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November book reviews

Looking for your next book? Simon Evans has reviews the latest releases in Hardback and paperback.

Hardback book reviews

Bazball_the_side_story_of_a_test_cricket_revolution_book_coverBazball, by Lawrence Booth and Nick Hoult

At time of writing, England are facing ignominious ejection from the Cricket World Cup, so, apart from anything else, this excellent account of the Stokes-McCullum revolution is a welcome opportunity to recall the remarkable triumphs enjoyed by the England test team over the last couple of years.

With a particular focus on the tumultuous 2023 Ashes, leading cricket journalists Lawrence Booth and Nick Hoult unravel what is exactly meant by ‘Bazball’ (a term England coach Brendon McCullum professes to hate), and suggest it is more akin to a state of mind than a swashbuckling, bordering on reckless, approach to the previously sedate art of test match cricket.

Clarity, above all else, is what England’s head coach and captain have sought to bring to all aspects of the game, even persuading those old warhorses Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad to buy into the new approach. Others – Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali – needed no persuading, and benefitted hugely from having clearly defined roles, something often lacking under previous regimes.

How long it lasts, who knows, as the ageing process and the ever-increasing demands of franchise cricket take their toll. But hasn’t it been fun? And when was the last time you could say that about English test cricket.

Published by Bloomsbury Price £22 Pages 352 ISBN ‎9781526672087

Erotic_Vagrancy_book_coverErotic Vagrancy, by Roger Lewis

In one sense Richard Burton and Elizabeth Burton belong to a past age of excess, of diamond jewels gifted “because it’s Tuesday”, of pets quarantined on a specially hired boat on the Thames. In another they are very modern, not least in the manner in which their romance, break-ups and reconciliations were played out on the front pages of newspapers at the time.

The myth of Taylor and Burton’s great romance seems to have outlived them both, rather more than their films, which not many people seem to watch these days. Roger Lewis does though, or rather did.

During a spell recovering from a bout of pancreatitis he watched all their movies, including many not available in English, and they constantly enter the narrative of this extraordinary dual biography, often underscoring or illuminating vital points in the lives and characters of these great stars.

Lewis is not only a very funny and gifted writer he’s also an academic, and, as with his previous, masterly, and equally hefty, biography of Peter Sellers he treats his subjects’ lives as if they were works of literature, teasing out the nuances, contradictions, parallels and evasions with the practised eye of the critic.

One of the many joys of the book – as with his Sellers biography – are the many digressions. Theatrical anecdotes abound – often only tangentially linked with Burton and Taylor’s lives, but it’s all part of the fun. And Lewis is also fascinating on the very subject of biography, quoting the author Leonard Woolf: “If one is to try to record a life truthfully one must aim at getting into the record of it something of the disorderly discontinuity which makes it so absurd, unpredictable, bearable.”

It’s that ‘disorderly discontinuity’ that makes Burton and Taylor’s lives so enduringly compelling – and this book such an absolute joy to read.

Published by riverrun Price £30 Pages 670 ISBN ‎9780857381729

Phil Tufnell The Tourist book coverThe Tourist, by Phil Tufnel (HarperCollins, £22)

It wasn’t exactly televisions being thrown out of hotel windows, but England cricket tours of the past could still be unruly affairs, and Phil Tufnel should know, he was often at the centre of the mayhem. Here he reveals, with typical candour and cheeky good humour, the truth about what went on during England’s often-chaotic tours of the Nineties, as well as recollections of his own early trips abroad as a youngster and post-cricketing forays in his new role as a sofa-friendly celeb. Mercifully, from an early age, Tufnel was imbued with a fascination for the new and different, and it’s this genuine interest in the places he has been privileged to visit that shines through amidst the mayhem of dodgy tummies, sharks in the captain’s bed and mini-grand pianos being pushed down the stairs of grand hotels.

Published by HarperCollins Price £22 Pages 310 ISBN ‎9780008641610

The_reluctant_beatle_George_Harrison_book_coverGeorge Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle by Philip Norman

In 1981 Philip Norman’s Shout! was the first book to tell the Beatles story, warts and all, and in the ensuing decades he was written acclaimed biographies of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Both books essentially told the story originally recounted in Shout! but through the prism of the respective Beatles’ own lives, and the same goes for this excellent biography of ‘the quiet one’.

Many of the Beatles-era stories that make up the bulk of the book will be familiar but told from the perspective of a figure who never really came to terms with being a Beatle and spent much of those years feeling under-valued and under-appreciated. Norman is especially good on Harrison’s early life – no troubled upbringing this, George seems to have been much loved by his ever supportive family, that streak of melancholia that characterised his best songs only emerging later.

