Posted on: June 18, 2013

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Will update this list as and when I can. It’s all a bit of a mix really, some history, some travel, some cinema, some horror, some crime, some tin-foil hat stuff. If you’re an incurable Kindle-addict, like I am, I hope you can find something here of interest.

Anyway, here in alphabetical order:

ABBOT’S KEEP by Benedict Ashforth

There seems to be a resurgence in the traditional ghost story at the moment, and very welcome it is too. Perhaps it is due to Kindle, which enables people to publish books of any length, and so the novella seems to be particularly coming back into its own. The ghost story genre lends itself very well to the novella length, as I feel it’s a format which doesn’t pay to out-stay it’s welcome, so a length of under a 100 pages suits it fine. ‘Abbot’s Keep’ is a little gem, very much in the style of the Master, Mr M R James. Set during the winter of 1980, Clifford, a successful QC, heads to the Berkshire countryside to look for his brother Simon, a homeless alcoholic. Simon meanwhile is house-sitting for a rich friend, at an isolated country pile called Abbot’s Keep. This has it all. Isolated country house, an underground secret tunnel, buried treasure, murder … it ticks all the boxes (to coin an annoying and over-worked phrase). Mr Ashforth is clearly a writer whom it is well worth keeping an eye on.

ANNE BOLEYN by E Barrington

It took me a couple of attempts to get into this one, as the author’s old-fashioned, somewhat florid style can feel a bit off-putting to modern eyes.  But I’m glad I carried on with it.  In the end the fact that this book is several decades old worked in it’s favour, as there was no attempts to rewrite Anne from a 21st century vantage-point, or – and this is a trap so many present-day historical novelists fall into – of plucking dialogue from Anne Of The 1000 Days!  Now don’t get me wrong, that is a great film, but it’s influence can be seen rather too much these days.  Although this doesn’t present Anne as a wronged heroine, neither is she an outright ruthless bitch.  She is simply a woman who found herself caught up in circumstances that were ultimately out of her control.  Her life both exhilarated and terrified her by turn.  There is an interesting new insight when the author points out that Anne never really gained control of her own court when she was Queen.  She never inspired the same respect that Katharine had had.  She was still in effect the token-girl of the witty, sophisticated group of court jokesters who had made good.  E Barrington was a Canadian author, who turned to writing at the age of 60.  Most of her historical fiction is now available on Kindle for the very reasonable price of 99p a copy.  At time of writing though, Anne Boleyn seems to have been removed, although you can still get it in paperback format.  I’ve put it on this list because (hopefully) it may return*.  If you’re as fascinated by Anne as I am, then it’s worth a read.  *It has.


If you love whodunnits from the Golden Age of crime fiction, then this is for you.  Charles Knox has returned home from a stint in the Colonies (South Africa), and is invited to stay at the country pile of an old sweetheart, Rosamund, who has married a rich, older man, Sir Neville Strickland.  During the course of his stay, Sir Neville gets clumped round the head in his study, and before you know it, a real-life game of Cluedo is in progress.  This is the first in a series of 9 books featuring amateur detective, Mrs Angela Marchmont.  Angela seems to loiter very much on the fringes in this story.  She’s a shadowy character, with hints at an exotic past in New York.  I’ve just begun reading the 2nd book in the series, and she comes more into her own in that own, as the author dispenses with the Captain Hastings-style narrator, and focusses on her.  This isn’t a great puzzle of a story.  I guessed the culprit fairly early on, but this didn’t spoil my enjoyment, as sometimes I get a bit fed up with the old the-footman’s-nephew’s-third-cousin’s-dog-did-it school of murder mystery.  The author is also a bit of a mystery.  She was born in 1890 (the same year as Agatha Christie), and viewed writing very much as a hobby.  She was never published during her lifetime, and her books were only uncovered by her family after her death in 1965.  I’ve seen some reviewers a bit baffled by her, even thinking she’s really a modern day writer.  I can understand that one, as she can feel at times more like a 21st century author posing as one from the early 1930s.  This must be a great compliment to her really.  All 9 of her books have now been published on Kindle.


