Top 5 – Non-Fiction Books.

As a avid book lover, I’ve always got a book or some sort of reading material about my person. And despite being a huge fiction fanatic, I’ve found myself branching more and more into non-fiction literature. Whether it be self-help books, scientific theory, conspiracy novels or just autobiographies, I find it to be a welcome read when the world of fiction overwhelms me.

So inspired by Carrie Hope Fletcher’s recent ‘Books that have Changed my Life’ , I’ve decided to jot down my favourite non-fiction books.

1: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

A timeless book that deserves a reread throughout the years. Sensitively written, very descriptive and one of those books that just stays with you. Anne Frank is one of my personal heroes, and her story is not only timeless, but translateable across any age, gender and background. A story about survival, love, loss and growing up during Nazi Germany.61ekmew9gsl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

2: Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie.

This biography of the last Tsar of Russia and his family is easy to read, full of digestible information and good enough for any budding Russian historians, or modern history fans. Despite having a collection of over 100 books on the Romanovs, I always credit this book as being my favourite, and thoroughly recommend it to anyone.

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3: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

As one of my favourite authors, George Orwell’s way of writing will always hit a very personal vibe with me. His writing about experiencing the Spanish Civil War show the brutality of the war, along with the bravery of local people. A must read if you’re interested in war, politics, Stalinism or literature.9780141183053

4: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

Known as the first ‘faction’/’non-fiction novel’, this story is Capote’s account of murder in a small town community, and the shockwaves it sends through the community. Highly researched and depicted through films like Capote and Infamous, this novel is very addictive, fairly sensitive and features backstories on the murderers unlike you’ve ever read before.

A brilliant, brilliant book.

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5: Hungry by Crystal Renn.

This is a must-have book for anyone who’s interested in the beauty/fashion industry, along with the very social media tag #effyourbeautystandards. Crystal Renn was cited as an up-and-coming supermodel, but told to lose weight. Due to the pressure of the job, Crystal soon developed a series of eating disorders.
This book is fascinating for any one who is struggling with their weight and being accepted into society. Despite Crystal no longer being the size 16 plus-size model she once was famed to be, I find it still very relevant as a memoir.

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Disclaimer – all opinions, favourites and views are my own.

So these are my favourite non-fiction books. I’ve been really enjoying doing these Top 5 posts. Let me know if you have any suggestions for the next load!

 

Top 5 Books – Classic Literature.

 

Apologies for the lack of posting. My work has been hectic, and I’m taking a much deserved family holiday this week. A regular blogging schedule will resume soon.

To me, classic literature doesn’t mean it’s just old literature, but something that will echo for generations to come. Whether it be remarkably forward science fiction, or acts of romance that make people swoon, or just stories with morals, my top 5 list is my interpretation of literature that people should read in their lifetime.

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1: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

A personal favourite, this novel is grand and sweeping. A dazzling romance set in one of America’s most brutal and blood-thirsty periods, Gone with the Wind shows a civilisation and time that has now disappeared. It’s a tale of survival and new beginnings for one Southern Belle, who changes from being a pampered mistress to a fighter in the Deep South.

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2: 1984 by George Orwell

This novel is one I can read time over time over time again. An alternative yet familiar world, 1984 set the bar for dystopian literature. With forbidden romances, government control, cult leadership and surveillance taking over the world, 1984 is one of those novels that will broaden your mind forever, and make you realise that Big Brother really could be watching you.

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3: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Set in the sublime and wild Yorkshire Moors, Wuthuring Heights is a classic tale of revenge and obsession. With a multi-generational family, gothic overtones, physical and mental cruelty, Wuthering Heights tugs at the very extremes of nature vs nurture. A fantastic book.

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4: Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Another tale of revenge, tragedy and ghostly happenings. Hamlet is a classic for its use and portrayal of madness and murder, and with famous soliloquies surrounding dreams, death and life, Hamlet also offers an insight into the human condition.

