Book Review: Dreaming of Tuscany by T. A. Williams

The glamour of Hollywood. The magic of the Tuscan countryside. One big decision…

Beatrice Kingdom (Bee to her friends) wakes up in hospital in Tuscany. After an accident on a film set leaves her burned and scarred, she feels her whole life has been turned upside down.

Bee is offered the chance of recuperating in a stunning Tuscan villa in the company of a world-famous film star, the irascible Mimi Robertson. Here amid the vines and olive groves, Bee quickly finds there’s more to the place than meets the eye, not least a certain Luca (and Romeo the dog).

As she comes to terms with her injuries and her new life takes shape, Bee will have to travel a road of self-discovery… and make a huge decision.

What I Thought:

Today I bring you another of T. A. Williams’ Dreaming Of… series! I’ll admit right away that this is a review full of praise, because I love this series of novels which are set in a variety of Italian and French locations and are the very definition of escapism.

In these uncertain times of doom and gloom, to pick up a novel that is full of sunshine is very welcome indeed and Dreaming of Tuscany certainly fills the brief!

I think what I like most about these books is that the main characters, although set down in unusual situations, are just ordinary women. In this book, Bee is highly relatable and is a clever, educated woman who is making opportunities for herself in her chosen career.

Although the situation that puts Bee in an Italian villa with a Hollywood actress is unconventional, it’s easy to roll with it as the book is written with such charm.

You can tell when you read any of his books that T. A. Williams (Trevor) knows what he’s talking about as he paints the scenes in the towns, villages and countryside of Tuscany so vividly that it brings it all to life as you read. Having travelled in that area many years ago, there was plenty that I recognised.

One tip when reading these books is to look out for the Black Lab – there’s always one in there and they all have unique characters but always, always, have a deep love of food!

This book, and the others in the series, are definitely recommended – there’s a new one coming out early next year, so I’m looking forward to it already…

Dreaming of Tuscany is published by Canelo.

To find out more about T. A. Williams and his other books, why not check out his website? Alternatively, you can connect with him on Twitter.

Please note: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Blitz: Charles and Ada: the computer’s most passionate partnership by James Essinger

The partnership of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace was one that would change science forever.

They were an unlikely pair – one the professor son of a banker, the other the only child of an acclaimed poet and a social-reforming mathematician – but perhaps that is why their work is so revolutionary. 

They were the pioneers of computer science, creating plans for what could have been the first computer. They each saw things the other did not; it may have been Charles who designed the machines, but it was Ada who could see their potential. 

But what were they like? And how did they work together? Using previously unpublished correspondence between them , Charles and Ada explores the relationship between two remarkable people who shared dreams far ahead of their time.

What I Thought:

A rare foray into non-fiction for me today, and a subject I find quite fascinating – the very earliest inventions that can be traced to modern computing and the work of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace.

In Charles and Ada, James Essinger paints a vivid protrait of the relationship between Babbage and Lovelace from their first meeting, through to her tragically early death from cancer, using primary sources researched over what must have been endless hours in the British Library.

Although the book makes no commitment on the true nature of their relationship, it’s clear from the quoted passages from their letters that Babbage and Lovelace had a very close and warm friendship at the very least. I know it’s tempting to want to assign a romantic angle to these kinds of historical relationships, but I like that this book stops short from doing so, as we simply don’t know.

There is a great deal of information here about Charles and Ada, and their revolutionary ideas about maths and inventions that would prove to be before their time and it’s clear that the book has been lovingly and comprehensively researched. The extracts from their letters and written works are chosen well to show the essence of the pair as people, but also their fondness for each other, despite Babbage clearly being a somewhat irascible man!

If I had to bring up anything I would improve about the book, it’s that I would love to have heard more from Ada – although she obviously features heavily, I still feel that more could be said about her, especially given the very firm views of those who would make her a footnote in the life of Charles Babbage, rather than a valued confidante and an equal in mathematical ability.

