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In their own words or from the pen of a biographer, the lives of others hold a magnetic intrigue. Indulge your curiosity here… Read and find out more about the lives of well-known figures. Want more inspiration? Head to our 'Best Autobiographies Ever' blog post filled with recommendations from our bookish friends.
Befitting its beautiful subjects, Jon Dunn’s The Glitter in the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds is a dazzling work of nature writing. Blending a thrilling sense of personal adventure with bewitching detail on the habitats, habits and mythology of these most handsome of birds, the book has huge appeal for both dedicated bird-lovers and general readers. Framed by the author’s inspiring viewing of the Natural History Museum’s hummingbird cabinet, Dunn shares how he was driven to feed his hummingbird addiction by immersing himself in their world - “I had to see them for myself. Stuffed historical specimens had sown a seed that had, in time, flourished into a consuming hunger”. To that end, he plans and embarks on a journey to see these birds with their “otherworldly, metallic and jewel-like plumages”, their “rainbow array of colours, shapes and sizes” across their global range - from the wilds of Alaska, to the very tip of Argentina. As well as taking in hummingbirds’ full geographic range (with each place and its people evoked in glorious technicolour), the book’s style has a broad wingspan too - it flits and flutters from having the tension of a thriller, the poetic impact of a literary prize-winner, and the unadulterated glee of a piece of personal passion. Having failed to find one myself (to date, at least), boy was I envious of the author’s enraptured description of seeing Bee Hummingbirds (the world’s smallest bird) during an entrancing Cuban experience that left him feeling “a little like Alice in Wonderland”.
Included in our '35 LGBTQ books to read this Pride Month and every month' collecton.
Sunshine Warm Sober embraces the joys of sobriety. This sequel to Catherine Gray’s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober covers what she has learnt over last three years, now that she has reached her eighth sober year. Using flashbacks to her past, she highlights her positive experiences of being ‘sunshine warm sober’ rather than ‘stone cold drunk’ during birthdays, holidays, dog sitting and other occasions. In her book, she explores addiction using medical, psychological and behavioural experts and case studies, discusses the role of alcohol in society, and answers thought-provoking questions such as: What does the label ‘addict’ really mean? Can you have an addictive personality? Is alcohol a parenting aid? Sunshine Warm Sober is filled with honesty, wit and warmth, as well as facts and personal stories. This fascinating read may help you to reassess your relationship with alcohol and change your life for the better.
Suffused in the author’s courage and lifelong commitment to justice, Parm Sandhu’s Black and Blue is a powerfully personal and pertinent account of her life through a thirty-year career in the Met - a distinguished career that saw Sandhu vilified and confronted with accusations of gross misconduct when she spoke out against discrimination. Told in an engaging, personable style, we are taken on the author’s extraordinary journey from her childhood in Birmingham as the daughter of Punjabi immigrants, to securing a position in the highest ranks of the Met. Forced into an abusive arranged marriage at the age of sixteen, Sandhu - remarkably - fled to London with her baby boy and joined the police, where she shone in multiple departments, from crime prevention, to the police corruption unit, to counter-terrorism. But, while rising through the ranks to become the most senior BAME woman in the Met, Sandhu witnessed and experienced countless incidences of racism and sexism. Revealing much about police procedures, the pressures and dangers Sandhu faced on a daily basis, and prejudice within the force, this is, above all, a powerful, page-turning - and often shocking - story of courage. It’s essential reading for those interested in the state of policing Britain, and for readers who enjoy memoirs with inspirational bite.
James (Scouse) O’Connell was a 22-year old Private in the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment when, along with his fellow soldiers, he was deployed to the Falklands to engage the Argentinian invaders. Three days in June describes the last few days of the war when 3 Para fought the battle of Mount Longdon. By the time the battle was over, 23 of their number were dead and 48, wounded. Sergeant Ian McKay was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. James O’Connell was left with life-changing injuries, the result of a bullet that entered his face through his nose and removed his cheek-bone and right eye. Candid, gritty and, at times, gruesome, this is a warts ‘n’ all account by the young men who were there, and told in their words. This makes the book all the more readable as it’s the perceptions, the humour, the fears, the honesty and the sheer heroism of these men that shines through. From the moment I opened the first page of the hardback, I suspected I was going to be in for a treat. The book looks and feels of very high quality and the content certainly delivered. A book for anyone with even the remotest interest in military history, this is a book to savour, enjoy and then have pride of place on any bookshelf.
An Extra Pair of Hands is an emotional journey, following Kate Mosse as she became a carer for her father, mother and then mother-in-law in a short space of time. This is a book about what it’s like to be a carer, not as a paid employee but to be there for your family at times of illness, crisis and increasing fragility – because you want to be, not because it’s just part of a job. I felt like I was there in her memories, not only during her practical day-to-day activities and dealing with their essential needs, but also the impact on her own mental health. Carers silently, stoically and heroically do what they do out of love and for little or no reward. It can be hard, both physically and emotionally – always thinking of, and dealing with, loved ones’ needs other than their own. In her book, Kate Mosse also touches on the impact of pandemic and lockdowns and the shielding of older & vulnerable people. An Extra Pair of Hands is a celebration of family and love and an exploration of grief and ageing – it’s raw, witty, heartbreaking and honest.