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5: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Another personal favourite, and subject of my dissertation. Dracula has set standards for the vampire novel, as well as being a staple in the gothic genre. The novel also focuses on Victorian ideas of masculinity, femininity, religion, science and invasion from foreign shores, and with a host of excellent characters and bone-chilling moments, you won’t forget Dracula in a hurry.

 

These are my top 5 choices for Classic Literature, and if you have any personal choices/opinions, don’t hesitate in letting me know.

 

Top 5 Books- Fantasy Sagas

Now, I’m a girl who loves a good fantasy series. Fantasy books and television series can transport you to new worlds, and through the characters you grow to love, or hate, you can witness political backstabbing, murders, battles and mythical beasts.

So, in this Top 5 post, I thought I’d give my favourite fantasy book sagas, for any readers who have yet to stumble upon this genre.

1: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R Martin.a_song_of_ice_and_fire_by_ertacaltinoz-d9fzd8e

I’ve actually done a full review of this book saga on my blog, so I won’t go too in-depth here. So what I will say is this book saga is excellent and intricate. Wars, old grudges and bloodlust makes for very interesting reading, and the saga has been made into an award-winning television series. I would rate this a very obvious staple choice if you want to read any fantasy at the moment.

2: The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss.

the_kingkiller_chronicle_one_and_twoWith two novels published in this soon-to-be trilogy, this saga is a favourite of mine. The story-telling is good, the plot is highly enjoyable and the fact of it being somewhat of a biography for the main character, a mysterious figure known as Kvothe, makes me love it more. I have read and reread this story, and I still find it as enjoyable as when I first picked it up. If you like high fantasy, excellent writing and a host of unique characters, I suggest this.

3: His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman.51sf-9svtul-_sx319_bo1204203200_

This is a book series you just have to read. And don’t be put off by the bad adaptation of the first book. His Dark Materials really transcend all age ranges and different audiences. Featuring alternative worlds, witches, polar bear warriors and battles with God and religion, this saga is not only brilliant at world-building, but the writing is easy enough for young teenagers to understand.

4: 200px-thewayofkingsThe Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson.

Once again, I’ve done a review on the first book here, but this series really deserves to be on this list. World-building in this series is done masterfully, and if you like battles, magic, different cultures and history, then you’d like this series. The characters are complex and well thought out, and I never felt bored when reading this ornate world.

5: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien.

I doubt there could be a fantasy book list without this saga. Written in the 1950s as a sequel to The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings revolutionised the world olotr111f high fantasy and epic fantasy and has been influenced authors for years to come. The books are atypical of Tolkien’s florid and highly descriptive writing style, and follow the story of the destruction of the One Ring by the Hobbit, Frodo Baggins and his comrades.  So I would say, if you’re looking for the ultimate of ultimate fantasy novels to read, why not try this? You can’t be worse off. And then watch the movies.

So here are my top 5 choices. I doubt there are any shockers on here, but if you have any comments or queries, just send me a question.

 

 

Hamlet (Royal Shakespeare Company 2016 Production) – Theatre Review.

Title: Hamlet

Cast: Paapa Essiedu, Marcus Griffiths, Tanya Moodie, Cyril Nri, Natalie Simpson, Clarence Smith, Ewart James Walters, James Cooney, Bethan Cullinane.

Director: Simon Godwin

Venue: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon


As I’ve said before, being an English student has given me the opportunity to watch dozens of adaptations, performances, reimaginations and versions of William Shakespeare’s plays. Howevhamlet_production_photos_march_2016_2016_photo_by_manuel_harlan_c_rsc_187355-tmb-img-820er, when I had the privilege to watch the 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company’s production, I felt like I was watching something entirely new and entirely different.

Although still set nominally in Denmark, the play gives us something new and takes on a west African flavour. With cultural heritage and identity crisis at its core, Hamlet is first shown at his graduation ceremony oversees, but the death of his father makes him rush home to a country that he now feels completely lost in. And with the subsequent marriage of his mother to his father’s brother (later revealed his father’s power-hungry murderer), Hamlet is completely lost in the Danish court.

