books monthly september 2017 nonfiction

Emmerdale and Call The Midwife favourite Stephen McGann's genealogical family biography breaks new ground...

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Sophie Donelson: house Beautiful Style Secrets

Published by Abrams 19th September 2017

From the country's most popular interior design magazine comes a stylish, in-depth look at what it takes to make any room beautiful. House Beautiful Style Essentials: What Every Room Needs is an inspiring and hardworking handbook that shows readers how to create the rooms of their dreams by revealing what every room needs. Chapters like Every Room Needs a Hiding Place provide clever ideas for storage and organisation, while sections like Every Room Needs Something Shiny give examples of how reflective surfaces can enhance and enlarge any space. Simple yet elegant advice from some of the biggest names in the interiors world is paired throughout with stunning photography of the best and most beautiful rooms featured in the magazine. From a room's overall look and colour down to its smallest details, House Beautiful Style Essentials provides tips, tricks, and secrets on how to cultivate a comfortable home and uncover the potential of every living space.

Regular readers of the glossy magazine House Beautiful (my wife included, although she gets her copies second-hand from car boot sales!) will already be aware of what to expect from this magnificent book. Crammed with ideas for transforming your home in terms of decorating, soft and hard furnishing, the photographs are brilliant, the narrative superb, and the idea that this is a coffee table book must be dispelled immediately - it's a text book, full of inspirational ideas and beautiful illustrations. Inspirational in the extreme!


Hugh Hefner: The Complete Playboy Centrefolds

Published by Chronicle Books 12th September 2017


With the first centrefold, the radiant Marilyn Monroe, Hugh M. Hefner masterminded a cultural icon: Playboy’s Playmate of the Month. This stunning volume contains all 734 nude centrefolds from 1954 to 2016, as well as an intro from Hefner and essays from literary luminaries, including Dave Hickey, Robert Coover, and Maureen Gibbon, amongst other. Updated to include an essay by Elisabeth Wurtzel (Prozac Nation), this collector’s edition captures the entire cultural and aesthetic arc of the Playboy centrefold.


Pplayboy magazine was a ground-breaker, a pioneer, a celebration of the female form, together with interviews, articles, book reviews etc., but it will be remembered chiefly for its sensational photographs of the cream of beautiful women prepared to reveal most, and later on, as we graduated to the 21st century, all of their charms. The photography is stunning, simply stunning, and the girls who populated the centrefolds, are, without exception, beautiful. This is celebration of the nude female which exudes class - like a gallery of nude paintings by old masters, it's a collection of amazing photographs that is simply without parallel in the modern world. A book to be treasured.

Matthew Lewis: The Wars of the Roses In 100 Facts

Published by Amberley 15th August 2017

The Wars of the Roses were a series of brutal conflicts between rival branches of the Plantagenet family – the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. The wars were fought between the descendants of Edward III and are believed to stem from the deposition of the unpopular Richard II by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. The wars were thought to have been fought between 1455 and 1487, and they saw many kings rise and fall as their supporters fought for their right to rule.

The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts covers this dangerous and exciting period of political change, guiding us through the key events, such as the individual battles, and the key personalities, such as Richard, Duke of York, and the Earl of Warwick, known as 'the Kingmaker'. Matthew Lewis takes us on a tour through the Wars of the Roses, fact by fact, in easy-to-read, bite-size chunks. He examines some of the most important aspects of this period, from the outbreak of the conflict at the First Battle of St Albans, to Henry VI's insanity, and the character of Richard III and his final defeat at the hands of Henry Tudor.

The latest in Amberley's superb "100 Facts" series looks this time at the Cousins' War, the Wars of the Roses. Nothing here we didn't know already, it's simply the way the facts are presented that is ground-breaking. Absolutely fantastic, the series should win an award of some kind.


Matthew Lewis: Richard, Duke of York, King By Right

Published by Amberley 15th August 2017

Richard, 3rd Duke of York is frequently used to recall the colours of the rainbow with the mnemonic ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’, wrongly believed to be the Grand Old Duke of York who had 10,000 men, or mistaken for his youngest son, Richard III.

The son of a traitor, he inherited a dukedom aged four, became the wealthiest man in England at thirteen and later rebelled against his king, and if he is remembered, it is as a man who ignited the Wars of the Roses. Further eclipsed by two of his sons, who would become the mighty warrior Edward IV and the recently rediscovered Richard III, he is an ancestor of the Tudor monarchs and fifteenth great-grandfather to Queen Elizabeth II, yet the man himself is obscured from view.

Matthew Lewis pushes aside the veils of myth and legend to challenge the image of Richard as a man whose insatiable ambition dragged a nation into civil war, revealing a complex family man with unparalleled power and responsibilities. The first person ever recorded to use the Plantagenet name, he pushed the political establishment to its limits, dared to fight back and was forced to do the unimaginable.

Following on from Amberley's superb "100 Facts", Matthew Lewis takes an in-depth look at the life and career of Richard III. Amberley's history books are among the best in the world and this latest offering, covering one of the most famous/infamous characters in our history is packed with new information and analysis of how his life impacted on the people he lived among. Absolutely fascinating.






Book of the Month - Stephen McGann: Flesh and Blood - A History of my Family in Seven Maladies

Published by Simon and Schuster 27th July 2017

His family survived famine-ravaged Ireland in the 1850s. His ancestors settled in poverty-rife Victorian Liverpool, working to survive and thrive. Some of them became soldiers serving on the Western Front. One would be the last man to step off the SS Titanic as it sank beneath the icy waves. He would testify at the inquest. This is their story. Stephen McGann is Doctor Turner in the BBC hit-drama series Call the Midwife.  Flesh and Blood is the story of the McGann family as told through seven maladies – diseases, wounds or ailments that have afflicted Stephen’s relatives over the last century and a half, and which have helped mould him into what he now perceives himself to be. It’s the story of how health, or the lack of it, fuels our collective will and informs our personal narrative. Health is the motivational antagonist in the drama of our life story - circumscribing the extent of our actions, the quality of our character and the breadth of our ambition. Our maladies are the scribes that write the restless and mutating genome of our self-identity.
  Flesh and Blood combines McGann’s passion for genealogy with an academic interest in the social dimensions of medicine – and fuses these with a lifelong exploration of drama as a way to understand what motivates human beings to do the things they do. He looks back at scenes from his own life that were moulded by medical malady, and traces the crooked roots of each affliction through the lives of his  ancestors, whose grim maladies punctuate the public documents or military records of his family tree. In this way he asks a simple, searching question: how have these maladies helped to shape the story of the person he is today?

