Review (not) Wednesday | ARC Review – How to Stop Time

**I was given this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

Okay, first things first, HOW EXCITING IS THIS?? If you’ve been around a while you’ll know that I adore Haig’s work. In fact, he’s the only author I’ve reviewed more than once on here. Saying that, there’s a kind of fear in reading a book you’ve been looking forward to –and even more so when you have to put your thoughts on the internet for the whole world to see. It’s very easy to be disappointed by an author you’ve read a lot of, because you expect certain things from that author, but luckily that wasn’t the case here.

How to Stop Time is centred around Tom Hazard, a man with a rare condition – at the age of 13 the aging process slowed down for him completely, leaving him to age 15 times slower than the average human. At 439, he’s lived a lot of life. Determined to feel normal, Tom decides to become a history teacher – he’s certainly qualified for it.

The book is what I expected from Haig. In a lot of ways it was like The Humans, which I haven’t reviewed here but read recently – watch this space. The protagonists are similar in a lot of ways, though technically no one is more human than Tom Hazard and no one less so than the nameless alien entity now occupying the body of Professor Andrew Martin. This is a bit of a negative – some aspects felt a little like I’d seen it before (and not just because of the historical throwbacks). Despite this, I thought that overall the book was brilliant. Haig has a strong voice that engages the reader, the story was well paced and I was gripped by the plot. It was that wonderful blend of serious, thought provoking, emotional and funny that Matt Haig combines into the social commentaries I adore reading so much. The plot could have been incredibly convoluted and difficult to follow, but it was actually an easy read and a lot of fun – while still pulling on your heartstrings.

Without spoiling too much, the book does include some flashbacks, but the plot is generally pretty linear. There are a few name drops in said flashbacks, some of which I felt worked and moved the plot along (Tom is given work by a famous playwright), and some I felt didn’t really add anything to the plot (Tom meets a famous couple in a bar). They were entertaining and I like the concept, but it did sort of feel like some famous names were there for the sake of a famous name.

I really enjoyed the book. It was what I wanted and expected from Haig, but at the same time I felt that it could have gone just a little further. We are introduced to a few institutions who are linked to or interested in Anageria, Tom’s condition, but aren’t shown much of them – I’d love to know more about them and perhaps see more of their influence first hand. We hear about their previous actions and understand that there’s always the threat of being tracked down by these groups (think E.T) but don’t really see a whole lot of the actual groups. I can’t believe I of all people would’ve liked more action, but it was a little jarring that we’re warned about all these people and then they don’t really show up when everything else is being tied up.

The concept is fantastic as ever and I am always astounded by Haig’s voice and narrative. I feel like this review is quite critical but I really did love the book – I just felt like a few things could have been cleaner. I would absolutely recommend, even if you haven’t read anything by Matt Haig. This would be a wonderful place to start.

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday(ish) | Book Review – The Golden Tup

I was given this novella in exchange for an honest review. Sorry it’s late! 

The Golden Tup is a novella, originally published in a collection called The Red Grouse Tales – named for the pub in which the stories were told by the author’s friends. The idea of a collection of stories originally verbally told, while an ancient tradition, has become quintessentially British to me. This may be to do with the sheer amount of Victorian fiction I’ve read with this theme, but I am partial to these kinds of stories.

With this in mind, the story is more a story-in-a-story. It opens with the storyteller and her friends. One of the friends enquires about the main characters of the actual story, leading to this being told. The Golden Tup reminds me of The Turn of the Screw in many ways, the obvious similarities in format being one of them.

The darkness and ambiguity in the story also reminds me of James’ work. The Golden Tup is incredibly dark in many ways. The main story focuses on a young couple who move into a long-abandoned farm house. They live a relatively happy, peaceful existence; until things ominously take a turn for the worst. Their tale mirrors that of the previous tenants in many ways, shedding light on why the property had been unoccupied for so long. Garland uses supernatural and religious themes that work well with such a rural, traditional setting. I like the use of Milton’s Paradise Lost, although I did find that this was forced at times.

