Stacl of Penguin Books

John Holmes biography

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs

A Problem for the Chalet School by Elinor M Brent-Dyer

Katheryn Howard  by Alison Weir

Anna of Kleve  by Alison Weir

Chalet School returns to Alps by Lisa Townsend

Jane Seymour  by Alison Weir

Catherine - The Lady of Montsalvy 2021

Roswell High Salvation

Roswell High the Dark One

Roswell High the Rebel

Roswell High Vanished

Anne Boleyn  by Alison Weir

Jo Returns to the Chalet School

Roswell High Stowaway

Katherine of Aragon  by Alison Weir

Katherine Parr by Alison Weir

Roswell High the Intruder

Lorimer to the Rescue by Gary McBar

Execution by S J Parris

Roswell High the Watcher

Mapp at 50 by Hugh Ashton

La Lucia by Hugh Ashton

Mapp's Return by Hugh Ashton

Roswell High the Seeker

Rhe Chalet School in Guernsey

The Bettany Twins by Helen Barber

The Wild One by Melinda Metz

Heirs of the Body Daisy Dalrymple Myster

Beyond Peyton Place Ed Nelso biography

Roswell Hig Book 1 The Outsder

Peace Comes to the Chalet School

Juliette Benzoni Trap for Catherine

The Red Queen by Phillippa Gregory

Catherine and a Time for Love by Juliette Benzoni

Thuthex Book

Corpse at the Crystal Palace a Daisy Dalrymple Myster by Carola Dunn

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

Solitaire by Jane Thynne

Chalet School In-Fill Refuge

Daisy Dalrymple Mystery Gone West

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Faith and Beauty by Jane Thynne

The Kings Curse by Philippa Gregory

The Thirties by Juliet Gardiner

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick

Anthem for Lost Youth by Carola Dunn a Daisy Dalrymple adventure

I am Brian Wilson A Memoir

A War opf Floweers by Jane Thynne

The Ladybird Book of Brexit

 The Chalet School and Cornelia

Richard III by David Horspool

The Ocean Liner by Marius Gabriel

Nucleus by Rory Clements

Unbreakable by Richard Askwith

The Winter Gardens by Jane Thynne

The Chalet School Annexe

Jestem Isia

Before Wallis

Ashe v Connors 1975

Seashaken Houses: A Lighthouse History from Eddystone to Fastnet

Rombland by C J Sansom

Selling Hitler by Robert Harris

Metrostop Paris

Monument Men by Edsel

Sheer Folly by Carola Dunn

The Bourne Nemesis

The Bourne Initiative

The Bourne Enigma

Romanov Ransom by Clive Cussler

Unstoppable biography by Maria Sharapova

Talk to the Hand by Lynn Truss

4 Sisters by Helen Rappaport

Black Roses by Jane Thynne

The Secret of Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Infamous Army Georgette Heyer

Bletchley Park

Gillian of the Chalet School

The Ludlow Ladies Society

His Holiness the Dalai Lama My Spiritual Autobiography

The Riviera Set by Mary S Lovell

Mary Boleyn by Alison Weir

The Real Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon

The Black Ship a DD Mystery

We'll always have Casablanca by Noah Isenberg

Last Term at Taverton High

The Bourne Ascendancy Book 12 in Bourne Saga

Robert Ludlum Parsifal Mosaic

The Sign by THomas de Wesselow

Behind Closed Doors book about Wallis Simpson

Da Vincis Last Commission

Home Biography of Evonne Goolagong

Dan Brown Origin

Daisy Dalrymple Gunpowder Plot

Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse

Janson Equation

The Tenko Bible

Abdication by Juliet Nicholson

Stephanie Beacham autobiography

Bourne Retribution based on Robert Ludlum

White Boots by Noel Streatfeild

Murdoch Mystery Book 1

Journey to Munich

The Mayan Destiny by Steve Alten

Good Vibrations My Life as a Beach Boy by Mike Love

Fall of a Philanderer - DD Mystery

Teleportation Accident

Murdoch Mysteries Under the Dragon's Tail

Catherine Book  4

Catherine Book  3

Murdoch Mystery Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings

Sisters at the Chalet School bu Amy Fletcher

The Bourne Imperative Ludlum and Lustbader

Trials for the Chalet School

Georgette Heyer An Infamous Army

Harper Lee Go Set a Watchman

Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird

Brent-Dyer Joey goes to the Oberland

S J Parris Conspiracy

S J Parris Treachery

Juniors at the Chalet School

Book 7 Les Rois Maudits

Nicola goes to the Oberland

Robert Ludlum Utopia Experiment

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Joey & Co in Tirol

Cazalet Book 5 All Change

Cazalet Saga Casting Off Book 4

Cazalets Book 3 Confusion

The Cazalets Book 2 Marking Time

Cazalet Book 1 Light Years

Karen Harper the Queens Confidante

Patriot Attack by Robert Ludlum

Naked Nazis by Alan Stafford

TCW Red Lilian Jackson Braun

The Bettanys at Taverton High

The Bettanys on the Home Front

Robert Ludlum Geneva Strategy

A Mourning Wedding by Carola Dunn

Daisy Tower

After Dead Charlaine Harris

Janus Reprisal

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Surprises for the Chalet School

Cornelia of the Chalet School

Catherine Book 1

Caterine Book 2

The Roswell Conspiracy by Boyd Morrison

Champion of the Chalet School

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Lamentation by C J Sansom

heatre Shoes by Noel Streitfield

Code Talker by Chester Nez

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Dead Reckoning

TCW Danish Modern

Au Reservoir Mapp and Lucia

TCW read backwards book cover

Inferno by Dan Brown

Karen Harper - Shakespeare's Mistress

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

The Book Thief by Markus Zusack

The Einstein Pursuit by Chris Kuzneski

Chalet School World by Helen Barber

Heresy by S J Parris

Prophecy by S J Parris

Sacrilege by S J Parris

A Woman of Consequence

Titanic Tennis Story

Summer Term at the Chalet School

Murder of the Romanovs

Die Laughing

Mayan Resurrection

A Touch of Dead

Lucia on Holiday

Mistletoe and Murder

Queens Governess by Karen Harper

Muller Twins at the Chalet School

Death Relic

Gentleman of Fortune

JMB Zwitner

Major Benjy

Dead and Gone

War Guest Shubik

Ares Decision Ludlum

King's Concubine

Tied Up with Notts

Tainted Relic

Case of the Murdered Muckraker

William Shatner Biography

Mayan Prophecy

Ballet Shoes for Anna

The Plantation

Janson Command

Dead to Worse

Daisy Dalrymple Davy Jones

The Secret Crown

Chalet School Robin

Kings Diamond

Terrible Splendor

A Moment of Silency by Anna Dean

Noel Streatfeild Tennis Shoes

Robert Ludlum Bourne Objective

Bourne Dominion

Edwin Drood

That Woman by Anne Sebba

Rules of Civility

Definitely Dead

Gods Atlantis

Enders Game by Orson Scott Card

The Prophesy by Chris Kuzneski

All Together Dead Charlaine Harris

Rattle His Bones by Carola Dunn

Child of <y Love by Sue Ryder

Acquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum

The Celestial City Baroness Orczy

Atlantis Code by Charles Brokaw

Madam Will you Talk

Dead as a Doornail - Charlene Harris

The Lost Throne Chris Kuzneski

The Scarlatti Inheritance by Robert Ludlum

Styx and Stones a Daisy Dalrymple Mystery

The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry

Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato

Heartstone by C J Sansom

Dead to the World - True Blood no. 4

Sword of God by Chris Kuzneski

A Difficult Term at the Chalet School

Dead in the Water by Carola Dunn

House of the Hanged by Mark Mills

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

The Third Secret by Steve Berry

Bride Leads the Chalet School

Atlantis byDavid Gibbins

Sing of the Cross by Chris Kuzneski

Madeleine by Kate McCann

The Last Dance 1936

Cat Who turned on and off

Babylon Revisited by F Scott Fitzgerald

Damsel in Distress

Journey Without a Ticket

Club Dead Book 3 True Blood Series

Chalet School In Exile

Story of a State Secret

The Rhinemann Exchange by Robert Ludlum

Dead Until Dark

Living Dead in Dallas


Schindler's Ark

The Russian Court at Sea

Yhe Botticielli Secret by Marina Fiorato

Revelation by C J Sansom

Sovereign by C J Sansom

Dreadnought with Good Manners

Margaret Rutherford Radio Play

The Glass Room


Current Reading

(For clarification purposes: If there is more than one comment to any of the books or series of books they will be stacked with the earliest comment at the base of the section and the newest comments immediately under the title of the pertinent section. Wherever I add a review or quote from I do so purely to remind myself what 'sold' this particular book to me rather than any other on the same subject as chances are, as I catch up with my reading, I may well have bought a particular book several years ago and put it aside for 'later' and as we all know 'later' never really comes along!)

'This is the BBC Holmes Service' by John Holmes

- See Andrews' choice for biographical review here

'The Bone Code' by Kathy Reichs

-'The Bone Code is the latest in a series of books based on the character of Temperance Brennan and her world of autopsies and investigations into how and why people died. She has a daughter in the army, a reliable partner with whom she sometimes shares living quarters and flits between Canada and the United States on a regular basis, hence the sporadic communal living. Her one constant is a white male cat called 'Birdie' who travels everywhere with her - it really is a case of 'Love me, love my cat.' The style is fast-paced and very 'jargonistic' but then if you are a devotee of the author you will be used to this. The book is easitly read as a stand-alone as information is provided by insertion at specific points in the book. The book is crammed full of medical acronyms and general acronyms which are usually helpfully explained and coming from a police background it shouldn't surprise me as the police are all about acronyms which you have to discover for yourself! There's a little bit too much patronising of the reader, but maybe they like it that way across the pond. The title 'Bone Code' suddenly (for me at the end of the book) comes into focus and makes an awful lot of sense (think 'Da Vinci Code' or any other 'Code') for the title of this book. I thought it was just following in the steps of previous titles based on the profession of Temperance Brennan. I also lost a little cohesion by reading the book sporadically instead of regulalrly; not a good ides with an unfamiliar author. Although I won't be clamouring to read anything else by Kathy Reichs (I only read it because my sisters loves these books and this is a forthcoming seasonal present for her!) this book helped to pass the time and I enjoyed the references to the cat, despite the callous injury towards the end. - October 2021

- An unusual choice for me but brought on by necessity. I have to read something whilst Windows 10 is doing its interminable 'updates' as it takes so long to grind through every aspect! Rather than just gazing at the screen whirring its little circle and pronouncing 'preparing updates 20% do not switch off your computer' it is more time-friendly to read something new to see what I think! That's how 'The Bone Code' has made it's way into my reading repertoire!

The Chalet School Series : 'The Chalet School in Exile', 'Bride Leads the Chalet School', 'Summer Term at the Chalet School', 'Joey & Co. In Tirol', 'Joey Goes to the Oberland', 'Trials for the Chalet School', 'Jo Returns to the Chalet School', 'A Problem for the Chalet School' by Elinor M Brent Dyer

- 'A Problem for the Chalet School' An original EBD set in post-war Switzerland (Austria, at this time was still 'verboten', a fact I only discovered recently and still don't quite understand why other than it was, presumably, a political decision and EBD chose not to elaborate on the matter in her books) and therefore, a comfortable read. I am still not a big fan of the later books as they lack any interesting historical content, but talking of content I had forgotten most of this which deals with 'unethical (at least by CS standards) behaviour. It concerns 'Our Joanie' (my choice of description), who though eventually 'sort of' fits in is never going to be a shining light of the school! Her upbringing reflects the 'nouveau riche' standards of the day and she will never see Rosalind as anything than a charity case owing to the fact that her former schoolmate won a scholarship to attend this prestigious school. Joan's own reason for wanting to attend the school was to continue her haranguing campaign against the girl she looked down on so contemptuously because she knew that her mother had been in 'service' or in Joan's mind 'a servant' whose daughter had no business enjoying an education she herself would never have thought of if that chance piece of good fortune had not come to the girl Joan always wanted to torment! I suppose I understand a lot of that with my own upbringing and the bullying vested on the Polish and Irish community by the superior English (not British) clans. - September 2021

- 'Jo Returns' is one of the very early Chalet School stories set in the Tyrol and would today be called a 'coming of age' novel as Joey 'returns' on a whim to see how her school would look without her. Joey being the inaugural pupil who rose to the heights of 'Head Girl' in her concluding time at the school whose founder is her elder sister Madge Russell (née Bettany). Circumstances keep her at the school when she should have been embarking on the next stage of her life. Although cloistered (almost against her will) Joey experienced two completely different paths in that time, the unexpected one of becoming a fill-in coach/teacher and the other, her cherished dream of completing her first novel and seeing it published. Despite initial resistance to the unexpected career path Jo accepted that this could be a way of her repaying the school for the years that she had happily spent there; she was also able to avail herself of enlightened critiques of her work resulting in the destruction of unsuitable content and the ability to realise her ambition. This book also brings us one of my favourite and popular characters outside of the Bettany/Russell/Maynard cohort in the shape of the charming 'Polly.' One very unexpected consequence of reading this book (nothing to do with the plot) was that nice as it was to read an original EBD; 'Jo Returns' which is an excellent mix of school and out-of-school characterisation, I've now read so many in-fills as I wait for the full original series to be republished that I started doubting that some of the content was the original written by EBD. The fanfiction writers who have perfected her style to such a degree now makes the original writing somehow seem flawed. The sooner I read the whole series again (without the in-fills interesting though they are) the better! I need to infuse myself with the 'warts and errors and all' of the original!

- 'Trials for the Chalet School' - Early days in Switzerland with the school settling in Europe during a term when new girls are not usually accepted, the exception in this case is Naomi, a supremely beautiful girl whose body is disfigured and twisted following severe burns, leaving her lame and forced to use a stick. Naomi arrives with the stereotypical attitude attributed to 'cripples.' However, not only the original book but a new follow up short story do deal with the situation sympathetically and knowledgeably. The subject, we are reminded, has been hinted at in a previous book when the misguided jealousy of a sister believing she had been usurped in her mother's affection by the addition of a crippled sibling following a re-marriage was dealt with sensitively. An interesting re-read if only to experience the near perfect privileged life of attending this school. - March 2017

-'Joey Goes to the Oberland' - another book in the series set outside of the school (educational) term and sees the return of Joey to the original schools roots, but in Switzerland rather than Austria this time as the political situation of the time would not have allowed for a return in the same circumstances. The cover illustrates the powerful image of Joey, despite being in her late twenties and 'a proud mama of eight', the irrepressible as she find herself well and truly stuck in a travelling trunk with the cute triplets looking on in horror. This book is full of reminders, reminiscences, parting of the ways and all those emotions incumbent with starting a new life on a different continent. We say farewell to the Robin who is embarking on her chosen life choice, that of a cloistered nun in Canada (wonder why EBD wanted to get rid of such an engaging character?), we see one of the early weddings of the new generation as Daisy marries her own doctor. We greet with affection Simone and her extraordinary change of circumstance and we fall eagerly into Frieda's warm embrace (I always liked her the best of the quartet) and we experience the intimacy that comes so easily to Dr. and Mrs Maynard away from any scholastic life. In all another entertaining book and always worth a re-read. - March 2017

- 'Joey & Co. In Tirol' - one of a few of the books not set during a term time. I say that rather than state the storyline is not set in a school building/location because, of course, we are back in Tirol where the original school was first established and where the Bettany/Maynard/Russell clan are slowly buying up all the former school premises and upgrading them to family holiday homes. I do miss the Tirol days it has to be said and we were treated to the memory of Jo's escapades as a schoolgirl and then young woman fleeing from the Nazis when she takes the new generation to the 'Cave' which served as a very efficient hiding place and aiding in their escape to safety. We also meet the Richardsons (Ruey, Roger and Roddy) who turn out to be related to Daisy's husband, so all neatly tied up with the cherry on the cake being their 'guardianship' by the Maynards until they reach maturity. Glad to see EBD allowing a bit of mischief to creep in, caused by a misunderstanding and the over-stimulated imagination of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood! This is, essentially, an insight into the next generation of young adults with the occasional link to the adult Maynards and Russells. Always an interesting re-read - August 2016

- 'Summer Term' brings another link with the past to the school and another orphan to be integrated into the ever-expanding Maynard family, in fact two orphans - Erica who is the daughter of a former late pupil and the baby she rescues from the train crash in which Jo was also involved. In fact poor pretty blonde Erica is a disaster zone of her own making. This book actually centres on Erica (who for a change is not the eponymous heroine) and the Maynards et al are peripheral - it is interesting to get larger chunks of insight into the school and its inhabitants once all the mayhem has subsided. As always, an enjoyable read but I do wish the publishers had decided on a chronological order rather than a haphazard one for publication - I do much prefer the older books set in the Tyrol and would like to read them all again. - October 2013

- I had a lot of fun re-reading 'Bride' on holiday in Wales (which is where the school is located in this volume) - we were in Portmeirion and the School is on an island off the Welsh Coast (Anglesey is close by to Portmeirion) - the venue provided for no interruptions and it happened to be sunny so we were lazing by the pool. This book is a little different as it does not feature any of the 'major' players of the Russell / Maynard dynasties but does feature a 'Bettany' from the non-distaff side and opens up more information from that branch of the family, which happily continues in the appropriate and time-honoured family and school codes. This book is also destined for re-sale for charity and once again I read it with great care and of course enjoyment! - July 2011

- I've loved the Chalet Books since they were introduced to me as the natural successor to Enid Blyton's 'Secret Seven' and 'Mallory Towers' which, it was deemed, I should have outgrown by the age of eleven or thereabouts. At one time I owned all the available hardback editions of the Chalet Books which were then gifted to our younger cousins/godchildren for their enjoyment. (Unfortunately, it is likely they ended as collectors items on ebay, fetching fantastic sums, as they were all in excellent condition when my mother gave them away because we had always been encouraged to treat books with respect.) Luckily Girls Gone By Publishers have obtained the rights to the Chalet Series and other books by Brent-Dyer and are re-printing them in an unabridged version but, disappointingly, not in chronological order. 'The Chalet School in Exile' is one of my favourites and is really really scary - I appreciated that much more on re-reading the book as an adult for the first time some years ago! I read this book in tandem with 'Story of a Secret State' and it has made an interesting eclectic mix - fiction and fact set in the same time frame, each engrossing and informative from two very different perspectives. I finished the book this morning and cried buckets during the final chapter even though I knew what was going to happen to all of the characters involved. A pretty powerful piece of writing if it can still make such an impact after all these years and countless re-readings. This is one of two books which have been re-reprinted in a revised format, so prior to passing this edition on, I am taking advantage if re-reading the stories, very carefully so that the books remain pristine. - May 2011

Six Tudor Queens by Alison Weir : 'Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen', 'Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession', 'Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen', 'Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets', 'Katheryn Howard, The Tainted Queen' and 'Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife'

- 'Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife' - Keeping the best till last! This was a wonderful read and as such (in companionable agreement with the author - see Author's Notes at the conclusion) it was sad to let these ladies go on their way and to bid them farewell! As usual this novel contained known information, new information and information with a twist in its tail, leaving the reader richer for having made Katherine Parr's acquaintance. Would that we were taught history in this manner! I had always assumed that both her husbands (prior to Henry) were doddery old men until she fell into the respectably aged Thomas Seymour's arms with whom, until he blotted his copybook, she finally had a satisfying relationship. There was a charming (real or not) existence as Henry's wife, apart from the religious hiccup that nearly added her to the list of 'beheaded' wives, where Henry paid affectionate courtly love to her in their 'down time.' We all know the conclusion of this lady's life but it's sad nonetheless. Will Alison Weir, I wonder, delve into what happens to young Mary Seymour sometime in the future?

- 'Katheryn Howard, The Tainted Queen' - I can't quite get used to the spelling of Katheryn's first name in this format but as with Alison Weirs' previous meticulous research I'm confident that it is correct. This Katheryn, the penultimate (crowned) Queen, was dead by the age of around 22, executed for a specific form of treason. The questions raised referred to what it was she had packed into those earlier years before marrying Henry VIII and being crowned Queen fills the usual 600+ page volume with known and of course hitherto unknown facts. In many ways it is a shame Henry stopped at six wives because Alison Weir really does draw you into their lives. It is a quite different read when you realise that you could be easily be eavesdropping on actual and intimate facts and conversations held by real people! Although a fictionalised account, this Queen is real flesh and blood and the more I read, the more sympathetic I became to her plight and feel 'tainted' is too strong a word to describe her. The 'machinations' of the family are known, but not stressed in this book, but, what we do get is that at every turn, Katheryn is mindful of what was required of her by the elders of the family and the consequences of what would happen if she got them wrong! Her 'rock' turned out to be a step-sister, who survived the final cull but could not save her younger sister; was she tainted by Kathryn in later life? One has to hope not. Henry's presence features even less in this book than in the others, mostly because although he is looking for an impediment to end this latest mockery of a marriage, the time lapse is much less than with Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and the matrimonial circus that accompanied Anna of Kleve and left her entitled to call herself the King's sister! His health, I assume, restricted his ability to shout down most of his advisers and he was reliant on the 'anonymous' letter left on his seat in a chapel to condemn the young wife whom he displayed publicly and at court when necessary or when he sought out her company and body to 'make an heir'. - August 2021

- 'Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets' - Anna of (pronounced) Klavers, so that was the first surprise that a pronunciation of the place name is entirely different to the one that has been used over the decades and we have erroneously promulgated. The garlic-breath incident seems to have been debunked as well which is a good thing as it always seemed to be such a trivial and trite matter attributed to the King, possibly a sulky Prince Harry when he saw Prince Arthur getting all the attention but not to a middle-aged man! Still, the books in novel form all form part of the rich Tudor tapestry and a fascinating insight into the later wives of Henry VIII who aren't usually the subject of such intense scrutiny. There is an element of 'fiction' in this episode about the private life Anna may or may not have had before and after the relationship which bound her to Henry and all the courtly taboos and tribulations it brought with it. If it happened, then she had some comfort, if it didn't then at least she was not so shockingly mistreated as some of Henry's other wives, kept her head and became a trusted friend to him. Alison Weir does not disappoint! - July 2021

- 'Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen' - I marvel at all the new information that is available in this exciting, well-written and interesting series giving each Queen her due. Jane Seymour (or should I say her life) is full of surprises. Judging by Henry's antipathy to 'less than perfection' I'm, surprised that any member of the Seymour tribe would be accepted as a 'contender' to bear the future heir to the English throne. The Seymours appear to have a shedload of (recorded) historical baggage (including a form of incest between father and daughter-in-law which proved fruitful on more than one occasion) which if it had been made public wouldn't have allowed for the senior posts the males held at court and Jane would not have been given a look in as even a menial lady-in-waiting. All this is revealed before the introduction of the Anne Boleyn-Jane Seymour-Henry Tudor triangle gathered apace. But, Alison Weir gives Jane a conscience hence the 'haunting' of Jane (in her own mind) by Anne Boleyn. Other, hitherto, unknown information (to me anyway) was that in keeping with tradition, Jane miscarried several times before being delivered of Edward, the Tudor son and heir before dying of some form of infection. I always believed that Jane was pregnant at the time of Anne's execution (which she was) and that that was the only time and so her time with Henry was short-lived. But in this book Alison Weir extends Jane's life by recording the various miscarriages and dismisses the notion that Jane was a timid mouse, Jane did attempt to speak her opinion (or that of her family) to Henry but he was dismissive of her warning her not to meddle, especially in religious matters if the views were opposite to his own. The put-downs and general diminishing of her role (other than as a baby machine) could well have exaggerated her thoughts and projected them into the 'realms of fantasy'. She couldn't help but be aware of the history of every building she entered/location she visited as there was always some evidence associated with the previous incumbents - in some cases physical evidence had been removed, in others, unavoidably, such as the Queen's apartments in the Tower, it had not! I've been a little late in getting this review out through circumstances not of my making and as a result I am already near the end of the history of the fourth Queen! - June 2021

- 'Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession' - I promised myself I would pace myself reading these books and that I would not start them until I had all six present and correct on my reading shelf. All this because I know or thought I knew all the Queens and because I didn't want to start reading the books until I knew they were all written and available. I lied to myself on a couple of levels, I can never get enough of Tudor novels and in particular anything written by Alison Weir who as a historian makes even her non-fiction accounts read smoothly. I also decided that as I have pre-ordered Book 6 it is fairly safe to say that the book series is complete. I am being educated right royally (pun intended) as already in this and the preceding book I have learned things about Katherine and Anne that I had not known before. Other than Katherine Parr who has been well documented historically I look forward to learning a lot more about Jane, Anne and Catherine. These books are a joy and a god-send and even reading 600+ (which I might balk at these days) pages is an all to swift experience. Obviously all the Queens histories will overlap at some point and it is a clever thing to see things in a different perspective depending on which Queen is centre stage. - May 2021

- 'Katherine of Aragon, the True Queen' - A gloriously fabulous read as befitting a historian who can write fiction based on fact, make it spell-binding, compulsive and above all engaging reading. I haven't read anything this good since I don't know when, I was going to pace myself, but Anne Boleyn already awaits! I really cannot praise this author enough; she surprised me on quite a few historical levels so it was interesting to discover new parts of Katherine's history which are usually overlooked during her pre-Henry VIII marriage and her post-Henry VIII existence, both of which were very hard. An intelligent woman (well after all she was Isabella's daughter - not known as the Warrior Queen for nothing and definitely the stronger partner in the Ferdinand and Isabella union) but nevertheless a woman and treated as such especially publicly, in their private union Katherine and Henry seemed equals for the 20 or so years they were actually married. - April 2021

'A Difficult Term at the Chalet School' and 'The Chalet School Returns to the Alps' by Lisa Townsend

- 'The Chalet School returns to the Alps' - I have mixed feelings about this one because it covers territory that EBD, in the main, avoided - the tortuous story of Leila and her ailments and how it impacted on her cousin and as a result curtailed her lifestyle during that very period of her life when she should have been experiencing and exploring a lifestyle of her own; a lamb to the slaughter so that the invalided child could vicariously live her life through her cousin to such a degree that it is difficult to give Sue an identity of her own. The aunt should have been locked up let alone left in charge of two children however wealthy she was! This chapter of the series should have lain fallow, but would the introduction of the new mistress (remember EBD had already bagged that title introducing a complete newcomer with no previous Chalet or Scholastika ties), a former Saints then Chaletian been sufficient to carry the 'return' to the Chalet School? Regrettably not probably! This looks to be a pattern with Lisa Townsend judging by my earlier review (see below) where 'Difficult Term' speaks volumes and I can't even remember what it was about - is it necessary, even to fill the gaps, to tread in territory EBD obviously thought best to leave alone? I was disappointed to experience some very rare anomalies with this physical book The first you cannot escape as it is 'in your face' which is the poor quality of the cover art the second is in the content of the book, there are grammatical errors (just carelessness) and some syntax/language of the day queries that could have been and should have been caught by the proof-readers - just silly small errors that do nothing to enhance a book that has a second-rate cover, poor storyline and covers a subject matter that no-one can hope to replicate by today's medical standards. - July 2021

- 'A Difficult Term at the Chalet School' - A excellent in-fill in the growing number of Chalet School fans who have written their own novels to fill the sometimes irritating gaps left by EBD between books for no real rhyme or reason. This book falls into a somewhat 'dodgy' time line that EBD created but has successfully covered the worst of the misaligned information provided by the original author. It is an easy read, good style, if anything, just a little more nurturing and less mawkish than the style EBD occasionally introduced to her books - my own view is that she, EBD, sometimes got irritated (aka Christie) or bored with her own creations, hence the gaps! - August 2011

The latest in-fill to cover for a missing section in the Chalet School chronology - a first for Lisa Townsend following in the footsteps of several predecessors who have successfully continued the spell of the originals by Elinor M Brent-Dyer.

The Catherine Series by Juliette Benzoni : 'Catherine - 'One Love is Enough', 'Catherine', 'Belle Catherine', 'Catherine her Great Journey', 'Catherine - A Time for Love', 'A Trap for Catherine' and 'Catherine - The Lady of Montsalvy'

(I have started the first of these re-published books and am fascinated at how familiar but how different they are! My greatest disappointment at present is that there is a lot of 'vernacular' grammar which is spoiling the read for me. I have walked away from book one momentarily. I have now reached Book 3 which I have really warmed to and subsequent volumes up to the penultimate adventure in Book 6).

- 'Catherine - The Lady of Montsalvy' - (due 1st June 2021) - One thing that can be said for the publishers is that they didn't let us down and delivered on the 1st of June so that those of us awaiting the publication of this book wouldn't suffer any further agonies. So, how to temper the gradual disappointment which became a monumental issue after this interminably long wait? Well, the simple answer is - you can't ...... so, to be fair, let's start on a positive note and all the really, really good things that accompanied this book. You know the first, the publication date, despite all the hurdles created by Covid-19 was achieved and anyone who pre-ordered a hard copy or chose the Kindle version had their first experience on time. Considering the controversies surrounding some of the covers, this cover took on an ethereal quality part 'Lord of the Rings' part 'Camelot' which it suits well. The face of the eponymous heroine, which all of us wanted to envisage for ourselves, still carries undertones of Scarlett Johanssen but not as obviously as on several other covers, in particular Book 2, or a particularly nondescript variation on Book 4 with its clumsy title nor the tipsiness evident, and decidedly nothing to do with the storyline, in Book 6. The fact that this book exists in its entirety, including all the 'secret bits' that were allegedly excised from the original publication, which of course we never saw because it was never translated into English in the authors' lifetime, deserves big plus points for the fact that here it is, all (well most) of it in English (well of sorts). Finally we get to read the end of the story and a round of applause even though there is no epilogue as such. Another plus point is the absence of Arnaud de Montsalvy except in small doses, although he is referred to a lot! He's a hardy fellow, half of his face is missing from a variety of wounds and he is skeletally thin having been subject to the plague and its horrors, but he appears to have all his bits in place and a voice which he can still raise in a roar; what he is seriously lacking are manners and he definitely has trust 'issues'. There, now you know which are the good bits. In my Amazon review which can be found on line and is reproduced on a separate page I have awarded (and explained why) this book 3 stars. Being me and a fan, some would think that a 5* review would be assured but the crux of the matter lies, in my mind, with the secrecy surrounding the project which did not allow for a proof reader, or it allowed for a proof reader whose first/natural language is not English, or god forbid, there was a great proof-reader but that they found the same errors I did and the publishers could not take the criticism, or the errors were rectified but the wrong copy was sent to the printers or uploaded to the Kindle facility - whatever the reason, this 7th book did not have the high quality of translation that the ORIGINAL six books did. Even the standard of this re-published set did not reach that standard of excellence that we the readers demand! This book, from the start is full of inconsistencies, syntax errors, basic infant school grammatical errors, great chunks at a time of computer generated translations, wrongful insertions of 'updated' expressions to lure a younger generation to become interested in the books, shamefully lazy non-translations of French words that are not normally used on a daily basis, lack of (some) historical notes and annotations and frankly, 'made up' words and the oh-so-incredibly-irritating use of hyphens where none are necessary or are used precisely to 'enhance' the 'oh-so-many-mistakes' that cannot be hidden. It's the cheek of using the computer generated translation chunks that really put me off. I read the book in 7 days, it then took me another 10 to go back over it and make sense of the notes I had taken whilst reading it for the first time. I hadn't wanted to spoil the first impression but it got oh-so-exceedingly impossible to try and remember where the errors were that I started making a list of page numbers. I don't believe that I found everything, but it was such a demoralising exercise that once I had completed what I was doing (and finding extra transgressions that I had missed the first time around) I never wanted to see the document again - a copy is available on the page highlighted above for anyone wanting to see what made my blood boil. I have sent a copy to the publishers but it surprises me not in the slightest that I have not yet received an answer. So good luck if you own a copy, I have the set, as soon as Covid is over, despite the £14.95 price tag on each book, they are all going into the charity box. - June/July 2021

- 'A Trap for Catherine' - the first really nice surprise about this book is that it was re-published so quickly after Book 5 'A Time for Love'; the second surprise was that it was really like reading a new book a) because it has been ages since I read it last and b) every time a new book came out I solicitously read all the preceding ones over again and so am not as familiar with 'Snare' (as it was originally translated) as I am with the other five books. The third really good and most important surprise is that Telos publishing have not only promised faithfully, but have even listed the 7th and final book as 'Forthcoming' on their publication list on the back page! The biggest improvement of course, is, that this time we know the final book is coming; on initial and original publication we waited, in vain, as with the Angélique books for a conclusion - this time it's a-coming! Because I am not so familiar with the book I can't say which are the 'new' sections and which I had already forgotten. Certainly, when the final surprise 'struck' I really had to try hard to remember if it was, in fact a distant fleeting memory or whether I knew this fact, but I am pretty certain I had forgotten totally about, or did not know about the re-introduction of a long unremembered character from Catherine's childhood getting a second airing! Good authors are obviously very adept at this literary trick and I thank them for it! The final paragraphs leave no doubt that there will be another book as too much is left unresolved (and besides I have read it in Polish!) but I'm not convinced I felt that way the last time I read this book although I remembered feeling that there should be more. Now, of course, the publishers have informed us that although Juliette Benzoni had wanted the series to end with Book 5 she was persuaded to write two more sequels because of the unprecedented popularity of her books. I take issue (again) with the change of title and believe 'Trap' is a clumsy translation, the original 'Snare' is more insidious and perhaps in keeping with the times and is also used twice in the book as it reaches its climax. Although the dictionary statements are similar, I shall leave you, dear reader, to choose between : A thing likely to lure or tempt someone into harm or error (snare) or A trick by which someone is misled into acting contrary to their interests or intentions (trap). Oh yes, and the cover, Catherine's headdress makes her look positively tipsy! Great dress colour though! - July 2020

- 'Catherine: A Time for Love' has taken a long time to get here from the great journey, in fact it has indeed been a long trek as the book was printed in Poland! The publisher's blurb at the end of the book reminds us (those who read the books in the last century) that this 5th book was also to have been the final instalment in the series. The epilogue does give us a 'Happy Ever After' feel in the same way that J.K. Rowling rounded of HP7 pairing off the survivors and honouring the victims by naming the next generation after them. There isn't a second generation here other than the two infants born to Catherine and Arnaud making their union a sweet, memorable and lasting thing until Catherine pleads with her husband not to return to his military service as peace has broken out in France uniting the Kingdom of France with the Duchy of Burgundy. That in itself is a very clever way of leaving the castle gate open to further adventures. There was much of this particular volume that I didn't remember so am not sure of the actual amount of new material added. In addition it is a heavy and thick book, physically quite unwieldy to read unless lying on a flat surface. The new style paper used for printing doesn't help as it too is weighted and the flimsiness of the cover does not give it much support. Not that this detracts from the story line except when it slipped off my knees. Had this been the final adventure I would have been content with it ending where it did, but knowing there was another and then the 7th which met the same fate as at least three other series of French books, that of not being translated, makes me impatient to see how Book 6 picks up the threads and how Book 7 concludes the story. I do know its end, of course, but I would still like to read it in the English language! - May 2020

- 'Catherine: her Great Journey' - I had to think of a title to describe my review of this book and I think, aptly, "Catherine earns her (Knight’s) spurs" is spot on! Originally the books' title was translated into 'Catherine and Arnaud' which was either laziness on the part of the translator or the publishers/editors - a book entitled thus would lead to an 'expectation' that the two title bearers might actually spend the majority of time at least in relative close proximity to each other .... Needless to say I digress, the most important feature that struck me whilst reading this fourth instalment of the re-published ‘Catherine’ series is that I became acutely aware that this is still set in the age of 'chivalry', which differs considerably from the adventures of Angélique (for instance). I usually try to avoid drawing comparisons between Catherine and Angélique wherever possible because of the divide between both sets of fans; but the court of Versailles is more brutally portrayed than the barren wastelands and divided kingdoms and dukedoms of the France of the time! The difference in attitudes over a 100 years or so is remarkable and quite honestly, I hadn't notice it prior to the recent re-issues. In this version Catherine is a ‘damsel’ and Arnaud is her 'knight' or vice versa if you prefer the romance of ‘Knights and their ladies’ but don’t get me wrong, this is decidedly no fairy tale with a happy ever after ending (or at least not yet).

Telos have taken an unprecedented step in researching the original book titles and coming up with ‘Catherine: Her Great Journey’. (Personally I think its a bit clumsy and Catherine's Great Journey would have been more in keeping with the 'modernisation' they told me they wanted to add to make the books more 'inclusive' for today's readers - you already know what I think about that - see Books 1&2 below). Anyway, and what a journey it is! In today’s parlance ‘journey’ is so overused when its meaning is only that of someone coming of age or experiencing a rite of passage or discovering something from an alternative point of view than their own and being surprised that they agree with it! Here we see Catherine transitioning from Shopkeepers’ daughter, Ducal plaything, Merchants’ unwilling wife to take up her rightful place as the Dame (Countess) of Montsalvy and being accepted as such by the male bastion in the absence of her husband. (Arnaud’s mother would now cede the title and become the Dowager Countess of Montsalvy on her son and heir’s marriage).