For the first time in RSC’s 55-year history, the titular character of Hamlet was given to a black actor. And what a marvel he has turned out to be. Paapa Essiedu shone with all the poise and calm of a seasoned actor, but with the young age of 25 and a baby-face to match, it is clear that this young man will become something of a success story in the coming years. When he spoke the immortal and well-loved soliloquy starting with ‘To be or not to be’, it was then we saw the once-suited and smart Prince turn into something new. We watch as tears roll down his face, his eyes half-closed and as though the words are tumbling from his mind. It is then we see Hamlet’s descent into madness and despair.

The cast were all beautifully selected, and fit in their respective roles well. We see Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude (portrayed by Tanya Moodie) fall from a dignified and regal queen, into a shell-shocked mess, and Natalie Simpson’s Ophelia is sweet, suitably sassy and cocky in the first half, but distressingly unhinged towards the end. Edward James Walters also gave a chilling performance as the Ghost, as he rose in a mist of dry ice and traditional African costume, and Clarence Smith’s Claudius was sleek and well mannered. However, one of my personal favourite’s was definitely the portrayal of Polonius. Cyril Nr'Hamlet' Play directed by Simon Godwin performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, UKi has given Polonius a new breath of life, by making him somewhat of a court jester, as well as a scatty and fussy parent.

With Hamlet, so much has been done with it in the past, it may have been challenging to breath new life into this timeless play. However, with a thrilling soundtrack of drums, limb-jerking dancing and graffiti, Simon Godwin’s Hamlet is visceral, raw and gives us a rising star who doesn’t so much as shine but blaze as our mercurial Dane.

Hamlet is at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon until August 13th. Book now, or see it live at participating cinemas. Visit The Royal Shakespeare Company website for dates.

 

 

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G.S Denning – Book Review


Title: 
Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone

Author: G.S Denning

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Alternative History, Fantasy, Mystery, Detective Fiction, Retelling, Supernatural


When it comes to Sherlock Holmes, there have been dozens of reimaginings and retellings of the famous figure.  Whether it be young Holmes, modern day Holmes, American Holmes or Robert Downey Jr Holmes, we’ve seen Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters been changed and rejigged for different audiences.

So when I was sent Warlock Holmes for review, I wasn’t surprised that another author had given our favourite consulting detective a new story and a new life. But what I was surprised about was how much I enjoyed this crossover.untitled203_1

In the original stories, Sherlock Holmes was a genius whose deductive skills were unparrelled and his mind was virtually unchallenged by regular people. Warlock Holmes, on the other hand, is an idiot. A good man, yes. A font of archane and witchy powers, who communicates with demons, devils and otherwordly creatures, yes. Yet his deducing skills rival that of a knat. So when he meets and subsequently befriends the brilliant Doctor Watson, they make an unlikely but excellent duo. And with the help of the nilistic vampire Inspector Vladislav Lestrade and actual ogre Inspector Torg Grogsson, Holmes and Watson go through a delightfully ‘weird’ version of London and solve mysteries.

This book reimagines six of Sherlock Holmes most popular cases (excluding Baskerville) and puts the occult spin on each one. And through each one, the writing is easy, fluid and comedic. Denning sticks to the original stories quite well, which gives the stories a good standing to fall back on. And with the addition of fantastical creatures, it just adds more to the text, rather than take anything away.

Throughout the text, Denning has swapped the dynamic between Holmes and Watson, yet it doesn’t lessen the relationship between the two men. I actually love the more idiotic and dim Holmes, as he does excel in the occult-ish sense, but lets Watson take the lead. The author also has put a fair bit of slapstick and quite silly comedy throughout, but as this wasn’t meant to be a serious retelling of the Sherlock Holmes saga, I felt like it didn’t make it feel too childish.

