books monthly   june 2018 - nonfiction and reference books

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Rescue, Restore, Redecorate - Amy Howard's Guide to Refinishing Furniture and Accessories

Published by Abrams 8th May 2018

Whether you dream of restoring an heirloom to its former beauty, or just want to modernize a flea market treasure, Amy Howard has the design and refinishing secrets you need. Here are all the furniture finishing recipes, techniques, and tips that have made Howard’s beloved classes sold-out success stories, and made Howard herself the go-to guru of refinishing and “use what you have” redecorating. Try your hand at unique painted and faux finishes, and experiment with gold leaf, distressing, and marvelous graining effects. Along the way, you will learn a treasure trove of techniques, as Howard shares before-and-after makeovers from her studio and offers impeccable step-by-step instruction in all that is needed to achieve each look.

This is a hands-on type of book, describing techniques for restoring and refinishing older pieces of furniture that no longer cut it for you. Amy Howard has all the tips and tricks you need for helping you to makeover that chest of drawers or that cabinet you really like but really want to bring more up to date. Terrific.






Book of the month - Alastair Panton: Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer

Published by Penguin 17th May 2018

Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer is a vivid and lyrical memoir of life as an RAF reconnaissance pilot in France during the hellish summer of 1940. It brings to life the fear, loneliness and pain that Alastair Panton and his comrades came to live with during those long weeks, as well as the bravery, camaraderie and humanity that made those unpredictable days more bearable. The aeroplane Panton captained throughout this intense period was a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV. He saw the Blenheim as his friend and saviour. It was the vehicle from which he and his crew were able to spot the enemy and save lives, repeatedly withstanding shooting and bombardment to facilitate dramatic landings and rescues. Yet despite these heroic adventures, culminating in his being shot down a fourth time, captured and made a prisoner of war, Panton describes Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer as a story of failure. Whilst he survived, so many of his friends and comrades did not, and this grief never left him. Panton's extraordinary book, written in the aftermath of the war but discovered posthumously, is edited and introduced by his granddaughter Victoria Panton Bacon. A candid and gripping read, this is very much the story of a pilot and his plane.


When I was a young boy discovering the joy of books, I went through my Dad's collection of Companion Book Club titles, reading anything that caught my eye, including a whole host of war books like Abve Us The Waves, Reach for the Skies, The Dam Busters and so on. Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer is right up there with those hallowed titles, putting the war in the air into a more human perspective than anything more technical. Alastair Panton's memoir is poignant, inspirational and above all, moving. A superb account of the Battle of France and a title that will join the ranks of the best loved war books of all time.



Jessie Sheehan: The Vintage Baker

Published by Chronicle Books 5th June 2018

This keepsake cookbook features fetching retro patterns and illustrations, luscious photography, an embossed foil cover, and―surprise! ―a tiny, authentically vintage, booklet inside. Blue-ribbon recipes inspired by baking pamphlets from the 1920s to the 1960s are rendered with irresistible charm for modern tasks in this sweet package. Here are more than 50 cookies, pies, cakes, bars, and more, plus informative headnotes detailing the origins of each recipe and how they were tweaked into deliciousness. For home bakers, collectors of vintage cookbooks or kitchenware―really, anyone who loves beautiful, quirky gifts―this is a gem.


This wonderful book is American, of course, because the recipe measurements are in cups, which is a shame. I know it's possible to get instant conversions online, but that's a bit of a pain when there are so many delicious recipes in the book you will want to tackle! Beautifully illustrated with mouthwatering pics of the finished products, and handsomely laid out in an almost retro style, this is definitely one for the bookshelf and, ultimately, the kitchen woorktop. Sumptuous!




Susan Doran: Elizabeth 1 And Her Circle

Published by Oxford University Press 24th May 2018

This is the story of Elizabeth I's inner circle and the crucial human relationships which lay at the heart of her personal and political life. Using a wide range of original sources - including private letters, portraits, verse, drama, and state papers - Susan Doran provides a vivid and often dramatic account of political life in Elizabethan England and the queen at its centre, offering a deeper insight into Elizabeth's emotional and political conduct - and challenging many of the popular myths that have grown up around her. 

It is a story replete with fascinating questions. What was the true nature of Elizabeth's relationship with her father, Henry VIII, especially after his execution of her mother? How close was she to her half-brother Edward VI - and were relations with her half-sister Mary really as poisonous as is popularly assumed? And what of her relationship with her Stewart cousins, most famously with Mary Queen of Scots, executed on Elizabeth's orders in 1587, but also with Mary's son James VI of Scotland, later to succeed Elizabeth as her chosen successor? 