A wonderfully readable, thoughtful yet amusing, and sometimes painfully honest memoir from journalist Emma John as she asks: “What does happily ever after look like when your Prince Charming never shows up”. Emma is in her forties, she is not in a relationship, nor plans to be, in Self-Contained she looks at a society that views single as a temporary arrangement and, what it actually means to be on your own. Emma visits her past as she galloped through her twenties into her thirties and then entered her forties. She explores with intense personal reflection and writes with a self-depreciating wit. She is also incredibly honest and friendly, I felt as though I was having a heart to heart with one of my best friends. I have to admit to blushing beet red as I read one particular section, I still cringe at the memory of twenty-something me saying to a friend: “someone will come along when you’re least expecting it” and her vexed reply that she: “wasn’t looking”. Self-contained isn’t in the slightest bit preachy, it just feels as though Emma is allowing you into her thoughts, and in turn it made me think about mine. Chapter 14 is a wonderful closing chapter and it really, really made me smile. Self Contained: Scenes from a Single Life is a book for everyone, no matter how old you are, whether in a relationship or not, there is much to discover and appreciate between the pages.
This is the most scrumptious journal for book lovers. While it is centred around book clubs even if you’re not a book club member you could still use it as a collection point for your own booky thoughts. Sanne Vliegenthart has been sharing book love since 2008 with her Books and Quills videos. She has created the most lovely journal, with space for your thoughts and feelings on books to take centre stage. The book is perfectly sized, with a beautifully stylish cover. She gives some smart tips on starting and maintaining a book club, she is realistic about little issues that may crop up, and how much time we all get to read. Basically she is encouraging and friendly, and I think will inspire your book club with her suggestions. There is space for your to write about 50 books, a helpful ribbon marker, and at the end Sanne suggests some cracking reads for you to consider as your book club picks. Book Club Journal is not only lovely to look at, it just begs to be filled in, and would make a perfect gift for someone else or yourself!
Poignant, powerful and pacey, Ellie Midwood’s The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz tells the remarkable true story of Mala Zimetbaum, a woman who did the all-but-impossible when she escaped Auschwitz with her Resistance fighter lover. It’s an extraordinary tale of courage and heroism in the face of impossible odds and excruciating circumstances - a tale told with much compassion in The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz. It’s autumn 1943 and “Edek had had enough. The grim realization of it dawned on him along with the first slanting rays of the sunset bleeding red atop the barracks’ roofs as he watched SS Officer Brück stomp repeatedly on an inmate’s head with the steel-lined sole of his tall jackboot.” This brutally arresting opening is typical of the book’s style - incisive, and physically impactful. A veteran of the camp, Edek is a political prisoner and resistance fighter – and he’s long been determined to escape. Meanwhile, Belgian-born Mala is at Birkenau Women’s Camp, where she works as a “runner in charge of delivering SS orders and official documents from one block to another.” As such, she “no longer had anything to fear from the wardens or the Kapos. An official armband with an insignia of a Läuferin on her left bicep, civilian clothes and dark-blond hair pulled into a bun instantly distinguished her from the general camp population.” But having been through the horrors of arriving at camp (“First, they took her freedom. Then, they took her hair”), and feeling disgust for the utter lack of humanity, she - like Edek - has resolved to regain her freedom. In the meantime, she uses her position to save lives. When they meet, Mala comes to believe in Edek’s escape plan, comes to believe that there might be light through these darkest of days - and through love. Shot-through with tremendous tension and compassion, this comes recommended for readers who enjoyed The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Purchase The Girl Who Escaped Auschwitz from: Amazon - Currently 99p Apple Kobo Google
An incredibly thoughtful, eloquent, and revealing book about policing by John Sutherland. Not only is it absolutely fascinating, there are also a whole heap of lessons that can and should be learned within its pages. John spent 25 years with the Metropolitan Police, during that time working his way to Borough Commander, leading teams as they dealt with some of the most sad and incredibly damaging aspects facing our society. Now retired on medical grounds, John is a sought-after public speaker and commentator, he regularly speaks on TV and radio, and writes for major newspapers. I can highly recommend his first book, Blue: A Memoir, this new book goes a step further. John issues an invitation to walk with him and witness the scenes behind the blue and white cordon tape. He talks about ten issues we face in the modern world, from domestic violence through to terrorism. He still cares about and loves policing, he also has huge compassion, this, linked with his ability to see the reality of policing, means he can open our eyes. Accessible, considered, meaningful, shocking, inspiring… Crossing the Line has been chosen as LoveReading Star Book, Book of the Month, and a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month. It really is the most crucially important piece of writing for the whole of our society to absorb, all I can say is, read it! Read our Q&A with John Sutherland.
Comedian Geoff Norcott’s Where Did I Go Right? How the Left Lost Me is an honest, amusing and thought-provoking account of how a working-class lad raised on a council estate by a unionised father and matriarchal mother ended up voting (wait for it…) Tory. Framed as his journey to discover how this unlikely turn of events came about (he was surely destined to be Labour red - how on earth did he turn blue?), this lively memoir is packed with engaging anecdotes and provocative reasoning. While I stand firmly at the other end of the political spectrum, it provided fascinating and well-considered insights into how the half think and, as such, should be read by both Reds and Blues. “Given my solid working-class background and performing arts job, it’s obvious to everyone I meet that I should be Labour through and through. I’m a comedian who grew up on a council estate with two disabled parents, and my dad was a trade union man. But that’s not how I voted.” So Norcott states near the beginning of the book, setting out his unusual stall before tracing his left-to-right swing back to his adolescence. “My dial was moving all the time”, he recognises amidst growing disillusionment with New Labour - though his first non-Labour vote didn’t go to “those Tory bastards”, to quote his dad. From the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers and credit crunch, through to Brexit, Norcott’s funny (and moving) personal experiences are smartly woven into his political musings and analysis.