There were several parts where the writing fell slightly short for me, but that is almost forgiven by the format of the tale. This is a ‘campfire’ sort of story, made to be told in a raw and natural way. It isn’t intended as perfectly polished literary narrative, and that works in this instance. It is the kind of story I can imagine people telling based on shocking headlines or local dramas – if there’s one thing I know about villages it’s that both imaginations and gossip run wild.

This adds a sort-of quaintness to an otherwise depressing and quite shocking tale. It is grounded in the more realistic setting of the pub in which it is told. The rural, quaint overtones are again comparable to many Victorian works of this kind, such as Frankenstein. There’s an element of fun that works to engage the reader further in the tale.

Overall I really enjoyed this story. It was short enough to read on a train journey but engaging enough that I would want more, and may get hold of the full collection. It is a nice little horror story to sink your teeth into, with some interesting motifs and themes.

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Paris For One and Other Stories

I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Paris for One and Other Stories is, as you might expect from the title, a book of short stories. The book features the titular Paris for One, more of a novella than short story, followed by 10 shorter stories of varying lengths.

Paris for One, the main story, follows an anxious Nell as she travels to Paris for the first time. What was supposed to be a romantic weekend with her uninterested boyfriend soon turns into a journey of self-discovery and of Nell finding her courage. The story also follows Fabien, a Parisian writer who was left heartbroken by his now ex-girlfriend a few months before the story begins. He is working on a book but lacks the motivation and confidence to finish it.

Okay, so you can probably see where this is going. I can’t say the story isn’t predictable, but it’s well written, charming and sophisticated.

All of the stories follow similar themes of romance and self-discovery. Relationships are the central theme for this collection. There are marriages, new loves, break ups and old friends. Couples who can’t make it work and couples who work through thick and thin. The protagonists are all strong, realistic women. Some of the stories are set in Paris, but this isn’t a running theme.

As a historical fiction junkie, it comes as no surprise that my favourite story in the collection is Honeymoon in Paris. I adore when stories combine the past with the present, but it is so easy to get wrong that I approach these kinds of stories tentatively. Moyes got this trope completely spot on, however, with her tales of Liv and Sophie. It was only on googling the book for this review that I learned that this is a sort of mini-prequel to a novel based on the two women, The Girl You Left Behind – it’s safe to say that I will be giving that a read!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I was in London when I started it and I feel like it would be a perfect commuting read. The stories are gripping but wrap up nicely, and can be read in short periods of time. While I have found myself wanting more from some of the stories, they work wonderfully as stand-alones and are all paced really well.  They might not be deep, brooding or particularly “literary”, but these are lovely little stories to brighten your day with and help restore some of your faith in humanity. I hadn’t read any of JoJo Moyes’ work until now, but I can see what all the fuss is about.

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Birds Art Life Death

 

I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It would be small and manageable, just a tiny bird, embarrassingly little. Not a crisis. And that’s why I regret it. Because the attitude that somehow, without our acting, the little things will take care of themselves does not ring true anymore.

Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life Death follows her through a year of her life and discovery of birds and their impact. At the beginning of the book her father is unwell and she is beginning to fall out of love with her art. She falls into a rut of being unable to write and create the way she’d like – until she meets a bird-loving musician. The Musician, as he is referred to throughout the novel, introduces her not only to birds but to the idea that the small and seemingly insignificant can mean everything.

For someone who was in such a creative rut, Maclear writes beautifully. She is honest, funny and writes with quiet grace. Her work is well thought out and intelligent, but also raw and natural. Her struggle to create is relatable and her observations pure and uncensored. Her encounter with a Peregrine falcon, for example, shows the greying and harsh Toronto environment against the majesty of the bird.

This is by no means a research book. Maclear’s ornithological interest doesn’t become boring, and she doesn’t write about fact or science – in fact she does write about finding the balance between looking at birds too scientifically or too sentimentally. In a period of being unable to go out birding with the musician she reads books on birds, and finds that many are too factual for her needs. She writes more often purely on her experiences with birds, not the science behind them – although occasionally this does play a part in moving the story on.