The third in the Angela Marchmont series of thrillers.  This time Our Heroine has been packed off, on doctor’s orders, for a holiday in Cornwall.  There she discovers that a nearby house may have a diamond necklace, which once reputedly belonged to Marie Antoinette, hidden inside it, and there are dastardly plots afoot to steal it.  At first I thought I might find all this a bit childish, as it has a distinctly Famous Five/Girl’s Own feel at times, but I relaxed and got into the spirit of it, and soon found it great fun. Likewise, I found Angela’s god-daughter Barbara, to be a bit of a pain in the neck at first, like an Enid Blyton reject, but she grew on me.  Action scenes in novels can all too often be tedious, as authors usually make the mistake of them dragging on too long, but CB gets it just right, and this was a true page-turner (Kindle style).  The seaside, crooks, big old haunted houses, secret passages, and a possible love interest for the redoubtable Angela.  This is all spiffingly enjoyable.  The whole thing very much has an escapist feel, and would make perfect holiday reading. PS: it’s also the book which has made me feel that Clara Benson was the real deal.  No modern author – even one setting a book in the 1920s – would give a child character, like Barbara, so much reckless, irresponsible freedom.


If you want a pretty comprehensive A-Z overview of world cinema, this one does the job fine. The reviews are a nice digestible size, and Ms Billson never fails to be witty, intelligent and engaging. I was astonished how much I found myself agreeing with her (don’t let that put you off). In fact, the only time I found myself really disagreeing was with her critique of Gloria Swanson in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (no one messes with glorious Gloria in that film, not if I’ve got anything to do with it). What I liked was that she’s also never afraid to swim against the tide, and give a dissenting voice to some sacred cows of cinema, or praise films that have been universally condemned as turkeys. For instance, she made me look at – what I thought was the wholly pointless – remake of ‘Psycho’ in a new light. For another instance, take ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ … now in UFO circles that film has achieved almost Biblical status, yet I’ve never warmed to it at all. Like Ms Billson, I prefer my aliens to be frightening, not come to Save us. She also endearingly has a soft spot for vintage British comedy and horror, and that always goes down well with me. She’s not afraid to appear Uncool in other words. It helps banish memories of the ‘Time Out’ film guide, which I once waded through, and which reminded me of those annoying little bits of cardboard stuck to the shelves in Waterstone’s, where the snooty, stuck-up staff give you their wholly unwanted opinions on which “cool” books you should read. Anyway, I’m now left with a list of dvds I need to chase up sometime. She will certainly stimulate your interest in cinema.


I’ve downloaded a lot of travel books, but to be honest there aren’t many I’ve actually managed to finish. I’m fascinated by people who take off for long epic walks/rides, but the ones who can sustain my interest from beginning to end are frankly rare. I think part of the problem (for me) is that if the journey goes on too long, it can feel as much of a slog to read about it as it must be to do. Plus the character of the narrator counts for a lot. I like Mark Beaumont for instance, and admire his cycle ride around the world, but because he did his just to break records I … well I found it a bit pointless I suppose. I couldn’t help feeling why didn’t he just book an exercise bike down his local gym, and ride that every day for about a year until he reached his target? Then there are the ones whose feats are almost supernatural in achievement, and for lesser mortals like me I just can’t relate to them.  But Tom’s book was refreshingly down-to-earth. He sets out from Wales, and cycles in an unbroken line through Europe, Turkey, right across Asia, and then across the United States. He does exactly what he set out to do. Phenomenal. He gives us a strong essence of every country he cycles through, and the Asian sections of the book really stand out as damn good travel-writing. Unfortunately the United States when he reaches it is a bit of a let-down, as we’re much more familiar with it, but there is a fascinating short stopover in Roswell, New Mexico, and an encounter with a guy who takes his gun everywhere with him, even to church. Plus the funny anecdote of the American in Florida who, on finding out Tom was from England, congratulated him on his excellent grasp of the English language! That I can well believe. Tom also tells us what it was like to arrive home from such an epic trip. So many travel books end in a slapbang fashion (“I landed at Heathrow, and there was my girlfriend and Mum to meet me. The End”. That sort of thing). Just how do you come down from such a huge adventure? Anyway, Tom sounds like he’s planning on some more travelling. All I can say is I hope he writes about it.


