Book review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

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The Five : The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
By Hallie Rubenhold
★★★★★
Publication day: 28 Feb 2019
Publisher: Doubleday

I would certainly say that my 2020 will be a year full of books and, most of all, full of non-fiction titles. To be honest, I don’t know why but I have been picking up biographies and memoirs since the beginning of the year. The one I am reviewing today bewitched my mind to the point that I was unable to put it down.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold tells the story of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane, five women who are famous for the same thing. They are known as the Canonical Five and were killed by Jack the Ripper at the end of the XIX century. The person responsible was never identified but the character has become far more famous than any of these women.

And I say women, not prostitutes, because for more than a century we’ve believed that ‘The Ripper’ killed only prostitutes and – as the author has discovered – this is untrue.These women were mothers, daughters and lovers. They walked the streets of London and died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this book, Hallie Rubenhold sets the record straight and reveals the live stories of these fascinating women.


Genuinely devastating, this book opened my eyes to life in Victorian London. It is the life portrayed in Dickens’ novels: a life of poverty, homelessness, illness and misogyny. It was deeply unsetting and honestly addictive. Made me want to know more about life during these years and how the society reacted to the Whitechapel murders.

The book is divided into five different parts and each of them narrates the life story of the different victims. The book is not only incredibly well written but thoroughly researched. Rubenhold clearly knows what she is writing about.

What I really liked about the book is that the author treats the victims with respect and offers no judgement to their life choices or behaviours which is utterly remarkable. No gruesome details or horror stories are given to the readers, nor pictures of the women either, which made the author’s message clear: these women were victims that were treated without any kind of respect and it’s time to change that. For the last century, their murderer has attracted more attention than them to the point that nowadays there is a Jack the Ripper museum and walks around the sites of the murders.

What Rubenhold tries to make us understand is that the victims were not ‘just prostitutes’, they had a life, desires and feelings – and they deserved kindness and appreciation. Maybe it’s time we start giving it to them.

Read more about the book on goodreads.
The book is available to buy now from Amazon and all good bookshops.

Book review: Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Girl, Wash Your Face
By Rachel Hollis
★★★★★
Pub date: 8 March 2018
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

On my last day working at Hachette UK, my lovely colleagues gave me a very special present. It was one of the most thoughtful I have ever received. It was an Amazon Gift Card with a certain amount of money they hope I’d spend in kindle books. And that’s exactly what I have done. I have bought lots of books with the card and Rachel Hollis’ Girl Wash Your Face is one of them.

I was looking for something to boost my self-confidence and this book appeared as one to read on so many websites that I went on Amazon UK and bought it straight away.

In her first book, founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and CEO of her own media company, Rachel Hollis helps readers break free from the lies keeping them from the joy-filled and exuberant life they are meant to have.

Written with wry wit and hard-earned wisdom, each chapter of Girl, Wash Your Face begins with a specific lie Rachel once believed that left her feeling overwhelmed, unworthy and ready to give up. As a working mother, a former foster parent and a woman who has dealt with insecurities about her body and relationships, she speaks with insight and kindness to help women unpack the limiting mind-sets that destroy their self-confidence and keep them from moving forward.

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Let me start by saying that I am not one for inspirational Instagram quotes with gold letters and pastel backgrounds so when I first started reading Girl, Wash Your Face I was more than a bit sceptical. Could this famous American blogger teach me something about self-esteem and confidence? Really? Without even realising it, I had started judging Hollis’ book and I was sure she couldn’t tell me anything new about myself and the lies I have firmly believed for the last 28 years.

I was wrong, of course. Once I started the first chapter, I couldn’t stop reading. I read Rachel’s book on my way to and back from the office and also before I turned off the light and went to sleep at night. I found her advice uplifting, funny, honest and direct. Most of all, it felt real. I felt as if I was able to trust what was written in-front of me. With a combination of humour and no-nonsense advice, Rachel Hollis was able to teach me many things.

I learnt about the lies I have too been telling myself: that when I get the perfect flat / job / handbag / clothes I will be happy. That I am not good enough, that I will start tomorrow, that there’s only one right way to be and that loving my boyfriend is enough for me. Just to mention a few.

Let me tell you that I highlighted more sentences in Hollis’ book than in any other on my kindle library. Her advice made me smile and it made me feel stronger. I think that deserves five big and shiny stars.

