History

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Under The Knife: The History Of Surgery In 28 Remarkable Operations – Arnold van de Laar

Published September 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In Under the Knife, surgeon Arnold Van de Laar uses his own experience and expertise to tell the witty history of the past, present and future of surgery.

From the story of the desperate man from seventeenth-century Amsterdam who grimly cut a stone out of his own bladder to Bob Marley’s deadly toe, Under the Knife offers all kinds of fascinating and unforgettable insights into medicine and history via the operating theatre.

What happens during an operation? How does the human body respond to being attacked by a knife, a bacterium, a cancer cell or a bullet? And, as medical advances continuously push the boundaries of what medicine can cure, what are the limits of surgery?

From the dark centuries of bloodletting and of amputations without anaesthetic to today’s sterile, high-tech operating theatres, Under the Knife is both a rich cultural history, and a modern anatomy class for us all.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to John Murray Press and Book Bridgr for sending me this review copy at a time when I was delighted to have a new, shiny book to delve into. Who am I kidding? I’m ALWAYS happy to have a new, shiny book as a bibliophile, right? But seriously, I was going through a tough time and Under The Knife came as a pleasant surprise as I had requested it some time ago and thought that I had been unsuccessful in getting it so when my cheery postman brought it round, it was a very welcome addition to my collection. Personally, I found it was easier to read this non-fiction tome in shorter sections to be able to absorb all the information the author was throwing at the reader and to avoid becoming over-saturated in medical jargon. Although, don’t get me wrong, this piece of popular science is highly accessible to people who may not necessarily have a scientific background. Everything is explained methodically, without ever seeming patronising. It just may be a bit too much medical/surgical descriptions to take if you try to binge read it all at once, in my opinion.

Arnold van de Laar, author of Under The Knife.

Under The Knife can be explained as a history of surgery, but more specifically, twenty-eight particular operations that have been carried out on notable figures through history and have changed the face of medicine as a result. One of the more horrifying cases that van de Laar explores is lithotomy (translated as “stone cutting,”) which involved a Dutch man, blacksmith Jan de Doot (with NO prior surgical knowledge) in 1651 who performed an operation on himself to cut out his own bladder stone when the agony of it became too unbearable for him to suffer anymore and he didn’t trust anyone else to do it. Staggeringly enough for those times, he survived and over the next fifty years, doctors learned much more about what causes these particular types of bladder stones making it a relatively rare condition now. We also investigate the story of Bob Marley who because of his beliefs, flatly refused to have his cancerous toe amputated and died as a result, the tendency for obesity in Popes and how Queen Victoria pioneered a new movement in the realms of anaesthesia.

Jan de Doot in 1655, proud owner of a bladder stone and survivor of surgery by his own hands.

I’ve always been fascinated by the history of surgery which was one of the reasons I requested this book for review. This book wasn’t exactly what I expected but I think that was a good thing. It was less of a time-line through our past and how surgery has developed but a more in-depth look at specific instances where surgery has changed individual lives or advanced the field as a whole to improve survival rates in the future, even paving the way for better, more efficient technologies. As you might expect with a book all about surgery, it has quite gruesome, detailed moments including graphic descriptions of surgery so if that’s in any way unpalatable to you, just letting you know! For me, I found it to be an interesting insight into the world of trauma and illness, how our body copes, the pressures that the surgeon is under to “fix us,” and how the body heals itself after the process is completed.

It’s amazing and quite frankly, mind-blowing to see how much surgery has advanced through the years – can you ever imagine having to have an operation without any anaesthetic? Or how about when blood-letting was considered a normal procedure for someone who was gravely ill? Arnold van de Laar uses his vast experience as a specialist laparoscopic surgeon to present us with facts, statistics and precise, engaging information about surgery and how it’s changed over the years, thankfully for the better!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

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The Diary Of A Young Girl – Anne Frank

Published September 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary, written in the Amsterdam attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years, has become a world classic and a timeless testament to the human spirit. Now, in a new edition enriched by many passages originally withheld by her father, we meet an Anne more real, more human, and more vital than ever. Here she is first and foremost a teenage girl—stubbornly honest, touchingly vulnerable, in love with life. She imparts her deeply secret world of soul-searching and hungering for affection, rebellious clashes with her mother, romance and newly discovered sexuality, and wry, candid observations of her companions. Facing hunger, fear of discovery and death, and the petty frustrations of such confined quarters, Anne writes with adult wisdom and views beyond her years. Her story is that of every teenager, lived out in conditions few teenagers have ever known.

