The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews #BookReview

thewordforTitle: The Word for Woman is Wilderness
Author: Abi Andrews
Series: N/A
Format: Digital ARC, 315 pages
Publication Details: Published February 1st 2018 by Serpent’s Tail
Genre(s): General Fiction; Adventure
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads 

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Erin is 19. She’s never really left England, but she has watched Bear Grylls and wonders why it’s always men who get to go on all the cool wilderness adventures. So Erin sets off on a voyage into the Alaskan wilderness, a one-woman challenge to the archetype of the rugged male explorer.

As Erin’s journey takes her through the Arctic Circle, across the entire breadth of the American continent and finally to a lonely cabin in the wilds of Denali, she explores subjects as diverse as the moon landings, the Gaia hypothesis, loneliness, nuclear war, shamanism and the pill.

Filled with a sense of wonder for the natural world and a fierce love for preserving it, The Word for Woman is Wilderness is a funny, frank and tender account of a young woman in uncharted territory.

Review

I think this is the book I wanted to read when I picked up Flat Broke with Two Goats at the beginning of the year. Although The Word for Woman is Wilderness is fiction, it very much reads as a memoir, as we follow the determined, opinionated, and philosophical Erin on a courageous adventure from England to the Alaskan wilderness via everywhere in between.

I lapped up the first half of this book. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. Protagonist, and narrator Erin is a tour de force of feminist, ecological, and philosophical thought, which effortlessly pours out of her during every step of her solitary wilderness adventure. She discusses inequality, gender, freedom, solitude, nature, space…you name it, Erin has an opinion on it.

One of the main things I found interesting about this book (and there were many) was Erin’s pondering on why it’s OK for men to want to be alone but not women. A woman alone in a pub, restaurant, or cinema still seems to be shocking, or at the very least unusual, today. But no one looks twice at a man sat by himself. And the same goes for explorers.

I feel like Erin answers a lot of her own questions throughout the novel, without really meaning to. Such as the whole being in solitude thing, or not needing/wanting help from men, because whether she likes it or not, she is constantly surrounded by people who she finds it difficult to shake off. People, mostly men, whom also want to help her, but in turn end up holding her back.

It’s certainly a thought-provoking read, especially if you’re interested in gender roles and equality. Are women naturally more sociable than men? Do they crave friendship and warmth more than men? Do men naturally have an urge to protect women, which in turn often seems to undermine them?

The only bad thing I can say about this book is that at times it was a bit much. A bit too intense, a few too many tangents and rants and repetition of thoughts, which made me want to keep putting it down.

It is however, a book that made me daydream and will stay with me for a long time, and for that it was completely worth the read.

unicorn rating 4

 

 

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Blog Tour: Veronica’s Bird #Memoir #BookReview

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Veronica’s Bird, a gritty memoir about a remarkable woman who rose from poverty to unprecedented success in the prison service

About the Book

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Title: Veronica’s Bird
Author: Veronica Bird & Richard Newman
Series: N/A
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication Details: January 22nd 2018 by Clink Street Publishing
Genre(s): Memoir
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads 

Amazon

Veronica Bird was one of nine children living in a tiny house in Barnsley with a brutal coal miner for a father. Life was a despairing time in the Fifties as Veronica sought desperately to keep away from his cruelty. However, a glimmer of hope revealed itself as she, astonishingly to her and her mother, won a scholarship to Ackworth Boarding School where she began to shine above her class-mates.

A champion in all sports, Veronica at last found some happiness. That was until her brother-in-law came into her life. It was as if she had stepped from the frying pan into the fire.

He soon began to take control over her life removing her from the school she adored, two terms before she was due to take her GCEs, so he could put her to work as cheap labour on his market stall. Abused for many years by these two men, Veronica eventually ran away from him and applied to the Prison Service, intuiting that it was the only safe place she could trust.

Accepted into the Prison Service at a time when there were few women working in the industry, Veronica applied herself every day to learning her new craft even training in Holloway Prison where Myra Hindley was an inmate. With no wish to go outside the prison, Veronica remained inside on-duty. While her colleagues went out to the pub, the theatre or to dine she didn’t feel able to join them.

Her dedication was recognised and she rose rapidly in the Service moving from looking after dangerous women prisoners on long-term sentences to violent men and coming up against such infamous names as The Price sisters, Mary Bell and Charles Bronson. The threat of riots was always very close and escapes had to be dealt with quickly.

After becoming a Governor, Veronica was tasked with what was known within the Service as a ‘basket case’ of a prison. However, with her diligence and enthusiasm Veronica managed to turn it around whereupon it became a model example to the country and she was recognised with an honour from the Queen. With this recognition the EU invited her to lead a team to Russia and her time in Ivanovo Prison, north east of Moscow, provides an illuminating and humorous insight into a different prison culture.

Through a series of interviews with Richard Newman —author of the bestselling A Nun’s Story— Veronica’s Bird reveals a deeply poignant story of eventual triumph, is filled with humour and compassion for those inside and will fascinate anyone interested in unique true life stories, social affairs and the prison system.