Of course there would be people out there who won’t like what she has to say or her background but I feel it’s only fair to let her to put pen to paper and write what she knows, just in case it can help someone else.

To be honest, her words helped me. They opened my eyes at the right moment because what she says it’s true: the only person responsible for your happiness is you. Which is truly fantastic.

You can read more about Rachel Hollis here: The Chic Site
And don’t forget to check out Girl, Wash Your Face here.
Hollis’ new book, Girl, Stop Apologising is out now.

Book review: We’ll Always Have Paris by Emma Beddington

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We’ll Always Have Paris
By Emma Beddington
★★★★★
Pub date: 21st April 2016
Publisher: Pan Macmillan

This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time. If I remember correctly, I bought it in Waterstones when it first came out so I own the Hardcover edition which is absolutely lovely. So yeah, the book’s been sitting there for a while, looking at me and demanding to be read for two years and in October, I decided to pick it up and give it a go.

The book is a memoir written by Emma Beddington who, as a bored and moody teenager came across a copy of French ELLE in the library of her austere Yorkshire school. As she turned the pages, full of philosophy, sex and lipstick, she realised that her life had one purpose and one purpose only: she needed to be French.

Instead of skulking in her bedroom listening to The Smiths or trudging to Betty’s Tea Room to buy fondant fancies, she would be free and solitary, sitting outside the Café de Flore with a Scottie dog at her feet, a Moleskine on the table and a Gauloise trembling on her lower lip.

And so she set about becoming French: she did a French exchange, albeit in Casablanca; she studied French history at university, and spent the holidays in France with her French boyfriend. Eventually, after a family tragedy, she found herself living in Paris, with the same French boyfriend and two half-French children. Her dream had come true, but how would reality match up? Gradually Emma realised that she might have found Paris, but what she really needed to find was home.

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What a glorious book! I have no other words to describe it because I loved every minute of it and every word written in its chapters. I am huge fan of memoirs, biographies of narrative non-fiction titles so it won’t be a big surprise for you if I tell you that I devoured this book. I also gave it five stars because it deserves it.

The thing about this book is that it doesn’t feel like reading non-fiction. I was on the train to work and it felt like I was reading a novel with an exquisite main character. Emma’s story is a story of hope, of fighting to find something better for herself. It’s a story of courage, love, decisions, mistakes, French patisserie, culture, travelling and languages – it’s just life itself but felt like a compelling story with its main developments and quirky characters.

I felt very close to Emma from the very beginning because, as far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be British. This made me spend a year studying in Leeds reading Film studies. I developed my English skills by reading English books, watching English-speaking films and changing my mobile’s phone language settings to English. I understood Emma and her struggles and I learnt from her experiences and mistakes. I learnt just by reading the book – about French cake, about the city of Paris, about life and I loved discovering that she made through it all.

I really enjoyed it because it felt like a friend telling me their story. Have you every met someone at a party or gathering and discovered how interesting their life is? So many adventures and anecdotes! This book is that and so much more.

We’ll Always Have Paris is back on my bookshelf, looking perfect with strikingly beautiful cover. – and Emma’s story is something I’ll be glad to revisit in the future.

Book review: The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

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The Choice – Embrace the Possible
By Dr. Edith Eva Eger
★★★★
Pub date: 7th September 2017
Publisher: Ebury Publishing, PRH UK

I have a lot of books to read. I carefully update my Goodreads’ lists when I hear about a title that sounds interesting and I add it to my to-read pile so… when I finished I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and felt in the mood for something different, I scrolled down my list and found this one. The title and synopsis sounded promising so I decided to buy the eBook and see where it was going to take me.

This book is Edith Eger’s memoir. In 1944, when she was only sixteen years old, Edith and her family were sent to Auschwitz. There, she endured unimaginable experiences, including being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele. Over the coming months, Edith’s bravery helped her sister to survive, and led to her bunkmates rescuing her during a death march. When their camp was finally liberated, Edith was pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive.

Today, Edith Eger is an internationally acclaimed psychologist whose patients include survivors of abuse and soldiers suffering from PTSD. In The Choice, she shares her experience of the Holocaust and the remarkable stories of those she has helped ever since.
In her memoir, Edith also explains how many of us live within a mind that has become a prison, and shows how freedom becomes possible once we confront our suffering.
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I had never heard about the author before reading her book but she really is remarkable. And so is The Choice, which I can only describe as beautifully-written, warm and compassionate.