This is not an autobiography, although there are plenty of autobiographical details in it. It is the story of Stephen McGann's family, from their earliest origins in Liverpool, through to their present-day lives in the UK as members of one of the finest and most watchable acting families in the country. The McGanns have become a dynasty in the same way as the Redgraves and the Richardsons, for example. At the moment, Stephen is probably the most in the spotlight because of the extraordinary runaway success of Call The Midwife. His brother Paul was briefly Doctor Who, but I remember him best of all as Luther's ex-wife's partner. The other two brothers are equally successful in their own way, but it is Stephen who has written this latest book, and although it is not related to Call The Midwife per se, one can't help but think of it whilst reading Flesh and Blood because we know that Stephen has already written Dr Turner's Casebook, itself one of the best books associated with the TV series. In Flesh and Blood we learn a great deal about his family, and the combination of "Who Do You Think You Are" and autobiography is an extraordinary triumph. Stephen combines his specialist knowledge of medicine with his other passion, his family. For me, the most fascinating part of Stephen's story was, well, everything - I've been a passionate supporter of Liverpool Football Club since I became interested in football following England's World Cup triuph in 1966. Stephen's love of the club is legendary. His marriage to Heidi Thomas, who created Call The Midwife, is an extraordinary tale of a growing, all-consuming love with which I can readily identify, having been happily married myself for 51 years. To use an interest in the genealogy of one's family in order to tell its story, and to tell it from the point of view of the various maladies that have afflicted the family through the ages is nothing short of inspired, and the end result is this fantastic book that transcends the autobiography genre and takes it to stellar heights. One of the best-loved acting dynasties is laid bare in a book you simply will not be able to put down once you have opened it. Simply fantastic, the best nonfiction book I have read for several years.


Fred Kerr: Steam At Work

Published by Pen and Sword 30th July 2017

The author, Fred Kerr, was introduced to the world of industrial railways in 1956 when his parents moved from Edinburgh to Corby in Northamptonshire, where the local steelworks offered a mix of locomotives from several manufacturers. When steam traction finished on BR in August 1968, Fred's interest in railways continued with diesel and electric traction, whilst retaining a passing interest in industrial locomotives through his visits to the heritage lines which were initiated in the post-Beeching era. When the author converted to digital photography in 2001, he visited many heritage lines as he sought to gain experience in the digital world. When he looked back after a decade of digital photography, he noted that industrial locomotives were still at work on many heritage lines throughout the UK. He also noted that during the 1960s the effort to preserve main-line steam traction had overlooked the availability of industrial locomotives, leading to the scrapping of many locomotives with both a story to tell and an incomplete working life. The result is a book that pays tribute to industrial locomotives which are still at work by detailing the manufacturers of these work-horses and the locomotives which they built; identifying their working lives where possible; showing their entry into preservation and paying tribute to those heritage lines which appreciated the value of these unsung heroes of the Industrial Revolution by buying the 'scrap' locomotives then restoring them to working order.


Some people are fascinated by passenger steam trains, but there is another world of steam railways, that of freight. Fred Kerr's amazing memoir showcases some of the most iconic and finest of their time. One wonders if doing away with steam was the best thing when looking through these amazing pictures.

Michael A Vanns; The Severn Valley Railway

Published by Pen and Sword 17th July 2017

The Severn Valley Railway has long been considered by many to be Britain's premier heritage railway. That reputation was earned early thanks to the quality of locomotive and carriage restoration, the careful refurbishment of stations and the standard of service offered to visitors. As with all heritage railways it has had to adapt to changing expectations over the years whilst attempting to keep the original aims of railway preservation at the heart of everything it does. This guide traces the history of the original Severn Valley Railway from the early plans of the 1840s, through its days when operated by first the Great Western Railway and then British Railways. The last chapter looks at the challenges and the achievements of the preservation era and the whole narrative should be of interest to anyone keen to know more of the story of a national treasure.


There are so many heritage railways in the UK now - it seems that steam railway travel is becoming alost as popular now as it was during its heyday. This superb book reveals the Severn Valley Railway in all its glory - I can't argue as to its being the finest; we have our own North Norfolk Railway here in Sheringham, and the trains are always, without exception, crowded, and they have started to regularly cross the road to the mainline. This book is a reminder of how things used to be, and how many people would like them to be once more. Stunning!


Villager Jim's Garden Wildlife

Published by Pen and Sword 20th June 2017

Birds, bees, and a whole host of other flora and fauna that share Villager Jim s garden in the tiny Peak District village of Foolow, are featured in this stunning book of photographs. Bobbin Robin is just one of the regular visitors to the garden; she and her friends have a huge social media audience, with tens of thousands of viewers. Open up the book to see the daily goings on of these wildlife friends in some of Jim s very best pictures taken in this beautiful setting. They illustrate the close relationship Jim has formed with some of the regular wildlife visitors to his garden. His quirky captions capture the mood and spontaneous character of each individual shot and are an essential element of what makes Villager Jim s pictures so special.


We've been following Villager Jom for ages on Facebook, and always been impressed with the quality of his images and their subject matter. This new book, published by Pen and Sword, is a triumph of wildlife photography, of a huge variety of garden birds, together with wild and domestiacted animals in Jim's "garden", which looks to be fairly substantial! A stunning book, a brilliant reminder of how you should always keep your camera handy...

Emma Jolly: Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors

Published by Pen and Sword 5th June 2017

Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors gives a fascinating insight into the history of the subcontinent under British rule and into the lives the British led there. It also introduces the reader to the range of historical records that can be consulted in order to throw light on the experience of individuals who were connected to India over the centuries of British involvement in the country.


I'm pretty sure we don't have any links to India in our ancestral family tree, but if we did, this new volume in Pen and Sword's groundbreaking series would be invaluable! An essential addition to the collection.


Gill Blanchard: Tracing Your House History

Published by Pen and Sword 5th June 2017

Anyone who wants to find out about the history of their house - of their home - needs to read this compact, practical handbook. Whether you live in a manor house or on a planned estate, in a labourer's cottage, a tied house, a Victorian terrace, a twentieth-century council house or a converted warehouse - this is the book for you. In a series of concise, information-filled chapters, Gill Blanchard shows you how to trace the history of your house or flat, how to gain an insight into the lives of the people who lived in it before you, and how to fit it into the wider history of your neighbourhood. A wealth of historical evidence is available in libraries, archives and record offices, in books and online, and this is the ideal introduction to it. Gill Blanchard explores these resources in depth, explains their significance and directs the researcher to the most relevant, and revealing, aspects of them. She makes the research process understandable, accessible and fun, and in the process she demystifies the sometimes obscure language and layout of the documents that researchers will come up against.


All of the houses in which I've ever lived, right from 1946, have been fairly modern, so there would be no history attached to them. My wife's first family house, in Kilburn, could have turned up some secrets, had anyone been interested during the time she lived there. This is an excellent reference work, another superb addition to Pen and Sword's brilliant series.


Richard Larn: The Islesof Scilly In The Great War

Published by Pen and Sword 1st June 2017

The Isles of Scilly, five inhabited islands 24 miles west of Land's End, were of low priority to the War Department when the First World War was declared. With no manufacturing capability, no industry other than flower growing and agriculture, no electricity or gas, no mains water supply, no wireless station, and a population of only 2,000, the islands did have one feature in their favour - their location. Sitting at the cross roads of six major shipping routes, Scilly had been a recognised 'ship-park' since 1300AD, where sailing ships anchored to safetly awaiting a suitable wind, to re-victual, pick up water or effect repairs. The Admiralty sought to make it a harbour for the Channel Fleet in the mid-1800s, and in 1903 spent GBP25,000 defending the islands with 6-inch gun batteries, only to take them away seven years later. When, in 1915, German U-boats moved from the North Sea into the Western Approaches, sinking large numbers of merchant vessels, Scilly was chosen to become a Royal Navy Auxiliary Patrol Station, and over time was sent 20 armed trawlers and drifters as escorts, mine-sweepers, mine-layers or anti-submarine vessels, along with 500 Royal Navy personnel.In 1917 Tresco Island became a Royal Naval Air Station, with 14 flying boats and over 1,000 personnel. The islands were suddenly at the forefront of the submarine war. This book details Scilly's contribution to the war effort, with attention to its civilian population, the heartbreak of losing forty-five of its sons, and the trauma of countless seamen rescued from torpedoed ships.


