Thursday, 30 July 2020

From The Review Pile (95)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!


This week, I'm going to showcase The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale (#2) !
As a big fan of The Handmaid's Tale, I'm disappointed that I still haven't got my hands on a copy of The Testaments. I really enjoyed reading the first instalment of The Handmaid's Tale and I hope that this follow up is just as good (if not even better!). I've read some mixed reviews about this one but I'm glad to see that it won the Goodreads Choice award for fiction, which is extremely promising. I absolutely love watching the TV series so it will also be interesting to see the direction of the story before it hits the screen.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Hardback, 419 pages
Published 10th September 2019 by Penguin 

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler
Paperback, 360 pages

Published 4th May 2017 by Penguin

better-than-expected, books-i-own, drink-and-drugs, historical, non-fiction, read, read-in-2020, ww2
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

'Extremely interesting ... a serious piece of scholarship, very well researched' Ian Kershaw

The Nazis presented themselves as warriors against moral degeneracy. Yet, as Norman Ohler's gripping bestseller reveals, the entire Third Reich was permeated with drugs: cocaine, heroin, morphine and, most of all, methamphetamines, or crystal meth, used by everyone from factory workers to housewives, and crucial to troops' resilience - even partly explaining German victory in 1940.

The promiscuous use of drugs at the very highest levels also impaired and confused decision-making, with Hitler and his entourage taking refuge in potentially lethal cocktails of stimulants administered by the physician Dr Morell as the war turned against Germany. While drugs cannot on their own explain the events of the Second World War or its outcome, Ohler shows, they change our understanding of it. Blitzed forms a crucial missing piece of the story.

Blitzed by Norman Ohler is a book that I've had on my shelf for quite a while and have always been wanting to read, but never got around to it. I can finally say that I did pick it up - and couldn't put it down! I expected to find this book interesting, but was still surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

This book is an absolute revelation. No matter what you think you know about the   Third Reich and their actions, if you haven't read this then you are missing out on a vital part of the its history - though understandably, this part isn't usually covered in school history lessons. Whilst I already assumed that drugs may have taken a part in Nazi Germany and certainly Adolf Hitler's reign of terror, I never realised quite how big that role was. This comprehensive history of the Hitler and the Third Reich's relationship with drugs is an extremely interesting piece of rarely discussed history.

Initially, I did worry that I'd get a little bored with this book - I thought it would be difficult for an author to discuss one subject for so long without me becoming bored, but I needn't have worried at all. With every chapter, I learned something new and something that was guaranteed to make me gawp with surprise. We  sporadically follow the life of Theodore Morell, a Jewish man who becomes Hitler's personal doctor and, therefore, drug dealer. Learning about Morell was interesting in itself, exploring the conflict between his beliefs and the Nazi's desire for his work. 

The book covers the subject of drugs in everyday life in Germany, which I was shocked to learn were easily available and commonly used, with crystal meth   even being infused within chocolates and sweets. I learned about how new combinations of drugs were tested and how they were crucial to keep soldiers awake and fighting during battles - despite the negative side effects. Finally, I learned about the downfall of Adolf Hitler, his increasing need for cocktails of drugs and the awful side effects that ensued. 

Overall, I can't recommend this book enough. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in World War Two, The Third Reich or the history of pharmaceuticals and drug use. The book is very concise and well written, informative, surprising and above all, incredibly interesting. 

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Small Great Things

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Hardback, 506 pages

Published 22nd November 2016 by Headline

adult-fiction, books-i-own, contemporary, cultural, lasting-impression, read, read-in-2020, realistic-fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy's counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other's trust, and come to see that what they've been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn't offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

Although this book debuted in 2016, it couldn't seem more relevant than it does right now. Small Great Things is a story about prejudice - specifically the very relevant and extremely important issue of racism. At a time where the Black Lives Matter movement is, rightfully, so prominent in the news, there couldn't be a better time to pick up this book and open your eyes to the everyday challenges for people of colour in a society that clearly embraces white privilege.

This is the story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American nurse who is blamed for the death of Davis, the newborn child of Turk and Brittany Bauer, two white supremacists. The storyline is something typical of Jodi Picoult and it was something that I was excited to read about, I could only hope that she'd give such a serious, emotive and what can be a divisive topic, justice. I was particularly concerned that Picoult, as a white author, ran the risk of appearing to speak for people of colour, but I think that she avoided that through her creation of Kennedy - Ruth's female lawyer who slowly realises that she's been benefitting from white privilege for the whole of her life. Both the author herself and Kennedy admit that they have been passively racist in their lives and I'm sure a lot of white readers will shock themselves and begin to realise that they have been too, despite their intentions. Like she does for her others, Picoult has clearly done a lot of research for this book and it shows. She helps school the reader on racism and white privilege in a very relevant, matter of fact, informative way without sounding preachy.

