Warwick – Tony Riches

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Warwick is a novel about Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick who was also known as The Kingmaker. He is credited with putting Edward IV on the throne during the Wars of the Roses, a 15th century conflict between two branches of the Plantagenet family – the Lancasters and the Yorks.

I liked this portrayal of Warwick, he did seem a bit stiff sometimes – too good – but I liked that it wasn’t the standard textbook version of him you always see. Normally when you read a book about the Wars of the Roses, Warwick is portrayed as an extremely ambitious man and while he is ambitious in this novel we also get to see a more human side of him. Yes, the Warwick in this book chooses the course most advantageous to him and his family but we see the reasons and emotions behind his decisions. Some would have us believe that Warwick changed sides in the conflict simply because he was furious at Edward for marrying Elizabeth Woodville but it is much more complex that that. After that he was prepared to do whatever it took to see one of his daughters on the throne and he was was ultimately successful in this, if only briefly. This Warwick is portrayed as a man of intelligence and forethought, NOT JUST ruthless ambition. In this novel you see more of his personal relationships with people – his father, his brother, his wife, his mistress, etc.

There is a really good balance between the battles of the time and the story of the man himself. This is a book that, really, could be read by anyone, there is a perfect balance between the battles and the love story to suit everyone. Unlike other books that are aimed at one genre or the other this has just enough of both and not too much of either. The romance in Riches’ books isn’t cheesy. The level of historical detail is excellent. There is accuracy in the context. It is apparent that Riches did and enormous amount of research. Warwick as a character develops throughout the novel. The only slight criticism I have is that the book seemed to focus on the big events without really touching on what happened in between but I understand that trying to fit such a big time period into 300-odd pages is a hard task. It was really easy to read, even the parts about the battles but it wasn’t dumbed down. The story flowed well. It could have been a bit longer, as I said before it felt like it squashed a lot into it’s 300 pages and skimmed some pieces of important history but I still really enjoyed it. This book is not as polished as Riches other two novels, Owen and Jasper but I think this was my favourite out of the three.

This was a great insight into a very turbulent time in history and a good portrayal of a man we usually only see as a side character in books about Edward IV or Elizabeth Woodville. You don’t often see novels focusing solely on him so it was nice to see him brought into the limelight. He was someone who drove and changed history and deserves to be looked at in more depth.

Divorced, Beheaded, Died – Kevin Flude

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This book is a great little summary of British monarchs in easy to read bite-sized chunks – a pocket history. It’s not for people who have a lot of knowledge about British history but it would be a useful book if you wanted to remind yourself who’s who.

There is a brief history of each person, their basic story but a good introduction to people if you are looking for a gentle ease into the history of the monarchs.

It skims over the Scottish and Welsh monarchs, the information on them is minimal and squeezed into a few pages at the end.

There were a few “facts” that I raised my eyebrows at though but other than that I’d say give it a read if you want to brush up on your British history in a light way.

The Disney Book – Jim Fanning

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A history of Disney all in the one book. What’s not to love?

Pretty much everything that was created, worked on by Disney is in here with hundreds of beautiful illustrations of original drawings, models, plans and photos.

If you are a Disney fan (which I am) you love this book (which I do). It is Disney’s history in bite size chucks with lots of visual aids. You also get the added bonus of a Disney film cell.

There is a handy timeline with all the cartoons, films, theme parks and deaths in it and there are fun facts throughout the book.

It is a coffee table book and a must-have for Disney fans!

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All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

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‘Is today a good day to die?’

I loved this book. I though it was a really honest portrayal of depression. It is complex and relatable at the same time and delivers some really empowering messages.

Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school. Violet is contemplating jumping off. Finch talks her down. But his “freak” label makes everyone at school assume it was him attempting to jump and that Violet is the hero. Finch and Violet are now bound by the secret of what actually happened.

The pair are then put together for a geography project – Wander Indiana – which requires them to visit interesting places in their home state. Their trip turns out to be a journey of self-discovery.

Finch comes from a fractured family. He is bullied at school. He’s a misfit. He constantly thinks about death and ways to kill himself. But he is also sensitive and intelligent but he doesn’t let people see that side of him. He is spontaneous, rebellious and eccentric and plays up to his weirdo image.

Violet is more quiet, reserved and sombre. She is drifting on the edge of the popular crowd. Her perception of life and what matters changes after the death of her sister.

Both characters have unique quirks and are endearing and detailed. They both seem so real.

