humanist thought from some of history and today’s greatest thinkers.

My Review

I bought myself this book and a couple of Alice Roberts’ books for my birthday, with my birthday voucher from my friend Fi. I have been a subscriber to The New Humanist magazine for a couple of years, but I don’t really understand the philosophical underpinnings of Humanism, and I wanted to understand a bit more.

I found this book very touching. It’s concise and illustrated with examples that demonstrate the points made. It covers life and death, which I found very comforting, given the sudden loss of my uncle three weeks ago. There were quotes that I felt would be appropriate for a funeral reading. I found in reading this book that my personal ethics and philosophy already fell in to the Humanist category. If you need a god to tell you how to behave ethically, you have a problem.

I would describe myself as a Humanist Heathen – that is I combine humanism with heathenry, which may seem contradictory considering Humanists don’t accept the existence of gods and heathenry has lots of gods. I tend to think the gods and their stories are not literally real but are explanations for events that worked for people two and a half thousand to fourteen hundred years ago and they can still be useful ways of experiencing the world. For example, I don’t need Nehalennia to bless any sea crossings I make or any international trade I might do (haha – like that’s ever going to happen) but I still find it comforting and a focus of attention. I don’t need to believe literally in Sunna to be overwhelmed with awe in a beautiful sunrise, either. It’s a bit weird, I know, but it works for me.

This book is a little book that fits in a pocket, and it obviously isn’t a comprehensive discussion of Humanism, its history and philosophy, but if you want to dip in and get the basics it is a good start.

Review: Whisper Of The Seals, by Roxanne Bouchard



Detective Moralès returns in a breathtaking literary thriller set on the icy seas of Quebec’s Magdalen Islands, in the midst of a brutal seal hunt, where nothing is as it seems and absolutely no one can be trusted…

Fisheries officer Simone Lord is transferred to Quebec’s remote Magdalen Islands for the winter, and at the last minute ordered to go aboard a trawler braving a winter storm for the traditional grey seal hunt, while all of the other boats shelter onshore.

Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès is on a cross-country boat trip down the St Lawrence River, accompanied by Nadine Lauzon, a forensic psychologist working on the case of a savagely beaten teenager with Moralès’ old team in Montreal.

When it becomes clear that Simone is in grave danger aboard the trawler, the two cases converge, with startling, terrifying consequences for everyone involved…

Continue reading “Review: Whisper Of The Seals, by Roxanne Bouchard”

Review: The Unorthodox Creator, by Derron Payne


The Unorthodox Creator: How to Survive and Thrive in the Digital World explores the digital world, anything from social media to Web3. It embarks on a journey taking you from the past to the present to the future. Technology as we know it is evolving at a rapid pace and there are many opportunities that come with this evolution if we’re willing to adapt. Author Derron Payne walks us through the case studies, research, and everyday people that are proving the world is going digital fast and soon it will be hard to succeed without an online presence.

Reading this book, you will discover what it takes to be a digital creator, how to start creating, and how to position yourself for success in the digital world. Entrepreneurs and business executives who are looking for ways for their company to stay ahead of the curve can also gain insight and helpful tips. The Unorthodox Creator is an essential tool for everyone and it will help guide you through this new world.

Continue reading “Review: The Unorthodox Creator, by Derron Payne”

Review: Cabin Fever, by Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin

Publication date Thursday, July 14,
Price £16.99
EAN\ISBN-13 9781913068738
Travel & holiday
Biography: general
Binding Hardback

The harrowing story of the Zaandam cruise ship, which set sail with a deadly and little-understood stowaway – Covid-19 – days before the world shut down in March 2020. A story of human kindness, peril and bravery.

In early 2020, the world was on edge. An ominous virus was spreading and no one knew what the coming weeks would bring. Far from the hotspots, the cruise ship Zaandam was preparing to sail from Buenos Aires loaded with 1,200 passengers – British, American, Australian, European and South American tourists, plus 600 crew. Most passengers were over the age of 65.
There was concern about the virus in the news but that was oceans away. Escaping to sea at the ends of the earth for a few weeks seemed like it might be a good option. The cruise line had said the voyage would go ahead as scheduled and it would be safe.

