books monthly january 2018 nonfiction and reference books

The magnificent Blue Planet II book... plus: Treasures of the Mughal Empires...

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Treasures of the Mughals and the Maharajahs

Published by Skira 2017

Published on the occasion of the extraordinary exhibition in Venice, the book allows readers to immerse themselves in the jewellery traditions of the Indian subcontinent, from the Mughal period to the modern day, installed within an evocative and ethereal setting. The evolution of gem-setting and jewellery is shown through over two hundred and seventy exceptional pieces from The Al Thani Collection, together with major works on loan from prestigious institutions and private collections. Famous historic Indian diamonds, spectacular precious objects and legendary pieces of jewellery are brought together to represent the evolution of taste and technique in India’s jewelled arts over five centuries. From the Great Mughals to the Maharajas: Jewels from The Al Thani Collection also presents the major developments in Indian jewellery traditions, from the peak of 17th century Mughal imperial patronage through years of political chaos and colonisation from the 18th century onwards, to the age of the Durbar , great ceremonies that provided Indian sovereigns with a new setting in which to show off their jewels during the time of the British Raj.

I'm one of those rare people who is genuinely and generally totally unmoved by gems, jewellery etc. I found this book interesting from an historical point of view, and although I respect the people who produce such intricacies, I can't bring myself to rave about their creations. Apparently there is an exhibition in Venice. I am, however, totally moved by artefacts from Ancient Egypt or even by the type of treasures unearthed from ancient sites in Britain and Europe. It's simply the whole concept of jewellery that fails to resonate with me. This is a stunning book, and the photography is absolutely first class, as is the printing.








Dorling Kindersley: Star Wars The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary

Published by Dorling Kindersley 15th December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi™ The Visual Dictionary is the definitive guide to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, revealing the characters, creatures, droids, locations, and technology from the new film. Packed with 100+ images and information as penned by Star Wars™ scribe Pablo Hidalgo, it's a must-have for all fans who want to go beyond the movie experience.


This magnificent book is the ultimate companion to the most anticipated movie of 2017, a movie which is even now breaking box office records around the world. As always I shall wait until it's released on Blu Ray, and I hope the novelisation comes my way before too long! In the meantime, this excellent visual dictionary contains enough material to satisfy even the most ardent Star Wars fan and provide the perfect keepsake to a film I just know I am going to love!



Dorling Kindersley: The Practical Astronomer

Published by Dorling Kindersley 2nd November 2017

An accessible and inspirational astronomy guide that gives you all the knowledge you need to expand your understanding of the night sky. This guide explains and demystifies stargazing, teaching you to recognise different objects such as moons, comets, and asteroids, and explains how they move through the sky over the course of the night and the year. The Practical Astronomer begins with observation with the naked eye, and illustrated introductions show you how to set up and use binoculars and telescopes, and how to take your own pictures. Clear star charts guide you through the Northern and Southern hemispheres, using brighter stars as signposts to locate harder-to-see objects. Map the constellations from Aquila to Virgo, and discover Orion, Gemini, Ursa Minor, and dozens more along the way. A brand-new almanac section tells you the best time of the year to view every planet and includes details of eclipses. The Practical Astronomer is also fully up-to-date with the newest equipment and the latest incredible photos of space. Become an accomplished amateur astronomer with this practical guide.


The subject of astronomy has fascinated me from an early age, probably early teens, maybe, and as I've got older I've delighted in broadening my knowledge of the universe by means of reading and watching BBC TV and occasionally Channel 4 documentaries. My desire to be able to see more of the universe in which we live has been helped by the fact that I now live near the coast and there is very little light pollution just a few minutes' walk from my home. I can make out Orion, the Great Bear and Cassiopaea with ease, and early morning walks often bring me into contact with Venus, Mars and Jupiter. But for the most part, I don't really know what I'm looking at, and all that could now change with the arrival of this beautiful, easy to read, easy to use book from DK. It really is practical in terms of directing you to look in the right place, but at the same time it is a beautiful compendium of awe-inspiring images, star and constellation charts, and expert guidance. A truly magnificent book.

James Honeyborne & Mark Brownlow: Blue Planet II

Published by BBC Books 19th October 2017

Take a deep breath and dive into the mysteries of the ocean.

Our understanding of ocean life has changed dramatically in the last decade, with new species, new behaviours, and new habitats being discovered at a rapid rate. Blue Planet II, which accompanies an epic 7-part series on BBC1, is a ground-breaking new look at the richness and variety of underwater life across our planet.

From ambush hunters such as the carnivorous bobbit worm to cuttlefish mesmerising their prey with a pulsating light display, Blue Planet II reveals the never-before-seen secrets of the ocean. With over 200 breath-taking photographs and stills from the BBC Natural History Unit's spectacular footage, each chapter of Blue Planet II brings to life a different habitat of the oceanic world. Voyages of migration show how each of the oceans on our planet are connected; coral reefs and arctic ice communities are revealed as thriving underwater cities; while shorelines throw up continual challenges to those living there or passing through. A final chapter explores the science and technology of the Ocean enterprise – not only how they were able to capture these amazing stories on film, but what the future holds for marine life based on these discoveries.