Elizabeth's relations with her family were crucial, but just as crucial were her relations with her courtiers and her councillors. Here again, the story raises a host of fascinating questions. Was the queen really sexually jealous of her maids of honour? Did physically attractive male favourties dominate her court? What does her long and intimate relationship with the Earl of Leicester reveal about her character, personality, and attitude to marriage? What can the fall of Essex tell us about Elizabeth's political management in the final years of her reign? And what was the true nature of her personal and political relationship with influential and long-serving councillors such as the Cecils and Sir Francis Walsingham? And how did courtiers and councillors deal with their demanding royal mistress?


James You might have thought that we knew everything there was to know about Elizabeth 1, but Susan Doran's magical insight into the court of the first dominant Queen of England reveals so much that we didn't already know. This is historical fact at its very finest, the minutiae of the royal court laid bare in a readabe and very apprpoachable manner. Superb.



Jas Elsner: The Art Of The Roman Empire AD100-450

Published by Oxford University Press 10th May 2018

The passage from Imperial Rome to the era of late antiquity, when the Roman Empire underwent a religious conversion to Christianity, saw some of the most significant and innovative developments in Western culture. This stimulating book investigates the role of the visual arts, the great diversity of paintings, statues, luxury arts, and masonry, as both reflections and agents of those changes. 

Jas' Elsner's ground-breaking account discusses both Roman and early Christian art in relation to such issues as power, death, society, acculturation, and religion. By examining questions of reception, viewing, and the culture of spectacle alongside the more traditional art-historical themes of imperial patronage and stylistic change, he presents a fresh and challenging interpretation of an extraordinarily rich cultural crucible in which many fundamental developments of later European art had their origins. 

This second edition includes a new discussion of the Eurasian context of Roman art, an updated bibliography, and new, full colour illustrations.


Having just re-watched Gladiator and seen the glorious reconstruction of Rome achieved by director Ridley Scott, I was hungry for more information on the most amazing empire the world has ever known. Elsner's guide to the art of that empire is informative, entertaining and scholarly, and illustrates the genius of the citizens of Rome in a way that is quite fascinating and captivating. Essential reading for anyone with more than a passing interest in the Romans.


Jann S Wenner: Rolling Stones Covers 50 Years

Published by Abrams 24th April 2018

For the past 50 years, the covers of Rolling Stone have depicted the icons of popular culture―from John Lennon, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, and Steve Martin to Rihanna, Louis C.K., Adele, Radiohead, and Barack Obama―cementing their legendary and influential status. No other magazine has the illustrious history and prestige of having defined popular culture from the birth of rock and roll to the present.

This fantastic collection is newly revised and updated to include the covers from all 50 years of Rolling Stone history. With an updated introduction by Jann S. Wenner as well as new excerpts from the magazine and quotes from photographers and their celebrity subjects, this nostalgic journey down the memory lane of music, entertainment, and politics is irresistible.


I don't recall ever reading an issue of Rolling Stone magazine - if I wanted musical information there was Melody Maker and New Musical Express before they got into musical territory that held no appeal for me. This volume of covers of this iconic magazine is an historical collection that will make interesting reading decade by decade, (so it's the sixties for me) and generally for music students and people with an in-built interest in nostalgia. Perfectly printed and produced, it's quite simply a stunning book.




Frederick Warren Merriam: First Through the Clouds

Published by Pen and Sword 1st February 2018

The early years of aviation were marked by flimsy, unreliable machines and daring adventurous young men. One of the pioneer aviators leading the way in Britain was F. Warren Merriam who, following Louis Bleriot's first flight across the Channel in 1909, joined the Bristol and Colonial Aeroplane Company through which he obtained a Royal Aero Club's aviator's certificate. Much of the flying training in those early days was a case of the blind leading the blind and, as Merriam wrote, 'Flying was a dangerous business then. Airplanes were constantly breaking up in the air - let alone on takeoff and landing; there were no parachutes and the pilots were ever expectant of mishaps.' This was hardly the career for a decent young man and for a long time he had to keep his flying a secret from his parents. Aviation did indeed develop into a career, with Merriam becoming a certified instructor at Brooklands aerodrome. There he taught many of the men who became pioneers in aviation and others who joined the Royal Flying Corps that crossed to France in the early months of the First World War. The term pioneer could also be ascribed to Merriam for he was the first person in Britain to fly through the clouds. Until that day in 1912, it had been assumed that pilots would always stay within sight of the ground. Why would anyone want to go so high? This entertaining autobiography takes the reader on a journey through Merriam's early flying career, from how it started through his first 'shaky' solo, through a series of crashes into his First World War service. His account is the story of the early history of aviation, the development of aircraft and the personalities that led the way in those exciting, if risk-strewn days of yore.