Lady CC turns her eccentric eye on the late Queen Mother. This isn’t the usual gawd-bless-her 1000-page doorstep of an effort you usually find. Lady CC presents her subject warts and all, including a fair few controversies (was the QM the product of a deal between her father and the family cook? Did the QM and King George VI have a ‘marriage blanche’?). Some of it feels a bit too slanted against QM, but it’s a vibrant read all the same, and I’m grateful for any royal biography that isn’t coated in a mawkishly sentimental hue.

ROYAL AFFAIRS by Leslie Carroll

Leslie Carroll takes us on a tour through nearly a 1000 years of right royal rumpy-pumpy. It’s history made very palatable, though I have to say I preferred the ones from more recent centuries to the earlier ones, but I suspect that’s because I’m feeling a bit all Tudored-out at the moment, and I’m bored to death with Eleanor of Aquataine (I must be the only one on earth who can see why Henry II would have preferred the Fair Rosamund). Highlights for me were the colourful mistresses of King Charles II, particularly Barbara Villiers, who was kindly described by Antonia Fraser, in her biography of the King, as “a magnificent sexual animal”. Leslie is less starry-eyed about her, particularly as Barbara was a greedy nymphomaniac, although a fascinating one all the same! The chapters on the Regency mistresses, with the backdrop of London theatreland of 200 years ago, should be an inspiration for all budding historical novelists. I also liked the section on the lady loves of King Edward VII, particularly Daisy Warwick, who, by cocking her leg over a bicycle, inspired the legendary music-hall song ‘Daisy Daisy’.


The author analyses the whole field of paranormal phenomena, alternative medicine, psychic frauds and religious guru’s from A-Z, and takes it all apart. Even if you are not of a skeptical bent, this book is worth reading as a sound warning against all the numerous charlatans there are out there, and what to look out for. I have met a few mediums and self-proclaimed psychics in my life. Frankly, although a couple of them have seemed genuinely well-meaning (plus a couple who were downright arrogant and unpleasant, and blatantly in it to rip unsuspecting customers off), I have yet to meet one that has ever really convinced me, in all honesty. So much is down to cold-calling, guess-work, wishful thinking, ego-stroking, (and variations on Sally Morgan’s “cosmic earpiece” for all I know). Even if any of it were true, I can’t help thinking of a scene in E M Delafield’s ‘Diary Of A Provincial Lady’, where she visits a fortune-teller, and concludes: “none of it was of any real practical value”. Mr Carroll should cast his eye in the direction of a young man I used to know on Twitter, who claimed he could move objects – including a car! – simply with the power of his mind. I am still waiting for this truly world-changing event to happen. It would solve the oil problem for a start.


Mike Carter sets off to cycle around the entire coast of Britain, and by golly, he does it. This book has a classic feel to it, touches of J B Priestley or George Orwell. It’s funny and very poignant.


If you like Grumpy Old Men-type stuff – and I must admit that sort of thing can be a guilty pleasure of mine – then this is right up your street. Dr Vernon Coleman is so rant-y he makes Victor Meldrew seem positively zen-like. Apparently he’s been quite a controversial figure in his time, taking on the entire medical body of Britain, as well as the EU, the Royal Mail, the Inland Revenue, amongst others. I have to confess I’d never heard of him before this, and that was a distinct advantage as I was coming to him with no preconceptions. It’s probably best summed up as Dr Coleman Hates Modern Life. Now this could be tedious, the book equivalent of listening to the pub bore, or the mad old man on the bus, but he’s such an interesting character that he gets away with it. Some of the rants can go on too long though, and then it can get a bit wearying.  But I still enjoyed his company though, and I hope he publishes more of his diaries in the future.

