Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter by Robert Hutton

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Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter by Robert Hutton

Delighted to share my thoughts on the story of the MI5 agent at the very heart of Operation Fifth Column, which was the covert WWII operation that was to flush out Nazi sympathisers on British Soil.

Just a few words on what the book is about: June 1940 and Britain stands alone as Hitler eyes his next prize across the channel. Codenamed ‘Jack King’ Eric Roberts who was a former Bank Clerk from Epsom in Surrey. He was recruited into MI5 and then went on to become Hitler’s man in London. This whole operation has only recently come to light. In Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Wartime Nazi Hunter Robert Hutton goes on to tell the story through newly declassified documents and private family archives.

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The enemy within during the war was a fear at the heart of the government getting to know who they were and then infiltrate them was key to identifying the key players and also the spies who would pass on information to their spy masters in Berlin.

Author Robert Hutton must be congratulated for his well-researched book that is an incredible read that delves deep into this story of Eric Roberts.

It is hard to imagine that even when that dreadful Oswald Mosely was taken out circulation that there ordinary Britons willing to work for the Nazis and put this country at real risk of invasion.

Eric Roberts hailed from Cornwall and was spotted by spymaster Maxwell Knight. Roberts was nothing short of brave as he set about infiltrating British Union of Fascists at any time he could have caught out and then what? It was later that he rose through the ranks. This an ordinary bank clerk. Nothing short of remarkable.

As the war went on, it was decided the best way to play them was to set up their own ‘Fifth Column’ and so it was the under the name of ‘Jack King’ Eric Roberts played his best part.

‘Jack King’ was to play the Nazi’s man in London pretending to be the link and the key to the very heart of Nazi Germany. Hard to imagine that here in Briton as men and women risking their lives to destroy the Nazis that there were those who believed in the Nazi cause and wanted see their own country defeated. These were the vile anti-Semitic Nazi sympathisers that Eric was infiltrating. This was dangerous work at any time he could have been found out and almost certain death awaited. It was indeed that ‘Jack’ already being eyed as an MI5 spy and her name was Marita Perigoe who was in her own right an extremely dangerous woman who was very suspicious of ‘Jack King’ These were the people plotting against their own country passing vital information to the Gestapo but plotting Churchill’s downfall. These were the enemy within and needed to be brought to justice but at the end of the war were they indeed brought to justice. There are some surprising findings and facts that even opened my eyes while reading this riveting account.

At the end of the story the country owed Eric Roberts a great deal but did he get the rewards he deserved. I won’t reveal that here as I think this is one book that finally opens the story of a man with a smile that opened doors and revealed many secrets.

 336 Pages.

Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter by Robert Hutton was published by W&N and was published on 6th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

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The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us ~ A Diary by Emma Mitchell

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The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us ~ A Diary by Emma Mitchell

Welcome to my stop on The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell Blog Tour. It is thanks to bestselling author Joanna Cannon who pointed out Emma’s beautiful book to me and I rushed out and got myself a copy in January. As I write this piece for this blog tour I am watching a small group of Long-tailed Tits playing around the tree and one of the Long-tailed Tits comes and sits on the window ledge and looks through the window at me. It is as if it knows I am writing this important blog post. Nature really can inspire and heal.

At the end of this Blog Post there is thanks to Michael O’Mara Books a chance to win a copy of this beautiful and important book.

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For Emma Mitchell who has suffered with depression (or the Grey Slug) as she refers it to moved away from the built up city to Cambridge and close to the fens. It was at this point that Emma discovered the real beauty of nature and it really became natures cure.

With each walk there would be photographs and collecting natures little gifts as well as drawing and painting and it is here within the pages of The Wild Remedy that you really get to see and experience the both the writer and artist that is Emma Mitchell. A real joy and a pleasure to read. But there is a purpose to this beautiful book. This is Emma’s guide to the natures calendar year. Starting in October as the leaves turn to their stunning colourful display before it shuts down for the winter this is a month by month guide on how to see nature in all its real beauty. A year of exploring and a year of discovering the flora and fauna of the walks Emma took close to her home and it is through words and paintings and

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photographs that Emma opens up and candidly talks about her depression and also the darkest of times as Emma battles Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

But it through the walks and discovering nature through the year the change from Winter to Spring, a bird’s feather so delicate and intricate. Often Emma would walk with her Lurcher, Annie who is her walking companion and together seek the peace that only nature can give.