Now having said at the end of a previous review that I was beginning to warm to Arnaud, the conclusion of this book has me seething at him again. Yes, he misdiagnoses himself with leprosy perceiving it to be a mighty blow and legs it! The immediate consequence is that he rips apart everything Catherine has been so desperately fighting to repair and unite, causing unnecessary anguish leading to the eventual death of his mother. What is Arnaud? Knight or Knave? I am reminded of the saying ‘Faint heart never won fair lady’ and I apply this to Arnaud with a sigh of desperation in my head because he must be the most selfish man alive to allow his interminable pride to constantly rule his emotions! Bah humbug!

I cannot wait to see what Book 5 brings as, once again, all the new material present in the reprints adds to the glorious tapestry that is Juliette Benzoni’s ‘Catherine.’ - July 2017 (I read this volume between the dates of Anne Golon's death 14.07.2017 and her funerary mass at Versailles on 25.07.2017)

- 'Belle Catherine' - what a fabulous re-read this was! First of all the totally unnecessary vernacular was not present and it was good, clean, grammatical, entertaining story-telling of a much loved character and her adventures. Either my memory is failing big-time or there is quite a lot of new material which I had not seen previously as I have only read the first six books in English. The seventh book I have read in French and Polish but those languages have a different style and nuances so at this stage it is difficult to compare to the previous six other than to just follow the storyline to its conclusion. The real surprise in this new version of Belle Catherine is that I actually started warming to Arnaud, which must have been down to the additional information. If the next re-published books give us as much new information as this one, it will be worth the rather expensive investment. - July 2017

- 'Catherine' - the second book in the series. I will start by saying that although the appalling vernacular still reared its ugly head in this book, it didn't occur too frequently, although each time I came across an example I did react and as a result the pleasure of re-reading a much loved novel was spoiled (again). I have sent feedback to the publishers and they have assured me that they will not continue with the style in the remaining books - I wonder how many complaints they have actually had? Ah well - back to Catherine and her brush with Jeanne d'Arc. I wish there had been more about the Joan of Arc, but rather it was the fictional characters skirting around her existence rather then actually interacting with her - maybe too sacrilegious to write fiction about a saint? I am glad to have been reacquainted with the story as it is a good one and it is so long since I read the books the last time that much of the content seems new and fresh which is great! I don't like the cover of this one - seemingly a little sensationalism is now required to entice new readers, not unlike when the paperback of 'Angélique and the Ghosts' appeared. Looking forward to the next episode! - October 2015.

- 'Catherine: One Love is Enough' - some time has now elapsed and I have completed 'One Love is Enough' - have tried to put the disappointment of the new 'vernacular' behind me and read the book for what it is, a really wonderfully written adventure. Not on the epic scale that 'Angélique' turned out to be and if is unfair to compare the two, although many do. I did send 'feedback' to the publishers on a number of areas that I thought were failing including the misuse of 'hung' for 'hanged' when referring to the death of a human being by this method. I was told that this had been in the 'original'. It is many years since I have read the original translations and was more than surprised that any reference was made to them, I had believed these to be 'clean' translations. The constant misuse of grammar used only in the North-West of England continued to fray my nerves.

Getting away from all that, I did enjoy reading the content and storyline of the first book and would never publicly denounce or decry it for the reasons the publishers, known only to themselves, introduced to make the books appear more 'up to date' - me, I think its dumbing them down if we must use modern vernacular. I will lend the originals to my friends - not these new ones - no amount of glossy covers with 'Catherine' resembling Scarlett Johanssen more than her own person will make up for the 'editing.' But, there do seem to be some new additions or it's so long ago that I've forgotten the minutiae. It is a big outlay to end up being disappointed and I am, but I will stress, only in the TREATMENT of the book, not its content. If I had brought the books to publication, I would have fought harder for a translation befitting that great author Juliette Benzoni. - October 2015

The Roswell High Series by Melinda Metz : 'The Outsider', 'The Wild One', 'The Seeker', 'The Watcher', 'The Intruder', 'The Stowaway', 'The Vanished', 'The Rebel', 'The Dark One' and 'The Salvation

- 'The Salvation' - final book of a series of 10. I don't suppose it would have been called 'The Salvation' if the storyline had not, at the very least, had an appropriate and happy ending - for Isabel 'A place for everything and everything in its place' for the others 'All's well that ends well.' We start with the reduced group of remaining characters which, is the original 6 and Trevor. Plans are being put into place as six of the seven prepare themselves for battle and possibly a mass evacuation from Earth. The seventh, Max remains comatose. After a couple of failures to wake Max up and access the 'Consciousness' without them detecting their plans (fat chance!) Isabel is very naughty and dream walks Kyle Valenti's conscious (oh so different to the alien collective 'Consciousness') to make him open up about the whereabouts of the 'gizmo' that could be the breakthrough they all need and which he has hidden in the boy's lavatory at school (where else?); but, because the TV series portrayals are so different to the books (right down to the men's hair colour) it is difficult to remember that these are all still 16-year olds! As zero hour arrives and Michael is intent on going 'home' with Trevor and even starts the journey with him; full of hope as he brushes against the auras of his former parents and looks to the sanctity of the proposed 'Brave New World' to which they are heading if they succeed, Michael finds he is helpless in repressing his feelings for Maria. At the eleventh hour he disengages from the journey home, Trevor understands and bids him farewell. Once the maelstrom and turbulence of the wormhole dissipates Max (now broken away from the 'Consciousness' and awake and alert) and Liz, Alex and Isabel (if the terms are right for both of them) and Michael and Maria revert to their normal status as if the last 10 books of their story had never happened. It was a satisfactory ending. - May 2021

- 'The Dark One' - Book 9 of 10. Because of the way Book 8 was concluded, which is basically that it wasn't, the opening chapter could well have bee or indeed should have been the conclusion of Book 8 ....... The opening chapter of this latest book might have been better served as the concluding chapter of Book 8 (I know this sounds like a repeat, but I wrote the first sentence after reading the first chapter and am no incorporating it into the final review). This book is a bridge between Book 8 and the conclusion of the story, regrettably it is a bit of a 'nothing' book but it does propel us towards a finale featuring only the original characters and one outsider Trevor. Trevor is desperately needed in the storyline as he is now the only one that has first had information bout the home planet and is their only direct physical link to it. Isabel entered the 'akino' stage in Book 8 and thanks to Trevor she is able to undergo it without linking to the 'Consciousness' which up till yet has always been believed to be the only way to survive the ordeal. Alex is enjoying his own new lifestyle (and body re-birth) and we welcome him back as he was sorely missed, especially as he also stood up to his father and asked for the gadget the 'Clean Slate' project had invented. Kyle Valenti is 'dealt with' by being sent away from Roswell having displayed symptoms of paranoia and a breakdown. Obviously those looking after him don't realise that he fell foul of some human-alien manipulating duplicity. We see Trevor show his true colours (we hope) and side with his brother and fellow aliens and their human friends. He accomplishes this by gaining their trust by annihilating Du Pris for reasons of his own and for the fact that DuPris murdered Adam out of pure spite and for his own pleasure. There is one other victim but not a fatality - Max. Since having his mind absorbed by the 'Consciousness' he has become a husk and his steadying influence is missed in all aspects of the storyline. - May 2021

- 'The Rebel' - Book 8 of 10. As I am curious to know what happened after the cliffhanger, as Alex is such an interesting addition to this motley crew of human/alien companions, that I am going to read this book without the usual break between episodes. We left book 7 with what may have been either a successful or an aborted attempt at returning Alex to the here and now. The opening chapter of this book doesn't heighten or allay our fears, we have no idea what happened when the 'light went out' on Major Manes unexplained 'gizmo' for want of a better description. We emerge from the shock of the previous book to join Max in a pensive mood. Isabel on the other hand is pacing her parents family home like a caged panther not really knowing what to do with herself. Adam is confining himself to his new hobby, cleaning. There is a tension but it isn't really manifesting itself specifically, there is no further integration with Alex's father. Three tensions reach breaking point almost simultaneously - the first is the knock on the door that brings Isabel face to face with Alex. The second is the discovery by both sets of parents that Liz and Maria had spent two nights away from home unchaperoned. The third is a physical threat that Michael perceives to be Kyle Valenti stalking his newly acquired premises. As you say the balloon was indeed about to go up with the mega-tonnage of an atom bomb. The consequences result in an almost irrevocable breakdown of family as she knows it between Liz and her father and her very close encounter with Adam which might almost have been incestuous knowing her relationship with Max and Adams' naivety even if he is of a similar age as the rest of them. Maria's incendiary moment comes when she believes her behaviour has caused her little brother Kevin to be kidnapped for an 'exchange' - what she doesn't realise is that the kidnapper is not one of the 'enemy aliens' they are now fighting. Alex returns to Max and Isabel's house, filling Isabel with joy and dread as she realises Alex is spent and she knows she cannot help him without Max's help whom she must extricate from the hold the 'Consciousness' has over him. She also does not spot that Alex has returned in a 'made-over' physical form. Michael, who we are reminded has taken Adam under his wing as he cannot forgive Sheriff 'Dad' Valenti's treatment of him over the years, is hyper-conscious of the vendetta his son, Kyle, is waging against the group of friends. He decides to tackle the stalker who he firmly believes is Kyle only to discover as he tackles his opponent that this is not only not Kyle, but yet another alien who by 'joining' with him shows him proof that they are indeed brothers - for the sake of a nearest translation (the author not I takes this decision) Michael names and introduces his brother as Trevor. Alex realises that Trevor followed him in through a wormhole and believes that he is after one of the powerful 'stones' that allow for inter-galactic travel. The group are divided, should they or should they not trust Trevor. Michael valiantly defends his new found brother, Maria wants to side with him but is distracted over her own missing little brother. Max would be suspicious if his mind wasn't constantly being hi-jacked by the 'Consciousness', Isabel is pre-occupied with Alex and their 'will it won't it survive' relationship, Liz is in pieces over the relationship hiatus with her father so it should come as no surprise that Kyle is behind the absence of Kevin. Just as the cavalry rescue the bound and gagged mite, Du Pris manifests (literally) his physical presence in their chaotic midst and together with Trevor seize the stone that Alex had had with him and whose power Kyle had zapped into oblivion ........ May 2021

- 'The Vanished' - Book 7 of 10 concentrates on the lives of the six 'left behind' - Max, Isabel, Michael, Adam, Liz and the irrepressible Maria. I say irrepressible because very soon she will be in danger of succumbing, not unlike Isabel, to her own fears and losing the refreshing identity that she brings to this group of adolescent/adult cohort. Max is pre-occupied with making and keeping contact with the 'Collective' which is the only way he can keep track of Alex, at least he hopes this will be the way, but he is still groping his way in the dark (figuratively speaking). He does have a vision that distresses him deeply, that of Alex once again feeling threatened by the anger of the Collective, that he determines that as a group they must find a way of returning him to Earth. Isabel is falling apart emotionally. Michael feels that his life is not complete without Cameron and has difficulties in suppressing his emotions, pulling away from his friends instead of utilising them to help him. He has come into an unexpected windfall as Ray appears to have bequeathed his entire estate to him giving the opportunity for him to become an 'emancipated minor' before his 18th birthday. He takes Adam under his wing but both youngster and protector are very new to the unexpected change in their circumstances. Isabel uses her initiative and succeeds in gathering information about Alex's father but is totally shattered to discover evidence that Major Manes and Valenti appeared to be hand in glove in the 'Project Clean Slate' conspiracy that looks set to destroy the aliens. They experience the impact of that destruction when they track down du Pris to the 'Carlsbad Caverns' and feel the full force of the poisonous chemical weapon being prepared to combat them. After a confrontational exchange, du Pris once again escapes leaving Major Manes to face the combined human-alien force who are prepared to subjugate him at all costs. But, before they are able to take action, Major Manes beats them to it by producing an orange orb which he states hopes has had enough of a charge to work and to bring Alex back. For one excruciating moment a tangible vision of Alex appears above the orb, flickers and dies away, the six employ their collective power to re-start the globe only to see their hopes dashed as the vision of Alex re-appears, the globe flickers and dies ....... - May 2021

- 'The Stowaway' - Book 6 of 10 starts with the aftermath of the carnage caused by Adam at the end of the the previous book. Adam has been left comatose by his exertions and is being cared for by Alex whilst the others plus Cameron hold a summit in the original cave. Much of this book is continues to be centred on Adam and Cameron but the 'power' of the alien society also starts to manifest itself throughout the community/family on Earth. The manifestations occur whenever the aliens 'connect' - up to yet this has been a relatively harmless and in some instances useful resource as, combined, it strengthens their collective powers. Unfortunately when Adam is targeted, having no previous way of shielding himself it can turn into tragedy. The 'hunters' from previous episodes are now able to trace Max, Isabel and Michael by using Adam as a beacon. Michael is stunned when he connects with Cameron only to discover that ti was she, who betrayed them to Valenti and was working with him despite not having any psychic powers herself. If Michael ever had any doubts about humanity, they come to the forefront in this book. Although his choices about which of the three women he should be with has diminished it is possibly not the choice he may have wanted to make especially as Isabel is now bent on annihilating him (she has temporarily been possessed) and Maria continues to harbour resentment as she continues to believe he has betrayed her. All the characters are being manipulated now by an unknown source who finally reveals himself as du Pris (the Stowaway) and tired of being jerked around by him they embark on a bold plan. As the finale approaches and all participants are exhausted after overcoming the conduit on Earth, they discover that their highly innovative and well executed plan has just catapulted Alex to his certain annihilation. Remember these books were written before Harry Potter, in HP JK Rowling uses the trick that is described here - she makes all present in a rescue attempt take on the physical properties of HP, here the group shape shift into du Pris who was to be sacrificed to the tormented souls across the Universe via a wormhole ..... only it wasn't du Pris who was sent! - April 2021

- 'The Intruder' - Book 5 of 10 Book 4 left us with Michael incarcerated in the Hanger Area awaiting his fate. The remaining familiar characters Liz, Max, Isabel, Maria and Alex feature sporadically in this chapter which is centred around the introduction of two new characters - one definitely an alien, the other either a lost soul or a con-merchant. Is Adam an alien? He certainly appears to have powers but no insight other than that which his captor, Valenti, has fed him all his life (existence). The runaway, Cameron, appears to be a charlatan but manages to charm and beguile Michael throughout his imprisonment! Michael definitely displays an array of feelings throughout this book which make sense as he is being kept against his will and his only companions are a lonely boy, with whom he can connect and an assured and flighty girl. Starting with Cameron, he engages with her quickly and has the usual adolescent sexual stirrings and wonders how it is he likes this gangly girl who is the polar opposite of Maria and nowhere as beautiful as Liz - curiously he does not compare her physically to Isabel. Cameron leads us to believe that Valenti bartered her from her careless parents because of her clairvoyant powers. Michael, on making direct physical contact with Adam realises that he is vulnerable and under the influence of 'Dad' Valenti to an unhealthy degree, he makes up his mind that Adam must be saved. He does this by attempting an escape which leaves Adam exposed to the outside world (desert) that he has never seen before. Luckily, thanks to his superior alien powers, despite his tender years and child-like quality, he does manage to stumble into Roswell and comes under the protection of Max and Liz, Alec and Maria and Isabel.

- 'The Watcher' - Book 4 of 10 deals mainly with teenage angst and the relationship between the three couples (Michael and Maria, Max and Liz, Alex and Isabel - in that order). Michael and Maria's storylines are the most powerful as their relationship grows ... and flounders. Max and Liz are bound on the eternal 'just food friends' roundabout which neither of them wants to adhere to and Alex and Isabel muddle along, him adoring her and Isabel using his adoration to further her own agenda. Simultaneously Max is entering a stage of his 'alter-alien-egos' existence which of necessity is inextricably linked to his human side. As a result he is compelled to establish a connection with his ancestors or perish! Throughout the book Max is portrayed in a weakened state and to his horror realises that at this stage of his life he no longer possesses any powers. As the book reaches its climax there are some episodes that are a mix of alien and human bonding that work exceptionally well. Once again the book ends with the demise of a crucial character who cannot now guide the emerging aliens approaching adulthood on a planet they cannot call home. - February 2021

- 'The Seeker' - Book 3 of 10 starts with the aftershocks of the conclusion of the second book leaving Isabel bewildered and distanced from her alien and human counterparts. Another cliff-hanger reaches us at the end of this book, but before that there is a lot of good interaction between the characters, Isabel recovering from the loss of a character we don't get in the television series, Michael reacting to Maria in the way she has always wanted him to but no executing his feelings. Curiously, their biggest asset in the television series, Valenti is still the enemy, his son much less prominent than the TV character and so no father/son angst. With Nicholas gone the group are introduced to a different but knowledgeable new alien helper who can advise them about their origins and teach them how to use and make the best of their slumbering powers. There is still no sign of a 4th member of the elite (Tess), if in fact she will ever turn up and the book concentrates on Maria who believes that her clairvoyant powers are finally surfacing! This in a way estranges her from Liz who is left on her own in this chapter of their adventures - she is rejected by Max who wants to keep it 'strictly friends' but mopes around after her anyway, Alex is nurturing Isabel on whom he has a gigantic crush, she is trying to avoid Valenti at all costs and turns to science as her solace. Maria's powers come from a ring dropped by Nicholas during the final affray in the previous book but she doesn't realise this nor the danger she is placing them all in - this is a homing device for bounty hunters in addition to whatever other powers it may possess. In the end they cook up a silly plan to try and entice the bounty hunters to come and search for them and witness the death of the pursued. They did it so well that Michael did need resurrecting by all of them but the toll was greatest on Max ...... - January 2021

- 'The Wild One' - Book 2 of 10 certainly doesn't disappoint although Michael is not as big a rebel and his relationship with Maria seems stronger than as it was portrayed in the television series. Max and Liz are more angsty in general. Alex always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time often leading to his ending up as a scapegoat or worse still as an excuse for the many situations the sextet find themselves in. Isabel is much more of prima donna and suddenly we are introduced to Nicholas who appears to have powers that he uses maliciously but powerfully yet surprisingly appears to have mortality …. I think Nicholas rather than Michael is the 'Wild One.' The storyline is definitely split in two as is the fiercely guarded group of seven people (Alex is Isabel's +1 in most cases) are cast adrift by the arrival of Nicholas and the defection of Isabel. Nicholas is controlling her and leading her into wild escapades which she attempts to resist but becomes ever more in thrall to him throughout the book. Michael, seeing this becomes more assertive, at a cost as Maria begins to feel neglected, but is at a great disadvantage as he has never honed his powers. Max retreats into a protective shell around Liz and Alex is left to flounder. The shocking ending at the end of the book gave us all something to think about it, will more information be revealed in Book 3? - December 2020

- 'The Outsider' - Book 1 of 10 - yes, I know this is another 'True Blood' pilgrimage - well it all started like this. Many years ago Andrew and I watched and enjoyed the television series of 'Roswell High', it, like the aforementioned 'True Blood' allowed us to indulge in a certain quirkiness of total nonsense. Why Andrew chose vampirism I am still not sure but I have always been a big, big, enormous fan of the whole Roswell 'conspiracy' concept! As it happens we have just watched the updated version of the television series which didn't grab our imagination and there was no 'Maria'; the recently revived dead drug-addict sister didn't hold a candle to her and as it happens does not feature greatly in the books except as a passing memory, Maria does! Andrew said he'd like to read the books, luckily I found them at a slightly inflated price, but 10 years on what do you expect, and it was the full set of 10 in reasonable 'nick', way better than just 'reading copies.' That achieved Andrew dived straight in and I was allowed to take Book 1 with me to the hospital. It was like jumping into a pile of warm, soft mohair cushions, so familiar, so easy to read - another unexpected treat, but we have decided to pace ourselves (he's read the next two at this stage)! Having successfully sleuthed down the books I was curious to see if the DVDs were available and all 3 series in package came at an incredibly good price - we watched episode 1 last night and realised how true to the books the original episodes were - why do people insist on messing with the originals? Anyway, it is my good fortune that I can now relive the whole lot in the set of books and all three series on DVD! - October 2020

'Lorimer to the Rescue' by Gary McBar

I was told, by the author, that I would love 'Lorimer' and he was right, I do, right down to the mystery, as yet untold in full, of the origins of how he got his gammy leg! At times, whilst reading this book, I felt as if I was on a drug-induced high, but in reality it was more of a 'joie de vivre' once I had adjusted my head space into the quirkiness* of the style! This is a beautifully appointed book with adorable illustrations (how could it not be considering the magic island - which really exists - on which the adventure is played out) which will appeal to adults and kids alike. The really good thing about this book, in this appalling time of the pandemic, is its extreme 'feelgood' factor (even the villains are 'human', you'll understand why I wrote that when you have read the book) and it has a 'happy ever after' conclusion as all the loose ends are neatly tied up and yet you just know that there will be more to come ......

The author, whom we met a year after he himself started his decades of employment at Burgh Island Hotel has a unique character and his quirkiness rivals and complements mine. We hit it off instantly, he tells me that it was because he immediately recognised a soulmate as I drank in all that was Burgh Island (including the cocktails). We shared a 'secret' from the very beginning and I was glad to find him and he me. We (Andrew and I) kept returning to Burgh Island annually for a decade or so and after all this time we have weathered the friendship with Gary from a distance sharing our life (and death) experiences. - A fabulous effort from a first time author, long may they keep publishing.

'Heresy', 'Prophecy', 'Sacrilege', 'Treachery', 'Conspiracy' and 'Execution' by S.J. Parris

- Execution' - Safely back in England, but is he? No sooner does Bruno step onto his preferred soil than he is swept up and into a very dark maelstrom of treachery, conspiracy, Catholicism, reginacide and not surprisingly murder. This time the murder concerns the dear friend of Sir Francis Walsingham's daughter. Sir Francis isn't terribly keen on finding the murderer, despite his own daughter's pleas, of a woman even though she had played her part in spying for him (with good results) or rather sparing the resources for the investigation. As his daughter barters with Bruno, so Sir Francis gives him permission to investigate so long as Bruno in his turn works for Sir Francis by impersonating a Spanish priest who has been captured by Walsingham's people. Bruno's flair for cyphers is also a cheap way of getting additional help for Walsingham's own one-man team. Sophia makes another unexpected apperance and reacquaints herself with Bruno in a spymaster and sexual manner leaving him more confused than ever as her personal 'quest' to find the son she was forced to give up at birth remains her only constant. - March 2021

- 'Conspiracy' - Bruno is in Paris at the Court of a son of a Medici with all that entails, not to mention the usual Papal and Religious interference and the continued spying for Francis Walsingham! The first of the murders is religious and within the opening chapters of the book and then the intricate machinations both enthralling and despairing begin. The court is beautifully described making one really believe they are there and the use of ciphers and other visual means to create ever more conundrums. There is one really grisly C J Sansom moment towards the end but which doesn't last too long - that's what makes these books so enjoyable, they are every bit as good as Shardlake but without the excessive gore! The future (Book 6) really has me grabbed and is making the hairs at the back of my neck stand on end; I think we are going to enter the Voynich Manuscript era in Prague! Once again, without prompting or manoeuvring I am led to an area of interest which has had me spellbound for a while! - May 2020

- 'Treachery' once again held me in thrall from start to finish. As with the most recent 'Shardlake' the central characters are removed from their usual locations to somewhere completely different although in both cases the changes did not offer them any sort of respite ('a change is as good as a rest' does not apply to these characters!) Shardlake was thrown into camp site living during an insurrection, Bruno finds himself under the 'wing' of Sir Francis Drake, no less, with none of the comforts of home and an unsteady deck aboard ship. He also has to take on the talents of a medieval detective showcasing his talents as a translator of heretical religious documents and investigator of the murder or murders linked to them. The wrath of the Vatican is his continuing bedfellow. Bruno picks up enemies like most people kick up dust in hot weather. The finale sees him parting company with his useful, if somewhat childlike companion who happens to be Walsingham's son-in-law, no placement in Elizabeth Is court and on a temporary mission to Paris which may or may not bring him face to face with the divine Sophia. This book at least gave him the companionship of women and a brief romantic interlude! Bruno is deserving of at least that. I was really pleased at how easy this latest book had been to read in its own right and how absorbing it was, Vatican intrigue is always catnip to me - I think perhaps that to begin with I was wanting Bruno to be too much of Shardlake - it's an error I have made before as in the case of Angélique and Catherine, not appreciating Catherine in her own right until much later. A 6th Bruno book has been announced for 2020 and I'm so pleased I have a full volume to go to bridge the gap until then. - May 2019

- 'Sacrilege' OK I'm going to have to eat my words here because book 3 is an absolute stunner from beginning to end. I was in thrall to this book, only once did it have a small let-down but nothing significant. The characters have grown in stature and been rounded off, Bruno is finally his own man and off he goes to Canterbury to see if he can solve a murder and finds himself embroiled in some 'miraculous' plots involving the martyred Thomas a Becket. As I came to the end of this storyline it was apparent that there was much unfinished business, despite my having believed that this was a trilogy. I am delighted to say I have found and bought two more in the series which I shall be reading more speedily than I did books 1 and 2. As there was a two year wait between books 4 and 5 I think I'm very lucky as I can now read them a lot more speedily - it also looks as if Book 6 is due an appearance next year (2018) - February 2017

- 'Prophecy' - This time I enjoyed the book from the beginning, our central character Bruno is an engaging character and I do miss Shardlake, but this is a worthy successor as Shardlake knocked about in Henry VIIIs court and was championed by Katherine Parr whereas Bruno is in the thick of the Golden Age of Elizabeth and her rivalry and subsequent unwilling decision to execute her cousin, the anointed Queen of Scots. This particular book ends with the subjugation of one plot but with the main perpetrator still at large. This is an enjoyable read - 10th August 2016

- 'Heresy' has been a long time in reading. I started this over 12 months ago when in hospital and somehow I just wasn't bothered about finishing it until a couple of months ago. I re-read the chapters I had read previously and found the style easy enough to read but the content was convoluted. Once the author seemed to ease into the required 'gear' the experience became more enjoyable and is reminiscent of C J Sansom's Shardlake (without the sidekick). This trilogy, however is set in Elizabethan England under the aegis of that leader is spy diplomacy Sir Francis Walsingham. I hope to read the two succeeding books with more enthusiasm and in a speedier manner. - December 2013

'Mapp at Fifty', 'Mapp's Return' and 'La Lucia' by Hugh Ashton

2020 sees the revitalisation of the residents of 'Tilling', in a new and original trilogy (soon to be a 'Quartet') of their escapades, the first of which is 'Mapp at 50'!

- It has to be said, 'Mapp at 50' gets off to a titterworthy and typical mixed-interpretation (double-entendre style) of a farcical situation between Mapp and Major Benjy - let's say it is NOT a case of 'what Liz wants, Liz gets!' This was a fun read and yes, it really does echo the style of the original E F Benson books even though I do keep visualising the three main protagonists as played by Prunella Scales and the late Geraldine McEwan and Nigel Hawthorne who made those parts their own! This was a lot of fun, not a full novel but just a segment beautifully crafted using sympathetic portrayals of our beloved Tilling residents. The author has found an excellent niche, in which to unleash his talents as the pastiches he presents to us in a celebration, not a mockery, of the original, records a passing moment in the very busy lives of the very busy inhabitants of Tilling. This foray into a short sharp snap in time also helps overcome the shock presented to us by Guy Fraser Sampson who took it upon himself to permanently wish Lucia 'Au Reservoir' - if EFB had wanted to terminate Lucia, he would have done so himself!

'The Müller Twins at the Chalet School', 'Juniors at the Chalet School' 'Peace Comes to the Chalet School', 'The Chalet School and Cornelia' and 'The Chalet School in Guernsey' by Katherine Bruce

- 'Guernsey' - Another in-fill in relative quick succession dealing with the early years of the war when the Chalet School had been forced to evacuate from Austria and re-located in Guernsey where they had hoped to see out the war, but, the Channel Islands are so much nearer to the Continent than they are to Great Britain scuppered those hopes. The book is divided into two specific readerships - adults and younger readers; as with Helen Barber neither of these two authors find the happy balance that EBD managed where, whichever age you have attained you can read the events smoothly and accept them as your understanding as a child or later in a different light as an adult. I found the grown-up conversations between the men at the start and then the adults describing conditions on the continent very interesting and extremely well written, but the interaction between the younger characters often comes over as mawkish or baby-ish. I think the true talent of EBD shines through in her original books even though she muddled certain facts or characters. However, having said all that, the plotline is a good one and shows empathy with the situation and although the school never had a Polish pupil in either incarnation, the situation in Poland is included and I welcome the fact that it is there. There is also mention of the 'traditional outdoor feast' of Hot Cross Buns and the islands' speciality gâche (page 216) 'slathered in butter'. This expression is a direct lift from EBD but I wonder if it would actually be moot at this point in the book; yes, a small relaxation of rationing did occur (historical fact) when the islanders proved so adept at following the rationing rules and were in danger of creating the equivalent of modern 'butter mountains and wine lakes' but I cannot see that butter would be wasted in such a frivolous manner in reality. Again, this proves that authors following in the EBD tradition sometimes lose their nerve and feel they have to add something familiar to jerk us back to the original work. This is an excellent read in the most part and gives very plausible suggestions where previously there had been considerable gaps and grey areas that thitherto had simply been 'hearsay' - January 2021

- 'Cornelia' - This was an excellent representation of the character of Cornelia and how she made her presence felt at the Chalet School. The storyline also precisely follows her reason for wilfully exploring the salt caves which she was using as a means to vent her frustrations and to display an unnecessary example of oneupmanship. If there is a criticism of this book, it is that by today's standards and however well-meaning, the author strays into the forbidden territory of 'paedophilia'. I can see why EBD did not pursue it in all its grisly detail in a earlier book as she will have been wary of and uncomfortable with the subject. It is apparent that Katherine Bruce is also uncomfortable with the writing of the 'mad caveman' character and does not really follow up, obviously or meticulously, with his eventual demise rendering him harmless, other than to say a 'sister' would have been glad of receiving his 'zither'. The entire episode lacked the punch and likeability of this otherwise excellent addition to the Chalet School stable. - April 2019

- 'Peace' - Is a re-read as a newer version has been published (with an additional short story which are usually gems in their own right) and I am falling into the trap of buying the newer variations. These books are easy to read and really do transport me back to a 'safe' place which in this era of Covid-19 we really, really do need. The authors should be commended for their faithful reproduction of the original author's style and for filling in (that's why the are called 'in-fills') the missing bits. The smooth transition with the missing bits is tantamount to their talent as, unless these missing bits are thrust in our faces, chances are most readers (I stress most) would not have been aware of any gaps or errors of EBD-isms as they are referred to. They clear up mysteries such as the ages of the characters (school girls and grown women), form placements - there is a good example of one character jumping through three forms in the space of one book, or as one of the authors kindly points out, the name is fairly common so perhaps it is three characters sharing a name (as if .... that would be too confusing!) Peace is one of those books, we are treated and reminded of the reason and fate of the 'Pledge' signed by many missing characters in the Tirol before the Anschluss, we learn a little about some of the names mentioned who have not had a satisfactory explanation in the originals, we discover where the precious document has been stowed since it's rescue and return during the early months of the war. We come across some guiding badges which will have existed in the timeframe but would certainly be perceived as not 'woke' enough these days! It's a fun re-read with many a rich thread running the entire novel. There are more to come - they will be welcome - August 2020

- 'Juniors' - This book is the first to have been completed in this new year (looks as if it is habit-forming see review below). It's an engaging little story and Katherine Bruce has been restored to her place as a proficient and entertaining writer. There is a bit of mawkishness where the 'Juniors' are concerned but happily it is left behind early on and the action and adventures are true to EBDs 'mission' (if she ever had one). This book runs directly parallel to 'Princess of the Chalet School' and made me hanker after reading that book again after all this time but that will have to wait until GGB complete their entire re-print of the series without the missing bits (their Intégrale if you please). - January 2017

- 'Müller Twins' - I'm wondering if this may be an in-fill too far - it is fairly apparent that the authoress is trying very hard to come up with a hitherto unknown relationship between the twins which can then be married up to the original material by EBD. This is the first book I have completed in the year 2013 and it hasn't been an unqualified success - usually I would 'devour' (awful word) the latest in-fill. - January 2013

'The Bettany Twins at the Chalet School' by Helen Barber

Helen Barber has already written a pre-Chalet School trilogy dealing with the early years of the Bettany Trio (Madge and Dick twins and Jo their delicate and much younger sister). She has also published a series of original short stories where she poses various hypotheses. This book is an extension of one of those hypotheses.