The point of the book is to show that the insignificant, small things can be some of the most important. Birds are a constant, as are art, life and death. No matter what is happening in the world, people will take comfort in the small things – and that’s okay.

Birds Art Life Death is a wonderful little book. It is understated and modest, just like it’s subject matter, but with a lot of life lessons and wisdom in its pages. I’m a little disappointed that I only have the eBook copy – I feel like there are some books I want to physically hold, and this is one (that is a good thing!).

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Purple Hibiscus

Mama had greeted him in the traditional way that women were supposed to, bending low and offering him her back so that he would pat it with his fan made of the soft, straw-coloured tail of an animal. Back home that night, Papa told Mama that it was sinful. You did not bow to another human being. It was an ungodly tradition, bowing to an Igwe. So, a few days later, when we went to see the bishop at Awka, I did not kneel to kiss his ring. I wanted to make Papa proud. But Papa yanked my ear in the car and said I did not have the spirit of discernment. The bishop was a man of God; the Igwe was merely a traditional ruler.

I don’t normally talk about what brought me to read a book on here, mostly because a lot of them were simply there or looked good/pretty. With Purple Hibiscus, however, I think there needs to be an exception. Many of you may have seen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Newsnight back in November, discussing the US election with Robert Emmett Tyrell, founder and editor-in-chief of conservative magazine ‘The American Spectator’. Tyrell was unable to see racism or even real fault with Trump’s campaign rhetoric. When Adichie responded he accused her of being emotional – and therefore apparently incapable of intelligent or logical thought. Adichie explained, quite calmly for a woman effectively being told to sit down and shut up, that as a white male he is in a privileged position and cannot define racism. Even if he could, all evidence points to Trump promoting hateful and dangerous attitudes towards people at disadvantage; people of colour, immigrants, disabled people and women. The way Adichie held herself with grace and elegance, despite being visibly upset and angered by these remarks was admirable. She dealt with this situation beautifully, especially considering that she was unaware she was to be on the show with another guest until she arrived. She is a strong, smart woman and her writing in Purple Hibiscus reflects this.

Purple Hibiscus was Adichie’s debut novel, first published in 2003. The novel is told through the eyes of fifteen year old Kambili’s, a Nigerian Igbo girl. She, along with her brother Jaja and mother, lives in the shadow of her overbearing and strictly Catholic father. She has an almost outside view of him – she is enamoured by the charitable, God-loving exterior that her wider community sees, but struggles to consolidate this with the abusive, cruel-hearted man only seen within the walls of their compound. Her world is flipped upside down as she begins to see through his shiny exterior.

What strikes me about this novel is its incredibly strong voices. Kambili, while submissive and oppressed by her father speaks eloquently – a reflection of both the character’s strict education and the writer’s own tone. She rarely actually says more than a few words, but her internal narrative is intelligent and mature. Of course this is in part Adichie’s personal writing style shining through, but fits Kambili well. Her Aunt Ifeoma is fiercely passionate and confident, laughing loudly and standing fearless in the face of both her brother and the prospect of losing her job. Her grandfather, Papa-Nnukwu is peaceful and respectful of his son’s faith, but strong in his own traditional indigenous beliefs while JaJa’s fiery temper increases as he becomes more disillusioned by his father’s behaviour.

Her Papa is by far the loudest voice, unsurprisingly. Of course this doesn’t, however, make him the strongest character. He is overpowering, speaking over those he considers lesser and ensuring he gets his own way – no matter the cost. We are shown shocking acts of violence and cruel outbursts, particularly against his wife. She is deeply afraid that as such a popular figure in the community he will be seduced by a younger woman and leave her, but believes that giving him another child would prove her worth. He is more concerned by his image, though I’m not sure whether he is concerned with his image in the eyes of God or the eyes of the clergy. He often appears to use religion and charity as leverage to work his way up the social ladder, rather than a way to please God, and yet insists on saying long, sermon–like grace prayers. Perhaps he just likes the sound of his own voice.

Throughout the novel I was prone to comparing it to The Poisonwood Bible, and in many ways they are very similar. Religion and colonialism are strong themes, and it was interesting to see such a similar story told by a native African voice. I intend to compare them in detail in a future post, but I will say this – the sensible, intelligent Kambili is a much stronger 15 year-old than American Dream obsessed Rachel Price.