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When Emma returns home, she recounts her walk with her writing and photos as well as her sketches and paintings. The Wild Remedy is not just a book about nature it is an important book about allowing ourselves to be at one with nature and also how nature can help us on our road to healing. A book to treasure and also to help each and everyone one of us. Highly Recommended.

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You can find out more about Emma Mitchell via her website: Silverpebble.net and also via her Twitter page: Silverpebble

For more information on Michael O’Mara Books visit their Twitter page: @OMaraBooks or their website: mombooks.com

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PRIZE DRAW – A CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF THE WILD REMEDY BY EMMA MITCHELL.

For a chance to win a copy of stunningly beautiful The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell. Head to my Twitter account @thelastword1962 Follow and Retweet either the Review or Prize draw Tweets. The competition closes on Friday evening 22nd March at 7pm.

Please note: This is a UK only competition and the winner will be drawn and notified by a DM message on Twitter. Michael O’Mara the publisher of The Wild Remedy will be sending the lucky winner a copy in the post. Good luck!

 

192 Pages.

Thank you to Alara Delfrosse for the review copy of The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell.

The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell was published by Michael O’Mara and was published on 27th December 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell – The Blog Tour

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Virginia Woolf in Richmond – Peter Fullagar

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Virginia Woolf in Richmond – Peter Fullagar

Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard moved to Richmond at around the same time as the First World War and remained here for ten years. (1914 – 1924). It was as we know the Virginia was more associated with Bloomsbury area of London. Author Peter Fullagar explores this part of the writer’s life in Virginia Woolf in Richmond. (Aurora Metro Books).

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Many of Woolf’s admirers will know of the health problems that she went through. It was the move away from Bloomsbury an area that Virginia Woolf is so closely associated with that many will of course not fully realise that is was the move to Richmond-upon-Thames and the home that was Hogarth House that she came to love.

It was here that Virginia Woolf settled and some of her greatest writing was to have been written during the ten years. But that was not all and Peter Fullagar goes on to explain that this is where Virginia and her husband set up Hogarth Press set up in 1917 until she relinquished her role in 1938. In the book the writer also looks at the time she lived at Hogarth House and a time of great change when WWI ended and this time came to influence her writing using letters and diaries.

This really is a time capsule of a book that focuses of the writer’s life in this part of Surrey and of a time of real change in the life of Virginia Woolf and really does away with the theory that she never really settled in Richmond.

I have learned so much by reading Virginia Woolf in Richmond and this is published to coincide with a fund raising campaign to for a full-size statue of Virginia Woolf and details of the campaign can be found here: https://www.aurorametro.org/virginia-woolf-statue and you can follow more news on their Twitter page @vwoolfstatue If you enjoy the writing of Virginia Woolf then I can highly recommend Virginia Woolf in Richmond by Peter Fullagar.

Follow Peter Fullagar on Twitter: @peterjfullagar or visit his website at: Peter J. Fullagar

You can learn more about Aurora Metro Books on Twitter: @AuroraMetro or via their website: Aurora Metro Books

240 Pages.

Thank you to Aurora Metro Books for the review copy of Virginia Woolf in Richmond by Peter Fullagar

Virginia Woolf in Richmond by Peter Fullagar was published by Aurora Metro Books and was published on 7th November 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel

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No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel

Some people have dreams of opening and running a bookshop. For Françoise Frenkel this was her dream She loved books when she was growing up. In No Place to Lay One’s Head (Pushkin Press) is Françoise’s memoir. A Jewish woman born in Poland opened her bookshop La Masion du Livre which was a French bookshop in Berlin in 1921. A dream come true. Her memoir was published in 1945 in Geneva to a small press but then was discovered in a flea market Nice in 2010.

Françoise was obsessed with books when she was growing up in Poland then after her studies she started as a bookseller before opening her own bookshop. The came Adolf Hitler and the birth of National Socialism. Soon Jews in Germany became a target and shops owned and run by Jews became a target. Then came Kristallnacht (shards of broken glass in the streets) when shops and property were targeted. In July 1939 in fear for her life she fled Berlin leaving behind her beloved French bookshop and headed for Paris. Then as the war engulfed France she had to leave Paris and then it was a case of moving from one safe house to another to escape the round-up of those Jews in Vichy France who fled to this part of France to seek safety. For Françoise she missed this by just moments. Now she needed to find somewhere to hide and then escape before she was arrested and then sent to a concentration camp.

