Dogs in Medieval Manuscripts by Kathleen Walker-Meikle (Review)

Dogs in Medieval Manuscripts by Kathleen Walker-Meikle

Blurb

Throughout the Middle Ages, medieval manuscripts often featured dogs, from beautiful and loving depictions of man’s best friend, to bloodthirsty illustrations of savage beasts, to more whimsical and humorous interpretations. Featuring stunning illustrations from the British Library’s rich medieval collection, Dogs in Medieval Manuscripts provides—through discussion of dogs both real and imaginary—an astonishing picture of the relationship of dogs to humans in the medieval world. Now in a gift book format. 

Review

I am definitely a dog person and even though I currently live with a cat and have done for quite a few years cats are still a mystery to me and my love of dogs is still there. So when I saw this book in Topping and Company bookshop in Bath I knew I had to buy it. 

The things I love about this book is that it doesn’t bombard you with information like some history books do. Instead every two page spread has a beautiful example of a medieval manuscript and a fact on the opposite page with another smaller manuscript example. The pictures and the facts don’t always go together but that doesn’t matter because a description of what and where the manuscript comes from is always included on the page as well. 

The book contains a wide variety of facts about dogs in medieval manuscripts all the way from what names were considered best for dogs, to what medicines you could use to treat different illnesses dogs had including some very strange ones for dogs who were rabid. There was also a very interesting use of dogs for pulling up mandrake roots. 

I really enjoyed this book and will be getting Kathleen Walker-Meikle’s other books because I loved her writing style. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons and will definitely be reading it again in the future even to just look at the beautiful images.  

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About the author

Kathleen Walker-Meikle completed her PhD at University College, London on late-medieval pet keeping. She researches and writes on medieval and early modern animals and medicine.

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Village Christmas and Other Notes on the English Year by Laurie Lee (Review)

Village Christmas and Other Notes on the English Year by Laurie Lee

Blurb

From the author of Cider With Rosie, Village Christmas is a moving, lyrical portrait of England through the changing years and seasons.

Laurie Lee left his childhood home in the Cotswolds when he was nineteen, but it remained with him throughout his life until, many years later, he returned for good. This collection brings to life the sights, sounds, landscapes and traditions of his home – from centuries-old May Day rituals to his own patch of garden, from carol singing in crunching snow to pub conversations and songs. Here too he writes about the mysteries of love, living in wartime Chelsea, Winston Churchill’s wintry funeral and his battle, in old age, to save his beloved Slad Valley from developers.

Told with a warm sense of humour and a powerful sense of history, Village Christmas brings us a picture of a vanished world.

Review

I ordered this book in November to read in December but sadly it didn’t arrive until the beginning of January but once I saw it only had a few Christmas stories and the rest were all based on the rest of the year I decided to read it straight away. This is my first Laurie Lee book and I really enjoyed it.

The book is divided into the seasons and each season has lots of reflections from Lee’s past. The stories range from when he was a young boy growing up in his beloved village in the Cotswolds to when he was living in London. Lee also writes about some of his memories of when he returned to live in the Cotswolds and his fight to save the beauty of his village. 

I really loved Lee’s descriptions and his way with words in this book which meant that at times I could not put the book down. I particularly enjoyed his beautiful story called ‘The Shining Severn’ which describes the river Severn in all its glory. ‘Harvest Festival’ was also a favourite of mine but to be honest I loved all the stories and you could really appreciate the love Lee has for his country. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and hope to read ‘Cider with Rosie’ soon. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Laurence Edward Alan “Laurie” Lee, MBE, was an English poet, novelist, and screenwriter. His most famous work was an autobiographical trilogy which consisted of Cider with Rosie (1959), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) and A Moment of War (1991). While the first volume famously recounts his childhood in the idyllic Slad Valley, the second deals with his leaving home for London and his first visit to Spain in 1934, and the third with his return in December 1937 to join the Republican International Brigade.

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The Book Lover’s Bucket List: A Tour of Great British Literature by Caroline Taggart (Review)

The Book Lover’s Bucket List: A Tour of Great British Literature by Caroline Taggart

Blurb

Exploring the gardens, monuments, museums, and churches with walks both urban and rural, from the Brontë parsonage in Haworth to Zadie Smith’s North London and Shakespeare’s Stratford, The Book Lover’s Bucket List takes you through some 100 wonderfully described literary sites and landscapes, complete with colour destination photographs and illustrations from the British Library collections.

