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February's books

The pick of the latest hardbacks and paperbacks, reviewed by Simon Evans


The_Inside_Story_Charles_III_book_front_coverCharles III: The Making of a King, by Robert Hardman

Expert royal commentator Robert Hardman brings his usual depth of research and wealth of contacts to bear on this riveting account of the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the ascension of King Charles III to the throne, as well as the many changes that have already been introduced into the workings of ‘the Firm’ over the past 18 months.

Although full of fascinating stories that give a rich insight into the new King and his court this is no gossipy tell-all; Hardman’s stories are rigorously researched and footnoted and he is almost too generous in wanting all sides to be aired.

Published before the recent cancer diagnosis, it remains to be seen how much the new King’s plans for a slimmed down but active royal family will have to be adjusted in the months and years ahead.

Published by Macmillan Price £22 Pages 464 ISBN 9781035027415

A_Guilty_Secret_front_book_coverA Guilty Secret, by Philippa East

When Kate, a psychologist and therapist, takes her own life, it brings together her old friends, estranged husband and wife Finn and Mairad, to try and find out what drove her to this terrible act.

The trail leads them to a now-closed Scottish public school, where something awful happened years ago involving a disturbed American girl called Caroline. But as Finn and Mairad uncover secrets from the past it becomes clear someone will do anything to stop them.

A psychologist and therapist herself, Philippa East, the author of Little White Lies, gently unspools her tale with great skill.

Published by HQ Price £8.99 Pages 464 ISBN 9780008455798

Relight_my_fire_book_front_coverRelight My Fire, by CK McDonnell

This is the fourth in the enjoyable series of ‘Stranger Times’ novels, focussing on a Manchester-based newspaper that specialises in the weird and supernatural. Full of great characters this latest addition has the usual mixture of intriguing plot lines and is a perfect point of entry for anyone wanting to sample this hugely imaginative series.

Published by Bantam Price £18.99 Pages 525 ISBN 9780857505354


Elle Conway Argylle book front coverArgylle, by Elly Conway

As befits this spy thriller with a difference, even the name of the author was, until recently, shrouded in mystery (it’s actually a joint effort between Tammy Cohen and Terry Hayes). To add to the confusion, the author of the book is also one of the main characters in Matthew Vaughn’s new film, also called Argylle.

The book is not is a straight-forward novelisation, however; rather, it plays an important role in driving the film’s storyline; Elly ending up in hot water when her stories about CIA agent Aubrey Argylle start to get a little close to ‘real-life’ espionage plots for comfort.

Mercifully you don’t have to see the film to enjoy the book, which, on its own terms is a perfectly serviceable spy thriller. The plot revolves around a Russian presidential candidate who goes in search of the lost ‘Amber Room’, a chamber in the Catherine Palace near St Petersburg, that was looted by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Aubrey Argylle’s mission is to stop him, by whatever means necessary, and there are several brilliant set-pieces worthy of a Bond film. And, like the Bond films, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is always a bonus.

Published by Bantam Price £18.99 Pages 380 ISBN 9781787635913


Phew_Eh%2BReaders_the_life_and_writing_of_Tom_Hibbert_book_front_cover.jpgPhew, Eh Readers? By Tom Hibbert, edited by Barney Hoskyns and Jasper Murisom-Bowie

 Journalism is by its very nature ephemeral, so for a music writer to be celebrated 13 years after their death suggests a rare talent. And Tom Hibbert, whose contributions to Q, Mojo, Smash Hits, The Observer and the Mail on Sunday feature in this sometimes poignant, often laugh-out-loud collection, was indeed something special.

Tom is perhaps best remembered for his brilliant ‘Who the Hell…’ celebrity interviews for Q magazine when, with the lethal precision of a surgeon applying his blade, he would prick and deflate the pretensions of the rich and famous.

Cutting but rarely cruel, Hibbert had a highly developed sense of the absurd and ridiculous that be brought to his subjects, the breadth and range of which is only hinted at here (check out, if you can find it, the book The Best of Q What the Hell, published in 1994).

Along with the Q interviews much of Hibbert’s best work was for Smash Hits, where he brought a playful yet acerbic edge to what could have been just another poptastic disposable mag, and the articles drawn from both these publications are the real gems in this collection.

There are also fascinating personal reminiscences from friends, colleagues and loved ones dotted around the book that attest to the complexity of the man. Hard to live with, difficult to know but easy to love, it’s a shame that whatever demons he carried with him seemed to get the better of Hibbert in his later years. His work, however, lives on.

Published by Bonnier Price £22 Pages 384 ISBN 9781788708685

THe_Garden_lost_secrets_book_front_cover.The Garden of Lost Secrets, by Kerry Barrett

Their relationship disintegrating, Philippa and her husband Marco hope renovating their Cotswold garden will give them a fresh start, but the discovery of a hidden memorial uncovers links to a wartime tragedy and, unexpectedly, hope of redemption for them both. Kerry Barrett, author of The Girl In The Picture, skillfully interweaves her dual-timeline narrative in this powerful, moving novel.