EBD had a knack of writing for adults and kids in a way that the books could be read by both and as the kids grew into adults they would get more out of the books than they did previously (this assuming they all became devoted fanatics and re-read them as adults). Helen Barber doesn't manage this universal and effortless way of writing; this book is child-like and sometimes forces the adult to drift away from the action in the hope that it will return to its original path. The storyline(s) are clever and the delivery where adults are involved works well, but as already mentioned the areas concerning children are of no interest to someone like myself who a) doesn't particularly like small children, b) has no deliberate interaction with them and c) has, in truth very little interest in any small human being before they can articulate sensibly. Harsh? Maybe so, but I read kiddies books when I was younger, I progressed to more mature books as I matured and the Chalet School stories grew with me. As an adult with a greater understanding of the war I realised how very disturbing and 'scary' the wartime years were and how cleverly they were written about by EBD - that's why her books were so successful on many levels and why I still enjoy reading them today. Some of the in-fills hit the stories spot-on and give us imaginative stories to cover the gaps left by EBD. This book has a scarce element - there is a lot of 'derring do' involved, more so with the adults than with the school girls and the author has captured every element of the 'Paul Temple' style of radio broadcast, I even found myself humming the very catchy tune that accompanied each radio episode! As soon as all the original books have been re-published I think I will desist from buying any further in-fills, the originals, despite the gaps are and always have been the best. - November 2020

The Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries : 'Damsel in Distress', 'Dead in the Water', 'Styx and Stones', 'Rattle His Bones', 'To Davy Jones Below', 'The Case of the Murdered Muckraker', 'Mistletoe and Murder', 'Die Laughing', 'A Mourning Wedding', 'Fall of a Philanderer', 'The Gunpowder Plot', 'The Bloody Tower', 'The Black Ship', 'Sheer Folly', 'Anthem for Doomed Youth', 'Gone West', 'Corpse at the Crystal Palace', 'Heirs of the Body' by Carola Dunn

'A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery' - these are nice light-hearted books following the adventures of a 1920/30s single girl with good breeding but impoverished circumstances. I've just read my own introduction and need to qualify that Daisy is now a married lady!**

- 'Heirs of the Body' - this is another uplifting read insomuch as suddenly we are plunged into the Dalrymple family en masse and coming from all directions. It has to be remembered that at the time of the 'action' (if not the writing of course) the rule of primogeniture is still legally binding. (An ancient rule of descent by which the firstborn son inherits all the property of his deceased father, usually to the exclusion of all his siblings. The purpose of primogeniture was to keep the estate (real property), the ownership of which implied power, from being subdivided into smaller and smaller parcels of land.) Daisy would never have inherited in any event as her brother was killed in action in WW1 and from that moment her entire world was turned upside down; as was that of her mother who was already the 'Dowager' as a result of her widowhood and who never forgave the law or her family for the reduction in rank. The current incumbent of the title, a fey but pleasant man, more interested in his hobby of Lepidopterology (the study of butterflies and moths) has no known offspring and so a search is called for all claimants to come forward. And a motley bunch they are too converging from many Empirical locations each with some sort of tenuous claim that has to be validated. Only one of the prospective heirs actually gets bumped off although real and mostly unsuccessful attempts are also made, accidents real and imagined occur and one instance of deliberate fraudulent deception all contrive to mislead the reader (well that's a good author's job isn't it?), plant red herrings and point fingers at the most unlikely of culprits. Alec has his work cut out keeping Daisy at bay as it is very difficult for him to conduct an enquiry into his wife's family potentially uncovering all manner of 'dark' secrets. The outcome is satisfactory although I think any reader would be rooting for the Jamaican line to succeed but this would be applying today's values to a time when primogeniture ruled the day and only a certain skin colour would prove acceptable! - November 2020

- 'Corpse at the Crystal Palace' - what a fun and uplifting read in these dire times of Covid-19. Educational as well. Carola Dunn must have researched how Crystal Palace looked before it disappeared engulfed in flames in 1936 (one of my years of interest). It was a fascinating guided tour of how the structure was designed and certainly contained exhibits I was totally unaware of. In fact, I think I'm mixing it up with the glass structures at Kew (which I knew well from living in Isleworth for many months during my London years. After Crystal Palace we got a glimpse of impoverished Russian royals scraping a living and an none too modest name-dropping of Fabergé. In fact as there will have been hundreds if not thousands of craftspeople employed by Fabergé it is likely they would have been snapped up by those needing to make a living in the finer world of art! This too is a red herring and the culprit belongs squarely within the British aristocracy - that way no other nation can take offence. The Russian tongue-twisting names were an added light relief to this intelligently written book which sends out subtle messages. Alec arrives well beyond mid-way giving substance to our eponymous heroine (not strictly eponymous in individual titles but the generic title does give us 'The Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries'). - May 2020

- 'Gone West' regrettably I didn't really get into this book for a couple of reasons, the first was that I was interrupted in the reading of this volume about half way through and because of the convoluted interaction of the characters had difficulty in picking up the thread. Now we know 'Daisy' books aren't full of intellectual stuff but normally they do move along apace. This one seemed muddled and with me being muddled on top it didn't help. Secondly, it seems that all the 'Daisy' books prior to 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' were lost during the hiatus period prior to my illness so my intention of re-reading them all again won't now happen - I expect I would have had to sacrifice other books to do this as time really does fly these days. Anyway, the book was set in a stately home, owned by an author who was terminally ill and who had for some time now been unable to complete several of his books. Unbeknown to anyone including the publisher these were now being 'ghost written' by his assistant, a friend of Daisy's and that is now she gets embroiled in the melee of several guests staying for the weekend when the author has his clogs popped rather than popping them all on his own! Oh yes, and Alec gets called in too! - February 2020

- 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' changes the scene-setting for both Daisy and Alec in this latest chapter of the series. It's actually not a bad thing not to have them joined at the hip all the time or even involved on the same case. Daisy, as we know is a magnet for adventure and usually ends up finding a body which then falls under the jurisdiction of her Scotland Yard Detective husband. This time, Daisy and two of her friends travel to the Boarding School which is currently educating their three respective daughters, Alec is gutted that he can't accompany them but he suddenly has a triple murder on his hands. They are also separated logistically by at least a couple of counties and go about their business independently. Needless to say the two cases eventually link up and although Alec has missed his daughters' 'Games weekend', Daisy has not and so honour is salvaged. I finished this book earlier than anticipated as Microsoft, out of the kindness of their hearts decided to give me a Windows 10 re-install and as it hatched, so I read! - June 2019

- 'Sheer Folly' takes Daisy 'on location' in her professional capacity to write up about various 'follies'. Her companion, on this occasion, is a photographer who hopes to sell a visual set on the same lines whilst also taking images to supplement Daisy's article. So, no babies and to start with no Alec in tow. We do however rub shoulders with obnoxious aristocracy and delve into monied (thanks to his plumbing business) hoi polloi - an uneasy mix at the best of times. The local constabulary aren't a patch on Alec's home team and are sadly lacking in either imagination or efficiency. However, all's well that end's well and let's get back to town for the next episode - October 2018

- 'The Black Ship' - in the 'Cat Who' series my favourite book is where 'Qwill' moves into the Antiques shanty town (this is way before he receives his 'inheritance') and I have to say hand on heart that 'The Black Ship' is, up to yet my favourite 'Daisy Dalrymple' - guess what, she moves house! There is a slight change of writing style in the first few chapters only (I'm relieved to say) which were a little too surreal and reminiscent of 'The Blind Assassin' for my liking. I'm still not entirely sure why the author felt the addition was an enhancement, it didn't work for me - luckily the two divergent paths quickly met and continued in single chapters. Most notable about this book, apart from the change of location and all it entails is the interaction with a host of (permanent) neighbours, the independent manner of Daisy and Alec and the fact that they are really 'working from home' together. All this certainly refreshes the tried and true path usually trod! Interesting to see the 'help' coming to the fore and a reminder that this is now an international sleuthing couple. Very nice and enjoyable read. - July 2018

- 'The Bloody Tower' - I started reading this out of sequence which would explain a few things (like new-born twins) but as it was proving too confusing I stopped, caught up and am now ready to review 'The Bloody Tower'. - It's always nice to cuddle up with a 'Daisy' and this one is set and involves the sad demise of one of the popularly called 'Beefeaters' who are in fact, and this is something that is constantly reinforced, 'Yeomen Warders'. What is interesting to me is that in the 1920s they were recruited from retired City of London police officers, at least for the purposes of this book (Alec being a Met Officer having no jurisdiction over them), and in general are recruited from the Commonwealth retired armed forces personnel. Always nice to broaden my knowledge! Much of the emotion of this book is set around newly delivered 'mum' Daisy and interspersed with a longing to return to her babies - here's hoping Daisy doesn't lose her edge as a result of these new maternal feelings which I'm not sure do much to enhance her character as an amateur sleuth. The action is convoluted and unravelled quite satisfactorily in the end to uncover a 'death by accident' rather than murder although one does occur, in sight of many witnesses, in the ensuing action approaching the end of the book. - December 2017

- 'The Gunpowder Plot' - So I'm indulging myself by reading two 'Daisies' so close together. There is a lot of focus on the upcoming pregnancy and discomfort and the very 1920s discomfiture on the topic coming into conversation, but eventually we get down to the storyline. Daisy is really flying solo at present as Alec cannot be released until the weekend when he will join her and her step-daughter has, from choice, asked to attend boarding school. Then the fun begins - a double murder or maybe a murder and a suicide or maybe even a 'crime of passion' and intriguing and welcome twist becomes apparent late in the book after we have suffered the consequences of the ghastly offspring who in true form are playing unsupervised havoc with the abhorrent fireworks which are de riguer in a title such as 'The Gunpowder Plot'. The fireworks high jinks are slightly lightweight to start with and then become deadly serious, the pomposity of some of the visiting Police personnel (outside of our beloved and comfortable team) is very true to life and the general snobbery accompanying the still imposed class system all adds to the usual high standard of entertainment. Good job there are still a few books to come. - October 2017

- 'Fall of a Philanderer' - I think I really needed to read something familiar and cosy as I 'devoured' the first seven chapters in one go! Yes, I know and I'm sorry to perpetuate this ridiculous use of 'devour' used at every opportunity these days to emphasize an enjoyment - bit barbaric and infantile if you ask me! Anyway, not withstanding yet another criticism that I feel I need to levy on today's dropping standards, I would, very much, recommend this book if someone asked me to point them in the direction of a new read. Yes, I know, I did it on purpose, honestly I did, I hate the affectation of sticking 'very much' where I did! BBC are overusing it, a particular tennis commentator overuses it as well as her description of 'popcorn matches'! As a former not very successful player she should know how much effort (these days at least) is put into training, popcorn indeed! Sorry Daisy! Anyway, although this book is not the first in the series, it's a great 'stand-alone' departure from the normal formula, because it focuses on the investigation and Alec's part in it as the Scotland Yard senior officer that he is. Daisy is not neglected although perhaps the physical aspects of her pregnancy allows the author to keep her more in check, nor is the inclusion of Alec's daughter (who is accompanied by a friend to keep her company) to allow Alec to shine. Another departure is the discovery, after painstaking investigation, that this was, in fact, an accidental death. That is why I believe that if I were to try to introduce someone to the Daisy saga, this would be the best example of the series as it takes a holistic view of a serious subject in a more genteel setting. If the person I recommended this too likes the genre, they can read the series from the beginning in the knowledge that they have to 'grow' into getting to know the characters. Set on the coast in the South of England I was easily able to imagine this being the coastline of Bigbury just across from Burgh Island - July 2017

- 'A Mourning Wedding' - I have returned to reading the series in their correct order again and Daisy, now heavily pregnant, is attending a society wedding in the Highlands. The bride, a childhood friend of hers, is not in the least inclined to go ahead with the nuptials although, with the exception of Daisy, hasn't mentioned this to anyone. Needless to say, events overtake the not-as-yet-revealed reluctance on the bride's part and Alec is summoned in his Scotland Yard capacity earlier than he was intending to arrive as Daisy's 'plus one'. Although still 'meddling' Daisy does offer some interesting and useful insights to Alec, and her condition at least makes her less reckless physically despite herself and to Alec's unashamed relief. She is also, as usual, the bridge between High Society and the rest of the world including the Police. This story is back to its formulaic best and was fun to read - November 2015

- 'A Mourning Wedding' - I did indeed swap the books around and out of their chronological order, so have stopped reading The Bloody Tower and am back in a comfort zone as Daisy is now in the early stages of pregnancy rather than an already established mother! Review to follow (see above).

- 'Die Laughing' - I enjoyed this one as it was set locally and placed Daisy in her husband's family home (complete with mother-in-law, step-daughter and puppy). It also firmly established the pecking order of the women in Alec's life with Daisy coming way above his mother but probably equal to his daughter, Belinda. I'm glad my interest has been refreshed as there are several book yet to come! It was nice to meet up with the police sidekicks again who unfailingly adore Daisy! - August 2013

- 'Mistletoe and Murder' - Goodness, with at least a dozen books to go dare I say I am getting a little bored with this series? It has taken me a mighty long time to chew my way through this book. Maybe it was because the location was on a barren island and a slew of new family characters none of whom were very sympathetic or interested were foisted on us. I always find messing with a tried formula rarely works, and true to form it has failed miserably in this novel. It may be a while before I read another Daisy - May 2013

- 'The Case of the Murdered Muckraker' - Set in America in the 1930s and inside the Flatiron building to name but one magnificent art deco structure in New York. We also get a lesson in not-such-a-high-speed race against time in the skies and learn the meaning of many hitherto 'archaic' Americanisms. It's good escapist lightweight stuff - but it needs the British team to make it succeed - Daisy and Alec are too lightweight on their own. - July 2012

- 'To Davy Jones Below' - Daisy gets married!** Daisy in the confined space of a cruiser with only her husband and the passengers and crew needs the usual team around her. This one didn't work too well, not unlike the Poirot TV episodes without Hastings. If the author had intended to convey a confined space, she succeeded but Daisy overfilled the vacancy! - April 2012

- 'Rattle His Bones' - set in the Palaeontology section of the British Museum and concerns missing precious jewels, exiled foreign minor royalty from 'Transcarpathia' and lots of bones and Alec finally sets the date! Always fun but the mustiness of the museum and the description of the London pea-supers made this very grey visually. - November 2011

- 'Styx and Stones' - 'The affaire of the poison letter writer' could it really be the Vicar? Anyway, another nice romp, a little more personal as the setting is at her sister's house and she has to deal with nieces and nephews and prospective step-daughters as well as her fiancé (the ring is returned at one point - gasp!) and not to mention the village clique - so glad there are more in this series and my sister is also reading them now! - October 2011

- 'Dead in the Water', a nice play on words without being a pun, concerns a 'varsity boat race' theme so you can see why the comment about the title. Another fun adventure for Daisy and a little more time being devoted to her fiancé Alec. A nice easy read as always - August 2011

- 'Damsel in Distress' is the fifth instalment in a series that I started reading sometime last year as I wanted to try out some new authors. I suppose Daisy is the next step up from grown-up school stories. This 5th instalment concentrates on a kidnapping rather than the obligatory murder and steps up the romance in this single girls' life. An enjoyable and easy read, something I would take on holiday with me as well as enjoying whilst indulging in more serious tandem reading. This smacks of a 'Daisy Pulls it Off' type of genre, but that really is set in a boarding school and is a stage play! - June 2011

'Beyond Peyton Place - My Fifty Years on Stage, Screen, and Television' by Ed Nelson & Alvin M Cotlar, MD

- This is exactly the kind of feel-good book that you can read, uninterrupted, in a hospital whilst awaiting major surgery. That's how I read it except that my surgery was postponed, shelved, call it what you will, it at least gave me some really precious and quality time to enjoy the book! We discover that over and above his main career which came later, Ed Nelson took a few knocks in his formative years, but even as a greenhorn with interrupted education he served his country (if not in conflict then at least patriotically) and used the services of the service (no pun intended) to complete his interrupted education and discovered where his future lay. To call Ed Nelson a 'jobbing actor' is a bit unfair as he has a shedload of credits, but that's what he was essentially despite the exceptionally long run in 'Peyton Place.' He was also an exemplary husband and father to 6 kids! He loved his stomping ground of New Orleans and gave back a lot to the education system and post-Katrina where he amongst others lost his family home - seriously this man is almost a candidate for sainthood! Like all actors he is a great raconteur and although I wanted to read the Peyton Place section as soon as I got my hands on the book, I waited and was rewarded because the entire volume is as engaging as it can be from front to back cover. With one exception, he hasn't a bad word to say for anyone and doesn't even boast about his achievements but is grateful for them and in particular for his family! He was involved in the giddy heights of presidential elections and partied with globally famous personalities whom he also called his friends, he never forgot his wife, he was inclusive and gave praise where it was due making sure everyone one knew that his 'one and only' was an individual in herself and not just an extension of himself and mother to his children! Not many men are generous that way. So yes, he does make mention of one incident that he felt was unnecessary, his treatment by another well known actor, who either did or didn't blank him deliberately, but it stung and his perception was that it was a deliberate slight - that person was singled out for a mention and then that was it - I'm not sure why he chose to add it to his recollections, but he did and the rancour did nothing to detract from the great pleasure that it was to read this author's life story. Lucky I can still watch him in Peyton Place as he must have been in the majority if not all the episodes at one time or another. What can I say but thank you? - September 2020

'The King's Curse', 'The White Queen', 'The Red Queen' by Philippa Gregory

- 'The Red Queen' - okey dokey, you all know by now that I don't enjoy reading in the first person singular unless it's factual or a biography! This book is also written in the first person with, this time, a knee fetish - is Pip having a larff? Seriously, with the best will in the world, I cannot take this author seriously. Why am I still reading her? Well, I never throw or give away an unread book and I have the whole series of these. The internet bookshop they were purchased from have now gone bankrupt - what can I say, except I am sorry for the demise of the 'Bookpeople.' If not for them I wouldn't have started a few beloved series and they were good with kids books, the sort that should be read by kids and written by proper authors in real English grammar! Anyway, this addition to Plantagenet/Tudor struggle involves Henry VIIs much married mother (constantly on her knees) swallowing bile at every turn, she distrusts everyone except Jasper, falls to her knees in sheer frustration at every turn, rages against any hard-fought assets becoming the property of whichever husband she is married to (I would too!) and bemoans the mother-son distance and lack of empathy with Henry who is now set on marrying the daughter of the very White Queen she so despises and more importantly envies. History tells us that the Henry unites the Houses of Lancaster and York by his marriage so no amount of foot-stomping is going to change that. I was in hospital whilst reading this and whilst undergoing a local procedure one of the assistants (there were 3 and only one was actually doing anything) spotted the book and started waxing lyrical about the author so I offered her the book on completion and was glad to have one less thing to drag home with me. Otherwise it would have gone into the charity box, with luck it might still as I keep my books in good nick however rubbishy the content (unless the recipient wishes to keep it for herself), but charities aren't accepting 'stuff' at the moment - the good news is that Ocado are taking their bags back, hooray! - September 2020

- 'The White Queen' - (Original comment - Utter Rubbish!) On re-reading this book after 9 years as I have the set now (cheap) I still don't like the use of the first person singular and wonder how could any author could know, in such detail, how conversations would go? (Unless she is a time-traveller of course, but then that would be stealing the 'Outlander' thunder and I am definitely not yet tempted with that lot having seen the tv serialisation so far available on free television!) All the magicky stuff if wearing as well, but having got used to the style I now believe I have expanded my historical knowledge of those bleak times a little more! The author uses the favoured belief of (the pretender) Perkin Warbeck as having survived the murder of both Princes in the Tower which has not been forensically disproved. I remain a sceptic where Philippa Gregory is concerned. - September 2019 (re-read)

- 'The King's Curse' - No I really don't like books written in the first person in a conversational narrative style using a personalised interpretation of what may or may not have been said between family, friends, protagonists etc. with the lead always with the narrator. A Tudor 'blog' for wont of a better description. I find Philippa Gregory whimsical at the best of times but there is no doubting that she does have an excellent understanding of history if occasionally somewhat skewed. On the plus side, assuming the historical facts are accurate, I did get a better understanding of why the Pole family was considered such a threat to the Tudors. I had always assumed that the transfer of power from Plantagenet to Tudor was the same as with all great dynasties and that as one rolled out or was subsumed the other rolled in and from thence (good word that) the Victor naturally enjoyed the spoils of his success. It also gives an insight into the terribly complex succession that followed throwing the likes of Lady Jane Grey into the melting pot before Mary and Elizabeth. - July 2019

'The Man in the High Castle' by Philip K Dick

-I admit to being seduced by the very good-looking Amazon Prime television series of the book (there are 4 series with a 5th commissioned so far) which I was expecting to be an enormous volume when it arrived, but it is normal paperback size ..... it will be interesting to see how much is padding and how much is down to the book itself.

- What a load of dystopian crap! What a disappointment. Why do people write/publish this sort of nonsense? Still I suppose its one saving grace is that without it we wouldn't appreciate the good stuff! 0/10! And that really is that! Not a lot of point writing much more - as I said I was seduced by the television series, the 5th series is out now but I won't be watching it, it was already heading for the dystopian/parallel theory which is being done to death elsewhere now as well. So good-bye to the Man or whoever is in the High Castle and to the appalling 'Nippon pigin' English and the idiotic dice throwing fortune cookie style predictions!'

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

- I will say straight away that this is one of my rare re-reads and was prompted by seeing the film version twice in quick succession in the last four months. The first time was at Christmas as I had bought the DVD for my sister as she is a great fan of the book and specifically requested the DVD and then just the other week as it happened to pop up on a terrestrial channel! On both occasions I knew something was missing but couldn't put my finger on it, as I read the book the omissions and changes became glaringly obvious. I realise the film was aimed at the more 'sensitive' natured of our society but considering the year 2020 is celebrating the 75th Anniversaries of many WWII landmarks it is hardly fitting to ignore the more horrific aspects of the suffering of the Channel Islands population. The grizzlier bits don't enter the conversation until well into the second half of the book and they catch you so unawares that your emotions range from being physically sick to sheer disbelief that ever new variations of Nazi atrocities were coming to light. The book is written as a compendium of letters and through them the reader gets to know the characters. Occasionally a new 'friend or foe' appears making their own special impact, some stay and become our new found friends others disappear into obscurity and are no great loss. The 'Pie' is a masterpiece of the sublime and the ridiculous and to the downright 'inedible' but, without it there would be no original title that drew the reader to it in the first place. There are many taboos but in the main this is the story of survival and those witnesses who made it created their own individual and unique niche in world events and their own personal space. Today (in particular) there is a great emphasis on 'mental health issues' this book should be compulsory reading to give all those with no backbone and who rely on 'safe' places at university or elsewhere in their 'bubbles' something to think about and apply to their privileged lives - read about real people and real events and compare them to your own meaningless sheep mentality. I realise my 'angst' is not the proper place in a book review but at least I have the comfort of knowing that I have vented and someone or no-one may or may not come across these words some day and so if they do and they haven't read the book - I urge you to do so as soon as you can! - May 2020

'The Thirties' by Juliet Gardiner

As 'Wartime' did for the 1940s, this book will grasp the broad spectrum of events in the 1930s in the words of contemporary witnesses drawn from metropolitan and provincial letters and diaries, newspapers, periodicals, books and the range of rich material available in the British Library. J.B. Priestley famously described the 'three Englands' he saw in the 1930s: Old England, nineteenth-century England and the new, post-war England. Thirties Britain was, indeed, a land of contrasts, at once a nation rendered hopeless by the Depression, unemployment and international tensions, yet also a place of complacent suburban home-owners with a baby Austin in every garage.

Now Juliet Gardiner, acclaimed author of the award-winning Wartime, provides a fresh perspective on that restless, uncertain, ambitious decade, bringing the complex experience of thirties Britain alive through newspapers, magazines, memoirs, letters and diaries. Gardiner captures the essence of a people part-mesmerised by 'modernism' in architecture, art and the proliferation of 'dream palaces', by the cult of fitness and fresh air, the obsession with speed, the growth and regimentation of leisure, the democratisation of the countryside, the celebration of elegance, glamour and sensation. Yet, at the same time, this was a nation imbued with a pervasive awareness of loss – of Britain's influence in the world, of accepted political, social and cultural signposts, and finally of peace itself. Source :

Finding Freedom: Harry, Meghan, and the Making of a Modern Royal Family by Omid Scobie & Carolyn Durand



I rarely add images (other than the book covers themselves on the left hand panel) but in this case the image above says it all for me - my critique of the book is summed up in the picture. Forgive the repetition but the final paragraph in the Amazon write-up (see below or follow the link) states : Finding Freedom is an honest, up-close, and disarming portrait of a confident, influential, and forward-thinking couple who are unafraid to break with tradition, determined to create a new path away from the spotlight, and dedicated to building a humanitarian legacy that will make a profound difference in the world. This actually needs to be broken down into bite size chunks. My first and immediate thought about the entire paragraph, now that I have skimmed the majority of the book (what I could get free that is) is that the last thing this book is 'honest, up-close, and disarming' it is actually nothing of the sort, it is if anything totally dishonest and alarmingly disrespectful of HM the Queen, HRH the Prince of Wales and the entire Cambridge Clan. OK I cheated a bit with splitting the chunks, next we get 'portrait of a confident, influential, and forward-thinking couple who are unafraid to break with tradition' for 'confident' I would say 'pushy' (makes Princess Michael of Kent look like a harmless kitten), 'forward-thinking' is of course a euphemism for 'woke' and 'unafraid to break with tradition' well they tried and didn't succeed because tradition is what has given them their privileged lifestyle, particularly in Harry's case, since birth. Then we get 'dedicated to building a humanitarian legacy that will make a profound difference to the world.' Well I can guess who cooked that one up and it won't have been 'call me Harry'. Ye Gods How is it they have the hide to make such a pronouncement when they are so thin-skinned and such freeloaders? At first (thicko me) didn't get it, but as I read the book it did make one thing clear, or maybe it was all the reviews that did it, they actually believe themselves to be the saviours of British Royalty and that it is this that makes them so important, more so even than Her Sovereign Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II! How very 'dare' they! Well, just as it backfired on the young Earl of Essex (stepson of the original Robert) when he challenged my great heroine, Her Majesty, Elizabeth I, so it has with these two popinjays. Oh God I missed the bit about 'determined to create a new path away from the spotlight' oh really, then how come we knew about the 'confrontational summits', the freebie flyaway to some luxury mansion on a Canadian island, the flight to California before the borders closed whilst Trump was still in power?, the next luxury pad, the self-important advertising of their goodwill gestures by delivering half a dozen meals to the needy, and don't get me started on the saintly tv appearance after a high profile death thanks to alleged police brutality. Then of course the continued demands for court appearances or suing newspapers, announcements that they would no longer co-operate with tabloids and there is just so much more ..... how does that keep them away from the spotlight? They're blimmin' well sitting on it! Enough - this is a waste of my time!

As I struggled to continue to read the book, not because the language is difficult to read or anything, but with the banality of it all, and endless repetition and moaning about the slightest slight (does that count as a pun?) and really nothing all that new except apparently Harry said 'I love you' first and she responded immediately - (you bet your sweet bippy she did, even she wouldn't have dared go first in case it put him off or he wouldn't say it back la-di-da) I decided I'd leave it to the professionals to make (my thoughts) their thoughts public - really this should not have been given all this space on my page but given that I could be dead in a couple of weeks (bowel cancer surgery beckons) as usual 'je ne regrette rien.' Oh yes, one thing did make me chuckle (and it was news to me) apparently 'Call Me Harry' read what people were saying about them on social media and, didn't like it - wonder why?

On 4th May I wrote on Fb 'I shan't buy it unless I find it for 10p in a charity shop or somebody lends me their copy!' and I'm sticking to that, not a penny piece shall I part with unless it is 10p to the Charity Shop (and then I'll give it back if I bother to read it all the way through and probably give them another 10p to take it away!)

PS - You'll never believe this, but now that it's been published they're saying they had nothing to do with it ....... July 2020 2020


"When news of the budding romance between a beloved English prince and an American actress broke, it captured the world's attention and sparked an international media frenzy. But while the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have continued to make headlines—from their engagement, wedding, and birth of their son Archie to their unprecedented decision to step back from their royal lives—few know the true story of Harry and Meghan. For the very first time, Finding Freedom goes beyond the headlines to reveal unknown details of Harry and Meghan's life together, dispelling the many rumours and misconceptions that plague the couple on both sides of the pond. As members of the select group of reporters that cover the British Royal Family and their engagements, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand have witnessed the young couple's lives as few outsiders can.

With unique access and written with the participation of those closest to the couple, Finding Freedom is an honest, up-close, and disarming portrait of a confident, influential, and forward-thinking couple who are unafraid to break with tradition, determined to create a new path away from the spotlight, and dedicated to building a humanitarian legacy that will make a profound difference in the world." Source :

'Black Roses', 'The Winter Garden', 'A War of Flowers', 'Faith & Beauty' & 'Solitaire' (Clara Vine) by Jane Thynne

- 'Solitaire' the last of the series finds Clara Vine in a much more perilous and vulnerable state than before, she really is playing with fire. She secures a little respite by spending a few days in Paris and restoring some balance into her life but soon enough she has to return to the dangers of Berlin, her false identity, her Jewish background and on top of that England declares war. Jane Thynne has given us some marvellous insights into the maniacal world of the Nazis (Faith and Beauty being very specific) and in this volume she tackles the next stage of beyond 'Lebensborn', the mothers of those who would bear future Lebensborn and the tragic kidnapees from Poland who had the misfortune to be born blonde and blue eyed. In addition to helping out a sub-standard Lebensborn baby machine she has to ensure that her godson does not come to any harm as she plans her escape from Berlin before her entire cover is blown! A trip to Portugal becomes very reminiscent of 'Casablanca' but it existed so why not include it? The finale does tie up a lot of loose ends in a very satisfactory way. By using blackmail Clara ensures Erich is safely in the familial arm of the Luftwaffe (whether or not he is likely to survive is left to us), the honour of the Windsors is slightly tempered and leaves them in a better light and her own reward is to work with the SOE - all very plausible and an enjoyable series - February 2020

- 'Faith and Beauty' - another glimpse into the maniacal and truly frightening world that inhabited Adolf Hitler's mind. Having already learned that there was prescribed fashion style for all women and an near-total ban on the use of make-up (unless very discreet using flesh tones) this book follows the evolution of the 'Mädchens' in the world of the Third Reich's "Faith and Beauty" girls on the eve of war in 1939. "These were Hitler's teenage "debs" who were kept in a rural mansion that doubled as a Nazi finishing school. They were drilled endlessly on folding napkins into swastikas and arranging vases of edelweiss (Hitler's favourite flower) as well as how to shoot a pistol and converse in Nazi ideology over dinner." The undercurrent of the book is phenomenally strong and it really does follow the reader making them want to keep looking over their shoulder to see if anyone is there. Clara continues her pursuit of her lost love, mixes with the Nazi elite and one of the 'debs' who really is most un-deb like and attempts to solve the mystery of a murder and how it might be linked to impact on her own safety. Much, but not all is revealed at the end of this novel leaving a perfect opening for the 5th (and possibly final) book which it appears will be set during the war rather than on the eve of war. - August 2019

- 'A War of Flowers' although the action is described as taking place in Paris and Berlin, the sojourn in Paris plays a minor role but introduces Coco Chanel into the storyline. Coco revered and reviled for her WWII activities. This chapter also reunites Clara with Leo briefly, it's unlikely to be an immediately 'happy ever after scenario' if at all. We get an insight (fictional or otherwise) of Eva Braun who prior to war breaking out is still in limbo with her relationship with 'Wolf' and there is an ambiguity about his feelings, not so Eva who is smitten and suicidal. Clara and her godson have entered into a less strained atmosphere and we the readers learn some more surprising details of the totally controlling and febrile atmosphere that has become 'Wolf's' domain reducing his countrymen too moronic puppets. We learn about the 'Strength through Purity' rewards system on the cruise liner "Wilhelm Gustloff" which historically comes to an untimely and tragic end resulting in the death of thousands (a mere drop in the Ocean compared to the other murderous antics of the Nazis). We are introduced to the Führerin 'the most important woman in the entire Reich' and described by the Führer a 'the perfect Nazi woman - honestly, the mind boggles, they're all as mad as hatters! Unfortunately and authentic figure with authentic powers, for those who are interested a comprehensive biography of the woman known as the Führerin can be found here - May 2019

- 'The Winter Gardens' - I continue to enjoy this author's writing, which is a surprise as I have found most modern writers wanting, but have also recently discovered that this author is an historian and so her fact based novels are engaging. I had to laugh at the idea of AH designing women's ideal clothing, but as I revelled in the knowledge that the author is an historian, I then discovered that an exhibition of said 'fashions' is being launched in Berlin even as I write this! Cool! (well OK it happened a few years ago - but I have found links!). So now I place Jane Thynne on the same pedestal as Alison Weir (but not Hilary Mantell who still makes fiction feel like a text book) and look forward to the next three books in this trilogy. Yes you heard right, when I first started reading the books they were a trilogy, now there are five of them. The life of Clara Vine continues, but she is no longer the naive young thing that she was, what is worse the Nazi hierarchy no longer consider her so either. Clara becomes imperilled and suffers a (mild by their standards) Gestapo beating after becoming inadvertently embroiled in the continuing mystery of her friends death, and meeting up with former friends who are now on the run from the Nazis in their own country. Clara's time is running out, she has lost the trust of the High Command and their wives, a short sojourn in Paris beckons, but is her war work finished? - February 2019

- 'Black Roses' - My curiosity was peaked by the content of the book, set in early 1930s Berlin (think 'Cabaret') at the inception of the Nazi power base. Jane Thynne is an engaging and inventive writer and the theme she has used as the backdrop to the novel is certainly something new to me - the Third Reich's intention to dictate what the average woman wore, designed to conform with the Nazi Ideal; I certainly need to have a look at some of these designs. From the descriptions given, these weren't the imaginative, elegant designs brought in to save fabric in the UK, but whimsical and/or '1984 utilitarian' (with clumpy shoes compared the the British 3-in-one design); they were also not designed for the prominent wives or female Aviatrix/Cinematographers or anyone in the public eye with the Reichsfuhrers. Away from the fashion angle, Thynne builds up the tension nicely and throws in some unexpected information regarding her heroine's heritage, her father's keen fascist sympathies which had not been so apparent during her upbringing and, which she had not realised were so well received in Germany. The foray into the secret service is a little lightweight and is not comparable to the horrors inflicted on 'Odette' and Violette Szabo, possibly an area to be explored in the two sequels as this story has been promoted as a trilogy. - September 2018

'Sisters at the Chalet School' & 'A Refuge for the Chalet School' by Amy Fletcher

'Refuge' - Amy Fletcher has really, I think, enjoyed herself in filling the gaps (admirably) that EBD left blank for her own good reasons, maybe she thought she couldn't write about an 'idyllic' marriage if her own had not lived up to expectation, maybe she yearned for a man like Jack Maynard but never found him or maybe she just didn't think her young (did she not anticipate adult) readers would appreciate out of school adult adventures? It covers a tense period, the onset of WWII but just our of reach of Nazi Germany in the peaceful confines of Guernsey. But the perceived danger is ever present and even palpably real on occasion; although Jack is not called up with the first reserves, he announces that he will volunteer immediately and his call-up papers and all the heart-wrenching fears culminate in the finale of the book. Maybe it was an area too painful for EBD to contemplate writing? It is a gap that needed to be filled and Amy Fletcher wove her spell brilliantly - never a dull moment, well you wouldn't expect that with Jo would you. - December 2019

'Sisters' - A new in-fill author trying her hand at filling some gaps and making a jolly good fist at it that's for certain. So far this is the most entertaining of the in-fills and keeping very close not only to the spirit but also the style of writing by EBD, she would have been pleased. Only two very small criticisms, just towards the end of the book the appalling misuse of the word 'forward' was replaced with 'forwards' which as we all know can only be used as a collective for a certain football or other sport position and not in a sentence such as 'moved smartly forwards to take their places' (page 204 for those interested) it is a pet hate of mine and abused constantly by certain tennis commentators on Eurosport and BT Sports and the BBC Sports service when their services are used bah! The other small criticism is that there are at least two unnecessary chapters that interrupt the free flow of the storyline - many of the aspects of these chapters are 'justified' at the conclusion of the book where timelines are scrutinised. I'd have preferred not to have to read them. However, I reiterate that this is by far the best of the in-fill bunch and set at an interesting time; the waning of WWII with its many end of war activities and military actions which impacted heavily on various individual characters - June 2017

'Nucleus' by Rory Clements

- Although part of a series featuring the central character, Tom Wilde, a professor at Cambridge University, who is an expert on Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth I's ruthless spymaster) and his methods this book stands alone as the story-line is contained. Tom Wilde, like Dan Browns' Robert Langdon features in his own area of expertise. In this case Tom Wilde rescues important scientific research which is being held to ransom by the Nazis.

His Alma Mater, Cavendish College at Cambridge is at the centre of atomic research, which has attracted and recruited specialists in the belief that whoever succeeds in creating an Atomic Bomb first render all other weaponry wanting in the forthcoming conflict. Tom's colleague Lydia becomes embroiled in the situation whilst assisting an escapee from Jewish persecution in Germany and her young son. Separated from her son, who it is hoped will be safely delivered to the UK by means of the Kindertransport, the core mystery begins when the child does not arrive with his fellow escapees. The plot will place Lydia in danger as she searches for the child as WWII inexorably approaches its inception; scientists are targeted, the IRA adds its 'two pennworth', high society plummets headlong into the forthcoming inferno without a thought for any class differences and the highly charge political divide is self-evident. It's a shame the conclusion is a little flat and too pleased with itself. - October 2019

'Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race' by Richard Askwith

- Biography of Czechoslovakian Lata Brandisova who rode the Czech equivalent of the Grand National and won it in 1937 after several attempts improving her placement over the years. It is a matter of record that she never failed to complete the race even coming in last on one occasion. All this on top of the historical discrimination against women horse riders, women in general, spinsterhood, impoverished nobility and all the related snobbery which accompanied these circumstances of life. Then there was the partition from the Austro Hungarian Empire, the Nazi invasion, the Communist takeover, and being identified as a bourgeois enemy of the state to contend with - all of which makes a fascinating read especially as it did nothing to quench the indomitable spirit of this remarkable woman! The sad fact is that she never recovered from the injuries and eventual appalling living conditions meaning that her horsemanship ended with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in WWII. Her triumphs were never really celebrated outside of the province she lived in although they are annotated in the British Horse Racing records. She never lost her compassion or her love for animals, horses in particular and small underprivileged children. She died in relative obscurity but now her legend lives on in this sympathetic portrayal by Richard Askwith. I was surprised how the parallel events in Czechoslovakia compared to the ones described to me by my mother in Poland, differed in attitude but perhaps that is down to my mother breaking free and making her life in the West and Lata staying behind under the thumb of oppressors. - This is a worthy biography of a remarkable woman - May 2019

I Am Brian Wilson: The genius behind the Beach Boys by Brian Wilson and Ben Greenman

I wonder if it a coincidence that I finished this book on the 3rd of May which also happens to be my ex-husband's birthdate - he was a miserable git too! Neither of these two men deserve mention on this very holy and important day for Poland when the declaration of the Constitution was signed on 3 May 1791.

I have to say that I am most fortunate to have read Mike Love's biography first of all (they came out in a similar timeframe) which like it's cover is joyous and a pleasure to read although blotted in personal strife in some instances. The monochrome cover of "i am Brian Wilson" should forewarn everyone of what is to come. Not that the content was black and white by any stretch of the imagination. The language is simplistic, the occasional 'wow' is unconvincing, as if someone prodded Brian from behind to remind him that this was indeed a monumental experience. Everything is reduced to one flat note which, considering that he is a musical genius, is surprising. It's good to know that he makes some sort of peace with his father by stressing that much of their personal and very public sparring was not as bad as portrayed by others, but (fact), the brothers did sack their father and he in turn sold their hard work and the innovative genius of Brian for a pittance with no future returns - a nasty revenge! There is very little mention of their mother or the kind of home life she gave them, a dismissiveness for cousin Mike and childhood friend Al compared to the genuine love he felt for his brothers, Carl in particular for his gentle side and a tenderness towards the manic Dennis. Dysfunctional is an over-used word these days, but I feel that Brian's life has always been so. It gave him a built-in resilience though, in this biography whenever he cannot or does not want to expand on something he merely states that he does not 'remember.' Yes, I have gaps in my memory for a variety of reasons - the pain I suffered as a child and now old age, but not to the extent that Brian relies on them. One useful aspect of this book, it gave me a 'discography' so that I could put the Beach Boy page in some sort of semblance and order, but even that is lacking areas he was not directly involved with leaving me with the impression that whatever the Beach Boys produced without him is unworthy of his memory. - May 2019

'Richard III' by David Horspool

- I chose this version of the biography of Richard III as it was the recommended version at the time (and aftermath) of the discovery and confirmation of Richard III's bones in the incongruous setting of a Leicester car park in 2012. I expect its 'dryness' comes from a lack of knowledge of the times and the disparity of the language used in the documentation of the day. Seeing relatively 'olde Englyshe' in printed format just about makes it readable but the interspersion broke up the natural rhythm of the read. In many places I enjoyed the interaction of the often convoluted numbers of Yorkists and Tudors and who did what to whom; and believe me there was a lot of that going on and entertainingly written but then the sudden jolt of an 'emergency' brake as we returned to the text book style broke the rhythm of the enjoyable cycle. I'm not sure if I'm enriched by the book or not, but it's now been read! I was reminded whilst reading this book that I had recently discovered that Elizabeth I standardised the English language and which variations should be used for official documents - another choice, and very astute decision on her behalf, piece of information I am thankful to my heroine for!