ASYLUM by Amy Cross

Asylum is so deliriously bonkers that you’ll either love it or hate it.  I was surprised how much I ended up enjoying it.  First of all, the setting of the psychiatric hospital is one that has practically been done to death in the horror genre, and yet Amy breathes whole new life in it.  The book is also stuffed full of flashbacks, which I normally loathe in a story.  Nothing irks me quicker than flashbacks, and yet here they didn’t bother me at all.  The story had me completely engrossed.  I don’t want to give away too much about the plot, so I’ll just give you the start.  Annie Radford has inexplicably shot dead her little brother, and is sent to Larkhurst, a high-security mental hospital.  There, she finds the staff to be even more crazy than the patients, and all is presided over by the strange Nurse Winter, who seems to instil terror in just about everybody.  Naturally, it’s easy to immediately think of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and Nurse Winter isn’t exactly a million miles from Nurse Ratched.  I know that the more weird and surreal aspects of the plot can alienate some readers, but if you’re ready to simply roll with it, then the book delivers as a page-turner.  It is bonkers (not to say downright silly at times), but I found plenty of plot twists, and some toe-curlingly squeamish scenes (usually involving brain surgery).  I also liked Amy’s economic style.  There was no lugubrious pissing about which you often get in modern fiction.  As I said, I found it a real page-turner.  There is a follow-up book, Meds.

DEAD SOULS Vol. 1 by Amy Cross

Another book which seems to have disappeared from Kindle, but I hope the author plans on returning it soon.  Dead Souls is an ongoing series of Kindle releases, about the vampiric inhabitants of the Greek island of Thaxos.  Vol.1 was a bumper issue of several instalments of the tales.  I was lucky enough to download Vols 1, 2 & 3 before the author pulled them from Amazon!  I get the impression that she is planning to reissue them soon.  Dead Souls isn’t perfect, but I found it almost impossible to turn away from.  It’s a very alluring read.  Kate is an exhausted young woman, who goes to Thaxos for a holiday, and finds herself becoming fascinated by the enigmatic Baron Edgar Le Compte, who lives in the big house at the top of the island.  It’s an engaging story, with plenty to keep you occupied, and the island is a fascinating place.  There are problems with it though.  Typo’s seem to have become part of the author’s style – from comments I’ve seen from other readers – but there were times in this when it did try the patience, as when a character’s name would completely change.   I also found it exasperating that most of the population of this Greek island seemed to be British, in that they largely had British names!  This was starting to bother me a bit.  Perhaps I missed something there.


It took me a little while to get into this one, as it felt at the beginning as though it was just going to be another gory serial-killer yarn, but I went back to it, and I’m glad I did.  Rita gets a night job at a supermarket, which is located at the edge of a huge forest somewhere in the United States.  She is really there to try and find out what happened to her older sister, Shannon, who disappeared a while earlier.  It’s soon clear that the eerie forest is the key to the mystery, and rumours abound of a ghost child luring people to their doom.  I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, except to say that I found this a wonderfully atmospheric and satisfying read.


I tried to submit a review of this for Amazon, but for reasons which completely escape me  they turned it down, so I’ll put a recommendation here instead (up yours Amazon, you’re not the only book site on the block).  This is one of Amy’s haunted house novels.  If you enjoyed Blackwych Grange, Auerbach, and The House In London you should enjoy this one.   A young French bride, Marguerite, arrives at the gloomy Wetherley House in 1888.  She is cursed by an old witch before she even sets eyes on the house, and from then on is never to know any peace.  This is a real page-turner, with enough bloodthirsty gothic moments to satisfy even the most hardened horror fan.   Our girl’s done it again.

CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming

This is only the second Bond book  I have read.  I read ‘From Russia With Love’ many years ago, and in fact you can find it on my list of Best Books I’ve Read – Ever.  ‘Casino Royale’ was especially fascinating, because it is the first in the series, and we get to meet Bond as an entirely new character.  The plot itself is relatively simple. Bond has to defeat a villain, Le Chiffre, at the card-table.  He does, but unfortunately things take a dark turn when Le Chiffre abducts Bond and subjects him to torture. The torture scenes have a hardcore gay S&M feel to them.  From what I can gather Fleming had a distinctly kinky side to him, and this lends an intriguing slant to his writing.  Bond is more complex in this story than he’s ever allowed to be in the Hollywood films.  At times he seems vulnerable and insecure, a far cry from the wisecracking killing-machine we’re more used to in the celluloid versions.  It’s hard to imagine the big-screen Bonds (certainly in their earlier incarnations) being worried about losing their manhood for instance, or engaging in philosophical discussions about the nature of Good and Evil from a hospital bed!  At the very end of this book we begin to understand why Bond goes on to become such a notorious womaniser.  Reading this I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels.  Ripley was a much darker character as he’s an all-out villain, whereas Bond is at least on the side of the good guys, but the similarities are there, and for that reason alone Fleming’s books are far more than just all-action stories. The book is also enjoyably sensuous.  In this age where we seem to be being constantly nagged about what we eat and drink, it’s nice to read about characters who plainly don’t give a stuff.  Bond and Vesper enjoy themselves over sumptuous dinners which would have modern doctors and dieticians throwing up their hands in horror. And it’s not just the food and drink, there’s the luxurious comfort of the casino, swimming naked in the sea, massages  …. I’d better stop now before I write off into the sunset.