As a whole, the book is easy to read and very enjoyable for Sherlock Holmes fans. With Moriarty cropping up as a malevolent spirit who possess Warlock on occassion, and then coming to quite a dramatic ending, I actually found myself eager for the next book. Denning has left it with a marvellous cliffhanger, and to be honest, has written such a good retelling, it almost makes it feel believable.

All in all, a funny and lighthearted retelling of Conan Doyle’s stories, and a must-read for fans.

Warlock Holmes is out on the 27th May 2016 – Pre-order it here!

 

The Swans of Fifth Avenue – Book Review

Title: The Swans of Fifth Avenue

Author: Melanie Benjamin

Rating: 3/5

Genre: Celebrity, Memoir, Historical Fiction, Women’s Literature, Chick-Lit, Contemporary Fiction


“Babe Paley simply never made an empty gesture, and here she was, assembling a parade of them. But her feet, her hands, her mind, her heart, were all restless. Truman.”

Throughout all my years of being an English student, one author has cropped up time and time again during my studies. His words have always struck a deep emotional chord with me and I would eagerly devour his stories whenever I could. To me, Truman Capote was, and still is, such an enigma in his writing, as he not only invented the idea of the ‘nonfiction novel’, but brought to life the cult favourite of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And it 9780345528698wasn’t just his literary talent that he was praised for, but his flamboyant and very decorated personal life as a social butterfly and celebrity favourite.
So when I was sent The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin to review, I was thrilled.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue focuses on 1950s/60s New York City and author Truman Capote’s life and his relationship with the higher tiers of society. At the peak of the society, women of immense power, money, familial ties and intrigue stand apart from the rest. These are Truman’s ‘swans’, and they represent a world of riches and beauty that Truman desperately wishes to be part of. And at the head of this group, socialite and style icon, Babe Paley is the undisputed queen. Glamourous, elegant and always dressed exquisitely, Babe Paley oozed glamour and sophistication. But beneath the perfect wife and woman façade, Babe Paley is a highly sensitive and passionate individual who craves love and affection that she is not receiving through her perfectly suited, yet loveless marriage. And when Truman Capote sweeps into her life with a larger-than-life personality, he sets Babe’s dull world into glorious Technicolour. And through winning the affection of Babe, Truman is granted unrivaled access into the snake-pit that is New York high society. But is Truman trustworthy? And what do you do when secrets get revealed, and the picture-perfect charade comes crashing down about you?

Now, this story is indeed very glamourous and scandalous. With a fairly fast pace and well-timed flashbacks and forwards, it keeps the reader interested, and allows you to become immersed into a world that seems entirely foreign from the everyday. From wearing Chanel suits to light lunches at the Plaza and into shopping sprees in Tiffany’s, this world seems so entirely rich and vibrant that is feels almost dreamlike. Now, despite the novel having a darker and more real undertone – with the Truman Capote scandal, the hidden lives of the glamourous women (drink, drugs, sex scandals, domestic abuse etc) – this novel isn’t particularly hard-hitting in those senses. To me, these were issues that really could have been explored and in better detail. In my opinion, this novel just wanted to have a halcyon glaze of glamour and beauty.

The ‘Swans’ were really an interesting group of women. They were all beautiful, charming, malicious, and as two-faced as they could come, and they thrived on attention and the scandal that surrounded their lives. With loveless marriages, money issues, drug and drink addiction and cosmetic surgery pressures, these women were constantly scrutinised by their closest friends as well as society, and I found them all to be highly interesting and unique characters. I particularly found Slim Keith and Gloria Vanderbilt to be interesting figures as they stood apart from the rest of the swans, and gave the taste of individuality and strength.