Start with Chaucer, Dickens, and Larkin in Westminster Abbey. Spend an afternoon at Colliers Wood Nature Reserve in Nottinghamshire and take in the lake D. H. Lawrence described as “all grey and visionary, stretching into the moist, translucent vista of trees and meadow.” Venture south to Cornwall and work your way up to the Scottish Highlands, taking detours to Northern Ireland in the west and Norfolk in the east.

There are gardens, monuments, museums, churches, and a surprising quantity of stained glass. There are walks both urban and rural, where you can explore real landscapes or imaginary haberdasher’s shops. There‘s the club where Buck’s Fizz was invented and a pub where you can eat Sherlock’s Steak & Ale Pie. And there’s a railway station where you can stroke the muzzle of one of the world’s most famous and endearing bears.

Wherever you are in the United Kingdom, you’re never far from something associated with a good book.

Review

My best friend bought this book for me and I have been dipping in and reading a few pages a day ever since. I have also been making a big list of the places I want to visit as well which has been worrying my husband. 

This book is divided up into sections for the different parts of Great Britain and each section has places of importance to different authors. The book tells you about the place and its history and what it is like now and whether you can visit it or not. There are also very handy websites listed for the places so you can investigate for yourself about a property. 

There are so many authors from Great Britain mentioned in this book and the places that meant something to them, whether it be where they wrote their great works or places mentioned in their works, or like Lyme Park where a famous adaptation of the book was filmed. Yes, the wet shirt of Mr Darcy was even mentioned in this book. 

Taggart’s writing is informative and funny and regularly made me laugh. There were also extra bits and pieces added about the authors and the books which were added to the different sections that gave extra information and extra places to visit.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am really looking forward to visiting some of the places. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons. 

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Purchase Links

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author 

Caroline Taggart worked in publishing as an editor of popular non-fiction for 30 years before being asked by Michael O’Mara Books to write I USED TO KNOW THAT, which became a Sunday Times bestseller. Following that she co-wrote MY GRAMMAR AND I (OR SHOULD THAT BE ‘ME’?) As a result of these books and HER LADYSHIP’S GUIDE TO THE QUEEN’S ENGLISH, published by Batsford, she has appeared frequently on BBC Breakfast and on national and regional radio, talking about language, grammar and Pythagoras’s theorem. Her record is 16 radio interviews in one day on the subject of exclamation marks.

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The House Party: A Short History of Leisure, Pleasure and the Country House Weekend by Adrain Tinniswood (Review)

The House Party: A Short History of Leisure, Pleasure and the Country House Weekend by Adrain Tinniswood

Blurb

A delightful journey through the glamorous story of the English country house party by the bestselling historian.

Croquet. Parlour games. Cocktails. Welcome to a glorious journey through the golden age of the country house party – and you are invited. 

Our host, celebrated historian Adrian Tinniswood, traces the evolution of this quintessentially British pastime from debauched royal tours to the flamboyant excess of the Bright Young Things. With cameos by the Jazz Age industrialist, the bibulous earl and the off-duty politician – whether in moated manor houses or ornate Palladian villas – Tinniswood gives a vivid insight into weekending etiquette and reveals the hidden lives of celebrity guests, from Nancy Astor to Winston Churchill, in all their drinking, feasting, gambling and fornicating. 

The result is a deliciously entertaining, star-studded, yet surprisingly moving portrait of a time when social conventions were being radically overhauled through the escapism of a generation haunted by war – and a uniquely fast-living period of English history. 

Review

We bought this book when we visited Croome last month and it has been tempting me to read it ever since. I could have easily read this book in one sitting as I found it so interesting but I made it last two days instead.

The book begins at the beginning of house parties starting from when Queen Elizabeth I used to visit and stay at people’s houses when she was travelling through the country to when eventually the traditional house party died out. 

This book is filled full of glamour, wealth, luxury and everything you can imagine that happened in fine country houses during house parties. 

I loved how the book described every detail of the house party from the invitations to what food and drink would have been served and the activities people would have partaken. The stories told in this book about different house guests and their hosts were hilarious. I particularly liked the house guests who brought their own thermos flask with cocktails in to have in their room because they knew their particular hosts didn’t hold cocktails before dinner. 

There were a lot of little stories in this book and a lot of famous names mentioned. However, for such a short book I think too many stories were mentioned and maybe just a few famous houses should have been focused on. To be honest I would have loved a much longer book as I could have happily read another 200 pages about the famous houses and their parties. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons and I will definitely be reading more of Tinniswood’s work.

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Purchase Links

Foyles | Waterstones | Wordery

About the author

Adrian Tinniswood has worked as an author, broadcaster, lecturer and educational consultant for nearly 30 years in both Britain and the United States. Tinniswood studied English and Philosophy at Southampton University and was awarded an MPhil at Leicester University.