This book is an excellent starting point in examining the lives of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, with a comprehensive list of the source material enclosed meaning that, should you wish to read further about either of these revolutionary figures, you can find many excellent places in which to start.

Charles and Ada is published by The History Press.

To find out more about James Essinger and his work, you can check out his website. Alternatively, why not connect with him on Twitter?

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin

The house at the end of the lane burned down, and Rita Frost and her teenage ward, Bevan, were never seen again. The townspeople never learned what happened. Only Mae and her brother Rossa know the truth; they spent two summers with Rita and Bevan, two of the strangest summers of their lives…

Because nothing in that house was as it seemed: a cat who was more than a cat, and a dark power called Sweet James that lurked behind the wallpaper, enthralling Bevan with whispers of neon magic and escape.

And in the summer heat, Mae became equally as enthralled with Bevan. Desperately in the grips of first love, she’d give the other girl anything. A dangerous offer when all that Sweet James desired was a taste of new flesh…

What I Thought:

Having loved Spare and Found Parts, picking up Other Words for Smoke was very easy indeed. For a start, it’s a thing of beauty – I’m a sucker for foil details and a sprayed edge – but the beauty continues within, with some of the most lyrical and magical writing that you could ever hope to read.

Magic is at the heart of this book, the magic created by women and the raw, primal magic that exists beyond the world. As the early stages of the book are seen from Rossa and Mae’s points of view, the magical elements of the house are revealed slowly as we are let in on the many secrets hidden in the walls,

I was lucky enought to hear Sarah Maria Griffin speak at YALC this year, and she explained that the house is a representation of Ireland, and Irish history built on the suffering of women and that really comes through clearly. There are instances in Rita’s life which draw on the Magdalene laundries and, while those institutions might be shuttered for good, their reach in Ireland and in the lives of these characters is long and deep.

There are several different voices at play here, which allows us to delve more deeply into each character, with Bevan being interesting and likeable/unlikeable/compelling all at the same time. She toys with the forces in the house and can’t stop herself, even when she wants to and causes a quiet kind of havoc until the walls finally come crashing down.

I can’t be particularly more specific in this review for fear of spoiling, but there are some passages that you will read over and over again, as they are more akin to poetry than prose, but they still push the story forward at a comfortable pace.

You’d really be doing yourself a favour if you picked up any of Sarah Maria Griffin’s work, there’s just something undefinable about her writing that, like this book, has magic in it.

Other Words for Smoke is published by Titan Books.

To find out more about Sarah Maria Griffin, the best place to find her is on Instagram, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Gorgito’s Ice Rink by Elizabeth Ducie

Two small boys grieving for lost sisters — torn between family and other loves. Can keeping a new promise make up for breaking an old one?

When Gorgito Tabatadze sees his sister run off with a soldier, he is bereft. When she disappears into Stalin’s Gulag system, he is devastated. He promises their mother on her death-bed he will find the missing girl and bring her home; but it is to prove an impossible quest.

Forty years later, Gorgito, now a successful businessman in post-Soviet Russia, watches another young boy lose his sister to a love stronger than family. When a talented Russian skater gets the chance to train in America, Gorgito promises her grief-stricken brother he will build an ice-rink in Nikolevsky, their home town, to bring her home again.

With the help of a British engineer, who has fled to Russia to escape her own heartache, and hindered by the local Mayor who has his own reasons for wanting the project to fail, can Gorgito overcome bureaucracy, corruption, economic melt-down and the harsh Russian climate in his quest to build the ice-rink and bring a lost sister home? And will he finally forgive himself for breaking the promise to his mother?

A story of love, loss and broken promises. Gorgito’s story, told through the eyes of the people whose lives he touched.

What I Thought:

An interesting read today with Gorgito’s Ice Rink by Elizabeth Ducie. Set in post-communist Russia, this dual time novel highlights a larger-than-life figure, striving to prevent his story repeating itself.

The modern section of the novel shows the bureaucracy and corruption of Russia in the post communist era, with British engineers helping to build a solid economy – without much help from local government! At the centre of these efforts stands Gorgito, whose bluff and jolly exterior hides a personal agony and what he views as his failure.