What did I think?:

The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of those pieces of non fiction that occupies a very special place in my heart. I’ve read it a few times now at different points in my life through my adolescence right through to adulthood and each time I’ve managed to get something unique out of each reading experience. It’s not a five star read for me and that’s only because, I have to be honest, I do find parts of Anne’s diary a bit slower than others but it earns a rightful place on my favourites shelf because of what it’s given me over the years. Over this past year, I’ve challenged myself to a little experiment where I have a current read, a work of non fiction and a favourite re-read on the go at the one time. I set this challenge for myself as I realised I have a host of non fiction books on my shelves that just aren’t getting read and that I need to get round to, whilst also realising that with all the exciting new releases coming in, I don’t get a chance to re-read the books on my favourite shelves. The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of my all-time favourites and after this latest re-read, definitely deserves to keep its spot on the shelf.

Anne Frank, the author of the diary entries put into a collection by her father, Otto Frank.

If you haven’t managed to get round to reading this book yet (and I feel like it should be required reading in ALL schools!), Anne Frank is a young girl from a Jewish family who is forced to go into hiding with her parents, sister and another family when the Nazis descend upon their town and begin to remove all people of the Jewish faith to camps and ghettos, basically sealing their fate to one of misery, poverty, disease and in far too many scenarios, death. Assisted by some friends, the two families are ensconced in a Secret Annex concealed from the world by means of a bookcase which opened onto their tiny living quarters where they were forced to hide for two years. Most of the time they had to exist in complete silence because of the workers in the office below or the proximity of the other houses to their own space. Discovery of the family would result in deportation and execution of all those that hid there and of those that helped them evade the authorities so playing by the rules of the house, being as quiet as possible and desperately awaiting the end of the war became normal life for the families that lived there.

Reconstruction of the bookcase that hid the doorway to The Secret Annex.

Image from: By Bungle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4132164

As I mentioned earlier on in my review, I’ve managed to extract something different from each experience I’ve had reading The Diary Of A Young Girl. Reading it as a teenager, I felt strangely close to Anne and I felt a well of emotions being stirred up regarding the horrific situation she finds herself in, her normal feelings as a young teenager herself (particularly about boys!) and those awkward adolescent moments where the hormones are raging and you feel yourself developing into a woman coupled with the confusion that often accompanies these thoughts and feelings. Having to cope with all of this whilst living in such close quarters with her family, another family and having no means of escape left me feeling so uncomfortable and sorry for Anne that at times, I had to silently applaud her for her tenacity, humour and bravery that is clearly apparent and so endearing throughout her diary entries.

On my latest reading of this book, I got even more than I ever could have expected from it emotionally speaking and that’s because I had the good fortune to visit Amsterdam about eight years ago and more specifically, the house and Secret Annex where Anne Frank was hidden. It was an experience I will never, ever forget, especially when I saw how small their quarters actually were. It was frightening to think that eight people had to live in such a small space and I couldn’t stop saying to my partner how unbelievable it was that they could survive in those cramped, overcrowded conditions for so long and all parties managed to keep their sanity. However, there are two stand-out points that I take away from Diary Of A Young Girl that I find particularly heart-breaking. The first is that Anne’s story does NOT have a happy ending and it’s especially hard to read, knowing this and seeing her joyful optimism for the end of the war, having a normal life and realising her dreams of becoming a writer. This leads me onto the second point – Anne is quite obviously a hugely talented writer. Her diary entries are succinct, empowering, beautiful, raw and so very authentic and it’s devastating to think of what she could have done in her life if she had been given the chance to see the end of the war and become an adult. Even writing about it now makes me feel so emotional and it’s definitely a book I’ll be re-visiting in the future, it’s too important not to.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Blog Tour – Stranger In My Heart by Mary Monro