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Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnarvon (Review)

Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnavon

Blurb

Highclere Castle, known as ‘the real Downton Abbey’, bustles with activity at the best of times, but it is never more alive than at Christmas. Christmas at Highclere is a look behind the scenes at the routines and rituals that make the castle the most magical place to be throughout the festive season.

Lady Carnarvon will guide you through Advent, Christmas preparations and Christmas Eve all the way through to the day itself, and beyond. Learn how the castle and grounds are transformed by decorations, including the raising of a twenty-foot tree in the saloon, the gathering of holly and mistletoe from the grounds. All the intricacies of the perfect traditional Christmas are here: from crackers and carol singers. The festive feeling is carried through to Highclere’s Boxing Day traditions, the restorative middle days and the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

This book also tells the story of historic Christmases at Highclere – of distinguished guests warming themselves by the fire after a long journeys home through the snow, unexpected knocks on the door, and, always, the joy of bringing family – and staff – together after a busy year.

As well as telling the stories of Highclere Christmases past and present, Lady Carnarvon provides recipes, tips and inspiration from her kitchen so that readers can bring a quintessentially British festive spirit to their own home. Lady Carnarvon divulges the secret to perfectly flakey mince pies, the proper way to wrap presents so that you and your guests are guaranteed a Christmas to remember.

Lavish, celebratory and utterly enchanting, Christmas at Highclere is celebration of one of the UK’s most beloved historic houses and is the perfect gift for any Downton Abbey fan.

Review

My husband and myself are massive fans of Downton Abbey and so I bought this last year for my husband’s Christmas present and it has been on the recipe book shelf waiting for Christmas to arrive. 

I picked this book up to look up some Christmas recipes as I wanted some new challenges for the Christmas season and quickly decided that I would be making the Yule log for Christmas. However, I then decided to start reading the book from the beginning and all of a sudden I was hooked and could not put it down.

I love the Countess’ writing style, she is very skilled and brings everything to life beautifully. The Countess starts with the season of Advent and how the castle prepares for the Christmas period by decorating for opening and also what preparations they make for family and friends who will be visiting over the period. The Countess then continues through the festive season until Epiphany.

This book has family history and traditions, personal anecdotes about the family’s past Christmases and then recipes peppered throughout the book all linked to the different stages of the festive period. The accompanying pictures are absolutely stunning and they really show how stunning the castle is, although my favourite pictures are of the family’s many dogs.

I absolutely loved this book and I have several recipes that I will be trying out on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I highly recommend this book and definitely give it 5 out of 5 Dragons. I have also added the other books the Countess of Carnarvon has written to my wish list as I really want to read more of her work.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

A former auditor for Coopers & Lybrand, Lady Carnarvon is the wife of George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon. Today, she manages affairs at Highclere Castle, home of the worldwide television drama Downton Abbey, including overseeing its grounds and gardens and many special events such as the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellars of the Castle.

Fascinated by Highclere’s history, Lady Carnarvon has written four books. The first two are about the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. Her latest are New York Times Bestseller Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere, and Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey.

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry (Review)

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry

Blurb

Rediscover the thrills, grandeur, and unabashed fun of the Greek myths—stylishly retold by Stephen Fry. This legendary writer, actor, and comedian breathes new life into beloved tales. From Persephone’s pomegranate seeds to Prometheus’s fire, from devious divine schemes to immortal love affairs, Fry draws out the humour and pathos in each story and reveals its relevance for our own time. Illustrated throughout with classical art inspired by the myths, this gorgeous volume invites you to explore a captivating world, with a brilliant storyteller as your guide.

Review

My first encounter with Stephen Fry would have been watching Blackadder episodes with my big sister when I was little and since then he has always been a great favourite. I can’t believe I have put off reading Mythos for so long but I know that I won’t be putting off reading Heroes. 

Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths is brilliantly done and a great read that had me laughing my head off at regular intervals. Fry’s humour comes through this book with subtly and also when the myth calls for it straight in your face brilliance. 

Mythos begins right at the beginning of what the Greeks believed was the beginning of everything and progresses from there onwards. Each main section is divided into subsections that make the reading easier and more accessible.

Fry’s retelling of these familiar myths gives them a fresh and new feeling and makes them highly informative but also fun. I loved Fry’s commentary throughout and his very useful little extra bits of information in the footnotes. Fry’s talent as a writer shines through with this book but also his excellent knowledge into Ancient Greek Mythology. 

My particular favourite characters are Zeus and Hera, how Fry portrays them is hilarious and you can’t help but laugh at some of their marital stories. My favourite retelling of all though has got to be Hermes stealing Apollo’s cattle and then Apollo being utterly dumbfounded by meeting his new half brother Hermes.