This book was well worth waiting for and I can't help but keep it in place as this month's nonfiction book of the month. The quallity of the photography and the reproduction thereof is stunning, and, as always, there is so much more in the written word than in the television series. This was a series that broke all viewing records for a Sunday night documentary, and the book is a worthy memento of a superb programme. The ultimate coffee table book!

Lesley Linsley: Upscale Downsizing

Published by Sterling 7th November 2017

Whether it's empty-nest syndrome, a desire to streamline one's house to make travel and hobbies more affordable, or a divorce or death in the family, people are seeking ways to live large while living smaller. In Upscale Downsizing, home-style guru Leslie Linsley shows readers that small can be beautiful and and personal taste can still reign supreme, especially if homeowners have spent a lifetime accumulating lovely things they don't want to part with. Whatever your budget, Leslie shows you ways to keep what you love, make your environment fresh and appealing, and enjoy the new home you've always wanted. Using examples ranging from 600 sq ft apartments to two-story condos, she'll share ideas for: problem solving including storage tricks, entertaining in small spaces, flexible layouts and furniture; repurposing your space; living with what you absolutely can't live without - and much more. Will be lushly illustrated with over 200 full-colour photographs.


As a retired couple living in a relatively small three-bedroomed house in a seaside town, you can imagine how much "stuff" we have acquired during 51 years of marriage. Add to that the many hundreds of books I receive to review every year for the past twenty years and you will then be aware of our storage problems!


Neil Storey & Fiona Kay: The Home Front in World War Two

Published by Amberley 15th November 2017

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, everybody in Britain knew that the civilian population would be affected far more than they had been in the First World War. As aircraft got more advanced, Britain’s cities came within range and were vulnerable to attack from the air, possibly using poison gas. Before the war had started, plans were made to train civilians in first aid or to act as air raid wardens, to distribute air raid shelters that could be set up in back gardens and to evacuate children from the cities.

Soon after the start of the war, Britain’s women were called up to work in the expanding factories that would feed the war effort, and on the farms in the Women’s Land Army. Food and clothing were rationed to make sure that there was enough to go around. After the Germans swept through Western Europe in the summer of 1940, the Home Guard was formed to help defend against invasion.

In this book, Neil R. Storey and Fiona Kay paint an evocative picture of life in Britain during the war years, from Austerity to the friendly invasion of Americans.

This book is part of the Britain’s Heritage series, which provides definitive introductions to the riches of Britain’s past, and is the perfect way to get acquainted with the home front in the Second World War in all its variety.


Neil Storey's books are always a delight to read; for me he is absolutely the King of popular history, and should be presenting programes on the TV. A brilliant look at the Home Front by Neil and Fiona..


Colin Maggs: Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Published by Amberley 15th November 2017

In his time Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the world's greatest engineer. His list of achievements is truly breathtaking: the Thames Tunnel, the first underwater tunnel in the world; the SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven ship; the Clifton Suspension Bridge, then the longest span of any bridge in the world; and the Great Western Railway. History has been kind to his memory: many of his creations still exist and he is lauded by historians as a truly 'Great Briton'.

In this full-scale biography Colin Maggs presents a portrait of a complex, ambitious and determined genius. But the Brunel that emerges is not without flaws. He made mistakes, both personal and technical – he wasn't always right but never admitted he was wrong. Drawing on Brunel's diaries, letters and business papers, we see the real Isambard, a more human figure, emerging from behind the towering structures and machines he created.


I have studied the Industrial Revolution during my Open University years, and for me the name that always epitomised the spirit of the revolution was Brunel. Colin Maggs's biography of Brunel probably doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know, but it is both readable and fascinating, and indicates that Brunel was not just a genius in the scientific and engineering world, but also a human being like the rest of us, with personal flaws and problems just like everybody else, flaws he overcame, and went on to become the biggest name in British engineering ever. A superb study of an iconic man.


Allan Ford & Nick Corble: Frost Fairs to Funfairs

Published by Amberley 15th November 2017

Tracking the development of the English Fair, Allan Ford and Nick Corble capture the diversity, sounds, smells and sensations that have beguiled the Great British public for centuries – from the days of charter fairs through to modern winter wonderlands and theme parks. A nostalgic journey through the history of one of our most endearing and popular pastimes, Frost Fairs to Funfairs is a fascinating look behind the curtain of this ancient and enduring tradition, encompassing the many attractions that make up a fair, as well as the showmans’ way of life, and how the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ nature of the fair seems to bring with it fresh rules, transforming otherwise monochrome lives into a kaleidoscope of colour, even if only for a short while. This lavishly illustrated volume evokes all the excitement and fervour of the fair coming to town while at the same time demonstrating how the fair is not only an integral part of English culture, but at the same time almost an expression of it.