An intriguing and yet desperately sorrowful look at the unresolved case of Sophie Toscan du Plantier who was murdered outside of her holiday cottage in 1996. Due to the remote location in West Cork, this particularly violent killing has been described as a ‘locked room’ murder mystery. Nick Foster is a journalist and author, he began researching the story in 2014 and has spent six years: “living the story, inhabiting the puzzle”, and while the twists and turns are undoubtedly fascinating, he has a considerate and compassionate touch. This is an eye-opening account, within a short time the police had a suspect, Ian Bailey, however he was released without charge. Nick Foster became involved in the case when Bailey sued the Irish state, claiming: “the Irish police had engineered a massive stitch up”. We are privy to witness statements, police notes, and transcripts, plus of course Nick Foster’s own investigations as he got to know Bailey. I felt as though I was in the middle of the investigation with every aspect over the years since the murder covered, and the last chapter sent an icy shiver down my spine. Perfect for true crime fans, Murder at Roaringwater is a compelling and riveting story of a truly dreadful crime.
From the award-winning author of Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret comes a fascinating, hilarious, kaleidoscopic biography of the Fab Four. John Updike compared them to ‘the sun coming out on an Easter morning’. Bob Dylan introduced them to drugs. The Duchess of Windsor adored them. Noel Coward despised them. JRR Tolkien snubbed them. The Rolling Stones copied them. Loenard Bernstein admired them. Muhammad Ali called them ‘little sissies’. Successive Prime Ministers sucked up to them. No one has remained unaffected by the music of The Beatles. As Queen Elizabeth II observed on her golden wedding anniversary, ‘Think what we would have missed if we had never heard The Beatles.’ One Two Three Four traces the chance fusion of the four key elements that made up The Beatles: fire (John), water (Paul), air (George) and earth (Ringo). It also tells the bizarre and often unfortunate tales of the disparate and colourful people within their orbit, among them Fred Lennon, Yoko Ono, the Maharishi, Aunt Mimi, Helen Shapiro, the con artist Magic Alex, Phil Spector, their psychedelic dentist John Riley and their failed nemesis, Det Sgt Norman Pilcher. From the bestselling author of Ma’am Darling comes a kaleidoscopic mixture of history, etymology, diaries, autobiography, fan letters, essays, parallel lives, party lists, charts, interviews, announcements and stories. One Two Three Four joyfully echoes the frenetic hurly-burly of an era.
Emotionally powerful and provocative, this true story really packs a punch. At 18, Joey O’Callaghan was signed up to the Witness Protection Programme after he gave evidence in court that put away two violent drug bosses. Joey had been part of a drugs gang since he was 10, for his own safety after giving evidence he was given a new identity and relocated to England. Award winning journalist Nicola Tallant writes his tale, with his voice. A journalist for 20 years, she has: “broken countless crime exclusives, delved into the darkest corners of the underworld and come face to face with some of the most notorious gangland criminals”. She is called on for her expertise about organised crime to contribute to television and radio, and is an author of books about crime, cults, and murder. In other words, she really does know her stuff. She turns this true story over to Joey and allows us to see the grooming, the broken childhood, and the crimes as they take place with his eyes. We also see Joey’s life after he was given a new identity, and how that affected him. The before and after the court case are equally shocking, the writing is clear and open, and unfolds into what is a truly gobsmacking story. The Witness recognises what has gone wrong in society, yet it is the personal connection that really highlights the significance of this tale.
When Damian Hall completed his first marathon at the age of 36 dressed as a toilet, no one would have predicted that only eight years later he'd be jumping over the bogs of the Pennine Way chasing the Fastest Known Time (FKT) record for running our oldest National Trail. That’s 268 miles in just over two and a half days, barely resting, across some of the most challenging terrain this island has to offer. Why would anyone want to do that? A writer and journalist by trade, Hall tells the funny but gruelling story of someone who’s been lured into the sport by forces outside his consciousness, inwardly compelled to go further and further without really knowing why. Ultimately he does offer surprisingly convincing reasons, and these, combined with his dry, self-deprecating style are almost enough to make the whole business sound possible. For ‘normal’ runners it will be sufficient fun to jog along with him for a while in this book, experiencing the highs and lows, the nears and fars, and spending time with a remarkable community who seem to occupy a parallel universe where any distance is possible and everything is edible. In it for the Long Run is a carbon negative book, the author’s FKT attempts create no plastic waste and he even collects rubbish along the way. Damian Hall is a down-to-earth, yet extraordinary athlete who has completed his transformation from a writer who occasionally runs to a runner who occasionally writes. Astounding stuff. ~ Greg Hackett Find our full list of recommended adventure reads for the London Mountain Film Festival Bookfest 2021.