'The Story of Brexit' (Ladybirds for Grown-Ups) by Jason Hazeley

- This is so funny and so un-pc it has to read to be appreciated, which I did in about 8 minutes. I particularly enjoyed the references at the end of the book (by no means the end of Brexit!) - April 2019

"Whether Brexit makes you laugh or cry, Ladybird's The Story of Brexit will just make you laugh" quoted on the Amazon website and it's the undeniable truth!

- "Leaving was the will of the people," sighs Angelica's father. He voted to leave.
- Angelica voted to remain, but she feels the same way. "It is the will of the people," she sighs.
- They stare at the ducks. They like the ducks. Ducks are better than people.
- Brexit gave us lots of exciting new words, like brextremist, remoaner, bremoaner, remaybe, breprehensible, remaintenance, brexorcist, remaidstone, brex-girlfriend, remange, brextortion, remayhem and bregret
- The new words make it harder for foreigners to understand what we are saying
- In a tough, new international business world, small advantages such as this can be crucial.
- This delightful book is the latest in the series of Ladybird books which have been specially planned to help grown-ups with the world about them.
- The large clear script, the careful choice of words, the frequent repetition and the thoughtful matching of text with pictures all enable grown-ups to think they have taught themselves to cope. Featuring original Ladybird artwork alongside brilliantly funny, brand new text. Source :

'The Ocean Liner' by Marius Gabriel

- A deeply compelling read. I was originally drawn to this book as I believed it might echo the 'Voyage of the Damned' (a film I have seen several times but not read the book it is based on) and it did, but not in any way I might have imagined! I wonder how it will compare to this book written by an author, new to me, who did indeed hold me spellbound throughout. (I was aware from the onset that the circumstances of the two ships passenger manifestos were very different, I was not looking for a copycat storyline). This author creates a very clever weaving of interaction between historical and fictional characters. He presents a dilemma mid-way which could easily have brought the entire adventure to an end for all concerned and might have echoed the story of the 'Titanic' too closely. He fools us (pleasantly as it happens) by not revealing, too early, the identity of a second potential hazard following swiftly on the heels of the first. I like his concluding ending, no dates mentioned, just historical happenstances that place the action concerned in a specific, not to be disputed, timeframe e.g. the assassination of JFK which for those of us old enought to remember will always know was 22.11.1963! The book is a pleasant and refreshing surprise all in all. I read through it in 5 days, but I didn't miss anything in my hurry! - March 2019

The Bourne 'Objective' (8), 'Dominion' (9), 'Imperative' (10), 'Retribution' (11), 'Ascendancy' (12), 'Enigma' (13), 'Initiative' (14), 'Nemesis' (15) by Eric Van Lustbader based on the original character created by Robert Ludlum.

- The Bourne Nemesis - the book was advertised (due Autumn 2018), a cover designed, but now news from confirms the books unavailability - postponed or cancelled? For me, Bourne has had his day, however rejuvenated Lustbader has attempted to make him. The three original books by Robert Ludlum will always suffice for me. - May 2019

- The Bourne Initiative - just as soon as I am lifted into euphoria by book 13 (Enigma) that I am dashed into despair about this latest offering. I think the man just cannot help himself. We remain with the theme of the Russians and Bourne, although directly planning to avenge the death of his friend Boris, is somehow thrown into the terrorist tactics of his many enemies who believe that the 'Initiative' is actually his doing. Bourne in the meantime is oblivious to everything that is going on around him except for trying to resolve the secret of his legacy from Boris - his luxury speedboat; not however that it lasts beyond the first segment. (All these books are written as film scripts these days). A truly confusing cast of enemies and friends, past and present become embroiled in solving the initiative. Bourne comes into more body shattering contact than before, to achieve this he obviously has to shed another decade or two making him now probably younger a) than his son (lost and found in another Lustbader novel) or his b) original self when we first met him as a real character created by Robert Ludlum. Lustbader seems to delight in going into graphic detail of the torture perpetrated by the abominable characters he invents (was he the sort of schoolboy who tore the wings of flies and persecuted other poor defenceless animals) or is he one of those individuals as explained in 'QB7' by Leon Uris? (He categorises two types of blood thirstiness - the controlled and those out of control. The latter consist of murderers and torturers and tyrants, you get the picture. The former take on professions - butcher, surgeon, executioner, imaginative authors which allow them to indulge their bloodlust in a controlled manner. Taken out of their controlled environment, as in the case of the Camp Surgeon/Experimenter Dr. Dehring, their bloodlust becomes out of control but they feel no remorse.) So back to Lustbader, in addition to the gratuitous violence there is also visceral sex - maybe some books won't sell without either of these tasty morsels? If 'Nemesis' is further delayed I won't be shedding any tears - March 2019

- The Bourne Enigma - finally an enjoyable read. Maybe because of its settings and we do love to bash the Russians about a bit and see them get what they deserve and then transport us to familiar territory (on a personal geographical level, not the violence I hasten to add) of the beautiful and peaceful pyramids of Giza, memories of a happy holiday and background to my late parents romance and eventual marriage at El Quantara. As usual there is too much gratuitous violence for me, something the late and great Robert Ludlum never overdid in his original books, let us remember that Bourne is his creation and not van Lustbaders' and following true to his 'lusty' name there is a tad too much graphic sex, none of which adds to the storylines. It's like all the sex on tv now is women leaping on men, 'devouring' each other, ripping their clothes off and the man carrying his woman off as a prize hanging on to him by her legs around his waist or hips - get real people ...... we all like a bit of spice in our love lives (love not lust being the operative word) and as we get more confident some additional fun is a natural outcome but all this overdone (Dundee cake - sorry could not resist) animalistic pouncing is just such a turn-off, as are those parts in Lustbaders books, but it's a curiosity worth exploring to see how he expands the Bourne character and would (big if) Ludlum have made a series beyond the original trilogy? I think not, the Bourne trilogy was an anomaly, most of Ludlums books were one-offs, occasionally a sequel (but only ever the one). Lustbader also seems to have rejuvenated Bourne, taken around 20 years off him and continuing to state that a part of his life is lost to him forever, has he forgotten that Bourne gave us the third and original identity of a 'mild mannered' scholar? What with the film interpretations and Lustbader's walkabouts, the original and very complex character of Jason Bourne has long been lost in the annals (although the 'Bourne' effect seems to have been created in real life now - that's quite an accolade!) - apart from that, this was an interesting if not necessarily and engaging read. - November 2018

- The Bourne Ascendancy - this book is set in and around many of the world's hots pots involving the Daesh movement. It is divided into four definite strands, one where Bourne features but not as himself, Sara who escapes a potentially very gruesome death in her pursuit to join Bourne in their complex mission, the taking hostage of Bourne's close allies and friends; Soraya and Sonya captive but alive, her husband murdered in front of her and the child and Camilla, a new addition; close to the President and the lesbian love interest in this volume who is on a mission to 'save' but has in fact been duped into a potential assassination of POTUS. It took a bit of reading as this is not true to the Bourne ethos. As I have purchased volumes 13-15 I will read them but in all honesty I think Lustbader has exhausted Bourne, I know he's exhausted me! - May 2018

- The Bourne Retribution - It took a little bit more than just persuading myself I needed to read this as I have found some of the earlier books distinctly lacking in a 'feel' for what may or may not have become the 'continuing story of Jason Bourne - a man rejuvenated' but as stated in 'Imperative' the books were beginning to improve. This one had an early improvement as it linked directly to the preceding book and took the action into a new area, this time involving two secretive organisations - Mossad and the Chinese 'Mafia' - I enjoyed visualising the NCIS team in the Mossad parts although Bourne, has of necessity, to be able to blend into a background, so he couldn't be portrayed in the persona of 'Leroy Jethro Gibbs' played immaculately by Mark Harmon; incidentally I never see Bourne as Matt Damon when I'm reading (or even Richard Chamberlain who appeared in a very early film adaptation of one of my favourite Ludlum's 'The Holcroft Covenant'). This book was less a film script than in previous efforts, although the action kept moving between various locations. Gratuitous sex descriptions and the peppering of the 'f' word were unworthy of Ludlum who tackled both subjects differently but, each to his own, at least it doesn't dominate the storyline. The general feel stayed constant to the originals as written by Ludlum and this time we had a well written twist which was a welcome relief because of its content and because up to yet I don't think Lustbader has realised the importance of this tactic to keep us wanting more! A much better effort overall and I hope it continues into Book 12 - 15th September 2017

- The Bourne Imperative - This book is an improvement on its predecessor and it looks as I'll keep 'buying in' to this prolonged saga of Jason Bourne. I'm not convinced that Robert Ludlum intended for his hero to have become a serial as his books are mostly one-offs or maybe with one sequel, Bourne being the exception and becoming a trilogy (a very welcome one too as I had become fond of this character). But here we are on book 10 and I'm about to embark on Book 11 in a few books time. This book has several strands which all link up eventually and leaves many casualties along the way, it did represent the original ideas of Bourne's derring-do a bit more faithfully but the two flaws are that Bourne seems to be doing a 'Benjamin Button' in terms of age and capacity, remember Ludlum made him passed his 40th birthday when we first met him, and there really is no proper mystery about the man any more just a few grey areas. I wonder what material Lustbader has to use or add in the next three sequels. April 2017

- The Bourne Dominion - OK - when I started reading this book, no. 9 in the series I wondered if I had already read it - there were great chunks of material that were direct cribs/copies/duplications of Book 8 (Objective) - is it a printing error or was the book perhaps not proof-read. All in all a very disappointing sequel - it is unlikely that I shall purchase any more in this particular post-mortem series of Ludlum's ideas. The formula is now getting very tired.- October 2012

- The Bourne Objective - I have to get over the fact of thinking that Arkadin is dead - like Bourne he seems immortal and, at the end of this episode I'm not convinced he was blown up into a thousand pieces. I really needed to concentrate on who was doing what to whom - always great to be swept up by Bourne in any guise but he really does need to have a rest and settle down soon! But as we know - no. 9 is waiting to be read .... - February 2012

- Another two ghost editions in the style of the late Robert Ludlum whose rip-roaring, fast-paced narratives I sorely miss but Van Lustbader makes a sterling effort to keep the myth of the author and of Bourne alive. I'm glad they are now being numbered or like True Blood I might well have found myself reading them out of chronological order. I look forward to getting around to reading something more substantial than my recent fairly lightweight or tedious biographical literature.

'Seashaken Houses: A Lighthouse History from Eddystone to Fastnet' by Tom Nancollas

- This book has a slow start, the author admits to having originated the idea as a part or whole dissertation and it does grind a long for a while at the beginning. However, as a purely academic interest turns to a more personal level the fascination with these Rock Lighthouse habitations takes hold as a result the whole tone of the book moves to a more intimate and exciting appreciation of the Lighthouse! (I shall never forgive Virginia Woolf for her tedious and self-absorbed 'To the Lighthouse' which I had to read as part of my 'A'- level English Literature curriculum - luckily it did not put me off Lighthouses!) As the book progresses, the theory of the origins turns into a practical exploration with the existing incumbents still employed to service the lighthouses either to visit the places themselves or take part in their clean-up and servicing of the equipment. Conditions not changing much from the days when they were built except for the upgrade to the lighting systems which now work on generators and so electrical equipment has taken over from the candle. It's a lovely read once you get passed the dry bits and well worth the effort. The pictures are a little disappointing, no glossy prints in this book but then you can't have everything can you and there's always the internet to have a gander at more sophisticated images and groundplans! - March 2019

Lighthouses are striking totems of our relationship to the sea. For many, they encapsulate a romantic vision of solitary homes amongst the waves, but their original purpose was much more utilitarian than that. Today we still depend upon their guiding lights for the safe passage of ships. Nowhere is this truer than in the rock lighthouses of Great Britain and Ireland which form a ring of twenty towers built between 1811 and 1904, so-called because they were constructed on desolate rock formations in the middle of the sea, and made of granite to withstand the power of its waves.

Seashaken Houses is a lyrical exploration of these singular towers, the people who risked their lives building and rebuilding them, those that inhabited their circular rooms, and the ways in which we value emblems of our history in a changing world. - Source

'Champion of the Chalet School' and 'The Chalet School Annexe' by Adrianne Fitzpatrick

- After a little bit of a wait (four years) this in-fill covers the early years of the junior characters who will become the eventual leaders of the Chalet School and fulfils the comment I made way back in March 2015 (see below). I was a little concerned, and rightly so, that this book is actually pitched more at younger readers than the adults that we have all become. Whereas EBDs books can be read time and again and something new found as we, the readers mature and change childish imagination into adult streams of thought, this book does not carry the same magic and charm as that of the originals. It isn't a criticism, but an observation - personally I find most modern books lacking in suspense or content and have been wildly disappointed, but I believe it to me a trend as modern authors have to compete with so many other and varied platforms of entertainment - in EBDs day there were books, the theatre and the cinema ....... - January 2019

- Another Chalet School Fill-In which will attempt to fill in some of EBD's gaps. This book conveys the spirit of EBD (Elinor Brent-Dyer) successfully if a little mawkishly in places. The author does not dwell too much on EBDs central character Jo (Bettany) Maynard, although a timeline is established using the birth of Jo's third son, Michael. I consider it sensible for the in-fill authors not to try and second guess the adventures of the central characters too much! Jo and Robin's adventures in India (in another in-fill book) made sense as the groundwork was already there and a description of the life of the British families out there is well chronicled. All in all it was an enjoyable read giving the 'lead' to some of the more junior characters whom at this stage, EBD, would be preparing for their more senior duties in time. - March 2015

'Jestem Isia: - Rozmowa z Agnieszką Radwańską' by Artur Rolak

- The title translated is 'I'm Isia: - chatting with Agnieszka Radwańska." Isia is a diminutive of Agnieszka (Agnes) and with that introduction she knocks down any barriers you might expect a globally famous individual to build up in the very public life she leads! This was such an informative (about her personal life, relationships, attitudes, opinions) and open and very honest chat. Not a lot else you can call it. Author Artur Rolak might have been asking the questions, or if you prefer leading the subject matter but, I was the only person in that room sharing a coffee, perhaps cake and chat with my favourite tennis player. Granted I'd hardly have asked half the questions that were put to her, so it's just as well there was a nosey interviewer doing it for me. I discovered a lot about Agnieszka and realised we shared a lot of similarities in our character and general make-up. I'm Polish by heritage, she by birth and I'm a British national believing in the British way of life without giving up my familial culture, she is an international citizen losing none of her Polish heritage and has just recently been honoured (again) by the Polish government for her commitment to and promotion of Poland. I discovered intimate things about her family life and that her parents were indeed divorced, that her father had been a hard task master but that she loved him none the less for all that. All in all, I hope that the promised 'there will be more to come' materialises and I shall be first in the queue to participate in part 2! - January 2019

The Matthew Shardlake Series : 'Dissolution', 'Dark Fire', 'Sovereign', 'Revelation', 'Heartstone', 'Lamentation', 'Tombland' by C J Sansom

- 'Tombland' - takes us into hitherto unknown areas. Matthew Shardlake is forced to come out of the office and go into the field - not from choice of course, but the brutality of the period takes him into camp warfare! But I'm rushing ahead of myself. Having enjoyed, however briefly, the relative safety of Queen Katherine Parrs' patronage, Shardlake finds himself adrift after her death and still locking horns with Richard Rich, one of the most powerful men in government of the day (no William Cecil to the fore yet!). However, he does retain one tenuous link to the Tudors by dealing with land leases on behalf of Princess (the Lady) Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and in favour with King Edward VI (her half brother). He is asked to look into the death of the wife of a distant relative of Elizabeth's on her mother's side. Unfortunately the timing is detrimental to Shardlake as it coincides with the Norfolk uprisings resulting in Matthew, although reunited with Barak, ending up acting as adviser to the rebel leader and living a soldiers life in the great outdoors. His status protects him from the majority of base humiliations but he is still subject to the usual insults about his disability and the privations and forced imprisonments are detrimental to his general well-being. The conclusion however, is a happy one. No official recriminations for his part assisting the rebels, a reunion with Barak and a reconciliation with his wife Tamasin, Guy's general improvement in health and an addition to his household in the form of a baby girl known as 'Mousey' and a comely wet nurse! The foundations for Book 8 perhaps? - January 2019

- 'Lamentation' - I was almost afraid of starting this book in case it was a disappointment, but I was lured into it by the splendid understated cover. I also had to shake off the style of Hilary Mantel who is telling the story of Thomas Cromwell to great acclaim, but whose style I find difficult. C J Sansom has a much easier style and we are transported to the life of those who lived outside the rarified atmosphere of the Tudor court. There are glimpses of court life as the 'plot' revolves around Katherine Parr, Henry VIIIs surviving wife/widow who by virtue of outliving Henry has her own special place in Tudor history. She was also well known for her compassion and by offering Elizabeth sanctuary in her home after the death of Henry, unwittingly taints Elizabeth eternally with a scandal involving her husband - the dashing Thomas Seymour. However the book does not get this far in Tudor history but it does end with the death of the King - what now for Matthew? Possibly Book 7 - but the events towards the end of this (more than usually violent in places) book will change the holistic nature of the principal characters in a manner which may never recover. I was shocked - I hadn't seen this coming - so that in itself makes this a book worth reading! - February 2015

- 'Heartstone' - a book too far, still with an interesting twist and the characters are familiar so an easy read - can't see there being a 6th ........ but there is (November 2014) and I will be reviewing soon.

- I was introduced to these books by my sister - we share a reading style and we have both paced ourselves to read these books sparingly, the latest I have read is the 4th book in the series 'Revelation' which brings us towards the end of King Henry VIIIs reign at a time when his eye has caught Catherine Parr in its sights. All the books have, without fail, held my attention which is why I have willingly continued with the series. Some of the descriptions are a little too vivid for my squeamish self, but to understand the period fully, sometimes an excess of description is necessary! My favourite to date is 'Dark Fire' as it concerns a topic that I am familiar with having read with enormous interest and curiosity the use of 'alchemy' by Joffrey de Peyrac in the 'Angélique' series by Anne Golon. These books are set in the 1700s, two hundred years after Henry and yet have an equally medieval approach to the sciences! I digress, 'Revelation' is a worthy 4th instalment in this series and I look forward to reading the 5th 'Heartstone' when I can prise it away from my sister. - January 2011

Before Wallis: Edward VIII's Other Women - Rachel Trethewey

- Now this was indeed a pleasant surprise! Although I had heard of two of the mistresses, Rosemary was new to me. Both Freda and Thelma were previously known to me but both became revelations, with local girl Freda (née Birkin) coming out on top and better than all of them, including Wallis! There certainly was life before Wallis and Freda came out best overall in character and eventual fall from Royal (only Edwards', not the Yorks or the Court) favour. In fact, (IMHO) Edward did her a favour by distancing himself at Wallis' behest! It was a brutal distancing at that! Apparently, rather than telling her that she had been replaced by Wallis (whom Freda had actually introduced him to), Edward instructed the Palace switchboard not to put her calls through and had left it to the telephone operator to make the announcement. We all know that story, it has been well publicised, what we may not have known and which is made clear in this book is that Freda always doted on her daughters and in her time with Edward (David) he had also been close to them too. The little girls were the ones that carried the brunt of his harshness as all children seem to take the mantle of guilt upon themselves when grown-ups disappear from their lives. That really was exceptionally graceless and mean of him. But Freda's star continued to shine through the disappointments and the successes of her life after Edward. She never claimed the limelight, she contributed to it in an altruistic fashion - but maybe she did have the last laugh, apparently in her biography she claims not to have regretted her life and would have made the same choices irrespective of the consequences as she now knew them, then she pulls herself up and says that, in hindsight, 'perhaps she would not have introduced him to Wallis.' I suspect more to have saved him the life of exile and in his view, degradation, rather than for any gain for herself. Freda Dudly-Ward (née Birkin) looks to have been a jolly good egg all around. Seriously, this book is really entertaining and brought to my attention the existence of a black cat called 'Jack' of was it 'Jackson'? - November 2018

Ashe vs Connors: Wimbledon 1975 - Tennis that went beyond centre court

- Nice and easy, engaging and informative read about the late great Arthur Ashe and record-breaker (109 titles) Jimmy Connors. I learned quite a lot about both players backgrounds which might not have been available at the time that I watched them play. It is fairly apparent that the author had a great respect for Arthur Ashe but not necessarily for Jimmy Connors; being a big fan of AA, that didn't bother me one little jot, having witnessed Connors and Nastase's antics at the Royal Albert Hall at the height of his fame much of what was written rang true and didn't bias me much either way. Recently Connors was brought in as coach to Shriekapova (see review of her biography below) and as the Telegraph puts it : "Maria Sharapova dumps coach Jimmy Connors after just one match following Cincinnati Masters defeat - Even by Maria Sharapova’s diva-like standards it was breathtaking, as the world No 3 sacked coach Jimmy Connors, winner of eight grand slam titles, after just one match. “Not the right fit at this stage of her career,” her agent Max Eisenbud said, begging the question of why the two had ever combined forces in the first place." I wouldn't have minded being a fly on the wall during that 'conversation!' Anyway I digress, it was interesting to read about the racial element suffered by Ashe, mainly in the US and South Africa, none apparent in the UK thank goodness and the sheer disregard for representing his country by Connors. Ashe always represented his country with pride, he wore his Davis Cup dark blue jacket onto Centre Court in 1975, I'm so pleased Wimbledon waived its 'predominantly white' rule for attire or maybe it only applies when actually competing on court? I was saddened when I heard of Ashe's death, but this book was a pleasure to read especially as he is one of my very few heroes! - 13th November 2018

Early in July of 2015, tennis celebrated the 40th anniversary of what might be the greatest upset in the annals of tennis.

There have been other key matches in which the disparity between the favourite and the victorious underdog may have been more pronounced by standards of the sport. But none has been more resonant, or flush with meaning and contrasts. For this was not just a contest between a mercurial, seemingly unstoppable prodigy and an undemonstrative veteran, it also embodied a clash of values in a rapidly changing world, and in the sport itself.

This is the story of two tennis greats lives, from the local park courts of their boyhood to the summer of 1975 an this most resonant of Wimbledon finals, which Ashe won to become the first black male Champion. However, like the best sports books written, this is much more than a just a story about one match, but a metaphor for a changing world, the end of an era and a last triumph for the passing guard. - Source

'Selling Hitler: Story of the Hitler Diaries' by Robert Harris

- Despite (or even in spite of) the subject matter this was an eminently readable and, dare I say it, funny book. In normal circumstances I would abhor anything that promotes old A-dolf but this denigrates him - seriously, if you didn't know it had happened you would not have believed it! Truth is stranger than fiction they say! I put off reading this book not because of what it was about but because I find Robert Harris fictional style boring and laborious and generally unedifying, I am astonished to say I was really empathic to the way he wrote this book in an entertaining, mocking, self-deprecating (in some respects) and exceptionally engaging manner. All the main players were so mean, but happily in the main they were exceptionally mean to each other. The forger couldn't believe his luck and even more so as his price went ever further up the more ludicrous his attempts at forgery. Seemingly there is a published book featuring A-dolf's paintings but they are all indistinguishable from the originals, his style (who cares) must have been very simplistic. I roared over the oh-so-obvious forgery facts - wrong type of ink used, wrong type of paper used, this is the killer, the very basic attempt at personalising the books by decorating them with the initial AH in germanic gothic style but which turned out, in fact, to be decorated with a) a substance that has only been discovered post war and b)the letters were F & H as the forger couldn't tell them apart and so it goes on! The coup de grace which started off as very boring moved along to the eventual punishments meted out to the forger, and his middle man who had been taking a bigger cut for himself than even the forger knew about and the buyer kept accepting the inflated prices as he was desperate to own EVERYTHING! Only one of them made any attempt to look ashamed, he refused to interact with any of his former associates and kept seating himself in 'naughty corners' even in court - the main forger continued his outrageous bravado throughout - this would have been worth turning into a fabulous film with the sole exception that it would glorify A-dolf to his idiot admirers, it would not succeed in promoting the farce that this surely was - they all got what they deserved, except that apparently about $5m is still unaccounted for somewhere so whose going to benefit from that I wonder? - November 2018

'Metrostop Paris: History from the City's Heart' by Gregor Dallas

- I'm actually reviewing this before I've finished reading the book because, quite frankly, I didn't really know what to expect, maybe something about Hector Guimard who designed the Art Nouveau entrances (and more of course). What I was not expecting was a history lesson at each of the chosen stops (perhaps I should have read the book hype first?). Not that this is a bad thing, but the content is very 'samey' throughout and I'm keeping the book for the same reason as I bought it and that is that the cover is very enticing but also misleading inasmuch as it gives a false impression of the content. I am glad to have expanded and will continue to expand my knowledge of the city (much of which is, frankly, visceral) which I already know geographically through many of these Metro stops; especially Porte de Vincennes which is where I alighted when visiting Anna from Paris when she lived on Rue de la Voûte and Port Maillot which is the metro/airport bus drop off point for or from Charles de Gaulle Airport. I don't think I appreciated that it was the first metro line created and remember being surprised to discover that at the end of the line at the 'Chateau' the Nazis had imprisoned and tortured many a historical personage. I also know Trocadero for obvious reasons and deliberately travelled to Abbesses to see Guimard's inspirational and sometimes creepy (as in vine) designs (none of which forms the substance of this book, which is probably what I would have preferred!) - October 2018

The name of every Parisian metro station tells a story. In Metrostop Paris Gregor Dallas recounts a series of extraordinary but true tales about the city as he leads his readers around the metro. Both the armchair traveller and the visitor will enjoy an illuminating journey in the company of a compelling storyteller and veteran of the city.

The book includes visits to Paris catacombs at Hell's Gate, the literary cafés and old jazz cellars of Montparnasse and Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the seventeenth-century alleys of the Marais, along with trips to the Palais-Royal at the time of the Revolution and the world of opera during Claude Debussy's lifetime. Through the eyes of the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Dallas describes the German occupation of Paris during the Second World War and the intellectual wars that immediately followed. A visit to the futuristic Cité de la Science at La Villette prompts the story of the Marquis de Morés, the French cowboy and anti-semite, who was eventually murdered by tribesmen of the Sahara Desert in 1896. Outside the Jesuit church of Saint-Paul Dallas tells us about Gabriel de Montgomery, forgotten ancestor of Montgomery of Alamein, who accidentally killed his king just there and, after leading the Protestant armies against Catherine de Medicis, was executed on the Place de Grève. This exciting journey through time and space concludes at the Père Lachaise Cemetery with the unknown tale of Oscar Wilde's strange involvement in the Dreyfus Affair, the greatest legal scandal of all time. - Source

'The Monuments Men' by Robert M. Edsel

- This is truly a remarkable and engaging book. If it wasn't true, you wouldn't have the imagination to make it up! A small group of men in the very heart of a theatre of war tracking down and saving priceless objects d'art that had been looted by the Nazis. The deeply sensitive understanding of what the loss of any culture, by the future citizens of that very culture on which their lives were based, would result in is the stuff of fiction, but this is the reality! People died, were killed, enslaved, tortured, humiliated and more to satisfy the greed of the Nazis, they simply took what they wanted and destroyed what they did not - there the true heritage and culture suffered most of all and will continue to do so until the gaps, if ever, are filled. It is heart-breaking to realise how many of these items are still missing, but occasionally and miraculously something turns up quite unexpectedly. The book is about the missing artwork, the tenacity of those tasked to find and hopefully restore to their owners their nominated objectives and their triumphs and their disappointments .... This is a very humanity orientated book and although the film did not do it justice, it did bring to light the extraordinary feats accomplished by all the Monuments Men, not forgetting that some of them also died in the process. This book is a 'keeper' and worth more than one re-read. - October 2018

From " From 1943 to 1951, 350 or so men and women from thirteen Allied nations served as the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives section (MFAA) of the Allied armed forces: the eyes, ears and hands of the first and most ambitious effort in history to preserve the world's cultural heritage in times of war. They were known simply as Monuments Men. But during the thick of the fighting in Europe, from D-Day to V-E Day, when Germany surrendered, there were only sixty-five Monuments Men in the forward operating area. Sixty-five men to cover thousands of square miles, save hundreds of damaged buildings and find millions of cultural items before the Nazis could destroy them forever.

Monuments Men is the story of eight of these men in the forward operating theatre: America's top art conservator; an up-and-coming young museum curator; a sculptor; a straight-arrow architect; a gay New York cultural impresario; and an infantry private with no prior knowledge of or appreciation for art, but first-hand experience as a victim of the Nazi regime.

They built their own treasure maps from scraps and hints: the diary of a Louvre curator who secretly tracked Nazi plunder through the Paris rail yards; records recovered from bombed out cathedrals and museums; overheard conversations; a tip from a dentist while getting a root canal. They started off moving in different directions, but ended up heading for the same place at the same time: the Alps near the German-Austrian border in the last two weeks of the war, where the great treasure caches of the Nazis were stored: the artwork of Paris, stolen mostly from Jewish collectors and dealers; masterworks from the museums of Naples and Florence; and the greatest prize of all, Hitler's personal hoard of masterpieces, looted from the most important art collections and museums in Europe and hidden deep within a working salt mine - a mine the Nazis had every intention of destroying before it fell into Allied hands.

How does the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History end? As is often the case, history is often more extraordinary than fiction."

'Unstoppable - My Life So Far' by Maria Sharapova

- Best to read this as fiction rather than an autobiography! Well, I suppose having started in that vein I ought to justify my criticism, but can I just say, first of all SELF! SELF! SELF! And yes it is an autobiography. And so to the dissection, I mean critique of course. The dedication at the start of the book is original and immediately drew me in to believe that it was meant personally for me and I stood a couple of inches taller. Clever, a very clever ploy which immediately sent me crashing down to earth as I realised you had to be a die-hard fan to earn this very potent and up-close-and-personal message! Boing! Well that put me on a hostile footing as did the WHINE! WHINE! WHINE! by ME! ME! ME! and IT WASN'T MY FAULT! Meladonium exposé. The exposé was very likely composed and created by her legal time but the "Goddamit I'm going to fight this butt sh*t" ran so false compared to the legalese - very early on SELF! SELF! SELF! became self-evident and her language deteriorates right down to the 'F*word' which shall not appear on my website (the asterisks are also mine). My curiosity was a little re-kindled when she mentioned an anonymous Polish couple that had done her and her father a kindness, actually quite a large kindness, but as she said, they never bothered to find out the couples name - Boing! Boing! In general this biography is very well written and to start with, engaging, but then the real Sharapova starts using her own words and the book spirals downwards very quickly. You can recognise her immediate input e.g. she believes her rapid growth was caused by being contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster - considering the pain this caused others on a physical and fiscal scale, this is a very off the cuff remark. Then, her court persona is blamed on all her former classmates at the tennis academies - they all hated her, she says so she determined never to let them see any emotion from her. She claims that all the friendships formed and camaraderie on court is a sham - she claims you can't have an opponent on court and beat them ..... She concedes that Serena is her nemesis and claims that after beating her at Wimbledon she found Serena crying in the locker room. Serena, apparently has never lived that down and she has never allowed Maria to beat her once! Maria is also very judgemental about her opponents physical attributes and general demeanours, she admits t not having any friends on tour, I nearly said 'full stop' but she does admit to (and names) one. She really, really hates post match interviews on court when she has been beaten and winners make comment about her performance - oh get a life! What did she say about Agnieszka Radwańska after beating her "Why discuss her with me, where is she now in Poland? Well I'm here" or some such! (Sharapova will never feature in my tennis section as a favourite player, you may be sure of that). What else is there to say? In the main where she is not quoted the book is well written, there are some interesting tennis techniques and march reports with hitherto not made public information, but there is also a lot of self-pity around the injuries. There is no evident remorse about the drug taking or the punishment meted out. And then there's the cover - another clever ploy to entice you in. Maria is looking directly at you in a sort of 'shy' and coy manner, will you accept her invitation to join you? The hair is carelessly tousled with a few stray hairs giving the impression that she is not perfect but has her imperfection just like you and I - again it is a clever ploy to entice you in, she is indeed unstoppable! - September 2018

'The Romanov Ransom' by Clive Cussler

- My first Clive Cussler, will it be my last? I'm a little undecided at this time. I was drawn to the book because of the title, let's face it, anything with 'Romanov' in it will grab my attention. The historical 'intro' was promising but so very short, after that the storyline followed the pattern of a treasure hunt featuring some interesting characters, especially the well-established husband and wife team who blended into the action without any laboured explanations of their previous adventures. However, the Fourth Reich (which the treasure was to have financed) has already been covered more than adequately in Robert Ludlums's 'Holcroft Covenant' with its many twists and turns, sadly lacking in this thriller. The saving grace of this book is that where the action takes place in Poland all the place names are spelled correctly complete with accents, cedillas and those letters peculiar to the Polish language! But, there has to be a but, when did the Avro Lancaster (Bomber) become the Avro Lancastrian tut tut! - September 2018

'Talk to the Hand : The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life' by Lynne Truss

- So why this book? Well it's been re-gifted to me for a start, so before I pass it on to the Cats Protection for re-sale I felt I should read it. I should mention that I did read 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves' a long time ago and enjoyed the authors' style. I bought this book for my sister some time ago (she took her sweet time over reading it too) as she had asked me the meaning of this rather spiteful (my description not hers) and downright rude current 'buzz' word/phrase. She'd previously also asked me what # (hashtag) preceding a word/name denoted as she has eschewed all technology apart from a television, DVD player (very recent) and Brennan, so I thought it would be easier for her to read about 'the hand' rather than me try and extol its (lack of) virtues (the hand not the book!). I was actually going to suggest she re-gift this book further to a former colleague of hers who still tries to manipulate her after all these years. I think we have finally reached the point where the 'friend' (who will not now be a recipient of this book) will be brushed aside after her latest bout of manipulation or let's call it what it really is, bullying - seriously if she (the 'friend' wants people to come and play with her on her 80th birthday she really should know better than this - still thinking she can push people around after 20 years. Happy Birthday Liz, who needs ya? (That's for my sister because she is too timid to say it herself!). And so to my review - yes, it meets, but not exceed, all the points that women of our certain age find baffling and rude. Another area is the total lack of common sense and tact in this solipsistic new generation taking over the world. One thing however, that I find seriously lacking in this book is a rant about breast feeding in public! Maybe even that proved too contentious for Lynne Truss or too un-pc although she reckons she's passed that (Lynn Truss that is) - well I hate everything to do with the insidiousness of political correctness and have devoted a section to it on my website where I can expose its shortcomings to my hearts content! - September 2018

Sticklers unite! The Queen of Zero Tolerance takes on the sorry state of modern manners, in the spirit of her three million copy worldwide bestseller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. "Talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening," the saying goes. When did the world get to be so rude? When did society become so inconsiderate? It's a topic that has been simmering for years, and Lynne Truss says that it has now reached boiling point. Taking on the boorish behaviour that has become a point of pride for some, Talk to the Hand is a rallying cry for courtesy. Like Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Talk to the Hand is a spirited conversation, not a stuffy guidebook. It is not about forks, for a start. Why hasn't your nephew ever thanked you for that perfect Christmas present? What makes your builder think he can treat you like dirt in your own home? When you phone a utility with a complaint (and have negotiated the switchboard), why can't you ever speak to a person who is authorised to apologise? What accounts for the appalling treatment you receive in shops? Most important, what will it take to roll back a culture that applauds rudeness and finds it so amusing? For anyone who's fed up with the brutality inflicted by modern manners (and is naturally too scared to confront the actual yobs), Talk to the Hand is a colourful call to arms - from the wittiest defender of the civilised world. Source :

His Holiness the Dalai Lama - 'My Spiritual Autobiography'

- I wasn't sure how to approach this read although, having missed out on the Dalai Lama's public seminar at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, I felt I wanted to engage one way or another. I read this book in three sittings over three days. I had not anticipated that, so must be a good thing? I was disappointed with the first section of the book which dealt with 'altruism' and how the Dalai Lama still wishes to improve himself on a daily basis; what hope for the layperson if the spiritual leader of the Tibetans is still nowhere near achieving his best after over 70 years of training and preparation? Not daunted (just a bit dented) I moved on two part 2 on a fresh day. This consisted of the Dalai Lama's recognition by the world and something I could really empathise with, the conservation and respect for all living (sentient) beings and their environment. To return to the area that fascinates me, the seeking and finding of the reincarnation of the former Dalai Lama - in our own Roman Catholic world, the successor to St. Peter is voted in by his peers, how many human frailties can exploit that most holy of decisions? In Tibetan religion, lore, reincarnation is the order of the day. Interestingly enough, if the Dalai Lama dies away from Tibet, the search will centre in the area where death occurred. Disappointingly very little, apart from the brief mention of recognition of religious property, is mentioned by the current incumbent about how he was confirmed into the post. On reflection I have decided that perhaps the Dalai Lama might be deemed too worldly if he were perceived to 'boast' about his election. He does however show real uncertainty when, because of world events, he is called on to assume the mantle of leader at the age of 16 instead of 18 when his education would have been completed. The next part of this section deals with the environment and 'sentient' beings (not just humans) and this was such a caring section of the book and as with the original, not too many notes were added by the translator (the introduction to the book states that Sophia Stril-Rever will add her own wording and it will be identified by being printed in italics, it also states that she has gained permission from his Holiness, after discussion, to add her conclusions). Whilst discussing events that led to the invasion by the Chinese and the deforestation of the areas in which the Han were relocated in great numbers, there is the tiniest hint of resentment amid the great and palpable sorrow that emanates from the written word. Part three is a very painful read; the Dalai Lama is a pacifist and has received the Nobel Peace Prize. He is a believer in taking the 'Middle Path' and has pleaded his cause to the highest political levels accessible to him. He continues to do so as thousands of his followers are tortured, murdered or imprisoned on a daily basis. Once again the sorrow is so palpable and painful to read as His Holiness follows his 'Middle Path' for which others pay the price. The Middle Path is the return of Tibet to autonomy under the leadership of his Holiness so that the Tibetans can reclaim their natural heritage, culture and community which it is feared will disappear under Chinese rule; he is not demanding independence or a return of ownership, but the Chinese (as with all despotic regimes) see this as a plot to undermine their imposed authority. Here, the final paragraph is written by Sophia Stril-Rever who, disappointingly tries to justify and reconcile the actions of the Dalai Lama; it is unnecessary and devalues the thought processes that are apparent in this 'confession' (if I may borrow from the Catholic Faith). I am not retaining this book now that I have read it, I am giving it up to be re-sold and to raise money for an animal charity, I hope it will not be the last time the book makes money for 'sentient' beings other than humans. One thing I must add as a postscript, I had just begun to read the book when my husband entered the room and I wanted to say something to him before I forgot, because the nature of what I was going to say was such that I would have been embarrassed to say it in front of the Dalai Lama himself; I closed the book before asking him to remember to put out some toilet paper from the stores - silly, I know but I could not bring myself to ask for something everybody uses in the 'open book' presence of such an exalted figure. I am glad I read this book. - 2nd September 2018

"This book is a first. There has never been one entirely dedicated to the spiritual life of the Dalai Lama. Yet as one of the world's most recognised, and respected, spiritual leaders there will clearly be great interest in such a work from His Holiness' thousands of friends and followers around the world.