LIVE AND LET DIE by Ian Fleming

The second book in Fleming’s Bond output, although the film (possibly one of my favourites out of all the Bond films) came somewhat further down the list.  As with all the Bonds, the book differs considerably from the film, although there are some similarities.  For starters, Solitaire is much more interesting here.  Beautiful though Jane Seymour undoubtedly was, she didn’t have very much to do in the film other than read Tarot cards, ride on a bus, and be seduced by Bond.  Solitaire’s relationship with Bond in the book is much more solid, and their final clinch, when they face death together, has far more substance and poignancy to it than the Hollywood version was ever likely to manage.  The book is an enjoyable cross between a Patricia Highsmith Ripley novel, and a Dennis Wheatley thriller (although, it has to be said, much better written than anything Wheatley could have managed).  In fact, looking back on it, the book was very much of two parts.  The American chapters are very film noir-ish, both in New York and Florida, whereas the Jamaican scenes go straight into top-notch old-school adventure mode.  Mr Big is a suitably impressive villain.  You know this is a man who would stop at nothing to get what he wants, and rid himself of anyone who dared to cross him.  He uses a Baron Samedi voodoo doll to intimidate his followers.  I thought Fleming must have copied this from Papa Doc’s reign of terror in Haiti, but Duvalier’s era was very much in its infancy when Fleming wrote this in 1954.  I thought I might miss the New Orleans setting that the film used so memorably, but in the end the book and the film complement each other with their differences, which is a very rare thing indeed.  And the scenes in 1950s Harlem are fascinating.  I only have one quibble, why do Felix and Bond leave Solitaire alone in the house in Florida, when they know Mr Big is after her?  Other than that, I can’t recommend this enough.

MOONRAKER by Ian Fleming

First off, I have to say this book couldn’t be more different from the film if it tried.  About the only similarities are that it contains James Bond and arch-villain Drax.  I was looking forward to reading this one, as I wanted to see Bond in an English setting, as averse to his usual stint of being in some exotic location being tortured by the enemy.  What really comes across about ‘Moonraker’ is how of it’s time it is.  There’s almost an old-fashioned Boy’s Own quality about it.  The villains are old Nazi’s, under the command of Drax, who has some fiendish plan to launch a nuclear warhead on London, (The rotter!).  Of course only Bond can save the day.  The first half of the book is excellent.  We get to see more of Bond’s private life than we did in the earlier novels, and more of the dull desk-work that comes with being with MI6.  He’s still a strange, enigmatic character, who seems to live entirely for his work.  His weekends are spent playing golf (oh so uncool Mr Bond!), and when he has a major win on a card-game, he struggles to decide what to do with the money other than buy a new car and clothes.  We also get to see more of the father/son relationship that Bond has with M.  The highlight of the first part of the book is the card-game between Drax and Bond.  Drax’s hissy comment of “spend your winnings quickly, Mr Bond” was actually hijacked for the film version of ‘Octopussy’.  The second half of the book is not so good.  The 1950s come across more strongly in this British setting than they did in the earlier books, and at times it feels alienating.  But I guess it shows the measure of the Bond legend these days that we forget that he’s very much a product of the Cold War era.


An enjoyable little book for all fans (like me) of cult, vintage British horror films. It is simply a collection of film reviews, listed in chronological order, (from ‘Dead Of Night’ in 1945 to ‘Ghostwatch’ in 1992), and perhaps not the glossy coffee-table book you might have expected. But it’s done with much love, and it was good to see someone writing about these old movies with wit and enthusiasm, and an absence of “oh I’m such a cultured smartarse” sneering. I was delighted to see him including ‘The Legend of Hell House’, which I have to say is one of my favourite films of all time. Yes, sad but true. You can keep ‘Citizen Kane’, ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Star Wars’, give me Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin in a dusty, mist-shrouded house, with a spooky BBC Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack, and I’m happy. As John says, it’s not a great film by any means, but it has a spooky atmosphere which has been sorely under-rated. If he does a follow-up to this book, I hope he covers ‘The Gorgon’ and ‘The Abominable Dr Phibes’ as well.


