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Book Reviews

Scottish Fairy Tales retold by Philip Wilson

Rediscovering books I loved as a child is such a wonderful feeling. Fairy tales are a staple of everyone’s childhood. There are always beautiful princesses, jealous stepmothers and a heady dose of magic, but every culture gives such a unique twist to them.

This book of Scottish Fairy Tales doesn’t shy away from darkness, including a fair share of poisoning and murder. But the stories are heartwarming too, particularly the ones where siblings defy being pitted against each other and are instead supportive and loving.

Every single tale is enchanting. The illustrations are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and drape the words in a bewitchingly magical atmosphere. I enjoyed it now as much as I did when I was a child – this has definitely inspired me to pick up some more forgotten childhood books!

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Book Reviews

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

I’m so excited to review this book because I love love loved it!

The book follows Queenie, a 25-year-old journalist, around her life in London where she struggles with mental health, racial, sexual, romantic, and friendship issues. Sound like a lot? It is, but one of the best things about this book is that it’s not afraid to explore very real problems that many people go through.

Some people have criticised Queenie’s decisions and found the book hard to get on with because of that. Certainly, it can be difficult watching a character you’ve become attached to act self-destructively, but don’t we all sometimes? Having made many a self-destructive choice in my life, I enjoyed going through Queenie’s journey and emerging on the other side with her. A book where a character acts perfectly holds far less interest than one where they are flawed, but trying.

I found Queenie’s experience with therapy especially moving. Therapy can be a very harrowing thing to go through, and Carty-Williams articulates it so eloquently. This book manages to expertly explore so many different themes, one of the most significant being what it’s like to be a Black British woman living in London. There’s a scene that many POC will find all too familiar: Queenie’s boyfriend’s family member says a racial slur, and everyone acts like Queenie is unreasonable for being offended. Carty-Williams is excellent at subtly yet powerfully putting to paper Queenie’s experience as a Black woman.

In a time where a record number of young people struggle with mental health issues and POC are only starting to really be heard, this book is essential. It tells us that we are not alone and we’re not the only ones going through it all.

I’m now joining about a billion other people (including the British Book Awards) in saying: if you haven’t read this book already, READ IT!

Also – especial shout-out to Kyazike, best character in the book!

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Book Reviews

Cat Poems by Various Writers

Cats and poetry, the perfect combination!

I love poetry books because you can pick them up anytime and have a whole reading experience compacted into a minute. I like having them scattered around the house so I can pick up a poem while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, or the microwave to beep, or any excuse whatsoever!

This book has the cutest cover, and is a lovely little collection of poems about cats by a bunch of incredible poets. Personal highlights include The Cat and the Moon by W.B Yeats, Frail Manuscripts by Ryszard Kyrnicki, Black Cat by Rainer Maria Rilke, The Cat as Cat by Denise Levertov, and – of course – The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear.

This would make a great Christmas gift for any cat lovers in your life!

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Book Reviews

Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin

You’d think a biography would pale in comparison to a flesh-and-blood diary with first-hand descriptions of The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of 1665. Not in this case! Far from being a dry mirror to the diaries, Claire Tomalin’s biography reads almost like a novel, her prose as lively and absorbing as Pepys’ own.

Samuel Pepys is searingly honest and self-aware in his diaries. He impressively avoids the temptation of presenting himself in a favourable light, instead preferring to state events how they happened – even if he ends up coming across badly.

The chapters in this biography are split thematically rather than chronologically, allowing Tomalin to dive deep into Pepys’ mind and experiences without disruption. This structure ensures depth, but doesn’t stop the book from feeling exciting and fast-paced. Tomalin’s analysis seeps into the gaps of Pepys’ diaries and fleshes them out beyond their limited time frame.

Reading this biography was so transporting it often made me feel like a rather voyeuristic fly on Pepys’ wall – although I wasn’t sorry to return to the 21st century after reading of the anaesthetic-less surgery he endured to remove a bladder stone the size of a tennis ball!

I didn’t know much about Pepys before reading this book, and assumed it might be a slow read. Instead, I raced through it like a beach read – it’s utterly gripping and you won’t regret adding it to your bookshelf one bit.

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Book Reviews

The Wolf Hall Trilogy by Hilary Mantel

I am deeply obsessed with Tudor history. Historical fiction, non-fiction, art – absolutely anything Tudor-related. I first read Wolf Hall after it won the Booker Prize in 2009. Even at a young age, I was immediately drawn into Hilary Mantel’s skilful portrayal of Cromwell and the Tudor court. I continued to be enthralled by it throughout her followings books, Bring Up the Bodies, and (finally!) The Mirror and the Light.

This series truly has everything. Compelling characters, sharp, witty prose, and a gripping, high-stakes setting. The Tudor period has undeniably been done to death in all forms of historical fiction, but Hilary Mantel breathed new life into it with her unique take on the previously much-maligned Cromwell.

Once I’d managed to extricate myself from the whirlpool of ‘he saids,’ and ascertain that ‘he’ ALWAYS refers to Cromwell, I couldn’t get enough of Hilary Mantel’s sharp, dialogue-dominant prose. She avoids being laden down by old-style phrasing, resulting in a reading experience that is as urgent and exciting as Cromwell’s own life.

Mantel transforms Cromwell from a figure once seen as unglamorously unpleasant to one who is not only human, but dryly humorous and intelligent. This is a huge asset as we navigate the Tudor court through Cromwell’s observant and somewhat sardonic eyes. Like him, we enter it as outsiders, but by the end of the book – like him – it is impossible for us not to have become thoroughly embroiled in it.

Cromwell’s ending may be common knowledge, but Mantel still managed to maintain both her readers’ and the critics’ enthusiasm for his story over a period of 11 years. I actually got chills when I saw the billboard in Leicester Square with the Tudor Rose and the words ‘So now get up.’ I was so excited to get my hands on The Mirror and the Light after 8 years of waiting!

I was lucky enough to see the Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies stage adaptation by the RSC at the Aldwych Theatre in London. It would be wonderful if they released recordings, or even did another for The Mirror and the Light post-pandemic.

The BBC series with Mark Rylance and Claire Foy was also brilliant. To those who haven’t seen it yet, this is a great time to do it – especially if you’re looking for another excellent historical series to binge after Bridgerton or The Crown.

I couldn’t recommend this trilogy enough to those who haven’t yet picked it up, but if the first two books taking the Booker Prize isn’t convincing enough, I’m not sure what is!