The Dalai Lama sees himself first and foremost as a human being, secondly as a monk and thirdly as the political leader of Tibet. In this extraordinary book we read many hitherto unknown stories from his childhood, his formation as a monk and his gradual development as a leader of his people. We are offered a view of his daily spiritual practise, invited to listen in on the dialogue he has been pursuing with other religions, with non-believers and with scientists in his search for ethical and environmental principles, and shown how he brings a sense of goodness and conscience to political life around the globe. In a world that is so profoundly interdependent, the Dalai Lama explains how he transforms himself through spiritual means in order to have a positive effect on the world, and he encourages us to do the same by working on ourselves first of all. Source :"

Four Sisters : The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses by Helen Rappaport

Actually there is so much more than just the lost lives of the four sisters in this book. There is a treasure trove of hitherto unknown (to me) information about intimate times spanning the lives of the entire family from before the birth of their first child Olga (the 'O' in OTMA) and their last Alexei (so named because 'Alexanders' had been tragic, unfortunate or short-lived Tsars in their own right) and not included in the 'OTMA' acronym, the 'A' belonged firmly to Anastasia. Nor does the introduction live up to the claim that this book centres around the sisters up to the already widely known circumstances of their untimely deaths. Yes the book ends, almost abruptly, when the order to prepare to leave is given as historically recorded and the epilogue conveniently lists the fate of all the people who might well have died in that cellar, but who had at the last moment had been reprieved because they had been refused further access to the family. There are some fascinating insights into the sisters, such as, although they were fluent in the English language it would seem they were never really taught the grammar and spelling of the language judging by the appalling errors on surviving written examples. There is a very specific pattern to their behaviour, possibly the chronology of their birth? Olga, the eldest being a constant companion to her mother and prone to great imaginary romances which left her spent and augured badly for their time in captivity. Tatiana, seems to have taken on the mantle of eldest sister and certainly in the latter days the senior nurse, seeing to her mother and spending hours of compassion with her young brother when he suffered from his many and very brutal haemophilic attacks. Maria, it seems remained a perpetual child and exuded a calming influence, so much so that it was she who was chosen to accompany her parents to Ekaterinburg on their 'penultimate' journey. Anastasia was clown/brat in turn, she had just had her 17th birthday in the June preceding her death. Seemingly, those who had charge of her education and upbringing did not like her, and yet the family adored her. It is almost fitting that it is her memory that stole the limelight during the 'Anna Anderson' years. Prior to the birth of Anastasia (and all Europe despairing of Russia ever producing a male heir) there is a potential phantom pregnancy or real miscarriage by the Tsarina, another element I had been unaware of; would the fate of the Romanovs have somehow been different if the fourth child had been a healthy boy or were they always destined to have died in 1918? Finally the mystery of the shaven heads. I found out about those after seeing a picture of the shorn Grand Duchesses (how that photo came about is also explained in this book and was at the behest of the sisters themselves) who, in the words of their mother when she saw the image stated they looked like the 'condemned.' The photograph was taken after they had all contracted a contagious illness and it was deemed necessary to shave their heads (Alexei also had his shaved in solidarity with his sisters apparently) and they wore headscarves to cover the baldness. There is a reference in the book that visitors to the family in their early captivity had been surprised to see the girls expose their shorn lock some months after the dramatic shearing; shortly after that immediately prior to their death mention is made that they all now (six months later) sported shoulder length hair. It seems they all had prodigious hair growth and apparently thrived on the rations they were given even though there were great shortages throughout the country, it is stressed that much food was donated to the family. So at the time of their deaths they had once again become young and pretty women rather than the familiar image of wraithlike gulag victims. On reading of their ages at the time of their assassination I am heartbroken at the needless loss of life, I think of myself at the approximate time of their deaths : at 15 I was in a dark place recovering from my bone cancer, at 17 I was making a new life for myself as a student, at 18 I had chosen my career and was preparing for tailored further education, at 21 I was looking forward to my my first employment which by my 23rd birthday had taken me to the heady climes of London and Biba, the theatre and television - life! - August 2018

'Bletchley Park - The Secret Archives' by Sinclair McKay

- This really is a fabulous book, the way it is presented, written and divided into areas of interest. The glorious visual feast and sharing of secret information makes this as much a board game as a vitally interesting sharing of information. Some of the 'secrets' are already well known thanks to the relaxation of the blanket secrecy surrounding the whole project. Lots of the released information is astonishing, Bletchley had tentacles (outposts) everywhere - well of course it did or how else could it function, how did I not guess that? Some latter day celebrities were involved, we all knew about 007s creator Ian Fleming but how about Anthony Quayle, often portraying a Nazi but in reality working for the Secret Service! Then there was the failure to recognise what a certain nickname used by the Germans was, it had four possibilities, they couldn't act on any of them and everyone knows about the tragedy in Coventry the night the city was bombed. Finally who is the American actor with the voice that is globally recognised? I would say Morgan Freeman, but the book doesn't tell us, it's still a secret! And I am sure there are others who would think of other actors, I wonder who they might be? - August 2018

"This is a beautifully slipcased presented collector's edition of the best selling title, The Lost World of Bletchley Park, a comprehensive illustrated history of this remarkable place, from its prewar heyday as a country estate, its wartime requisition and how it became the place where modern computing was invented and the German Enigma code was cracked, to its post-war dereliction and then rescue towards the end of the twentieth century as a museum.

Removable memorabilia includes:

1938 recruiting memo with a big tick against Turing's name
Churchill's 'Action this day' letter giving code breakers extra resources
Handwritten Turing memos
Top Secret Engima decryptions, about the sinking of the Bismark, German High Command's assessment of D-Day threat and the message announcing Hitler's suicide
A wealth of everyday items such as call-up papers, security notices and propoganda posters

Newly redesigned interiors with 25% new content, high end slipcase package featuring removable facsimile documents, this is an essential purchase for everyone interested and wanting to experience the place where code-breaking helped to win the war." Source :

'The Secret of Hanging Rock' : with Commentaries by John Taylor, Yvonne Rousseau and Mudrooroo

So, there was an ending to this book in the form of Chapter 18? The original publication and the film it was based on gave no indication of either (as far as I can remember)! But here it is, complete with commentaries. My own conclusions are that the chapter would have been a fitting addition with the original ending as a sort of 'epilogue' rounding the story off but leaving it with a perpetual question mark. Having read the commentaries I have to wonder if the conclusion was it a little too bizarre for the general masses of the time? (especially if the reviewers happened to give the game away before the film was made?) I remember being on the upper deck of a bus going into Knightsbridge where a poster of the latest Agatha Christie all-star film 'Murder on the Orient Express' had been sprayed with the immortal words 'They all did it!" - happily by then I had seen the film. According to the owner of the copyright of Chapter 18. Joan Lindsay had asked him to get the chapter published after her death.

So my review after having read the contents and taking on board the commentaries I'm still debating with myself three options.

1. Was this a physical manifestation of entry into the afterlife by suicide possibly influenced by some hallucogenic medium?
2. - Did the mystery of the Rock, underpinned by Aboriginal folklore influence the outcome?
3. - Was this an Alien abduction?

1. - It was an unusually hot day even for the Australian outback, the girls had eaten well at their picnic and become drowsy. Their senses were heightened as they set off to explore. Finally the anticipation of the long wait to get away from all forms of authority had arrived. Indigenous inhabitants of the area would realise that the state the girls were in with no knowledge of how to survive would put them in jeopardy. It is well known that many leaves have water giving properties - what if the girls with their scant knowledge chewed on hallucogenic instead of water giving leaves .... the 'floating corsets' (their ultimate liberation) and the transformation of the underdressed teacher into an undisclosed creature might easily account for what happened. In time we discovered that LSD was prone to making individuals believe that they could fly and is one of the commonest causes of death whilst on a 'high'.
2. - How steeped in Aboriginal folklore might these girls have been? What if there was no thirst-quenching respite for them on their upward climb. Might they have been following the concept of the 'Dreaming' which states that the life we are experiencing now is a bit like the 'phoney war' preceding real hostilities and ploughed on regardless to achieve the impossible (whatever that was in their minds at that time)?
3. - I can see how an alien abduction would not sit well with many even though there was reference to the Monolith (think 2001 - A Space Odyssey) which became, eventually egg-shaped. But it could potentially be a manifestation rather than a classic alien abduction. By the time of the incident many recorded instances of strange occurrences or disappearances (without trace) had been recorded - the earliest from Christopher Columbus in "1492 who reported strange lights and strange compass readings"; and prior to 1900 was in 1881 - The Ellen Austin on its voyage in 1881 came across another ship that was sailing without a single soul on board. Ellen Austin transferred some of its crew onto the other ship and attempted to sail with it to New York. The other ship suddenly disappeared. Later it re-appeared, but again without a person on board. Then it again disappeared without trace". (Source : Bermuda.attractions). These weren't the only manifestation of the time and remember these girls, although maybe not deeply religious would have had their lives at school fashioned around Sunday and their religious and church obligations - quiet day, the compulsory attendance at mass, the observation of all holy rituals, dressing in their finery. During the week their would be prayers at assembly, before every meal, readings from the bible, quotations from the bible and much more. In the period 1858, the first recorded Marian apparition in Lourdes to 1933 (Banneux) there were 5 more apparitions including Fatima in 1917.

Being a Roman Catholic I favour option 3, mass hysteria was rife at the time and there is no reason why religious fervour might not have been an element. Although the disappearances involved five of the original characters, only three met their fate on Hanging Rock, the other two were returned although their lives were changed forever. - August 2018

"Joan Lindsay's classic novel Picnic at Hanging Rock is a subtle blend of mysterious and sinister events set in a period of Australian social life drawn with loving nostalgia. The final chapter of the novel was removed at the request of her publishers, creating a mystery to which thousands have begged to know the solution. The missing chapter reveals what did happen to the schoolgirls who vanished from the Rock after a St Valentine's Day picnic in 1900, and holds commentaries by John Taylor, Yvonne Rousseau and Mudrooroo." Source :

'Picnic At Hanging Rock' by Joan Lindsay

I'm not absolutely sure this is a re-read of the original book even though I posses a wonderful Penguin edition (see sidebar) which features a still from the original 1975 version of the film. This was an attention-keeping story throughout but I had previous knowledge of the storyline and was a captive audience. The book ends with a 'reproduction' newspaper article reminding us that the fate of the central characters 'remained unknown' even after all this time! What it doesn't tell us is that there had been a concluding chapter that had never been published and so not giving the reader an opportunity to decide for themselves (see The Secret of Hanging Rock above) whether it was or was not fitting. However, even reading the book now in 2018 knowing that I had the unpublished chapter yet to come did not ruin my enjoyment of the book, it did not leave me with a longing anticipation, the novel ended with a sufficient high for me to be satisfied, as does any unsolved mystery that may in time (not necessarily my time) uncover the full truth of the matter! A much more satisfying way of doing things than just cutting them short and refusing the publish the conclusion as in the case of my beloved 'Angélique' books! I have really enjoyed reading the literary storyline behind the film and now the new 6-part dramatisation on BBC2, the television dramatisation is beautiful to look at and certainly covers areas I had not remembered which may not have been covered in the film or indeed I might not have read the book after I bought it! The lapses are immaterial is it make the book all the fresher and satisfying in its entirety. I will re-read this one again in time, after I have re-visited the original film (which I know I have seen several times in the cinema and on television) and the television series. In the meantime I have been right royally entertained. - August 2018

'An Infamous Army' by Georgette Heyer

(My first ever Georgette Heyer - given to me to read by a friend who knows that I adore 'Vanity Fair' by Thackeray and who, to her credit did read the first Angélique at my recommendation. - March 2017)

- OK so I had to read this book (see note above) because I had made a friend read Angélique which I thought would appeal to her, (we do after all share London and Biba as interests), mistakenly as it turns out! She wanted to introduce me to the world of Georgette Heyer knowing I had often cited Thackerays' "Vanity Fair" as one of my all time favourite novels; it is set in the same timeframe and so seemed to her, a fair assumption (not many people know I find the Napoleonic era too boring for words!) I only read (after I had completed the book) that this novel was Georgette Heyer's most ambitious book to date, well, she tried and it was trying. It started as a parlour game (presumably to draw in her fans), and gave me a real sense of understanding of the word 'parlous' (adjective archaic humorous full of danger or uncertainty; precarious. "The parlous state of the economy"; synonyms: bad, dire, dreadful, awful, terrible, appalling, frightful, grave, serious, desperate, precarious, uncertain, touch-and-go, difficult, unsafe, perilous, dangerous, risky)! The book starts by scene setting the characters, ladies and high ranked officers, ready to embark on romance or war, whichever came first and not a sympathetic or likeable bone between them. The next section is 'oh so reminiscent' of Thackeray and his 'Vanity Fair', which is a satire, not so this book 'An Infamous Army' (not named by Wellington) however, it takes itself oh so very seriously (remember the publishers called it her most ambitious book to date). Moving swiftly passed the glaringly obvious similarity to Thackeray whose ideas were factual and original, observing as events unfolded, we are then subjected too overlong descriptions of the battlefield scenes, presumably based on textbook references to the horrors of war and endlessly harping on the destruction of horses (in particular) and the severed limbs of the fighting men; very unedifying, distasteful and unpleasant! The book concludes with the return of the badly wounded hero (in fact very few of the original parlour officers survived), missing one limb and threatened with the removal of a second. Prior to the battles commencing in earnest after the parlour dalliances, a romance had been severed, now it is about to be reconnected to create a happy ever after conclusion. There, that about tells you all and my reaction to this book, which is not spectacularly positive! Just one final little observation, I read 'North & South' by John Jakes (not to be mistaken with the Elizabeth Gaskell novel of the same name) after seeing the television adaptation. Coincidentally, the hero Orry Main (played by Patrick Swayze) was wounded and lost an arm in the American Civil War, but the television series replaced this with a stiff leg, presumably to make the hero less obviously disabled and therefore more appealing - how shallow! But as John Jakes was born in 1932 and Heyer 30 years earlier no further worthy comparisons can be made. - August 2018

'The Riviera Set' by Mary S. Lovell

The Riviera Set is the story of the group of people who lived, partied, bed-hopped and politicked at the Château de l'Horizon near Cannes, over the course of forty years from the time when Coco Chanel made southern French tans fashionable in the twenties to the death of the playboy Prince Aly Khan in 1960. At the heart of this was the amazing Maxine Elliott, the daughter of a fisherman from Connecticut, who built the beautiful art deco Château and brought together the likes of Noel Coward, the Aga Khan, the Windsors and two very saucy courtesans, Doris Castlerosse and Daisy Fellowes, who set out to be dangerous distractions to Winston Churchill as he worked on his journalism and biographies during his 'wilderness years' in the thirties.

After the War the story continued as the Château changed hands and Prince Aly Khan used it to entertain the Hollywood set, as well as launch his seduction of and eventual marriage to Rita Hayworth. Source :

- It has to be said that the above tepid comments actually delayed my reading of this book, which is a terrible shame as it is an engagingly written account of the origins and main players who took part in the shaping of the history of the Château de l'Horizon, an art deco gem, purpose built for those who found themselves there. Unlike 'The Glass Room' by Simon Mawer which is a fictional account of the Villa Tugenhadt this is a well documented biography of the building as well as its inhabitants and encompasses its raison d'être. Yes reading it, it certainly comes across as a 'Who's Who' of 1930s 'Royalty' whether in film, theatre, fashion, the literary world, the press or politics and the pseudo-Royalty of The Windsors. Even Winston Churchill was such a devotee of the place that he wrote the majority of his books there, when not relaxing and painting, including at least two volumes of 'Churchill's People' (A History of the English-Speaking Peoples)! I knew I would love this book very early on in the reading, when a reference was made to the outrageous (think free spirit) 'Daisy "Wanton" Fellows being 'arguably the most important client of the surrealist couturier Elsa Schiaparelli ... she mostly espoused a chic, streamlined look - what Beaton called 'studied simplicity.' She was never afraid to be stylishly outrageous; the colour Schiaparelli pink, so hot it was called shocking pink, was invented for her and she wore a surrealist hat shaped like a red high-heeled shoe with a haughty aplomb that stifled ridicule'. I laughed out loud on reading that gem as I was immediately reminded of the seriously appalling faux pas by the Royal Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice at their cousin William's wedding to the divinely elegant Kate Middleton, where they made themselves a laughing stock wearing decidedly ridiculous headgear; one reminiscent of a pretzel the other instantly forgettable - what were they thinking? No amount of 'raising money for charity' with the sale of the items will ever stifle ridicule!

The Château survived WWII despite the occupying army taking up residence for a while and thankfully its owner Maxine Elliott did not survive to see it forcibly taken out of her ownership. An entertaining read making the art of name-dropping subtle and natural, just as I am sure it was during its lifetime. Local squables were dealt with locally and not broadcast - all in all a gentle read of a much gentler time. - August 2018

'Mary Boleyn: 'The Great and Infamous Whore'' by Alison Weir

- I am big fan of Alison Weir's novels based on historical characters because I know she is meticulous in her research. However, I think she had enormous obstacles to overcome to try and get any concrete proof of anything that Mary Boleyn may or may not have achieved. Bit wishy washy? Well yes, because there isn't that much evidence she can work with. Neither Mary nor her family were as well documented as sister Annes' (elder or younger - still in debate) progress to her death. There seems to be more hereditary information as Mary's children both achieved reasonable positions in Court and their famous cousin Elizabeth favoured them at court, so at least we can be sure that Mary did have children even if their fathers may well have been 'unknown'. It is a bit of a dry book, regrettably and even the portraiture can't be completely confirmed as authentic but it's an interesting historical conundrum if you want to know scraps! - July 2018

'The Ludlow Ladies' Society' by Ann O'Loughlin

Well yes of course I bought it because of the title. I'd no idea what it was about and knew nothing about the author and what a pleasant surprise it turned out to be! I read this book in three sittings, I could have done it in two, but something prompted me not to and it was uncanny how I knew where I should stop. This is such a feelgood book despite some of the tragic content! For anyone knowing and loving the tv series 'Home Fires' and you feel the same way about this book you'll know what I mean. This is 'Home Fires' but without the war-time element. It is rare that I feel this enthusiastic about a new and untried book, it has to be special to get passed me! Well written, grammatically sound, enigmatic enough to keep you guessing and it surprised me with excellent twists and turns on more than one occasion, and I do pride myself on usually guessing. I put it down to the expert lack of defined ages of the women involved that threw me off the scent! An excellent read - July 2018

'Gillian of the Chalet School' by Carol Allan

- Gillian is another in-fill novel by a Chalet School fan and it is written in the style of Elinor Brent-Dyer using her characters and location in a sympathetic manner. This book, in hindsight has made me wonder why it is that EBD left so many apparent 'gaps' in her chronology. Having come across the mulishness of some publishers in recent years, perhaps the choice was not all hers, that would make sense of some of the timelines not working as they might and missing chunks of information mentioned in later books that should have appeared in real-time. I don't think that's a consideration by either the authors of GGBP as there are always notes to explain why certain actions were taken in the books. Notwithstanding that little epiphany to myself, it's always nice to read an original or in-fill set in Tyrol which does seem to have had a magic about it pre-war. I see another in-fill is projected for later in the year by another regular contributor, also set in pre-war Europe - can't wait! This chapter in the series definitely make logical assumptions to fill in a couple of the gaps - nice effort - July 2018

'The Real Peter Pan: J. M. Barrie and the Boy Who Inspired Him' by Piers Dudgeon

And so to my critique (or the start of it as I have only read two short chapters this morning); I think, that I had been avoiding reading this book even though it is searingly apparent from the start that this book is about the relationship between Barrie and Michael (the fourth of the Llewelyn Davies quintet of brothers) evolving into the inspiration behind 'Peter Pan'. Many people make the mistake of believing the third son, Peter, was the model for the fictional 'boy who never grew up', because of his obvious nomenclature. Having said that, the germ of the idea really started with George (no. 1 son) whose life was cut tragically short whilst serving for his country in WWI. Having taken the plunge I was pleased to see a reference to the original scriptwriter of the television trilogy produced by Louis Marks. Anyway, the first two chapters are promising I hope it doesn't deteriorate into a 'Pity Party' as intimated in the commercial reviews below!

I have now completed the book and the conclusions of my critique are as follows. This book relies most heavily on (quite correctly identified) quotes from third parties which makes it unoriginal in itself and lacking in imagination. In other words much of the information is a recycling of that found in previously published books. These are not embellished and simply point a reference to re-hashed comments written by the author. (We could all do that with reference books by our side - it's certainly how I approached any academic 'O' and 'A' levels that I had to sit ....) The author also seems to have had a good rapport with Nico (the surviving and youngest brother) from whom he has gained first hand information. There seems to be more information about the actual manner in which Michael died which was new to me (and not necessarily an enhancement) and an astonishing fact that Nico had destroyed over 300 of Michael's letters as they were just 'too much' to bear. The last couple of chapters meandered quite a lot and quoted poems and all manner of 'padding' and paying great attention to Michael's would be 'suicide pact' partner or might it have been a tragic accident when one friend went to the aid of another with tragic results; I expect that will never be revealed. The author also concentrates heavily on Jack's abandonment/exile and uses his widow as a major source. And yet, despite all this, the myth that Peter Llewelyn Davies was the prototype for 'Peter Pan' remains strong in the ether, as if journalists are reluctant to believe that he is a composite of four boys called George, Jack, Peter and Michael.

"The Real Peter Pan is a captivating true story of childhood, friendship, war, love, and regret." says the end of one review, the story may have great quantities of truth but it is not captivating and I doubt anyone wanting to know more is unlikely to reach the end of the book unless, like me, they cannot justify, having once committed to a book not to complete reading it! - 3rd July 2018

- With his broad knowledge of J.M. Barrie (1860-1937) and his contemporaries, Dudgeon (Maeve Binchy: The Biography, 2014, etc.) tells the disturbing story of his odd relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family.

The author points out that the story of Peter Pan features a spiritual dimension of childhood that transcends adulthood. Barrie adored the children of Sylvia and Art Llewelyn Davies, and the games he played with them in Kensington Gardens helped in the creation of Peter Pan. It was a process of improvisation and underwent constant revision over the years. Barrie readily admitted that he adored Michael in the strange sort of Edwardian love. The author explains it as best he can, noting the strong bond of boys away at public school. Michael unknowingly ruled Barrie. Stories were presented to Michael, who would finish them or reject them. Sylvia was the daughter of George du Maurier, author of Peter Ibbetson, a book that greatly influenced Barrie. Du Maurier was also a strong supporter of the concept of psychic ability, and Sylvia inherited his “more than earthly” aura. Barrie shared his paranormal fascination, and Sylvia encouraged Barrie’s obsession with her children, almost as if he were a second nanny, taking them off her hands. Her husband, mother, and especially her son, Jack, disliked his control. Jack was recommended by Barrie to Osborne Naval College to get him out of the way. After the death of Sylvia, Barrie took over the boys’ upbringing. It was a life of privilege and fishing excursions to Scotland, where Michael learned to cast off Barrie’s yoke. Insisting that there was no homosexual side to Barrie’s love, Dudgeon explores the man and his character, his obsession with death and the afterlife, the cruel side to his writings, and the strange illusions he created around himself.

A simultaneously interesting and depressing story of arrested development, as sometimes occurs with those who write of children’s heroes. Source : Kirkus

- The world has long been captivated by the story of Peter Pan and the countless movies, plays, musicals, and books that retell the story of Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys. Now, in this revealing behind-the-scenes book, author Piers Dudgeon examines the fascinating and complex relationships among Peter Pan's creator, J.M. Barrie, and the family of boys who inspired his work.

After meeting the Llewelyn Davies family in London's Kensington Garden, Barrie struck up an intense friendship with the children and their parents. The innocence of Michael, the fourth of five brothers, went on to influence the creation of Barrie's most famous character, Peter Pan. Barrie was so close to the Llewelyn Davies family that he became trustee and guardian to the boys following the deaths of their parents. Although the relationship between the boys and Barrie (and particularly between Barrie and Michael) was enduring, it was punctuated by the fiercest of tragedies. Throughout the heart-rending saga of Barrie's involvement with the Llewelyn Davies brothers, it is the figure of Michael, the most original and inspirational of their number, and yet also the one whose fate is most pitiable, that stands out.

The Real Peter Pan is a captivating true story of childhood, friendship, war, love, and regret. Source :

'We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie' by Noah Isenberg

This is such a joyous book - written in 6 segments and a segment a day read brought me to the end of a brilliant coaster ride in record time! This, is how a non-fiction book should be written! Each segment/chapter focuses on a specific aspect of the film from the 'inchoate' original stage script to the finished version we know and love. There is a chapter on the infamous 'Morality Clauses' and the wartime 'Propaganda' hearings held by the US Senate Sub-Committee addressing sensitive issues. There are some remarkable 'real-life' comparisons which led to the creation of the original script 'Everyone comes to Rick's' and a no-holds barred representation of the real life horrors occurring in Europe. There is the interaction between the major stars which throws up some amusing and enlightening and even eyebrow raising snippets; who would have thought that the portrayer of national hero 'Laszlo' might not be as clean-cut as he should be? Not least there are the famous 'one liners' such as 'round up the usual subjects' and the lines that had to be (slightly) sanitized or spoken with irony such as Captain Reynards 'shock' at discovering the 'gambling' at Rick's. Only subtle reference was made to the manner in which Captain Reynard assisted, particularly when dealing with pretty young women, in granting exit visas (the morality clause came into full swing with censorship in these instances). Amusingly, one chapter deals with the various and further censorship that followed after the war - in West Germany a full 25 minutes was cut from the original, removing any reference to the Nazis; they eventually screened the real deal shortly before the fall of the Berlin War. Hungary, in the grips of a Communist regime would show a sanitised version only, removing all featured Hungarian actors who had returned to Hungary after the war, and excising those that did not, proclaiming them 'traitors'. The full film was shown after the 1956 uprising. In all a thoroughly entertaining and well written volume. The final chapter concentrates on spoof, 're-makes' and attempts at improvement all of which fail miserably and are unworthy of the original. The screenplay was briefly turned into a television series staring David Soul and our own 'Dirty Den' of Eastenders fame starred in a short-lived stage version in 1991. - June 2018

'The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection' by Thomas de Wesselow

From : The Shroud of Turin, widely thought to be a fake, is in fact authentic. The greatest mystery in history is finally solved, in Thomas de Wesselow's The Sign. The birth of Christianity, nearly 2000 years ago, has shaped the whole course of human history. Yet historians still cannot explain how it all really began. What made Jesus's followers claim to have seen him alive again, three days after his crucifixion? Why did Christianity take off so quickly? It is one of the biggest and most profound of all historical mysteries. This extraordinary book, based on seven years of secret research by a brilliant historian, finally provides the answer. And it lies an enigmatic relic long assumed to be a fake: the Shroud of Turin. With historical detective work and cutting-edge scientific research, art historian Thomas de Wesselow has discovered that Jesus's followers did see something at the tomb. They saw something real but out of the ordinary - something that seemed like a miracle. It was the burial cloth of Jesus, stained with his body image. This ancient marvel was hailed as a sign of the Resurrection, and kick-started the Christian faith. The Sign details conclusive evidence that the Shroud of Turin is authentic, showing that the faint image on the cloth was formed naturally through a rare chemical reaction. It then explains how this revelation solves multiple puzzles of religious history: for example, the Gospel reports of the appearances of the Risen Christ are clearly based on early viewings of the Shroud. As well as a major historical breakthrough, The Sign is a truly thrilling read - and one you will never forget. 'Overturning 2,000 years of received biblical wisdom is no small matter. Consequently [this] book encompasses an impressive amount of scholarship and scientific examination. Persuasive... a very intriguing explanation' Michael Prodger, Mail on Sunday

- 'Fascinating...startling' Telegraph
- 'A fresh insight into the Easter story' Financial Times
- 'Thorough, well-researched and fair-minded... Persuasive... much more than just an addition to the canon of Shroud literature' Irish Times

Thomas de Wesselow earned his MA and PhD at London's Courtauld Institute, researching the controversial Guidoriccio fresco in Siena, before becoming a Scholar at the British School in Rome where he worked on another of the great mysteries of Italian art history, the Assisi Problem. After a year in the curatorial department at the National Gallery in London, he was appointed a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at King's College, Cambridge, where he was later awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship. He has written on a number of famous Renaissance pictures whose meanings have hitherto defied analysis, including Botticelli's Primavera and Titian's Sacred and Profane Love. He has also developed new ideas about medieval world-maps, in particular the Hereford Mappamundi. Since 2007 he has been researching this book full-time. He is 40 years old and he lives in Cambridge.

And so to my critique/review - this was a difficult book to read at the best of times as it hovered very close to being a text book although it has to be said it is packed with interesting (if you are an afficianado) facts hitherto unknown to me, all of which make a lot of sense. If this is to proved not to be a hoax then there is a very efficient timeline to follow as well, charting the shrouds movements from the Year 33 AD to the present day. Towards the end I think the divinely (I use the word advisedly) named author strayed into the 'realms of unreality' and applied sci-fi logic to his interpretation of the resurrected Christ. He wants us to believe that the apostles carried the shroud as a sort of full-length banner and that the practices of the time would lead the believers into accepting the cloth as the resurrected Christ. This is the only illogical avenue the author has taken, he is very careful not to use the word 'reincarnation' at any time, but how can a banner speak to individuals, how can a banner be checked for wounds, how can Thomas the doubter accept this as the resurrected Christ? Maybe Thomas hit the bottle at one point when he got stumped and dreamed it all - June 2018

(As this is a religious book and on a subject close to my heart it will remain in my collection even if I do not choose to re-read it, I have a horror of disposing of anything remotely religious).

'Behind Closed Doors - The tragic untold story of the Duchess of Windsor' by Hugo Vickers

The first part of this book concentrates on the days leading up to and the aftermath of the death of Wallis Simpson and how the spoils were divided, whether or not with her consent is not really made clear, but it is hinted at heavily with references supplied to back up the theory. This is not tragedy but more a travesty, the author taking full advantage of his privileged position and knowledge. It is a cheapening of the memory of both the Duke and Duchess whose story is already extremely well known being a bit of a sensation in its own day. There's an awful of of one-upmanship in this opening section and a certain smugness by the author who promises so much with the title and delivers so little. He does the Duchess no favours in his characterisation or in prolonging the agony of her truly prolonged and agonised longevity. Some sort of care package should have been created for those last, long, dark days, instead the vultures were feeding off her until the very end. All very unsavoury if you ask me. The second part starts with the three main men (husbands) who influenced her life. From the brutal and alcoholic first husband through to the former King Edward VIII with whom she remained until his death it follows the usual scandalous routes already well-known and throws Earl Mountbatten into the mix. It has to be said that the period of the war comes over more as a man wanting to serve his country and a woman who wanted to use her 'clout' to assist with the Red Cross and refugees organisations. How useful she was does not come across. For all that Hugo Vickers is announced to us as the ultimate 'authority' on these two, eventually unhappy people, he does not bring them over with the sympathy they may well have received from the general public, particularly the British who love their constitutional monarchs. All told a disappointing read - thank goodness for good, cheap second hand books that can be passed on for re-sale to benefit charities! - December 2018

From : Hugo Vickers has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Royal Family, and has had a fascination with the story of the Duchess of Windsor since he was a young man. There have been a number of books about this doomed couple, but this book brings a new perspective on the story by focussing on the later years of exile. While Vickers has his own theories about the Abdication itself, and he makes it very clear that Mrs Simpson did not lure the King from the throne, the drama of this narrative comes from the criminal exploitation of an old sick woman after the death of her husband. She was ruthlessly exploited by a French lawyer called Suzanne Blum. Some members of the Royal Family, like Mountbatten and the Queen Mother, don't emerge with much credit either. Hugo Vickers relates a tragic story which has lost none of its resonance over the years since the Duchess died in 1986.

'Da Vinci's Last Commission: The Most Sensational Detective Story in the History of Art' by Fiona McLaren

As usual, I find it quite spooky, actually more than spooky that coincidences seem to follow me around like a shadow. I bought this book many years ago on the strength of its advertising blurb and because I am heavily influenced by the period Early Renaissance 1300-1520 in Italy and Northern Europe which was the set curriculum for my 'A-Levels'. I loved this period instantly particularly the van Eyck brothers, Giotto and his innovations, Botticielli for his whimsy, Leonardo for his sheer beauty, Uccello for his chess-like sculptured animals frolicking in 'Liberty'-style background prints and Raphael whom I believed had achieved the perfect art form; most of all I loved that the Northern European artists covered not only all points west of Germany but also included Poland's Wit Stwosz (or Veit Stoss as he is better known to the world). I bought the book believing it to be a fictional account; a continuation perhaps of the highly entertaining series of books by Iain Pears based in the Italian Police's 'Art Theft Squad'; which had concluded and left me wanting more. I must have started reading this at some point as there is a marker in the book and then, disappointed that it was a non-fiction account, given it up. Today I have started again and the passing years which have thrown up Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' and the subsequent row about plagiarism (by Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent, and Richard Leigh authors of 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail') has re-ignited an interest in the potential authenticity of this painting as it incorporates references to 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' in its introductory pages and simultaneously the art world is once again buzzing with the re-emergence of the 'new' da Vinci 'Salvator Mundi' currently in the headlines for selling for a hitherto unheard of price.

