Friday 25 September 2020

Mini Book Reviews | The Five, The Art of Taxidermy & Kids Like Us

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of
these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.


The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold is a really engrossing non-fiction read. I have a big interest in true crime and of course the case of Jack the Ripper is infamous but I confess I hardly knew anything about the victims. This tends to be the case with widely known murder cases, the media often focuses on the murderer instead of the victims. Serial killers such as Jack the Ripper get all the attention and it's easy to forget that the women he killed were human beings with stories of their own which is why I'm so glad that this author decided to bring attention to them.

The writing style of this book is superb, it's so detailed but also manages to remain readable. It's also well researched with a lot of history of the era weaved into these womens lives in order for the reader to really grasp what life was like back then. I really enjoyed getting to know each of the five canonical victims and learning about their lives. It's also an incredibly sad read at times as you read about how these women came to be out on the streets of Whitechapel at the wrong moment in time. 


Lottie collects dead creatures and lovingly cares for them, hoping to preserve them, to save them from disintegration. Her father understands—Lottie has a scientific mind, he thinks. Her aunt wants it to stop, and she goes to cruel lengths to make sure it does.

And her mother? Lottie’s mother died long ago. And Lottie is searching for a way to be close to her.


I'll admit when I requested The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernet on Netgalley I didn't realise it was a book written in verse. I did fall quite easily into the flow of the writing though and it was an exceptionally quick read. This novel follows Lottie, who at 12 years old is still struggling with her mothers death and develops a scientific interest in taxidermy and the preservation of dead animals.
It's a beautifully written book which closely examines how children handle grief and how they often interpret death as a whole. I think it does something that a lot of books about grief aimed towards children don't often do, which is to not sugarcoat anything but also to portray grieving in many different ways at different stages in life. It's quite a morbid topic and it does contain some scenes that describe dead animals quite descriptively, but it does handle it very well and would still be suitable for a middle grade audience.

My only drawbacks were the fact that I couldn't quite work out when this book was supposed to be set. There's a lot of mentions of wars and family member being imprisoned but I still couldn't quite figure out which era they were in. This book was also set in Australia and I was disappointed by the lack of descriptions of the country but maybe that's because it's written in verse rather than a traditional narrative. It also tended to become a tad repetitive and this meant that I was bored at times when reading. 

Martin is an American teen on the autism spectrum living in France with his mom and sister for the summer. He falls for a French girl who he thinks is a real-life incarnation of a character in his favorite book. Over time Martin comes to realize she is a real person and not a character in a novel while at the same time learning that love is not out of his reach just because he is autistic.            


I think Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl was one of the first books I ever requested on Netgalley back in 2017 but I obviously never got round to reading it. I've mentioned before how I'm trying to get my ratio back up before I start requesting again and I knew this needed to be read. I'm still in two minds about how I feel about this book as there was nothing particularly wrong with it but I still wasn't invested or wowed by it. 

This book follows Martin, an austistic teenager, as he spends the summer in France with his family. He translates the world around him through his favourite book, Proust's In Search of Lost Time, and consequently believes a girl at his new school is the love interest from the book. I obviously can't speak personally about how well the autism rep in this book is done. However, my younger brother is on the autism spectrum and I could recognise certain behaviour and language in Martin's character so I would say I was able to make connections between his character and my brother. 
Whilst the writing was good, the events that occur in this book are pretty slow moving. It is essentially a story about Martin's outlook on life and how he handles his austism, making new friends and other situations. I will say it had a unique approach and I quite enjoyed Martin's perspective on everything. I'll also mention that the mother in this story can be quite anti-autism at times as well, it's not a problem that's addressed very well either, it's just sort of there.    

1 comment

  1. The Five is high on my must-read list. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad review of it. I’m glad you mostly enjoyed these books!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!


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