Published by HQ Price £9.99 Pages 297 ISBN 9780008603175


The_Golden_age_of_Easy_Listening_book_front_coverThe Golden Age of Easy Listening, by Derek Taylor

Easy listening was the ambient music of the mid-20th century, a lifestyle accessory that you could tune in or out of according to your mood and surroundings. Characterised by instrumentals full of shimmering strings, lilting trumpets and arrangements of show tunes, light classical pieces and pop standards new and old, its chief practitioners were the likes of Mantovani, James Last, Sergio Mendes, Percy Faith and Ray Conniff, names familiar in the Sixties and Seventies for their collections on Music for Pleasure, Contour and similar budget price labels.

Concentrating on the easy heyday, from the Forties to the Eighties, Derek Taylor provides an excellent overview of the key figures as well as suggesting further listening to explore. Written from the perspective of someone with a very personal connection to the music it is a valuable appreciation of a genre too often derided as disposable and ephemeral.

Published by Sonicbond Price £16.99 Pages 121 ISBN 9781789522853

Also recommended:

50_Oscar_Nights_book_front_coverIt’s nearly Oscars time again and whether you find them a compelling acknowledgement of cinematic excellence or just another excuse for celebrities to show off and over-emote, there’s no doubting the power they have wielded on the public imagination for almost a century. 50 Oscar Nights, by Dave Karger (Running Press, £25), looks at some of the most memorable moments, featuring new and exclusive interviews with dozens of actors, filmmakers, musicians, and behind the scenes workers…


Deterring_Armageddon_A_Biography_of_Nato_front_coverGiven recent troubling warnings of imminent global catastrophe, Peter Apps’ history of NATO, Deterring Armageddon (Wildfire, £25) is a useful overview of the military alliance that has perhaps done more than anything to prevent World War Three, and in Culture: A New World History (Bonnier, £12.99), Harvard professor Martin Puchner demonstrates how contact between different peoples has driven artistic innovation and that attempts to police so-called ‘cultural appropriation’ can be actively counter-productive…


Backstage Pass, by Harvey Lee (Definition, £11.99) is the extraordinary story of a tech executive and music business mover and shaker who doesn’t take no for an answer, Celtic_Fairy_Tales_and_Legends_book_front_cover.and folklore expert Rosalind Kerven brings the rich heritage of Celtic culture vividly to life in Celtic Fairy Tales and Legends (Batsford, £14.99)…


Love and matrimony in Regency England, as portrayed by of one of our best-loved authors, comes under the spotlight in Rory Muir’s Love and Marriage In The Age of Jane Austen (Yale, £25), and Hardy Women, by Paula Byrne (William Collins, £25) looks at how Thomas Hardy’s apparent understanding of women as portrayed in his novels was not mirrored in real life…


Graeme_Hall_Does_My_Dog_love_me_book_front_cover.In his new book Does My Dog Love Me? (Ebury £16), leading dog trainer Graeme Hall draws on scientific evidence and his own experience of training more than 5000 dogs to answer such questions as ‘should my dog sleep in my bed?’; ‘Do dogs and humans fall out?’; and ‘How long does a dog remember?’…


Francesca Kay’s powerful Reformation-set novel The Book of Days (Swift, £16.99) looks at troubled lives and the solace to be found in nature and the changing seasons, and The List of Suspicious Things (Hutchinson Heinemann, £14.99) is the debut novel from Jennie Godfrey, drawing on her own Seventies childhood to tell the compelling story of two girls who take it upon themselves to investigate the Yorkshire Ripper murders…


A family secret revealed at a 50th birthday sends two sisters on a life-changing journey from the windswept Irish coast to sub-baked Sicily in Cathy Kelly’s latest novel Sisterhood (HarperCollins, £16.99), a young maid discovers a shocking truth in Hester Musson’s Gothic mystery The Beholders (4th Estate, £16.99), and there’s dirty work afoot in Joanne Burn’s 19th century-set The Bone Hunters (Sphere, £16.99), as a young geologist’s discovery of some unusual fossils on the cliffs at Lyme Regis brings her to the attention of the ruthlessly ambitious Doctor Edwin Moyle…


The Last Word (Quercus, £22) is a stand-alone novel from Elly Griffiths, responsible for the excellent Ruth Galloway mysteries, and it features an unlikely Shoreham-based detective agency investigating the death of a local writer, The_Last_Resort_book_front_cover.and in The Last Resort, by Heidi Perks (Century, £8.99) a therapist finds herself the focus of suspicion after one of her clients is the victim of a hit-and-run accident…

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