Book Reviews

Christmas Books from Penny Post and the Hungerford Bookshop

A few years ago we tried to have a tidy up our book collection. I found a large box for the ones to be taken to a charity shop and started at the first shelf. Half an hour later, I gave up. I’d worked my way through about 60 volumes and not found one I wanted to part with. The box was used for other things and the books stayed where they were. That’s not stopped me buying more mainly from the Hungerford Bookshop because they make such good recommendations.

Books make lasting, beautiful gifts, giving hours of enjoyment (without risk of the batteries running out), transporting you through time and place, imparting knowledge and inspiration, able to provoke a mixture of emotions. Not bad for a smallish object you can carry around with you. They are also easy to wrap (and there’s a high chance you can borrow them afterwards).

The Hungerford Bookshop has compiled a useful recommended list for gifts this year, divided into several genres. Click here to see it. We’ve picked out a handful of these titles (and also added in one that isn’t on their list, but they’ll be able to order it for you if they don’t have it in stock). All can be bought in their shop or their on-line store.

It gets better – Penny Post readers can claim 10% off using the code pennypostxmas (or just mention Penny Post at the counter) when buying the recommended book any time between now and Christmas. Books can be posted out to you, or collected in store for free.

 

So, here we go:

Bah! Humbug: A Magical Retelling of A Christmas Carol by Michael Rosen and Tony Ross

This Christmas, join Michael Rosen and Tony Ross with their unforgettable retelling of Charles Dickens’ beloved classic.

In a school theatrical production of “A Christmas Carol”, the boy who plays Scrooge is extra nervous because his very busy father is in the audience. However, it’s likely his father won’t stay for the duration, due to business.

As always. Will the classic story’s message of Christmas cheer and family love reach his father’s distracted heart?

Recommended age 6+

Six Minutes in May : How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister by Nicholas Shakespeare

London, early May 1940: Britain is on the brink of war and Neville Chamberlain’s government is about to fall. It is hard for us to imagine the Second World War without Winston Churchill taking over at the helm, but inSix Minutes in May Nicholas Shakespeare shows how easily events could have gone in a different direction. The first land battle of the war was fought in the far north, in Norway.

It went disastrously for the Allies and many blamed Churchill. Yet weeks later he would rise to the most powerful post in the country, overtaking Chamberlain and the favourite to succeed him, Lord Halifax. It took just six minutes for MPs to cast the votes that brought down Chamberlain.

Shakespeare shows us both the dramatic action on the battlefield in Norway and the machinations and personal relationships in Westminster that led up to this crucial point. Uncovering fascinating new research and delving deep into the backgrounds of the key players, he has given us a new perspective on this critical moment in our history.

Over and Out : My Innings of a Lifetime with Test Match Special by Henry Blofeld

For over half a century, Henry Blofeld has conveyed his unfailing enthusiasm for the game of cricket as a much loved broadcaster and journalist. His characteristically patrician tones, overlaid with those of the bon viveur, have delighted listeners to the BBC’s Test Match Special where the personality of the broadcaster comes second only to a deep knowledge of the game and its players. With his engaging conversational tone it is easy to see why listeners feel as if they are actually at the Test match watching in Henry’s friendly company.

Now that ‘Blowers’ has decided to declare his TMS innings closed, his book reveals the secrets of life in the commentary box and of the rich cast of characters with whom he shared it, from the early days of John Arlott and Brian Johnson to Aggers and new boys Boycott, Swann, Vaughan and Tuffers. Henry is equally revealing of his own performances and self-deprecatingly recalls his live verbal misfortunes.

Like the greatest commentators and writers on the game Blofeld has always understood that there is a world beyond the cricket field. Not forgetting pigeons passing, red buses and much loved cricket grounds, Henry Blofeld writes of his favourite countries, and experiences while travelling, and meeting and interviewing many cricket-loving celebrities. His passionate and entertaining book will become one of the classics of cricket’s literature.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Funny and forthright this is refreshing and searingly honest book about what it is to be a woman today.

Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother.

Not afraid to challenge the norms it’s an empowering book I shall be giving my daughter as a young adult.

 

The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes

Lose yourself in the gripping first novel in a new series of Golden Age murder mysteries set amid the lives of the glamorous Mitford sisters.It’s 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.Louisa’s salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy – an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.But then a nurse – Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake – is killed on a train in broad daylight, and Louisa and Nancy find themselves entangled in the crimes of a murderer who will do anything to hide their secret .

Based on a real unsolved crime and written by Jessica Fellowes, author of the bestselling Downton Abbey books, The Mitford Murders is the perfect new obsession for fans of Daisy Goodwin, Jessie Burton and Agatha Christie.’Oh how delicious! This terrific start to what promises to be a must-read series is exactly what we all need in these gloomy times.? Inventive, glittering, clever, ingenious.

Private Eye Annual 2017 edited by Ian Hislop

The Private Eye Annual 2017 presents the year’s best cartoons, jokes and spoofs from the UK’s best-selling satirical magazine (also one of the most insightful and informative magazines of any kind, a scourge of the hypocrisy, pomposity, corruption, greed, naked ambition and downright stupidity in Britain’s public life).

Illustrated in colour throughout with cartoons, sketches and photo-bubbles. Now in its 21st year, the Private Eye Annual has become both a collector’s item and a perennial Christmas bestseller – the perfect secret Santa gift at under a tenner!

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

I remember reading Bill Bryson’s ‘Notes from a Small Island’ many years ago while on holiday, and crying with laughter. I became the best-selling travel book ever. This is the long-awaited follow-up.

Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed. Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognize any more. Yet, despite Britain’s occasional failings and more or less eternal bewilderments, Bill Bryson is still pleased to call our rainy island home.

Pub Walks Near Hungerford by Alex Milne-White

This book (always in our top ten since publication) is a collection of walks that start in or around Hungerford. All have a pub or two (or three) dotted along the route and loop round so that you end up at the same place you started. The average distance is between five and six miles, which should take a couple of hours from start to finish.

Enjoy some of the beautiful country side that surrounds Hungerford – the centre of the North Wessex Downs.

 

 

Mr Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood

A masterpiece of light yet poignant story-telling from Christopher Isherwood, set in the Berlin of the 1930s which also inspired the series of stories on which the film Cabaret was based.

William Bradshaw is a young Englishman working in Germany who meets and befriends the slightly mysterious Arthur Norris during an eventful train journey. Norris is truly one of the great loveable rogues of fiction, a man of great charm but lacking in almost every dimension of moral sense.

This delightfully and amusingly written novel introduces us to a world of hedonism, social unrest, political intrigue and deception in which William Bradshaw becomes entangled, all set against the ever-darkening background of the rise of the Nazis. The human dilemmas and tangled motives are, however, timeless and end on a delightfully unresolved chord. A little masterpiece.

Hope you enjoyed this list.

We’ll leave the post active for a couple of months as January and February need a bit of cheering up and a good book can always do this. After all, a book – like a dog – is for life, not just for Christmas. Which brings me back to the difficulty of freeing any space on my groaning shelves: but, look – there’s a space there, just enough room for a couple more books…

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