Ruth is a beautifully written character who seems very real, in both the sense of ability to imagine her as a person and her genuine personality. I really can't fault her character at all and for me, she was certainly the star of the book. Her passion, strength and honesty were all extremely admirable as were her relationships with her family - particularly her son, Edison. I initially didn't think that Kennedy was remarkable but she certainly redeemed herself as the book progressed and she had a pivotal role in teaching the reader about white privilege. 

The characters I weren't so keen on were Turk and Brittany, though not solely because they were white supremacists. I realise that Picoult did research these characters but unfortunately, for me, they just didn't seem 'real' enough. Understandably, they were there for the shock factor but I just felt like they didn't have enough substance to them and that's all they were there for.  Of course, there really is no excuse for white supremacy, but I would have liked some more reasoning from Turk and to see his attempts of justification for his beliefs rather than simple aggression. 

Overall, I thought this was a page-turner with a great purpose and I believe it achieved what Picoult intended it to. The main story was brilliant but I don't think that the epilogue was necessary - it was the only thing that slightly diminished the story for me and reduced my rating.  I am a big fan of Jodi Picoult and I can't wait to see what she offers next.

Friday, 24 July 2020

Auschwitz: A History

Auschwitz: A History by Sybille Steinbacher
Paperback, 167 pages

Published 15th August 2006 by Harper Perennial

better-than-expected, books-i-own, historical, non-fiction, read, read-in-2020, ww2
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

At the terrible heart of the modern age lies Auschwitz, a name that has become synonymous with evil. Here the utopian twentieth-century dream of employing science and technology to improve and protect human life was inverted from the latter part of the 1930s through the end of the Second World War, as the same systems were manipulated in the cause of efficient mass slaughter. Historian Sybille Steinbacher's powerful and eminently important book details Auschwitz's birth, growth, and horrible mutation into a dreadful city. How it came to be and how what followed was allowed to occur is a story that everyone needs to understand and remember.

As someone who is very interested in the Holocaust, especially Auschwitz, I  am willing to pick up any book that I can about the subject. At only 167 pages long, I didn't expect much from this short book but I can confidently say that I was positively surprised by this book - it has incredible substance for such a short work. 

I have both studied and visited Auschwitz- Birkenau and this really brought everything back to the forefront of my mind. Reading through the book was like taking another walk through the now museum and I imagine that it will be able to transport any reader there with its accurate descriptions. I was pleasantly surprised that this book didn't only focus on the concentration camp but also the town around it and helped us to learn how it was established, something which is often overlooked in books about Auschwitz. I was particularly interested in the insights into the people on the outside of the camp - those living in the surrounding areas who apparently knew what was happening inside and reacted in several different ways.

Despite the book being concise, it feels like Steinbacher doesn't leave much out in this book - teaching us fact after fact about the camp and the events surrounding it. I think that there is a lot to learn from this book and it would be of great benefit for almost anyone to read. It would especially be helpful for those who need an introduction to the Holocaust or to Auschwitz. It certainly made me consider things I haven't thought of before and it also taught me some new information that I wasn't aware of. This is a  book that I will definitely be recommending to others.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

From The Review Pile (94)

From the Review Pile is a meme hosted by Stepping Out of the Page every Thursday.
The aim of this meme is to showcase books that you've received for review (or if you don't receive review books, any book that you own and really want to read/review) but haven't yet got around to reading, in order to give the book some extra publicity.

I know that a lot of you have a huge pile of books that you want to read/review, but it understandably takes a while to get around to reading them all - here you can give a book (or two!) some of the publicity that it deserves, even if you haven't read it yet!


This week, I'm going to showcase The Tattooist of Auschwitz!
This year marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, meaning that there have been plenty of books available on the subject of the camp and the Holocaust. This has meant that I've been lucky enough to have purchased a plethora of books, both non-fiction and fiction, regarding one of my special interests. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a book that has been on my radar for a couple of years now but I have only recently picked it up with it's follow up story, Cilka's Journey. I have seen so many incredible reviews of this book and I really hope that it lives up to my expectations. I'm looking forward to reading it as soon as possible!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Paperback, 320 pages
Published 4th October 2018 by Zaffre 

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.

In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival - scratching numbers into his fellow victims' arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.

Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale - a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer - it was love at first sight. 

And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.

So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.