The book is organised into four sections: Prison, Escape, Freedom and Healing. In the first three, Dr. Edith Eger tells us her story and shares her experiences in Auschwitz, what happened when the II World war was over, how she found her way back home and how her life evolved as a survivor. It would be enough for her to just share the events that she witnessed and how she coped with the pain and sorrow but Edith Eger goes further. In Healing, she tells us about her experiences with her patients and the truths she’s discovered along the way.

Edith Eger will make you change your way to look at your life and your choices. She’ll make you realise that there is no hierarchy when it comes to suffering and that everyone’s pain needs to be addressed. She does not judge. Instead, she tries to help people to be free and liberate them from the prisons they’ve created in their minds.

Only us hold the key that will allow us to be free and to do that, we have to take responsibility for our lives. Life is about choices and today, in this present moment, we cannot change what we did, what happened to us or the choices we made. But we can choose how to live now. Everyone has had to deal with the consequences of making bad choices bur we cannot judge ourselves, we have to release ourselves from judgement, accept our feelings and reclaim our innocence, loving ourselves for what we truly are ‘human, imperfect and whole’.

There’s so much power and strength within us. And, as Dr. Edith Eger says, we can choose to be free.

A story to remember and re-read in the months to come – there’s so much I still want to learn from the author.

You can read more about The Choice here
Don’t forget to get your copy on Amazon!

Book Review: Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

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Everything I Know About Love
By Dolly Alderton
★★★★
Pub date: 1st February 2018
Publisher: Penguin

I don’t know how I first came across this book, or who mentioned it on Twitter or how I found who Dolly Alderton is but I am so glad I did.

Alderton is an award-winning journalist who has written for numerous publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, GQ, Marie Claire, Red and Grazia. From 2015-2017 she was a dating columnist for The Sunday Times Style. She is co-host of The High Low Show, a weekly pop culture and current affairs podcast, and also writes and directs for television. This is her first book and… who would have thought?

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I enjoy reading non-fiction titles so much (!) but it’s true that it takes me longer time to go through them. I guess fiction is easier to get hooked on. This didn’t happen with Everything I Know About Love, though. Dolly Alderton’s first book is funny (and serious), silly (and smart), sweet (and sour) happy (and sad), and above all, it made me feel whole.

First of all, Alderton can write and what I mean by this is that some of her paragraphs felt so real that I decided to write them down in my own journal. I could relate to her feelings and to so many of her cultural references (internet / MSN messenger / living in a damp flat in London…etc). This is a selling point of the book because, as the chapters go by,  the author’s experiences become your own and she has the power to make you feel exactly what she is feeling: it doesn’t matter if you are from London or Barcelona, if you are 20 or 44, if you are timid or outgoing or if you are a party girl or spend your nights relaxing at home–  We’ve all gone through what Dolly’s explaining in her memoir.

The author has tried it all (really) and, in the book, she vividly recounts falling in and out of love, wresting with self-sabotage, getting drunk, going to therapy, getting dumped, finding a job… – in fact, she recalls what is like to become a grown-up *with all its highs and lows*.
Throughout the chapters, Alderton made me laugh. And she made me cry.
I also started recognising some of her behaviours in myself and understood the importance of loving oneself and this was her best lesson. The author taught me things that I already thought I knew – and it was a great discovery.

‘This is a book about bad dates, funny nights out, messy days, good friends and – above all else – about recognising that you and you alone are enough’ and I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

If you only read a book next year, you have to make it this one!

You can read more about Dolly Alderton here.
And don’t forget to get your copy here!

 

I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much to the publisher, it was wonderful!

Book review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

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Not That Kind of Girl
by Lena Dunham

★★★★
Edition: Paperback
Published: 23/02/2017
Publisher: Fourth State

 

I have read loads of books since the beginning of 2017. Well, not as many as I’d have liked but it’s been a busy year. However, I wanted to share with you my thoughts on a particular book that made me smile and laugh. It made me feel nostalgic and I ended up taking it everywhere with me: to the office, on the tube and even to some dates with my boyfriend where I hoped to have the chance to open it up while I waited for him to arrive…

This book claims to be for readers of Nora Ephron, Tina Fey, and David Sedaris and it is a collection of hilarious, poignant, and extremely frank  personal essays written by Lena Dunham – the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO’s ‘Girls’.

