Miss Nightingale’s Nurses – Kate Eastham

Ada Houston’s brother, and only surviving family, goes missing on Liverpool Docks. As she strongly suspects he has ended up on a ship to the Crimea, she follows and ends up becoming a nurse, helping the wounded of the Crimean War. Set in the 1850s, through Ada’s journey we find out about the origins of nursing as a profession, and about the Crimean War. It’s a really enjoyable read and I learnt loads from it too.

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breakfast.

In all honesty, I would never have picked this book to read in a million years. It doesn’t have a cover that appeals to me – it slightly makes me judge it and want to run away. I read it because it was chosen for a book club I’m in. And even more interestingly, Kate Eastham IS IN THE BOOK CLUB. No pressure then… I approached it with trepidation, but genuinely enjoyed it. I’m not even just being nice. It’s a really good book. The book club discussion was also really good because Kate was there (BRAVE!) and so we learnt a lot about the process of getting published too. It was a great night at book club!

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theming my picture with some NURSING STUFF

Ada Houston is a great character. She’s strong and quite feisty, without it being over the top. I loved the ending, which I won’t spoil here, but let’s just say that I was dreading one thing happening, and that thing didn’t happen, and I was very happy. Hahaha. She encounters Florence Nightingale briefly, on her way to the front. There she has a lot more to do with Mary Seacole.

I didn’t really know anything about Mary Seacole before reading Miss Nightingale’s Nurses, or much about the Crimean War at all. Coincidentally, my five year old daughter has been learning about Mary Seacole at school, and she saw the cover of Miss Nightingale’s Nurses and asked if the lady on the cover was Mary Seacole! I mean, no clearly not, but she recognised the type of nurses outfit from the Crimean War times. She then went on the tell me some facts about Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale (like before them, you could just do a job if you decided to, and then afterwards you had to be trained. They made hospitals clean. Florence had a lamp. And they were from 200 THOUSAND years ago. So close). So yeh, this book provided some sort of idyllic, educational moment in my household. Ha!

 

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That chocolate was completely EPIC.

Ada’s adventure allows us to travel right to the front and get fully involved in some Crimean War action. We get to find out about the horror of war for the soldiers, and also for the supporting people like the doctors and nurses. It’s definitely not a sanitised look at the effects of war – there are some quite detailed medical bits in this book! But above all else, it’s a good story and I enjoyed reading it.

This is the first in a series of books that are all generally themed around the history of nursing. The next book is about nursing after the Crimean War, in Liverpool. Where the Nightingale nurses came home and became established in hospitals.  I think this one will be interesting too!

 

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Books Bought and Read September 2018

Books Bought

I went a bit mental in the first part of the month…

Firstly, a book arrived in a subscription box I get. I keep thinking this doesn’t count as a bought book, but I clearly pay an extortionate amount for the box! It was I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley.  

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Then Oxfam books went and had a 3 for 2 sale!

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
  • Life on the Edge: the Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden
  • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

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Eagle-eyed numbers people might be curious about me buying 5 books during a three for two sale. Well I also bought four kids books too.

Next I found a great sale on Amazon and bought ten books one lunchtime.

So what did I buy:

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  •  The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I already own one unread copy of this, but I keep hearing it’s so good I’m going to give this someone for a xmas pressie.
  • Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
  • This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay 
  • Artemis by Andy Weir. I LOVED The Martian, so have high hopes, but a friend recently told me this books is WEIRD. I need to read it soon to see if I agree or not!
  • A bunch of Penguin Little Black Classics
    • Only Dull People Are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde
    • Why I Am So Clever by Friedrich Nietzsche
    • The Suffragettes by Various
    • The Fall of Icarus by Ovid
    • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

I’m sorry I can’t see or hear the word manifesto without this song jumping immediately into my head.

Anyway, here’s the haul again:

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I also around this time bought Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. Probably because it’s got a science word in the title. (Not pictured! I didn’t photograph it when it arrived. A clear sign of too much book buying going on). I now have no idea why I actually bought this.

Then a few weeks went buy and I bought myself Cooking With Columbo: Suppers with the Shambling Sleuth by Jenny Hammerton, well because, just look at it. I just wanted to own it.

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Books Read

Finished five books this month. Much better than the one I managed in August! Click the title name for a link to my review.

