Sunday, June 26, 2016

TRYING TO PLEASE - John Julius Norwich

This is an excellent autobiography by the son of Duff and Diana Cooper.

From birth to when this was written we get a very honest and very funny telling of a life, that while privileged appears never to have been taken for granted.   Yes, the Churchill's come to lunch, yes, your mother gets a one on one with the Pope in Rome but all these things were of a time and place and not unusual due to your parents social position.

From Eton to Oxford to the Foreign Office and then taking a punt to become a full time historian we meet famous and interesting people.

I love the " between wars period"in the UK and this is another brick in wall.

The author is still ticking over in his late 80's and still writing history.  A pleasure to read.

ROMMEL? GUNNER WHO? - Spike Milligan

Volume 2 of Spike's WWII biography which finds 19 Battery in North Africa.

This is biography is interspersed with fake telegrams,illustrations and is all very entertaining.  Whats true and whats made up doesn't really matter, its Spike, and its laugh out loud apart from the sad bits where you laugh quietly.

MRS McGINTY'S DEAD - Agatha Christie

Mrs McGinty's dead and her lodger is about to be hung for her murder but Poirot steps in and finds there's much more to this than was originally presented to the Court.

An entertaining yarn but with one of Christie's biggest cheating's of the reader I've come across, but if you don't get upset about this is a solid mystery.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

SWORD OF HONOUR - Evelyn Waugh

This is the final version of the three Second World War novels featuring Guy Crouchback written by Waugh.  They were originally published over a 10 year period as, Men At Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender.

From Waugh:

The product is intended (as it was originally) to be read as a single story.  I sought to give a description of the Second World War as it was seen and experienced by a single, uncharacteristic Englishman, and to show the effects on him.

There is much satire involved but gives way to farce in the way men were treated and how the army as an organisation was run.  I have read "Brideshead" half a dozen times and always thought that his best book but re-reading this I find that it is this that is his masterpiece, not his funniest but his best.

Interestingly for me is the book concludes in Split, Croatia . My father in law still lives there and where as a 14 year old was wounded fighting with the Partisans whom our main character, Crouchback interacts.  Our kids think it nifty that one of their grandfather's has bullet holes in him!

This is a great book, one to be read many times.


A collection of book reviews and diary excerpts all written by Mosley (nee Mitford) over the years.

All are entertaining and amusing with the added spice that she had generally met the subject or the author of the book she is reviewing.

She is totally disparaging of anything to do with the UK penal system, having been locked up for 3 years during WWII because she was married to the head of the UK Fascist Union, Oswald Mosley.   She married Mosley at Goebbel's house prior to the war starting so people were understandably not that tolerant!

She is also the mother of Max, recently departed from the head of F1 due to the Nazi uniform fancy dress thing, but a good collection worth reading.

THE PIANOPLAYERS - Anthony Burgess

The story of Ellen Henshaw, born before the 1st World War and that of her father, who scrapes a living playing in silent movie houses.

The first part of this book is the adventures of travelling about getting work, having her father drink or womanize himself out of work.

This part is autobiographical in that this was how Burgess's father made a living from when Burgess was an infant.

The second part of the story is how Henshaw goes on to become one of Europe's most sort after courtesan's and then on to running a string of 'Schools of Love' in Europe and Asia.

This is entertaining, a bit creepy where its related how Henshaw is seduced by a paedophile but a light read with Burgess's humour interspersed throughout.


A short biography of William Shakespeare or as Bryson says, " a short book about how little we know about William Shakespeare."

I know nothing about William Shakespeare and apart from Julius Caesar at school have read none or seen any of the plays performed, but I enjoy Bill Bryson and that's a reason to read this.

This is like any of Bryson's books, full of interesting tidbits, again about all the stuff that's not known about Shakespeare which is basically everything.  A entire industry has grown with people making a living out of guesswork and supposition, much of it ludicrous.

My favourite is Delia Bacon's theory that all of Shakespeare's works were written by Francis Bacon, this woman, certifiably insane some how has garnered a following, amazing.

So, even if you're like me, completely ignorant of Shakespeare's work this book will entertain you.


There have been several hundred adaptations of this story.   Its been done as TV, movies, comics, and radio,so the base story is reasonable well known but as the introduction says, read this forgoing all past experience with the story and you get a good tale of horror.

Its a short story 70 odd pages , so a decent bath will take care of it and its worth reading "a chilling exploration of humanity's basest capacity for evil."


'A fascinating portrait of the minds that have shaped the modern world. In an intriguing series of case studies, Rousseau, Shelly, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Satre, Edmund Wilson, Victor Gollancz, Lillian Hellman, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Kenneth Tynan, Noam Chomsky, and others are revealed as intellectuals both brilliant and contradictory, magnetic and dangerous."

The first few in this book, Rossusseau, Shelly and Marx are shown to to grade A hypocrites while others further into the book are just eccentric as you'd expect from writers.  But all the essays are worth reading.  This is one of those books that can segue you off reading other books for years.