I really know very little about the Isles of Scilly other than that Harold Wilson once holidayed there whilst he was Prime Minister (I thnk), and that Elineor Brent Dyer relocated her Chalet School during the war years - or was that the Channel Islands? In any case, this is a stark reminder of how important these islands were at the outset of what was to become the world's first global war. Some brilliant illustrations and a remarkable narrative that informs and educates us all. Superb.


Gerry Van Tonder: Nottinghamshire's Military Legacy

Published by Pen and Sword 17th July 2017

Two years after landing on English soil in 1066, William of Normandy erected a strategic castle at Nottingham, thereby creating an enduring military nexus through to the modern era. On 22 August 1642, in his endeavours to quash Parliamentarian insurrection in the Midlands, King Charles raised his standard over Nottingham Castle, a rallying call to all Royalists to support their monarch. Loyalty to the Crown was, however, divided, and before long Parliamentarian forces garrisoned the castle. Late in the eighteenth century, a town troop of Yeomanry was raised in Nottingham, the foundation of the future South Notts Yeomanry. The yeomanry assisted regular troops by helping restore peace during the so-called Bread Riots of 1795, at a time when many of the town s men had been committed to military duty during the French Revolutionary Wars. Five troops of the town s yeomanry were again called up for service during the civil unrest of the Luddite Riots of 1811. This pattern of service continued over several decades. Evolving into a regiment, the yeomanry were repeatedly deployed against civil dissenters the Nottingham Riot, and the Reform Bill and Chartist Riots.After seeing combat during the Peninsula Wars in 1815, in the latter half of the 1800s, the 59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot formed part of a British invasion force into Afghanistan from India, to curb Russian interventionism in this remote and desolate region. The outbreak of war in distant South Africa in 1899 placed enormous strain on Britain s military capability. From Nottingham and other county towns, regiments of yeomanry, Hussars and Sherwood Rangers were dispatched to the hostile environment of the African veld. Nottingham s sons then answered a call to arms in their thousands, only to also perish in their thousands on the Godforsaken soils of France and Flanders during the holocaust that was the Great War. Through the Second World War to the present, Nottingham s military units underwent successive phases of metamorphosis from infantry to anti-aircraft and searchlight formations, followed by the relatively recent absorption into a regional entity: the Mercian Regiment. Today, Nottingham s castle and surrounds bear the symbols of a rich and diverse military legacy symbols of remembrance, of tribute, and of a tableau of military pride from ancient times.


This remarkable account of Nottinghamshire's military heritage may come as no surprise to its citizens, but does to me - I know some parts of the city by virtue of having relatives there, but nothing of its military history, and this fine book is something of a revelation, the nature of which I shall not hesitate to share with those same relatives the next time I see them. Essential reading for enthusiasts and citizens of the county, of course.


Ian Baxter: Auschwitz Death Camp

Published by Pen and Sword 30th April 2017

Auschwitz Death Camp The concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was the site of the single largest mass murder in history. Over one million mainly Jewish men, women, and children were murdered in its gas chambers. Countless more died as a result of disease and starvation. Auschwitz Death Camp is a chilling pictorial record of this infamous establishment. Using some 250 photographs together with detailed captions and... Ian Baxter has produced a fine selection of highly illustrated books in the Images of War Series mainly covering Axis Forces in WW2. He is a dedicated collector of rare images and an expert in his field. He lives near Chelmsford, Essex.


That chilling first sentence of the description of this book might put some people off, and might enthuse others to read on. For anyone who still needs to know the full horrors of Nazi atrocities, this book will satisfy their curiosity as to the part played by Auschwitz death camp in Poland. Chilling indeed.


Sarah Read & Jennifer Evans: Maladies and Medicine

Published by Pen and Sword 30th July 2017

Maladies and Medicine offers a lively exploration of health and medical cures in early modern England. The introduction sets out the background in which the body was understood, covering the theory of the four humours and the ways that male and female bodies were conceptualised. It also explains the hierarchy of healers from university trained physicians, to the itinerant women healers who travelled the country offering cures based on inherited knowledge of homemade remedies. It covers the print explosion of medical health guides, which began to appear in the sixteenth century from more academic medical text books to cheap almanacs. The book has twenty chapters covering attitudes towards, and explanations of some of, the most common diseases and medical conditions in the period and the ways people understood them, along with the steps people took to get better. It explores the body from head to toe, from migraines to gout. It was an era when tooth cavities were thought to be caused by tiny worms and smallpox by an inflammation of the blood, and cures ranged from herbal potions, cooling cordials, blistering the skin, and of course letting blood. Case studies and personal anecdotes taken from doctors notes, personal journals, diaries, letters and even court records show the reactions of individuals to their illnesses and treatments, bringing the reader into close proximity with people who lived around 400 years ago. This fascinating and richly illustrated study will appeal to anyone curious about the history of the body and the way our ancestors lived.


My bedtime read at the moment is the Poldark series, set in the late 18th century, and one of the principal characters is the young doctor, Dwight Enys. Some of the practices used by his older colleagues in the same profession would make your stomach churn, and those same practices are adequately described in this superb teatise on medical treatments and ailments by authors Sarah Read and Jennifer Evans. This is an essential piece of social history that may literally have you in stitches - if you haven't yet discovered the new BBC comedy Quacks, now is the time... and this is a wonderful book to fill you in on all those arcane practices as we started to develop modern methods of medical practice. Absolutely fascinating!

Christine Jordan: Gloucester's Military Legacy

Published by Pen and Sword 17th July 2017

From the establishment of Gloucester as a Roman colonia, a colony of retired military veterans, the city has held a strategic position, being close to the easiest crossing over the River Severn and into Wales. The Romans began building the city's defences, including the city walls and bastions, which were further enhanced by the great warrior Aethelflaed and which would become invaluable in the Siege of Gloucester during the Civil War in 1643. These walls would be destroyed by Charles II as a punishment for the city's role in the conflict. In the twelfth century, Gloucester's first motte and bailey castle was built and used by a number of kings as a garrison to prepare attacks against the Welsh and the Irish. The formation of what would become known as 'The Glorious Glosters', in 1782, led to a number of notable military campaigns, including the battles of Alexandria, Quatre Bras, the Second Boer War, including the Siege of Ladysmith, both World Wars and the Korean War. Christine's book will take you on an historic journey, uncovering on the way the city's military legacy.


Gloucester is my home town, and although I don't believe I ever visited the barracks, I do remember my father having many drinking acquaintances amongst the men who were stationed there. This lovekly book delves deep into Gloucestershire's military history, describing various campaigns in which the Gloucestershire infantry were involved. A magnificent memoir.