The relationship between Babe and Truman was always one of interest. To me, Benjamin has really written it as a relationship that seems so co-dependent and unhealthy, it borders on obsession. Both with unresolved mother issues, these two lonely hearts were drawn to each other for different reasons. And whilstbabe-paley-wearing-a-creation-of-traina-norell-photographed-by-horst-p-horst-from-american-vogue-in-1946 Truman ultimately sacrifices his relationship for the sake of a quick buck – his infamous short story ‘La Côte Basque 1965’ fictionalises and reveals all of Babe’s secrets, resulting in his Swans cutting him out of New York society – there is a sense that Truman really did care for Babe. And with the latter chapters showing both Babe and Truman’s downward spiral, due to illness and drink and drug dependencies, it is then when the book really does come into its own. After watching interviews and reading books on Capote, I thought that Benjamin really captured his spirit well.

Throughout the novel, I thought Benjamin captured the intimacy and secrecy of this world well. Sometimes it felt very intrusive whilst reading it, as though you, the reader was being allowed into the gilded cage and offered up the secrets.
All in all, I found this novel enjoyable. Yes, it some parts it was too sweet, and skimmed over the darker parts of the novel. But it was a light, and comfortable read. Perfectly suited for travel or a holiday. But don’t expect to be reading hard-hitting literature here. Full of scandal, intrigue and beautiful clothes, this novel transports you away to the cool interiors of Bergdorf’s, St Regis and Tiffany’s.

To buy this book – Amazon/Waterstones

Author’s website – Click Here

Top 5 Books – The Romanovs

I’ve decided to start having a series of blogposts about my Top 5 picks. Whether this be a fashion, beauty, film, television series or books, I’ll pick out my Top 5 choices, offer a small review, and the chance to buy these picks as gifts or for yourself.

But for my first one, I thought I’d do something on a topic that I know extensively. An ongoing obsession/fascination of mine is Imperial Russia, and mainly focusing on the rule of the last Tsar and his family. I’ll be updating a complete 2016 blogpost on all the reference books I have on them soon, but here is just a little snippet of what books I personally consider my favourites.

1: Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

This is my favourite book of the entire collection. I’ve had it for many years, and the r517zvo1s7ml-_sy344_bo1204203200_eason I love it so is because not only does it focus on the last Tsar, but it is also a really good introductory piece for people who want to start reading around his family and the lead-up to the Revolution. Some of the reference books you can buy can be very in depth and overwhelming, and for seasoned Russian historians like myself, that isn’t a problem. But for people who are interested in the whole Anastasia mystery, and want to learn a little bit more of the historical side, Massie’s text is good for them. The way Massie writes is in a very readable and clear style, and it is obvious how well researched this book was. The amount of detail he goes into is very good, and he writes contextually too. So you get the fullest picture of Russia at the time. What also makes this book interesting is the emotional way he deals with the tsarevich’s illness, which Massie himself had to deal with fir
st-hand when his own son was diagnosed with haemophilia. This very personal touch made the book even more readable and heartfelt. This text is definitely a recommended read, as it opens up the Romanovs to an audience who may just be discovering them.

To buy the book – Waterstones/Amazon

2: A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra – Their Own Story’ by Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko

This is an unique book in the fact that it tells the story of Nicholas and Alexandra but through their own letters, diary entries and letter they exchanged with family members. This truly brings to light the love the pair sh51c8gzazbjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_owed for each other, and how they perceived the world around them and the changes that were happening in the time they lived in.
In my mind, there’s was the greatest love story ever. And just by reading the letters they wrote to each other during long months of separation, you’ll see what I mean. I find it fascinating that if you compare how they felt when they first started courting, to years after when they were writing during WWI and had been married for years with five children, the love never seems to change. It just gets stronger, with the same amount of passion and yearning for each other. It’s truly moving.
Also, what I find interesting is how they address the political climate in which they lived. The Russian Revolution has been written and studied about for decades, but to hear how the real people of the time were dealing with it adds to a very interesting and enlightening read.
This is a perfect book to take with you on travels, as you can pick and choose sections that you want to read, and immerse yourself in the romance.

To buy the book – Amazon

3: Ekaterinburg – The Last Days of the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport and The Murder of the Romanovs by Andrew Cook.