What a massive undertaking this must have been. The author catalogues over 1500 films from all over the world, covering an 80-year period. Very much a labour of love (you can’t undertake a project like this and be indifferent about it!). Many of the films he details here I’ve never heard of, and the ones that I have made it feel like looking through an old photograph album. You sort of go through it thinking “ah I remember that one!” It also made me a bit sad, because many of these atmospheric b-movies listed here I used to catch late at night on TV, and television channels (certainly not here in Britain) ever seem to show them anymore. It was a delight to be reunited with such low-budget efforts as ‘Invasion’, ‘Five’ and ‘The Midnight Caller’. The author has a very likeable style. Sometimes he veers off into tangents, such as discussing life in 18th century England, or the life of the bee in the United States, but he’s always interesting. Also, unlike many film critics, he’s never spiteful or unfair. All films – however bad they are – were once somebody’s pet project, and he seems to acknowledge that, and doesn’t run off on the critic’s usual ego-trip of thinking everyone wants to read his bitchy putdowns instead. Even films that have long been recognised as some of the worst ever made – ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’, ‘Santa Claus Conquers The Martians’ for instance – he tries to find something good to say. It’s a rare film indeed that he disses completely. Sometimes, for a Brit like me, the fact that he uses the American names for films can be confusing, such as ‘Raw Meat’ for ‘Death Line’, or ‘The Creeping Eye’ for ‘The Trollenburg Terror’, but hey, it’s his book! I would like to say that I always find it interesting how American critics are often far kinder to British films than many sneery British ones are, for instance acknowledging the high level of acting on the Hammer films, and their scrupulous attention to period detail. Also included are a comprehensive selection of European horror, (which might be of interest to a Twitter pal who is nuts about Italian horror), plus Filippino, Japanese and South American sci-fi and horror. My only real grievance is I feel the contents page could be better. I’d like the main A-Z section (which is MASSIVE), broken down into lettered segments, and not as one whole segment. It’s a bit frustrating that you can’t really dip in and out of this book in the Kindle format. Plus it’s not illustrated, which might be a problem for some people, but frankly the book is quite big enough already. Pics as well might have broken my Kindle! I’m sure we could all think of films he could have included (here’s my fourpennorth: ‘The Black Torment’ ‘And Soon The Darkness’ ‘The House In Nightmare Park’ ‘Duel’ ‘Maria Marten And The Murder In The Red Barn’), but that’s the point of a book like this, you can never include EVERY film EVER MADE. That would be impossible. Plus some genres can get quite blurred, particularly the blurring between thriller and horror. For me, it’s just enough to have somebody being kind (for a change) about many of these atmospheric little films.


Do you like conspiracy theories? Do you want a thought-provoking, entertaining read? Then this is the book for you. This book will either have you (a) nodding in agreement (b) exclaiming “what the heck???” or (c) chucking your Kindle across the room (which I don’t recommend by the way), or possibly all three. Weighing in at 700 pages long, John takes us on a well-written alternative guide to history, plus some of the biggest problems that are facing us today. There’s no getting away from it, this book is highly controversial (and citing David Icke and David Irvine as sources may be too much for some), but he will make you think, and for that these days we have to be grateful. I most certainly don’t agree with everything he says, (all the starry-eyed stuff about the Protocols of The Elders Of Zion is just absolute cobblers to be honest), and his constant use of the word “sheeple” is annoying. It’s a lazy insult, all too often used in tinfoil-hat world to arrogantly shout-down anyone of an opposing view. But I found it endlessly interesting, and it really isn’t just another book re-hashing conspiracy theories you’ve heard a hundred times before. Some of the writing is very powerful indeed (the bombing of Dresden for instance), deeply unsettling (modern-day cancer treatment), and very educational (the ridiculous hyper-inflation of the 1920s). One particular section on the sinister fate of some government scientists in Britain I almost found too eerie for comfort (being married to one myself). I hope he writes a sequel. Plenty has happened in the past 2 years to justify a follow-up. I’d be fascinated to read his take on the Savile scandal for instance.