Diary of a Young Naturalist recounts a year in the life of an autistic and highly gifted 15 year old, struggling with school, bullies, moving house and fearing the decline of the natural world whilst rejoicing in it. Dara McAnulty is clearly an extraordinary person and a beautiful and mature writer. His descriptions of his adventures in nature are inspiring for children, but also sure to brighten the souls of many an adult too. The intensity with which nature presents itself to the author is overwhelming, and his ability to share this with the reader is enthralling. It’s a rollercoaster ride being in the head of this young man, but the book has the magic to open our eyes and ears to what beauty is around us each and every day - if only we looked! McAnulty's knowledge of wildlife and nature is simply extraordinary. His autism is a burden but also a super-power, providing him with piercing insight to a world that simply cannot be ignored with all its truth, tragedy and hope pouring out of every hedgerow, pond and dry stone wall. This is a diary which highlights our essential connection with the natural world, the landscape and our history embedded within it - but more importantly, it is also about our futures. Dara McAnulty is on a mission, and if the quality of this book is anything to go by, he will have a huge impact. For many children, this book will be the beginning of a wondrous journey. ~ Greg Hackett Greg Hackett is the Founder & Director of the London Mountain Film Festival
Thought-provoking, inspiring, and inclusive, this is a wonderful blend of nature and an examination of language, community and friendship. Journalist and writer Anita Sethi decided to hike the ‘backbone of Britain’ The Pennines after she was the victim of a vicious race-hate crime. Born in Manchester and holding a particular love for the natural world around us, in I Belong Here she reclaims her sense of belonging while being open and giving of herself and her thoughts. She walks through the land, often by herself, and explores her experiences and love for nature. Words dance in her hands, she shows how much language matters, looking at the various meanings of words, particularly with regards to nature and emotions, stating: “language can imprison or liberate”. She is so beautifully eloquent. I’ve always had a deep connection to the countryside, yet Anita’s words encouraged me to look again, to not just see the face of our natural surroundings but to look in more depth at our natural history and how it exists and connects us. And, that resonates deeply with her thoughts on the colour of skin: “it is exhausting to be pigeon-holed, people not seeing beyond skin colour”. While at times this is a challenging read as she experiences anger and despair, there is an awful lot of love to be found as she welcomes her surroundings and the people she meets along the way. Ultimately I felt a connection with Anita as she held out a hand and invited me to explore thoughts, feelings and nature alongside her. A LoveReading Star Book, I Belong Here is a truly beautiful and important read that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Inspired to enter the legal profession following the tragic death of a dear friend, Wilson exposes a broken and unfair legal system in this eye-opening, mindset-changing memoir. She shows that it is possible to be a mixed race young woman and succeed in the rarefied world of the legal and judicial system, designed for a different time and maintained by a privileged few, with its arcane and archaic rites and traditions. Not easily, it must be said, but possible. Through her direct and personal account of the bigotry she has witnessed and faced, she also illustrates and confronts the inequality of our legal system, stating clearly that not all black young men who appear in court are gang members and not all young black women who attend court are defendants or relatives of defendants. It sounds appalling when stated so boldly, but having been mistaken for such when in court herself as counsel – on numerous occasions on the same day - Wilson knows only too well of what she speaks and she does so with such clarity it is hard not to feel utter shame for what is still an all too enduring national stereotype. Equally riveting and inspirational, Wilson’s book clearly outlines the changes that the system needs and shows that she has the intelligence and commitment to make it happen.
Conceived a year before his tragic death as “an atlas of the world through his eyes”, Anthony’s Bourdain’s World Travel is a glorious testament to the unique wit and worldview of a chef, food writer and travel documentarian who was, above all else, a brilliant storyteller. Put together by his long-time assistant Laurie Woolever, with contributions from friends, family and colleagues in place of Tony being around to write some of the planned pieces himself, this is a travel guide like no other - unsurprising given that Bourdain was a character like no other. From Argentina to Vietnam, Australia to Uruguay, this A-Z travelogue includes information you’d expect to find in a conventional guidebook (how to get there, where to eat, where to stay) but beyond these basics, it dishes up Bourdain’s distinctly personal take on the many places he’s explored. His words are always incisive; always a brutal blend of raw candour and decadent description. There are thoughts on food, history and culture, sometimes contextualised by Tony’s companions, while at other times all it takes is a straight-talking, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth quote from the man himself, like these words of caution for first-time tasters of Brazil’s potent dendê oil: “You know, it takes some getting used to. The first time I was here, you eat it, you shit like a mink for hours afterwards. But now, no problems! Lovin’ it.” There’s passionate political commentary too, notably when he talks about Cambodia (“Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands”) and Mozambique, a beautiful nation that has, to Tony’s anger, been “relentlessly screwed by history”. Honest, insightful and salty, this is a delicious antidote to formulaic travel writing; a rejuvenating blast of anti-blandness that stirs an urge to explore the world with even a soupçon of Bourdain’s fearless, flamboyant spirit.
I was not too sure what to expect when picking up this book but having read the introduction and hearing the author speak on Woman’s Hour Radio 4, I was keen to start. It is an incredibly readable book. Not what I was expecting, a book to inspire teachers, but a book packed with the most fascinating, and often quite harrowing stories of her pupils at Alperton Community School. She talks about the children in such an insightful way, telling the reader not just about their time in the classroom, but about their background and their families and the huge impact this has on their abilities and successes in school. The difficulties and challenges some of her pupils’ face are both memorable and moving. She conveys to the reader so clearly the effect that lack of language, cultural differences, cramped conditions and poverty can have on a child’s ability to learn. She looks at the whole person, beyond the bluff and bravado to the real child beneath. Her empathy with her pupils and the obvious passion for her subject really do shine through. I liked her honesty. She believes that she is ‘almost an imposter’ and there are far more worthy winners of the Global Teachers Prize, but reading the many examples she writes about, I feel she is underselling herself. She intersperses her account with insights into her own life, her upbringing and her adult life with her family. The book teaches us all valuable life lessons: Never judging a child on first impression and the importance of mutual respect are two themes that run throughout the book. I thought initially, it was a book for teachers, but this is a book for anyone. I think on reading it, we will all wish that we had had a teacher such as her when we were at school.