There was of course those in Vichy France who would easily tell the authorities of her whereabouts but at the same time there was those who bravely hid those Jewish men, women and children knowing too well if caught they would be tortured and then killed.

It was June 1943 that with help Françoise managed to cross the border and arrived in Switzerland. She was safe. It was here she sought solace in writing No Place to Lay One’s Head and was published in September 1945. Only selling a small number of copies. Françoise Frenkel’s memoir was then discovered in a flea market in France in 2010 and translated into English. Though there is no mention of Françoise’s husband who was captured by the Nazis and was murdered at Auschwitz during 1942.

This is a truly heartbreaking memoir written just after she escaped France to neutral Switzerland. It is also an astonishing read and one I could not put down once I had started and after I had finished I wanted to know more about Françoise Frenkel. This is a book that cries out to be read and No Place to Lay One’s Head is highly recommended.

In the years that followed the war I can only hope that Françoise found the peace she craved. Françoise Frenkel died in Nice, France in January 1975.

304 Pages.

Thank you Tabitha Pelly for the review copy of No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel

No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel was published by Pushkin Press and was published on 31st January 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

The Long Night – Ernst Israel Bornstein

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The Long Night – Ernst Israel Bornstein

I am so very grateful to Noemie Lopian. Noemie is the daughter of Ernst Israel Bornstein and back in December she contacted me about her father’s book The Long Night. This is his first-hand account of what Ernst endured and witnessed in seven concentration camps. January 27th 2019 is Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah) and a day we remember the six million of Jewish men, women and children who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.

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Ernst was just 17-years-old when the Nazis arrived at their Polish home in March 1941 and arrested him and in front of his fearful mother he was beaten and marched off to a labour camp. Glancing up at the window of their home was his mother. He was not sure when he would see her again. For Ernst this was the start of years of one concentration camp to another and the death marches were many were murdered while being marched from one camp to another.

The vision of seeing his tearful mother from the window of their home stayed with him. He was never to see his mother again. I read that from an extended family of 72 only six survived the Holocaust one was his sister.

To survive seven concentration and the murderous death marches was nothing short of a miracle for Ernst. Witnessing those close to him and the friends he made being killed would live with him forever. Ernst learnt how to survive in the concentration camps from one day to another it was a strategy that kept him alive. Keeping alive deep within him his love for his family. A burning desire deep inside to survive and see them again. But as time passed and stories of mass murder at other camps he was never sure were his family was or if they were still alive.

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Gross-rosen Concentration Camp, Lower Silesia

I have over the years read many books on the Holocaust and also survivors own stories. The Long Night deserves a place in history purely because of how Ernst Israel Bornstein describes in his own emotional words. It is the historical accounts from survivors of the Holocaust that are important as they tell the reader what it was actually like because they were there and witnessed the horror on a daily basis not knowing that as a new day dawned if they would ever see the sun go down that evening. These are their words.

The Long Night for Ernst lasted from the time the Nazis invaded Poland until he was liberated by the American Army. It was a Long Night that lasted over 5 years. Ernst Survived and lived to tell the world his story. It is hard to imagine how anyone could remember so much and in great detail. How he watched those around him being cut down or reduced to just nothing as they were given so little to eat yet treated brutally day and night.

It was survival of the fittest and they would fight for a scrap of food not knowing when they would get to eat again. Some reduced to eating blades of grass to try and survive.

Survive Ernst did and after the war he went to medical school and became a loving father. Survivors of the Concentration Camps have to then survive life after the camps and learn in their own way to survive. Many cannot speak of the time in the camps until many years later. It was in 1967 that Ernst published his account of life at the hands of the Nazis with ‘Die Lange Nacht’ in Germany.

Ernst Israel Bornstein died in 1978 of a heart condition. His daughter Noemie with the help of a translator published the English edition The Long Night (The Toby Press) in 2015 with a prefaced later by the then Prime Minister David Cameron.

Both Ernst’s parents and two sisters perished at Auschwitz.

I will continue to share the stories of Holocaust survivors through my blog as I have always beleived it is important to keep their stories alive for future generations.

384 Pages.

@nolorelmini 

@HMD_UK

@HolocaustCentUK

#HMD2019

Thank you Noemie Lopian for a copy of your father’s book The Long Night.