You don’t have to believe in Illuminati bloodlines and Reptilian shapeshifters to know that there is something very wrong with the world these days, and it needs putting right. For years I have been hearing people say that the wrong people are going into politics, and that big business doesn’t care. I’ve questioned ones with more experience than me about this, and it does seem to be the case that psychopaths (people with no human empathy) are on the rise in positions of power. It is also a big concern both here in the UK and the USA that the police are becoming too militiarised. This is a fascinating book. I don’t pretend to understand everything that Mr Icke is on about, simply because my brain isn’t very technical, plus I normally tend to shy away from extreme conspiracy stuff (am really not sure about some of the accusations he throws at HAARP for instance, plus I’ve heard it’s being closed down soon anyway*). Plus there are too sides to his comments on the Internet. It is true that using the Internet, and particularly social-networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, has wrecked havoc on people’s attention-spans, but at the same time it is a brilliant tool for doing research. So hey-ho, six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. Even so, some of the issues he raises are valid. Big money has dictated to supposedly democratic governments for too long. Big Pharma is also a legitimate concern. People these days seem to be on prescription drugs for the slightest thing, (some I know are so much so I’m amazed they don’t rattle when they move), and yet it doesn’t actually seem to be doing them any good! I also think he raises some valid points about global warming and the whole green movement. I’ve heard both sides of the global warming debate, and they both raise a lot of valid points. My concern sometimes is with the worst excesses of the green fascists, who seem to be using their beliefs to bully and intimidate people. Mr Icke also takes issue with the whole negative mindsight that is around these days. The news is a constant drip-feed of bad news. We are not allowed to be positive for a moment it would seem (unless it’s a Royal news story, and then we are virtually compelled to go orgasmic with joy over people we don’t know, and who don’t give a stuff about us in return). We are ambushed daily with How Bad Things Are And Are Going To Get Worse. This cannot possibly be good for people’s mental health. He also lambasts the Apocalypse brigade, and their obsession with the end of the world. The world is NOT coming to an end, it is evolving that is all. Mr Icke closes the book with a request for us to meditate on love. Yes I know what you’re thinking, particularly if you’re a Twitter user, this sounds like Inspirational Quotes. But he does it very well. I’m not sure if I’ve got it in me to love big bankers yet, but I’ll give it a go. He writes with passion and a refreshing down-to-earth style. As one Amazon reviewer put it, he is the Gandhi of our times … And yes, I hate energy-saving lightbulbs too. *apparently it was closed down in 2013


Outstanding biography of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.  In 1955 Ruth, an ex-nightclub hostess, gunned down her wayward lover David Blakely outside a London pub on Easter Sunday.  The murder happened in public, in front of witnesses, so there was no doubt about Ruth’s guilt, but there was a strong feeling that it was a crime of passion, and that it shouldn’t carry the ultimate punishment.  Ruth and David had had a highly tempestuous relationship.  Both were hardened drinkers, who often resorted to violence on each other, but it seemed to be a classic case of “they couldn’t live with each other, or without each other”.  In the early months of 1955, Ruth had lost her job (which she loved), her best friend Vicki in a car accident, and then miscarried a baby.  She felt she was losing David as well, who seemed to be constantly making excuses not to see her.  When he stood her up over the Easter weekend, it was the last straw.  Ruth never made any attempt to justify herself, and had resigned herself to death, often quoting “an eye for an eye”.  She urged her supporters NOT to try and get her a reprieve, but there was a huge groundswell of feeling in her favour.  This was one of those cases which was a tragedy of errors all round.  David was irresponsible and often utterly selfish (he moaned he wanted to get away from Ruth, but also moaned he needed her), but he didn’t deserve to end up with bullets pumped in him.  Ruth shouldn’t have shot him, but she was far from acting in her right mind, and she had simply come to the end of her patience.  This is a beautifully-written, well-balanced book, which covers all the bases.  It was also fascinating to see what happened to everyone involved with the case after the execution, and how Ruth’s death cast a long shadow (particularly so in the case of her son Andre).