This is an amazing read that makes the Greek myths accessible to everyone. I give this book a big 5 out of 5 Dragons and highly recommend it to everyone who enjoys a good laugh. 

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you)

About the Author

Stephen Fry (1957) is an English comedian, writer, actor, humourist, novelist, poet, columnist, filmmaker, television personality and technophile. As one half of the Fry and Laurie double act with his comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, he has appeared in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves and Wooster. He is also famous for his roles in Blackadder and Wilde, and as the host of QI. In addition to writing for stage, screen, television and radio he has contributed columns and articles for numerous newspapers and magazines, and has also written four successful novels and a series of memoirs.

Mantel Pieces: Royal Bodies and Other Writing from the London Review of Books by Hilary Mantel (Review)

Mantel Pieces: Royal Bodies and Other Writing from the London Review of Books by Hilary Mantel.

Blurb

In 1987, when Hilary Mantel was first published in the London Review of Books, she wrote to the editor, Karl Miller, ‘I have no critical training whatsoever, so I am forced to be more brisk and breezy than scholarly.’ This collection of twenty reviews, essays and pieces of memoir from the next three decades, tells the story of what happened next.

Her subjects range far and wide: Robespierre and Danton, the Hite report, Saudi Arabia where she lived for four years in the 1980s, the Bulger case, John Osborne, the Virgin Mary as well as the pop icon Madonna, a brilliant examination of Helen Duncan, Britain’s last witch. There are essays about Jane Boleyn, Charles Brandon, Christopher Marlowe and Margaret Pole, which display the astonishing insight into the Tudor mind we are familiar with from the bestselling Wolf Hall Trilogy. Her famous lecture, ‘Royal Bodies’, which caused a media frenzy, explores the place of royal women in society and our imagination. Here too are some of her LRB diaries, including her first meeting with her stepfather and a confrontation with a circus strongman.

Review

I was really excited when this arrived in my parcel box and thought it would be the ideal book to just dip in and out of when I felt like it. How wrong was I? I began reading it and could not put it down so my other books had to sit on the bedside table for a while.

I loved this glimpse into Mantel’s career as a reviewer and some of her reviews have made me desperately want to read the books. I wasn’t terribly interested in the notes to and from her editor to be honest and really did not like her entry from her diary after her operation but the rest of the book I loved.

As a reviewer Mantel is brilliant. She clearly does a great deal of research around the subject of the book she is reviewing and reads other connecting works and quotes these in her reviews. Mantel’s reviews are also not short but weighty chapters all on their own. This all means that the reader gets a thorough briefing about the book they might want to read and whether it is worth spending the money on the book.

I will be honest I did find Mantel rather anti Catholic in her writing and she isn’t the kindest to the royal family either. I particularly felt sorry for the Queen in her one item. Mantel is an excellent writer though and this definitely comes across in her collection of reviews and essays. Some of my favourite pieces included In Bed with Madonna 1992, On Marie Antoinette 1999 and Jane Boleyn.

I thoroughly recommend this book to all Mantel fans and to those who have never read her work before. It is a perfect book to dip in and out of or just read from cover to cover like I did. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

About the Author

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Hilary Mantel was born in 1952 and is an English writer. Mantel was the first woman to receive the Booker Prize twice for her books Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Mantel published her first book Every Day is Mother’s Day in 1985 and began reviewing films and books for a number of magazines and papers.

 

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Dear NHS: 100 Stories to Say Thank You, edited by Adam Kay (Review)

Dear NHS: 100 Stories to Say Thank You, Edited by Adam Kay

Blurb

Created and edited by Adam Kay (author of multi-million best seller ‘This is Going to Hurt’), ‘DEAR NHS’ features household names telling their personal stories of the health service. Contributors include Joanna Lumley, Naomie Harris, Kate Tempest, Lee Child, Tanni Grey Thomson, Bill Bryson, Trevor McDonald, Jack Whitehall, Michael Palin, Stanley Tucci and many, many more.

Review

I had this book preordered as soon as I heard about it and I couldn’t wait to read it when it arrived. I love the idea of this book, celebrities, people we know so well, tell us their stories and thank you’s to the NHS in the format of stories, poems, essays and letters.

The first celebrity’s story is Graham Norton and I was hooked and could not put the book down. I loved how heart felt some of these stories were and how most people wanted to give their sincere thanks to the NHS. They also didn’t just thank the doctors and nurses, they thanked all the NHS staff, the porters, cleaners, everyone.