 

Excerpt

Veronica’s time training in the old Holloway prison was an eye opener for her, particularly when she came face to face with Myra Hindley but there were others, just as evil inside…

Myra’s (Hindley) reputation was powerful as all truly evil people impress, in a sick, sad way. Outside the prison, following the escape plot, children had to be reassured it was safe to go outside, and mothers would glance across the street as they waited for their children to come out of school. There was no way they were going to allow them to walk home alone despite being told she was safe inside her cell. Such was the status she ‘enjoyed’ but remember, she was not a celebrity, manipulative, yes, evil very, but don’t let us fall into the trap of giving her a cult status.

I write in some detail about Myra Hindley’s time in Holloway. Although she was carefully moved about the country from prison to prison, a fellow prisoner was able to get to her in an unguarded moment. The prisoner’s name was Judith, a dangerous psychotic. She was apt to flip from eating out of your hand at one moment to a sudden and unsafe rage. This day, for whatever reason, Judith launched herself at the Moors murderer and managed to throw her over a high balustrade where Myra landed on the security nets strung across the light wells to prevent suicides. Such was the force used, Myra’s head was smashed in and she had to have plastic surgery to repair the damage. These incidents occur in the flash of an eye and those eyes need to be in the back of one’s head.

Let me stay with Judith for a moment. When she was at Styal prison she climbed one night out of her cell window which had no bars, urged on by the knowledge it was New Year’s Eve. She shinned down a drainpipe (yes, really), into a workman’s yard where there was a conveniently stacked set of ladders. (You cannot make this stuff up). Selecting one of the long ladders, Judith climbed out before walking off holding out her thumb as she went. Who should be the first to stop and help her but an off-duty policeman. (I told you it could not be made into a film – no-one would believe it). He said goodbye to Judith, a dangerous psychotic, at the start of a motorway and drove off secure in the knowledge he had helped a lady in distress. Having enjoyed a night’s celebration through into the New Year, she finally turned up at a friend’s house in Swansea at three in the morning. She had managed to remain unchallenged for over twelve hours as a friendly inmate had signed the register at seven in the morning for her. This meant she remained unnoticed until lunchtime when the duty officer saw her name was not in the book. The alarm was raised; the hunt was on but Judith was well gone. The police finally apprehended her in her friend’s cellar and took her back. Red and faces were two words which probably came to mind several times that day with the prison officers, and no doubt, those ladders were securely locked up. And, as for that milkman…

This checking was all part of the eternal need to know how many prisoners there were at any one time in any part of the prison. To do so, numbers were checked four times a day, at seven in the morning, when Judith’s friend stood in for her, at lunch, in the afternoon and when the night duty staff arrived. When prisoners were moved around the prison or had to leave to go to a trial for example, chalk boards were constantly updated. As one prisoner left, the number was rubbed out and a revised figure inserted. When they came back the number was altered again. The boards were divided into sections, such as Remand, Trials and Section the last was where a prisoner had to be transferred to the hospital section. Pretty low- tech in those days but it worked, usually.

As I came to the end of my eight weeks I was skilled in controlling fighting prisoners, night patrolling, interpersonal skills, gate duty, the switchboard and…. counting.

I was ready for Wakefield.

My Thoughts

I work in a prison library and I’m constantly surprised and interested in prison life, so I was thrilled to be offered a spot on the blog tour for this memoir.

I’m ashamed to say that I’d not heard of Veronica Bird despite all of her achievements in the prison service. I was eager to learn about her life, why she joined the prison service at a time when very few women did, and how it affected her.

Veronica’s Bird is a compelling read. I was gripped by her difficult childhood, which was a surprise as I thought I would have been more interested once she entered HMPS, but this was not the case. It’s a wonderful story of bravery and triumph from the very beginning.

I enjoyed following Veronica as she embarked on a career in the service with a driving ambition for promotion after promotion. I’m not sure I could ever be that driven, but work was Veronica’s whole life – she had little else – so it made sense that she wanted to be the best.

Many of Veronica’s anecdotes are interesting and insightful, and the pages flew by, but I did feel like there was something missing, and that was emotion. Veronica’s time in the various prisons she worked are told in almost a clinical fashion. I wanted to know how she felt about her first day, about the prisoners she met. How she felt about Myra Hindley, her colleagues, etc. But I felt like most of her memories were devoid of emotion and intimacy. She was doing a job and that was that. This is the only thing that let the book down for me.

There’s no question that Veronica is an astounding woman, who has achieved more than most us ever will, and her story is one that deserves to be read. I only wish that by the end of the book I felt like I knew her, but I didn’t.

She remains an enigma!

unicorn rating 3

About the authors: After thirty-five years working for the Prison Service, Veronica Bird is now retired and living in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. She is still an active proponent of the justice system and continues to lecture across the country and is a supporter of Butler Trust, which acknowledges excellence within the prison system.

A qualified architect and Swiss-trained hotelier, Richard Newman enjoyed a forty-year career designing and managing hotels worldwide before retiring in 2001. Since then he has gone on to publish a number of novels: The Crown of Martyrdom, The Horse that Screamed, The Potato Eaters, The Green Hill, Brief Encounters and most recently The Sunday Times bestseller, A Nun’s Story. He is currently working on a new novel about retirement and an autobiography of his time in the Middle East. He lives happily with his wife in Wetherby, West Yorkshire where he enjoys being close to his family.