And so to the review of this book. As I returned to reading this book I noticed the publication year was 2012, so the 'Da Vinci Code' was already a well-established piece of fiction. Although da Vinci was and is not one of my preferred favourites of the period there are one or two of his portraits that I particularly like, the 'Lady with the Ermine' and both versions of the 'Madonna of the Rocks.' The origins of how the portrait came into the hands of the author was a fascinating read as was the selection of clues that accompanied it - I was immediately reminded of H Rider Haggard's 'She' where 'Leo' is left a pouch of artefacts/relics by his late father, which start him on his journey to search for the love of his life, the intoxicating 'Ayesha'. The subject matter was treated in a somewhat dry but factual way and as I was able to conjure up life like images of the period it wasn't as dull as it could have been. Then there was the additional fillip of Vatican involvement and the mysterious addition of a fleur-de-lys in the halo of one of the infants. On the strength of it, the image, which is used as the cover art is temptingly reminiscent of so many other 'Madonna and child or children' whom we know, usually, to be the baby Christ and his cousin John the Baptist. Accreditation has not yet been given to the painting although it may be imminent what a story that would make, two da Vinci's in the headlines in the same year! The book relies much on symbolism and as soon as it touched on 'The Holy Grail' to which much space is devoted, I felt less empathy with the whole subject; what I wanted to know and still do is, is it a da Vinci? The general composition persuades me that da Vinci at least had a hand in its creation, like the 'Salvator Mundi' there are traits. I particularly like the colours scheme which I think does echo da Vinci's use of a particular colour theme - he was unafraid of painting his Madonnas in unconventional colours (red was taboo, but not for Leonardo) but, we are led to believe that this is not a Madonna but Mary Magdalene, Christ's companion in life. We are persuaded that the children are not the accepted baby cousins, but the fruit of the union between Jesus and Mary. Not withstanding the provenance of the major players, assuming this is a standard religious configuration, again I have no issue with the dark head covering but I take issue with the style of dress being worn. da Vinci usually had his Madonnas dressed in a contemporary style of the day, the dress on the cover could well have been worn by inhabitants of Northern Europe, where of course the van Eycks ruled the roost! Include the the fleur-de-lys and this painting may well have bee commissioned by the King of France - da Vinci spent time at the court there but little is known of anything he may or may not have produced during his sojourn there. Then my final pronouncement is that the lips of the main players do not belong to da Vinci's style (I made allowances that he might have considered giving the lips a non-Italianate style) and he does have a 'style' of full-blooded lips, not a pretty design as in this portrait, which are used on all his female and androgynous characters, these lips really are not those of a Leonardo. The argument for the symbolism is a good one and entertaining enough, but I wanted to know more about the picture itself and the lack of that, at the end of the day, is what made the book less interesting for me! - November 2017

'Home - the Evonne Goolagong Story' by Evonne Goolagong Cawley & Phil Jarratt

Evonne seems to have been involved in many books some part-biographical, others relating to her profession which of course was tennis, but I'm glad to have found this one because it is, as stated, 'her story' which includes her Aboriginal heritage. So far I have only touched on the first few pages, but already I am drawn to the elaborate and fascinating life style of her tribal near-nomadic origins. Amazingly it mirrors the background information provided by Chester Nez in his biography and how both indigenous peoples were the victims of a systematic attempt at culling if not eradicating their existence. Imagine a world without a 'Code Breaker' or one of the most popular, ever, Grand Slam winners in tennis? Having now completed reading this exceptionally heavy volume (beautiful embossed glossy paper used throughout, slightly larger than the average hardback and full of beautiful historic images) I can say I unequivocally that I enjoyed this book of Evonne's life thoroughly. It concludes in the early 1990s as Evonne is digging deeper into her Aboriginal roots where the subject matter is not discussed as confidently as her tennis career and successes. Not that it detracts in any way, but although she may, by now be a competent and successful 'raiser of awareness' to the plight of the Aborigine, she is in fact first and foremost a brilliant sportswoman (the h*ll with political correctness). The book is engaging in a conversational manner and very open - blame is never apportioned, but it is also not ignored. Some very raw emotional moments come to the surface and are dealt with without overdoing the saccharine - some pretty acerbic observations are also made, but without any malice. If like yesterday (20.11.2017) when the death of Jana Novotna was announced, we heard that Evonne had died, there would I think be an immense outpouring of grief. I feel as if I ought to read Part 2 of Evonne's life if it is ever written as I'm certain she would bring the same passion to her campaigning as she did to her tennis and how it consequently changed her life and impacted on many of her relationships with her family and colleagues alike. - 19th November 2017

'Berlin at War' by Roger Moorhouse

I'm not sure what drew me to this book despite actually cutting out two recommendations/reviews from the Sunday magazines, but it's a pretty dry account of what was happening in Berlin during the war and the privations the populace experienced - nothing new here other than to be surprised by that as they were not under occupation but were certainly deprived of humanitarian living conditions in the main. That is, the resident Berliners of course not the Führers 'chosen'. The sections devoted to deportation and slaughter of the Jews although already a black mark in the history of Germany and its continuing 'deniers' are on familiar territory and perhaps the only 'new' information provided is the reason behind the 'showcase' that was Theresienstadt (which I had first discovered in 'War & Remembrance' and thought if was fictional) and its original purpose which quickly dissipated into the usual concentration camp conditions. The lack of empathy for the carnage and suffering of the animals in the Berlin Zoo is not surprising, nor the public butchering of a horse which expired for an unspecified reason and collapsed on the street …. An unhappy book, an unhappy read, an unhappy experience … - October 2017 | Interview about this book with RM here

'Remembering Tenko' by Andy Priestner and a little help from Lavinia Warner

Seriously, I had no idea I had this book, I must have bought it with a view to giving it to my friend Anna in Paris who surely must have been Tenko's no. 1 fan! But, as I was unable to get it to her before her untimely death, I must have put it away and made myself forget I still had it. Whilst looking for my next biography to read which I determined would be Evonne Goolagongs' something made me look in a pile of books screened by various cards and there was this enormous tome staring back at me. I brought it and the pile of dust it accumulated down and then continued to hunt for Evonne who was in a much likelier storage area, a box, dust free of the 'waiting to read' pile (I have them all over the house). The more I read the more I became determined that the experience ought, and now has, to go into my 'coincidences are signposts' page because I kept being transported back to the 1970s on so many levels (and through long-forgotten names) to when I worked at the Television Centre and Royal Court theatre. I'm watching a re-run of 'Tenko' at the moment and have just read Stephanie Beacham's biography which took me to the Nottingham Playhouse days none of this pecking order is deliberately linked it's just happened and if it continues like this, these 700 pages or so comprising the book should be a roller-coaster ride, I'll let you know how I get on! (September 2017). And here is my conclusion - this is a remarkable and complete history of the series from inception to transmission and reviews - no secret has not been exposed, no stone unturned, everything but everything has been bared before the public eye! Is 'Tenko' really entertainment? The subject matter certainly is not but the creation of series and the way it is unravelled layer and layer in the book is riveting. A remarkable, truly, piece of writing. I shall certainly use it as a reference point in the future and who knows may even decided to re-read it at some point. A Herculean labour of love! - 3rd October 2017

'Abdication' by Juliet Nicholson

This is a surprisingly engaging novel, well written and cleverly knitting fact and fiction together. Taking the two principal characters of the abdication crisis (Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson) as the centrepoint the author weaves in a mix of characters to tell us about a love story between two young people, who, but for the events that occur might not ever have met. We meet May and her brother as they first arrive in Liverpool to explore the land of their late mother's family as they leave behind them an abusive father. Both siblings are well grounded and likeable as characters and on meeting their relatives then forge their own futures in mid-1930s Europe which may well be thinking of the threat of war rather than a constitutional crisis. We also meet a 'schoolfriend' of Mrs Simpson, who will play a large part in the scenario, a government official who employs May and is linked to the young man of her dreams, Wallis' friend and the developing problems created by the death of George V and his successor. The storyline is clever using the abdication and the rise of fascism as a backcloth and introducing historical characters such as Lord Reith (BBC) and Mosely (Britain's failed Hitler) into the mix making it credible and without becoming a history lesson. The book ends with an explantation (cleverly hinted at throughout the book) of May's origins and paves the way for her future with Julian over a bag of chips in the cinema. - September 2017

From - After the recent death of George V, England has a new king, Edward VIII. But for all the confident pomp and ceremony of the accession, it is a turbulent time. When nineteen-year-old May Thomas arrives in Liverpool, her first job as secretary and chauffeuse to Sir Philip Blunt introduces her to the upper echelons of British society - and to Julian, a young man of conscience whom, despite all barriers of class, she cannot help but fall for. But hidden truths, unspoken sympathies and covert complicities are everywhere, and the threat of another world war becomes increasingly inevitable...

'Many Lives' by Stephanie Beacham

Autobiography with a whimsical touch! (As you would expect of course) - Two things commend this book highly, the first is that Stephanie Beacham has never hidden behind or from her disability. Of course it helps that she is a beautiful woman and she carries an 'invisible' disability which is every bit as debilitating as a pronounced limp for instance (as in my own case) but not immediately apparent (no so in my case) - so there, that's out of my system now! The other is that the book is open and in places very, very entertaining as I would expect having shared time with Stephanie and many others during my employment as the Stage Door Keeper (she never shoved a tenner in my hand on a Saturday night!) at the Nottingham Playhouse. It's very easy to read, I love the name dropping and the fairness with which she attributes to every person mentioned but the whimsical areas made me cringe rather than the original intention, which, I think was to be thought-provoking reading. This area, for my part, would have been better kept private (and any biography I write would not touch on this type of belief) but then the volume would have been rather slim. Even now, it's not weighty; perhaps she should have waited a few more years before penning her life experiences. I have pleasant memories of this woman and her spaniels and her performance as 'Juno' (she was a fairy!) in 'The Tempest' which also brings fond memories of a charming man, Paul Freeman, who treated the lowly Stage Door Keeper very nicely. - 11th September 2017

'Too Naked for the Nazis' by Alan Stafford

The definitive biography of Wilson, Keppel and Betty! A book I was truly pleased would see the light of day. The problem with the long wait and the death of the 'main guys' (some Bettys were available for first hand interviews) is that the book, inevitable became a bit 'dry' in places and could even sometimes resemble a text book rather than a leisurely read, but it does not detract from being, in the main, a riveting read of the trio and their various 'plus one Bettys'. As I wrote a review for and it truly reflects the majority of my thoughts without the textbook reference, I'm happy to reproduce it here. - 5th September 2017

My review (with obligatory title) "They look like a bunch of Tut's hieroglyphs that can really sand boogie!" - I always dread coming to the end of a book knowing I would want more (better than coming to the end of a book and being thankful there's a charity box it’s destined for) which is exactly what has happened with this ridiculously but perfectly titled ‘Too Naked for the Nazis.’ I howled with laughter when I saw this title (I did have pre-knowledge that a book was going to be written) and by the time I got to Chapter 21 I wondered if there was a more personal angle here. So why the fascination with Wilson Keppel and Betty? My late father, a war time hero seriously wounded in the Battle for Monte Cassino, adored them! I suspect he enjoyed the Tiller Girls more but whenever there was a chance of seeing this trio the anticipation and excitement was palpable, the disappointment of their not being billed was equally oppressive. I always looked out for snippets of information about them and when I created my own website they, plus a couple of literary authors whose efforts were cut by British publishers, were my first tributes / quests. After listening to the radio show Wilson, Keppel and Several Bettys I was glad to learn something new, there was more than one Betty which was a surprise in itself. This book then took me on a further roller coaster - the tie-in with the Nazis (still a no-go area with some factions remember ‘Allo ‘Allo and the furore that caused?) was a revelation. I was already aware of Goebbels purported objection to the close proximity of Wilson and Keppel during the sand dance being ‘bad for the morals of the Hitler Youth’, talk about a touch of irony considering the depraved lengths the 3rd Reich visited on women (think Salon Kitty), and those they considered ‘untermensch’ (subhuman); but had not picked up on the link to the Nuremberg trials - what a riveting chapter that was. How do the atrocities of the Nazis fit into a book about a comic trio? To understand that you have to read this book which is a fascinating and well balanced insight into the best and worst of many opposing factors: love/hate comedy/tragedy fame/obscurity life/death war/peace poverty/riches. Although Nazis feature in the title (made you look didn’t it?) the time span of the story of Wilson, Keppel and their Betty's covers several decades. They experienced a glorious time of inventions and geopolitical change and yet appeared to remain unchanged themselves, subtley adding to and refining their act as they went along. It is fitting to quote directly from the book which, itself, took the comment from a theatre programme: ‘The apparent simplicity of their act conceals years of toil towards perfection.’ This book is a labour of love and I’m so glad it was written in my lifetime by someone who obviously cherishes these quaint loveable lunatics as much as I do. Definitely on my re-read list at some future date.

'Journey to Munich' by Jacqueline Winspear

This is a new author for me (and these days it always worries me that I may end up reading another substandard novel) but I was pleasantly surprised to find an intelligently written novel conveying the truly horrifying atmosphere that was beginning to permeate Germany (in this case Munich) in 1938 shortly prior to the annexation of Austria. Interesting storyline incorporating an established character from previous books but with sufficient background information to keep the reader abreast of the history of the major character without having to search for earlier books in the series. I think I've made it clear in previous reviews that I'm not a fan of Holocaust fiction, but this has its basis in a factual scenario which blends in well with the underlying current of what will become one of the worst periods of the 20th century. - August 2017

'Code Talker' by Chester Nez

From : The Navajo code is the only unbroken code in modern warfare. It ensured the end of WWII by assuring the US victory in Japan. Only one original Navajo code talker still survives; Code Talker is his story. The Japanese had managed to crack every code the United States used. US military intelligence turned to the Navajo recruits and their native language to create a secret military code that the Japanese were unable to break and allowed embattled regiments of Marines to communicate quickly, concisely and above all, securely.

This book was an honour and privilege to read and fascinating to boot. I could have wished for a little more about the creation of the code, but in the grand scheme of things, the code was part of the warfare and as such had to have a commensurate proportion allocated to its inception; similarly it then featured in greater proportion as it became an active part of the action, tried, proven and successful. I learned a lot from this book, 'Bletchley' was not the only incredibly long-lived war secret, the Code Talkers were not recognised until 1968. Even later were they designated a 'National Code Talker Day' (August 14th) by which time many had died. I learned so much about the Navajo way of life (needless to say not all necessarily to my taste) and just as I would love to taste a proper chowder and corn bread I would now love to sample the Navajo 'fried' bread. I loved reading about and learning the Navajo traditions and the meanings behind them and their 'walking through beauty' way of life. This book is an education to anyone with an open mind, especially the religiosity of the way of life and the respect accorded to every living creature whose life must not be taken recklessly, for pleasure or aimlessly. The war impacted greatly on Nez's beliefs once he was taken out of the theatre of war. The 'theatre' or war, who coined that I wonder, worse still whose twisted mind came up with 'friendly fire'? I have never been comfortable with that terminology since first hearing it during a Gulf War report. I can see the logic of 'enemy' versus 'friendly' fire - yet it is anything but! Your own side, your own team shoots at you (albeit mistakenly) is anything but 'friendly'. Why do I mention this? Because some US soldiers having come across two of the Navajo Code Talkers (who as Marines had had their hair shorn) determined that they were Japanese and were of a mind to shoot them there and then. I cannot come to terms with the mentality that coined that most appalling of phrases and I thank Nez for making it so real for me - this book will definitely warrant a re-read at some point. - August 2017

'Good Vibrations - My Life as a Beach Boy' by Mike Love

Time for a biography, as Mike published his first, so I shall read it before Brian Wilson's. The book is written in a nice conversational style with not too much emphasis on the great 'I am' and with an excellent historical background overview of his origins. The all-American Surfer Boy has Sweden in his ancestry inheriting (as do his siblings) the Viking height and red-blonde hair colouring! This biography stays on an even keel throughout even through the darkest periods of Mike's life, the failure of his many and varied relationships for instance and the lack of contact with many of his offspring, the discovery that one of them was not his, the deaths of his cousins Dennis and Carl, his estrangement from Brian on many levels, his relationship with his uncle Murry for the sake of his mother and the bad blood caused by mismanaged finances and musical recognition. The darker parts are (obviously) not as entertaining as the enjoyable and creative sections, but then they are not supposed to be. Mike manages to keep hostility and resentment at bay, but he is open about both emotions. Transcendental Meditation (TM) seems to account for much of his equanimity which comes across as sincere and there is no need to doubt it - Mike regularly participates in cleansing rituals, is committed to supporting his chosen charities openly, is a vegetarian and conservationist, has given up alcohol and any small amount of drugs he might have experimented with. There is nothing in his lifestyle that can cast shadows on his sincerity and the fact that he runs to parallel Christian practices, instilling into his Children that Christmas is all about the birth of Christ and not a commercial holiday making him a rounded good egg in my opinion. Recommended reading for anyone who enjoys the Beach Boys or reading biographies - August 2017

'The Teleportation Accident' by Ned Beauman

I finally decided to read this! I love the book cover it's a great piece of Warhol-like kitsch featuring the perfectly coiffed head of a 20-30s flapper - just the sort of thing that would catch my eye. I have no read the book and it is so well-written grammatically that it is a joy that then is instantly destroyed by the frequent and unnecessary use of the f-word, which I particularly dislike at the best of times, especially when used to describe the 'act of love' - there is no love here, but male reviewers seem to enjoy the concept! That's really where any fleeting pleasure ends; this book (acclaimed and put up for a prize) is, as far as I am concerned (in this order) 'Goodbye to Berlin' (Christopher Isherwood also known as 'Cabaret') meets 'The Blind Assassin' (Margaret Atwood) becomes 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' (James Thurber) desperately trying to be 'Catch-22' (Joseph Heller) and failing miserably! Aha! But that was not the end, as I came to the section concerning Hollywood in the 1930s there was a definite whiff of 'The Day of the Locust' by Nathanael West and the epilogue gave us four (purportedly) alternative endings which were really just a continuation encompassing a fictional meeting with the fictional character who then proceeded to dictate he memoirs (think Hitler's diaries), the Dallas 'shower scene', it was all a dream you see, or a nod to Oscar Wilde's 'The picture of Dorian Grey' when one character remarks on another's youthful appearance and ends with a really zeitgeist moment we have already seen in the original films, television series and now remakes of the 'Planet of the Apes', the destruction of mankind leaving the world (in this case Venice) in the hands/paws/fins of mythological mer-creatures and upright apes. So, what was it that originally secretly seduced and induced me to start and continue with this novel - two major factors - the first that the main character is a theatre set designer (not films you understand) who is researching a mythical inventor thinly disguised as the great da Vinci (getting around copyright issues by calling his character Lavinci). My qualifications are those of a Theatre Designer (in my case specialising in props of which the 'Teleporter' in the title would have been one) and my area of Art History expertise is the early Renaissance (although I've always felt da Vinci was a bit fanciful and overrated, preferring Mantegna, Botticielli and the Northern artists of the time) you'd think ...... wouldn't you, that this would be the ideal book for me to read. Think again. 17th July 2017

'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'Go Set a Watchman' by Harper Lee

Catching up with my education - 'To Kill a Mockingbird', yes seriously. A friend of mine told me that it had been on the set curriculum for her (she's only 5 years younger) and it differed quite considerably from the reading matter I studied for my 'A'-level English, although that did give me a new favourite book in Huxley's dystopian 'Brave New World' with Orwell's diametrically opposite view of the future in '1984' as the companion read - one was sterile and sanitary and the other was dusty and dirty in my view. Anyway, I digress, this book confused me with its convoluted introduction to the character list on page one, but as I continued I was quickly able to separate the jumble and pecking order of the 'cast'. This book started with the feel of the film 'Forrest Gump' and I instantly saw the image of Gregory Peck as Atticus without being prompted and immediately felt at one with him. The book plods along quite nicely giving you an overview of life somewhere in the South sometime 'tween the world wars maybe. Yet, it was completely different to my favourite, gossipy, incestuous New England territory. Smiling I completed Part 1 with the joy of youthful memories and was brought back into the harsh light of reality in Part 2 it hit me in the solar plexus. I started moving away from the shock during the courtroom episode which was not well or entertainingly written, too much courtroom drama on tv probably queered it for me. Then we were given an insight into the time frame, it was now definitely sometime in the early 1930s although no hint of WWII or mention or reference made to WWI ever came into play. The mystery that has been running thoughout comes to a dramatic and somewhat violent conclusion but at least justice was seen to be done! I have no idea where the sequel will go and as decades have passed since the first was written in 1960 (didn't know that until just now either!) I'll wait a little while before I give it a go. - May 2017

- 'Go Set a Watchman' - I don't know why but I got it into my head that 'Watchman' was the prequel to 'Mockingbird' but as I started to read it I realised that it was indeed a sequel. I say 'a' not 'the' because, as I now understand it, 'Watchman' was written first but rejected, at the time, by her publishers, who told Harper Lee to write the book that would explain the retrospective piece. Thus 'Mockingbird' was written (brilliantly) and the original book consigned to the drawer for many decades. As soon as I started reading this book I was comfortable on two levels, the easy style of the first book was present and it was so reminiscent of 'Peyton Place' - both feature a sassy professional young woman making her way back to her (hick/gossipy) home town in the 1950s after having found gainful employment and experience of life in New York NY in her formative adult years. The fundamental difference being that 'Watchman' is set in the deep south with its firmly rooted racial issues and 'Peyton Place' is in the gossipy realm of 'New England' just outside Boston with its equally firmly rooted puritanical snobbery. (Maybe the publishers thought that the original was too much like PP and decided it would not sell?) 'Watchman' lacks several characters that were 'writ large' in the original and is the poorer for their absence. It concentrates mostly on the immediate family circle giving greater prominence to the three adult siblings, Atticus and his sister and brother, the remaining 'old guard'. Uncle John had hardly figured in 'Mockingbird' and the sister has merely taken the place of the original black Negro housekeeper. It isolates 'Scout' even more as we discover that her only brother and protector died at an early age quite abruptly. We aren't told how Atticus or any members of the family, including Scout herself had reacted to this tragic loss of a son/nephew/brother. As she explores the changes Scout discovers the fabric of her childhood society has been ripped apart in more ways than one, feeling it keenly and considers herself permanently severed from the familiar community of old. The book leaves her future open to debate - in time I think she will come around to understanding the changes that needs must have occurred but I also feel it unlikely that she will return on a permanent basis, probably visiting until her father, uncle and aunt have expired and will then wash her hands permanently of her childhood home. I hope she finds happiness somewhere. - November 2017

Murdoch Mysteries : 'Except the Dying', 'Under the Dragon's Tail' and 'Night's Child' by Maureen Jennings

- 'Night's Child' - This was the most superior of the three examples available to us to read. I say superior because the subject matter precludes the use of 'enjoyment' in this case. The book also benefits from concentrating on Murdoch getting on with his job without the peripheral characters being overly involved. The story is a window peering into the misery experienced by young children of the time. Neglect, more than abandonment, concentrates on the lives of three siblings. One has got away and changed her identity and lives comfortably in a middle-class household, albeit as a servant where she is treated kindly. The younger sister is not so fortunate and their brother survives his father's onslaughts only because he is a boy. This is not a book about incest, the abuse comes from the alcoholic father who has no thoughts except how he's going to be able to afford his next drink. The subject matter relates to that popular Victorian leisure past-time of 'What the Butler Saw' saucy and sexual images which of course also involve the use of children and is a good way of earning money. Running parallel are two stories, one the envy of a colleague causing the envious one to resort to creating typewritten, anonymous accusations which lead to a suspension, and a link to all those involved in the other storylines which turns out to be a terrible revenge 'righting a previous' wrong, as graphic as the explosion that culminates at the end of the book. If you are in the least bit timid, don't read this book, it's not for you but it is a rattling good read. - November 2017

- 'Under the Dragon's Tail' - is Book 2 of the series (I have only purchased three which came as a job lot and the last one to read will, in fact, be Book 4) and we meet (very cursorily) Dr. Ogden with the usual comic touches when Murdoch (who is a lot more irascible than the Murdoch we love in the television series) realises that she is a woman! But we don't really get much of a description, so knowing the television version helps to sweeten the pill somewhat. At this stage Dr. Ogden is not a pivotal part of the plot. Once again the book takes us into the local territory and introduces to a myriad or characters, some integral to the action, some, of necessity, not. We don't get the pondering deductive investigative powers displayed by Murdoch on television and Constable Higgins is still the big strapping lad with not much 'up there.' The descriptions of the time, the poverty and the despair are all portrayed accurately and there is no sensitivity or sympathy here, all quite factual and often stomach turning, makes you wonder how anyone ever survived. There's a tiny bit of a happy ending but the price will be paid by someone somewhere. I'll be happy to read the 4th volume but don't see the need of pursuing the entire written series - July, 2017

- 'Except the Dying' is the book that introduces us to Detective (no rank) William Murdoch. I have to admit to liking this book and the style (once I got used to it) of writing. It's a little alien as I don't know too much about the workings of the turn of the century but luckily not too much 'flammery'. The way the chapters are set up can be a bit jumpy, more film scripts than a smooth transition and it most definitely help, yes it does, to be an aficionado of the television series! Andrew, my sister Marysia and I are all fans of the series but, interestingly, neither of the other two enjoyed the books; that did not put me off reading the first one to trial it! I shouldn't be surprised that I enjoyed it, you see the other two like Harry Potter, I read the books under sufferance so no-one could say I was criticising without sampling them. I did wait to read them all in one go but even that did not endear me to them or make me become a slavish fan. I have two more Murdoch books and will read them, but I don't think I'll bother with any more. The real help was envisioning the characters as they are portrayed on television even though some of the original descriptions differ. The other big difference is that in reading, you get an insight into the other characters and what they are up to, in the television series you mainly only see how Murdoch solves the crime. - May 2017

'The King Without a Kingdom' by Maurice Druon

Oh the joy of finally being able to read the 7th and final instalment of 'The Accursed Kings' (Les Rois Maudits) after all these years. Yes, I read the original in French and even the Polish translation, but it's the nuances you miss when thirsting for knowledge and as a result rushing through the book in indecent haste! Now is the time to sit back, relax and listen to this aged uncle of mine telling me his story. Other than he refers to me as his 'nephew' but I don't mind - yes, the book is written in the first person singular and recounts in an acutely orderly manner the descriptive ramblings and reminiscences of Cardinal Périgord. No stone with reference to the horrors of war and incompetence of the ruling monarchy is left unturned - 14th October 2016

'Nicola Goes to the Oberland' by Josephine M. Hardman

This is a pleasantly whimsical wish/bucket list look at someone with reasonably low self-esteem wanting, like mad, to have been able to attend a finishing school and where better than at St. Mildred's the Swiss Senior Branch of the Chalet School. For everyone of us who wanted to live that school life, but who are now too old to do so, this book answers the angst we all felt. It really has a wonderful feel-good factor but is absurdly (in a nice way) 'too good to be true'. Everything works out for Nicola, who must be Josephine M. Hardman (coincidence or deliberately imitating the authoress and eponymous, in several titles, heroine Josephine M. Bettany (Maynard)) and is wanting to break away from the drudgery of an old-fashioned secretarial career. The spur, initiated in the original books, is the belief that professional life can be considerably bettered by learning a couple of popular languages. Set sometime in the late 1950s-early 1970s before, those of us of a certain generation really did burn our bras and get liberated. this is a nice to read, lovingly created and very well written short story which pays homage to some of the original characters without trying to stamp any personal opinions on them. - September 2016

The Cazalets : 'The Light Years', 'Marking Time', 'Confusion', 'Casting Off' and 'All Change' by Elizabeth Jane Howard

We recently saw a televised version of these books and were disappointed that the series had not reached a conclusion - as a result all three of us intend to enjoy reading the whole saga from the beginning. The prose is proving easy and entertaining to read and the books are all heavy volumes - should be a relaxing exercise. I have Book 1, 'The Light Years' under way. April 2016

Curiosity compelled me to see whether or not the 'Cazalets' were in any way autobiographical - they were - an obituary in The Guardian reveals all in this taster - "Her frank and detailed autobiography, Slipstream (2002), revealed how closely the Cazalet family was modelled on her own and that the roots of her novel Falling were in her own encounter with a conman. In November 2013, a fifth Cazalet novel, All Change, was published, shortly after a long-running dramatisation of the original quartet on BBC Radio 4."

- The Light Years - I had intended to read these books individually in between others that are and have been waiting for some time to be read and are either gathering dust or languishing in a box neither fate justifiable to the majority of them - however, having been drawn back into the world of the Cazalet Family I find I don't want to relinquish their hold and have decided to read Book 2 immediately - maybe the end of Book 1 and the inevitable spiral into WWII may have been the propelling factor, but maybe not completely. The TV series was astonishing faithful to the books and maybe because it was cut off half-way through, makes me want to stay with the family until the bitter end and that won't come until the end of Book 5 so here I am, an onlooker wanting to know what happens to them all. The book has much more of the story telling, particularly the emotions that the characters experience, the shame of me of Zoe's 'rape' - was it or wasn't it, even she wasn't sure - but she was sure of her infidelity! Of the crush heaped on Rupe by his niece who misread the signs and nearly tore his marriage apart. Of the late 'babies' and were they wanted by either father and the anguish and upheaval they would cause as stormclouds gathered. The book ends on an optimistic note - war has been averted, the Family is enjoying an Indian summer ...... - 17th May 2016

- 'Marking Time' - the opening scene has the family surrounding the radio, craving news, it is September 1939. The book continues to feel familiar as the the television series was very faithful to the books. In this volume the characters are scrutinised slightly more in-depth and we learn much more about their feelings. The intimate dialogue as if writing a diary or speaking to a close friend or even Clary still writing to her father (although she knows the letters will never be sent) draw one in as a privileged family friend. Some may think this describes 'voyeurism' but despite its intimacy it is a sympathetic rendering even though we do get to know everyone's secrets! The war impacts on all the family either physically or mentally and the anguish is very raw. New experiences for all the family members be it babies becoming characters in their own right, the former younger characters realising that life is going to change forever as far as they are concerned, the parenting generation taking all the responsibility on their own shoulders (excepting Edward of course) and the patriarchs realising that they are not only vulnerable but very mortal as well. We start seeing the demise of some of the cherished family members. The book covers the period of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain and the realisation that worse is to come as the horrors of Russia and Pearl Harbour begin to emerge ........ 6th June 2016

- 'Confusion' - the opening scenes feature Polly's thoughts as she comes to terms with the death of her mother, whom all had believed to be in remission. This chapter of the saga takes us seamlessly into new territory leaving the television series behind - I wonder why the decision was made not to continue after reaching the midway mark. The book concentrates on the younger generation of the first two books who are now coming into their own and are starting out on their own. We don't lose sight of the adults of the original books but obviously much of what happens impacts on young and old alike. The brothers, with the exception of the missing Rupert, both have to give up their 'action man' hopes and revert to running the business as the founder, their father is now blind and unable to contribute. One of the beloved great-aunts also dies leaving her grieving sister to follow soon after. Relationships, old and new, gather apace. We are introduced to vibrant and not so vibrant characters who impact on the family tapestry and we endure two enormous shocks at the conclusion - one impacting on Rupert's wife with all the horrors of the concentration camps and the enormity of realising what it meant to be a Jew in Europe during WWII and the other also impacting Zoe as the final segment are the musings of Rupert ....... 17th June 2016

- 'Casting Off' - Clary stayed true to her father's memory and was rewarded by his return, not so Zoe who found herself mourning the death of her lover and being shocked back into reality by the return of her 'dead' husband Rupert. The book follows the lives of all the major characters and covers their response to the aftermath of the war and its impact on them. Unusual couplings (and possibly taboo subjects such as lesbianism, abortions, illegitimate conceptions, failed marriages resulting in multiple affairs) and unrequited love (on the edge of familial incest) all have their place openly in this book. Although 'Peyton Place' was the first to discuss overtly all these forbidden fruits, the Cazalets treats them less viciously, just as the paths of such a large family might naturally gravitate. This one does have a happy ending for Clary and Archie - 11th July 2016

- 'All Change' - opens 9 years after the conclusion of 'Casting Off' and the death of 'The Duchy' closing the patriarchal generation. And so it's farewell to the Cazalets who became part of my family these last few months whilst I have read their familiar story and then moved with them into unknown territory. Seeing the generations change as they themselves enter a new phase, welcoming new arrivals and additions to the family and waving farewell, inevitably to yet more of the family stock. Prior to starting the final novel I thought I would look up the author to see whether or not any of this was biographical and was not surprised to find that it was - what was a surprise however, was the fact that the final book (by no means a mopping up session) was written some considerable time after 'Casting Off' - more than the 9 years that has elapsed in the storyline. Inevitably 'Home Place' so nurtured and beloved by 'Brig' and the 'Duchy' and which has always played such a pivotal part in all their lives, has to be sold. This happens because of a error of judgement, it is owned by the Cazalet business company not by the family ..... as bankruptcy looms so the assets have to be sold off just to keep the family members afloat, except for Edward who forbore sharing the costs of its upkeep to cover the extravagance of his second wife, Diana and to provide some security for his loyal, discarded first wife, Villy. The style of the book is different, now we get short sharp 'windows' into the lives of each character preceded by their names whereas in the earlier books, we needed to work out who belonged to and was responsible for the opening dialogue. We are let down very gently whilst still being privy to all the family secrets - still full of surprises, the clever way in which the story is concluded with the 'parting of the ways' of the family, with the knowledge that all of them would care for each other in some way or another and Rachel realising she still had a very important function in the future of the family made the ending less devastating but not without feeling a very deep sense of loss - 25th July 2016

The Covert One Novels : 'The Patriot Attack', 'The Ares Decision', 'The Utopia Experiment' by Robert Ludlum and Kyle Mills

- The Utopia Experiment - OK - so having re-read my reviews before starting on this third volume of the collaboration between Ludlum and Mills I was waiting to be disappointed. In fact the first few chapters confirmed that I wouldn't enjoy this book, but then it suddenly took off - maybe the computerised security antics of the mildly eccentric/insane Marty, whom I've missed in the Covert One novels - maybe the co-authors don't really know how to handle him because he is one hot potato merged with a rogue male - entirely believable. It's a clever concept and I sort of guessed what the downside would be but was only partially right and it never was explained if the gadget was still transmitting after the removal of the head from the body (I won't use the usual description as that is now sullied and province of the violence of 'the so-called XX' as the BBC would put it although I understand the D-word is the preferred insult but you won't find it in my website if you do a search!) Altogether an excellent and pacy read - September 2016

- Another collaboration of the 'Covert One' characters created by Robert Ludlum. The Ares Decision is set in the Far East - China and Japan - which is not a theatre I enjoy at the best of times, but that aside, the concept of destructive nanobots (after having seen them at work in a sci-fi tv series) is very disturbing. As usual with John Smith being the central character the plot is intelligent and fast moving. I wasn't too convinced with the end, I'm not entirely sure it's advisable to play fast and loose with foreign powers leaders and their intentions and especially not their demise at the hands of the 'good guys'; the second slightly unconvincing area was the definitive destruction of the greedy little nanobots - a bit like the original concept of 'Day of the Triffids' the threat was controlled but not completely vanquished - the triffids had seeds that could go airborne - the nanobots could be swept away and into the atmosphere by the blast of the destructive weapon ....... April 2016

- The Patriot Attack (good title) - A Covert One Novel - this is a series of collaborative novels based on characters and book plots devised by Robert Ludlum prior to his death and which are being released post mortem.
It seems an age since I started this book but the style was such that it was easy to pick up where I left off, irrespective of the time that had elapsed in between reading sessions. The whole is written in 'sound bytes' as if awaiting a film script with multiple scene changes which perhaps made it possible to assimilate a lot of information in small doses. I found this one a little too violent and graphic for comfort but it was an interesting read and I daresay Ludlum may have evolved his writing this way to accommodate the generation which plays computer games in preference to reading and the format of current action films - not worth a re-read I'm afraid, does not live up to its spunky title!) - 11th July 2013.

The Covert One Novels : 'The Janus Reprisal', 'The Geneva Strategy' by Robert Ludlum and Jamie Freveletti

- The Geneva Strategy - Another highly enjoyable fast-action thriller moving apace at all times (you do need to hold your breath sometimes) - Jamie Freveletti once again makes good use of her combined love of the characters created by Robert Ludlum and her respect for this great author and the collaboration to continue the series, offered to her by the estate. It's a very updated Manchurian Candidate storyline and I've come to intensely dislike the whole concept of drones! My only tiny criticism is, that Colonel John Smith was introduced to us (many years ago) as approaching middle-age - he is decidedly a younger version of himself in this book. - March 2016

- The Janus Reprisal - this continues the fast pace of its predecessors. This novel has been exceptionally well-written keeping true to the 'Covert One' operatives and their respective allies as originated by Robert Ludlum and using a very real and up-to-date scenario. At the end of the book (and I'm glad I did not see it earlier) the co-author/shadow writer Jamie Freveletti admits to being a bit Ludlum fan (as we readers are) and being thrilled at the opportunity of continuing his ideas. It is a heartfelt submission and makes the reading so much more pleasurable. Fast pace, good story-line, frightening subject matter, very up-to-date - enjoyable read - keep them coming! - August 2015

Before the Chalet School - 'The Bettanys: of Taverton High' 'On the Home Front' and 'Last Term at Taverton High' by Helen Barber

A trilogy of Chalet School Fill-Ins - set immediately before and at the start of the Great War, Madge and Dick are teenagers, Joey is still being pushed around in a pram and the Chalet School isn't even a twinkle in anyone's eye! In short, a prequel.