I’ve rewritten this several times and still feel like I could revise it all day and not do the book justice, but I truly loved Purple Hibiscus – it is a harrowing, well thought out and engaging novel with a lot of heart. Read it and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – A Monster Calls

Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.


A Monster Calls is a novel by Patrick Ness, based on the late Siobhan Dowd’s last book idea. I first heard of this book on a radio show in which they completely butchered the name ‘Siobhan’ (it’s pronounced Shove-orn or Shove-on!). Other than that they described the book beautifully and I must admit that they did do it justice. I’d read Dowd’s A Swift, Pure Cry before, but never any of Patrick Ness’ work.  I was worried that Ness would try and imitate Dowd’s voice, however this was quickly put to bed once I actually began reading the novel. The tone of the novel is sharply defined; this is not an imitation, but a unique novel with a clear voice. Indeed, on researching (okay, googling) the novel in order to find an appropriate quote (I really need to start marking quotes in the books I review!) I stumbled upon this quote from Ness himself;

“She [Siobhan] would have set it free, let it grow and change, and so I wasn’t trying to guess what she might have written, I was merely following the same process she would have followed, which is a different thing.”

When I read this book, I was not aware that it was aimed at children (I also found this out upon googling it) – although this makes perfect sense. The novel teaches important life lessons, both for children and more mature audiences, in a way that doesn’t sugar coat or patronise. Conor, our protagonist, is dealing with his mother’s illness. As her condition gets worse, he accidentally calls upon ‘The Monster’ – a humanoid yew tree – for help. ‘The Monster’ and indeed the messages he brings, add an element of magic to the story, as well as providing a moral guide for Conor.

‘The Monster’ is modelled after the Green Man, and indeed names this as one of his many identities. Green Man is a distinctly folkloric and magical motif, with unknown and ancient origins. This is fitting for ‘The Monster’ as the guide. He appears to Conor a total of five times I believe – the original apparition has obvious Dickensian roots, proposing that ‘The Monster’ will tell three stories; however Conor must then tell him a fourth. It is in this last apparition that the lessons Conor has learnt from ‘The Monster’ allow him to tell his own story, and fully accept his situation and emotions. The storytelling involved is highly moral, again reflecting the ancient tropes ‘The Monster’ embodies, but this doesn’t read as some kind of strict rulebook. ‘The Monster’s parables teach Conor -and of course by extension the readers -about the duality of humans, life and the mind; as the quote I’ve used to start this post shows. ‘The Monster’ shows Conor that everything isn’t what it seems, nothing is black and white and that that’s okay. He teaches Conor that his thoughts and feelings are valid and natural, allowing him to tell the final story.

I felt that the book was immensely moving and provides a wonderful yet real take on what it means to handle such heavy circumstances, particularly at such a young age. When I was 13, the age Conor was in the book, my granny underwent a triple bypass heart surgery that went wrong. She was severely ill for an awful long time and a lot of the feelings Ness encapsulates in the book are ones that I had a personal experience with at that age, and have often felt since. I wish I’d had this book then, and it is certainly one I would recommend anyone, but especially older children, read; particularly if they are handling the illness or passing of a loved one. Intensely powerful yet heartwarming, Dowd’s last idea has been executed brilliantly.

See you soon,

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I also didn’t know there was a film coming out! [x]


Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Night Circus

You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.

The Night Circus is, as you might have guessed, about a circus that opens at night. Le Cirque du Rêves (the circus of dreams) travels around the world, appearing in unknown places at unknown times. The main story, however, starts long before the circus’ inception. Prospero the Enchanter, a magician, and a man known only as A. H-, pit their students against each other regularly in competitions that can last over 30 years. As the story opens they are beginning a new contest with much higher stakes for Prospero than ever before – his contestant is his only daughter, Celia. The story starts years before the competition, with the circus proving to be a worthy arena for such a contest.