Out of the Blue – Sophie Cameron

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The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

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Crudo – Olivia Laing

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The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

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White Tears – Hari Kunzru

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White Tears – Hari Kunzru

White Tears is the story of an audio nerd and his descent into obsession with a ghostly, cursed song. Really, White Tears is about privilege, appropriation, and the bizarre obsession with ‘realness’ and authenticity in music.

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Seth is an audio obsessed loser, who somehow teams up with a rich, trust-fund kid, Carter, who is similarly audio obsessed. Carter’s obsession is for analogue equipment and authenticity. This basically means he is obsessed with very old recordings of blues songs, exclusively sung by black singers.

One day, when out recording the sounds of the city, Seth records a man singing a blues song in a New York park. Carter becomes enthralled by the recording and makes it sound like it was recorded in the 1930s, and gives the artist a name: Charlie Shaw. They then meet an old record collector who insists the recording is genuine and has heard it before.  Except it seems it was… and anyone who has had dealings with the song, have been cursed by it…

This excellent book about cultural appropriation of black culture by white people, is also a gripping read. Slight elements of a ghost story come into the story as Seth and Carter get more deeply pulled into the world of Charlie Shaw and the deep south and the origins of blues music. In fact, the later part of the book is quite experimental. You lose track of time, and there are strange episodes that take place in the present, but also the 1930s, and other times. It becomes a very confused timeline, and I took this to be showing how this sort of exploitation has been going on for time eternal. Issues of who can, and should, profit from old recordings of blues music are explored through Seth’s demise. The past seems to be coming to the present to get revenge.

I listened to White Tears as an audio book. I really enjoyed it, and was drawn into the strange style of the latter part of the book. I would highly recommend it.

Top 10 Longest Books I’ve Read

This post is part of Top 10 Tuesdays by ThatArtsyReaderGirl. Every week is a different theme, and lots of bloggers join in. The other posts on this theme can be found over at thatartsyreadergirl.com. I also know it’s Wednesday! but I never get time on a Tuesday.

I’m choosing to go by number of pages, according to goodreads. Some of my top 10 were trilogys – but clearly just chucking three books together can’t possibly count, so I’m ignoring those! and if that counted, then adding up all the Sharpe books would mean I’d read a book that was thousands of pages long, and clearly I haven’t. I’ve read about 20 normal sized books.

What you’re going to learn from this list is that I am not afraid of a long book, or a series, and that I sometimes read total trash. Only two books in this top ten are not part of a series. This just shows what the power of getting drawn into a series can do! I choose very carefully when I decide if I want to read a book one of anything…

10. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin. 784 pages.

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A Song of Fire and Ice book 2. I loved this whole series so much that I read the lot in six weeks. Then I discovered the series wasn’t finished, and now I believe IT NEVER WILL. I loved these books so much I barely noticed the books were so big. Four make it into this top ten. And I mostly gave them four of five star ratings.

9. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. 848 pages.

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A Song of Fire and Ice book 1. Five star brilliantness. I enjoyed the tv version (tits and dragons, what’s not to love? well, a lot really, it’s quite problematic 😀 but it is also very watchable) but we all know how much better the books are, right? yes!

 

8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling. 870 pages.

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Harry Potter book 5. Wow this one was a big book for kids!

7. Appassionata by Jilly Cooper. 896 pages.

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Rutshire Chronicles book 5. Oh we’ve hit the Jilly Cooper section. I didn’t rate this one that much really, but I was on book five and so heavily invested in the series!

6. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. 912 pages.

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Ooh Becky Sharpe. Loved her character, but only gave this three stars. That’s quite damning from me.

5. Riders by Jilly Cooper. 919 pages

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Rutshire Chronicles book 1. Oh I would never have read this huge book, with THAT cover had I not heard the devotion of so many of my friends to Rupert Campbell-Black and his antics. Show jumping and rich, posh people. It’s not what I normally look for in a book. But I urge you to go and read this one of you haven’t already. It’s a super fun read, chaps!

4. Wicked by Jilly Cooper. 1008 pages.

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This is book 8 of the Rutshire Chronicles. It’s perhaps worth noting that I only gave this a one star rating. That means I absolutely fucking hated it. But I still read it?? what is wrong with me!