This wonderful book is mainly about fun fairs, of course - it's quite a while since the weather was cold enough for a frost fair - but the blurb is absolutely right, the authors Allan Ford and Nick Corble manage to capture the essence of fun fairs to the extent that you can almost hear the sounds and smell the smells; some towns and cities have charter fairs dating back centuries - Stevenage was one such town, where I lived for a large portion of my life, and there was a fun fair every year in the old town. This is a very important study, a slice of social history that reminds us if our heritage and at the same time tells us about the kinds of things that make Britain the unique place it is. Brilliant!


Paul Rabbitts: Great Parks, Great Designers

Published by Amberley 15th November 2017

Much has been written about the history of Victorian life, the Industrial Revolution and the improvements brought about by the great reformers, including the many improvements to recreation and leisure. Public parks were one such introduction and many were laid out from the 1850s onwards and up until the beginning of the Second World War. Joseph Paxton is the most famous of our park designers, along with J. C. Loudon, James Pennethorne, and Thomas Mawson. We know very little of many of these great park designers, and especially the most notable municipal and borough designers such as Sexby, Sandys-Winsch and Pettigrew. These individuals designed some of our greatest parks, in our greatest cities – from Victoria Park and Battersea Park in London, to our much admired royal parks, to Philips Park in Manchester, and the wonderful parks of Norwich, Liverpool, Cardiff and beyond. This book fills in the gaps surrounding these great servants of the public. Included are biographies and histories of Joseph Paxton, James Pennethorne, Edward Milner, John Nash, Decimus Burton, Robert Marnock, William Barron, J. C. Loudon, J. J. Sexby, William Pettigrew, Captain Sandys-Winsch, John Gibson and Thomas H. Mawson. This is an essential read for anybody interested in the great designers of our greatest parks.


The first fifteen years of my life were spent in Gloucestershire, in one of the little villages midway between Gloucester and Cheltenham. It was in Cheltenham that I remember a number of beautiful municipal parks - I spent more time in Gloucester but don't remember there being any municpal parks there! This wonderful book is another superb piece of social history about our country, this time about the greenspaces created in our towns and cities in order to alleviate the tedium of buildings and giving the citizens some much-needed beathing space. In cities like Birmingham, there are parks around every corner... in Gloucester? I simply don't remember any. I'm sure I'm wrong about that, but that isn't important. What is important is that author Paul Rabbitts has taken the time to research and study these parks and propvide us with a beautiful book to remember them by.

Richard Meredith: Phoenix - A Complete History of the Luftwaffe 1918-1945 Volume 2: The Genesis of Air Power 1935-1937

Published by Helion 15th October 2017

Based on forty years of detailed research, Phoenix - A Complete History of the Luftwaffe 1918-1945 is a unique history of the wartime German Luftwaffe. Going far beyond a simple description of famous air battles and operations, the overall work draws extensively on original documents, secondary sources and contemporary accounts to place the Luftwaffe within its proper historical context, gather together its many disparate components and provide a hitherto unpublished balance to its diverse activities. In addition to the lead role of the combat air forces, the history provides a proper emphasis to the largely unsung work of the Anti-Aircraft Artillery, Luftwaffe ground forces, Signals Service and the Medical Services. It also examines in detail the vital work of the huge training organisation, and the organisation and role of a continent-wide ground organisation. All theatres are covered, thus placing a much needed emphasis on the Luftwaffe's momentous struggle in the East, a theatre of operations that was always more urgent and more vital to the Wehrmacht. Throughout this work Luftwaffe activities are set within the wider role of overall military operations and Luftwaffe activity is therefore placed back within its proper context in the overall European conflict. Volume 2: The Phoenix Matures 1935-1937 covers a still neglected area, namely the early years of post-Reichswehr development from March 1935. During this period the concept of operativer Luftkrieg was formalised, operational commands established, new units and bases created, new equipment introduced and the training of personnel expanded. Key studies include: the formation of the Flakartillerie, the Luftwaffe General Staff, Luftwaffe uniforms, the construction programme of 1935-39, the development and production of new combat aircraft and weapons, flying training, the Luftwaffen-Reserve, the supply organisation, the development of the Regiment General Goring and the re-militarisation of the Rhineland. In addition the Luftwaffe's involvement in Spain is considered in depth from initial operations by the German volunteers to the deployment of the Legion Condor in the battles around Madrid and on the Northern Front. The structure of the Phoenix Project is unique. Five major themes run throughout the history's constituent volumes- (A) Strategy and Command, (B) Ministerial Activity, (C) Technology and Production, (D) Infrastructure and Training, and (E) Operations. These divisions enable the reader to pursue particular areas of interest throughout the overall work or to look at the inter-relationships between the various aspects of Luftwaffe activity.


I'm fairly certain that Casemate would have sent me volume 1, although I don't recall it. Volume 2 concentrates on the pre-Second World War and actual War years, and this is when the term "Luftwaffe" would have been common knowledge here in the British Isles. Stunning photographs and a very readable commentary on this amazing concept. Not just a book for military enthusiasts, but also for students of foreign powers and their military endeavours. Stirring.


