Title: Dead Famous – An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen

Author: Greg Jenner

Pages: 400 Pages

Publisher: W&N

The Blurb

Celebrity, with its neon glow and selfie pout, strikes us as hypermodern. But the famous and infamous have been thrilling, titilating, and outraging us for much longer than we might realise. Whether it was the scandalous Lord Byron, whose poetry sent female fans into an erotic frenzy; or the cheetah-owning, coffin-sleeping, one-legged French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who launched a violent feud with her former best friend; or Edmund Kean, the dazzling Shakespearean actor whose monstrous ego and terrible alcoholism saw him nearly murdered by his own audience – the list of starts whose careers burned bright before the Age of Television is extensive and thrillingly varied.

Celebrities could be heroes or villains; warriors or murderers; brilliant talents, or fraudsters with a flair for fibbing; trendsetters, wilful provocateurs, or tragic victims marketed as freaks of nature. Some craved fame while others had it forced upon them. A few found fame as small children, some had to wait decades to get their break. But uniting them all is the shared origin point: since the early 1700s celebrity has been one of the most emphatic driving forces in popular culture; it is a lurid cousin to Ancient Greek ideas of glorious and notorious reputation, and its emergence helped to shape public attitudes to ethics, national identity, religious faith, wealth, sexuality, and gender roles.

In this ambitious history, that spans the Bronze Age to the coming of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Greg Jenner assembles a vibrant cast of over 125 actors, singers, dancers, sportspeople, freaks, demigods, ruffians, and more, in search of celebrity’s historical roots. He reveals why celebrity burst into life in the early eighteenth century, how it differs to ancient ideas of fame, the techniques through which it was acquired, how it was maintained, the effect it had on public tastes, and the psychological burden stardom could place on those in the glaring limelight. Dead Famous is a surprising, funny, and fascinating exploration of both a bygone age and how we came to inhabit our modern, fame obsessed society.

(Goodreads Blurb)

The Review

The world of celebrity is strange. It is like we choose random people and celebrate their arbitrary quality because society tells us to whether it be Kim Kardashian’s bottom or David Beckham’s left foot.

Dead Famous by Greg Jenner looks at how celebrity happened. He does an anthropological social study focusing on the roots of celebrity and how circumstance met opportunity to make people become revered and celebrated.

Dead Famous is a fascinating read and what I enjoyed most about it was the mix of people I knew and those who I had never heard of before. It was like a history lesson book. I learned so much from it.

Greg Jenner’s style is really likeable. I didn’t feel like I was having to wade through useless information, everything seemed relevant. It is the mixture of the person, why they are celebrated and what was happening culturally, socially and politically during their lifetime. He also peppers his narrative with personal insights and comments. Dead Famous is such an entertaining read. A joy to read.

Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity fro Bronze Age to Silver Screen by Greg Jenner is available now.

For more information regarding Greg Jenner (@greg_jenner) please visit www.gregjenner.com.

Title: How to Stop Time

Author: Matt Haig

Pages: 352 Pages

Publisher: Canongate Books

The Blurb

‘I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.’

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life.

Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

How to Stop Time 
is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.

The Review

How to Stop Time is the story of Tom Hazard, a man with a rare medical condition which means that he ages at a much slower rate than most people. He is over 400 years old and has seen things that people have only read about in books. However, his condition puts I’m in danger – danger from scientists, eugenicists, by people who just couldn’t understand. So whilst Tom tries to hide under the radar – not make friends, not fall in love but this proves impossible when he gets a new job in a secondary school.

How to Stop Time is a time travel novel that meets a historical one. We travel through time with Tom Hazard and we meet a cast of historical figures from Shakespeare to F Scott Fitzgerald. At its heart, it is a story about relationships and how we need to keep people close to use regardless of the cost. 

If I am completely honest I am not a huge fan of fantasy novels and How to Stop Time didn’t float my boat the way I wanted it to. I love Matt Haig’s writing – in particular his non fiction/mental health books so I worry that maybe his fiction is not for me. How to Stop Time is written well but the genre as a whole is one that I tend to avoid.  

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig is available now.

For more information regarding Matt Haig (@MattHaig1) please visit his Twitter page.

For more information regarding Canongate Books (@canongatebooks) please visit www.canongate.co.uk.