Norman is also excellent on George’s traumatic later legal battles that almost left him bankrupt, although more on his post-Beatles musical career would have been useful. That said this is still an incisive portrait of a much-misunderstood man.

Published by Simon & Schuster Price £25 Pages 560 ISBN 9781398513402

The Prey book coverThe Prey, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The writer once described as the Queen of Icelandic thriller writers returns with this engrossing novel that interweaves timelines and perspectives into the story of a lost band of travellers and how their disappearance might or might not be connected with a brother’s search for the truth about his mysterious sister. Are there supernatural forces at work, or is the truth rather more mundane, although no less disturbing? It’s a great read, and will keep you turning the pages in search of answers.

Published by Hodder Price £20 Pages 347 ISBN ‎9781529377439

Tim Peake Space book coverSpace, by Tim Peake

Back in the Sixties space really was the final frontier, ripe for conquest and exploration. The Apollo missions to the Moon captured the world’s imagination and there was even talk of colonies on Mars by the end of the century, such was the pace of technological innovation.

By the middle of the next decade the plug had been pulled on Apollo and ambitions were drastically reined in – but that primeval fascination with the stars has never left us. In this fascinating book British astronaut Tim Peake gives his own unique perspective on the history of space travel, as well as conveying what it’s actually like to be up there, looking down on Mother Earth. He looks to the future and, in particular, the very real possibility that man (or more likely a woman) will once again set foot on the Moon before the decade is out.

Published by Century Price £22 Pages 288 ISBN ‎ 9781785633065


Tough Crowd book coverTough Crowd, by Graham Linehan

Until his personal and creative life came shuddering to a halt five years ago, Graham Linehan was best-known for being the creator of Father Ted, The IT Crowd, Black Books and Count Arthur Strong. And, as you would expect, much of the first half of this autobiography is taken up with entertaining behind the scenes detail about those much-loved shows.

But, after a single tweet in 2018, sent while pumped full of morphine and undergoing cancer treatment, Linehan found himself painted as transphobe in chief. Work dried up, friends fell away and his marriage ended. Plans, well advanced, for a Father Ted musical came to a halt after Linehan refused an offer of £200,000 to take his name off the credits.

All this, and more, is detailed in the second half of the book, and it’s a sobering, slightly terrifying read. Almost by accident Linehan has become a champion of women’s rights, gay (in particular lesbian) rights and a free speech crusader. There’s no doubting he’s on the right side of history but that must feel a particularly lonely place right now.

Published by Eye Books Price £19.99 Pages 288 ISBN ‎9781529377439

Same time tomorrow? By Bob Cryer book coverSame Time Tomorrow?, by Bob Cryer

In the often cut-throat world of comedy Barry Cryer was one of the good guys, someone who was genuinely loved by just about anyone who came in contact with him (a rare feud, eventually resolved, was with fellow comic Jimmy Tarbuck). Perhaps best-known in recent years for his long association with the ‘antidote to radio panel shows’, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, Barry Cryer’s long career as writer and performer encompassed music hall, Morecambe and Wise, TV sit-coms, the satire boom, Kenny Everett, and Monty Python.

This affectionate biography, written by his son and occasional collaborator, details the ups and downs in the life of this most lovable of entertainers. A performing life temporarily halted by a debilitating skin condition led him to focus for a long time on writing and collaborations with, amongst others, Graham Chapman, John Junkin and David Nobbs on shows varying from Jokers Wild and The Frost Report to Sez Les and The Two Ronnies.

His love of jokes – which he regarded in much the same way as folk song, something to be handed down and adapted but never appropriated as your own – shines through the book, which includes plenty of his best ones. It was only equalled by Barry’s seemingly endless fund of anecdotes, although, as son Bob admits, it has sometimes made his role of biographer more difficult. Like journalists everywhere Barry would rarely let the truth get in the way of a good story – take the much-embellished tale of his Number One in Finland for instance; all is explained here.

It’s a joy of a book and Barry’s wit and generosity of nature positively leap from the pages. It’s no exaggeration to say that his death in 2022 closed a particularly rich chapter in the history of comedy.