Jonathan Brown: The Railway Preservation Revolution

Published by Pen and Sword 30th June 2017

A ride on a steam train is a popular family outing. More than 100 heritage railways cater for that demand, capturing the spirit of nostalgia while preserving the engines and equipment of past days of rail travel. Their interests even extend to the modern era of 1960s-70s diesels. Those heritage railways themselves have a long pedigree, back to 1951, when a group of enthusiasts saved the Talyllyn Railway in mid-Wales from closure. They ran this railway as volunteers, out of their love of the little trains and a desire to keep it going. Their example was followed by many more preservation societies who preserved and restored branch lines, country lines and industrial lines for our enjoyment now. Six decades have passed, and we are now beginning to realise what an impressive history the heritage railway movement has. This book traces that history, from the humble beginnings the hopes and ambitions of the pioneers on the different railway projects. There were times of failure and frustration, as some fell by the wayside, but others have made it through times of adversity to become the major heritage businesses of today.


This superb book reinforces the notion that the people of this country, together with our tourist friends from all over the world, can see the benefits of reviving and maintaining the various heritage railways that now run in our little country. There is an appetite for nostalgia that was never satisfied so well as with a journey on a steam railway. Magical.


Christine E Hallett: Nurses of Passchendaele

Published by Pen and Sword 30th June 2017

The Ypres Salient saw some of the bitterest fighting of the First World War. The once-fertile fields of Flanders were turned into a quagmire through which men fought for four years. In casualty clearing stations, on ambulance trains and barges, and at base hospitals near the French and Belgian coasts, nurses of many nations cared for these traumatised and damaged men. Drawing on letters, diaries and personal accounts from archives all over the world, Nurses of Passchendaele tells their stories - faithfully recounting their experiences behind the Ypres Salient in one of the most intense and prolonged casualty evacuation processes in the history of modern warfare. Nurses themselves came under shellfire and were vulnerable to aerial bombardment, and some were killed or injured while on active service. Alongside an analysis of the intricacies of their practice, the book traces the personal stories of some of these extraordinary women, revealing the courage, resilience and compassion with which they did their work.


The two books I have so far read and reviewed on Passchendaele concentrated on military involvement and engagements. This superb book looks at the part played by the nurses, their courage under fire, their determination to help, and their compassion. Uplifting and inspiring.


Terry Crowdy: Donald Dean VC

Published by Pen and Sword 31st May 2017

Donald Dean lied about his age to enlist in the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment and serve on the Western Front, where he worked his way up from Private to acting Captain. It was in the last weeks of the war, late in September 1918, that he won his VC for leading a platoon in the determined defence of a recently-captured and isolated trench against repeated German counterattacks. In one of these attacks, the Germans actually broke into the trench, forcing Dean to break off a radio call for artillery support with the words 'The Germans are here, goodbye!' Refusing to be overrun, he personally killed four of the Germans before they were finally evicted. Dean also served in World War II, witnessing the fall of France in 1940 and claimingto be the last Brit to get out of Boulogne. His frank account of the evacuation challenges some cherished conceptions and is very critical of the conduct of the Irish Guards in particular. He went on to fight in Madagascar, Sicilya nd the Italian mainland. Donald Dean died in 1985.Military historian Terry Crowdy has edited Dean's letters and diaries, never previously published, adding additional notes and material from official reports to give the reader context. The result is a moving, often amusing and inspiring portrait of a little-known hero of two world wars.


This is an amazing account of a young man who lied about his age to enlist for service in WW1, retelling his exploits from diary entries and letters home. An extraordinary man, a true, unassuming hero with an appetite for life and danger that seems to me to be unsurpassed. Ranks alongside such military heroes as Douglas Bader...


Stephen Wade: Tales From The Big House - Normanby Hall

Published by Pen and Sword 30th June 2017

Tales from the Big House: Normanby Hall tells the story of a place known perhaps today mainly as the home where Samantha Cameron grew up, but historically it has been the seat of the Sheffield family, whose most famous member was arguably the Duke of Buckingham in the seventeenth century. As with most country houses, the Hall was used as a military hospital in the Great War, and in the Second World War there were military personnel based there again. It stands just a few miles from the great steelworks on the Brigg Road, which have always defined Scunthorpe, so it played its part in the history of steel-making also. The book includes biographies of the famous but also tells of the lives of the ordinary people who kept the house and the estate going, from the gamekeepers to the gardeners, and the cooks to the stable hands. All this is set against the social background through the centuries of its existence, up to the sale of the Hall to Scunthorpe Borough Council in 1964. The lives familiar to us today from Downton Abbey and similar family sagas are at the heart of Stephen Wades history. But along the way, the reader will meet such characters as Sir Berkeley Sheffield, model railway enthusiast, Walter Brierley, architect, Thomas Sumpter, the schoolmaster, John Fletcher, machine-maker, and perhaps most charismatically of all, Lady Arthur Grosvenor, an expert on gypsy caravans.


It will come as no surprise to my many friends and readers of Books Monthly that I am no fan of the Camerons; it is the house and its history and its stories in which I was chiefly interested, and I tried to ignore the fact that Samantha Cameron was involved with it. This is the other side, the very pricate side of Downton Abbey, a fascinating look at people with pedigrees far longer than hers, and with far more interesting lives and stories to be told than hers.


Sarah Seaton: Childhood and Death in Victorian England

Published by Pen and Sword 30th June 2017

In this fascinating book, the reader is taken on a journey of real life accounts of Victorian children, how they lived, worked, played and ultimately died. Many of these stories have remained hidden for over 100 years. They are now unearthed to reveal the hardship and cruel conditions experienced by many youngsters, such as a travelling fair child, an apprentice at sea and a trapper. The lives of the children of prostitutes, servant girls, debutantes and married women all intermingle, unified by one common factor death. Drawing on actual instances of Infanticide and baby farming the reader is taken into a world of unmarried mothers, whose shame at being pregnant drove them to carry out horrendous crimes yet walk free from court, without consequence. For others, they were not so lucky. The Victorian children in this publication lived in the rapidly changing world of the Industrial Revolution. With the introduction of the New Poor Law in 1834 the future for some pauper children changed but not for the better. Studies have also unearthed a religious sect known as the Peculiar People and gives an insight into their beliefs. This book is not recommended for those easily offended as it does contain graphic descriptions of some child murders, although not intended to glorify the tragedies, they were necessary to inform the reader of the horrific extent that some killers went to. This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in the social history of the Victorian period.


The scandalous way in which poorer people's lives impacted on their children and their brief, unhappy lives is brought into stark reality in this amazing social history bySarah Seaton.


Nigel McCrery: The Coming Storm

Published by Pen and Sword 17th July 2017

The outbreak of the Second World War came towards the closing stages of the 1939 cricket season. Hitler permitted us almost to complete an exceptionally interesting season, Sir Home Gordon, wrote in the Cricketer magazine, When shall we see the stumps pitched again? As the West Indies touring team cancelled their last five matches and sailed home before the U-boat threat developed, the treasures at Lord s, including the Ashes, were sent to a secret location for safe-keeping. The Marylebone Cricket Club cancelled its tour to India - England played under the MCC banner then. During the ensuing conflict twelve test cricketers (five English, two South Africans, one Australian and one New Zealander) perished together with 130 first class players. In this superbly researched sequel to Final Wicket, covering cricketing fatalities during The Great War, this book reveals each man's career details, including cricketing statistics, and the circumstances of death. There is also a brief history of the game during the War. Arguably the period between the two world wars was the golden age of cricket, and this book honours those who made it so only to die serving their countries in a different way.


