Great Reads: Short Stories

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Sometimes, a bite-sized read is just what you need. Whether you’re on the bus or just want to digest something quick before bed, short stories can really hit the spot. Here are a few I’ve read that I think should be recommended!

These books are in no particular order.

1.

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

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Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two ranch hands, come together when they’re working as sheep herder and camp tender one summer on a range above the tree line. At first, sharing an isolated tent, the attraction is casual, inevitable, but something deeper catches them that summer. Both men work hard, marry, have kids because that’s what cowboys do. But over the course of many years and frequent separations this relationship becomes the most important thing in their lives, and they do anything they can to preserve it. – from Goodreads.com

The story that inspired the famous film with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, and coming in at only 55 pages, or just over an hour if you listen to the audiobook like I did. The story of Ennis and Jack is a beautiful one and really makes me love the film even more.

2.

Bluebeard (and other Fairy Tales) by Angela Carter

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Angela Carter’s playful and subversive retellings of Charles Perrault’s classic fairy tales conjure up a world of resourceful women, black-hearted villains, wily animals and incredible transformations. In these seven stories, bristling with frank, earthy humour and gothic imagination, nothing is as it seems. – from Goodreads.com

In this little collection, Angela Carter manages to rework, and reignite, what keeps us going back to the classic fairy tales again and again. This collection includes Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty in the Wood and Cinderella!

3.

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

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If you broke Elena’s heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she’s expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does. What she’s not expecting is to be last in a line of only three people; to have to pee into a collectable Star Wars soda cup behind a dumpster or to meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels. – from Goodreads.com

Rainbow Rowell wrote this short story for World Book Day 2016. I don’t think it would be selfish of me to ask for a full-length book based on this little snippet, as lots of people seem to love it as much as I do!

4.

Different Seasons by Stephen King

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This gripping collection begins with “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” in which an unjustly imprisoned convict seeks a strange and startling revenge—the basis for the Best Picture Academy Award-nominee The Shawshank Redemption. Next is “Apt Pupil,” the inspiration for the film of the same name about top high school student Todd Bowden and his obsession with the dark and deadly past of an older man in town. In “The Body,” four rambunctious young boys plunge through the façade of a small town and come face-to-face with life, death, and intimations of their own mortality. This novella became the movie Stand By Me. Finally, a disgraced woman is determined to triumph over death in “The Breathing Method.” – from Goodreads.com

My first experience with Stephen King was watching The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me in English class, so when I realised that these films were based on actual short stories, I thought I better get around to reading them. The films captured the essence and tone of King’s short stories perfectly, and these are amongst my favourites!

5.

Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

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The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers’ attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now, thanks to Hermione Granger’s new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J. K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore. – from Goodreads.com

In the same vein as Angela Carter’s revised fairy tales, JK Rowling has compiled a collection of stories most loved by wizard children, that had been passed down in wizard families from generation to generation. It was interesting to read and compare to our own fairy tales and see their differences and similarities.

So these are some of my favourite short stories that I think you should all read. Got any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

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Great Reads: Classics

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic. – from Goodreads.com

Not only one of my favourite classics, but also one of my favourite books of all time. I really, really recommend this book to anyone looking for a master class in writing, and also the representation of mental health in literature.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s–and his country’s–most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed and the promise of new beginnings. – from Goodreads.com

I never studied The Great Gatsby but I wish I did. Scott Fitzgerald’s well known novel is ripe with metaphor, imagery and symbolism which makes the whole reading process that much more enjoyable.

And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac

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This is a hardboiled crime novel, and a true story. In 1944, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, then still unknown writers, were both arrested following a murder: one of their friends had stabbed another and then come to them for advice – neither had told the police. Later they wrote this fictionalised account of that summer – of a group of friends in wartime New York, moving through each other’s apartments, drinking, necking, talking and taking drugs and haphazardly drifting towards a bloody crime. – from Goodreads.com

This was the book that inspired one of my all-time favourite films Kill Your Darlings, which fictionalised the murder of David Kammerer. This book, and the film, provides so much more context to the Beat Generation and the writers who created some of their most prolific work in this era.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

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In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele — Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles — as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. – from Goodreads.com

Kaysen’s memoir is similar to that of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which is probably the reason why I love it so much. Kaysen spent two years in a psychiatric hospital and goes into a lot of detail about her life there which makes the piece incredibly fascinating.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

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The shocking thing about the five Lisbon sisters was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters’ breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear. – from Goodreads.com

The tale of the Lisbon sisters is a tragic one, but fascinating to read none the less. I love how the story is told through the romanticised eyes of the boys that lusted after them. It’s such a unique device that really makes the book stand out.

So these are my recommendations for classic books, if you’re looking to expand your library more. Have you got any favourites you would like to recommend to me? Or have I missed out a few on your list? Let me know in the comments!

Great Reads: Plays

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I love going to the theatre as much as possible, but when I can’t make it, just simply reading a play will do. Here are my top five favourites that I think are GREAT!

These plays are in no particular order.

