Book Review: Death at the Priory by James Ruddick

Death at The Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England, by James Ruddick.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A well-written true crime mystery and an in-depth look into the role of women in the Victorian period. Compelling reading! 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

In 1875, the beautiful and vivacious widow Florence Ricardo married Charles Bravo, a dashing barrister. The marriage seemed a happy one, but one night, four months after the wedding, Bravo collapsed. For the next fifty-five hours, with some of London’s most distinguished physicians in attendance, Charles suffered a slow and agonizing death.  All the doctors agreed: Charles Bravo had been poisoned.

The dramatic investigation that followed was covered in sensational detail by the press. So great was public interest in the case that coverage of it eclipsed the prime minister’s negotiations with Egypt, the Prince of Wales’ Indian tour and the conflict in the Balkans. The finger of suspicion pointed at various times at suicide, at Mrs Cox the housekeeper, at George Griffiths, a stableman with a grudge, and at the remarkable figure of Florence Bravo herself.

Death at the Priory is a gripping historical reconstruction and startling portrait of a woman, a marriage and a society. The brilliant conclusion uses new evidence discovered by the author to demonstrate conclusively who really murdered Charles Bravo.

Favourite Quote

“An unhappy woman with easy access to weedkiller had to be watched carefully.”

(From Death at The Prioy, by James Ruddick, page 172)

Review

It’s not often that I review non-fiction on Sammi Loves Books, because I tend to dip in and out of it, but I read “Death at The Priory” from cover to cover, and was completely gripped by the case.

I enjoy reading about true crime, especially if in an historical context, and especially if said crime remained unsolved, and if it could be classed as a type of “locked room” mystery.  I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the death of Charles Bravo before, given my interest in Victorian history and true crime.  By all accounts, it was covered with relish in the media of the day, eclipsing events on the world stage, even.

Death at the Priory is extremely well-written.  The evidence is presented clearly, in an easy to understand, easy to digest manner, without becoming heavy or requiring the author to dress it up with dramatic prose.  Although some passages are quite graphic – yes, there is a reference to sex in the book’s subtitle – it does help in providing a context in which Charles Bravo’s death occurred.

Florence Bravo, wife of the dead man, was certainly an interesting woman to read about, with a colourful life, and a tragic ending. She had been unfortunate in as much as she’d had to endure two unhappy marriages to husbands who were abusive towards her. The prevailing opinion of the day was that this was a woman’s lot, and she had to suffer it with grace and silence.  Florence, unconventionally for the time, did not believe she had to accept this.  She believed she had a right to be happy and if that meant away from her husband, she would not be forced to remain with him…

Charles Bravo is not painted as a sympathetic character at all, and I found myself having little concern for him in his plight.  I thought the author’s conclusions in his attempt to solve the case were definitely plausible, but of course, after the passage of so much time, and with all those being involved long dead, we will never know the truth for certain.

A fascinating read, one which I recommend to those interested in true crime, or who are interested in the role of women in Victorian society.

Rating

Book Review: Mick’s Archaeology by Mick Aston

Quick Review (read on for the full review)

A fascinating, engaging book, and a treasure to read. Highly recommended!  5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

For Professor and Channel 4 personality Mick Aston, landscape archaeology remains his first love, because it provides so much information about how ordinary communities lived in the past. Environmental archaeology, experimental archaeology, the archaeology of buildings, and his great project at the village of Shapwick in Somerset are just some of the other subjects brought excitingly to life in Mick’s colourful and action-packed pages. Reading this book, it is easy to share the author’s basic conviction that “Archaeology is fun.”

Favourite Quote

I found it very hard to choose just the one, but in the end I went with this from the chapter “Monasteries”:

All of these monasteries were of course dissolved and most demolished, and their inhabitants pensioned off and dispersed in the decade 1530-40, in an act of privatisation (and vandalism) that makes Margaret Thatcher’s government look like a bunch of bungling amateurs.

Review

I have flicked through this book many times (a habit I have with non-fiction books where I read random chapters that grab my interest), but this is the first time I have read it from cover-to-cover.

I loved this book.  It was a fascinating, engaging read.  Professor Mick Aston’s love for archaeology was infectious, and helped to inspire at least one generation’s interest in the subject.  He’s a much missed character.