It seems only fitting that the gentlemen's game and how it was affected by the outbreak of the Second world War should get its own special treatment by way of this superb book by Nigel McCrery. The war was an inconvenience to the cricketing fixture lists, of course, but Nigel's book reminds us that there were many cricketers, some of them notable, who saw service and died. The game inevitable recovered in the postwar years but this is a colourful and fascinating account of the impact of the war on the national game.


Philip Matyszak: Sparta - Rise of a Warrior Nation

Published by Pen and Sword 30th March 2017

Their contemporaries were fascinated by the Spartans and we still are. They are portrayed as the stereotypical macho heroes: noble, laconic, totally fearless and impervious to discomfort and pain. What makes the study of Sparta so interesting is that to a large extent the Spartans lived up to this image. Ancient Sparta, however, was a city of contrasts. We might admire their physical toughness and heroism in adversity but Spartans also systematically abused their children. They gave rights to citizen women that were unmatched in Europe until the modern era, meanwhile subjecting their conquered subject peoples to a murderous reign of terror. Though idealized by the Athenian contemporaries of Socrates Sparta was almost devoid of intellectual achievement. Philip Matyszak explores two themes: how Sparta came to be the unique society it was, and the rise of the city from a Peloponnesian village to the military superpower of Greece. But above all, his focus is on the Spartan hoplite, the archetypal Greek warrior who was respected and feared throughout Greece in his own day, and who has since become a legend.The reader is shown the man behind the myth; who he was, who he thought he was, and the environment which produced him.


Essential contribution to the literature of the ancient world - I don't think I would even have known where to find Sparta! The people of Sparta were enlightened in many respects, lacking in others. Author Philip Matyszak uncovers some surprising facts about the Spartans that make this a fascinating read!


Eve Menezes Cunningham: 365 Ways To Feel better

Published by Pen and Sword 30th May 2016

This book will transform your life. Radical self-care in easy baby steps, what's not to love? Suzy Greaves, Psychologies Editor 'Eve has done a remarkable job of pulling together 366 daily steps to help you live a happier, healthier, freer and more fulfilled life. Let her be your inspiring guide for your year ~ Nick Williams, best-selling author of fourteen books including The Work We Were Born To Do It s hard to imagine a more useful book than the one you re holding in your hands ~ Barbara J. Winter, author of Making a Living Without a Job 'Rich, extensive content covering a wide range of holistic principles and practices made very attainable for anyone to use. A wealth of options for managing being human' ~ Gill Fennings-Monkman MBE, Past Chair of BACP Coaching This is a fabulous book. So very well thought out, planned and executed and with a wonderful accessible yet respectful style. Buy yourself this book and sit down and devour it in the way that suits you best. Then buy a copy for someone else ~ Debra Jinks, co-author of Personal Consultancy: A Model for Integrating Counselling and Coaching If living a happy, loving and healthier life is of interest to you then pick up this book. Something here for everyone ~ Steve Ahnael Nobel, author of The Prosperity Game A book that many will find of value ~ Gladeana McMahon, Chair Emeritus, Association for Coaching UK and author of books including Resilience: A Practical Guide Eve Menezes Cunningham is a journalist, accredited psychosynthesis counsellor, integrative coach-therapist, clinical supervisor, yoga therapist, NLP (neuro linguistic programming) Master Practitioner, accredited and certified Advanced EFT (emotional freedom technique) Practitioner, crystal therapist and Chair of BACP Coaching.


I haven't read this one yet - I leafed through it to see if there was anything I could do immediately to ameliorate my sufferings, and nothing jumped out at me, I have to say. I reserve judgment until I've had longer to digest the contents!


Stuart Reid: The Battle of Plassey 1757

Published by Pen and Sword 30th May 2017

Britain was rapidly emerging as the most powerful European nation, a position France long believed to be her own. Yet with France still commanding the largest continental army, Britain saw its best opportunities for expansion lay in the East. Yet, as Britain s influence increased through its official trading arm, the East India Company, the ruler of Bengal, Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah, sought to drive the British out of the sub-continent and turned to France for help. The ensuing conflict saw intimate campaigns fought by captains and occasionally colonels and by small companies rather than big battalions. They were campaigns fought by individuals rather than anonymous masses; some were heroes, some were cowards and most of them were rogues on the make. The story is not only about Robert Clive, a clerk from Shropshire who became to all intents and purposes an emperor, but also about Eyre Coote an Irishman who fought with everyone he met, about Alexander Grant a Jacobite who first escaped from Culloden and then, Flashman-like was literally the last man into the last boat to escape Calcutta and the infamous Black Hole. The fighting culminated in Robert Clive's astonishing victory at Plassey where just 3,000 British and sepoy troops defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah s Franco-Bengali army of 18,000 in the space of only forty minutes. The victory at Plassey in 1757 established Britain as the dominant force in India, the whole of which gradually come under British control and became the most prized possession in its empire. Few battles in history have ever had such profound consequences.


One of my best-loved books when I was a nipper was With Clive In India - I have to confess that not a single word of that book has permeated my brain to the extent that I could relate anything about Clive and how he and his 3,000 troops defeated a far larger army of 18,000 and thereby became a legend. A timely reminder, then, from Stuart Reid!


Simon MacDowall: The Goths

Published by Pen and Sword 19th July 2017

In the late 4th century, pressure from the Huns forced the Goths to cross the Danube into the Roman Empire. The resultant Battle of Adrianople in 378 was one of Rome s greatest defeats. Both western (Visigoth) and eastern (Ostrogoth) branches of the Goths had a complex relationship with the Romans, sometimes fighting as their allies against other barbarian interlopers but carving out their own kingdoms in the process. Under Alaric the Visigoths sacked Rome itself in 410 and went on to establish a kingdom in Gaul (France). They helped the Romans defeat the Hunnic invasion of Gaul at Chalons in 451 but continued to expand at Roman expense. Defeated by the Franks they then took Spain from the Vandals. The Ostrogoths had a similar relationship with the Eastern Roman Empire before eventually conquering Italy. Adrianople, the events of 410 and the Ostrogoths long war with Belisarius, including the Siege of Rome, are among the campaigns and battles Simon MacDowall narrates in detail. He analyses the arms and contrasting fighting styles of the Ostro- and Visi- Goths and evaluates their effectiveness against the Romans.


At the time, the Roman empire and its army must have seemed invincible. The Goths were a race that simply would not accept defeat, and in this fascinating account of their history, author Simon MacDowall opens our eyes to their strengths and weaknesses, and looks at the various campaigns that built them into the fearsome fighting machine they ultimately became.


Daniel Tammet: Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 24th August 2017

From the bestselling author of Born on a Blue Day and Thinking in Numbers, a delightful and eclectic exploration of language, and what it can teach us about ourselves and our lives. Why is the name 'Cleopatra' not allowed in Iceland? Why do clocks 'talk' to the Nahua people of Mexico? And if we are what we eat, are we also what we say? These are just some of the questions Daniel Tammet answers in Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing, a mesmerising new collection of essays investigating the intricacies and profound power of human language. Tammet goes back in time to explore the numeric language of his autistic childhood; he looks at the music and patterns that words make, and how languages evolve and are translated. He meets one of the world's most accomplished lip readers in Canada, learns how endangered languages like Manx are being revived and corresponds with native speakers of Esperanto in their mother tongue. He studies the grammar of the telephone, contemplates the significance of disappearing dialects, and also asks: will chatbots ever manage to convince us that they are human? From the art of translation to the lyricism of sign language, Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing is a fascinating journey through the world of words, letters, stories and meanings, and an extraordinary testament to the stunning range of Tammet's literary and polyglot talents.