Published May 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Stranger In My Heart (with foreword by HRH The Princess Royal) is about the search for understanding oneself, answering the question “Who am I?” by seeking to understand the currents that sweep down the generations, eddy through one’s own persona and continue on – palpable but often unrecognised. My father fought at the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, was taken prisoner by the Japanese and then escaped in February 1942, making his way across 1200 miles of inhospitable country to reach China’s wartime capital at Chongqing. Seventy years later I retraced his steps in an effort to understand a man who had died when I was 18, leaving a lot of unanswered questions behind. My book is the quest that I undertook to explore my father’s life, in the context of the Pacific War and our relationship with China.
A picture of a man of the greatest generation slowly unfolds, a leader, a 20th Century Great, but a distant father. As I delve into his story and research the unfamiliar territory of China in the Second World War, the mission to get to know the stranger I called ‘Dad’ resolves into a mission to understand how my own character was formed. As I travel across China, the traits I received from my father gradually emerge from their camouflage. The strands of the story are woven together in a flowing triple helix, with biography, travelogue and memoir punctuated with musings on context and meaning.

What did I think?:

When Anne Cater first got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in reading this book, I read the synopsis (as you do!) and immediately jumped at the chance. Thank you so much to her and to Unbound Books for allowing me to read an advanced review copy of this intriguing memoir in return for an honest review. If you’re new to my blog, you might not realise I’m not only a big fan of periods in our history like World War I and II, but I’m also a very curious soul regarding the culture and history of China. So imagine my delight when I saw that two of my favourite things were beautifully entwined in a biography of such a fascinating and brave man, told by one of the closest members of his family, his daughter.

Poster from artist Martha Sawyers ca. 1944 depicting a Chinese soldier with his wounded wife and daughter.

The subject of this memoir, Lieutenant Colonel John Monro was a considerably quiet, private and stoic man and the author of this book, his daughter Mary, knew surprisingly little about his struggles and the danger he faced as a soldier during the Second World War. It is only after he passes away that Mary makes a real effort to dig into his past, reading his diary entries from Hong Kong, marvelling at his escape from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and admiring his bravery as he faced a long trek through China, just to get to a place of safety. Moved by her father’s experiences, Mary takes it upon herself to attempt to carry out the exact same trip as her father, despite many place names in China having changed in the last seventy years. As she walks in her father’s footsteps, Mary feels that she connects with her father in a deeper manner and has such memorable encounters with people and places that can only be described as life-changing.

The Situation In China, 1944 – sourced from The US Army Center Of Military History.

Stranger In My Heart feels like the reader is given access to a detailed account of the struggles of a very unassuming soldier by means of his diary entries. It was an honour to be a voyeur into John Monro’s life and the incredible journey he made through China, all the while in danger of losing his life. The memoir was all the more touching and authentic for the inclusion of the diaries and for Mary’s own individual trip, many years later. I particularly enjoyed her quiet humour of the author as she described a sign posted at a hotel she stayed at briefly:

“Lecherous acts, prostitution, drugs taking and trafficking, smuggling, gambling, wrestling or any other outlawed activities are strictly forbidden.”

Like Mary, I had to have a little chortle to myself. Wrestling?? This book has everything you would want from a memoir and packs so much in addition to this. As I mentioned, the diary entries are incredibly thorough and so intriguing to read – straight from “the horse’s mouth,” so as to speak. Moreover, we also get a brief history of China (which I particularly loved as a Chinese history enthusiast!) and finally, snatches from the author’s own trip to try and recreate her father’s journey which read remarkably like a great travel book. I had great fun reading it and really appreciate the efforts Mary Munro made in researching her father’s life and recounting it for the interested outsider. By the time I got to the end, I couldn’t help but think that it’s almost as if this journey/book has given Mary peace with both her father’s life and his death and it was a pleasure to be taken along for the ride.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Mary has written numerous technical and academic articles and is an experienced lecturer and presenter, but this is her first book. She lives in Bath with her husband, Julian Caldecott, and dog, Gobi. She practises as an osteopath in the picturesque Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon. She treats people three days a week (see http://www.mmost.co.uk) and treats horses and dogs one day a week (www.hippokampos.co.uk and http://www.facebook.com/the2marys). She is a Trustee of the Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy (SCCO) and Member of the Royal Society of Medicine. She was formerly a marketing consultant, with five years experience at what is now Price Waterhouse Coopers, and three years with strategy consultancy, P.Four (now part of WPP). She began her marketing career with Cadbury’s confectionery and retains a lifelong love of chocolate.