3. A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin. 1061 pages

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A Song of Fire and Ice book 4.  Another great instalment in this series. I can’t even really say anything more about this series, so instead here is the fantastic Britney Spears song, Hot as Ice, that I think of whenever I hear the name ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’.

2. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin. 1125 pages

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A Song of Fire and Ice book 5. Book five and I gave this one FIVE STARS. It’s not often that a series still holds up by book 5. Are you tempted to give them a go now? If you do, just remember, the next book is just never going to appear, so you will be as sad as I am about it.

 1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. 1276 pages

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Wow was this hard to get through? (YES IT WAS). It was a book club book, and if it hadn’t been I doubt I would have got through it. I liked the first half, and disliked the second half. As it turns out this was such a bad book club book, that book club never met to even talk about it, and we didn’t do book club for about a year after. This book is a book club killer! But I still gave it four stars. Perhaps that was just the relief it was over!

Surprises from this list? Where is Crime and Punishment? I felt like I deserved an award when I’d finished that. Surely it was 3000 tedious pages long??

 

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

This last few months my reading has been very Iliad themed. First I read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, about Achilles relationship with Patroclus. Then I read (two thirds) of The actual Iliad (reviews of half of it here in part 1 and part 2). Now I find myself reading The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. It’s The Iliad from the point of view of Achilles’ war prize Briseis. She who is the cause of the entire plot of The Iliad.

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Chocolate Guiness Cake. Happy Birthday to me. 

Briefly, Achilles tells the big boss Agamemnon to give back a girl he has taken as a war prize, because her Father has come with a ransom to beg for her to be returned. The Father happens to be a priest of Apollo, and with Agamemnon’s refusal, Apollo is reigning down death and destruction. Agamemnon concedes, but says he will now take Achilles war prize Briseis as compensation. Achilles says if he takes her, he won’t fight anymore. Achilles is their best fighter, so this is a serious threat. Briseis is returned to Achilles when he returns to the fighting after his good buddy, Patroclus is killed.

The little we know about Briseis from The Iliad includes that her Father, Mother, Husband, and three brothers died at the hands of Achilles. But that also her relationship with him is considered by both of them to be maybe more marriage-like, and Briseis grieves for Patroclus when he dies.

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I read a lot of this on my birthday, as the pictures show. 

In The Silence of the Girls we get Briseis point of view from her life in the city of Lyrnessus, her witnessing the arrival of Achilles and the subsequent murder of all her family, her experience in Achilles’ house, the change to being Agamemnon’s slave, and her return to Achilles and situation after his death. (Think I’m ok with these plot reveals, as The Iliad is quite well known… ).

I really enjoyed reading about what the women were doing, while the men were hacking each other to death. It has a lot to say about the erasure of female voices in literature, though it doesn’t come across as preachy at all. And it puts the story of women at the heart of this retelling of The Iliad, and I really, really enjoyed that.

As later Priam comes secretly to the enemy camp to plead with Achilles for the return of his son Hector’s body, he says: “‘I do what no man before me has ever done, I kiss the hands of the man who killed my son.”
Those words echoed round me, as I stood in the storage hut, surrounded on all sides by the wealth Achilles had plundered from burning cities. I thought: “And I do what countless women before me have been forced to do. I spread my legs for the man who killed my husband and my brothers.

I prioritised reading The Silence of the Girls because I’m going to a Manchester Literature Festival event with Pat Barker tonight! She is going to be in conversation with Kamila Shamsie, who wrote Home Fire that I also loved. I can’t wait!

Crudo by Olivia Laing

I was drawn to Crudo when I saw it’s cover, and read the description – it’s about a summer and a marriage and Brexit and the world generally seeming to fall apart, and a forty year old woman struggling with all of this.

I was drawn to the cover, actually I was repulsed by it. It makes me feel physically sick to look at it. I needed to know what this book was like.

Added to that, there are supportive quotes on the back cover of Crudo by both Viv Albertine, and Jilly Cooper. I am totally sold. What a combo.

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From the back of the book:

Kathy is a writer. Kathy is getting married. It’s the summer of 2017 and the whole world is falling apart.

Olivia Laing radically rewires the novel in a brilliant, funny and emphatically raw account of love in the apocalypse. A Goodbye to Berlin for the twenty-first century, Crudo charts in real time what it was like to live and love in the horrifying summer of 2017, from the perspective of a commitment-phobic peripatetic artist who may or may not be Kathy Acker.