I am normally fascinated by books about words, their origins and their place in our world, but I have to confess that I found this one a little dry...


Emma Blomfield: Home - The Elements of Decorating

Published by Hardie Grant 10th August 2017

Home acts as a friendly, room-to-room guide to creating a look you love and a space you are proud to show off – without breaking the bank or starting from the ground up. With beautiful but hard-working illustrations, Emma demystifies the five elements of decorating – needs and wants, colour and pattern, shape and size, placement, and lighting – and shows how easy it can be to apply them to each room in your house. Whether you’re refreshing your look, moving in, organising your home office, decorating a nursery or creating an outdoor oasis, Emma’s tried-and-tested advice will inspire and guide you. With original illustrations, clever floorplans, practical decorator’s tips and styling 101s, Home is a timeless handbook for anyone who has ever doubted their decorating ability, or craved a helping hand through the process.  


A fascinating look at the principles and practices involved in decorating; choosing complimentary colours etc., this is a practical guide to enhancing and decorating your home. Emma Blomfield takes us on a journey that enables us to make the right choices and end up with a realisation of our dreams.


Nick Wotherspoon: Lawrie Bond - Microcar Man

Published by Pen and Sword 30th June 2017

Once a common sight on Britain's roads, few people today seem to have heard of the Bond Minicar not a diminutive, gadget laden conveyance for the fictional 007 character, but a popular, practical, motorcycle-engined, three-wheeler that in the post-war austerity period, gave tens of thousands of people affordable personal transport at a time when conventional vehicles were beyond the reach of the average household. Yet whilst the later, mostly imported, 'Bubble cars' have remained in the public eye, it is largely forgotten that the first of the post-war 'Microcars' to go into significant production was the British designed and built Bond. Equally enigmatic seems to be the designer of this vehicle, Lawrence 'Lawrie' Bond a prolific automotive design genius, with a penchant for weight-saving construction techniques. He was responsible for a wide range of two, three and four wheel vehicles; from ultra-lightweight motorcycles and scooters, such as the Minibyke, Lilliput and Gazelle, as well as his other Microcars the stylish Berkeley and perhaps less-than-pretty Opperman Unicar and finally to his later work, including the innovative, but troubled Bond 875 and styling the Equipe GT sportscar. Here the story is told in full, covering all Lawrie's innovative designs and the various vehicles that bore his name, all in prolifically illustrated detail, together with his passion for motor racing, which resulted in a number of technically acclaimed racing cars, some of which can still be seen competing is historic racing events today.


A truly inspirational story of a pioneer in the automotive industry = Bond was responsible for a number of amazing car designs - I've never been that fond of three-wheeled vehicles personally, but this history of Lawrie Bond's amazing designs is inspirational and fascinating, almost larger than life!

Kevin McLean: Crossing The River Kabul

Published by Potomac Books 1st June 2017

Baryalai Popal sees his Western-educated professors at Kabul University replaced by communists. He witnesses his classmates "disappearing." The communist takeover uproots Popal from his family and home. Thus begins Crossing the River Kabul, the true story of Popal's escape from Afghanistan and his eventual return. Popal fled his country following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. After being imprisoned as a spy in Pakistan, he managed to make his way to Germany as a refugee and to the United States as an immigrant. Twenty years later he returned to Afghanistan after 9/11 to reclaim his houses, only to find one controlled by drug lords and the other by the most powerful warlord in Afghanistan. Popal's memoir is an intimate, often humorous portrait of the vanished Afghanistan of his childhood. It is also the story of a father whose greatest desire is to see his son follow in his footsteps, and a son who constantly rebels against his father's wishes. Crossing the River Kabul is a story of choice and destiny, fear and courage, and loss and redemption.


An amazing true story of a real life escape from a repressive regime via the river Kabul. Full of heartwarming and realistic anecdotes, of a man with a titally fatalistic approach to life.


Sarah Morris & Natalie Grueninger: In The Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII

Published by Amberley 15th July 2017

This book provides a fresh perspective on the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives by embarking on a journey through the manors, castles and palaces in which their lives were played out. This journey traces their steps to the Alhambra in Spain, childhood home of Katherine of Aragon; to the very room at Acton Court where Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII publicly dined; through the cobbled grounds of Hampton Court Palace, which bore witness to both triumph and tragedy for Jane Seymour; into the streets of Düsseldorf in Germany, birthplace of Anne of Cleves; among the ruins and picturesque gardens of St Mary’s Abbey in York where Catherine Howard and Henry VIII rested at the pinnacle of the 1541 progress; and to Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire, where Katherine Parr lived as daughter-in-law of the irascible Sir Thomas Brough.

Each location is described in a fascinating narrative that unearths the queens’ lives in documents and artefacts, as well as providing practical visitor information based on the authors’ first-hand knowledge of each site. Accompanied by an extensive range of images including timelines, maps, photographs and sketches, this book brings us closer than ever to the women behind the legends, providing a personal and illuminating journey in the footsteps of the six wives of Henry VIII.


We may have reached saturation point when it comes to the examination of the life and wives of Henry VIII but this splendid book is different; it takes you on a journey to all of the houses where those six wives lived and were brought up. A real winner from Amberley,this is a superlative way of looking at the life and times of siz of the most famous women in British history.


Terry Breverton: Owen Tudor - Godfather of the Tudors

Published by Amberley 15th July 2017

‘The Welsh habit of revolt against the English is an old-standing madness … from the sayings of the prophet Merlin they still hope to recover their land. Hence, they frequently rebel … but because they do not know the appointed time, they are often deceived and their labour is in vain.’ (Vita Edwardi Secundi)

The appointed time, it turned out, was 1485. For generations, the ancestors of Welshman Owen Tudor had fought Romans, Irish Picts, Vikings, Saxons, Mercians and Normans. His uncles had been executed in the Glyndwr Welsh War of Independence. Owen fought for Henry V in France and entered the service of Henry’s queen, Catherine of Valois. Soon after the king’s death he secretly married her, the mother of the eight-month-old Henry VI. Owen and Catherine would have two boys together. Henry VI would go on to ennoble them as Edmund Earl of Richmond, and Jasper Earl of Pembroke, but upon Catherine’s death Owen was imprisoned. Escaping twice, Owen was thrown into the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses with two of his sons. It would be Edmund’s son, Henry Tudor, who would take the English throne as Henry VII.

When Jasper led the Lancastrian forces at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461, the ageing Owen led a wing of the defeated army, was captured and executed. Without his earlier secret marriage for love, there would have been no Tudor dynasty.


A brilliant study of the man who founded the Tudor dynastyin the years after the Cousins' War. One never tires of reading about this most turbulent time in British history. Beautifully written and illustrated.


Kev Darling: British Military Jets

Published by Amberley 15th July 2017

The end of the Second World War provided little rest for air forces and the aircraft industry. Both sides now had to put enormous energy into research and development to gain an edge. For the British aircraft industry it meant producing aircraft quickly, and on tight budgets: for Bomber Command to carry Britain’s new nuclear deterrent, and for Fighter Command to defend the country.

This book examines the RAF’s British-made combat jet aircraft of this turbulent and frightening period, up to the cancellation of TSR-2 and the end of the British aircraft industry as it then was. The great names, Hunter, Vulcan, Lightning, Harrier, are considered alongside less well known types, and the story of each key aircraft is told from development to operational use.

