Blog Tour, Non fiction

Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald – Blog Tour

Rachel Parsons (L) and Caroline Haslett (R)

I’ve got a pretty busy Autumn coming up and so hadn’t planned to take part in a blog tour, but as a female Chartered Engineer I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines, by Henrietta Heald. This book is being published in the centenary year of the Women’s Engineering Society, and tells the stories of many amazing and pioneering women. And when I say stories, I mean stories. This isn’t a dry tome listing the accomplishments of the great and the good – it’s a narrative biography set against a social revolution.

The central characters in our cast of magnificent women are Rachel Parsons, who effectively came from engineering royalty, a wealthy family with a rich heritage of scientific endeavour; and Caroline Haslett who came from much humbler beginnings but became perhaps the pre-eminent woman in electrical engineering in the 20th century.

The formation of the Women’s Engineering Society happened at a time of enormous social change and one that caused conflicting feelings for women. On one hand (some) women had just got the right to vote for the first time, but on the other, many women who had had interesting and varied jobs during World War One were being asked to return to domestic lives as men returned from the war. The prompt to create the WES was a proposed post-war bill outlawing the employment of women in engineering. Outraged by this, Rachel Parsons and her mother Katherine brought together a group of women to be a ‘fighting force’ that could become as powerful as the men’s unions had been. Along with the founders, former suffragette Caroline Haslett became the WES’ secretary. Thus their entwined stories begin, but as Heald leads us through the 20th century, we see that for one of the pair their career goes to greater heights and for the other their career sadly fades and ultimately their life ends in tragedy. This book is skilfully done and reads both easily and beautifully. It’s the story of two hugely influential women to whom I owe a great deal and of whom I’m ashamed to say I knew very little. I’m grateful this book came along so that I could find out more.

Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald is published on 19th September, £20. I received a free copy in return for an honest review. Please do visit the other brilliant blogs on this tour, as shown below.

Non fiction

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro – Review

It’s true of any change that there’s the possibility of unintended consequences. I wonder if, when companies like Ancestry decided to offer DNA testing, they considered what the fall out would be for those who, like Dani Shapiro, discovered something they really weren’t expecting. Shapiro took a test almost casually at the prompting of her half-sister (I must confess I have some doubts about the half-sister’s motivations here) and discovered that the man she’d always thought of as her father wasn’t her biological father at all. With neither parent alive, she embarks on what’s part psychology book, part memoir and part detective story to find out the truth about her conception and birth. It’s so beautifully written and completely up my alley. I’d highly recommend.

For another story (even more incredible, and in depth) about the unexpected results of a DNA test, see this piece in The Washington Post. It’s truly astonishing (you can read without subscribing if you click through). Inheritance is out now in the UK. I bought my copy.

Blog Tour, Non fiction

The A to Z of Skateboarding by Tony Hawks – Blog Tour

For more than twenty years, Tony Hawks has been mistaken for Tony Hawk, the American skateboarder. Even though it is abundantly clear on his website that he is an English comedian and author, people still write to him asking the best way to do a kickflip or land a melon.

One mischievous day he started writing back in a pompous tone, goading his correspondents for their spelling mistakes and poor grammar, while offering bogus or downright silly advice on how to improve their skateboarding.

Featuring entries on Pain, Disappointment, Underachievers, Quorn and the Vatican, this is his A to Z guide to the world of skateboarding, as seen through the eyes of someone who knows absolutely nothing about it.

I was delighted to receive this copy of Tony Hawks’ latest book as part of a blog tour for two reasons. Firstly, his debut book, Round Ireland With A Fridge is still one of my favourite non-fiction books of all time, and secondly I have a similar problem to him. My email correspondents don’t think that they are contacting a famous person, just someone with the same name as the person they really wanted, but man are they persistent. I’ve been offered nursing shifts in a Denver hospital, a property to rent in Florida, the chance to join a class action law suit and a fishing licence in Maine. So I was intrigued to see how Tony handled being mistaken for the skateboarding legend that is Tony Hawk.


Florida, no. Bexhill-on-Sea, yes. Any use to you?

This is different to Round Ireland With A Fridge, which was written in a narrative style. This book is a fun compendium of facts about skateboarding, wholly inaccurate musings about skateboarding and completely random and acerbic advice for the misguided skateboarding unfortunates that decided to email him. It’s a perfect loo-shelf gift for someone with a very dry sense of humour and as much knowledge of skateboarding as Tony, who’d like a book they can flip through. If you like Joe Lycett’s style of email response, this could well be up your street.