1

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie

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A group of strangers is stranded in a boarding house during a snow storm, one of whom is a murderer. – from Goodreads.com

I first saw this play on tour when it came to Eastbourne and then I saw it in London where it is the longest running play ever, and has been running for 64 years! Also THAT PLOT TWIST THO

2

An Inspector Calls by JB Priestly

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The action of the play occurs in an English industrial city, where a young girl commits suicide and an eminently respectable British family is subject to a routine inquiry in connection with the death. An inspector calls to interrogate the family, and during the course of his questioning, all members of the group are implicated lightly or deeply in the girl’s undoing. The surprising revelation, however, is in the inspector… – from Goodreads.com

I studied this play at school, as one does, and was also completely blown away by the ending! I’ve not ever seen it live on stage but the BBC did a fantastic adaptation of it with David Thewlis as the Inspector, and it’s definitely worth a watch!

3

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

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The enduring classic drama of the Salem witch trials was inspired by the political witch-hunting activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the ’50s. Though set in the 17th century, “The Crucible” presents issues still gnawing at modern society. – from Goodreads.com

Another that I’ve never seen live but the movie with Daniel Day-Lewis is outstanding! This was another play that I read and studied in school and I still love it even to this day.

4

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

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It is 1890’s England and two young gentlemen are being somewhat limited with the truth. To inject some excitement into their lives, Mr Worthing invents a brother, Earnest, as an excuse to leave his dull country life behind him to pursue the object of his desire, the ravishing Gwendolyn. While across town Algernon Montecrieff decides to take the name Earnest, when visiting Worthing’s young ward Cecily. The real fun and confusion begins when the two end up together and their deceptions are in danger of being revealed. – from Goodreads.com

Again, I’ve never seen the Importance of Being Earnest on the stage but I’ve read the play and seen the film starring Rupert Everett and Colin Firth which is brilliant! A definitely must for fans of the play, or for someone looking to know the story better.

5

Blood Brothers by Willy Russell

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A Liverpudlian West Side Story: twin brothers are separated at birth because their mother cannot afford to keep them both. She gives one of them away to wealthy Mrs Lyons and they grow up as friends in ignorance of their fraternity until the inevitable quarrel unleashes a blood-bath. – from Goodreads.com

I first studied this play in GCSE Drama which ignited my love for it. Blood Brothers by Willy Russell was the basis for the musical of the same name, which I saw when I was in the US and cried my eyes out. It’s such an amazing piece of work and I would recommend it to anyone!

So those are my top five dramatic recommendations. Do you read plays a lot? Do you have any on your list you’d like to recommend to me? Let me know in the comments!

Great Reads: Mystery

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The Crime/Mystery/Thriller genre is one of my absolute favourites! In my opinion, you can’t beat a good who-dun-it, or an exciting, fast paced thriller. So, with that in mind, here are my top five books I’d recommend to you that got the cogs in my brain turning!

These books are in no particular order.

1

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

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Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back. Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen party arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage – the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her best friend, to put the past behind her. But something goes wrong. Very wrong. And as secrets and lies unravel, out in the dark, dark wood the past will finally catch up with Nora. – from Goodreads.com

I wasn’t sure whether I would like this book at first, as I have been scorned by some contemporary mysteries in the past but boy was I wrong! I really loved it and it really is a twist-y, turn-y mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat till the very end.

2

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn’t been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an enigma. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father. On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty. For McGrath, driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid. The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality. – from Goodreads.com

This book was one of my absolute favourites last year and I would recommend it to anyone who was looking for a thrilling mystery that will leave you confused in the best way. It’s also partially told in printed articles, webpages and photographs which I always find ups the reading experience.

3

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

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First, there were ten – a curious assortment of strangers summoned as weekend guests to a private island off the coast of Devon. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, is nowhere to be found. All that the guests have in common is a wicked past they’re unwilling to reveal – and a secret that will seal their fate. For each has been marked for murder. One by one they fall prey. Before the weekend is out, there will be none. And only the dead are above suspicion. – from Goodreads.com

Agatha Christie is the QUEEN of who-dun-its and her most famous novel And Then There Were None is probably one of the most prestigious mystery novels ever written. I would agree that it is a) incredible and b) unique and is an absolute must read for any fans of the genre. Having said that, it will ruin other mystery novels for you because your standards will be incredibly high afterwards!

4

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

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The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other. – from Goodreads.com

This is another book I read last year and LOVED. I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and if you’re looking for something to fill the hole that Cumberbatch’s Sherlock has left then I would certainly recommend this book to you. It’s a great introduction to the mythology of the Holmes legacy as it makes many references to the original story.