Mary was born and raised at a farm on the edge of the south Shropshire hills, the youngest of four children. She attended Shrewsbury High School from age four to eighteen. She spent much of her childhood on horseback, which left her with permanent damage to her right eye, a broken nose, broken knee-cap and broken coccyx. She has been bitten, kicked, rolled on, dragged, and has fallen off too many times to recall, but she still rides racehorses for fun.

Find Mary on her website at: http://www.strangerinmyheart.co.uk

or on Twitter at: @monro_m276

Thank you once again to Anne Cater and Unbound Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Stranger In My Heart is due to be published in June 2018 and will be available as an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40046559-stranger-in-my-heart?ac=1&from_search=true

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stranger-My-Heart-Mary-Monro-ebook/dp/B07CVKMBL3/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525977789&sr=8-1&keywords=stranger+in+my+heart

Charlotte Brontë: A Life – Claire Harman

Published April 6, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

On the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, Penguin is publishing the definitive biography of this extraordinary novelist, by acclaimed literary biographer Claire Harman.

Charlotte Brontë’s life contained all the drama and tragedy of the great Gothic novels it inspired. She was raised motherless on remote Yorkshire moors and sent away to brutally strict boarding school at a young age. She watched helpless growing up as, one by one, her five beloved siblings sickened and died; by the end of her short life, she was the only child of the Brontë clan remaining. And most fascinating and tragic of all, throughout her adult life she was haunted by a great and unrequited love – a love that tortured Charlotte but also inspired some of the most moving, intense and revolutionary novels ever written in the English language.

Charlotte was a literary visionary, a feminist trailblazer and the driving force behind the whole Brontë family. She encouraged her sister Emily to publish Wuthering Heights when no-one else believed in her talent. She took charge of the family’s precarious finances when her brilliant but feckless brother Branwell succumbed to opium addiction. She travelled from Yorkshire to Europe to the bright lights of London, met some of the most brilliant literary minds of her generation (Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray), and became a bestselling female author in a world still dominated by men. And in each of her books, from Villette and Shirley to her most famous, Jane Eyre, Charlotte created brand new kinds of heroines, inspired by herself and her life, fiercely intelligent women burning with hidden passions.

This beautifully-produced, landmark biography is essential reading for every fan of the Brontë family’s writing, from Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights. It is a uniquely intimate and complex insight into one of Britain’s best loved writers. This is the literary biography of the year; if you loved Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens, this event is not to be missed.

What did I think?:

My wonderful boyfriend was kind enough to buy me this beautiful hardback edition of Charlotte Brontë – A Life a couple of years ago for a birthday and I cannot believe I’m only getting round to reading it now. Jane Eyre is tied with Pride And Prejudice for one of my favourite classics, actually if I’m being honest, one of my favourite ever books and I’m eagerly anticipating doing a re-read of my lovely Penguin clothbound edition very soon. I’ve always been fascinated about the life of Charlotte but occasionally, memoirs intimidate me slightly so I’ve putting this off for a while now! I honestly don’t know why I was being so silly because this biography was hugely readable and very enjoyable to boot. I have remained shamefully ignorant about Charlotte and her sisters in the past but found out much more than I could ever have anticipated from Claire Harman’s wonderfully researched tome. It’s definitely made me more keen to catch up on the rest of Charlotte’s novels – Vilette, Shirley and The Professor and I can’t wait to get started.

The reader is spoiled with this book in that not only do we get the life of Charlotte to pore over but we get detailed information on every single member of her family. Of course, who could leave out Anne and Emily who had such great successes of their own? We learn about the difficulties faced by Charlotte’s father when he first came to the country from Ireland and how he managed as a single father of six children after his wife died unexpectedly. Not only does Charlotte grow up without the steady hand and love of her mother whom she barely remembers but she has to suffer unbearable agonies as through her life, each of her five siblings also passes away. We get a fascinating insight into Charlotte’s time at boarding school which were so hideous that they inspired the events at the school in her most famous novel, Jane Eyre. Furthermore, we also learn about her great love, a married Belgian schoolteacher who she never really gets over and who breaks her heart by not reciprocating her feelings. Throughout it all, Charlotte comes across as one of the most determined, headstrong, stubborn and gentle women that I’ve had the pleasure to read about. Her life was filled with heart-ache but throughout it all, she never gave up and managed to do what she had always dreamed of – to be a successful writer.