The Long Night by Ernst Israel Bornstein was published on 21st January 2015 by Toby Press LLC and is available through to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

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The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

2019 marks the 10th Anniversary of the Wellcome Book Prize. As part of the celebrations there is a Blog Tour and each of the winning books from 2009 to 2018. I am delighted today to bring you the winning book from 2016. The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink.

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This is the true story of Cathy’s brother Matt who in 1990 was hit by a car on the way home from a night out. As Matt lay in hospital just a few weeks before his GCSE results were to be announced Cathy and her parents sat beside Matt as he lay unconscious. Matt was never going to regain consciousness. Then as the hospital announced that there was no more that they could do for Matt they decided to take Matt home and for eight years they cared for him. Then the painful decision to apply to the courts to allow them to withdraw feeding him and allowing Matt to die.

This is an immensely powerful and moving memoir that tells the story of those years and the utterly heartbreaking decision to allow Matt to die. The pain and guilt must have been so overwhelming as hard as a decision as it was it was a decision to allow Matt to finally rest in peace and allow both parents and Cathy to grieve and start the long road to live again.

But for Cathy this was no easy journey, the grieving continued and depression sets in. Days when she thought she could cope but the depression was always in the background. It is not easy to write about someone so close to you and their death and how it hits you even years later always hoping for a miracle. Sadly, for Matt there was no miracle and left Cathy in a void. She sometimes believed it would have been better if it was her not Matt involved in the hit and run.

We are left to cope, they say with time it gets easier and life goes on? But the guilt remains. Why Matt and not me?

The Last Act of Love is devastatingly raw and powerful but also one of courage. Highly Recommended.

256 Pages.

@wellcomebkprize

Thank you to Charlotte Cooper (Midas PR) for the copy of The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink

The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink was published by Picador and was published on 2nd July 2015 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

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The Books that made my year – 2018

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As another year comes to a close we look back on 2018 and the news might be full of bad news but in the world of books it has been another great year. Sales are continuing to grow in both physical hard copy but audio books are also booming. This really is great news and added to this more independent books shops have opened during the year with the trend set to continue. With the high street struggling like never before it is just heartening to see the growth of sales in books. Just a few years ago some were saying the days of the hard copy book were doomed.

2018 will be a year that I will remember for years to come. So many great books have been read some sadly I have not had time to read and will miss this end of year review. I look back with great memories to take away from this year whether it the honour of being asked blog about some of the books and authors for The 2018 Jewish Book Festival to being invited to assist with a very special book On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders a day surrounded by some of the bravest men and women. Real heroes. Also to be involved with The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize a book prize that is dedicated to books on natural history and the great outdoors. Then of course there was The Lost Words project I launched for Somerset Primary Schools in August which is still going to this very day. The generosity of many that made this a success. To those behind the scenes who helped and are still helping I could not have done this without you. To the many radio interviews not just in Somerset but across the UK and also in Europe. In the early part of the Summer I was invited to take a tour of The London Library which turned out to be an incredible experience a very special place that holds over one million books on over 17 miles of shelving. You walk in the footsteps of literary giants.

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So this brings me to my 15 books of 2018. The books that made my year. This was incredibly hard as so many could have made it in.

The choices are in no particular order so there is no number one book just the best of the year.

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Our House – Louise Candlish

(Simon & Schuster) 5th April 2018

Fi Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house. The terror of knowing your life is about to be turned upside down and all the possessions of your life with Bram have gone and who are these people moving into the home they never had any intention of selling. Bram has made a dreadful mistake and there is a price to pay. Now there are score to settle. Both have secrets that they kept from each other.

Our House is a gripping domestic noir read that I recall racing through and kept up long into the night.

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All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

(Bloomsbury) – 23rd August 2018

With memories of The Great War still in the minds and memories of the community it casts a shadow across the fields as the autumn harvest approaches. It is 1933 the glamorous Constance arrives from London to write about the traditions of the Suffolk farming community. For Edie Mather adulthood is approaching and the arrival of Constance is seen by Edie to be everything she longs for. But there is something more to Constance than Edie thinks. This is a remarkable and powerful novel from the Costa Shortlisted author of Hawthorn Time.

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Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon

(The Borough Press – 11th January 2018

With a Battenburg cover Three Things About Elsie is just a wonderful and delicious story. 84-Year-old Florence has had a fall and as she lies there waiting for help to come she wonders if some part of her past is come back. Florence lives in a flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly and she wonders if the new resident is who he claims to be as he died sixty years ago. It is a beautiful, charming and profound novel from the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.