Full of photographs and anecdotes, as well as information on different aspects of archaeology, this was a treasure to read, and I hated having to put it down.  Having watched Professor Mick Aston on TV since I was a teenager, reading this book was almost like listening to an audiobook – something I don’t think I’ve experienced before. Wonderful!

The chapters covered a variety of topics, from the author’s early years in archaeology to his favourite subjects – buildings, monasteries and medieval settlements.  The final chapter on “Favourite Books and Recommended Reading” was a delight to peruse – who doesn’t like book lists? – and I’ve found a number of interesting titles to add to my reading list.

What I found most endearing is that for a book written to document his own love of the subject and career in it, he is quick to mention other people, be they colleagues, friends and students.  It’s not all about him, but what they achieved together.

If you enjoyed / enjoy watching Time Team, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to you.  I am certain this is a book I will return to read, cover-to-cover, again and again.

Rating


 

Non-Fiction Review: Fighting for Freetown by Comic Relief

Summary:

This short non-fiction read tells the story of a young woman, Ikmatu, and how she helped her community when Ebola struck Sierra Leone in 2014.

Favourite Quote:

But Ikmatu didn’t want to just sit back and do nothing.  She wanted to fight for the home that she loved.

So that’s what she did.

Review:

This really is an inspirational read.  Ikmatu’s story is touching – I can’t imagine being thirteen years old and being witness to the spread of such a terrible disease.  This young woman’s courage and care for the people where she lived, even when they looked at her with fear and suspicion, is truly moving.

I am reminded of the review I wrote for Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith, where I mentioned ” a theme of the book is that Africa can teach the world how to care for other people”, and I think this book not only echoes that sentiment, but reinforces it.

You can read Ikmatu’s inspiring account by heading over to Wattpad.

Rating:

Book Review: Freedom to be Yourself – Mastering the Inner Judge by Avikal E. Costantino

Freedom to be Yourself by Constantino

Freedom to be Yourself is a very deep and thorough look into how our own personal judgement can impact on our lives, and perhaps more importantly, who we are.

The book is divided into four parts: Recognising the Inner Judge, Freedom from the Judge, Being Yourself and Experience.  In these sections we are taken through a variety of subjects including what is the inner judge?, gossip, guilt, sexuality and spirituality.  The book is illustrated throughout with case studies, depicting the lessons mentioned in the chapters, and how the issues were dealt with / overcome.

At the end of each chapter, exercises are provided to help you understand and explore the lessons covered.  These exercises challenge you to face the truth about who you are, and why you are like the way you are; they make you face what is real in your life.  By working through these little exercises, you will come to know yourself better and on a much deeper level.

This book gives us much to think about, especially in terms of who we are, who we appear to be, and how we measure personal worth.  I would recommend this to those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and to those who find themselves asking ‘who am I?’

This book is available as a paperback and an ebook from O-Books.

Book Review: The Mystery of Woman: A Book for Men by Gabriel Morris

The Mystery of Woman by Gabriel Morris

I have never read a book on relationships, so was unsure as to what to expect from this offering.  Although the title of the book would suggest that The Mystery of Woman is aimed solely at men, it is not.  This book is suitable for female readers also.

The purpose of the book is to demystify that which is ‘woman’ – what women want, think, love, feel and need, in the hope that men may get a better grasp and attain a deeper understanding of the women in their lives, ultimately leading to richer, more rewarding relationships. However, it is also an interesting read for the woman trying to understand herself, or even the man in her life.

The book is divided into three sections.  Part 1: Yin vs. Yang, is written by the author, in which he explains, drawing from his own experiences, the fundamentally different aspects of masculine and feminine perspectives and energies, and tries to bring them closer together:

“…men are not all masculine and yang, and women are not all feminine and yin.”

Part 2: Women Speak and Part 3: The Yang Perspective are made up of a selection of essays written by various male and female authors on the subject of relationships, titles of which include Cosmic UnionHow to Love a GoddessA Journey of Love and Learning and How I Love my Wife, offering an array of perspectives on relationships, from the viewpoint of both men and women.

The Mystery of Woman is certainly a thought-provoking read, especially for those who would like to get more out of their relationship.

This book is available as a paperback and an ebook from Soul Rocks.