In the mid seventeenth century, England was divided by war and bloodshed. Torn apart by rival factions, father opposed son and brother met brother on the battlefield. But while civil war raged on cobbled streets and green fields, inside the home domestic life continued as it always had done. For Ann Fanshawe and her children it meant a life of insecurity and constant jeopardy as she and her husband, a Royalist diplomat, dedicated their lives to the restoration of the Stuart monarchy.
In this uncertain world, Ann's 'receipt book' was a treasured and entirely feminine response to the upheavals of war. These books were a feature of women's lives during this period, when there were few doctors to be found, and were full of life-saving medical knowledge that had been gleaned from mothers and friends. Remarkably, Ann's morocco-bound book full of scraps of ink-stained paper has survived to this day.
Lucy Moore is a historian, educated in Britain and the United States, with a degree in history from Edinburgh University. She's got a long and varied bibliography as a writer - including a rather fantastic history of the Roaring Twenties. In "Lady Fanshawe's Receipt Book" she moves onto the fascinating world of Civil War England - with Lady Fanshawe's writings providing a brilliantly insightful glimpse into one of the most turbulent times in British History.
Lady Ann Harrison was born in 1625, and was an intelligent child, loving French, needlework and riding. Born to a Royalist family, she married her second cousin, Richard Fanshawe, in 1644. They were a Royalist family - loyally supporting the King in a period where a Civil War resulted in the execution of a King and a state of Interregnum. Fanshawe is best known for writing a Memoir - full of recollections of life with her husband, and an intriguing record of what I find a particularly fascinating time in British History.
Lucy Moore has chosen not to focus solely on the memoir though, and instead has accessed Lady Fanshawe's Receipt Book for a far more intimate and immediate glimpse into the life of an intelligent, passionate and driven woman. Combining the two sources, Moore brings Fanshawe to startling life - with the personal nature of Fanshawe's writings enabling Moore to broadcast her voice loudly into the 21st Century - with the reader being allowed a glimpse into Fanshawe's friends, family, loves, and losses. I've recently become hugely interested by the English Civil War - a period of time that I often find rather overlooked, despite the way it shaped world history for ever. The fact that Lucy Moore chooses to focus on a woman in this period makes it doubly interesting - the drive of this woman to support her family and husband despite it threatening both her life and those of her children is quite remarkable, and the remarkable lengths that Lady Fanshawe went to in order to maintain a level of normality and domesticity for her family in a time that was both hugely turbulent and incredibly dangerous for the family. A remarkable woman brought to dazzling life by Lucy Moore - "Lady Fanshawe's Receipt Book" is a read that will transport the reader to a very different time indeed - but place them in the company of a woman whose strength, intelligence and drive will provide a very safe pair of hand for the reader indeed. Many thanks to the publisher for the copy.
Former soldier Rob Langdon was working as a security contractor in Afghanistan when he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in a case that would have been ruled a clear miscarriage of justice in the British legal system. His sentence was commuted to 20 years in jail, and he served his time in Kabul's most notorious prison, Pul-e-Charkhi, described as the world's worst place to be a westerner.
Rob was there for seven years, the longest sentence served by a westerner since the fall of the Taliban, and every one of those 2,500 days was an act of extraordinary survival in a jail filled with Afghanistan's most dangerous extremists and murderers. In 2016 Robert was pardoned and returned to Australia.
This is a remarkable read - a surprisingly compelling tale that initially grabs the reader by opening with a vivid retelling of how the author killed a man in self-defense. This leads to a tale of prison life that is far stranger than one could ever imagine in fiction - unpredictable, dangerous, wild, and seemingly unescapeable.
Langdon himself is a compelling lead - admirably strong and macho in prison, but open and honest with the reader about his state of mind and the emotions that drove him to survive. His way of writing is straightforward and blunt - no flowery language but a direct style that conveys his tale with a startling immediacy.
A heart stopping story of survival and strength - "The Seventh Circle" transports the reader to Afghanistan's most notorious prison and puts them through a grueling, strenuous ordeal - but one told with skill and humour that makes it absolutely worth the effort. Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the copy.
After a devastating breakup, loser Marty Melon doggedly reassembles his shattered self. Confidence-boosting Ted Talks, muscle-crushing kettlebell swings, and key episodes of "The Golden Girls" transform him from zero to b-list hero. This suicidal reject, turned pickup artist, turned sensitive new age guy, finally has it all: a house, the quirky woman of his dreams, and abs.
F#%k you, world, he thinks with alpha confidence.
“Challenge accepted,” the world replies, and everything goes to zombie crap.
Will Marty make it? He’s no longer an average frustrated chump. He’s in the best mental and physical shape of his life. "Ninja" bro-crush and gay-best-friend Gary is at his side. But to triumph in the end-of-days, Marty must defeat his most dangerous foe of all—the woman who broke him in the first place.
Steven Bereznai is an author, Travel Writer, Wellness practitioner, recreational water polo player and a big fan of science fiction. I've previously read (and loved) his "I Want Superpowers" - a dark dystopian YA tale that blended all the best elements of the X-Men with The Hunger Games into a compellingly plotted story with a fantastically strong lead character.