 

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Something of His Art – Horatio Clare

(Little Toller Books) – 11th October 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

The year is 1705 and the yet unknown Johann Sebastian Bach is earning a living as a teacher and organist sets off on more than a 250 mile walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck to visit a composer. This was to be a pivotal time for the young J.S. Bach and this short book tells of his walk and Horatio Clare walks in his footsteps and re-traces that walk that was to change Bach’s life. Based on the BBC Radio 3 series of the same Horatio talks of the walk, the sights, and sounds and natural history that would have accompanied Bach on this epic adventure that would see him become the greatest composer.

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The Lost Letters of William Woolf – Helen Cullen

(Michael Joseph) – 12th July 2018

William Woolf works for the Dead Letters Depot in East London were he spends his days solving mysteries that include terrible hand writing, missing post codes, torn packages to name but a few. Then he discovers letters addressed to ‘My Great Love’ and suddenly life for William Woolf takes on a whole new perspective. These letters written by a woman to a man she has not met yet, and William now starts to think that he could be the man the letters are meant for. Now he must take on his biggest mystery to follow the clues in the letters and solve the biggest mystery of all. The human heart. This is a charming and romantic novel a wonderful debut. Shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year – Irish Book Awards.

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The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood – John Lewis-Stempel

(Doubleday) – 8th March 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

For four years John Lewis-Stempel managed a mixed woodland of three and a half acres that is Cockshutt Wood and raised cows and pigs that had free reign through these woods. This is John’s month by month account of his last year managing the wood. Through the lives of the trees and the birds and animals that made this wood their home a sanctuary for the wildlife and also for the author. You are there through the changing seasons through to the final days of John’s management of the woods that became his spiritual home. This is a man in tune with the natural world and one of the country’s finest natural history writers. Longlisted for the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.

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Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

(Simon & Schuster) 11th January 2018

A scandal that will rock Westminster. This is a high profile marriage and James has been accused of a shocking crime and his wife Sophie believes in him and will protect the family. Kate on the other hand is the Barrister who believes he is guilty and will make sure he pays for the crimes he has committed.

This is an explosive thriller that will keep the reader on the edge of their chair until the very end. Superbly written with great characters. A story of marriage and power and who has it and how they use it. Totally absorbing and gripping.

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The Last Wilderness – Neil Ansell

(Tinder Press) – 8th February 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

Nature and solitude. Neil Ansell has spent the best part of his life walking the remote parts of Britain but here in The Last Wilderness he takes on the part of Scottish Highlands but doing so as he talks of his hearing loss and hoe this affects his love of the great outdoors and the birds he loved to hear that have now become silent. To be in the wilderness is to be at one with nature. It is indeed a love letter to both the wilderness and to the Highlands of Scotland. The wonderful rich writing of Neill Ansell almost makes you believe you are there walking in his footsteps. A treasure of a book. Shortlisted for The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.

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I Love You Too Much – Alicia Drake

(Picador) – 8th February 2018

A novel based in Paris and centred around Paul a quiet and lonely boy who is unloved. He spends his time watching those in his family and his rather glamourous mother Séverine and her musician boyfriend Gabriel. For a boy who closely observes his family and their daily lives, you just know one day he will see something he is not supposed to see.

Paul seeks the friendship of the not so quiet Scarlett and the patisseries of this part of Paris. Paul is crying out to be loved but what if love does not come his way. What then? This is a book I totally loved and still do to this day. So deserving to be read by a wider audience. It is deft and intelligent and so beautifully told. One book I would I would recommend.

 

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Erebus: A story of a Ship – Michael Palin

(Hutchinson Books) – 20th September 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

Michael Palin tells the story of the ill-fated journey of HMS Erebus and its crew that set sail for the arctic in search of the North West Passage. In 1845 it disappeared with HMS Terror along with their crews. What really happened? A story of the ship and its crew as Palin recounts the adventure and ultimately the biggest naval disaster. Together with photographs this makes for a remarkable read for anyone who has an interest in the sea or adventures.

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Dark Pines – Will Dean

(Point Blank) – 14th June 2018

An impressive debut by Will Dean. Dark Pines is dark, chilling and atmospheric. Set in an isolated Swedish town. An unsolved murder from two decades ago a deaf reporter trying to find a story that could make her career. Now Tuva needs to find the killer before she becomes the killers next target. But there are secrets in the pine woods were Tuva must venture. If she solves the crime she could find a way out of the small of Gavrik and finally make a name for herself. Dark Pines is the thriller that really beats all thrillers in 2018 and is the first in a series with Red Snow about to be released in January 2019. If I had to choose my book of the year Dark Pines would be that book. If you have not read Dark Pines and thrillers are your genre, then read it now!