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If you type ‘Lena Dunham’ or ‘GIRLS’ on Google, you would find thousands of sites about them. There is so much that is being said on both the author and her series. What is true and what isn’t? You need to find out for yourself and create your own opinion, and that’s what Lena Dunham has taught me: it is fine to have your own voice so in spite of all the bad reviews out there, let me tell you that I found this book witty, interesting, charming and funny. The book is divided in essays and yes, I got lost in some of them but eventually I found myself again, laughing so much I thought I was going to cry.

I’ve run into a lot of people who don’t like Lena Dunham. In reality, I didn’t find her that interesting at the beginning either. I thought – is her only purpose to appear naked in every episode of her series? But you know what? I don’t really care. There are so many hot girls who appear naked everywhere and what if she wants to show her own body and put herself out there? I say YES to that. She’s hot and intelligent and deserves credit not only for the series she created, but for the lessons she teaches everyone of us.

Yes, that is her. Yes, she puts herself out there and shows everyone that you shouldn’t (even for one second) be ashamed of who you are. Even if you are not a size 8, if you have anxiety, OCD or kissed a girl back when you were at school. So what? You are gold, and precious and kind.

And no, this book didn’t changed my life but I enjoyed it. I found myself there (as I am sure a lot of people did) and Lena Dunham has some great life lessons to teach us all. If you liked GIRLS, give it a go because you’ll like this. She lives up to her voice and that’s nice.

So here’s to you Lena, five big, shiny stars.

You can read more about Not That Kind of Girl here
And if you feel like reading it, click here to buy the book.

 

Book review: Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

Mad Girl
By Bryony Gordon

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Publication: 7th June 2016
Hardback / eBook
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group

Mad Girl – Bryony Gordon’s latest book – is everywhere, just as The Wrong Knickers was when it came out a couple of years ago. And now I understand why.

Just so you know a bit more about this title…

Bryony Gordon has OCD. It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty. It’s time for her to speak out. Writing with her characteristic warmth and dark humour, Bryony explores her relationship with her OCD and depression as only she can.

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 I LOVED this book. It made me laugh and it made me cry and it showed me reality. In a world of social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat) – in which all that matters is your pretty, happy and smiley face – it’s so INSPIRING to find someone who speaks up and makes you realise that hey, it’s OK not to be OK.
You are not weird. You are not alone. In fact, you’re perfectly normal.

Bryony Gordon is just fantastic and does wonders with her writing. Mad Girl is shocking, funny, heart-wrenching. And then again, that’s what it’s supposed to be: a celebration of life with mental illness, a positive attitude against adversity and the revealing truth about the importance of loving oneself.*

This book is just extraordinary.
Thank you, Bryony.

* A very well-known fact that no one puts into practice or cares about.

Book review: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

Shadows of the Workhouse
By Jennifer Worth

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Publication: 22/01/2009- London, United Kingdom
Paperback
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
★★★★★

Shadows of the Workhouse is the second title in the Call The Midwife Trilogy written by Jennifer Worth. In this follow up to Call the Midwife – which first published in June – Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in the East End of London in the 1950s, tells more stories about the people she encountered.

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After my experience reading Jennifer Worth’s first book, I was very much looking forward to this one and I must say that it didn’t disappoint me. Not a tiny bit! The paperback is available to buy from Amazon and bookshops but I bought myself the Kindle edition.

This sequel continues the story that was first started in Call The Midwife, and revolves around Jennifer’s memories of Nonnatus House, the nuns that lived and worked there, the people she met and treated, and life in the docklands in the 1950s.

The complete title of the book is Shadows of the Workhouse: The Drama of Life in Postwar London and I was eager to start reading it because I thought I’d find the same kind of stories I did in Call The Midwife. I didn’t. Shadows of the Workhouse is, in fact, a much darker book and much sadder as well. Jennifer’s writing remains the same – light and beautiful – but the stories she remembers throughout the pages are blue and truly heartbreaking.

In the book you’ll find Jane, who cleaned and helped out at Nonnatus House and was taken to the workhouse as a baby. Then there’s also Peggy and Frank’s story; their parents both died and they were left destitute. At the time, there was no other option for them but the workhouse. You’ll also meet Reverend Thornton-Appleby-Thorton, a missionary in Africa who visits the Nonnatus nuns. And then there’s Sister Monica Joan and her shoplifting habits… which, in the end, will take her to court.