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 British military jets in all their variety.


A timely reminder that Britain once led the world in the design and manufacture of military jet fighter aircraft - having been born and grown up in Brockworth, Gloucester, just a few hundred yards from the factory where they made the Gloster Javelin, I can readily relate to this superb book.


Alan Weeks: They Were There On The Western Front 1914-1918

Published by The Book Guild 28th July 2017

This book comprises diaries, memoirs and letters from 100 people, during the First World War - made up of British, Australian, American and French officers and other ranks, covering infantry, cavalry, artillery (including the machine gun corps and its founder), engineers, service personnel, medical and labour corps. There are marines, despatch riders, stretcher bearers and cooks, and many non-combatants - doctors, nurses, French liaison officers, priests and padres.








Winston Ramey: Invasion Airfields Then And Now

Published by After The Battle 1st August 2017

Following the success of Operation `Overlord', the Supreme Commander General Eisenhower wrote that `on the morning of June 9 I was able to announce that for the first time since 1940, Allied air forces were operating from France, and that within three weeks of D-Day, 31 Allied squadrons were operating from the beach-head bases'. In their forecasts for the first three months following D-Day, the planners plotted the number of the advanced landing grounds that would be required in Normandy to support the Allied air forces up to September 1944. Using maps and aerial photographs, individual sites were surveyed and plans drawn up so that when each location was captured, either US Aviation Engineers, the Royal Engineers or RAF Airfield Construction Wings, could move in without delay to begin work to build them. This book tells the story of every airfield that became operational by D+90, explaining the methods used to construct them and the units that flew from them. The vast majority of the temporary airstrips have now been returned to the farmland from which they came, but by using engineers' plans from the period and modern aerial photographs, we have portrayed the sites in true After the Battle fashion: as they were then and as they are today.


This is a subject that is often largely ignored - the construction and maintenance of spearhead landing strips and facilities as the allies began the push into the enemy territory following Operation Overlord. This is a fascinating retelling of the trials and tribulations, and of the methods employed by the engineers who were there and made it all possible. An amazing tribute to the men and women who were involved. A splendid book.


John Rigby-Jones: Best Love To All - The Letters and Diaries of Captain Eric Rigby-Jones

Published by Helion 15th June 2017

Best Love to All is an account of the experiences of the author's grandfather as a young officer on the Western Front with the Liverpool Pals. Based on his unpublished letters and diaries, it covers his participation in the battles of Arras and Ypres in 1917, with the Fifth and Second Armies during the great German Spring Offensive of 1918, and in Brussels after the armistice. Eric Rigby-Jones is one of the many unsung heroes of the war and, were it not for his own account, his bravery would now be forgotten. He was awarded the Military Cross and Bar for his actions on the first and last days of the Spring Offensive. Invalided home, he was presented with his medals by the King at Buckingham Palace a week after his 21st birthday. Eric would go on to become a leading industrialist in Ireland after the war, founding his company, Irish Ropes, in the disused British cavalry barracks in Newbridge, Co Kildare in 1933.

The book is well-researched and draws heavily on battalion war diaries and other memoirs. Unlike many books based on personal diaries it sets Eric's own detailed, vivid, and often humorous accounts within their broader military, political and social context, and highlights the many close ties that bound the officers and men of the Liverpool Pals together. It also introduces a wide range of characters including Lord Derby, the Secretary of State of War and ‘King of Lancashire', who was instrumental in creating the Pals; his younger brother, Brigadier Stanley, who commanded them; Johnny Douglas, the England cricket captain, who was Eric's battalion commander; Brigadier Robert White, who sent Eric on a suicide mission in March 1918 and who had been tried and jailed for his part in the Jameson Raid in 1895; and Aidan Chavasse, the youngest son of the Bishop of Liverpool and brother of the double VC-winner, Noel Chavasse, who was killed during a Pals' trench raid at Ypres.

The book is aimed at the general reader and will appeal in particular to those who are interested in the history of Liverpool and the Pals battalions and in Eric's later career. However it also includes new details and perspectives, as in Eric's own account of the German spring offensive, which will make it of interest to the specialist reader. The book is well-illustrated and includes numerous photographs and documents from the author's family albums as well as his own photographs of the battlefields where his grandfather fought.


The Liverpool Pals' Battalion is but one of many formed during the early years of the First World War, yet it is quite possibly one of the most famous. John Rigby-Jones's grandfather's letters and diaries are put to good use in this fascinating book about a group of young men with a common camaraderie and background.


Tim Topps: The Umzindusi Letter

Published by Troubador 21st March 2017

An explosive revelation about who actually shot Lord Erroll. An explanation of the famous murder case. A cast of characters including Winston Churchill and Lord Baden-Powell. The shooting of Lord Erroll in the famous ‘Happy Valley’ murder case in 1941 has never been explained. It has sparked a host of wild rumours and theories, several books, and a film with a ridiculously wrong ending. Living in Kenya as a child in the late 1930’s, Tim knew several of the people who would be involved in the affair. It is only now, over 75 years later, that the truth seems to be emerging due to his most recent researches. A “Wartime Necessity”, reluctantly ordered by Churchill as he became Prime Minister, has always been seen as a possible answer to this mystery. Tim’s unique inside knowledge extends the link between Churchill and this event in an unexpected dimension, which has never before been revealed until this book. Tim unfolds the story exactly as it developed, from initial shock through to tentative suspicions, then to final discoveries and the only piece of positive proof that has not been destroyed: an oblique message from Winston to his grandfather. After authoring several stories this time Tim is not writing fiction. On balance Tim is convinced this is the true explanation of the famous murder. How about you?


An amazing story involving Lord Baden Powell and Winston Churchill, both involved, it seems, in a scandal of the 1940s and a mystery which until the publication of this fascinating book, has never been solved. Tim Topps is the writer's nom de plume, and the book is soemthing of a revelation which you will want to read for yourself. Fascinating!


James Turner: Instruments Of Battle

Published by Casemate 17th August 2017

Instruments of Battle examines in detail the development and role of the British Army's fighting drummers and buglers, from the time of the foundation of the army up to the present day. While their principal weapon of war was the drum and bugle (and the fife), these men and boys were not musicians as such but fighting soldiers who took their place in the front line.

The origins of the drum and bugle in the Classical Period and the later influence of Islamic armies are examined, leading to the arrival of the drum and fife in early Tudor England. The story proper picks up post-English Civil War and the drum's period of supremacy through much of the eighteenth century army; certain myths as to its use are dispelled. The bugle rapidly superseded the drum for field use in the nineteenth century until developments on the battlefield consigned these instruments largely to barrack-life and the parade-ground. But there are surprising examples of the use of the bugle in the field through both World Wars and the story is brought up to most recent times and relegation to an almost exclusively ceremonial role.

This is all set against a background of campaigns, battles, changing tactical methods and the difficult processes of command and control on the battlefield. Interwoven is relevant comparison with other armies, particularly American and French. The wider roles of drummers, especially, as battlefield heralds, as adjuncts to recruiting and dispensers of punishment are considered, as well as the other roles they and buglers assumed, out of practicability, on the modern battlefield. Stories of the drummers and buglers themselves provide social context to their place in the army.