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Owl Sense – Dr Miriam Darlington

(Guardian Faber Publishing) 8th February 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

I have been fascinated by Owls all my life and have been lucky to have travelled and seen many species of Owl in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean and I loved Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington she takes walks with her son seeking species of UK Owls. Then she travels into Europe from France to Spain, Serbia and Finland and close to the arctic lands of snow and ice. But this book not only is a story of a quest for Owls but her son Benji becomes very ill and then suddenly it is also a quest for a cure. Owl Sense brings to life the mysterious lives of Owls and what we are so fascinated with these mysterious birds.

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The Lingering – SJI Holliday

(Orenda Books) – 15th November 2018

This dark and creepy ghost story is best read during the dark hours as it really sets the tone. Though you might not want to switch the light off after.

Jack and Ali move have moved into a self-sufficient commune set in Rosalind House, the local village it is said is were witches roamed and the home itself has a dark and sinister past. But it is not long after they arrive that things start to happen. Now the residents and locals are nervous, something or someone is seeking retribution. But why? Terrifying and unnerving. The Lingering really had me spooked. Superbly written and a storyline that holds until the very end.

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Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale

(Tinder Press) – 21st August 2018

Set in the 1970’s West-Super-Mare and only son Eustace has been signed up for Cello lessons by his mother. Music is an escape for Eustace and his lessons from his teacher he cannot get enough of. But it is his mother that is not sure of the glamorous teacher. Soon though it is lessons in life and love that take on whole new meanings for Eustace. This is beautifully told story of coming of age and finding out who you really are told with real compassion. A truly wonderful read.

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The Lost Words – Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

(Hamish Hamilton) – 5th October 2017

(Non-fiction choice)

After everything this year, I could not leave The Lost Words out of my selection for the year. It has been the bedrock of my year.

Imagine a world where children no longer talk of Heron’s, Otters, Bluebells, Acorns, Conkers, Dandelion, Bramble to name but a few. Well there are around 50 words that The Oxford Dictionary for Children removed. What they did not reckon on was Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. Here is the most beautiful book imaginable. In words spoken as Spell-Poems and paintings by the amazing Jackie Morris they both bring these words back to life.

Many people across the country have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to bring this book in into Schools, care homes and hospitals. Even today many more are planned to launch. A truly remarkable book that has a life all of its own. And this story for Somerset has only just begun.

And so there we have it. As the old year ends and a new one is about to begin and so it starts all over again. It has been a pleasure and an honour to work with such incredible writers and publishers and I thank them all for their incredible work.

In 2019 I have some great plans ahead I am honoured to have been asked to be an official blogger for The Jewish Book Festival in early March. I will be podcasting through the year and hope to take the podcast on the road to talk to writers and may be a few publishers. I will be doing my usual book giveaways when time permits and also there will be The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.

Have a happy and peaceful 2019 and remember “We read to know that we are not alone”. Books take us to places and to escape all the bad news of the day.

John

The Last Word Book Review

 

Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

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Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

I love the sea and stories of the ships that have explored the seas. Michael Palin is well known for his travelling and writing but when I heard that he had released a book on the ill-fated Arctic exploration to find the North West Passage and the famous ship HMS Erebus I was incredibly excited as I have followed this story for many years. Erebus: A Story of a Ship is the story of HMS Erebus from its launch in 1826 as a warship to its disappearance in 1845.

 

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I love the sea and stories of the ships that have explored the seas. Michael Palin is well known for his travelling and writing but when I heard that he had released a book on the ill-fated Arctic exploration to find the North West Passage and the famous ship HMS Erebus I was incredibly excited as I have followed this story for many years. Erebus: A Story of a Ship is the story of HMS Erebus from its launch in 1826 as a warship to its disappearance in 1845.

The last resting place of HMS Erebus was finally discovered in 2014 and the photographs of Erebus on the Arctic seabed are just incredible. The freezing waters and lack of Oxygen have preserved the ship so well. This is where Palin starts and then winds the clock back as he tells of the birth of HMS Erebus as a ‘Bomb Ship’. She was small in size (104ft) compared to other warships of the time. After two years’ service it was converted as an exploration ship.