Monday, 20 July 2020

Love as Always, Mum xxx

Love as Always, Mum xxx by Mae West (with Neil McKay)
Paperback, 272 pages

Published 6th September 2018 by Seven Dials

abuse, books-i-own, crime-thriller-mystery, memoirs-biographies-etc, mental-health, misery-lit, non-fiction, read, read-in-2020 
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

The true story of an abused childhood, of shocking brutality and life as the daughter of notorious serial killer, and master manipulator, Rose West.
You're twenty-one years old. Police arrive on the doorstep of your house, 25 Cromwell Street, with a warrant to search the garden for the remains of your older sister you didn't know was dead. Bones are found and they are from more than one body. And so the nightmare begins. You are the daughter of Fred and Rose West.

It has taken over 20 years for Mae West to find the perspective and strength to tell her remarkable story: one of an abusive, violent childhood, of her serial killer parents and how she has rebuilt her life in the shadow of their terrible crimes.
Through her own memories, research and the letters her mother wrote to her from prison, Mae shares her emotionally powerful account of her life as a West. From a toddler locked in the deathly basement to a teen fighting off the sexual advances of her father, Mae's story is one of survival. It also answers the questions: how do you come to terms with knowing your childhood bedroom was a graveyard? How do you accept the fact your parents sexually tortured, murdered and dismembered young women? How do you become a mother yourself when you're haunted by the knowledge that your own mother was a monster? Why were you spared and how do you escape the nightmare?

Anybody who knows me well knows that I can never resist watching the latest true crime documentary on TV or resist the temptation of scouring over a true crime article. It seems like I'm not alone and as the interest in both solved true crimes and mysteries seems to soar, there are always some cases that you know that almost everybody will have come across at some point. One of these is the infamous case of Fred and Rose West, a couple who abused and killed their acquaintances and their own daughter.

There are countless documentaries and books written about this couple - a lot of which I have watched, read and studied, but what sets this one apart is that it's written by Mae West - one of their surviving children.  As soon as I saw that this was written by someone who has personally had their life directly affected by the actions of the couple, I knew that I had to read it to gain a true insight into what really went on in the lives of the Wests and those who knew them. 

Whilst I already knew a lot of detail about the case, this book offers a whole new perspective - that of a child who knew Fred and Rose well before anybody else did. This is a memoir from someone who trusted and most significantly, loved these two people who, to the majority of people, will never seem deserving of it. It's important to note that although I keep referring to Fred and Rose, this book isn't just about those two people - it centres around the family dynamic of the Wests and we get great insight into her relationships with her siblings throughout Mae's life, both before and after her parent's convictions. Reading Mae's writing about her late sister is particularly moving and heart wrenching. 

It is interesting to see how Mae's thoughts and feelings evolve and change throughout the whole of her life  and as you read, you can really see how her experiences change and shape her thought and feelings. It can also, however, be frustrating at times, seeing how Mae is clearly being manipulated and twisted by her mother in particular. There were points where I wanted to throw the book in frustration, seeing what Mae could not at the time, but this also brought the raw authenticity of the book into view. Mae is clear and honest within this book - she recognises some of her naiveté but also still holds on to the fact that she is still a daughter who is in want, or perhaps even need, of a loving mother. The conflict in her thoughts and feelings makes for a very interesting, albeit very sad, read.

If you know this case, it's likely that you will know some of the horrific things that went on within 25 Cromwell Street, but in this book you begin to learn even more. I wasn't expecting to learn much new information about the crimes themselves and I was left speechless after reading some of Mae's recollections, not only of the murders but also of the abuse and torment that came before and after. 

There are some very graphic and traumatic scenes described in detail which seem even more poignant when they're being described by the victim. The Wests did not only inflict physical abuse on their children - the mental abuse seemed equally, if not more, torturous. This is definitely something to be aware of when reading - prepare to take a lot of breaks as it can become very mentally draining. 

For anyone who is interested in true crime, especially in case of the West family, this is an absolute must read. Whilst I didn't find the actual writing to be fantastic - unfortunately I found that sometimes the book seemed a little disjointed and  quite repetitive, the content alone is gripping enough to recommend. I applaud Mae for her honesty, the raw emotion she displays in this book as well as the admirable strength she has used in order to make a life of her own.

I'm back!

Hello everybody! 

This is my official announcement that I'm back and reviewing again after a long hiatus. 

I want to say a huge thank you to those who have continued to follow me via my various social media platforms and many thanks to those who have discovered my reviews during my leave and have responded to those.
Of course, I will hope that there are and will be lots of new readers too and so I'd like to say a big hello to all of you too and I hope you'll enjoy your experience here.

I'm very excited to be back and to be sharing what I'm reading and my thoughts with you all. Due to the success of my previous blogging and reviews, I have decided that reviews should stay similar to what you've previously seen, but you may notice a few changes in formatting and the aesthetics of the blog. My main focus of this blog has always been the books that I read and my thoughts upon the and that will definitely remain the same.

I look forward to sharing more with you, taking suggestions from my readers and hopefully seeing all of your lovely responses!

Thank you,