The hitherto forgotten story of the development of the regimental band, mainly drummers and buglers. A rare piece of social history.


Tom Guttridge: Behind The Wire - Everyday Life as a POW

Published by Amberley 15th August 2017

When rifleman Tom Guttridge returned from war in the early summer of 1945, he brought home not only vivid memories of the battlefield and his five years in prisoner-of-war camps, but a unique collection of photographs obtained from his German captors by trading items from Red Cross parcels. The photos included battlefield scenes of Calais, where Tom was captured in May 1940 after fighting to hold up the German advance during the evacuation of Dunkirk, and pictures illustrating both the horrors and the lighter side of daily life in the three PoW camps where he spent most of the war – Stalag VIII B and the Delbruick Shaft in southern Poland and Stalag 383 in Bavaria, Germany. Together with his written memories, the pictures provide a rare visual insight into life in PoW camps, including daily chores, funerals and celebrations, camp entertainment and football matches between former professional players.


It is thanks to the efforts of POWs such as Tom Guttridge that we have such a complete and absorbing picture of the way British POWs were treated in Nazi occupied Europe. Films like The Great Escape entertain - books like Tom's Behind The Wire tell the true, fascinating story.


Theron Humphrey: Maddie Lounging On Things

Published by Abrams Image 12th September 2017

Maddie the coonhound has captured the hearts and imaginations of dog lovers all around the world. Maddie Lounging on Things follows Maddie's adventures at play and at rest as she accompanies her owner, Theron, from Utah to Illinois to Mexico and everywhere in between. From cross-country trips sleeping in cars and cheap motels to visiting family near and far, Maddie finds a way to settle in for a nap in any set of circumstances. This collection highlights Maddie's snuggly, cuddly side, as she curls up in unexpected places, belly flops onto sofas all over the country, and nestles herself into the lap of her much-loved owner. These sweet, touching, and oftentimes silly photos will be absolutely irresistible to Maddie's fans and dog lovers just getting to know her.


Any dog lover will find this beautiful book amusing and heartwarming. Maddie, photographed in hundreds of different poses, sometimes with other dogs, soetimes with people - what's not to love!


Thomas V Renahan: Struggle For Iraq

Published by Potomac Books 1st June 2017

The Struggle for Iraq is a vivid personal account of the Iraqi people's fight for democracy and justice by an American political scientist. Thomas M. Renahan arrived in southern Iraq just three days before the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003; later he worked in Baghdad through the dark days of the country's sectarian violence and then in Iraqi Kurdistan. One of the few Americans to serve in all three major regions of Iraq, he spearheaded projects to develop democratic institutions, promote democracy and elections, and fight corruption. With inside accounts of two USAID projects and of a Kurdish government ministry, this engrossing and cautionary story highlights efforts to turn Baathist Iraq into a democratic country.

Renahan examines the challenges faced by the Iraqi people and international development staff during this turbulent time, revealing both their successes and frustrations. Drawing on his on-the-ground civilian perspective, Renahan recounts how expatriate staff handled the hardships and dangers as well as the elaborate security required to protect them, how Iraqi staff coped with the personal security risks of working for Coalition organizations, and the street-level mayhem and violence, including the assassinations of close Iraqi friends. Although Iraq remains in crisis, it has largely defeated the ISIS terrorists who seized much of the country in 2014. Renahan emphasizes, however, that reconciliation is still the end game in Iraq. In the concluding chapters he explains how the United States can support this process and help resolve the complex problems between the Iraqi government and the independence-minded Kurds, offering hope for the future.


The book description says it all. I'm afraid I'm not sufficiently educated in Middle Eastern history to be able to comment, but it seems to be a comprehensive look at the situation in Iraq as they take back the lands seized by the so-called Islaminc State.


Quintin Barry: Far Distant Ships

Published by Helion & Co., 15th July 2017

Throughout the long drawn out war at sea during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, it was a cardinal principle of British naval strategy to blockade the port of Brest, the largest and most important of the French naval bases that threatened the security of the British Isles. It was a strategy that had been perfected by Sir Edward Hawke during the Seven Years War of 1756 - 1763, when it culminated in the stunning victory of Quiberon Bay. The American naval historian A.T. Mahan memorably summed up the contribution of the Royal Navy to the ultimate defeat of Napoleon when he wrote: ‘Those far distant, storm-beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the domination of the world.'

There were many aspects to the blockade of Brest, but always at its centre was the need to frustrate French attempts at the invasion of Britain or Ireland. Most famous of these, of course, was Napoleon's intricate combination that led to the campaign of Trafalgar, in the course of which his invasion plans disintegrated. But there were many other offensive moves which it was the blockading fleet's duty to prevent. Inevitably, there were great sea battles when the French ventured out, though fewer than might have been expected. For many months at a time the British fleet was at sea off Brest facing the considerable dangers of wind and weather without encountering its adversary.

There were many remarkable leaders who came to the fore during the long years of war; Howe, Bridport, St Vincent, Cornwallis and Keith were among those who led the Channel Fleet. Nelson described his captains as a ‘band of brothers', but this was by no means a description that could be applied to the quarrelsome, self willed and argumentative group of men who held the destiny of the Royal Navy in their hands, whether at sea or around the boardroom table at the Admiralty.

Drawing on the official and personal correspondence of those involved, this book traces the development of British naval strategy, as well as describing the crucial encounters between the rival fleets and the single ship actions which provided the press with a constant flow of news stories for its readers.


Some of the preconceptions on which this book is based may have been overtaken by events of the past few days, which reveal Admiral Lord Nelson to have been a white supreacist, and an outspoken advocate for the continuation of the slave trade...


Susan Duxbury-Neumann: What Have The Germans Ever Done For Us?

Published by Amberley 15th August 2017

By the second half of the nineteenth century, Germans had formed the largest immigrant group in England and Wales after the Irish, peaking at over 60,000.

The German immigrants pursued many trades in Britain. It has been recently discovered that German pork butchers, a result of chain migration of Swabian peasant farmers and pig-breeders, opened butcher’s shops in most towns and cities in Great Britain, providing factory workers with cheap and tasty 'take-away' meals. The sugar industry was mostly in German hands until the mid-nineteenth century. Although the work was difficult and dangerous, sugar-baking was a major employer and exploiter of lower-class Germans, but almost extinct by the end of the century. Other main occupations were waiters (later restaurant owners), merchants, office clerks, watch makers and musicians. Female migrants found employment in German-owned businesses or came to be married or work as 'nannies' and teachers. German customs, guilds and cultural societies were founded according to class and religion.

With the outbreak of the First World War, a paranoid hatred of everything German resulted in internment and deportation and a complete wipe-out of the German population in Great Britain. This book tells the intriguing story of German migration to Great Britain, and explores what happened to the migrants in that tense early twentieth-century atmosphere..


My wife has German Huguenot ancestry in her family, with n ancestor acquiring a public house in Oxford during the 19th century. Germans were on the receiving end of some major trauma following the end of WW2, something this fascinating book manages to put into some kind of perspective. The butcher in my home village was Italian, but that was because there was an Italian POW camp at the back of our house in the form of nissen huts, and many of the prisoners would have remained in Britain after the war. Susan's book provides a fascinating socio-economic history of the Germans in Britain that is crying out to be read. Our oldest rivals in terms of soccer, of course, but that's just one small aspect of their integration into our society. A very readable book.



The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth 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.