Published to coincide with what would have been Best’s 75th birthday, Wayne Barton’s True Genius is a must-read for football fans. What sets this apart from other Best biographies is its introduction by the Best family, rare archive images, and the author’s exhaustive research, coupled with deep insights and an affectionate, amiable style. As befits its subject, True Genius is in a league of its own. “Our George was a funny, kind, shy and intelligent boy. Then he belonged to the world, and he came to be perceived as something quite different. Sometimes the perception was quite different to the truth.” So writes the Best family in the book’s moving, open-hearted introduction, setting the tone and approach for the entire book - an approach that sees the author present the full truth about George, beginning with his Belfast childhood, when he was the only boy in his class to pass the eleven-plus. With fascinating contributions from Best’s former team-mates, managers, family and friends, this is as comprehensive as it gets when it comes to understanding George’s on-the-pitch panache and off-the-pitch struggles. As the book reminds readers, George’s last wish was that people “remember me for the football”, and this book’s in-depth coverage of his exceptional talent certainly honours that wish, alongside providing a deeper understanding of the man behind the footballer.
What an uplifting and joyous book this is, the blend of family warmth and hard work at Cannon Hall Farm makes for a fascinating read. You may have already heard about The Nicholson’s, or even feel as if you know them if you’ve watched them on Springtime on the Farm or This Week on the Farm on TV. Cannon Hall Farm is known as ‘the perfect family day in Yorkshire’, it’s an award-winning farm that has grown to become a true tourist attraction. At its heart though it’s still a family farm and its success is down to teamwork, tenacity through hard times, and enthusiasm for exploring new ideas. Author Nicole Carmichael has captured the story of this family and the farm from the beginning. I was enveloped in their love for animals, nature, and life in the country. I travelled through the years with the Nicholson’s and was there as the tearoom started and they diversified to become a full tourist attraction. I loved seeing the photos and hearing about the various animals at the farm, particularly how they are named! You also meet the current team and wider family members, plus focus on different aspects of the current farm, such as the farm shop. Living Our Best Lives is a celebration of farming, and more importantly family, it’s absolutely gorgeous and has been chosen as a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month.
Structured Chaos is the latest volume of memoirs from one of the world’s leading mountaineers. While it contains accounts of Alpine and Himalayan exploits at least equal to any of those in its predecessors, this a more wide ranging and contemplative work. From an early childhood in colonial Malaysia via a bleak Scottish boarding school and a haphazard introduction to rock climbing in the Avon Gorge to the lofty heights of the Karakoram and the presidency of the Alpine Club (although of course he’s too modest to mention the latter), Saunders’s focus is very much on the personalities, friendships and occasional frictions experienced during the ‘unusual life of a climber’. The descriptions of the rigours, terrors and elations of high altitude climbing are leavened by a thread of understated but appealing lunacy running through the book including a brutal boxing match in a terrifying East End pub with his friend and climbing partner Mick Fowler, and the establishment of the longest continuous traverse in the British Isles; the 33 pitches of vertical mud and crumbling sandstone that is Reasons to be Fearful, a project described at the time by his co-ascentionist Phil Thornhill as “probably the silliest route on the silliest cliff ever climbed”. Ultimately, however, the lasting impression is of the author’s infectious enthusiasm for the landscapes and the people he encounters as he pursues the obscure ambitions of the exploratory mountaineer. The book opens and closes with a quote from Colin Kirkus; “Going to the right place, at the right time, with the right people is all that really matters. What one does is purely incidental”. Whether he’s working his passage as the “oily rag” in the engine room of a cargo ship or being blown, inside a tent, across a glacier by a huge avalanche, it’s this world view which makes Saunders book such an engaging read. Sam Huby, climbing enthusiast Find our full list of recommended adventure reads for the London Mountain Film Festival Bookfest 2021 - plus extra festival news!
Lucinda Gosling’s John Hassall: The Life and Art of the Poster King is an exquisite feast of vibrant visuals for anyone interested in art and design history. While exhaustive in its coverage and analysis of John Hassall, whose iconic posters and postcards are instantly - and widely - recognisable, its lively, accessible tone will also enthral interested laypeople. Born in 1868, John Hassall began his long, successful, influential career as an advertising artist after studying in Paris, where he was influenced by Czech design innovator, Alphonse Mucha. Hassall went on to found an art school and work across multiple disciplines, including pottery, toy-making, book illustration, fine art and commercial art, each of them bearing his distinctive bold style and wit. His impactful WWI and travel and transport posters are instantly recognisable, as are his striking ads for big brands like Colman’s Mustard and Nestlé. Many sketches, letters and diary excerpts are here published for the first time, and the standard of the reproductions do excellent justice to the striking quality of the art itself. Alongside learning about Hassall’s life, and enjoying the high-quality visuals, I was especially wowed by seeing some of his book illustrations for the first time, among them a stunning Art Nouveau Little Red Riding Hood, and his astonishing “Pantomime ABC”.