- Last Term at Taverton High - concludes the trilogy prequel and doesn't feature any of the Bettany clan but does manage (via a letter from Jo to Rosalie Dene) to introduce 'Maynie' as Miss Maynard was popularly known and, again by letter maps out the eventual progress of Rosalie and a couple of other characters who are marked to attend the Chalet School - Rosalie remaining there all her working life as the School Secretary. The error made by Helen Barber is that she applied all the Chalet School formulae to this book and it didn't quite work. The inclusion of the 'cheat' facility and consequent treasure hunt was wildly overdone and I suspect something from her own childhood memories and 'The Remove' being capable of producing 'The Tempest' in its entirety is just not quite believable. The inclusion of 'Miss Mapp' as a book title was mildly amusing, but again would the children of that time have been encouraged to acquaint themselves with satire even if the book was meant as a present for an older relative? Disappointing and a bit laborious! June 2018

- Home Front - A very early prequel it must be said, just as the 1914-18 conflict begins. This is a difficult book to make entertaining as it is pure speculation regarding the character-forming attributes of Madge Bettany whom we only ever knew as an adult. She is introduced to us as such in 'The School at the Chalet' which is the first of the 60+ Chalet School books that we have grown up with and love with a passion! However, having said that, this story does gather apace when dealing with the interaction between Madge and her siblings, and Madge and her school friends (familiar territory). It is only fair to add that I am not a mad keen exponent of WWI being too far removed from it and any knowledge of it other than that well reported incident - the massacre of the Romanovs. Having said that - I do wear my Poppy with pride every November. A good effort but deserves its place in the 'Before the Chalet School' category. - February 2016

- Taverton High - the first of two early prequels written by Helen Barber, both in her very high standard and meticulous attention to detail (probably more so than EBD herself!) - this prequel was written first and already has Madge as a very competent mature schoolgirl in the habit of thinking ahead, which puts it chronologically after the second pre(pre)quel so to appreciate both books this is worth a re-read after 'Home Front' - 2008/9

'Cornelia of the Chalet School', 'Surprises for the Chalet School' by Jackie Roberts

- The first of a trilogy centering on popular character Cornelia 'Corney' Flower, whose potential really was not realised by EBD in the long running series. This book, like several other in-fills, has not come under the umbrella of the 'Girls Gone By' publishing house. However, this is a genuine attempt in the spirit of EBD and incorporating the familiar and well-known leads of the original. It has a slight feel of 'happy ever after' but that does not detract from its content. It is well written, the characters are 'natural' in their feel and the subject of the holocaust is dealt with sensitively. Whereas I do not like 'holocaust fiction' it is of course integral to a major part of the Chalet School lore and in this book some areas, hitherto left unresolved, are offered an imaginative conclusion. There is also an impactful solution to one of EBD's 'Chalet School' failures (of which there are few and far between in the series). I half-guessed something was coming when a clue is given to the reader at the ship's Captain's dinner, but even I did not guess the identity/situation that would come from it - the solution (including the need to keep it secret as entrusted to Cornelia) is perfectly viable and I commend the author for her originality. Part of the book will appeal to the modern reader as the first experience of true 'heartbreak' is covered and most of us will relate to that particular emotion. All in all a good reading experience and I shall read the second part with pleasant anticipation - book 3 is in preparation. - July 2015

- 'Surprises' - once you get passed the appalling book cover which evokes nothing - this is a clever sequel to the first book following the events of Cornelia Flower (now van Alden), her husband Max, his sister Caroline and Max's pseudo-protegee Maartje. I was happy to speed up the last few chapters as there are clever plot resolutions as well as intriguing open-ended plots to carry through to the third and final part of this trilogy, which we are assured is 'in preparation.' Although occasionally lightweight this is a thoughtful representation of an under-used characters which caters to the modern 'miss' as well as us older devotees of the original! - July 2015

'The Roswell Conspiracy' by Boyd Morrison

A new author to me, Boyd Morrison, but he has written on a subject that has tempted me to give him a chance to show his skills. The opening chapter was certainly salivatingly interesting as it refers to 1918 and an attempt to rescue Tsar Nicholas and his family - now how, I wonder will that link into Roswell? (Review will follow shortly). Time for the review and what an incredibly disappointing book this turned out to be. It's a nice action-packed adventure, but the delving into the Romanov taster (and that is all it was) petered out and did not add anything new to the plot. This style of content was introduced and perfected by Robert Ludlum and this book had the pace but was not clever in obfuscating us into believing one thing and finding that the opposite was true. Good title, good taster but not worth re-reading or seeking out this author. May 2015

'Bring Up the Bodies' by Hilary Mantel

Book 2 of a projected Tudor trilogy, it is interesting that both this book and its predecessor 'Wolf Hall' (read but not reviewed here) won the Booker Prize in successive years. - I now know what I find peculiar and disorienting with this style of writing. There is no real written narrative to link the action or fill in the gaps if you prefer. There is dialogue between characters and thoughts by individuals which, for me, do not make a smooth transaction. Sometimes to pad out what is happening a character may 'think' the next step or a series of events happening around him or her which can be confusing at times.

- I've just reached the end of the book and as the author points out in her 'Author's Note' - this is all about Thomas Cromwell and everyone else, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, the courtiers etc. are just peripheral to his ambition. The third and final book in the trilogy will probably chronicle his fall from grace - I won't be in a hurry to read it, I'm afraid - August 2014

The Cat Who Series : Lilian Jackson Braun

We (Fb Cat Who Fan Club) are starting a Book Club based on LJBs books - how exciting is that. Preparing to start ....... The books will be read and listed chronologically:

- The Cat Who Turned On and Off - the Book Club certainly does make you delve into the meaning of the books in addition to the pleasure of reading them! I was delighted to re-visit this book again as it is my favourite even now and which was first reviewed when the death of LJB was confirmed (see below). All the sounds and smells and visual quirks of 'Junk Town' create a fabulous canvas of people and events. Even the weather makes the reader shiver whilst the various shenanigans are going on. The pipework in Qwills' abode has a life of its own and the introduction of a 'ghost' hardly seems far-fetched. All this is just to cover up the murderous intent amongst the dealers all of whom apparently have something to hide. An entertaining book and I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to read it again!

- The Cat Who Could Read Backwards - I didn't realise that a Book Club, if done seriously, puts you in a bit of a pressurised environment! It doesn't help that the only medium you can work in is Facebook and that global timings are more than challenging. As the only Brit participating, I have to do the midnight to 2am run as most of the North American club members favour late afternoon-early evening sessions. Australia is 11 hours either side of the UK making mornings their enforced time slots! We also made the mistake of having the first discussion on a Friday which is a pressurised time on the internet at the best of times! Learning quickly from our mistakes we moved to Wednesdays for subsequent discussions. It was a pleasure to re-read this book, it felt rather like the first time as there are numerous books in the series so only faint shadows of the earlier books remain. It was nice to re-acquaint myself with the original characters and as the 'artist' of the group, I was amazed at how visually stimulating the writing is, something that on first reading passed me by. There is also a deal of acerbic humour which fits neatly into the context of 'one man and his cat!' - May 2013

- The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern - the title refers to an upholstery style (takes a while to appreciate that - I kept thinking Danish pastries!) As we begin to learn and appreciate the regulars more we have to start concentrating on the plot and new characters, which at times can stretch your imagination and concentration to the limit. Lots of laughs and pathos in this book with both emotions referring to the cats! The truly terrifying prospect of a human being trying to emulate a cats agility springing from balcony to balcony over a considerable distance is tempered only by the fact that the character is 'loosy-goosey' thanks to large quantities of imbibed alcohol! It is also extremely funny! Animal cruelty is touched on leaving us with no sympathy for the 'perp'! All in all a very enjoyable re-read. - July 2014

- The Cat Who Saw Red - regrettably our discussion group failed due to the logistics of members being scattered worldwide and certainly in my case, starting a suspect internet facility (Fb) at midnight leads to frustration on top of tiredness. It's a terrible shame, but at least this way I will at last re-read the series in between new books. Again, unfortunately, I ended up reading this book in small bites quite far apart (luckily it is easy to re-cap) and then was able to complete it in two large chunks. Poor Qwill was transported back to his memories of a lost love, only to lose her almost as quickly as he had found her again, on top of that he grieves for the loss of his two companions having been erroneously told, they too had shed their mortal coils (this in addition to a former feline incumbent of his new lodgings) and to cap it all, even before the action starts, Qwilleran has been put on a diet for his own health and is then mortified to learn that he has been assigned the new gourmand editorial. LJB likes to place her characters in conflicting situations! The circumstances of his latest accommodation combine to re-awaken the sleuth in Qwill and although, in general, there is no happy ending, there is in fact a satisfactory conclusion. I enjoyed re-reading this once more but must try not to delve into another re-read before at least reading six new books! - February 2016

The Cat Who Series by Lilian Jackson Braun : 'The Cat Who Turned On and Off'

- I've chosen to re-read 'The Cat Who Turned on and off ' now (June 2011) in deference to the news that the author of the 'Cat Who' series, Lilian Jackson Braun, died earlier this month. This was always my favourite book of the series, when Quill moved to 'Junk Town.' I look forward to the re-read.

- This was so much fun to re-read, I may make it a feature in my favourite books page simply because it was such a joy to read something, simple, entertaining, uncomplicated, familiar, funny, thought-provoking, unashamedly paying homage to the feline species and set in Junk Town - what a beautifully evocative description of the Antique Dealers world - reminds me of when I used to visit the junk yards in Derby and near the railway station in Nottingham in search of 'Props' (properties) for my work and fun stuff for my home. My brass bedstead is from a junkyard in Derby and cost £5 in the late 1970s. - June 2011

'Inferno' and 'Origin' by Dan Brown

- Origin - This book was a dream of suspense and reminiscent structurally of a good Ludlum or Morris West as this is essentially a religious thriller, until we got to the 'crux' when it lost momentum, the writing stopped flowing highlighting that this was unknown territory and it fell flat. It redeemed itself in the 'aftermath' and I was pleased I had guessed the identity of one of the 'hidden' characters but not the other who, it seems also belonged to the same entity. This 5th Robert Langdon is nowhere near the novelty and originality of the first two. And I nearly missed it, it was only thanks to's suggestions that I realised there was a new book in the series! So much for being an observant and loyal reader! - November 2017

- Inferno - a stand alone novel much in the style of Robert Ludlum, the fourth in his Robert Langdon series which I had stopped enjoying after 'The Lost Symbol'; it seemed to lack imagination; but he has come back refreshed and with a very clever plot. I did actually guess the 'twist' just prior to it being revealed so that is a great plus in his favour that he kept my interest right up to that point and then the conclusion was fitting (I nearly used 'appropriate' at this juncture, but as I think that and 'inappropriate' are two words I would like to see banned I can't really use them can I? and retain credibility that is!) to the standard of the rest of the novel. Worth a re-read! - April 2014

'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak

Holocaust Fiction for Young Adults (YA) - had I but known .... however, having started the book without this knowledge, until I read the 'reviews', I decided I would give it a try. Holocaust Fiction is not a favourite literary subject of mine, but never let it be said I discriminate against genres - this is my third foray into this type of fiction; the first being 'The Boy in Striped Pyjamas' and the second 'The Silver Sword' by Ian Serraillier (albeit, giving it its due, this book is loosely based on real occurrences see reviews below). In my mind, these books which were my introduction to Holocaust fiction were unsuccessful in capturing my whole-hearted interest. However, to return to this novel - I bought the book after seeing a trailer for the film of the same name due to be released this year (2014), and it was also the last book I completed reading in 2013 on New Year's Eve. The style, at first, is very difficult and verges on posturing - happily I have an appreciation, understanding and education in the use of colour so am better equipped than most to envisage what the author is attempting to convey. For YA I suppose it is a mechanism that is more familiar to them as they commit to computer/television/app/digital and android screens rather than the written word! The nature and identity of the narrator is given away right at the start (in case we did not realise who it was) and in due time the story telling begins and the pretentious and posturing language streams into good, well structured grammatical narrative. Every so often we are subjected to a return to the bizarre and completely unnecessary imagery, but by then it is as inconsequential as swatting a fly. The story evolves around an abandoned (rather than fully orphaned) girl not yet in her teens, her foster parents, her peers and Max. The storyline attempts to convey some of the horror of the second world war as it impacted on Germany. I found I had no sympathy for any of the characters despite the foster parents not falling into the 'wicked step-parent' category nor for the surviving son of a neighbouring family who returns from Russia and commits suicide. I think these were attempts by the author to show a 'normality' and 'humanity' from the point of view of the 'ordinary (enemy) townsfolk'. Mayhap my review is a little harsh but I think Holocaust Fiction is WRONG, there are far too many real untold stories out there and they are untold for a reason, it all HURTS too much and individuals do not wish to have to launder their experiences in public. Is Holocaust Fiction a genre that should be allowed to exploit the truth? Why should the pill be sweetened? If a YA wants to read 'The Book Thief' or 'The Boy in Striped Pyjamas' - why not visit the websites of Oświęcim (Auschwitz) and Dachau first and then read first hand experiences such as found in sites like Yad Vashem? - I wonder what the author's motivation was to write this book - I'll not be re-reading it or even keeping it in the house - December 2013

'Chalet School World' by Helen Barber

"How did Joey Bettany get on at school on her very first day at Taverton High?  Why did Dick Bettany take up work with the Forestry in India instead of following his father into the Army?  Who helped Sybil Russell develop into a responsible young woman, after the shock of Josette’s accident?  Did Grizel Cochrane ever come to terms with the failure of her teaching career?  These and many other questions find answers in Helen Barber’s delightful set of short stories, all set in and around the world of the Chalet School. In the course of this book, Helen clearly demonstrates how the values shared by the Bettany family permeate the School which they founded, and constantly ripple out into the wider world inhabited by its pupils, old and new.  Christmas with the Bettanys—high jinks in the dormitory—an unwise game during prep—a visit to the school dentist—this rich mixture of family stories and school stories spans the whole spectrum of the Chalet School and before, and leaves the reader with a real sense of having once again inhabited the Chalet School world. All stories in this book are completely new, written especially for this collection."

I have now read these short stories and whereas I usually like someone else's ideas of what may have been - this seems to almost smart of desperation to fill in the gaps. Nothing here inspired me, but it is an interesting exercise - January 2014

'Titanic - The Tennis Story' by Lindsay Gibbs

A remarkable account of a real biographical incident written in very easy-to-read novel format. I had expected to read another biographical history such as 'A Terrible Splendour', which was excellent but written with no graphic detail held back. Although the circumstances of the Titanic Tennis Story are no less grim, the presentation made it easier to digest without any loss of emotion. A remarkable history of two protagonists thrown together in one of the most famous and infamously recorded incidents, used as a backdrop to any number of fictional stories (take 'Downton Abbey' as an example) but no less 'stranger than fiction' for all that! Two people, who knew of each other only fleetingly, before being thrown together for several days in exceptional circumstances. One brought the other back to fitness and sanity and yet both suffered years of 'survivor' guilt before finally accepting what had happened to them and taking control of their lives. As a result of this acceptance they went on to remain lifelong friends. This book is recommended to everyone and especially those with particular interest in tennis and/or the events that took place in the Atlantic Ocean on a 'night to be remembered.' - August 2013

'The Murder of the Romanovs' by Andrew Cook

What new information or evidence could there possibly be? This book is a revelation and a minefield of new information and at some point I shall be re-reading it as I'm not sure I took everything in so exciting was the content of new evidence. Much, hitherto constricted by timeframes, official government paperwork and many reports (some of them written as personal accounts) have finally been released and form the basis of this resumé and consequent re-writing of events. I was astonished to find that of the wealth of photographs which make up about a quarter of the size of the books I had only actually seen two of them previously, everything else was new! Fascinating facts such as no beds for the Grand Duchesses when they were first dumped in Ekaterinburg to a pre-war visit by the Tsar and his family to UK where for security reasons he was not allowed to leave the confines of his yacht and set foot on British soil; despite stating how impressed he was with the Royal Navy and the protection it afforded saying that 'this was the way a Navy should be deployed.' Two extremes of new information and loads more in between. Despite its appalling conclusion, this is one of the best reads for this incident that I have been immersed in for a long time - highly recommended! - August 2013

'A Touch of Dead' by Charlaine Harris

This is a compilation of short stories which is why I am keeping it separate to the series although these stories are in fact in-fills giving a little more detail to some areas which may have been glossed over in the main series of books (I suspect the author was getting a bit bored herself!) The first two (I have only read three so far) are excellent, the quality of the third dips a little but I am enjoying the read. I've now caught up with the 4th and final 5th story and the final one has a nice unexpected twist - July 2013

'The Queen's Governess', 'Shakespeare's Mistress', 'The Queen's Confidante' by Karen Harper

- 'The Queen's Confidante' - early Tudor novel (Henry VII and Elizabeth) written in the first person imagining the thoughts of the confidante and the queen herself. Written in the first person in pseudo-Tudor prose (which I hate) the author later makes the sin of mixing modern idiom into the prose which I think indicates that she was out of her depth or had not thought through how a certain idea might be expanded by Tudor standards of language. The book started off promisingly in the male-orientated chandlery business of the times then presumed too much to know what a royal historical character might be thinking. Gathered pace as a romance, failed miserably as a thriller and had a horribly weak ‘happy ever after’ ending. - April 2016

- 'Shakespeare's Mistress', the second, but not linked, book set in the Tudor/Elizabethan period seen through the eyes (and first person singular) of William Shakespeare's purported first love (and unconfirmed 'wife') of italianate heritage. As the 'marriage' was not witnessed, when Shakespeare was 'railroaded' into a gun-shot wedding with Anne Hathaway, there was no legal impediment to stop the course of history! Some fanciful but not terribly imaginative use of Shakespeare's sonnets and key quotations are the basis of this novel. Although a notch above YA fiction, I ask myself if this is the only way youngsters of today find a historical novel palatable, if it is written (as both of these are) in the first person singular so that they can imagine themselves as the heroine? Goodness, imagine being Angélique! - February 2014

- As 'The Queen's Governess' is a Tudor novel I am in my 'comfort' zone but with a new author. The start boded well, then I felt I was in Young Adult fiction again, but this passed and as I near the conclusion of the book I find it a whole lot more interesting. This book is from the viewpoint of 'Kat' Ashley, Elizabeth I's ever constant companion and sometime nurse and starts with the execution of Elizabeth's mother Anne Boleyn to her accession to the throne and all the inherent dangers that in itself brought with it. The book ends at the height of Elizabeth's reign following her recovery from the pox when she is in her ascendancy and most powerful. The author completes the book with some key historical facts of the period in the form of an appendix. - March 2013

'The J M Barrie Ladies Swimming Society' by Barbara J Zwitner

- This is essentially a love story with a happy ending. I liked the first chapter as an animal referred to as 'Tink' made an appearance. Unlike our own Tinkerbell who is a pussy-cat this was a dog (a rescue of course). The owner is a single lady who lives in New York and works for a design company. In a set of fortuitous circumstances for her (not the person she replaces) she finds herself in charge of a project renovating and re-designating a former residence of JMBs' and that is where the tenuous connection ends. I bought this book on ebay for next to nothing and have recycled it via my favourite charity - it has no place in my home for a re-read, but it is entertaining enough but I might have hoped for a more original ending. - November 2012.

'Tied Up with Notts' by Colin Slater

- Notts. County is a subject very close to Andrew's heart but as he asked me to read it I did so willingly and with interest. It is a chronological study of events concerning Notts. County as witnessed by the author Colin Slater. To start with, unfamiliar with the time frame covered I found it a little onerous - but as I reached the time period that I shared the events with Andrew as they were happening I reached my comfort zone. I did find some titbits of interest I had not know previously and that made it more interesting reading. Recommended for fans of Notts. County and football historians! - November 2012

'The War Guest' by Irene Shubik

- What an incredible find! I worked with Irene Shubik at the BBC in the mid-1970s, currently more remembered for the recent unearthing of the Jimmy Savile scandals than for more worthy endeavours, in the elitist Drama Plays. It cannot be said that Irene and I developed any affection for each other but we grew into an 'understanding' of sorts. The picture on the front of this thinly disguised fictional biography could have been Irene herself and the content as self-deprecating and depressing as the woman herself. However, it is beautifully written, Irene wasn't a script editor prior to becoming a producer (quite a feat for a woman in those days) for nothing and was a pleasure to read just for that one observation! On reading the final sentence I suddenly realised that this particular comment was her raison d'être in which case, the sad woman I knew was somehow very real and explained her oft brusque and untouchable character. - October 2012.

'Major Benjy', 'Lucia on Holiday' and 'Au Reservoir' by Guy Fraser Sampson

- Au Reservoir - OMG - seriously, OMG! I was caught out, I had ab-so-lu-te-ly no inkling as to how this series would end (SPOILER ALERT coming up) - GFS actually allows the indomitable Lucia to die (first of the coterie) and then concludes the book with the demise/fate of all the other characters! Mister Georgie comes into his own in this book and the chapter which ends with the words 'She was in the bath' had me chuckling for hours. It has been a great ride following these hitherto unknown adventures of our heroes and villains and it is a shame that it's all over! - June 2014

- Lucia on Holiday - What happened? Did the author forget to write the last chapter? This is an extremely funny book despite Lucia being over-waspish, Olga over-loud and Mapp under-written. I was rather afraid that Lucia was going to come to a sticky end (financially) but instead she proved to be the catalyst for something completely unexpected and a potential villain turned out, happily not to contribute to her downfall. Some delicious original twists and turns left the Mapp-Flints underused and devalued, they did not deserve this - sounds like I didn't like the book? Not at all it was delicious and very clever but, it did need a slightly less abrupt end (unless it continues in the third of the trilogy which would make a mockery of the previously stand alone novels). And what about Georgie, beloved by all - he was one of the 'prominente' in the book but ended up only playing a supportive role however frequently he was present in all the embroilings - this book will be worth a re-read when all three are published - August 2013

- Major Benjy - Another fan of E F Benson who obviously took great delight in reading his caricature of a certain coterie of status seeking 1930s vamps immortalised in Mapp and Lucia. He offers us a trilogy of follow-ups (the third is yet to be written) and Major Benjy is the first of the three. It is a fun read and the characters are captured beautifully - I am sure he had as much fun writing Major Benjy and placing him in the usual ridiculous situations from which he had to be extricated as I had reading and closet participating in his discomfiture. Well done Guy, I look forward to Book 2 which is waiting to be read and the eventual publication of Book 3. - October 2012

'The King's Concubine' by Anne O'Brien

- This book was kindly given to me by a friend when she came to visit me in hospital. I had already heard the term YA Fiction and eventually learned that the acronym stood for 'Young Adult'. This is definitely a book written in YA style - it is easy to read and the grammar is well constructed but it is inferior to the great historical writers, obviously deliberately but so 'dumbed down' as to be embarrassing. However, as I was just coming out of a prolonged illness, it was, perhaps the best style to read to get me going again - I had not picked up a book for 4 weeks prior to this. Although set in a real historical situation the ideas are 21st century and very unlikely to have been adopted by the royals concerned. - September 2012

'The Tainted Relic' by The Medieval Murderers

- And tainted it was! This started off as an intriguing read but half-way along it was already too long and 500 pages is way, way too long (with apologies for the use of modern idiom). Having said that, the epilogue was imaginative and left the door open for another ten centuries worth of tainted intrigue if anybody could be bothered; or maybe it could have formed part of a time capsule to be found by some future, unsuspecting aliens! I objected to the final victim being a Pole from Cracow (when will they learn to write Kraków properly, when, indeed will they learn to pronounce it properly - you've only got a Pope and a female No. 2 world tennis player from there after all .......) I digress - I objected to the choice of nationality because it seemed to me to smack of a certain type of discrimination that has surrounded hard-working, mostly Roman Catholic, Poles who have come over to the UK under the EU directive of the 'Freedom of Movement of Workers' to earn a decent living; we would all like that opportunity, would we not given the chance? - July 2012

'Star Trek Memories' by William Shatner

I have to say that this was a thoroughly enjoyable book - I was a bit afraid that it might turn out to be the "great I am" but Shatner does pull the reins in and writes about 'Star Trek - the original television series' and draws on, not only his own personal experiences (which could have made it the great "I am"), but those of the creator Gene Roddenberry, his co-stars, writers and the production crew at every level. It has given me a greater insight into a series I revered many decades ago and which Andrew and I are now currently enjoying again thanks to a cable station re-run. As with all things that come to an end there was a tinge of sadness and regret on reaching the penultimate section and then the epilogue which, unusually instead of ending on a high, ended on the worst kind of 'low' - Roddenberry had washed his hands of the series as he could not come to terms with the changes being demanded of his original concept by the corporate backers and the actors felt that the tone of the scripts had degenerated and did not reflect the ethos of their original characters. The epilogue also allows, diplomatically for Shatner to be gently berated by his co-stars for the difficult time he had given them when they were working together, but Doohan would not compromise and so the feud continues and Shatner still awaits a call .... maybe from outer space now that Doohans ashes have been scattered. - July 2o12

The Mayan Trilogy : 'The Mayan Prophecy', 'The Mayan Resurrection', 'The Mayan Destiny' and (wonder of wonders a fourth) 'Phobos - Mayan Fear' by Steve Alten

Mayan Trilogy Book 4 PhobosBook 4 - ha! ha! yes, this trilogy is going to add a fourth book to itself. I notice FanFiction doesn't understand the concept of a fourth book in a trilogy as they actually refer to it as the third book in the 'Domain Series' whatever that is! And whereas I welcomed enormously the fourth and fifth books (which were also a surprise) from the S J Parris stable, the original books were never touted as a trilogy - so have no argument with their expansion into a series which I am thoroughly enjoying. Back to this 'Phobos - Mayan Fear' by his own admission the author is fearful of the 2012 Prophecy and the damage the 'Colliders' can do (and may be doing to us now - his words not mine) - here's what he writes on his own website about the new book which nothing on this planet will incentivise me to read '2012 Is the Mayan doomsday prophecy real? For two thousand years, the Mayan Calendar has prophesied the end of mankind on a date equating to December 21st, 2012. As the date approaches, greed, corruption, economic collapse, and violence seem to be pushing our species to the predicted brink of disaster. But there is another Doomsday threat looming in our near future, a very real threat that can wipe-out not only humanity but our entire planet. As you read this preview, a team of physicists in Geneva are using a $10 billion science experiment to smash atoms together at near light speed, hoping to re-create the Big Bang in their ego-driven search for the Higgs Boson — the God particle — ignoring the fact that these collisions give birth to stranglets – miniature black holes, any one of which can escape into our universe and grow. Best-selling author Steve Alten’’s third book in the Mayan Prophecy series is a doomsday rollercoaster ride of adventure that follows Immanuel Gabriel, the surviving Hero Twin depicted in the Popol Vuh, as he takes us to the end of the world and back again for one last shot at salvation and a chance meeting with his deceased grandfather, archaeologist Julius Gabriel. In the process Julius reveals everything the Mayans knew and feared –– from the very secrets of creation that predates the Big Bang to the existence of extraterrestrials that have come to Earth to save our species. The universe is not what it seems, nor is human existence, and that this ticking clock of physicality that begins at conception and terminates with our final breath is neither the end nor the beginning, but an elaborate ruse constructed as a test. And we are failing miserably.' Anyway, I reckon the proof of the pudding is in the eating - this book was written in 2012 and there is only one 4* review consisting of the following three words 'not that good'. The author also has a section on his website called 'Writing Tips' maybe he should visit there sometime and remember that he should consider his readers fools. - 22nd August 2017

- 'Destiny' - yes, it really has taken me four years to pluck up to read the conclusion (I can only be grateful that in the intervening years the second trilogy hasn't popped up out of nowhere) not because I have been 'saving myself' to read it because I can't bear getting to a conclusion, but simply because I will not throw away or recycle a book before I have read it to its conclusion! I am now 150 pages into a book of nearly 600 so a quarter of the way in, which doesn't say much. I like the chapters and notices that refer to real-time quotations or space travel history, I don't like the nonsensical Aztec-like, Mayan Calendar, science-fiction aspects not the ever present and worrying trend that somehow 'white hair and blue eyes' point to some sort of superiority (ok elongated faces too!). Let's face it I was sold a pup buying these three together, but I will finish it, you never know I might be pleasantly surprised! (Some days later) - well I wasn't! Pleasantly surprised that is - by page 300 this novel could have concluded - full stop, no more, but no; this author doesn't know when to give up! We get swept back to 'sort of' present day and for 50 pages or so it is good explanatory narrative, as a novel should be written and then back we go to the Nexus and the 11th Dimension (or not as our hero/anti-hero shouldn't be able to enter it) and we meet those born and yet not conceived and other impregnated ... for what reason? To start it all off again with those catastrophically and portentously hysterically shrieked words telling us that it's not over yet and that the trilogy has acquired a fourth volume! - August 2017

- 'Resurrection' - not sure whether this is science fiction or science fantasy - either way it still does not sit easily with me. When the storyline stayed in story telling narrative style it was quite good and an easy read (in fact after the first few chapters I read the rest of the 600+ pages in two chunks and enjoyed myself) but when it went into 'the realms of fantasy' I did feel a bit like supercilious Captain Mainwaring from 'Dad's Army'. In the end I decided it was 'The Blind Assassin' (groan) meets 'Rosemary's Baby' (not the original fantastic cult movie starring Mia Farrow - but the substandard sequel) meets 'The Fountain' an appalling film starring Hugh Jackman. The events of Book 2 bring us right back to the beginning of creation (Adam and Eve) and deposit us back in time at the moment the earth is about to be annihilated by being plunged into another ice age of darkness on the magnitude of the original disaster that wiped out the dinosaurs. Book 3 will take us down an alternative future ..... - July 2013

- 'Prophecy' - OMG its a Sci-fi book, my first and I would like to say my last, but, as I have already bought the trilogy (for a fiver) I am determined to eventually read it to its conclusion. It started well enough and I was sucked into the 'Wisdom's Daughter' (Haggard) school of thought - the whole Mayan and Nazca etchings mystery was fabulous and the suddenly these mechanical beasties started making their appearance heralded by black sludge .... ah well, I'm not sure if I should congratulate myself on having achieved my first sci-fi reading experience or bemoan (again) the lack of good literature these days. Von Daniken meets "Independence Day" it has the makings of a classic 1950s B-movie with sequels. I don't really mean to denigrate, it's just not my cup of tea! - June 2012

The Payne and Jones Collaboration : 'The Plantation', 'The Sign of the Cross', 'Sword of God', 'The Lost Throne', 'The Prophecy', 'The Secret Crown', 'Death Relic', 'The Einstein Pursuit' by Chris Kuzneski

- The Plantation - Wow! What a first book! Actually to tell the truth I'm glad I read some of the other Payne and Jones adventures first as this book does err on the side of brutality a bit. Having said that I hasten to add it is not gratuitous and is based on recorded behaviour by former Plantation owners prior to the American Civil War; (and probably a good time afterwards if they thought they could get away with it!) It was wonderful to travel back to New Orleans in my mind's eye and enjoy every part of the swamp decor outside of the brutality. An impactful book, which I took with me to read whilst waiting for my hospital appointment - I didn't mind having to wait as I got 77 glorious pages in before the called me which gave me a great sense of what was to come. Kuzneski says this is his favourite - I can see why, but I look forward to reading the ones I still have on the pile waiting to be read amongst all the others that are still there! - May 2012

- The Sign of the Cross - a Wonderful Vatican thriller - just my sort of genre, I held my breath until the very end and it did have a proper ending thank goodness! I also guessed a red herring but was diverted and then had a nice smug grin on my face when I realised I had guessed correctly in the first place (should have held on to that thought just as I always kept faith with Snape - more because he was played by Rickman than the character of Snape - so, call me fickle!) even though I was then thrown off the track very cleverly. - July 2011

(This author sounds as if he writes the sort of fictional thrillers that I enjoy, covering conspiracies in the Vatican, legends proving to be fact, action adventures in the style of Indiana Jones and Dan Brown - so I'm giving him a go. Although there is a book called 'The Plantation' which is the first in the chronological order, it has taken time to be published in the UK so I'm starting with the second. I gather these are self-contained stories but featuring the same characters.)

- Sword of God - Not a Vatican thriller this time - but based on another religion - that of Islam. I didn't find this anywhere near as exciting as 'The Sign of the Cross' and it became a little formulaic but the characters of Payne and Jones are so engaging that it was worth the read (once!). I must read the very first book to find out a bit more about these two and the 'M.A.N.I.A.C.S.' which shaped their very interesting personal interaction. - August 2011

- The Lost Throne - It was a treasure hunt! But it was fun and it involved the Spartans and the Orthodox churches in Greece and Russia. Fast paced and held my interest until the conclusion! - October 2011

- The Prophecy - The relationship between Payne and Jones is really easy and makes for very entertaining reading. I was swept away like a surfer riding a wave as this book is so fast paced - but easy to read. Another alliteration is deserved because I did feel as if I was on a slide rushing to get to the conclusion (might have had something to do with the wintery and slippery conditions I was reading about at the time I suppose ;-)!)- Kuzneski provides a fantastic build up and, as always, a clever ending making you think - is it actually a conclusion? Good hokum and worth a re-read any time. - December 2011

- The Secret Crown - Another Treasure hunt - set this time in Bavaria in the realm of poor mad King Ludwig - he of the Disney-style castles (in fact Disney based Aurora's castle on Ludwig's Neuschwanstein). A really enjoyable read, not least because of the relationship between Payne and Jones moving it along at speed. The books descriptions brought real life scenes to the forefront of my imagination. - April 2012

- Death Relic - This is another Payne and Jones adventure but I wonder if it is the last - there is still some interaction but it isn't great and the storyline is a little tired. Set predominantly in Mexico but has none of vibrance of that colourful part of the year. The author has a new book out not featuring these two, I wonder if that is a clue that he is tiring of them? - November 2012

- The Einstein Pursuit has been published so my comments in my original paragraph above do not reflect the author's intentions (obviously) - I have now read the latest Payne and Jones adventure and it moves at a rattling pace it has to be said and mirrors Robert Ludlum's style. Having said I thought the author was tiring of his heroes, I don't think the interaction has improved since 'Death Relic' it still seems tired and contrived. Introducing more focus on the other characters in the book seems to have breathed new life into the whole. The concept of using domestic animals in experimentation is disturbing and I found those passages difficult but Kuzneski treats them with dignity and keeps that subject area to a minimum. - July 2014

'The Janson Command' and 'The Janson Option' by Robert Ludlum and Paul Garrison/'The Janson Equation' by Robert Ludlum and Douglas Corleone

- The Janson Equation - Published in 2015 but with my usual tardiness it's taken me a little while to catch up. I didn't read the synopsis (I never do, if there is Ludlum input then I'm sold!) and was taken by surprise to find the action set in Korea. Not the location as such but the timing of reading the book when suddenly in the latter part of 2017 Korea is in the News shooting missiles off right left and centre and upsetting POTUS and Japan. The action of the book brings the team of Janson and Kincaid as they become embroiled in several different strands of a seemingly complicated murder of a Korean national by her American Senator's son boyfriend who has vanished from the surface of the planet. From that point the strands needless to say become more than complex involving cyber space, knife edge diplomatic negotiations, conscience pricking, mega-betrayals, a few murders, assassinations and the inevitable 'falling on one's sword' or 'popping a cyanide pill' guilt! Refreshingly we meet a new type of heroine who may or may not feature in the future books, but Cats Paw has a new asset who is only 13 years old. The bond between Janson and Kincaid strengthens and is very believable. An enjoyable read (apart from some of the grizzlier bits) - October 2017

- The Janson Option - This episode is the next in what I popularly believed was the natural sequel, but on looking further there now seems to be a complete series in a wake and I need to catch up on my reading. So this is a Cons Op Novel featuring a two-person team who are romantically, or about to be romantically involved as well as a being a trained team with various strings to their bows. The main theme is a standard 'pirate kidnap' for ransom or maybe a hidden agenda. The dustjacket resume indicates that the kidnap may have to be shelved for a greater plotline which I had difficulty differentiating. All in all it is a fast paced adventure, again, split into various scenarios which could work as a film script. In view of the recent terrorist attacks on the UK (Manchester and London in May/June 2017) some of the content of the book is difficult to read without being reminded of reality. As there are more books in the series which I already have in my possession I will review them more deeply as I read them - June 2017

- The Janson Command - OK - so this is a follow-up book to the original Paul Janson character (and apparently Paul Garrison is writing a second follow-up). I've always enjoyed the teamwork, particularly the bringing together of co-workers in the Covert One novels, but this is not part of that series and is just a two-man (strictly speaking two-person as one is a female) team and I have to say that I was confused from start to finish. Just as I thought I knew where I was with this book it change tack - usually involving a change of location or characters and then randomly returned - I think this is a potential film script? Anyway at the end of the book in a footnote the author admits to being a big fan of Robert Ludlums' and that the original Janson character demanded a sequel - so he wrote it - not very well. Paul Janson cloned into Jon Smith ..... - the story is well written, except it isn't cohesive, I shall have to really persuade myself or get an excellent bargain if I am to continue with this series. For some reason, I have chosen to re-read this book and it makes more sense now, there are three more which have appeared in the intervening years - May 2012 and December 2016

'The Chalet School and Robin' by Caroline German

It was a nice re-read although at times it felt as if the author was straining to keep within the style of EBD writing - she finally let leash and did a 're-cap' with the character of Robin in the final chapter. This is a very modern training method and not something that EBD infused into her writing - the author salvages the 'modernity' by letting Robin bite back and point out to Jo that the feedback interrogation had set her mind racing and as a consequence she was unable to sleep well that particular night. In a way I'm pleased that the modern method received a mild criticism. It was good to revisit this book as I am not as familiar with it as the original series which I read many times over. - April 2012

'The King's Diamond' by Will Whitaker

A jeweller in the court of Henry VIII, Charles V and the Medici Pope ...... well that was the build up to this book. Very little happens in the court of Henry VIII but during the course of the action the hero meets up with a Renaissance artist - Cellini - who falls into my area of History of Art expertise, so that, was the only redeeming factor in this book which is indeed YA (Young Adult) writing and reading. Throughout there seemed to be a lack of substance, but in the end it was an enjoyable romp (with a touch of gravitas, dealing with the more unsavoury aspects of the sacking of Rome, right at the end) but equally it is one I am happy not to dwell on or overthink. Anything to get YA reading and interested into some era that did not rely on technology must be a good thing! - May 2012

'A Terrible Splendour' by Marshall John Fisher

"Gottfried von Cramm - the biography of the persecution years." - I took my time reading this book and put it aside in the "5th Set" to try and assimilate all that I had read. I had heard of von Cramm (what tennis fan hasn't?) but had no idea that his persecution by Hitler was to do with his homosexuality. My eyes, not easily opened as a rule, were rudely pushed to their limits with some of the revelations in this book. It is one I am likely to re-read at some point for a number of reasons, all the information about the 1930s, the lifestyle of the players and their competitions and the brutal prejudices that abounded at the time. The year 1937 seems to reach a particular high in history notwithstanding the abdication of Edward VIII and 1933 is packed full of incidents and architecture which shaped the rest of the decade. - June 2012

'A Moment of Silence', 'A Gentleman of Fortune' and 'A Woman of Consequence' by Miss Anna Dean

- And so to the conclusion of the trilogy - or is it? Dido remains steadfastly unmarried at the end and still dependent on her male relatives and siblings. Another clever novel using sleuthing without today's computerised aids - you can get just so much of problem-solving and contrived twists and red herrings. It's inoffensive but I have become bored with the formulaic plot lines - July 2013

- Back with Dido and her suitor from the first novel in 'A Gentleman of Fortune'. These are very definitely novels of manners and appropriate behaviour (and a missed opportunity for a proposal to be made and accepted or rejected). Another enjoyable read using detecting methods of the 19th century and an enquiring mind - a Jane Austen 'Miss Marple.' - November 2012

- I think I was drawn to this trilogy (the first is sub-headed as The Observations of Miss Dido Kent) because of the gentility of the author's name - Miss Anna Dean. Also this is a novel in 'one volume' - no further episodes to worry about. Although I mention the word trilogy, I think it is just the character that will run through the books - spinster aunt Dido Kent who writes in the very first decade of the 19th century. It is a nice gentile novel set in 1805 and if Jane Austen had been of a mind to write a mystery detecting novel, this would have been it! - February 2012.