Shadows of the Workhouse is definitely harder to read than its predecessor -the stories it explores are very tragic – but it also reveals the reality of workhouses and life as it truly was in postwar London.
Jennifer Worth’s memories  help the reader to learn a bit more about the history of England and how society was organised. If you like history, you’d love to read about these and you’ll learn while you read – which sounds very boring but it really isn’t?

The BBC TV series brought this title to the screen by mixing its stories with more pleasant ones – and not everything was presented as remembered by the author- so I’d definitely recommend giving these books a go, instead of just relying on the TV portrayal of her memories. Her stories give a fascinating insight into the resilience and spirit that enabled ordinary people to overcome their difficulties. It’s a powerful book,  based on powerful memories and written by a powerful author. It’s sad I only have one title left to read in the series…

 

Book Review: Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Book Review: Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

In my last blog post, I made clear that I wanted my new site to be truthful, to reflect what goes through my mind on a day to day basis and I’ve been thinking there’s no better way to do it than by sharing my opinion and thoughts on the books I get to read. You see, working for the publishing industry has its perks…

Call The Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s
by Jennifer Worth

9780753823835

Publication date: 06/03/2008 – London, United Kingdom
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Imprint: Phoenix
★★★★★

The first time someone spoke to me about Call The Midwife, they were talking about the famous BBC series starring – among others – Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Helen George, Bryony Hannah and Laura Main and which focuses on a group of nurse midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It never occurred to me there could be a book behind the episodes and that I was actually watching the memories of a real midwife – Jennifer Worth – who did really work in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s. I should’ve known, honestly. It’s funny how many movies and series do come from books lately, right?

The series was charming and truly moving so it didn’t took me very long to know I desperately wanted to read the book.

Call the Midwife is the first book in a series, followed by Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End. They were all written by Jennifer Worth, who came from a sheltered background when she started working as a midwife in the Docklands in the 1950s.
London’s East End was then characterised by tight-knit family communities, strange characters and a lively social scene. It was into this world that the author entered, a world where the conditions in which many women gave birth were horrifying. Not only because of their impoverished surroundings and lack of medical assistance, but also because of what they were expected to endure. In her series of books, Worth recounts her time working as a midwife, witnessing brutality and tragedy but also encountering kindness and understanding. Attached to an order of nuns who had been working in the slums since the 1870s, the author tells the story not only of the women she treated, but also of the community of nuns and the nurses and midwifes with whom she trained.

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After watching the series, I didn’t know what to expect from Jennifer Worth’s first book but I was very much looking forward to reading it. And now that I’ve finished, I cannot wait to read the other two.
Jennifer Worth’s memories are so vivid and real that they take you back in time to the 1950s to one of the poorest areas in London. It is true that I’ve always liked reading memoirs and biographies but Worth’s words are somehow special. What I really like about the book is that the author doesn’t disguise reality and explains in detail how things were, even if they were horrid, obscene or repulsive. Her descriptions bring to life a long gone era, where family values where different, were people faced poverty, disease and painful situations and were women were the heroines of it all.

Some of the author’s memories were brought to the screen but some of them didn’t and that was interesting to discover. Her stories are beautifully told and some of them developed in a complete different way that what the BBC portrayed. Films / TV and books are not the same – nor they have to be – so it seems obvious that there was going to be differences between the way Worth’s stories are represented.

As I was devouring the pages, I felt nostalgic and I wished I could have seen it all. I wished I could speak Cockney and get to know the nuns who lived in Nonnatus House – a pseudonym, of course. I liked the way the author helped people and the way she admits she was not a saint – she describes her feelings of disgust, anger and revulsion towards some people she met, the mistakes she made along the way as well as the East Ender’s amazing tenacity, their traditions and their warmth and humour in the face of hardship.

The book is easy to enjoy and the descriptions didn’t seem long or boring – even though sometimes that’s the case of non-fiction titles. I actually found myself wanting to know what was going to happen to the characters – the nuns, the midwifes, the prostitutes, the expectant mothers – and discovering a beautiful side of Jennifer, one that is not understood in the TV series. Indeed, I really liked the way she speaks about the nuns, the way she first thought their religion is a joke and the way she realises – little by little – the important labour that these women were doing, helping people because they believed in something greater and felt love and peace within themselves.

Having said this, I truly recommend giving this little book a go, it kept me wanting to read even during rush hour and I already miss the characters and people I discovered between the pages. Thankfully, there’s still two more titles in the series.