Over time, the pair’s friendship develops into romance but it is not cheesy or trashy like you sometimes get in young adult novels. It’s believable.

The book obviously focuses on depression through the interweaving narratives of both Violet, who is suffering from depression and grief over the death of her sister, and Finch, who experiences a totally different kind of depression and goes through periods of feeling like he is asleep.

I liked how the book made a point about the hypocricy of people after someone dies. How people who bullied someone relentlessly throughout their life is suddenly professing how much they loved them and will miss them when they are dead.

It is a very emotional read. I really don’t want to spoil the story for anyone because you really should experience it yourself but this is one of the best young adult novels I have read in a long time. So much better than The Fault In Our Stars. The characters are real. The depression is described perfectly – if you have ever suffered depression you will recognise the thoughts and emotions the characters have. Their relationship is totally believable. There is a dark side to this book as well, the characters have their demons and issues that they need to deal with, but there is humour there too. It is a sad story but it has hope. It’s a story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die and it’s a book with an important message. I would thoroughly recommend this book to everyone.

Fly On The Wall – E Lockhart

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This book seemed okay at first – the main character was slightly annoying but it was okay. But then…WTF? The main character is a student at a New York Art School and she is struggling to find her place. Her parents are divorcing, she’s being forced to move, her best friend is becoming distant, she is unable to understand boys (I mean, really, who does?) and she feels ordinary in a school full of people who are edgy and cool. One day Gretchen wishes she could be a fly on the wall of the boys locker room and the next day she wakes up and SHE IS A FLY ON THE WALL OF THE BOYS LOCKER ROOM. Literally.

The section of the book when she is a fly is just weird. There is far too much analysis of the boy’s “packages” for a start. And she kept referring to them as which was ridiculous. It just went on too long, it dragged and eventually I found myself just skimming over this bit.

As a fly Gretchen discovers that other people are just like her – insecure, have secrets, etc. It gives her new perspective and she finds confidence to be herself and learns to takes risks. She also realises that she may not have been that nice to her best friend, Katya. But did she really have to turn into a fly to realise all this?

There is a major suspension of disbelief needed. This is not a fantasy or sci-fi book, her fly experience is merely a facilitator for Gretchen to examine her life. There is no explanation as to how or why she becomes a fly for a week. Apparently an explanation is not needed because it’s a metaphor for her real transformation BUT STILL! Also, it’s not the most subtle of metaphors. She’s also studying Kafka’s Metamorphosis, coincidence?

It’s a short book but it took me ages to read it and it was all down to the middle section. When I got to that part I actually put the book down in disbelief. It just didn’t make sense. It does tackle the issue of sexism but it tackles it in a very teen drama kind of way.

I was going to say I wouldn’t really recommend this but it’s actually the kind of book you want other people to read so you can watch them as they read it and go “See, she’s a fly, how f**king weird is that?” If you like books about teens turning into flies to learn valuable life lessons then read this book.

The Vanishing Witch – Karen Maitland

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What is Karen Maitland’s genre? Medieval historical fiction? Supernatural? Thriller? Suspense? Her books are a bit of all these things and they are great because of it.

A widow arrives in Lincoln with her two children in tow. She seems kind at first, offering to help wool merchant Robert care for his ill wife but then she moves in. Robert’s wife dies and then others start dying. Is witchcraft involved?

It is not entirely clear at first what Caitlin wants with Robert. Her children, Edward and Leonia, are both strange in their own ways. Edward is arrogant, lazy and disrespectful – not a nice man at all. Leonia is not as sweet and innocent as she seems and soon lures Robert’s young son, Adam, under her spell.

It kept me guessing. I couldn’t work out what Caitlin’s game was or what her children and housekeeper were about. There was loads of excellent twists.

The Vanishing Witch is also a story of rebellion. It takes place around the time of the Peasants Revolt which was a protest against the unfair poll tax being imposed on the people. We see the story of Gunter and Nonie who just have misery piled upon misery.

I will say the ghost narrator and his/her pet ferret was a bit strange but it all comes together and makes sense at the end of the novel.

Maitland is a dark writer but her stories are so atmospheric and engrossing. The story has it’s fair share of violence in it, but I think it’s true of the time period.

As with all Karen Maitland’s novels there is interesting parallels with the present day. Maitland published this in 2014 when the protests against the bedroom tax were at their height. We can also see the same wealth disparities people are so angry at today and the arrogance of those who benefit from the labour of the oppressed is still the same today as it was back then.

I love Karen Maitland’s books and am never disappointed. I’d recommend her to anyone.