'Ballet Shoes for Anna', 'Tennis Shoes', 'Theatre Shoes', 'White Boots' by Noel Streatfeild

- White Boots - the subject is ice skating, one of the passions of my younger days, curtailed by my illness at the age of 14 in 1966. This book is surprisingly more childishly written, maybe aimed at a younger audience, than others of Noel Streatfeild's that I have read, it is also mawkish and too much of a fairy tail, at least that the start of the book. Having passed the fairy tale stage and got used the the quirkiness of Harriet's family members and the rather unbelievable life-style they are forced to endure compared to that of Lalla and her temperamentally opposed guardians and team of carers (Nanny, Governess etc. etc. all the trappings of wealth) the book leads us into a cacophony of spite and deceit. Not really role model material (I nearly said 'stuff', obviously still in 'kid' mode) and the resolution was so swift it was near dismissive in 'righting the wrongs.' Not Mrs. Streatfeilds finest hour - October 2017

- Theatre Shoes - this book takes us into WWII and highlights the every day life as experienced by three siblings. It really is an interesting read from that perspective as well as linking us to the original 'Tennis Shoes' characters, making it work so much better than 'Ballet Shoes for Anna' (see below). I also enjoyed revisiting the whole theatrical experience that this book describes as it is an atmosphere I am familiar with having worked for many years in one professional capacity or another in the 'rear of house' of several theatres.

- Tennis Shoes - is the second of the 'Shoes' books I've now read and I thoroughly enjoyed it! But then I like children's stories and 'Ballet Shoes' is the famous one and which has been dramatised for television. I came across this one whilst researching Gill, Hill and Ravilious involvement in the Paris Expo of 1937! - Strange bedfellow indeed! Anyway, a lovely book of manners and ambitions from the 1930s! - March 2012

- Ballet Shoes for Anna - of course, I freely admit, I was seduced by the title - who wouldn't be, well who, called Anna, wouldn't be? This was a disappointing book, it did not have the novelty of the original 'Ballet Shoes' and the formula was the same but transposed to the 1970s when values and norms were quite different not just the change in currency from £ s d to sterling and new pence. It also came across as a bit petulant which I have read in other 1970s offerings, maybe we were petulant then? But the real disappointment was the use of 'pidgin' English - not a mature attitude for this author. The note at the back of the book by her nephew was more entertaining and enlightening than the whole book. - June 2012

'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' / 'Master Humphrey's Clock' by Charles Dickens

- Edwin was long for an unfinished version - there was no cohesion and hasn't improved my opinion of Mr. Dickens talents. (Trust me to start with an unfinished novel as I revisit the world that is Charles Dickens.) - March 2012

'That Woman - The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor' by Anne Sebba

It wasn't a cloying overly-sentimental or sympathetic portrayal of Mrs. Simpson nor was it exactly supportive. I'm not sure how much of the information is new but certainly I think there is a lot of information there that would not have been made public before the 21st century. The book ended abruptly after the Duchess of Windsor became a widow as if she didn't count once there was no man appended to her. I found that a bit dismissive as the biography was to be about her not her as a couple. She lived on for 14 further years after Edward VIIIs death - not all of that time was she confined to her bed in the Bois de Boulogne, surely? - February 2012

'Rules of Civility' by Amor Towles

Mostly this was an enjoyable read - good structurally and an interesting time period - a bit of Great Gatsby but staying on the wrong side of the rails and just looking in occasionally. It has a comfortable finale which draws everything very neatly together - it could have been a bit more unpredictable but it had its moments. I think I was hoping for more of 'The Women' input - but this is a modern piece not contemporary to the period. - March 2012

'Half-Blood Blues' by Esi Edugyan

This book, with its original and innovative take on WWII could have been so much better on several levels. The disappearance of the German born black musician, whose skills were second only to Louis Armstrong, from Paris shortly after it was declared an 'Open City' by the Nazis is something I have never come across before. The conclusion, in Poland, was unexpected but fittingly apt, the veiled reference to the missing years, those war-time not post-war years was cleverly, if all too briefly, skimmed over in a dream-like sequence leading to a deflated ending - but that was not its only disappointment. I nearly did not continue with the story after painstakingly reading through the first two chapters and attempting to adjust to the 'jive-talking' method of writing- an amateurish way of ensuring the reader was aware that they were in a black community. I found this insulting to the reader (myself included) and all those blacks who do not 'jive-talk' or do not need to employ it as a means of identification. It was a brutal experience and I do not regret having had the opportunity of reading this novel which was so close to winning the Man Booker. - December 2011

'Ender's Game' by Orson Scott Card

There, I've read my first (and probably last) science-fantasy book! Next year we'll be going to see the film (me, probably under protest) - to be fair this is not my genre, but the book is well written and there is no bad language (unless you, like me, consider the word "child" bad language). The end though is yet another disappointment unless the author had a sequel in mind which I think he must have had as I'm led to believe that another trilogy and off-shoots have also been written - but they won't be read by me. Should have stopped when the war was won in my opinion! - December 2011

'Child of My Love' by Sue Ryder

A book of great magnitude spanning over 600 pages! I wanted to know more about Sue Ryder, the person and why this woman affiliated herself with Poles and chose Warsaw as her titular name when awarded life peerage in 1978 (her other awards are Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1975 and the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1957.) Although the book is packed with the information I was seeking it was also little more than a text book of dates and times and achievements - it would have meant so much more if written as a biography-proper as we know them these days. - January 2012

'The Rhinemann Exchange', 'The Aquitaine Progression', 'The Scarlatti Inheritance' and 'The Parsifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum

- The Parsifal Mosaic - another re-read (first novel of 2018) by old favourite Robert Ludlum and his inimitable style. I cannot (so far) recollect any of the content and I would have remembered references to Lidice and a hero of Czechoslovakian (yes it was in those days) heritage. But then, the mind plays tricks, especially as we get older or so I'm told. That apart which has no place or relevance in my literary world, I am glad there are books that I still want to re-read! It was difficult settling down to a bone fide Ludlum after the watered down (no offence) versions written after his death such as the collaborative Covert One/Cons Op Novels or the continuing story of Jason Bourne as seen through the eyes of van Lustbader (is that a real name?). This is a book of two halves, not something Ludlum subscribed to too often, but is a style he favoured. Essentially you get two stories in one all tying in throughout the two threads (which is why, it is such a nonsense only to have filmed one half of a thread in The Ninth Gate when two ran concurrently throughout) and providing an epilogue. In this case it was actually a positive conclusion with as happy an ending as Ludlum could ever bring himself to write. The child survivor of Lidice who saw it all happening in real time, being plucked to safety and becoming an agent for his adopted nation. Keeping in touch with older mentors and falling in love to try and have as normal life as he could under the circumstances, the two most important people in his life are snatched from him - one in death one into the depths of madness but wait, is all as it seems to be? Well it's a Ludlum book so you can anticipate that it won't be and the roller coaster begins! I have got out of the habit of reading full-blown Ludlums and it proved hard to follow, but that's the beauty of the writing it compels you to march forward! - March 2018

- The Rhinemann Exchange - Robert Ludlum is one of my favourite authors and I particularly love his 'what if' scenarios concerning the events of the Nazi regime of the second world war - everything seems so plausible and very scary (apologies for over-using this word). I also need to read something that I am familiar with in between all the new authors, so this year I have decided to re-read many of what I consider to be Ludlum classics. (Although I love the original three 'Bourne' books, I don't like the way the story line has been hi-jacked by the Matt Damon film interpretations which have just made the original deeply thought-provoking concept into another nondescript action-style over-SFX-d movie). Having praised Ludlum to the hilt here I actually found the Rhinemann exchange a little convoluted with a confusing style in the first half of the book which then reverted to an adventure story in mundane chronological order - not his best. I did, however, enjoy re-reading 'The Gemini Contenders' and 'The Holcroft Covenant' earlier in the year! Both subscribing to the 'what if' scenarios of the master's touch! - May 2011

- The Scarlatti Inheritance' - This is another welcome re-read, I confess I can't remember much if any of the content. I'm not sure if that it is because I used to read them in such a hurry or because there is so much to remember and cross reference that the brain can't cope with it! Anyway, re-read or no - another fantastic example of how a thriller novel should be written. Fast, convoluted, never boring and the end is worthy of the content unlike many new authors who don't seem to know how to conclude a promising storyline! Can't wait for the next re-read ..... September 2011

- The Aquitaine Progression' - Lots of lovely hokum, pages and pages of it! This is another re-read and I'm glad I did as I have little or no recollection of the book first time around - I think it's because there is so much information and I was just wanting to get to the conclusion. This time a bit more of a leisurely read but still rushing to the finale. Another fine reminder of how dangerous Neo-Nazism could be, However, happily, despite all the odds and some 'unfinished business' good did triumph over evil. - November 2011

'The Celestial City' by Baroness Orczy

- As originally stated, not only am I not familiar with the style of writing of the Baroness Orczy but I'm not sure I've read too much that has been written in this time frame. So suffice it to say I also am no expert on the genre of the day. At first I found it a little difficult to get round the cryptic references - for instance it took quite a while before the relationship between the two main characters was revealed. Then the book is written in a sort of flashback, retrospective way but in small chunks so again - easy to get confused - but once I'd got used to the style by the time I was supposed to have been thoroughly flumoxed I had actually rumbled the plot and the re-hashed relationship as seen previously with Sir Percy and his Marguerite only this time the roles were sort of reversed. It was fun! - October 2011

I'm not quite sure what to expect here as I have enjoyed The Scarlet Pimpernel in film and on television, but never read any of the books (unless as a child - but have no recollection of this). I'd never heard of this title or any others that weren't the Scarlet Pimpernel based so I'm hoping it will be an interesting experience.

'The Atlantis Code' by Charles Brokaw

What can I say - read the first hundred pages in one sitting - already I have Russian espionage, Egyptian artefacts and the Vatican! - I really enjoyed this one - fast paced, full of action, intelligently written, good basic story line - worth a re-read - October 2011

'Madam, Will You Talk' by Mary Stewart

A recommendation by my sister - I look forward to giving it a try. Well, it started well even though I was astonished at the purity of the writing, I've become accustomed to easy reading and as a result maybe become a little lazy! Once I'd got over the shock of the writing style which I settled into quite comfortably, I became intrigued up to half-way through, then it changed direction and became a bit Mills and Boony which definitely turned me off and then right at the end, a piece of historical Nazi brutality (always a good subject) rounded it all off nicely and retribution delivered accordingly in all the right places and to all the right people! - October 2011

'The Romanov Prophecy' by Steve Berry

I wasn't sure, when I started reading this whether or not it was a re-read and I couldn't warm to it at the start, but I soon got over that, it's a fun yarn to re-read, and I really hadn't absorbed much to start with, I must have been in too much of a hurry to get to the conclusion. It was well worth re-visiting. - September 2011

'House of the Hanged' by Mark Mills

- I'm delighted to say that the twist in the story caught me out - I did think a couple of times that the pivotal 'scenario' to which I returned in my mind was never fully explained although the intimation deliberately takes the reader to the wrong conclusion, well, this reader anyway. An enjoyable romp even though on occasion I didn't enjoy the switch in time frames - I'm not a stickler for chronology but I I don't enjoy too many swings into different time frames making the whole a little untidy. - September 2011.

This is a Sunday Telegraph recommendation - my interest was stirred by the fact that the book is set in the 1935 but started in post-revolution Russia in 1919.

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows', 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

- 'The Eighth Story, 19 years later' - not a book but a 'special rehearsal edition script' for a stage play to conclude the story of the intrepid threesome! This is actually a nice piece of hokum, not without its dark bits which have to be there because of Voldermort but I think this is meant to give us, as much as Harry, closure. For Harry it is about the last moment of his parents lives whom we know perished at the hands of the Dark Lord. For us, the last chapter of the 7th book tantalised us with the 'next generation' - here we get to know them and the 'alternate' futures that might have been but when all is said and done - despite the 'resurrections' and return of much-loved characters, the absence of Snape was palpable! The introduction of Delphi had me totally confused as this was nearly a clone of a character of the same name in 'True Blood' and served to distract. I shall watch a tv production of this, with interest, if it happens but I won't be clamouring to go to the theatre to see it as it is regrettably, too lightweight - December 2016

- It was good to re-read this book before and after going to see the film because it refreshed the story for me and also brought home that however valiantly the film tried to give the viewer a deep insight into the book, for those who hadn't read it may feel it was a lot of fuss about nothing. For myself, I thought the film ending did not do justice to the book finale (especially to my favourite and most maligned character - Severus Snape) nor to Neville's involvement nor to the parallels of the orphaned son now in the safe hands of that other famous orphan - Harry Potter. - July 2011.

- Just as an afterthought, I refused to read the books (first time around) until they were all published and then read them chronologically (yes, I know how else would one want to read them?) and was heartily sick of all things Potter at the end of Book 7 but it was good to revisit just the one book this time around.

- Thought I'd better re-read this before seeing the movie (Part 2) - didn't quite make it but was at least refreshed as to what happened in Part 1 - so far enjoying the read.

'The Silver Sword' by Ian Serraillier

- A very quick read, 30 minutes or so, but it is a full book not a short story. As with all Holocaust fiction it is not to my taste, but is based on on 'amalgamation' of experiences told to the author. Although a good read for a generation growing up in the 21st century, it is over-sanitised and the happy ending, a little too happy (think the Frank family for reality).

Review from : "Jan opened his wooden box and took out the silver sword. 'This will bring me luck,' he said to Mr Balicki. 'And it will bring you luck because you gave it to me.' The silver sword is only a paper knife, but it gives Jan and his friends hope. Hungry, cold, and afraid, the four children try to stay alive among the ruins of bombed cities in war-torn Europe. Soon they will begin the long and dangerous journey south, from Poland to Switzerland, where they hope to find their parents again."

'The Third Secret' by Steve Berry

- Another book that moves apace and is very believable. I have definitely read this book previously but it was worth a re-read which I did in double-quick time as I wanted to be reminded of the end - again, a book that did have a beginning, middle and conclusion and interwove fact and some very imaginative fiction. - July 2011

- This author has written about three subjects close to my heart, the third secret (of Fatima) as portrayed in this book, the lost Amber Room and the Romanovs - I wish he would tackle the Turin Shroud and Anastasia (two more of my interests)

- Vatican thriller! I think I've read this one before, but am more than happy to be reading it again, it was part of my holiday reading and to say I'm 'devouring' the book would not be an understatement! (And yes, OK, I like the cover colour!)

'Atlantis' and 'The Gods of Atlantis' by David Gibbins

- Mmmm - a sequel. - And it wasn't worth it - it turned into a hunt for Nazi artefacts which is best left to Robert Ludlum and if I see the word 'finning' just once more I'll fin somebody! - December 2011

- Verdict - 'Ice Station Zebra' meets 'Indiana Jones' with a pinch of 'Jason Bourne'! - July 2011

- I was side-tracked by this book as it was on offer for 1p on, and although the obligatory postage was £2.80 (no qualifying for free delivery here) I still felt made this a bargain for a brand new book on a another subject I find interesting - nothing like a mystery or a conspiracy theory for good reading as far as I am concerned! I came across this title (the author is also new to me and not surprising as this is his first novel) whilst looking at some other titles and were actually advertising that I could pre-order the sequel 'Gods of Atlantis'. No point in ordering a sequel if you haven't read the original - so here I am reading this before the other books I had scheduled - hope it's worth it!

'Madeleine' by Kate McCann

I was fortunate to purchase this edition quickly, in near-mint condition and cheaply on ebay. I'm concerned at the number of people who are parting with this book once they have read it - it isn't as if there is a global shortage ..... just a thought.

I completed the book today (4th July) and was pleased to do so. The book is, in the main, written in an easy narrative style. The beginning of the book, however, (where any author would be looking to make a positive impact) kept lapsing into some very strange (what I perceive as) 'Mills and Boon' dialogue as if somehow needing to emphasise something that was not coming forward naturally from the author or she was having difficulties in expressing adequately what the editors felt was needed to put a more 'human face' across and appeal to a larger female market. Whatever the reason it was irritating and unworthy of the subject of this book - Madeleine. There is a continuous reference to how 'pretty' Madeleine was and I have to wonder if there would have been such a sustained badgering of our consciousness if the child had been in any way plain. I wanted to get to know Madeleine, I can see for myself from the photographs that she is an endearingly pretty child. At no time did I feel many emotions, particularly remorse, from the author although 'guilt' is a recurring theme. The word 'offensive' occurs on several occasions - mostly when things were not going as the author thought they should thereby transferring the 'guilt' to somebody else. In these instances in particular the author came over as controlling and I was unable to feel any empathy for her. I felt two things were extremely strange and difficult to accept - the first that the author did not feel at any time that she and her husband may not have been fated to be parents. Using their privileged position as a medics they were able to participate in artificial insemination programmes to generate both pregnancies, despite mentioning early in the book the heartache they had witnessed when the procedure failed in others. Much is written about the power of prayer, from the start, the authors' devout Catholicism is floated as a banner and yet the manner of conception is not supported by the church - once again, the McCanns show us how much more important their needs are than that of anyone else. The second which I find 'offensive' and 'unforgiveable' although I am not 'incandescent' is that the author (and by extension her husband, Madeleine's father), at no time, reveals any remorse or understanding of wrong-doing when abandoning three young children on more nights than just the one in question, when Madeleine became the innocent victim of neglect, and they were found out in their wrong-doing..

I hope the child is safe and may one day face her parents and ask them what they were thinking of when they left her and the twins, unattended in a foreign country. - July 2011

'The Last Dance' by Denys Blakeway

Back in my favourite decade - this book is described as '1936 - The Year of Change.' Astonishingly the first thing I discover is that the death of George V was 'hastened' so that he did not 'linger' too long to avoid giving the country instability between his death and the accession of the future Edward VIII who was already deemed unstable enough without giving him any further excuses to delay his responsibilities as the new monarch. Second great fact is that before Edward and Mrs. Simpson became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, a title that was created for them, Edward had hoped that Wallis would eventually be crowned with him, but that when they married she would become either the Duchess of Lancaster or Duchess of Cornwall. I wonder if it was a bit of mischief on somebody's part to suggest Camilla become the Duchess of Cornwall as 'Princess of Wales' was considered unsuitable and only the monarch (of either gender) is permitted the title of Duke of Lancaster. Currently our present monarch, HM Queen Elizabeth is the Duke of Lancaster which is the only title ever held by a living monarch.

There is a lot of information here that reminds me of instances I have read about or seen in films or been made aware of somehow. For instance, in the film of 'The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie' at the end of the film, Sandy (one of Miss Brodies' 'Crème de la Crème' chosen few)quite cruelly and deliberately tells her that one of her besotted pupils had run away to fight in Spain and been killed (the novel is set in the late 1930s at the height of the Spanish Civil War). The Last Dance refers to a real-life person, Felicia Browne, who was 'the first British Volunteer to die in the Spanish Civil War.' Secondly the book refers to Canon Hugh Richard Lowrie Sheppard who, in 1936, set up the 'Peace Pledge Union' which still exists today. Elinor Brent-Dyer, in her war-time stories of the Chalet School introduces a 'Peace League' whereby all the pupils pledge to promote peace however they can as the war clouds loom over Europe and their German, Italian and Austrian friends are dispersed back into the Reich. As the PPU web-site states they were started in 1934, I wonder if EBD already knew of the existence of this school of thought, approved of it and introduced it to her pupils so that they would have a better understanding of the horrors of war.

This book also scores high points with me as it stresses the importance of the film 'Things to Come' in the run-up to war. The book ends with the fire at Crystal Palace, which was a monumental occurrence and great tragedy, it also mops up how some of the major characters ended their year rounding off the whole in an expert manner. Somewhere in that final chapter mention was made of the coincidence that Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall paralleled some of the actions of Wallis Simpson and the really remarkable fact was that a Cat Show was due at the Crystal Palace, which was obviously as omni-purpose as the current Millennium Dome, two days after the fire and that luckily the cats due to go on show had not yet been drafted in - I should home not too! Two days in cages - the very thought! Excellent factual book, lagged a little in places but full of really well put together and enlightening information for anyone who enjoys the period (as I do). - June 2011

'Babylon Revisited' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A trilogy of short stories : 'Babylon Revisited', 'The Cut-Glass Bowl' and 'The Lost Decade'

- This is the second trilogy of short stories written by F Scott Fitzgerald that I have read, the first being the compilation which included the story of Benjamin Button after seeing the film of the same name. Fitzgerald has a quirky style that appeals to me and I have enjoyed all his short stories. After reading 'The Cut-Glass Bowl' which stirred up my hatred of Crystal (Kryształ so beloved of post-war Poles) and made me wonder if I had read this story in my dim and distant youth and whether it influenced my dislike of this particular glassware? - June 2011

'Story of a Secret State - My Report to the World' by Jan Karski

- Despite trying to read this book in, no more than two chapters at a time, I failed miserably and found myself racing through reading a minimum of three chapters at a time. It is compelling reading, moving at a fast pace and never losing momentum despite (or in spite of) its many and varied levels dealing with bureaucracy in its most basic form to the recounting in factual detail the bestiality performed in the Nazi Concentration Camps based in Poland. A book every generation of Pole or descendant with Polish roots should be proud to read. I would encourage anyone chancing on this review or seeing any of the professional reviews to give the book a go and see how you feel at its conclusion. - June 2011

- I have now read the first four chapters of this book - it is the sort that needs reading in greater chunks than just one chapter at a time. The removal of the author from his comfortable and familiar surroundings immediately reminded me of 'A Journey Without a Ticket' written by Krystyna which I read earlier this year. My parents also went through this uprooting and both books bring home the emotions they must have experienced very strongly; my mother when she was forcibly carted off to Siberia in a cattle truck and my father extracted from his military life to prisoner of war status.

- I have just ordered this book and it will take precedence over other reading as I have heard of it for years but despite being first published in 1944 it has never been available in the English Language before now ..... (and the year is 2011!) - May 2011

The 'True Blood' Series : 'Dead Until Dark', 'Living Dead in Dallas', 'Club Dead', 'Dead to the World', 'Dead as a Doornail', 'All Together Dead', 'Definitely Dead', 'Dead to Worse', 'Dead and Gone', 'Dead in the Family', 'Dead Reckoning', Deadlocked' and finally 'Dead Ever After' by Charlaine Harris

- After Dead - an appendix giving a brief explanation of the future happenings to minor characters and fleshed out a little more for more major characters current and previous. Clever idea, apparently requested by fans. Helps to round everything off nicely. - July 2017

- Dead Ever After - so I've finally reached the finale (although there is a 'character mop-up' to round everything off) - the introduction and first couple of chapters are in a different but welcome style - this is a farewell but there's no sentiment at this stage. There are various references to the series as the book progresses, which is helpful when a reader, such as I, had intervals between the books. Sookie is surrounded by familiar, but changed, principals and very quickly we lose a character we have known throughout. The fabric of Sookie's home life has changed drastically and she, as well as the reader have many adjustments to make. The penultimate chapter made me jump out of my skin, good to know I can still be surprised! Then we are returned to calmer waters and closure, of sorts, not complete by satisfactory, is reached. Thanks Charlaine Harris for a fun ride! - July 2015

- Deadlocked - this was a very slow start and the 'Fae' characters don't carry a lot of substance (but maybe that is the nature of the 'fairy' element). After meandering for a while and casting doubt on the majority of the main characters, the end caught me by surprise. (Better that than being bored)! An entire swathe of the series has been removed and the book is definitely leading us to a final and concluding chapter. Having said that, there is a follow-up book which ties up all the loose ends and unanswered fates of some of the characters which will have led to speculations by the die-hard fans (of which I am not one). I'll be interested to see how it all ends in the final book.

- Dead Reckoning - certainly gives us a high body count and some very determined and nasty characters. This book also gives us more of an insight into the 'fae' (Sookie Stackhouse's fairy kinfolk) lore and explains how it cascaded down the human-fae mix and how Sookie was 'gifted' her extraordinary power. She also finds a very specific hidden 'treasure' from the grandmother which is bound to come in handy later in the series. Happily she did not squander its one and only 'use'. Her great-uncle (Jason lookalike) comes to stay and is restoring the attic region - several light-hearted moments accompany this relationship and Sookie 'consciously' uncouples herself (sorry could not resist), with the aid of some witchcraft, from Erik! It's an easy read and I look forward to the next instalment with a bit more enthusiasm - July 2014

- Dead in the Family, another story trying desperately to expand into new territory and not failing miserably as such but failing. In previous books there is a hint that one of the characters may have been a certain very high profile American soul singer who served with the Army in Germany and died of an overdose - his widow subsequently appeared as Bobby and Ray's love interest in 'Dallas'. Their former residence, known as 'Gracelands' is now a shrine/museum (enough said?)! Anyway, we know from 'Men in Black' that this version can't be true (blood - ha ha! LOL) - I digress! The character, named from the start as the former Tsarevich Alexei Romanov, who appeared to bulk up this story, peaked my interest but it soon disintegrated as I did not enjoy the way the character was written up and the ending was unworthy, but then I think that the author has now totally lost her way and it isn't really surprising that the television series took an entirely different route - only about four books to go ...... - February 2014

- Dead and Gone, I read this one whilst in hospital as by then I was needing some light relief. Although the formula remains the same this time we are treated to some extended fairy information and a throw-back to the time when Sookie presided at the hotel convention when the 'supes' and vampires were attacked (see All Together Dead). The entire novel seems to be based on attempts to assassinate Sookie coming from expected and unconventional quarters - it leaves you wondering who can be trusted. Series 5 of True Blood has just concluded on television and so far it has not stayed with the books except for character names and supernatural behaviour ..... - October 2012

- Dead to Worse concentrates on the were-community and introduces two new family members for Sookie - her great-grandfather (pure fairy) and her late cousins' child (a telepath in the making) so that the saga has a reason to continue. We lose the were-tiger in this book as he switches allegiances and Sookie determines she cannot remain involved with him, the witches have their day with another ecto-reconstruction (it's a great and innovative idea but should not be over-used to solve crimes) and Bob the cat is reinstated to human form. It is good to see Sam playing a more prominent part, but regrettably nothing suggests that he will remain anything but the owner of Merlotte's bar. We get passing references to some former characters thereby keeping them alive. Is Charlaine running out of original ideas and just wanting to keep up the commercial aspect? - June 2012

- Definitely Dead is, chronologically the novel before All Together Dead (ATD), so I was a bit annoyed with myself for not having checked the sequence of the books. Reading them out of sequence certainly explained a few things that had confused me about ATD not least the relationship between Sookie and Sophie-Ann, Queen of Louisiana. This book reveals some intimate details of Sophie-Ann's past and explains why Sookie is living with a witch in the next book. As usual an entertaining read and the high point has to be the ecto-reconstruction! If you're not sure what this is - read the book! - January 2012

- All together Dead sends us back into the world of Vampires congregating to attend a trial, Trade Fair and some other supernatural negotiations. We encounter familiar 'supes', telepaths and some new inter-dimensional creations from the vivid imagination of the author. Frankly I was bored with the naughty witch who's transformation of a man into a cat was being frowned upon and the use of telepath Sookie as 'witness' to the murder of a Vampire King and thought-bodyguard until the (literally) explosive end! The last few chapters made up for the mundane and plodding first 2/3rds of the book - whatever next and how much longer can this series sustain itself? I still have several books to go. - December 2011

- Dead as a Doornail moves away from the world of Vampires and concentrates more on the Were-dwellers - it's not only wolves you know, there are were-panthers and in this book we even discover a Tiger - I had to laugh! I had to laugh in particular because in his human form the poor man is follicly challenged! At the start I didn't quite get into the rhythm of the book, maybe because there was a break in time before it was written - or maybe it was just me - another entertaining instalment in this unique and decidedly peculiar series - October 2011.

- Dead to the World, the fourth novel in this franchise is one of the most enjoyable so far in and a most enjoyable overall read outside of the series. It is entertaining, funny and how the author is going to bring back our interest in a major character who has been marginalised in this book I just don't know. I look forward to reading the 5th instalment later in the year - August 2011

- Club Dead is the third in the series that I have just completed with a certain amount of enjoyment not least because Bill, our heroine's 'boyfriend' doesn't really feature large, sorry Bill but for a 200-year old vampire you don't have too much substance at this time. I had to laugh out loud when the penny dropped as to a potential previous existence of 'Bubba' but as I have seen 'Men in Black' I know it can't be ...... or can it? Anyway, suffice to say I'm glad I didn't read the blurb on the back of the book before drawing my own conclusions. Eric the Vampire and Alcide the 'Were' (short for werewolf) are two very engaging characters in this particular episode of the saga. Enjoyable to read. - May 2011

- Having watched three series of the television adaptation, both Andrew and I were curious to see how the books would appeal to us. I gave Andrew the set for Christmas and he had read all ten books by the end of January - so not difficult reading then? I have decided not to read them in one go and have so far read the first book and am about to embark on the second. The book I have read is written in an easy style and having seen the television series I'm forming visual images based on what I've seen and it makes it easier to concentrate on the content of the books which are based around vampires in the main and other mythological creatures, not forgetting the odd human thrown in although humans don't really have much of a lead role here. Our heroine with the unfortunate name of Sookie Stackhouse is very much a humane character and very prone to stereotypical outbursts expected from a blonde waitress - a little unkind perhaps and there is a preoccupation with what she is dressed in on any particular occasion - or rather the lack of 'threads' as mostly her descriptions border on only this side of decency! The first book does not throw up much in terms of character profiles whereas the television series did - I'm hoping Jason will blossom into the complete Neanderthal with one brain cell that he plays in the television series, if he doesn't then that would be a real waste of a fabulous character in the making! I've now completed book 2 - the chronology is a bit confusing if you watch the TV series first and I really resented losing LaFayette at the start of this book - he's developed into such a great character in the TV series, hope Charlaine produces a character worthy of him later in the series. - April 2011.

'Ekaterinburg' by Helen Rappaport

Once I get onto a favourite topic I tend to read quite a lot about it, so I've chosen to read another book, in quick succession to the last, in order to see if the promise of new information about the Romanovs and their fateful last days is fulfilled. One of the reasons that I read so much about this period is that I still romantically believe that Anastasia might have survived. DNA has put paid to that dream but I am still not 100% convinced that the convenient finding of additional bones proves that the family died and were disposed of together. The book does fulfil its promise of new information right up to the penultimate chapter and then the final chapter and the postscript bursts the bubble rather and which I will comment on separately. The new information is a padding out of what is already known, but the author has sorted all the fragmented areas using original documentation and précised it into chronological sound-bites so that the reader shares a day at a time, over the last fourteen days or so, of every angle of the Romanovs existence and those with whom they shared it, willingly or unwillingly. The immediate criticism of the book that I have is not its content but the fact that the typeset is tiny - I'm all for saving paper but a lot of people with reading difficulties will be put off by this which is a shame because I was already already hooked after just the opening chapter! The other criticism is the conclusion, the events after the murder of the Royal Family (which is most certainly graphically described) are not written about as confidently as the rest of information and this is further reinforced by the authors notes and that damning last little bit of evidence which states that the 'DNA findings of the last bones was not conclusive at the time of publishing.' I think I need to re-read 'The Buckingham Palace Connection' by (Lord) Ted Willis. May - 2011

'Shindler's Ark' by Thomas Keneally

It has taken me a long time to get around to reading this book, maybe there was a reason for this - I don't really know. Recently a friend of mine, a teacher in Germany, stated that she felt it was correct that the film based on this book, Shindler's List, should be compulsory viewing for the current generation who are beginning to lose touch with the events of the 1939-45 conflict and the whole Nazi period which started in 1933. I have never enjoyed the film, it will not feature in my favourite film page as I am of the opinion that it is biased against the Poles in a vindictive way. The book, however, is more balanced, based on fact and written in fictional style which makes it universally easier to absorb. I think that if the book were compulsory reading it would have a longer lasting effect. It is not, by any means an easy read, but it describes much of what is already known to most people over the age of 35. - April 2011

'The Russian Court at Sea' by Frances Welch

This book has a slightly different take on the majority of the books written on the demise of the Romanovs, a particular interest of mine. It concerns what happened to the surviving members of the family including the Dowager Empress [Nicholas' mother] and Prince Felix Yusupov [one of those implicated in the murder of Rasputin].

It is a 'small' book in terms of content but shows a very humane side of the court heading for exile. The Book Reviews I read intimated that there was more in this book - in that respect I found it a bit of a disappointment, but in other respects I did learn more about the Romanovs. - March 2011

'The Glassblower of Murano', 'Madonna of the Almonds', 'The Botticielli Secret' and 'Daughter of Siena' by Marina Fiorato

- I've now read Daughter of Siena and I have to say that although there was a 'happy ending' of sorts, this sort of darkness and brutality are quite unappealing - it's a shame of course because I studied the art of this period and always found it beautiful, tasteful, light and hopeful - the antithesis is true of this book - September 2011.

- These books first came to my attention when sent me a book selection which featured 'The Botticielli Secret'. I looked up the author and decided to get all three books as each title held something of interest for me. Murano Glass, I know, is something special as my mother and sister treated themselves to a wine glass each whilst in Italy. The style is not to my taste, I prefer plainer, sleeker lines, but certainly this is an unique art form. The Madonna appealed to me from my Art History studies and of course Botticielli featured heavily in my History of Art degree which spanned 1320 to 1500 North European and Italian Early Renaissance. I nearly threw the towel in when I discovered the curriculum I would have to study as I would have much preferred the Impressionists - but I grew to love the period. The 'Glassblower' story didn't hold my attention and I felt the ending was a bit of a 'cop out.' The 'Madonna' story I enjoyed more and was glad that there was a more positive outcome to the struggle of the central character. I understood the shock tactics and use of foul language in the 'Botticielli' story but felt that an experienced author could have overcome this in a more sophisticated manner - this final book would have been the best and my favourite if not for the cheapness of the tactics. Although the style is easy to read and there is much colour in the descriptions and written with much love, I shall not be pursuing any further books by this author. - February 2011

'Dreadnought with Good Manners' by Andy Merriman

The Biography of Margaret Rutherford - this book is not all 'happiness' and 'roses', in fact it is quite sad - but very revealing. Many comics have secretly unhappy lives, Margaret is amongst them. That she was big-hearted and appreciated by many a young actor starting out in his/her profession, she was also, regrettably often taken in by charlatans. Happily her life with Stringer Davis seemed to give her some personal fulfilment. The BBC recently (7th June 2011) broadcast an 'Afternoon Play' entitled 'A Monstrous Vitality' where Margaret Rutherford was played with great aplomb by June Whitfield, one of the great treasures of British Entertainment.

'The Glass Room' by Simon Mawer

I bought this book because of my interest in the Tugendhat House and was not disappointed. Simon Mawer has written a novel which is very close to what is known of the history of the building and I have since bought a reference book written by family members which echoes much of what is in this novel. Of course the Tugendhat Villa fell into disrepair, and like the iconic Midland Hotel in Morecambe had to wait a long time for someone to come forward and save this building from dereliction and total destruction. After I put the book down I felt that I wanted someone to write about the Midland in a similar manner to generate interest in something that should be preserved. A clever read and I shall be happy to re-read this again sometime in the future.

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