Oh my goodness, after this stunning, intricately detailed biography, I feel almost like I know Charlotte inside out. My heart broke with hers when her sisters and brother died, I felt her agony at suffering with low self-esteem and at times, fragile mental health and saw her pain when she fell in love to have it ignored. Not only did I enjoy “meeting” Charlotte but I loved learning in greater depth about Emily, Anne and Branwell too who all had their own individual demons to fight. Some parts were completely shocking – like Emily’s treatment of a dog which was not only hideous but thoroughly confusing to me. There is also evidence that Charlotte herself didn’t actually die of TB as was suspected but was instead suffering from quite a different condition that still plagues many women today (although luckily, they don’t usually pass away from it!). I don’t think I’ve read many biographies that touch my heart and make me feel so many emotions but Charlotte Brontë – A Life was definitely one of these. It’s quite dense in places and reads quite slowly in others but it’s all worth it to learn about the enthralling life of such a beloved author in our history.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Charlotte Brontë – A Life by Claire Harman was the twenty-sixth book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

The King’s Curse – Philippa Gregory

Published October 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The final novel in the Cousins’ War series, the basis for the critically acclaimed Starz miniseries, The White Queen, by #1 New York Times bestselling author and “the queen of royal fiction” (USA TODAY) Philippa Gregory tells the fascinating story of Margaret Pole, cousin to the “White Princess,” Elizabeth of York, and lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon.

Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.

After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors.

What did I think?:

I’ve got such fond memories of when I first became aware of Philippa Gregory. A friend introduced me to her Wideacre trilogy consisting of the books Wideacre, The Favoured Child and Meridon all of which I adored and then my sister introduced me to her Tudor books and this is when I fell in love with her as an author. I haven’t been reading her as prolifically as I once did as unfortunately I feel like her last few novels in the Cousins’ War series haven’t been as brilliant as I know she can write but I still hugely enjoy both her writing and her intense focus on the women that history hasn’t given an adequate voice.

Margaret Pole is one of those women and The King’s Curse tells her story. She is daughter of the Duke of Clarence, cousin to Elizabeth of York (Henry VIII’s mother) and in this novel, becomes lady in waiting to Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon and then warden to her first daughter, Princess Mary. You may all be aware of what happens to poor Queen Katherine so this story is a fascinating insight into Margaret’s feelings and loyalties to both her King and to the woman she adores like a sister. Margaret comes across as a strong, sensible woman whose own family’s safety and well-being is paramount in her mind but she also demonstrates a steadfast faith and respect for those that she binds herself to both in duty and in friendship. She doesn’t have an easy life and her morals and values are tested in the worst ways imaginable but by the end, she remains true to herself and those close to her and earns the reader’s instant respect and admiration.

As I mentioned before, I love how Philippa Gregory takes a forgotten woman of history and suggests how important they may actually have been in the grand scheme of things. I loved learning more about her and was especially intrigued by her fragile relationship with King Henry VIII as he views her and her family as an obvious threat to his throne. Even though Margaret is our main protagonist, we still hear a lot about what is happening at the Tudor court at that period of history i.e. the divorce of Henry and Katherine, the rule of Anne Boleyn and the dissolution of the Catholic church with Henry VIII attempting to replace the Pope as the supreme ruler in England. It’s obvious the author has done some meticulous research as she forged this story and although parts of it have already been told before, for example in The Constant Princess and arguably her most famous novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, it never feels tired, old or re-hashed as we hear about events from a completely different point of view. I don’t think I’ll ever get weary of reading about the Tudor dynasty, a period of our past where the characters are just so incredibly effervescent and fascinating and I’m looking forward to getting to her next novel: The Taming Of The Queen.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Katherine Of Aragon, The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1) – Alison Weir

Published April 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The lives of Henry VIII’s queens make for dramatic stories and Alison Weir will write a series of novels that offer insights into the real lives of the six wives based on extensive research and new theories.

In all the romancing, has anyone regarded the evidence that Anne Boleyn did not love Henry VIII? Or that Prince Arthur, Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, who is said to have loved her in fact cared so little for her that he willed his personal effects to his sister? Or that Henry VIII, an over-protected child and teenager, was prudish when it came to sex? That Jane Seymour, usually portrayed as Henry’s one true love, had the makings of a matriarch? There is much to reveal …

Alison will write about the wives in the context of their own age and of the court intrigues that surrounded these women and – without exception – wrecked their lives. She will transport readers into a lost and vivid world of splendour and brutality: a world in which love, or the game of it, dominates all.