Some of my favourite stories were by Graham Norton, David Tennant, The Hairy Bikers, Stephen Fry, Dame Jacqueline Wilson and many more. This book really was an emotional rollercoaster. One minute you are almost crying and the next minute laughing at someone like Jonathan Ross getting a lollipop for being brave even though he is an adult.

There sadly were a few in this book that spoiled it for me. Some like Frankie Boyle who used his story as political rant and Jamie Oliver who promoted his own recipes and website. Some celebrities were just too self obsessed for me in this book and I really didn’t think that this wonderful book was the time or place.

I really did enjoy this book but because of certain people it was slightly ruined for me. However, I still recommend this book to everyone who loves the NHS and the fact that every copy bought gives a donation to the NHS is even better. I give this book 3 out of 5 Dragons.

Purchase Links

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you)

 

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The Madness of Cambyses by Herodotus (Review)

The Madness of Cambyses by Herodotus

About the author

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Herodotus c. 484-425 BCE was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus in the Persian Empire. He is known for having written the book The Histories.

Blurb

The story of the great and mad Cambyses, King of Persia, told by part-historian, part-mythmaker Herodotus of Halicarnassus.

Review

Just recently I dug out my collection of Little Black Classics and selected all the ancient Greek and Roman books to read because I thought they would be good background reading for my course and this is the first one I have read.

This little book is only 50 pages long and is a nice little snippet from the main book The Histories by Herodotus. I happily read it enjoying the sunshine we have been having and drinking a nice mug of tea.

The beginning was a bit hard to digest due to all the different names but once I got past that I really enjoyed the book. The translation is a little wooden for me but it still flowed nicely. I must admit this did make me giggle as King Cambyses is completely mental and just kills everyone for the slightest thing and in most cases this is like cutting off his own nose to spite his face, because all this death doesn’t do him any favours.

Herodotus does meander about a bit with his knowledge but I loved that because you learn extra little bits about what the ancients thought about different cultures. Some facts Herodotus tells you definitely come across more as myths but I liked that because that is what the ancients believed.

I really enjoyed this little book, it was a quick and knowledgeable read and it was fascinating to see one of the world’s earliest historians at work. I highly recommend this little book to people who are interested in the ancient world and to people who want a gentle introduction into some ancient texts. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

Purchase Links

Waterstones

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On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons by Laura Cumming (Review)

On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons by Laura Cumming

 

About the author

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Laura Cumming (born July 1961) the art critic for The Observer. In addition to her career in journalism, Cumming has written well-received books on self-portraits in art and the discovery of a lost portrait by Diego Velázquez in 1845.

Blurb

In the autumn of 1929, a small child was kidnapped from a Lincolnshire beach. Five agonising days went by before she was found in a nearby village. The child remembered nothing of these events and nobody ever spoke of them at home. It was another fifty years before she even learned of the kidnap.

The girl became an artist and had a daughter, art writer Laura Cumming. Cumming grew up enthralled by her mother’s strange tales of life in a seaside hamlet of the 1930s, and of the secrets and lies perpetuated by a whole community. So many puzzles remained to be solved. Cumming began with a few criss-crossing lives in this fraction of English coast – the postman, the grocer, the elusive baker – but soon her search spread right out across the globe as she discovered just how many lives were affected by what happened that day on the beach – including her own.

Review

I had such high hopes for this book and I was so excited when I bought it because I loved the sound of the book and thought it sounded like a fantastic read. Sadly, I was very disappointed, although I know that this is probably a controversial opinion looking at other reviews on Goodreads and on book blogs. I do however think the hype and advertising for this book has been very misleading in just how gripping the story is.

I enjoyed the beginning of this book but quickly guessed the outcome as it was just an age old story that has happened many times in history.

This to me was a book of meandering thoughts and it drove me mad, Cumming clearly knows her stuff about art and history but this book really needed to be more to the point. Cumming just kept going off course and it was infuriating, this also meant that there was far too much book for the main thread of the story. It really could have been half the length and for me would have been a lot more enjoyable if it had been shorter and more to the point. It was like Cumming was worried it was going to be too short so she padded it out with other random thoughts.

I can see that this story is written for the love of her mother and I can imagine that Cumming’s mother must be very touched by her daughter’s book but to the casual reader it is too much. It is also very repetitive at times. I was grinding my teeth in frustration. It really could have done with someone just gently removing the repetition from the book for Cumming.

Overall I’m amazed I stuck this book out because some days I could have quite easily chucked it through the window but I did finish it in the end just to see the outcome. I give this book 2 out of 5 Dragons because only books that I do not finish get 1 Dragon.

Purchase Links

 Book Depository  •  Waterstones

 

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