Within days, people aboard the Zaandam began to fall sick. The world’s ports shut down. Zaandam became a top story on the news and was denied safe harbour everywhere. With only two doctors aboard and few medical supplies to test for or treat Covid-19, and with dwindling food and water, the ship wandered the oceans on an unthinkable journey

Cabin Fever is a riveting narrative thriller, taking readers behind the scenes of the ship’s complex workings, and below decks into the personal lives of passengers and crew who were caught unprepared for the deadly ordeal that lay ahead. It is a story layered with moments of peril, perseverance and kindness. A remarkable tale that is filled with individual acts of heroism and the struggles and the tragedies of the crew and passengers.

Continue reading “Review: Cabin Fever, by Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin”

Review: Night Shadows, by Eva Björg AEgisdóttir, Translated by Victoria Cribb

Pub date: 21 JULY 2022
ISBN 13: 978-1-914585-20-3
EPUB: 978-1-914585-21-0
Price: £9.99

The small community of Akranes is devastated when a young man dies in a
mysterious house fire, and when Detective Elma and her colleagues from
West Iceland CID discover the fire was arson, they become embroiled in an
increasingly perplexing case involving multiple suspects. What’s more, the
dead man’s final online search raises fears that they could be investigating
not one murder, but two.

A few months before the fire, a young Dutch woman takes a job as an au pair in Iceland, desperate to make a new life for herself after the death of her father. But the seemingly perfect family who employs her turns out to have problems of its own and she soon discovers she is running out of people to turn to.

As the police begin to home in on the truth, Elma, already struggling to
come to terms with a life-changing event, finds herself in mortal danger as it becomes clear that someone has secrets they’ll do anything to hide…

Continue reading “Review: Night Shadows, by Eva Björg AEgisdóttir, Translated by Victoria Cribb”

Review: Me, My Brother And The Monster Meltdown, by Rob Lloyd Jones, Illustrated by Alex Patrick

Information about the Book
Title: Me, My Brother and the Monster Meltdown
Author: Rob Lloyd Jones
Illustrator: Alex Patrick
Publisher:  Walker Books
Release Date: 7th July 2022
Genre: MG

All the adults are freaking out. Giant monsters are smashing up supermarkets across the country. The army can’t stop them and the prime minister is hiding in panic. A colossal six-headed gingerbread man, a massive emoji poo, a gigantic bouncing bum… Top scientists have no idea where they come from – or why they seem to hate supermarkets so much. But nine-year-old Otis has an idea. The creatures are exactly the same as drawings by his five-year-old brother, Jago: what if Jago brought his crazy creations to life with a magic pen? But their parents won’t listen, so it’s up to Otis and his pals to sort this monster mess out!

My Review

Thanks to Bee at Kaleidoscopic Tours for organising this tour, and the author and publisher for sending me a copy of this book. I was a little worried it wouldn’t arrive on time but it did on Thursday. I think I read it Thursday evening.

Monsters are attacking Rottingdean, and all the adults are going a bit mad. It’s up to Otis, Jago and their friends to find out where the monsters are coming from and stop them. Their adventures are hilarious as they dodge monsters, soldiers and their Dad, who keeps running into walls. They outwit the adults, defeat the monsters and get covered in chocolate.

At 157 pages with illustrations and a couple of paragraphs a page, it’s not a long read, but for a young child it would be a good starter book, once they’ve moved beyond picture books. Six to nine year olds will love this book. They will also learn about the damage our government has done to libraries. The book was written during lockdown to help Lloyd Jones’ sons cope with the pandemic through humour. The illustrations of the increasingly frantic prime minister in his bunker were particularly pointed.

The group of friends are a balanced group, characters who bounce off each others’ silliness and manage to work well together to solve a problem. I liked the depiction of the people at the care home having lives beyond their status as old people waiting for their family to visit or to die of boredom in their care home. I giggled quite a lot reading the book.

The illustrations are really good, very humorous. It’s a familiar style in books for the age group.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially for kids struggling to cope with the pandemic and lockdowns of the last couple of years.

Author Information

Rob Lloyd Jones is the author of the highly acclaimed middle-grade novels Wild Boy and Wild Boy and the Black Terror, as well as the Jake Atlas adventure series.

Created with his sons, Otis (9) and Jago (5), during home-schooling, Me, My Brother and the Monster Meltdown is his first funny fiction for younger readers. In Rob’s words, “it celebrates the power of children’s imaginations and their strength in adversity and adventure…and a monster apocalypse.”

Rob lives in East Sussex with his wife, and monster-mad Otis and Jago.