Thanks to Rachel @ Authoright for arranging this tour

 

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Authors, publishers, agents…If you would like me spotlight, review, or be part of your blog tour please get in touch via the contacts page

Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine #BookReview #YA

 

princeofshadowsTitle: Prince of Shadows
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: N/A
Format: Paperback, 368 pages
Publication Details: February 4th 2014 by Allison & Busby
Genre(s): YA; Retellings
Disclosure? Nope, I borrowed it from the library.

Goodreads 

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From the author of the bestselling Morganville Vampires series comes an exciting retelling of the classic love story, Romeo and Juliet.

‘A plague! A plague on both your houses!’

In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and – if they survive – marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.

Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona – and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona.

Review

I have to say I was pretty sceptical going into this but I was intrigued regardless. Having read Caine’s Morganville Vampire series (or most of them at least), I was pretty shocked to find this in the library. A Shakespeare retelling, really? Hmm…

You can’t help but love the tale of the two doomed lovers, right? And you know what, this wasn’t a bad retelling. It’s told from Benvolio’s POV, who is forcibly entrusted to keep his cousin and Capulet heir, Romeo, on the straight and narrow. But that pesky boy has a habit of getting into serious trouble and falling in love with all the wrong girls. Then there’s his bff Mercutio with his own doomed love Tomasso, both of whom will be killed if discovered. Poor Benvolio has got a lot on his plate!

On one hand I really enjoyed this book. I liked reading from Benvolio’s point of view. It was an action-packed, fun retelling with a modern twist. The pages flew by. But on the other hand I did find myself cringing a lot. ‘Shakespeare turning in his grave’ was a phrase which often sprang to mind. But I guess there would be no point in retelling it without a new spin on the traditional.

I felt like the whole business with the curse was a double-edged sword. It made the story new and fresh, and Caine does paranormal very well, such is her remit! But for me, it meant that the story lost all its romance. Which is surely the point of any Romeo & Juliet story?

I really respect Rachel Caine for taking on such an iconic story and introducing a fantasy element. It’s a pretty bold move, and I think it mostly worked. Her writing is always so readable. Not one for the purists though, obviously.

unicorn rating 3

Retribution Rails by Erin Bowman #BookReview #YA

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retributionr

Title: Retribution Rails
Author: Erin Bowman
Series: Vengeance Road #2
Format: Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Publication Details: November 7th 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre(s): YA; Adventure; Historical Fiction; Western
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads 

 

REDEMPTION IS NEVER FREE
When Reece Murphy is forcibly dragged into the Rose Riders gang because of a mysterious gold coin in his possession, he vows to find the man who gave him the piece and turn him over to the gang in exchange for freedom. Never does he expect a lead to come from an aspiring female journalist. But when Reece’s path crosses with Charlotte Vaughn after a botched train robbery and she mentions a promising rumor about a gunslinger from Prescott, it becomes apparent that she will be his ticket to freedom—or a noose. As the two manipulate each other for their own ends, past secrets are unearthed, reviving a decade-old quest for revenge that may be impossible to settle.

In this thrilling companion to Vengeance Road, dangerous alliances are formed, old friends meet new enemies, and the West is wilder than ever.


Review

Vengeance Road was a tour de force, so I was thrilled when I heard there was going to be a sequel (of sorts – more on that later), and although it’s not released until November, I couldn’t wait. I devoured it ASAP.

And you know what, I wasn’t disappointed. Thank the unicorns!!

Retribution Rails is a companion novel, not a direct sequel, so if you missed out on Vengeance Road you need not worry (although you really should read it!), there are two new plucky main characters to focus on, and it’s set around ten years after the first book.

Charlotte Vaughn is a young aspiring journalist who is determined to succeed despite all the odds that are stacked against her. Inspired by her hero (and real-life feminist icon) Nellie Bly she takes matters into her own hands and heads off in search of a story worthy of being her big break. A story so big that the newspapers won’t be able to turn her down. Even if she is a woman.

When Charlotte’s train is targeted by the fearless and ruthless Rose Riders, it could be the answer to her prayers, or it could be the death of her. Her encounter with the infamous Rose Kid sets in motion a whole train map of trouble, leading her on a wild west adventure that’s a little more than she bargained for.

This book was a rip-roaring adventure full of heart. Erin Bowman’s ability to bring history to life with a fresh and modern outlook is nothing short of a revelation, and I really think she’s paved the way for a whole new strand of YA. It’s a great, empowering story for young girls, and full of action for any thrill-seeker.

I couldn’t remember the ins and outs of Vengeance Road going into this (probably because I’m old and drink too much), just that I really enjoyed it, but as we are reunited with Kate and Jessie from the first book it all slowly came back to me. It was so nice to back in their company and see how life had panned out for them ten years on.

I loved everything about it. The adventure, the romance, the historical accuracies, the suspense, the heart-break, the everything. More please!

Have ALL THE UNICORNS.

unicorn rating