Title: Sex and Sexuality in Victorian Britain

Author: Violet Fenn

Pages: 144 Pages

Publisher: Pen & Sword

The Blurb

Peek beneath the bedsheets of nineteenth-century Britain in this affectionate, informative and fascinating look at sex and sexuality during the reign of Queen Victoria. It examines the prevailing attitudes towards male and female sexual behaviour, and the ways in which these attitudes were often determined by those in positions of power and authority. It also explores our ancestors’ ingenious, surprising, bizarre and often entertaining solutions to the challenges associated with maintaining a healthy sex life.

Did the people in Victorian times live up to their stereotypes when it came to sexual behaviour? This book will answer this question, as well as looking at fashion, food, science, art, medicine, magic, literature, love, politics, faith and superstition through a new lens, leaving the reader uplifted and with a new regard for the ingenuity and character of our great-great-grandparents.

The Review

One of my favourite period in history has to be the Victorian era. I will actively read books set during this time – fiction and non-fiction – just because the world was so fascinating. The changes that were occurring not just industrially but also socially – it always makes for an interesting read.

It was due to this that I was intrigued to read Sex and Sexuality in Victorian Britain. What made it even more interesting for me is that it isn’t focused on London which to be fair is usually the location for a lot of books on Victoriana. This book had links to my hometown of Liverpool. Hurrah.

Sex and Sexuality in Victorian Britain was fantastic. It was an academic book without the need of academia to be able to read, understand, and enjoy it. It was eye-opening and titillating all at once. Fenn has researched hr topic well and added the element of heart – something that sometimes lacks in other texts of this ilk. I hoovered this book, relishing every page and any fan of history should find enjoyment between these pages.

Sex and Sexuality in Victorian Britain by Violet Fenn is available now.

For more information regarding Violet Fenn (@violetfenn) please visit www.sexdeathrocknroll.com.

For more information regarding Pen & Sword (@penswordbooks) please visit www.pen-and-sword.co.uk.

Title: The Five – The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Author: Hallie Rubenhold

Pages: 336 Pages

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Blurb

Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London—the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

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 Review

I stand accused. I stand accused of being guilty of the exact thing that Hallie Rubenhold has written about in her fabulous book The Five – The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. I, myself, have only ever known them to be prostitutes and never once have I thought to consider these women as actual people. They are almost myth and legend. Nowadays we are titillated over the gruesome crimes of a serial killer. You have to ask yourself, if this crime happened today would we celebrate a murderer? Probably not.

What this wonderful book does is delve into the history of these women and show how their lives were shaped by the environment they were living in. Victorian England was harsh to a lot of people – working class women in particular. Rubenhold gives you a glimpse in to a world that you wouldn’t even want to imagine.

What I have taken from this book is that these women had a life beyond their death and I will now remember them for who they are: Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine ,and Mary-Jane.

The Five – The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold is available now.

For more information regarding Hallie Rubenhold (@HallieRubenhold) please visit www.hallierubenhold.com.

For more information regarding Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (@HMHCo) please visit www.hmhco.com.

Title: The Stonewall Riots

Author: Gayle E. Pitman

Pages: 224 Pages

Publisher: Abram Kids

The Blurb

This book is about the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous, often violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBTQ+) community in reaction to a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The Riots are attributed as the spark that ignited the LGBTQ+ movement.

The author describes American gay history leading up to the Riots, the Riots themselves, and the aftermath, and includes her interviews of people involved or witnesses, including a woman who was ten at the time. Profusely illustrated, the book includes contemporary photos, newspaper clippings, and other period objects. A timely and necessary read, The Stonewall Riots helps readers to understand the history and legacy of the LGBTQ+ movement.

The Review

I read a lot of LGBT fiction but one thing that I haven’t read enough about is the history of the LGBT community. I am seriously behind on my non-fiction. From what I have learned through research after reading things in fiction I have picked up bits and pieces but I really need to expand my knowledge of the LGBT+ community and the ongoing battle for equality. This year I plan to change this. My non-fiction reading journey has begun with The Stonewall Riots by Gayle E. Pitman.

I had heard the term ‘Stonewall’ but never quite understood what it meant and its root. After reading The Stonewall Riots I now see how hard the initial fights for rights were and just how institutionalised the homophobia was…and sadly still is.

Pitman’s easy style means that the book can be read and enjoyed by all. It is a book that should be a feature of every school library and be used in PSHE lessons when discussing LGBTQIA+ issues.

If, like me, you are new to the non-fiction element of the history of LGBTQIA+ rights then The Stonewall Riots is a great book to start you off on that journey.

The Stonewall Riots by Gayle E. Pitman is available now.

For more information regarding Abram Kids (@ABRAMSbooks) please visit www.abramsbooks.com.