Angie Bolton: 50 Finds From Warwickshire

Published by Aberley 15th November 2017

Since 1997, the Portable Antiquities Scheme has identified and recorded over 27,500 archaeological finds from Warwickshire. These finds include stone implements, metalwork, pottery and glass dating from prehistory to more recent times. They give us a glimpse into aspects of everyday life, including the economy, fashions, migration, trade and home life: all evidence of long-forgotten communities and ways of life.

The character of Warwickshire’s landscape, with the fertile alluvial deposits in the Avon Valley, through to the forests of the Arden and the high lands of North Warwickshire, have influenced how communities have lived, worked and used available resources. The lives of those who have settled in Warwickshire over millennia can be told through what has been left behind. 50 Finds From Warwickshire highlights some of the artefacts recorded through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, giving us an insight into the stories and ways of life of those past communities.


Warwickshire is the latest county to be accorded the "Fifty Finds" treatment in the wonderful Amberley series about archaeological discoveries throughout the British Isles. Stunning finds and a brilliant commentary - the paperback equivalent of an episode of Time Team!


Matthew Willis: Flying To The Edge

Published by Amberley 15th November 2017

Duncan Menzies flew with the RAF, the Aeroplane and Armament Evaluation Establishment, and Fairey Aviation in a twenty-five-year flying career, seeing the world of flying change from open cockpits and few rules to the jet age, with its complexities and crowded skies. A modest, family man, Menzies set a speed record in Africa in the 1930s, survived an engine failure in a snowstorm and the terrifying breakup of a Fairey Fulmar in a terminal velocity dive. This biography charts Menzies’ career from Scottish sheep farm through flying the frontier in Egypt and Sudan, encounters with adventurers Tom Campbell Black and Denys Finch Hatton, and the future King Edward VIII, to his crucial role as a test pilot, developing the aircraft that would help win the Second World War.


This is a fascinating biopic about an iconic test pilot, someone who experienced flying every type of aircraft and contributed to the development of the aircraft that enabled Britain to enter the Second World War and actuallywin the Battle of Britain. A larger than life figure who was nevertheless an ordinary man to begin with but went on to make his mark on the history of aviation. Brilliant.

Neil R Storey: Northumberland's Military Heritage

Published by Amberley 15th November 2017

The military heritage of Northumberland is without doubt one of the richest in all the British Isles. By nature of it being England’s most northern county, its borders have seen many bloody clashes and battles since the earliest times. Hadrian’s Wall stretches along the south of the county and is dotted with forts, garrisons and fortified settlements along its length. The first Viking raid was carried out upon Lindisfarne in 793. There were clashes with the Scots for centuries and from the thirteenth century and for 400 years afterwards there were border raids by reivers. The Battle of Newburn in 1640 was one of the flashpoints that led to the English Civil War, and many a noble Northumberland family was ruined in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. It is hardly surprising that within the boundaries of the county there can be found more castles than anywhere else in Britain and, as a breed of fighting men, the steel of the Northumbrians is like no other. The men of the North were the backbone of the British Army; a number of regiments have recruited here, including the Coldstream Guards, King’s Own Scottish Borderers and, of course, our very own Northumberland Fusiliers, ‘The Fighting Fifth’. They all served with distinction wherever they fought – from the Peninsular War to South Africa, through two world wars, and beyond. Award-winning military historian Neil R. Storey knows and loves Northumberland and this book will interest anyone keen to know more about its remarkable military history.


Another brilliant slice of military history from Neil Storey, this time concentrating on Northumberland. Faultless, entertaining and educational at the same time!

Oscar E Gilbert and Romain Cansiere: First To Fight

Published by Casemate 31st December 2017

"Retreat, hell! We just got here!" The words of Captain Lloyd Williams at Belleau Wood in June 1918 entered United States Marine Corps legend, and the Marine Brigade's actions there―along with the censor's failure to take out the name of the Brigade in the battle reports―made the Corps famous. The Marines went to war as part of the American Expeditionary Force, bitterly resented by the Army and General Pershing. The Army tried to use them solely as labor troops and replacements, but the German spring offensive of 1918 forced the issue. The French begged Pershing to commit his partially trained men, and two untested American divisions, supported by British and French units, were thrown into the path of five German divisions. Three horrific weeks later, the Marines held the entirety of Belleau Wood. The Marines then fought in the almost forgotten Blanc Mont Ridge Offensive in October, as well as in every well-known AEF action until the end of the war. This book will look at all the operations of the Marine Corps in World War I, cover the activities of both ground and air units, and consider the units that supported the Marine Brigade. It will examine how, during the war years, the Marine Corps changed from a small organization of naval security detachments to an elite land combat force.


We simply don't know enough about the US Marine Corps's contribution to the First World War. Authors Gilbert and Cansiere set the records straight with an amazingly detailed account of the American Expeditionary Force at Belleau Wood in 1918.

