She-Merchants, Buccaneers & Gentlewomen by Katie Hickman

Reviewed by Harriet, 7 April 2020 What an enticing title! Made even more so by the sub-title, ‘British Women in India’.  Katie Hickman, who herself led a peripatetic life as the daughter of a diplomat, has dug behind the stereotypical view of the British memsahib to reveal an endlessly fascinating collection of adventurous women from…

Drinking French – David Lebovitz

Reviewed by Hayley Anderton, 2 April 2020 Before everything started to close down, the books I had been particularly anticipating, ordering, and reading, were mostly food and drink titles. Looking at them stacked up on the table in front of me I’m grateful that they are, not so much for the inspiration they offer (although…

A Little History of Poetry by John Carey

Reviewed by Rob Spence, 31 March 2020 In 1935, the doyen of art critics, Ernst Gombrich, was a young, unemployed former student with a PhD in art history.  He was commissioned by an Austrian publisher to write a short history of the world, primarily for younger readers. He managed the task in six weeks, and…

James Joyce by Edna O’Brien

Review by Rob Spence, 17 March 2020 Edna O’Brien’s position as one of the most significant modern Irish writers is undisputed, and here, in this reissue of her 1999 short biography, she tackles the life of the writer who, in the eyes of many, stands as the greatest Irish writer of them all. Her enthusiasm…

The Author’s Effects by Nicola J. Watson

Reviewed by Harriet, 10 March 2020 This splendid and fascinating book – subtitled ‘On Writer’s House Museums’ – has been a long time in the making, and is certainly none the worse for that. To get an idea of the amount of research both at home and abroad that has gone into it, you need…

Red Sixty Seven, curated by Kit Jewitt

Review by Peter Reason, 5 March 2020 When I was a small boy, back in the 1950s, I remember going on Sunday School trips to the seaside. Once we were out of London, I would be fascinated by the great flocks of Lapwing, Peewits as we knew them, I would see from the coach window…

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

Reviewed by Karen Langley, 27 February 2020 Square Haunting was published to much fanfare and acclaim recently; a book which looks at the lives of five notable women centred around a specific Bloomsbury location in London which housed them at points in the early part of the early 20th century, it promises much – and,…

Veronica by Veronica Lake

Reviewed by Harriet, 13 February 2020 I wonder how many people today have even heard of Veronica Lake. There was a time, though a relatively brief one, in which she was widely celebrated, almost as much for her trademark hairstyle as for the successful films she appeared in throughout the 1940s. This recent publication, by…

Learning Languages in Early Modern England by John Gallagher

Review by Liz Dexter, 6 February 2020 Has it ever struck you that before England obtained its empire, no one else in the world bothered to speak the language? Did you realise what a hugely multicultural place England was in in early modern times, chock-full of foreign language teachers, Italian churches, French refugees and the…

Somewhere Becoming Rain by Clive James

Review by Karen Langley, 6 February 2020 My love of the poetry of Philip Larkin is no secret; I’ve written about him numerous times on my blog, and most recently about my encounter with his last collection of poetry, High Windows. Larkin is a poet I first discovered at Grammar School and his verse obviously…

Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide, by Barry Forshaw

Review by Basil Ransome-Davies, 30 January 2020 When I started teaching popular fiction courses forty years ago, having always been more drawn to Jesse James than to Henry James, there were sneers aplenty for making crime novels, ‘pulp fiction’, the focus of academic study. It was as if I had introduced pornography to the curriculum…

So Brightly At The Last by Ian Shircore

Review by Rob Spence, 30 January 2020 In one important respect, this book was outdated at the moment it was published: its subject, Clive James, having endured a terminal illness for ten years, finally succumbed just as the volume appeared. For this reader, like the author Ian Shircore a long-term fan of James, reading became…

Impressionism (Art Essentials) by Ralph Skea

Review by Liz Dexter, 28 January 2020 Another volume in the excellently done Art Essentials series, this volume on Impressionism is written by Ralph Skea, an artist and academic who has published several books on individual Impressionists with Thames & Hudson, so a good choice with a great depth and width of knowledge. The book…

Why Women Read Fiction, The Stories of Our Lives by Helen Taylor

Review by Gill Davies, 23 January 2020 Women read a lot more fiction than men; they also buy more books, attend writers’ events, blog, exchange ideas, and form reading groups. Helen Taylor’s research documents these activities, drawing on women readers’ own words and proposing answers to her titular question, “Why do women read fiction?” In…

Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas

Review by Anna Hollingsworth, 12 November 2019 My immediate reaction was a desperately deep sigh when, pre-launch, Dana Thomas’s Fashionopolis was trumpeted as a must-read revelatory work on the fashion industry. Surely anyone with even the slightest interest in the world must at least suspect that there is something amiss with fashion; sure, shoppers may…

Home Work by Julie Andrews

with Emma Walton Hamilton Review by Annabel, 29 October 2019 Julie Andrews’s first volume of memoir, Home, told us of her childhood, growing up during the war, and her early career on stage in Vaudeville as a child star. This led to her starring in shows in London’s West End and then huge success on…

The Summer Isles by Philip Marsden

Review by Peter Reason, 17 October 2019 The Summer Isles is an account of a single-handed voyage from the south coast of England round the west of Ireland and on to the northwest of Scotland in a small wooden sailing boat. I must declare a personal interest, as Philip Marsden’s voyage followed a course similar…

Gloucester Crescent by William Miller (pbk)

Review by Annabel, 15 October 2019 Nestled between Primrose Hill and Camden Town in NW1, it’s hard to believe that Gloucester Crescent (and Regents Park Terrace which joins its ends) was ever considered slightly shabby: you’ll know the road if you saw the film The Lady in the Van. When you look at today’s house…

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie

Review by Peter Reason, 10 October 2019 Kathleen Jamie is primarily known as a poet, but her prose writing is eagerly anticipated and widely acclaimed. Surfacing is the third in a loose trilogy of prose collections that joins Findings (2005) and Sightlines (2012). I am unashamedly a fan. Findings drew nature and landscapes together with…

Street Art (Art Essentials) by Simon Armstrong

Review by Liz Dexter, 8 October 2019 The Art Essentials series aims to be engaging, accessible, authoritative, richly illustrated and expertly written and conceived, and with a bookseller and book collector who has watched the rise of street art in the public consciousness to write it and the expert designers at Thames & Hudson to…