5

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neahaus

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On a wet November day, Detectives Pia Kirchoff and Oliver von Bodenstein are summoned to the scene of a mysterious accident. A woman has fallen from a bridge onto the motorway below. It seems that she may have been pushed. The investigation leads them to a small town near Frankfurt, and the home of the victim, Rita Cramer. On a September evening eleven years earlier, two seventeen-year-old girls, Laura and Stefanie (also known as Snow White), vanished without trace from this same village. In a trial based entirely on circumstantial evidence, Stefanie’s boyfriend, handsome and talented, Tobias Sartorius, was sentenced to ten years in prison. He has now returned to his home in an attempt to clear his name. Rita Cramer is his mother. In the village, Pia and Oliver encounter a wall of silence. But when another young girl goes missing, the events of the past repeat themselves in a disastrous manner. The investigation turns into a dramatic race against time, because for the villagers, there is soon no doubt as to the identity of the perpetrator. And this time they are determined to take matters into their own hands. – from Goodreads.com

This synopsis speaks for itself, really. Firstly, it’s not set in England which is something very different, as most of the mystery novels I pick up happen to be set in the UK. Secondly, it is an expertly crafted novel with lots of different characters with thrilling twists and turns the whole way through. Its exciting and has a great pace, so I would definitely recommend it.

So these are my top five books that I would recommend to you in the mystery/thriller/crime genre. Are you excited to read any of these? Or do you have any recommendations for me to get stuck into? Let me know in the comments!

 

Great Reads: Dystopia

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The dystopia genre has become increasingly popular thanks to the likes of The Hunger Games and the Divergent Series. Many authors have followed in their book-ish footsteps, some riding on the coattails of the dream, and others being established in their own right. I’ll be giving you a comprehensive top five list of great dystopia reads for you to get your teeth into.

These books are in no particular order.

1

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. – from Goodreads.com

This was probably the first dystopia I ever read, and I didn’t even realise it was a dystopia! This collection of books were exciting and action packed beyond belief. A really good starting point for someone looking to get into the dystopia genre.

2

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

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Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy. – from Goodreads.com

This book perfectly captures not only the horrors of World War but also the hope for a better life that comes afterwards. Besides, who wouldn’t want to hole up in an idyllic house in the countryside? Me, please!

3

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun. But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world– and it isn’t very pretty. – from Goodreads.com

I was a bit skeptical at first upon reading the synopsis for this book, as I thought it would all be a bit obvious. However, I really, really enjoyed reading Uglies and thought the world that Westerfeld created was very vivid. It’s a book that gives a great message and is a well developed dystopia too.

4

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

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In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim. – from Goodreads.com

In the short time it took to read this book, I was in a perpetual state of disgust and fascination. There most disconcerting thing about this novel was that this could definitely be our future! That is a very, very scary thought.

5

Never Let Me Go by Kauzo Ishiguro

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As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. – from Goodreads.com

I never thought of this book as a dystopia, but it is set in the future and a strange one at that. It oddly mirrors the world we know today except with the appearance of clones. It certainly makes a comment on how we live our lives and what it means to be human.

So these are my list of great reads for the dystopia genre. Have you read any of these? Or do you have a few you’d like to add to the list? Let me know in the comments!

 

Great Reads: Non-Fiction

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I wouldn’t say I’m very well versed in non-fiction, but it’s something that has been creeping up on my TBR during this last year, so now I have a great plethora of recommendations for all your non-fiction reads. Here are the top five that I’ve chosen for you today.

These books are in no particular order.

1.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

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Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them? Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. – from Goodreads.com

Caitlin’s memoir was one of the first books I read this year. It’s compiled of hilarious personal essays on different subjects related to being a woman. It had me laughing out loud!

2.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay – adapted from her much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. – from Goodreads.com

This little gem is only 64 pages, so there’s no excuse not to read it really. Adichie’s fantastic conversational style makes this easy to gobble up in one sitting and really highlights a conversation we should all be having.

3.

The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales

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It’s 19 September 2010, and 21-year-old Rachel Lee has emerged from Los Angeles Superior Court, having just been sentenced to four years behind bars. A few months earlier, she had been running the Bling Ring: a gang of rich, beautiful, wild-living Valley teens who idolised celebrity, designer labels and luxury brands. Who, in 2009, became the most audacious thieves in recent Hollywood history. – from Goodreads.com

Investigative journalist, Nancy Jo Sales, researched in depth the burglaries made by the infamous Bling Ring. She interviewed the teens themselves, the families and the celebrities targeted, and made a very, VERY interesting interesting case for why people are so obsessed with celebrity.

4.

Unnaturally Green by Felicia Ricci

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In January of 2010, a wide-eyed English grad went from peddling software in NYC to understudying the lead role in WICKED the musical — her first professional theater gig (ever). UNNATURALLY GREEN is the humorous account of the entire journey, from her pit-stain-filled audition to the bittersweet closing night. – from Goodreads.com

WICKED: The Musical is one of my absolutely favourites and so when I saw this in the memoir section, I absolutely had to read it! I love the OZ books too, and Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series which is an elaboration on L. Frank Baum world. Felicia Ricci not only gives us a backstage glimpse of the musical Wicked, but also what it’s like to be a musical theatre performer.

5.

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

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How To Be A Heroine is Samantha’s funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives – and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do. – from Goodreads.com

I absolutely gobbled up this book, and I have also identified with many literary heroines throughout my reading life. It made me want to go back and re-read all my favourite literary heroines to see what I thought of them now. Something that I feel should not be encouraged as I have a TBR pile as tall as my ceiling!

So that concludes my top five non-fiction great reads! Have I manged to sway you? Or are there some you feel I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!