John Radzilowski & Jerzy Szczesniak: Frantic 7

Published by Casemate 31st December 2017

The Frantic operations were conceived in late 1943 as Soviet advances made Soviet airfields accessible to Allied long-range aircraft. American aircraft could hit targets in central Europe, refuel and rearm at Soviet bases, then fly back to bomb additional targets. In addition to hitting Nazi war industries, the political objectives of Frantic were to build closer cooperation with the Red Army as the end of the war drew nearer. For the first two weeks of the Warsaw Uprising, Soviet forces stood outside the city, and Stalin refused to let the RAF land at Soviet bases after dropping supplies to the Polish freedom fighters. But eventually the United States persuaded him to let them use Frantic to supply the Poles. On 18 September 1944, American B-17 Flying Fortresses dropped arms, ammunition, medical supplies, and food over the city of Warsaw. The assistance came too late for the Polish freedom fighters. For many, Frantic 7 remains a mere gesture to placate Western public opinion, but the events of that day, and the courage of 1,220 airmen who risked their lives to bring them aid, are still remembered by the Poles of Warsaw. This book gives a full narrative of Frantic 7, using the first-hand accounts of those on the ground in Warsaw to tell the stories of the young aircrew. It puts Frantic 7 in context, and explains how the diplomatic wrangling set the stage for the breakdown in relations between the Soviet Union and the United States.


I had never heard of Frantic, or specifically of Frantic 7 until now - the whole book reads like a story from one of the many 1960s/70s military comics we used to read as young adults. An amazingly detailed account of the US Air Force's attempt to help the Poles in Warsaw. Inspiring!

Alf R Jacobsen & Frank Stewart: Miracle At The Litza

Published by Casemate 20th October 2017

In the early summer of 1941 German mountain soldiers under the command of General Eduard Dietl set out in northern Norway up through Finland to the Russian border. Operation Silberfuchs was underway. The northernmost section of the Eastern Front would ensure Hitler supplies of nickel from Finnish mines, and bring the strategically important port city of Murmansk under German control. The roadless rocky terrain and extremes of weather created major challenges for the German troop movements. Despite this Dietl's men made quick gains on his Russian foe, and they came closer to Murmansk. Despite repeated warnings of a German attack, Stalin had failed to mobilize, and the British hesitated to come to the rescue of the Red Army. But while the weather conditions steadily worsened, the Russians' resistance increased. Three bloody efforts to force the river Litza were repulsed and the offensive would develop into a nightmare for the inadequately equipped German soldiers. In an exciting and authoritative narrative based on previously unpublished material, Alf Reidar Jacobsen describes the heavy fighting that would lead to Hitler's first defeat on the Eastern Front. With firsthand accounts of the fighting on the front line, this is a dramatic new account of a forgotten but bloody episode of World War II.


It is incredible to think that seventy-six years after it happened we are still learning about specific battles and campaigns from the Second World War. Authors Jacobsen and Stewart provide thrilling and detailed information about Hitler's first defeat on the eastern Front, and the entire book reads like the premise for a new blockbuster film. An amazing tale, mde all the more enthralling by the fact it remained untold for more than three quarters of a century.


Douglas Grindle: How We Won and Lost The War in Afghanistan

Published by Potomac Books January 31st 2018

June 2011, the hallways of the district government center in rural Dand District, Afghanistan hummed with activity, with scores of local village elders visiting offices to appeal for assistance and handouts. Outside, insurgents had been pushed out of the district and were confined to sporadic attacks along its fringes. Farmers sold their produce, thousands of children attended school and people voted in district elections. At the very heart of the Taliban insurgency, the government had won the war. However, the district faced a crisis that threatened its future. Resources were shrinking and the new government had concerns about remaining relevant to the people once America left. Within 12 months, Americans pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving the Afghan government to fail, undermining the achievements of thousands of soldiers and civilians. How We Won and Lost the War in Afghanistan: Two Years in the Pashtun Homeland by Douglas Grindle tells the never-been-told, first person account of how the war in Afghanistan was won, and how the newly created peace started to slip away when vital resources failed to materialize and the American military headed home. By placing the reader at the heart of the American counter-insurgency effort, Grindle reveals little-known incidents that include the failure of expensive aid programs to target local needs, the slow throttling of local government as official funds failed to reach the districts, and our inexplicable failure to empower the Afghan local officials even after they succeeded in bringing the people onto their side. How We Won and Lost the War in Afghanistan presents the side of the hard-working, competent Afghans who won the war and what they really thought of the U.S. military and their decisions. Written by a former field officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, this book tells of how America's desire to leave the Middle East ultimately overwhelmed our need to sustain victory.


This is an incredible account of how, after winning the Afghan war, the Americans abandoned the territory and watched as aid intended to ameliorate the lives of Afghan citizens was wasted or failed to be given to the people who needed it. The Allies are guilty of intervening in their anxiety to conduct their war on terror and leaving behind such an appalling mess that they might as well never have gone there in the first place. Distressing in the extreme.