What did I think?:

When I was at school I didn’t pay much attention to history lessons and felt it didn’t really interest me that much. Then as an adult, I found how much I was missing out on and I credit authors like Alison Weir for introducing me to important individuals from our past in both her fiction and non-fiction in such a wonderful way that without reading her I would have remained woefully ignorant. I first came across Alison Weir’s work in her non-fiction, namely the excellent book Henry VIII, The King And His Court which I highly recommend. This led to me being fascinated with the Tudor period of British history and devouring any book by the author that was relevant. When Alison starting writing historical fiction, I was delighted and her meticulous research and passion for her subject clearly comes across in her novels.

The Six Tudor Queens is a new series of historical fiction novels, each one focusing on a wife of Henry VIII:

“that provide insight into the real lives of these women, based on extensive research and new theories, novels that will put the six wives into the context of their own age”.

Thank you so much to Headline publishers via Book Bridgr who sent me an absolutely gorgeous hardback edition of the first novel, Katherine Of Aragon: The True Queen in exchange for an honest review. Well, I have to admit I’m already slightly biased as I’m a huge fan of Alison Weir but believe me, I’m not going to gush about this book insincerely. It’s an absolutely stunning piece of work and gave much deeper insights into Katherine of Aragon as a person than I ever could have dreamed of.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Katherine’s story, I’ll give a very quick synopsis. She was the first wife of Henry VIII and originally came over as a princess of Spain to be the wife of his brother, Arthur who was the heir to the throne of England. However, Arthur dies quite suddenly and Katherine is left in limbo for the longest time while Henry’s father, Henry VII, decides what is to be done with her. She finally gets her happy ending when she marries Henry and becomes Queen but their marriage whilst initially a happy one is fraught with difficulties and tragedies over the years. Throughout all her personal losses, disappointments and outright betrayals however, Katherine remains dignified and regal, certainly making her mark on history as a true Queen of England.

I don’t want to say too much about Katherine’s struggles, particularly in her relationships with her husband, Henry but it’s an utterly compelling and gripping tale that reveals just how much effort and love Alison Weir has put into this novel to make Katherine’s story come alive. Out of all of Henry’s wives, she remains firmly in my top two, even more so now after the beauty of Alison’s writing. The next book in the series, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession is due to be published on the 18th of May and I was ecstatic to be approved for it on NetGalley (thank you again Headline!). Expect a review for that around about the publication date but if it’s anything as powerful as this first novel, I’m going to be one happy Tudor fan girl.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Guildford Library Talk – David Young, author of Stasi Child and Stasi Wolf, the first two books in the Karin Müller series

Published March 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

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AUTHOR INFORMATION

David Young was born near Hull and – after dropping out of a Bristol University science degree – studied Humanities at Bristol Polytechnic specialising in Modern History. Temporary jobs cleaning ferry toilets and driving a butcher’s van were followed by a career in journalism with provincial newspapers, a London news agency, and the BBC’s international newsrooms where he led news teams for the World Service radio and World TV.

David was a student on the inaugural Crime Thriller MA at City University – winning the course prize in 2014 for his debut novel Stasi Child – and now writes full-time in his garden shed. In his spare time, he’s a keen supporter of Hull City AFC.

Stasi Child is the first of three books in the Oberleutnant Karin Müller series – set in 1970s communist East Germany – bought by the UK arm of Swedish publisher Bonnier by former Quercus CEO Mark Smith. It reached the top 5 bestsellers on Amazon Kindle, was number one bestseller in Amazon’s Historical Fiction chart, and has been optioned for TV by Euston Films (Minder, The Sweeney etc). Translation rights have so far been sold to France.

DAVID YOUNG TALK AT GUILDFORD LIBRARY

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I was lucky enough to be invited along to an author talk by David Young, an exciting new author who is writing a series of books based in Germany around the time when the Berlin Wall separated Germany into two sides, East and West, communist and capitalist. Faye, who has a blog at A DayDreamer’s Thoughts was responsible for organising the event and she did an absolutely fantastic job! I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed myself so much at an author talk.