The A to Z of Skateboarding is out now in hardback, published by Unbound, £9.99. I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review as part of this blog tour. Please do visit the fabulous bloggers on the tour as shown below.

Non fiction

Critical by Dr Matt Morgan – Review

I read and watch a lot of medical stuff, as my family will attest. They regularly wander in to see me munching on a sandwich while watching a documentary on surgery, so I’ve clearly got a strong stomach for all things hospital related. The basic problem, however, for any doctor wanting to write a medical memoir these days is Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm. His thoughtful, reflective account of his career as a neurosurgeon, where he could both save a person’s life or cause untold damage, absolutely raised the bar in medical memoirs. It’s astonishingly candid and extremely thought provoking (I, for one, know that I could absolutely not take on that level of responsibility).

Since then, I’ve read umpteen medical books but nothing has hit the Henry Marsh spot. Until now. Dr Matt Morgan’s explanation of the twilight world of intensive care, mixes explanation, case history and reflective thoughts on what it’s like to work on the very sickest patients. Thoughtful, compassionate, insightful, realistic and hopeful – if you like this genre of book this should definitely be on your ‘to read’ pile. If it’s not on the Wellcome Prize shortlist next time round I’ll be amazed. Highly recommended.

My next medical foray will be into the world of David Nott, whose book War Doctor has been on my wish list for some time. He also did a fantastic Desert Island Discs episode, here.

Dr Matt Morgan’s Critical is available now. I read a NetGalley edition provided in return for an honest review.

Non fiction

Disrupted by Dan Lyons – Review

At Newsweek I worked for Jon Meacham, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Andrew Jackson. Here I work for a guy who brings a teddy bear to work and considers it a management innovation.


I’m late to this book – it was published in 2016 – but I doubt I’ll read a better non-fiction book this year. Dan Lyons had a long career in print journalism, but when he was laid off in his fifties he decides to enter a new career in a tech start up. Hired as a “marketing fellow” he looks forward to advising on media strategy, writing for their blog and attending conferences. His emergence into a world of orange walls, orange desks, orange T shirts and a candy wall is initially an amusing look at a clash of both ages and working cultures but gradually turns into open mouth disbelief at the way the company is operated and funded. If you’ve ever worked in tech like me, been interested in what tech companies are like, or wondered how a start up gets funded or goes for an IPO, this is for you. It’s a great exposé of what some might say is the next great bubble, with a sting in the tail. Highly recommended.

This review is of a purchased copy.

Non fiction

“Kill The Black One First” by Michael Fuller – Review

For anyone to rise to the rank of Chief Constable must take talent and dedication. To do so against the backdrop of racism and hatred from all parts of society that this author endured during his career is truly astonishing. Add this to a childhood spent in care, with only patchy contact with his birth parents, and a determination to join the police at the age of 16 despite many people counselling him against it, and you can’t help but be in awe of the grit that this man shows.

This is an uncomfortable read in many places, shining a light on attitudes that were truly hurtful, but his spirit, determination and empathy shine through. There are some lovely vignettes too, as he comes across people later in his career that he encountered at the start. It’s also a touching tribute to some of those working within the care system who loved and believed in him. I would have loved to see a little more from his time at the pinnacle in his career, but overall I was touched, saddened and impressed by this book. Recommended.

This review is of an advance copy from NetGalley and Bonnier Books.

Non fiction

First Man In: Leading from the Front by Ant Middleton – Review

Ant Middleton is ex British special forces and most famous for his appearances in the TV programme SAS: Who Dares Wins, where members of the public take part in a curtailed version of special forces selection. And when I say members of the public, clearly these are hugely fit people who are as hard as nails, not people like me who’d cry 200m up a mountain path and try and order an Uber.

This book is a bit of a curiosity as it’s part memoir, part thoughts on leadership. It’s also a marmite book – I think you’ll either love it or hate it. What does shine through is how the military looks after its own on the battlefield but less so on civvy street, and the author doesn’t shy away from some of the issues he faced in adapting to civilian life (one of the lessons he draws here is not to hit a police officer, which would seem eminently sensible, and yet…). A resounding four stars from me, but that may be because I’m a huge fan of the TV series and enjoyed learning about the man.

This review is of a purchased copy.