Word Dominoes

Published by Chronicle Books 2018

From the minds behind the bestselling Haikubes, this creative new twist on an old favourite invites players to create words and phrases by linking images. Match what other players are thinking to win! With 42 sturdy dominoes, 84 images and unlimited connections, every game is packed with unexpected associations and hilarious combinations. An eye-catching party game, Word Dominoes will captivate voracious word nerds everywhere.


TBack in the 1950s there was a popular word game called Lexicon - my friends and I spent many happy hours playing it... and then came Scrabble. I first encountered Scrabble in 1963, when we were in Prittlewell, near Southen on Sea, staying with relatives before finally settling in Stevenage New Town. Uncle Stan and Aunt Florrie did have a small TV but there was rarely anything on we wanted to watch, and one evening they produced this board game with tiles for spelling words. We were hooked. SInce then, we've discovered and enjoyed many new word games - Upwords, etc., but now, from Chronicle, here's a brand new word game concept, highly original and very nicely packaged: Word Dominoes. Not the catchiest name for a game in the world, but the game is splendid, I can vouch for that, and hilarious at the same time. A sort of cross between Dominoes, Scrabble and that game where you match halves of people for comic effect - I forget the name. Word Dominoes will be out on the table this Christmas while we wait for Eastenders...


Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Christmas Story

Published by Abrams 24th October 2017

This is the only picture book about the Nativity illustrated with works of art by the greatest masters. The timeless story of Christmas is beautifully retold through paintings by some of the world's greatest artists. Borrowing from The Metropolitan Museum of Art's extensive and rich collection, 'The Christmas Story' depicts the Nativity through visual narration with the aid of paintings by, among others, Petrus Christus, Gerard David, Hans Memling and Rogier van der Weyden. Fifth-colour gold accents on the book jacket and interior pages help to create a glorious and lush book. The artworks are sensitively coupled with excerpts from the King James version of the Bible.


This is a most exquisite book telling the story of the Nativity by means of fantastic paintings by various Old Masters. The reproduction is superb, it's a very slim volume but the story is all there and the paintings are simply sublime!


Albert Nofi: The Blue & Gray Almanac

Published by Casemate 30th November 2017

Albert Nofi tells the story of the American War through a range of insightful essays, anecdotes, and facts. Did you know...

• During the final days of the war some Richmond citizens were wont to throw "Starvation Parties," at which elegantly attired guests would gather at soirees where the finest silver and crystal table ware was used, though there were usually no refreshments save water.
• Union Rear-Admiral Goldsborough was nicknamed "Old Guts", not so much for his combativeness as for his heft, weighing about 300 pounds, and was described as ". . . a huge mass of inert matter."
• 30.6 percent of the 425 Confederate generals, but only 21.6 percent of the 583 Union generals, had been lawyers before the war.
• In 1861, J. P. Morgan made a huge profit by buying 5,000 condemned US Army carbines and selling them back to another arsenal, taking the Army to court when they tried to refuse to pay for the faulty weapons.
• Major General Loring was reputed to have so rich a vocabulary than one of the men once remarked he could "curse a cannon up hill without horses."
• Many militia units had a favourite drink, the Charleston Light Dragoons' punch took around a week to make while the Chatham Artillery required 1 pound of green tea leaves be steeped overnight. 
• There were five living former presidents when the Civil War began, and seven veterans of the war (plus one draft dodger) went on to serve as President.


Almanacs are usually great fun, and this one is a cool way to learn about the American Civil War, and a unique opportunity to have a number of fantastic facts about it at your fingertips. Brilliant!


Robert N Watt: "I Will Not Surrender The Hair of a Horse's Tail"

Published by Helion November 15th November 2017

This volume covers the background to the Victorio Campaign of 1879-1881. In the early 1870s, a mixture of diplomacy and successful military campaigning by General George Crook led to the formation of several reservations for various Apache groups such as the Mescalero, Chiricahua and Western Apaches. Almost before the ink was dry on these treaties, an effort was made to rationalise this arrangement by placing the Apaches upon one reservation (the concentration policy). The first reservation to close was the Fort Bowie reservation, which belonged to the Chokonen (Central Chiricahua) Apaches. Some chose to resist, and this resistance - combined with the continued drive for concentration - brought about the closure of the Chihenne (Eastern Chiricahua) Apache reservation at Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, in 1877 and their removal to the San Carlos reservation in Arizona. The Chihennes were led by Victorio, Nana and Loco at this time, and they chose to accept the move, even though this was to the territory of the Western Apaches (with whom they often had a mutually hostile relationship). The land they were allocated was not healthy and a deadly feud between the Chihennes and the San Carlos Apaches quickly flared up; in September 1877, Victorio led a large portion of his people off San Carlos and tried to return to Ojo Caliente. Between 1877 and 1879, Victorio and his followers resisted their removal back to San Carlos - periodically fleeing and raiding mainly in Mexico to survive; they minimised hostile activity in the USA in order to keep alive their hopes of a return to Ojo Caliente. By August 1879, Victorio gave up hope that a return to Ojo Caliente was possible and declared war on the USA, as well as continuing their conflict with the Mexicans. Between September and December 1879, Victorio and his warriors - no more than 150 strong (and often as little as 50) - inflicted a number of defeats upon the Ninth Cavalry, US citizen volunteers and Mexican State troops. By the end of this volume, they had taken refuge - undefeated - in Northern Mexico and were poised to return to continue their battle with the USA for the return of their reservation. This research will outline the previously unreconstructed and sophisticated strategies and tactics utilised by Victorio, Nana and their followers to defeat every opponent sent against them.