Published by Bloomsbury Price £20 Pages 304 ISBN ‎9781526665317


More great books to look out for, reviewed by Simon Evans

Husband and wife book coverDark family secrets emerge after a terrible road accident in Husband and Wife (Bookouture £9.98) the latest absorbing crime novel from KL Slater, The Fake Wife (Orion, £16.99) is another absorbing psychological thriller from the reliably excellent Sharon Bolton, and The Wolf, by Samuel Bjork (Bantam, £18.99) is a prequel to the excellent Munch and Kruger series of crime novels, following the intrepid duo as they team up for the first time to investigate a case that has disturbing parallels with one of Sweden’s most notorious murders…


The Great Deceiver (Quercus, £22) is the latest of Elly Griffiths’ enjoyable Brighton mysteries, set in the Fifties and Sixties, and Norfolk book coverElly Griffiths’ Norfolk (Quercus, £30) is a beautifully illustrated journey through a year in the landscape that provided the backdrop for Elly’s popular Ruth Galloway series of novels…


Justice Killer (London Books, £10.95) is the gritty, no-holds-barred crime debut from Martin Knight, a fascinating change of direction from the author of acclaimed biographies of Sixties soccer legends George Best and Peter Osgood. It’s hugely enjoyable but not for the faint-hearted…


Arsene who? book coverBased on extensive research, Arsene Who?, by Ryan Baldi (Cassell, £22), is the story of how Arsene Wenger turned around the fortunes of Arsenal after becoming manager of the club in 1995, leading them to the double in 1998, and in Born To Be A Footballer, by Liam Brady (Eriu, £20), one of Arsenal’s most revered ex-players recalls his time as part of the club’s glorious Seventies side, as well as reflecting on his Dublin childhood and post-Gunners career…


The fortunes of Olivia Richmond book coverThe Fortunes of Olivia Richmond by Louise Davidson (Moonflower, £18.99), is a haunting country house gothic novel in the tradition of Susan Hill and Daphne du Maurier; memories and resentments bubble to the service at a family wedding in Judy Finnigan’s new novel Roseland (Sphere, £20); Kate Hodges’ imaginative The Wayward Sisters (Hodder, £18.99) is a tale of loss, betrayal and magic as Macbeth’s witches resurface in 1780s Scotland, and Run To The Western Shore, by Tim Pears (Swift, £12.99), is an evocative novel set in AD72, telling of the forbidden liaison between a Roman slave and a Welsh tribal chieftain’s daughter…


Fly Away Paul book coverHow Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles group Wings proved to be both his musical and personal salvation is expertly told in Fly Away Paul, by Lesley-Ann Jones (Coronet, £25), and in Tomorrow’s Here Today (Bonnier, £22), another Liverpool legend, Ian Broudie, recalls his hit-making days with the Lightning Seeds, as well as co-writing the enduring England soccer anthem Three Lions and how one afternoon on the Steve Wright radio show changed his life…


Following on from last year’s TerrorTome, Garth Marenghi, alias comedian Matthew Holness, returns with Incarcerat (Coronet, £20), another brilliant horror novel parody full of portentous silliness, as Marenghi’s hero, Nick Steen, is involved in a Doomwatch-style plot that threatens his very sanity…


JFK_the_conspiracy_and_truth_behind_the_assassination_book_coverMarking the 60th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, JFK – The Conspiracy and the Truth (John Blake, £10.99) is an updated version of John Hughes-Wilson’s 2013 book JFK: An American Coup d’Etat. It usefully distills all the evidence to make a convincing case that, yes, there was a conspiracy to murder the President that stretched into the very highest levels of government…


Having already explored scary monsters and the darker side of tourism, for his new book The Conspiracy Tourist (Robinson, £22), Dom Joly enters the strange world of conspiracy theories – where they spring from, who believes them, and are they really so crazy? And in Charlie Chaplin vs America (Simon & Schuster, £18.99), Scott Eyman explores the great film actor’s exile from the USA, the country that nurtured his genius but then turned against Chaplin after the Second World War…


In his charming new book Kayaking the Sea Roads (Whittles Publishing, £16.99) Ed Ley-Wilson explores the sea roads that make up the Scottish Highlands and Islands, conveying both the wonder and the terrible beauty of nature as experienced up close and personal and the environmental challenges facing this great wilderness…


Toxic book coverToxic, by Sarah Ditum (Fleet, £16.99), examines the Noughties through the eyes of nine high-profile women who changed the ground rules of celebrity but paid the price, in different ways, for their brush with fame, and Good Material (Fig Tree, £18.99) is the latest feel-good novel from Dolly Alderton…


New in paperback…

Murder_at_Bunting_Manor_book_cover.Murder at Bunting Manor, by Greg Mosse (Hodder, £9.99), is the second of the ‘cosy crime’ series involving amateur sleuth Maisie Cooper, this time investigating a threat to kill her estranged Aunt Phyllis…

The Girls of Bomber Command, by Vicki Beeby (Canelo, £8.99), is the first of a new series following the fortunes of three women serving in the WAAF during the Second World War…

Dinner turns deadly in Fiona Sherlock’s immersive murder mystery Supper for Six (Hodder, £9.99)…

Charles Beaumont’s intriguing novel A Spy Alone (Canelo, £9.99) takes as its premise the possibility that an Oxford spy ring ran alongside the infamous Cambridge spies of the Forties and Fifties…

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