Nobody Tells You is a brilliant and reassuring companion for anyone starting out on the path to parenthood, from getting pregnancy all the way through to feeding your baby. Featuring diverse real-life stories, it feels so natural and personal, like you’re chatting with friends. These are real people (with their twitter handles and photos) answering real questions about different types of pregnancies, babycare and parenthood. So you know that whatever you’re thinking – or feeling – is normal, and that you’re not alone. It’s a reminder that parenting may be a struggle at times – all those niggling things that no one else is going to tell you and you’ve not yet dared to ask. ‘Yes, contractions can hurt.’ ‘It’s natural to worry about your baby.’ ‘It may take time to bond.’ This book is packed with simple advice from healthcare professionals too, featuring essential tips on morning sickness, hospital items, and more. I wish I had been given a book like this before my two sons were born.
Always engaging and illuminating, Laura Galloway’s Dálvi is an uplifting ode to doing something different. A testament to how a person can flourish after fleeing the monotony of the work, spend, socialise, show-off-on-social-media cycle of modern life to live by an entirely different kind of cycle - the kind that’s directed by nature’s shifting seasons in a unique environmental and cultural setting. Threaded with themes of flourishing through adversity, and finding home and love in unexpected places, this remarkable memoir is as stirring as it is gripping. The author’s journey began when a genetic test revealed that she shares DNA with the indigenous Sámi people of the Arctic tundra. Having endured a disastrous marriage, and growing increasingly dissatisfied with her life in NYC, Galloway ventures to the Norwegian town of Kautokeino, ostensibly to discover her roots, but in actuality discovering herself and her future way of life. Here, in this remote reindeer-herding region she meets and falls for a herder and decides to stay - even after he leaves her just six months later. With only very limited knowledge of the Sámi language, Galloway lives a largely solitary life with little money, and yet this life is so much better for her: “Now it is simple. There is no noise and no distraction. I have to be with myself, whatever that means, in the silence, listening to nature, being still.” In contrast, “When I left New York, I was exhausted – emotionally, financially and physically, as if I had been on a giant rat wheel.” Galloway is an amiable, amusing companion - never self-indulgent and always honest, not least when writing about her traumatic childhood (the death of her mother when she was only three, and the unrelenting vindictiveness of her father’s second wife). In time, little by little through her six years in the Arctic, she realises, “I’ve moved between two worlds.” And, at the heart of this transition, and a consequence of living in nature, her “endlessly fascinating companion”, is the realisation that “home is inside you and all around you.” Home whispers, “’I am here’, when you are most alone.” What a joyous life-affirming read.
Written and illustrated by award-winning artist and current affairs specialist George Butler, Drawn Across Borders is a unique empathy-inspiring portrayal of the affecting personal experiences of twelve migrants, covering countries as diverse as Tajikistan, Myanmar, Kenya, Syria and Palestine. It’s an honest, awe-inspiring tribute to the featured individuals, a testament to the strength of the human spirit, and a timely reminder that real people lie behind every news story on migrants. Real people with real (and varied) reasons for leaving places they once called home. Butler frames the book with brilliant clarity: “People move around the world for many reasons. Some migration is voluntary; most is not.” The written portraits are deeply personal, framed by the author’s experiences on the frontlines of - for example - refugee camps, and based on his conversations with migrants. When combined with the accompanying painterly illustrations, they create a book that draws the heart and eye to a clutch of stories that should be known. The LoveReading LitFest invited George to the festival to talk about Drawn Across Borders. You can view the event by subscribing to the LitFest programme for as little as £6 per month - or you can pay per view. For just £2, go, see George in conversation with Paul Blezard and find out why everyone should read this book. Check out a preview of the event here
The inescapable truth of life, of all life, is that it ends. It is argued that some societies deal with this inevitability better than others, but the pain, the loss and as Coles puts it, the madness, are universal. In December 2019, Reverend Richard, variously a member of Bronski Beat, The Communards, the BBC and a man of the cloth, lost his beloved partner, David. It was unexpected. It was a shock. While it might be reasonably assumed that a ‘death professional,’ as Coles has described himself, might be prepared for such a personal tragedy, the reverse is true. As he charts the administration, the ‘sadmin,’ required to deal with the formalities of death, Coles’ chronicles the emotions that flood and drive him, from the weirdness of midnight shopping for no matter what (and ending up with three sorts of parmesan) to the awful realisation that the loss of his partner is also the loss of their planned future. In “The Madness of Grief” Coles runs his hand along the grain of grief and documents every knot and splinter. What he has written is such an evisceratingly eloquent account of personal anguish, rich with honesty, pathos and yes, humour, that it is in fact a universal hymn to bereavement that will resonate with each and every reader. It marks Coles out as the C.S. Lewis of - and for - our times.