The story of how the American settlers and the US government set about confining American Indians to poor tracts of land in various reservations has been a national disgrace for as long as I can remember. This tale of Victorio and Nana and their Chihenne Apaches as they take on the might of the Ninth Cavalry is inspirational and enthralling, and this book will go down in the annals of American history as an account of their humiliation because of their policies against the indigenous Indian peoples. The title of the book is as inspiring as Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and is equally as important a book. Amazing.


Niall Cherry: Doomed Before The Start

Published by Helion November 15th November 2017

Books on the events of the early months of 1940 are dominated by the desperate fighting undertaken by the British Expeditionary Force in Northern France and Belgium following the German invasion of May 10th and it is often overlooked that prior to this another British expeditionary force was involved in fierce fighting in Norway. Indeed, the invasion on April 9th saw the first use of airborne troops in the war and was also one of the very few amphibious operations undertaken by the Germans during the Second World War. It is hoped that Niall Cherry's new two-volume work covering the Allied intervention in Norway 1940 will fill this significant gap. The author provides a detailed account of the German invasion and the Allied reaction, including the land, sea and air battles. This includes such actions as the sinking of HMS Glowworm and HMS Glorious, the Gladiators on the frozen lakes and Maurice Force, the sacrifice of the Territorial Battalions at Tretten and the Independent Companies, to name but a few. Volume 2 focuses on the evacuation and further Naval operations including the sinking of HMS Glorious. As in Niall's previous books, detailed research has been carried out using official reports, war diaries and veterans' accounts, supported by photographs and maps.


I regret not having had the opportunity to read volume 1 of this campaign. The amazing detail in volume 2 provides a unique opportunity to read about the BEF in Norway in April 1940, and the first use of airborne troops in the conflict. A stirring read.



Duane Evans: Foxtrot in Kandahar

Published by Savas Beatie 30th September 2017

Kandahar. An ancient desert crossroads, and as of fall of 2001, ground zero for the Taliban and al-Qa'ida in southern Afghanistan. In the north, the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance, the Afghan organization opposed to the Taliban regime, has made progress on the battlefield and Kabul has fallen. But in the south, the country is still under the Taliban's sway, and al-Qa'ida continues to operate there. With no "Southern Alliance" for the U.S. to support, a new strategy is called for. Veteran CIA officer Duane Evans is dispatched to Pakistan to "get something going in the South." This is the true story of Evans's unexpected journey from the pristine halls of Langley to the badlands of southern Afghanistan. Within hours after he watched the horrors of 9/11 unfold during a chance visit to FBI Headquarters, Evans begins a personal and relentless quest to become part of the U.S. response against al-Qa'ida. This memoir tracks his efforts to join one of CIA's elite teams bound for Afghanistan, a journey that eventually takes him to the front lines in Pakistan, first as part of the advanced element of CIA's Echo team supporting Hamid Karzai, and finally as leader of the under-resourced and often overlooked Foxtrot team. Relying on rusty military skills from Evans's days as a Green Beret and brandishing a traded-for rifle, he moves toward Kandahar, one of only a handful of Americans pushing forward across the desert in the company of Pashtun warriors into some of the most dangerous, yet mesmerizingly beautiful, landscape on earth. The ultimate triumph of the CIA and Special Forces teams, when absolutely everything was on the line, is tempered by the US tragedy that catalyzed what is now America's longest war. Evans's very personal adventure that unfolds within the pages of Foxtrot in Kandahar: A Memoir of a CIA Officer in Afghanistan at the Inception of America's Longest War, which concludes with an analysis of opportunities lost in the years since his time in Afghanistan, should be required reading for everyone interested in modern warfare.


This is essential reading for anyone wanting to get to the bottom of what happened in Afghanistan as the US and their allies fought against the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. The amazing tale of CIA officer Duane Evans as he joins a small force travelling into hostile countryside near Kandahar is riveting, almost like a modern-day tale echoing Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King. Absolutely brilliant.