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HMS Erebus and Terror trapped in the ice.

On the ill-fated expatiation Erebus was accompanied by HMS Terror and the two ships under the Captaincy of Sir John Franklin set off on the disastrous expedition and were last seen in Baffin Bay in August 1845. This is really where the story really begins as the crews of both ships knew they were trapped in the ice and the only hope of survival was to abandon Erebus and Terror. The stories of the fate of the men of both ships and how they tried to survive the Arctic conditions as the dragged lifeboats packed with supplies over the ice.

What followed was dramatic search effort to find the crew and ships and Palin writes with incredible detail after so much research. The characters of the crews not to mention Sir John Franklin himself. Anyone who has read any of Michael Palin’s previous books will already know of his writing style which make this book such an incredible read and for me I have learnt so much of both the ships and crew. Contained within the book are colour and black and white photographs which are incredible all by themselves and just add to the detail. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

352 Pages.

@HutchinsonBooks  #Erebus 

Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin was published by Hutchinson Books and was published on 20th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 – Lia Leendertz

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The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 – Lia Leendertz

Do you like me follow the path of the seasons through each month of the year? I have been since my youth as the seasons turn from Winter to Spring and then the long days of Summer. I could not resist buying a copy of The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 by the award winning writer Lia Leendertz (Mitchell Beazley).

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This just has to be one of the most beautiful books of 2018. Each month is guides to nature, when to look out for the first of our birds that brighten our summers. But also if like me you are a keen gardener then this gem of a book will be perfect for you. Many are now enjoying growing their own vegetables and Lia’s handy sized book will be a handy book.

Through each month are recipes to try out and stories and folklore. There is even a cheese of the month which will appeal to all cheese aficionados like me. But overall it is the beautiful presentation and the cover and illustrations by Celia Hart that give The Almanac its real warmth.

Harking back to days gone by I found The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 just turned the clock back to seasonal almanacs I read as a boy.

It read like a scenic journey through the year.  This would make the ideal gift for Christmas and I have already bought a number of copies for friends. Highly recommended.

272 Pages.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 by Lia Leendertz was published by Mitchell Beazley and was published on 6th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

Landfill by Tim Dee

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Landfill by Tim Dee

I do have to say Little Toller are producing some incredible books. I was delighted to receive a review copy of Tim Dee’s latest natural history books Landfill. The first thing that strikes you is the jacket cover is just amazing and this is down to Greg Poole.

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Landfill is a beautifully written and produced book that takes a look at one species of bird that has now made the towns its home. Tim Dee has spent long hours studying Gulls and especially one species of Gull and that is the Herring Gull. Now many people consider Herring Gulls to be a pest. How many have been harassed when walking through a town centre especially when carrying food. I have faced similar, but these Gulls have adapted to the throw away nature of modern times.

The author has been visiting many landfill sites were the Gulls now spend most of their lives feeding off our food waste that we humans have thrown away and the Gulls have adapted to make their lives here and can find free food. So who is to blame for the populations of Gulls that many people consider as pests. The answer is a very simple one. We all are. Food waste that is discarded has to go somewhere and that is landfill.

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Tim Dee has researched the Gull populations and has spent time with fellow birdwatchers and fellow researchers in studying Gulls and their behaviour all over the country. Like Tim Dee I have spent many winters studying seabirds and especially Gulls. Travelling from the South West to as far as all corners of Scotland and the Isle of Lewis looking and watching the behaviour of Gulls and occasionally finding those much sort after rarer species of Gull.

But our town dwelling Gulls are moving in and now have free food around the clock whether that is from a landfill site or throwaway fast food in the town centres of emptying rubbish bags outside of shops. I once watched one Gull tear open a rubbish bag and rip out its contents looking for a free meal.

From following fishing boats to following we humans the Gulls have adapted to city life and they are here to stay. The real problem is us the people and how we run our own lives and throwaway culture of especially food. May be it is us who need to change.

I remember watching Hitchcock’s The Birds and for a while it scared me and I avoided Gulls but overtime I learned to love them. Landfill is wonderfully researched and makes for great reading. I loved Tim’s writing style and Landfill now sits proudly among some of my most favourite natural history books. Highly Recommended.

#Landfill  @TimDee4  @LittleToller

256 Pages.

Thank you to Littler Toller Books for the review copy of Landfill by Tim Dee.

Landfill by Tim Dee was published by Little Toller and was published on 10th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

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