This failure we later learn, is returning his sister, Maria, to their Georgian village after she falls in love with a visiting soldier.

Set in the post-war period, Maria’s story gives us a perspective on the height of the communist era in Russia and the suffering of many groups, including political prisoners, the Jewish population and everyday, ordinary Russians. It really highlights that the chances of being shipped to a prison camp were really quite high, even if you had done nothing wrong and touches on the conditions in these places.

I felt quite invested in Maria’s story – more so I’d have to say than the more modern sections, and I would have loved to read more about her, and this time in Russian history. I suppose that is because I am more of a history buff, and it’s certainly not to say that any parts of the book are bad.

At the time of writing this review, Gorgito’s Ice Rink is priced at only 99p on Kindle and, for what you get for your money, this is an absolute steal.

To find out more about author Elizabeth Ducie and her work, why not check out her website? Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a Blog Blitz to celebrate Gorgito’s Ice Rink and let everyone know that it’s now at a bargain price. There are lots of fab blogs taking part, so do be sure to check out the #GorgitosIceRink hashtag on Twitter…

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald

In 1919, in the wake of the First World War, a group of extraordinary women came together to create the Women’s Engineering Society. They were trailblazers, pioneers and boundary breakers, but many of their stories have been lost to history. To mark the centenary of the society’s creation, Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines brings them back to life.

Their leaders were Katharine and Rachel Parsons, wife and daughter of the engineering genius Charles Parsons, and Caroline Haslett, a self-taught electrical engineer who campaigned to free women from domestic drudgery and became the most powerful professional woman of her age. Also featured are Eleanor Shelley-Rolls, sister of car magnate Charles Rolls; Viscountess Rhondda, a director of thirty-three companies who founded and edited the revolutionary Time and Tide magazine; and Laura Willson, a suffragette and labour rights activist from Halifax, who was twice imprisoned for her political activities.This is not just the story of the women themselves, but also the era in which they lived. Beginning at the moment when women in Britain were allowed to vote for the first time, and to stand for Parliament and when several professions were opened up to them Magnificent Women charts the changing attitudes towards women in society and in the workplace.

What I Thought:

The Victorian era and early 20th Century seems to have been a golden age for technological advancement and invention, but all too often we hear about the inventiveness of men, and history tends to gloss over the contribution made to techological advancement by women.

In Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines, Henrietta Heald tries to put that right by introducing us to a generation of exceptional female engineers on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).

For a start, this is such a readable book, as it makes connections between many well-known inventions and inventors, and then shows where the women involved in these things were subtly written out of the narrative. With the main thrust of the book being the founding of the WES after the First World War, there is a chapter dedicated to those women who answered the call to fill in in the munitions factories when the men were called to war, and were then unceremoniously dumped once the war ended. With blunt instruments like the Restoration of Pre-war Practices bill, there was a sweeping move to put women firmly back into the kitchen but these women were not ready to go quietly.

There is much to induce rage in this book – not least of which is the bill I mentioned above – including women not being granted degrees from Cambridge University until 1948, like a large number of women being turned down for fellowship of industry bodies and many other instances where women were considered to be inferior in brainpower and strength to men, but there are also countless inspirational women who not only break through into their chosen professions, but also hold the door open for younger women to follow them.

From Naval and aeronauctical design, to flying solo around the world, so many different women in a diverse range of fields are represented here in a tribute to the pioneering spirit of the women of the early 20th Century and, with an afterword by Dawn Childs, current President of the the WES, there is much more to look forward to from more Magnificent Women. Although this does come with a caveat – still, only 11% of professional engineers in the UK are women, hopefully a number that will continue to grow with the help of WES and organisations like it.

This is a timely book given recent initiatives to increase the number of women and girls studying STEM subjects and it’s definitely an eye opener. Highly recommended from me, another fantastic project published through Unbound.

To find out more about Henrietta Heald and her work, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines – do be sure to check out some of the other fantastic blogs taking part:

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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