John Laband: The Battle of Majuba Hill

Published by Helion 15th November 2017

The ignominious rout of a British force at the battle of Majuba on 27 February 1881 and the death of its commander, Major General Sir George Pomeroy-Colley, was the culminating British disaster in the humiliating Transvaal campaign of 1880-1881 in South Africa. For the victorious Boers who were rebelling against the British annexation of their republic in 1877, Majuba became the symbol of Afrikaner resistance against British imperialism. On the flip side, Majuba gave the late Victorian British army its first staggering experience of modern warfare and signalled the need for it to reassess its training and tactics. Based on both British and Boer archival and contemporary sources, this balanced and fresh appraisal of Majuba situates it in the closely interlocked operational and political contexts of the Transvaal campaign. It analyses the contrasting military organizations and cultures of the two sides and clarifies how a Boer citizen militia with no formal training, but that handled modern small arms with lethal effect and expertly employed fire and movement tactics, was able to defeat professional―but hidebound―British soldiers. The book explains how a British field commander, such as Colley, already subject to the factional politics of command, also found his conduct of military operations subject to the close supervision of his superiors in London at the other end of the telegraph wire. His strategic objective was to break through the Boer positions holding the passes between the colony of Natal and Transvaal and to relieve the scattered British garrisons blockaded by the Boers. However, his defeats at Laing's Nek on 28 January and at Ingogo on 8 February alarmed the British government already concerned that the war was stirring up dangerous anti-British Afrikaner nationalism across South Africa. It instructed Colley to cease operations and open peace negations with the Boers. But the general, a highly talented staff officer holding his first independent command, was determined to retrieve his tattered military reputation. He side-stepped his orders and, in an attempt to outflank the Boer positions and win the war at a stroke, seized Majuba with disastrous consequences. Although British reinforcements were now pouring in and the suppression of the Boer rebellion still seemed feasible, Majuba was the last straw for the British government. To the disgust of the military who burned to expunge the shame of Majuba with a resounding victory, the politicians insisted on restoring the Transvaal Boers their independence.


I'm ashamed to say that I know little nothing about the Boer War, and this volume doesn't provide anything like the knowledge I would need to say that I had now studied it. What it does is to give me a clear indication of what happened at the infamous Battle of Majuba Hill, one specific battle in a long and bloody campaign that did little to enhance the reputation of the British Army in South Africa. The painting that adorns the front cover is simply breathtaking, and the contents of the book compare significantly to accounts of the defence of Rorke's Drift. A glorious slice of Victorian military history, brilliantly told.


Daniel Culler: Prisoner of the Swiss

Published by Casemate 28th November 2017

During World War II, 1,517 members of US aircrews were forced to seek asylum in Switzerland. Most neutral countries found reason to release US airmen from internment, but Switzerland took its obligations under the Hague Convention more seriously than most. The airmen were often incarcerated in local jails, and later transferred to prison camps. The worst of these camps was Wauwilermoos, where at least 161 U.S. airmen were sent for the honorable offense of escaping. To this hellhole came Dan Culler, the author of this incredible account of suffering and survival. Not only did the prisoners sleep on lice-infested straw, were malnourished and had virtually no hygiene facilities or access to medical care but worse, the commandant of Wauwilermoos was a die-hard Swiss Nazi. He allowed the mainly criminal occupants of the camp to torture and rape Dan Culler with impunity. After many months of such treatment, starving and ravaged by disease, he was finally aided by a British officer.

Betrayal dominated his cruel fate - by the American authorities, by the Swiss, and in a last twist in a second planned escape that turned out to be a trap. But Dan Culler’s courage and determination kept him alive. Finally making it back home, he found he had been abandoned again. Political expediency meant there was no such place as Wauwilermoos. He has never been there, so he has never been a POW and didn't qualify for any POW benefits or medical or mental treatment for his many physical and emotional wounds. His struggle to make his peace with his past forms the final part of the story. Rob Morris’s introduction and notes provide historical background and context, including recent efforts to recognise the suffering of those incarcerated in Switzerland and afford them full POW status.


This is an horrific story, one that explodes the myth of Switzerland being a peaceful country anxious not to become involved in local wars. Their ambition to stick to the principles of the Hague agreement on the incarceration and treatment of allied prisoners apparently went by the board, and Wauwilermoos Prisoner of War Camp would seem to be one of the worst places to have been from the point of view of the American prisoners who had excaped from Axis country camps. Dire conditions, dreadful inhuman treatment - my view of the Swiss has nosedived as a result of reading this book!


Disney Pixar: The Art of Coco

Published by Chronicle Books 8th December 2017

Pixar is proud to introduce the must-have companion to the vibrant new feature film Coco. The creation of Coco s mesmerizing world is explored in detail through colorful artwork, energetic character sketches, intriguing storyboards, and spellbinding colorscripts. Featuring insights from the production team about the making of the film and production art that bursts off the page, The Art of Coco overflows with insights into the creative process behind Pixar's unique and engaging vision.


Not only have I not heard of the film Coco, I have to admit I am less than impressed with the artwork. Although I have the utmost respect for Disney Pixar, the company that gave us Toy Story, I have to say that Coco does nothing for me. Sorry. I'm sure there will be legions of fans who are delighted by the film - this book is for them, but sadly not for me.



The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its twentieth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.