As a result, I was particularly excited when my copy of "How A Loser Like Me Survived The Zombie Apocalypse" - I read the opening chapters a few months ago, and was rather delighted to see that my comments had made it to the back cover of the book!
It's the mark of a good author that they're able to write in a variety of genres - many successful authors have stumbled trying to enter new markets or take on challenges too big for them. However, Steven Bereznai does so with aplomb - moving from the dark, intense world of "I Want Superpowers" to the slightly lighter world of "How A Loser Like Me Survived The Zombie Apocalypse". Zombie novels are ten a penny these days, but Bereznai makes sure his is at the top of the pile by ensuring that his tale is told with prose that’s immensely readable, leading to a page turning plot filled with compelling characters. Those characters are where Bereznai really gets to shine – following an everyman throughout a Zombie Apocalypse, Bereznai avoids falling into cliché, and instead creates a real heart for his story – you’ll laugh and cry with these characters, and that’s quite an achievement. There’s also a wonderful thread of dark humour running through the book too - it’s knowing and witty –even when things seem bleak for the characters and allows for the reader to be enjoying themselves in spite of the circumstances, carried through on a wave of warmth and goodwill for characters like Marty, Heidi and Gary. They're built up well throughout the book - and whilst there's bleak humour to be found everywhere, Bereznai also explores exactly how people would react in a situation like the Zombie Apocalypse, with remarkable depth - there's a real empathy and humanity at the core of this book. Bereznai is also skilled at throwing in many a pop culture reference, and they’re well targeted – landing accurately and cleverly on target – no misfires here. If you’re a fan of the Zombie genre – then “How A Loser Like Me Survived the Zombie Apocalypse” should go straight to the top of your pile. If you’re not, but enjoy compelling and exciting tales told with intelligent prose and no end of interesting characters – then you should give it a go too. Anyone with a brain, half a brain, or a penchant for eating brains will have a bloody good time with this book - I certainly did, and I'm not undead (yet).
When Anita Naakka jumps in front of an oncoming train, her daughter, Norma, is left alone with the secret they have spent their lives hiding: Norma has supernatural hair, sensitive to the slightest changes in her mood–and the moods of those around her–moving of its own accord, corkscrewing when danger is near. And so it is her hair that alerts her, while she talks with a strange man at her mother’s funeral, that her mother may not have taken her own life. Setting out to reconstruct Anita’s final months–sifting through puzzling cell phone records, bank statements, video files–Norma begins to realize that her mother knew more about her hair’s powers than she let on: a sinister truth beyond Norma’s imagining.
Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish writer and playwright, and has published over five novels - "Purge" and "When the Doves Disappeared" the best known in the English speaking world
Church and Other Dirty Words is a collection of poems by author and poet Brad Cohen. I reviewed it back in 2016, and was hugely impressed by the raw and visceral feel of the words - blunt and honest and directly speaking to my experiences as a Gay man. As a result, I was thrilled to be asked to review "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" - a collaboration between Brad Cohen and director Sian Williams.
There's definitely a danger with adapting poems, in that part of the wonder of poetry is the myriad of individual meanings the words can take on in the reader's minds. There's a concern that there'll be less of a connection for the reader in watching another person's view of how the feelings and thoughts of a poem should be conveyed - but it's something that the team behind "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" have carefully avoided - these short films are direct, thought provoking and utterly electric.
The films differ in tone and content - but overarching themes unify them as a collection - all of them filled with a searing honesty that's impossible to turn away from. "Church and Other Dirty Words" was already a varied and original body of work, but Cohen and Williams should be applauded for finding dynamic and innovative ways to approach these poems - the words are allowed to take centre stage, but the magnetic performances and inventive, creative cinematography allow for films that stimulate both visually and aurally. Performances from artists such as Danny Polaris, Joseph Connolly, Charlie Knight, Sophie Chittenden, Sian Williams, Victoria Matthews, Luigi Ambrosio, Joe Gilmore and Matthew Williams are accompanied by a score composed by Himuro Mansion - ranging from slow, meditative themes through to pulsing beats. It's cleverly arranged - sympathetic to the performances but excellent in its own right.
In terms of the the range of films, it's hard to pick a favourite - the overarching films with Danny Polaris and Joseph Connolly delve into a relationship full of raw emotions and, in the final film, a tenderness and openness that corresponds to the themes of the poems perfectly. "Masc4Masc" features Joseph Connolly in a blunt, direct and intimate short, and "DJ Pygmalion" is a vivid, sexual and pulsing piece performed by Charlotte Dowell that's almost staggering in its directness. Lingering looks in "Girl Under You" stay with the viewer long after the film has ended, and the sensual, fluid movements of Luigi Ambrosio and Joe Gilmore in "Bedside Surgeon"convey a relationship without a need for words - the phrase "poetry-in-motion" by be an age old cliche, but it's beyond fitting here.
An original, powerful and brilliantly crafted project, "Church and Other Dirty Words: The Film Collection" takes already brilliant poems and carries them through to a new creative level. Combined they're only just over half and hour, but they'll stay with the viewer far, far longer.