This is the perfect read for anyone with an interest in aviation history, especially at the time of the one hundredth anniversary of the Royal Air Force. Frederick Warren Merriam was one of the pioneers of early aviation success at a time when parachutes were not available while they were flying. Aviation history is in the news right now and this is an important addition to its library. Fascinating biopic of an aviation pioneer.


Hunter S Jones: Sexuality and Its Impact on History

Published by Pen and Sword 11th April 2018

Would you swig a magic potion or plot to kill your husband in order to marry your lover? These are just two of the many romantic and sexual customs from British history that you will explore as eight authors take us through the centuries, revealing that truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to love. From bizarre trivia about courtly love, to techniques and prostitution, you'll encounter memorable nuggets of provocative information that you'll want to share. It's all here: ménages a trois, chastity belts, Tudor fallacies, royal love and infidelity, marriage contracts (which were more like business arrangements), brothels, kept women, and whorehouses. Take a peek at what really happened between the sheets. Each story provides you with shocking detail about what was at the heart of romance throughout British history. Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare chronicles the pleasures and perils of the flesh, sharing secrets from the days of the Anglo-Saxons, medieval courtly love traditions, diabolical Tudor escapades including those of Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots the Regency, and down to the prudish Victorian Era. This scholarly yet accessible study brings to light the myriad varieties of British sexual mores.


I'm not sure that the word "romance" is the right word to describe what author Hunter S Jones describes in his book - there's a difference between romance and sex/sexuality, and it's the latter that's laid bare (literally) in the book. Very interesting, enllightening and entertaining though.

Joan B Huffman: Lady Frances

Published by Matador 28th April 2018

One of Lady France Balfour's eulogists noted that she would be considered one of Scotland's greatest women, but today, few know who she was or what she did for British women. Joan B Huffman's biography is an effort to set the record straight and tell the first complete and accurate story of this remarkable woman. Lady Frances Balfour's parents and grandparents were forward-thinking, and she was interested in the world of politics from an early age. When she married Eustace Balfour, brother of Arthur Balfour, she continued to be intrigued by politics. As a woman in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, however, she had practically no power, and had to seek other methods of pursuing her interests. In 1889, she found her calling in the fight for suffrage, where she was the constitutionalists' main lobbyist with Parliament. From fighting for the rights of working women to jobs and reasonable incomes; to defending the safety of unaccompanied women lured to London by charlatans; to supporting Dr. Elsie Inglis, founder of the Scottish Women's Hospitals; to serving on various government committees, including one that studied the hugely unfair divorce laws, Frances worked and served to her last day, despite daily pain from a hip problem that was incorrectly treated in her youth. Lady Frances is the only leader of the votes for women campaign to lack a biography, yet she was the only aristocrat and the only Scot to have a national leadership role in that campaign. This biography will appeal to readers interested in British history, particularly those who want to know more about a key campaigner for women's rights.


Brian J Rance: A Journey Through South-East England

Published by The Book Guild 28th April 2018

One A Journey Through South-East England: Broadstairs to Lewes follows Brian's latest walking adventures through the South-East of England. Brian has previously walked over 1,000 miles for his last two walking companion guide books, Finding My Place and Walking My Patch. In this book, Brian shares the details of four complex walks: Broadstairs to Canterbury (a journey through East Kent), Canterbury to Bethersden (scaling the North Downs and across the Low Weald), Bethersden to Bexhill (straddling the County boundary) and Bexhill to Lewes (1066 Country, Beachy Head and The South Downs). Each walk contains a detailed guide and map of the route, and the walks celebrate the geography, geology and landscape of Southern England. More than just a walking guide, A Journey Through South-East England is essential reading for lovers of the great outdoors and protectors of the diminishing landscape. Brian also delights readers with poetry along the way as his poems cover many of his observations during his walks






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