The book is written beautifully, with the incredible attention to detail needed to bring such an extraordinary setting to life. I did however find the timeline confusing at times – the story jumps around a lot. As well as Celia and her opponent Marco, the main story also follows twins Poppet and Widget, who are born on the circus’ opening night, and their friend Bailey. Because of this the narrative also jumps perspectives, and does follow other characters for shorter periods, but it manages to flow wonderfully and still make sense even if you’re not sure when you are in the timeline of the circus or the competition.

From the description of the novel, it sounds almost like a children’s book, but this is not the case – it is a novel that, much like the circus itself, I believe would be mesmerising to anyone who picked it up. The world is sophisticated and multifaceted, and Morgenstern clearly put a huge amount of thought and work into creating such a world; this definitely paid off.

**~SPOILERS START HERE~**

For me personally, the only thing I really disliked about the book were the inevitable romantic subplots. I mean, how oblivious did Celia and Marco have to be? Of course the competition was a fight to the death, of course they’d be star-cross’d lovers and of course they would have to go through the Hunger Games style “we both eat the berries so no one wins” trope. I think I’m just tired of star-crossed lovers and romantic subplots that just don’t feel entirely necessary. I didn’t mind the ending, but the romantic aspect did feel slightly rushed and tacked on. I felt the same with the implication of romance between Bailey and Poppet, in fairness. Maybe it’s just me. Also, can we talk about Tara please?! A woman dies suspiciously and this is just forgotten about after a while?? I want to know more about why this happened, as while at the time it felt like a nice twist, now that I’ve finished the book and it hasn’t been resolved it feels like it was only intended to be something to shake the plot up, not a story in itself – which it was set up to be.

**~ SPOILERS END HERE~**

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The end wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped, but it did tie most things up. I was completely sucked into the world of the circus and its occupants. The book has been hyped up a lot, but I can see why. This is a wonderful example of magical realism/fantasy, and you can certainly consider me a newly converted “rêveur”.

See you soon,

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(PS Get me getting two posts out on time in a row!!)

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DA DA DADADADA AFRO CIRCUS. [x]


Review Wednesday | Book Review – Alora’s Tear Volume 1: Fragments (Blog Tour)

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There is no magic in Vladvir…

Tucked away in a quiet valley, the community of Tolarenz offers a refuge and safe haven for its people, keeping persecution at bay. One young citizen—Askon son of Teral—is destined to lead them, but first he must leave them behind: one final mission, in service of the king.

In the north, leering nightmare creatures known as the Norill gather. Their armor is bone and skin; their weapons are black and crude and cold. They strike in the night, allies to the darkness. It is to them Askon marches, his men a bulwark against the threat.

For there is no magic in Vladvir.

What Askon finds when he arrives seems impossible: smoke and fire, death and defeat, and all around a suffocating sense of dread. The Norill seek something they call ‘the Stone of Mountain,’ but in the half-remembered stories from Askon’s childhood, it was always ‘Alora’s Tear’: a gem with powers great and terrible. A gem that cannot exist.

Unless there is magic in Vladvir…

 

‘Fragments’ is the first book in the Alora’s Tear trilogy. I must admit that I was wary of this book at first – fantasy is a vast and densely populated genre, with a lot of tropes and clichés that just get boring. High fantasy in particular is one that I often struggle to get into – there’s only so many times you can read the same story over and over, just with different names; and none compare to The Hobbit. I was relieved, then, that ‘Fragments’ proved me wrong – I was drawn into the story very quickly; although this may be in part because it is established early on that Askon, our hero, is left handed!

The story flows very well, and although it is clear that it was always intended to be part of a series, it doesn’t feel like a sort of “build up book” – it is a book in its own right, not mostly filler as many first parts appear to be. I don’t want to spoil, as I feel that it may put some people off, but the book does twist at the end; you know the book is building up to something that you may have to wait until the next book for, but what that thing is changes entirely towards the end of the story. I found this very effective and as a writer I can appreciate the tactic; Barham drew me in and left me wanting so much more.