David Young was previously a news editor for the BBC and to let off steam from time to time, he played in a band that toured Germany about eight years ago. One of the places that they played, he actually told us was his inspiration for the police headquarters in his novel. It is obvious that David has done meticulous research for his series, despite speaking very little German. He visited Germany and met the people who were detectives in East Germany at that time period and he read many German memoirs (with the help of Google translate!) to try and get a feel for the language and the situation.

David chose to present his talk in a very different way, using a projector with some photographs of Germany taken whilst he was doing his research for the books and some old photographs that illustrated some real life stories of people from that murky period of Germany’s past that inspired and shaped his writing. Unfortunately, some of those photographs are copyright protected so I cannot share them but they were very moving and I loved listening to him talk about the research he has carried out and the little gold nuggets of information that he uncovered along the way.

From the very first picture which was the bleak view from one of the viewing platforms close to the Berlin Wall to a snow-filled cemetery closely afterwards that inspired David to write the horrific scene where a body is discovered in his first book, Stasi Child, the pictures really brought to life the words that David writes in the novel. I had finished Stasi Child earlier that week and sometimes, it’s easy to forget that although the novel is historical fiction, his story is based on real life events. There was division, cruelty, poverty, people desperately trying to escape over the Wall to a “better” life in West Germany, a shady secret police force and reform schools for young people to re-educate them in the “socialist way” that completely beggars belief in today’s free society.

I certainly learnt a lot from David’s talk. One of the most touching moments was when he showed a black and white photograph of a teenage boy who was pictured behaving oddly with a ladder over his back trying to escape to the West. It was in the German papers the next day that he survived thirty-five rounds of gunfire and managed to scale the Wall into the West and escape. Unfortunately he was returned to the East the next day but I couldn’t believe the bravery of the boy and the situation he must have found himself in.

Of course there was such a dark side to East Germany. This was mostly perpetrated by the Stasi special police force who had an unbelievable amount of power and often used psychological methods to unnerve and undermine their victims, including sneaking into their houses and moving things around to deliberately mess with their minds. There was also a lot of paranoia going round (understandably!) and a well known East German leader actually did build a secret escape tunnel to the West just in case his people were to turn against him, similar to an event mentioned in Stasi Child. After the Berlin Wall finally came down, there was still obviously a lot of tension and a recent newspaper report suggested that Ikea, Siemens and Aldi all profited from slave labour during the period of communist East Germany.

David finished the talk by giving us a reading from his latest novel in the series Stasi Wolf and giving us a sneak preview of what it’s going to be about. Here’s the blurb from GoodReads:

How do you solve a murder when you can’t ask any questions? The gripping new thriller from the bestselling author of Stasi Child.

East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.

But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town – the pride of the communist state – and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town’s flawless image.

Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive . . .

Actually cannot wait to read this one! David was also kind enough to answer questions from the audience and I asked him how long he envisions this series being. He said that he was hoping to do a book for every year that the Berlin Wall was standing (which he estimates is about fifteen years) which sounds absolutely fantastic and I’ll definitely be investing in the series. They should all involve recurring characters, especially Oberleutnant Karin Müller, but he stated that each book would be a separate case, could be read as a stand alone and that there were so many relevant stories that he could tell so he had no worry of running out of things to say which was reassuring and exciting to hear.

Finally it was time for two treats. First of all, David took us down to see his German police car from that period, blue lights and all. Loved the bit of promotion along the side David!

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On returning to the library, we then participated in a hugely fun taste test with two different chocolate spreads. One was manufactured in East Germany, one in West Germany but they were simply labelled A and B and the goal was to pick which one was which.

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I was happy (but a bit surprised) that I picked the right one and he told us a very interesting fact that the “communist” chocolate spread might taste a bit nuttier as hazelnuts were very easy to come by for East Germany in those days – fascinating! Finally, some staff from Waterstones were available at the library so you could buy either Stasi Child or Stasi Wolf and I made sure to pick myself up a copy of the latter which he was kind enough to sign.

I just want to thank Guildford Library, Faye and David Young so much for a fantastic, informative talk that I thoroughly enjoyed. You’ve definitely got yourself another fan here David and I can’t wait to pick up Stasi Wolf a bit later this month – watch out for my review coming soon.

Visit David’s website: http://stasichild.blogspot.ca/p/about_27.html

David’s GoodReads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14358496.David_Young

Follow him on Twitter: @djy_writer

Stasi Child and Stasi Wolf are available from all good bookshops and as e-books now!