From a Tuscan hotel for the super-rich to a Brexit-paralysed UK, Kathy spends the first summer of her forties trying to adjust to marriage. But it’s not only Kathy who’s changing. Political, social and natural landscapes are all in peril. Fascism is on the rise, truth is dead and the planet’s hotting up. Is it really worth learning to love when the end of the world is nigh? And how do you make art, let alone a life, when one rogue tweet could end it all?

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enjoying the park

I enjoyed Crudo, but it’s a little bit strange… It’s written as though it is Kathy Acker writing it, who is a real person, and there are references throughout the text to work by Kathy Acker. I didn’t know who Kathy Acker was before starting to read Crudo (disgraceful, I know). I’ve since done some reading on her, but maybe it would help to know something about her before starting this book. It reminded me of Autumn by Ali Smith – another book anchored around Brexit, with its references to Pauline Boty.

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From her wikipedia introduction:

Kathy Acker (April 18, 1947 – November 30, 1997) was an American experimental novelist, punk poet, playwright, essayist, postmodernist and sex-positive feminist writer. She was influenced by the Black Mountain School poets, the writer William S. Burroughs, the artist and theoretician David Antin, French critical theory, feminist artists Carolee Schneeman and Eleanor Antin, and by philosophy, mysticism, and pornography.

I’m grateful to Crudo for making me aware of Kathy Acker.

But back to the actual book. Kathy is getting married, to a man much older than herself. She didn’t think she ever would, and she doesn’t seem that enthused about the whole thing, but she feels confident in the love between herself and her nearly husband. Also, the world is falling apart. Its the summer of 2017.

Her husband’s sad eyes upset her but also infuriated her, she detested being responsible for anyone else’s happiness. Like can’t you just figure out what you need and get it? Why do you have to keep asking me?

Oh god, so relatable.

 

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Parts of this story are from Olivia Laing’s life, parts are from Kathy Acker’s life and writing, and parts are pure fiction. It’s a strange mix. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting (and now I can’t even describe what I WAS expecting). The events in the novel are quite small and insignificant – there’s no high drama. It ended up being a quiet novel; though the world events providing the backdrop are high drama and potentially world ending (e.g. the potential for Donald Trump to take us all to our deaths in a nuclear war via a tweet).

Laing wrote it in real time, and the settings and the main events follow what she was doing at the time. It’s interesting to know this now, but I only knew this after I’d finished reading it – I don’t tend to read reviews of books before I read them because I don’t want to have the plot revealed to me.

So overall it’s a bit strange, quite short, interesting in a wider context to do with how it was written and its inspiration, and I would recommend it if it sounds interesting to you at all!

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop is a sweet love story about a nice man who runs a music shop, and an unusual German lady.

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Frank, the shop owner, also has a special skill. He can tell exactly what music a person needs to listen to. What they *really* need at that moment in their life. And he’s kind. And he will only sell vinyl. He’s very strict about that. But it’s 1988 and vinyl is on its way out.

Franks’s shop is on a little tucked away street of independent shops called Unity Street. There’s a bakers, a funeral parlour, a tattooist, a florist, and a shop for religious iconography. All struggling to survive against the big chains in town. The cast of characters in Frank’s world are great. The other shop owners, and various regulars in the shop, were all quirky enough to be interesting without being unbelievable.

Enter Ilse, the unusual German lady with a green coat who rocks Franks’s world. Ilse is the only person who Frank can’t decide what music she wants.

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I liked The Music Shop. It’s very sweet and it has a quite sweet ending. But the sweet ending also made me feel really quite sad. It was bittersweet. I can’t explain more without giving the plot away.

I struggled to picture Ilse. Not having a picture of her in my mind – age, shape, anything really – made is tricky for me to connect with her character. But I’m now wondering if that was the point… like Frank couldn’t read her… and neither could I… ooh…

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I really liked Frank and his shop though. The (many) descriptions of music were really enjoyable too. Frank seemed like such a sweetheart and I just felt this even more as his childhood, and his relationship with his mother, is revealed to us as we go through the book.

Overall it was a nice read. As a music fan, I loved all the music references, and music chat. But it’s a sweet love story, easy to read, and has some fab characters.