There are times when reading Do Not Disturb that you have to pinch yourself to remind you that, although a thriller, it is not made up: It is all real. All true. The murders are of real people. The fear and paranoia of friends and families is real. They are living in the presence of real danger. Criticism of President Kagame of Rwanda, once the darling of the West, will do that. It will force you to go into hiding. It will make you a subject of oppressive surveillance. In the case of Paul Rusesabagina, humanitarian hero of the film Hotel Rwanda, it will get you tricked onto a plane, drugged, renditioned, tortured and imprisoned. It can, and often will, get you killed. When the ubiquitous hotel door sign of the title is used to conceal the killing of a former member of Rwanda’s inner circle, the trails of evidence, methodically and minutely tracked by Wrong over many years and countless interviews, lead straight to Kagame. As Wrong strips away the glossy window dressing from the so-called “Singapore of Africa,” she reveals a nation run by brutal thugs; a supposed economic miracle, dependant on western support, which suppresses the true scale of the hunger, poor health and fear of an uncountable number of its inhabitants. Long admired for her fearless reportage, Wrong has written a crisp, insightful - and importantly - honest, account of institutionalised, no… weaponised national lying. In doing so she has exposed an appalling truth: that Rwanda’s elite have manipulated global shame and compassion to run an entire country with mafia-like grip and murderous avarice, immorality and illegality. By laying bare the bones of a brutal, merciless dictator, driven by Imperial grade fear, greed and the insecurity of shallow ego, Wrong has documented despotism in all its appalling hideousness. We should care very deeply, as Rwanda is a member nation of the Commonwealth.
So good, I read it twice. In recent years, television reality shows and documentaries have provided an insight into what it takes to become a badged member of our Special Air Service, the highly skilled and largely anonymous elite soldiers who stand at the very pinnacle of the UK’s armed services. Many, many books – non-fiction and fiction – have been written about the exploits of these soldiers. Some have been auto-biographical; most have described life at the sharp end – from the Iranian Embassy to Afghanistan – where the blades, as they are often called, pursue their dangerous profession. Following a traumatic departure from a corporate career, Monica began working at the SAS Headquarters as a kitchen hand. The blades – geezers as we discover they are now more often called – discovered someone they could talk to, someone who would listen, someone who cared. In the main, Geezers is a series of anecdotes; stories of conversations, of characters, of situations and challenges. At times it is tragic, at times it is very funny. Always, it is fascinating. Never before, has the public been given the opportunity to read a lay person’s account of what life away from the front line is like for these men – during selection, during training, in their down time and when they are at rest and play. What do you talk to your wife or partner about when so much of what you do is secret? What is it like to work away from home, cut off from friends and family for months at a time? How do men adjust from kicking down doors and fire-fights to playing with their children, mending a leaking tap or dealing with mounting household bills when they eventually return? The fact this is a book written by a civilian is key to the engaging quality of Geezers. Monica Lavers is observant, intelligent and articulate. She is not constrained by military training or doctrine. As a result, this book is really quite unique. Which explains why I read it twice. Because, at first, I was sceptical. By the time I was half-way through Geezers, I was hooked. And so, I went back and read it again. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Many Different Kinds of Love has the subtitle ‘A story of life, death and the NHS’. This book is a thank you to the NHS healthcare professionals and helpers who looked after Michael Rosen when he caught Covid-19 last year. These weren’t just doctors and nurses, but also speech & language therapists and physios, all working out of their own comfort zone to help on the frontline. Michael Rosen can’t describe most of his ICU experience, as he spent 48 days in an induced coma. But this diary of his hospital stay uses a mixture of poems, drawings, diaries and letters from hospital staff, family and friends to provide an honest account of what it feels like to care for someone with severe Covid. Michael Rosen talks about not just how he felt physically during his recovery and rehab, but emotionally too – revealing his frailty and fragility. He shows warmth and gratitude for the people who saved his life, and anger towards those who deny the seriousness of the pandemic. This book is full of raw emotion – sad, honest and thought-provoking, but also uplifting, heartwarming and enlightening. A joy to read!
Exhaustively researched, and stunningly presented with photographs, paintings and portraits, Anne Hall’s Angela Thirkell: A Writer’s Life is unquestionably essential reading for Thirkell enthusiasts, and also comes recommended for aficionados of literary history. After being immersed by this lively biography, I look forward to discovering Thirkell’s novels. As the granddaughter of Pre-Raphaelite painter and designer Edward Burne-Jones, goddaughter of J.M. Barrie, cousin to Rudyard Kipling, and having a grandmother who counted George Eliot among her friends, it’s perhaps little wonder that Angela Thirkell forged a creative life for herself. Born in Kensington in 1890, her childhood was cosmopolitan, with a family friend jokingly suggesting that he preface her memoir stating that she was “between the ages of four and nine the most terrifying female I have ever met.” In her youth, Thirkell was described as having formidable wit and breath-taking beauty, attending fancy dress balls in extravagant, enchanting costumes, and never suffering male fools gladly. While divorce brought scandal, it also - ultimately - brought Thirkell to writing, for it wasn’t until she married her second husband and moved with him to Australia that she began to write, initially for financial reasons. Some eleven years later, in 1929, Thirkell suddenly left her second husband and returned to England, where she went on to write more than thirty books, beginning with her Three Houses memoir and closely followed by her mischievously comic, bestselling Barsetshire novels, now published by Virago. Forensically detailed, with broader bigger-picture appeal, this is a fine biography.