The characterisation is largely very good, and any minor aspects of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ were easy to overlook – as an English graduate and now a reviewer I find that I’m in the very annoying habit of nitpicking and this can get in the way of the story, but this wasn’t an issue here. The characters spoke realistically and Barham’s writing really did them justice. He brought them to life and his attention to detail is great. There were a lot of opportunities for cliché and I half expected medieval, confusing language but the novel manages to avoid this, which I personally am very glad of!

I think my main complaint is actually not with the text itself but the blurb (in italics above). It sets out a premise that doesn’t seem entirely accurate to the text – the magic (or lack thereof) in Vladvir isn’t really mentioned at all. The magical aspects are met by Askon sceptically, but I didn’t feel that it was really laid out in the text that there was no magic in this world; in fact as someone in a non-magical world elves and Norill seem like magical beings to me! I would assume there is magic in the world if not for the blurb, and I don’t feel like making the “magical state” of the world clear would really make a difference to my reading of the text – the events that occur are clearly unnatural for the world by the characters’ reactions to them, whether magic is present in the world or not. This was a great book and if you ask me this blurb doesn’t do it justice.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. It was a great way to get back into a genre I rarely seem to read any more (and to while away my new long commute to work!). I don’t tend to do star ratings on here, but that is the way of this blog tour so for the purposes of that I’ll rate it 4/5 stars. I definitely intend to read the sequels, The Elf and the Arrow and The Voice Like Water, so perhaps it’ll be bumped up to 5/5 once it’s in context – watch this space!

Buy the Alora’s Tear Trilogy:

Amazon (Paperback or Kindle)

UK

USA

Kobo

Kobo Store

iBooks

UK

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See you soon,

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Not this kind of elf. 


Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Radium Girls (ARC)

I was given this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a narrative non-fiction depicting the struggles of a group of women known as ‘Radium Girls’. These women painted luminous watch dials during World War One and the 20s – using paint with radium in it. They were taught that in order to produce the best quality and quickest work they should use the ‘lip, dip, paint’ method – put the brushes in their mouths to get the sharpest point.

The result of consuming so much radium, and in many cases for several years, was shocking. These women began to quite literally fall apart – radium hit hard and fast, attacking women around my age; women who should have been starting their lives, not facing the idea that they could be at the end.

This book was incredibly difficult to read, but completely worth it. I don’t think I’ve read anyone this hard to get through in a long time; these girls’ stories are so important but emotional. I ended up taking breaks between chapters in order to ground myself and process everything properly. The actions of the USRC were deplorable and seemingly never-ending; even with Catherine Donohue on the brink of death the radium company continued to appeal her court case. What started as simple denial, and even ignorance as to the actual effects of radium, turned into vicious and dangerous practices, knowingly putting more and more girls’ lives at risk for the sake of the business.

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A scene described in the book, I found this photo on Google Images [x] while looking for the cover image. Catherine Donohue lies on her sofa – Charlotte Purcell is by her feet, identifiable by her missing arm. Pearl Payne holds Catherine’s hand. All of these women were suffering from radium poisoning.

In terms of the writing, the book starts with a disclaimer from Moore, discussing her need to accurately depict the girls and do them justice. I believe that this was done very well, however it doesn’t always read smoothly – Moore has clearly done her research, and that can be difficult to weave into a narrative; particularly a non-fiction one. For the most part though, the ‘cast’ as it were –I’m reluctant to call them characters, as they were very real people and this should be remembered in reading the book – are written very sympathetically and certainly had me hooked. The facts can get heavy, but this is necessary. I can’t push enough the fact that this isn’t a story; this really happened, and the facts and figures make the emotional aspects all the more shocking – think of this as a documentary on paper.

I am in mourning for these girls. The work they did aided so many soldiers, but their pain and suffering was horrific and largely unnoticed or even ignored at the time. It can be said that they did not struggle in vain, however – they paved the way for so much progress. As Moore discusses at the end of the book, the dial painters changed workers’ rights, provided a starting point for research on other occupational hazards and dangerous substances and even potentially influencing legislation on nuclear warfare. This book brings their story to the world again and gives them a voice almost 100 years after the events began. I certainly won’t forget it any time soon.

See you soon,

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