I honestly couldn’t choose between these two books. The deaths of the Romanovs have been sensationalised and covered by the media so much that it’s good to find two books who just seem to deal with the facts. These two books cover the deaths, naturally, but also what happened after in some detail, especially with the controversial topic on whether somebody survived.51spxj7gbil-_sx325_bo1204203200_main_9781445600703_13

What I love about the Rappaport book is that it also dedicates chapters to Nicholas, Alexandra, the girls and Alexei – which I love reading as it just gives overviews on them. The chapter about the girls is probably my favourite as it dedicates large passages just to the girls mannerisms and personalities, which I find fascinating as since Anastasia has become the “famous” one out of the sisters, the rest of them seem to have been forgotten in a sense. So learning that these girls also had dreams and hope like the rest of the family is a strong reminder that they too suffered. The Rappaport book also gives some details about the situation after the death, with mentions of Anna Anderson and concluding it beautifully with the chapter ‘The Scent of Lillies’.
The Cook book draws from more source-related material and deals with the death but also the discovery of the bodies and the identification of the bodies. Definitely a more scholarly book than the Rappaport, but it is no less as well done as it does go into the unseen police footage and documents concerning what happened on that day. Despite being harder to read and definitely not for the light-of-heart, I would recommend this book as it does draw on a different approach in writing about the Romanovs.
Both these books together give any reader enough information concerning what happened in detail.

To buy Ekaterinburg – Amazon/Waterstones

To buy Murder of the Romanovs – Amazon/Waterstones

4: The Russian Court at Sea: The Last Day of a Great Dynasty by Frances Welch

This is a relatively new and interesting book, mainly because it doesn’t focus on the last 51aglyjunplTsar in a sense but what happened to his extended family after Nicholas and Alexandra’s deaths.
It tells the story of when 17 of the Russian royal family went into exile on the HMS Marlborough in April 1919, carrying some of the most prominent members of the family – including Nicholas II mother, his sister and the Crown Prince Felix Yussapov, once coming from the richest family in Russia and cited as Rasputin’s murder.
It details the family’s flee from Russia, with remnants of their old grand life – priceless pieces of art and jewelry – wrapped up and stored in blankets and the frankly bizarre experience it was for all of them and those aboard the Marlborough.
This is a interesting book, because it does follow where the Romanov lines stretch out all over Europe and America and shows the rapid decline from riches-to-rags that some of them faced, and it doesn’t focus on Nicholas at all. It focuses on how their deaths affect the family and how they, in effect, continued the Romanov line away from Russia and their people.
This is a breath-of-fresh-air novel for giving a different view on what happened to the Romanovs, and I highly recommend it.

To buy this book – Waterstones/Amazon

5: The Romanovs: Love, Power and Tragedy by A.N. Bokhanov

The jewel of my collection. This book is a real gem, and an incredibly hard-to-get book for a good deal, but believe me, it’s so worth the money you spend.
Full to the brink of unseen photos of the family, and fascinating insight to the family. The written information isn’t necessarily new in that sense that you could read it anywhere else, but5164p0vbvwl-_sy344_bo1204203200_ it is the photographs you pay for. It also features diary extracts, scans of unseen letters and everything you need for a visual treat. It’s emotional in some places, just because you do see how the family functioned, not as a royal family but like a normal one and it does beat all over rivals for a photographic book about the Romanovs.
So beautifully illustrated, this is not to be missed! It is also a surprisingly large and heavy book, but well worth the money. I can’t explain to you how much any Romanov fans should get this book.I don’t think I can explain how much I love this book and cherish it in my collection.

To buy this book – Amazon.

So, here are my Top 5 Romanov books. I’ve been collecting books on The Romanovs for years, and there are both positives and negatives for all the books I own. But, I really do recommend these books, as they give you a good insight and starter information for the Russian royal family. So, if you have any questions, please let me know!