Following the exceptional running achievements recounted in Beyond Impossible, Mimi Anderson’s Limitless is a testament to the perseverance and adaptability of the human spirit (and body). Despite only taking up running at the age of 36 “because I wanted to have slimmer and more toned legs”, Mimi went on to become a record-breaking ultrarunner. Then, at the age of 55, she set herself a new huge challenge - to become the fastest woman to run across the USA, covering almost 3000 miles from LA to NYC. After running over 2000 miles battling tremendous pain, she wound up “groaning in agony every time my foot hit the ground”. Since carrying on meant she may never run again, Mimi was forced to curtail her American Dream. But while this journey was over, a whole new world opened up when she took up cycling and swimming. As Mimi counsels in her introduction, “If you want something you have never had, then you have to try something you have never done” - watch this space for her future achievements as a triathlete. Written in a chatty, energetic style, this isn’t only recommended for readers who are into running or extreme sports. It also has the broader appeal of being an honest, personal story about bouncing back and adapting in order to find fulfilment: “There will always be something else out there for you, even if you don’t find it right away. Keep looking.” Find our full list of recommended adventure reads for the London Mountain Film Festival Bookfest 2021.
It is clear that the three month stint of paediatric training which Dr. Gabriel Symonds undertook in Tokyo during his student days, laid the foundation for his lifelong love for Japan, where he still lives since his retirement in 2014. Following five years of medical studies at Bart's Hospital, the author became a junior doctor at another London hospital then decided to specialise in general practice which involved further training. Working as an NHS GP in London for 14 years provided much material for the book, not all of which is wholesome or pleasant reading. Critical of some of his fellow practitioners mainly for the over-prescribing of antibiotics and simply not listening to their patients, some of the case studies raise disturbing issues. In 1984, Dr. Symonds was offered a post in a large private clinic in Tokyo serving the ex-pat community but finding the standards there left much to be desired, he applied for and was subsequently, in 1992, granted permission to open his own practice, the Tokyo British Clinic. Many more case studies fill the second half of the book, highlighting some good practice but mainly the failings in the Japanese health system, as perceived by the author. His particular beefs include circumcision, neo-natal and end of life care. Although judgemental, this work is a fascinating insight into the workings of both the NHS and the health provision in Japan and the very many case studies are sometimes amusing, sometimes shocking but always interesting and thought-provoking. Drena Irish, A LoveReading Ambassador
Kate Garraway shares the raw and emotional story of the devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on her family - and how they are finding strength in hope. In March 2020, Kate Garraway's husband, Derek Draper, contracted Covid-19 and was placed in a medically-induced coma. Initially, Kate was told that he would not survive. A year later he was still in hospital. Now at home but requiring round-the-clock care, he is thought to be the UK's longest-fighting Covid-19 patient. In this intimate book, Kate shares her deeply personal story. As well as recounting how the illness took hold of their lives, she writes about how she is coping with the uncertainty of their future, how she's supporting her children through this traumatic time, how she has found strength in community and how she strives to hold on to hope even at the darkest of times. Covid-19 has affected everyone across the country in so many ways and Kate hopes that by revealing her own personal experience, it will give comfort to others. By sharing the lessons she has learnt along the way, it will help us all begin to try to re-build our lives. Kate's exceptional courage, positivity and warmth shine through on every page, making The Power of Hope a truly inspiring read that will resonate with all of us whose lives continue to be touched by the virus.
It's time we get back to common sense. It's time to cancel the cancel culture. It's time to Wake Up. If, like me, you're sick and tired of being told how to think, speak, eat and behave, then this book is for you. If, like me, you think the world's going absolutely nuts, then this book is for you. If, like me, you think NHS heroes and Captain Tom are the real stars of our society, not self-obsessed tone-deaf celebrities (and royal renegades!), then this book is for you. If, like me, you're sickened by the cancel culture bullies destroying people's careers and lives, then this book is for you. From feminism to masculinity, racism to gender, body image to veganism, mental health to competitiveness at school, the right to free speech and expressing an honestly held opinion is being crushed at the altar of 'woke' political correctness. In 2020, the world faced its biggest crisis in a generation: a global pandemic. In the UK, it exposed deep divisions within society and laid bare a toxic culture war that had been raging beneath the surface. From the outset, Piers Morgan urged the nation to come to its senses, once and for all, and held the Government to often ferocious account over its handling of the crisis. COVID-19 shed shocking light on the problems that plague our country. Stockpilers and lockdown-cheats revealed our grotesque levels of self-interest and the virtue-signalling woke brigade continued their furious assault on free speech, shutting down debate on important issues like gender, racism and feminism. Yet just as coronavirus exposed our flaws, it also showcased our strengths. We saw selfless bravery in the heroic efforts of our healthcare staff. A greater appreciation of migrant workers. A return of local community spirit. And inspiring, noble acts from members of the public such as Captain Sir Tom Moore. Wake Up is Piers' rallying cry for a united future in which we reconsider what really matters in life. It is a plea for the return of true liberalism, where freedom of speech is king. Most of all, it is a powerful account of how the world finally started to wake up, and why it mustn't go back to sleep again.
There are people who just read biographies, interested only in the details of the lives of real people. There are others, like us, who enjoy dipping a toe, every now and then, into the deep inviting waters of the biography pool, to see first-hand the experiences of a person, past or present, who captures our imagination or pique’s our interest. From the First Man on the Moon to the latest winner of a jungle-based reality TV programme; sport-star to leading politician; religious leader to Arctic explorer, the choice is vast!
Want more inspiration? Head to our 'Best Autobiographies Ever' blog post filled with recommendations from our bookish friends.