A month camping around Germany wouldn’t be my first choice of a holiday, but Chris has turned it into a devestatingly funny book. I laughed out loud like a lunatic at much of this. Even if you hate camping, and aren’t particularly interested in Germany, I recommend it.

THE LONG RIDE HOME by Nathan Millward

When Nathan’s visa ran out whilst staying with his girlfriend in Sydney, Australia, he decided to return to England on an old postman’s motorbike.  What lifts this out from the numerous other I walked/cycled/motorbiked round the world efforts is that Nathan seems genuinely to be a likeable and modest chap, and one with some depth to him too.  What I liked about him was his complete lack of pomposity.  So many travel adventure writers adopt a lofty, superior attitude, as though they’ve uncovered all the mysteries of life, and have only contempt for us sub-human lot stuck back home. Well frankly, someone has to keep the home fires burning, whilst you’re off on your journey, Finding Yourself!  Nathan is genuinely grateful for all the help he receives along the way.  He’s not afraid to admit when he’s scared, or fed up either.  Although not religious, he is a spiritual person (well I would argue he was anyway), and this gives the book more substance than the usual Read All My Hilarious Wacky Adventures we often get with this sort of thing.  He also doesn’t aspire to be some kind of Superman.  He admits when he gets tired, depressed, frightened, or questions what he’s doing.  The book flowed very smoothly.


Tim Moore decides to cycle the route the Tour De France takes. A fascinating insight to the history of this gruelling race, and the sheer epic amounts of effort that each cyclist has to put into it. It’s also very funny. In one part Moore is faced with cycling up a mountain. “Daddy, don’t go up the mountain”, says his little daughter “It’s really boring”.


The affable Mr Moore takes off around Britain this time, but it’s not your usual travel book, in fact he decides to make life particularly hard for himself, by visiting all the worst places he can think of in the UK. Not only that but he piles on the agony by driving a naff car, staying in the worst hotels, eating the worst food, playing the worst music, travelling in the dark depths of Winter, and picking Ozzy Osborne’s voice as his SatNav (“you’ve reached your fookin’ destination”). This is a very funny book, at the same time full of pathos. Many things stood out for me in this book, one was how so many of the businesses he mentions still seem to be trying to grind on despite all the odds stacked against them. How some areas are totally dependent on one big major employer, and if that goes they’re up the spout (such as Barrow being dependent on Sellafield, a little fact that the anti-nuclear lot might wish to ponder). Another was how criminally inept some local councils are, and how they don’t seem to have the first idea when it comes to spending money for the good of the community. There are some scary moments too, and frankly anyone who stayed in that grim holiday-camp in the north-west deserves a medal (though I gather it’s closed down now). That place is best summed up by the fact that he refers to the communal outside space as “the exercise yard”. The only place he visits which personally I know well is Rhyl in North Wales, because my other half comes from there. I wanted to defend Rhyl (though God knows why), but then I remembered when we visited it last Summer. It was the hottest day of the year, many other seaside towns were absolutely packed out, as you would expect. Wandering around Rhyl though was like being in a spaghetti western. We walked up to the theatre at the end of the “prom”, and the only sound I could hear was the flagpole tapping in the breeze. The beach is separated from the town by a big wall (whoever thought of that in the town planning department needed shooting), which lends the beach a vaguely sinister air even on a hot afternoon. I don’t even want to imagine what it’s like after dark. BUT this book isn’t some smug London writer sneering at the rest of Britain, I’m glad to say. His is a compassionate view, and he genuinely has an affection for the criminally neglected parts of our great land.


During the summer of 2003 Mark walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats. What I enjoyed about this book, over many of the other LEJOG books on the market, is that he took his time (3 months) doing it, so we get a much more detailed and leisurely tour than those more typical I Cycled LEJOG In Five Minutes Flat efforts you get.


I love reading diaries, but there’s no denying they can be a mixed bag, and political diaries very much so.  There are some that I find just awful, Alastair Campbell (incredibly long-winded and pompous), Gyles Brandreth (shallow, fly-by-night gossipy name-dropper), and Edwina Currie (just plain boring).  I enjoyed browsing through Tony Benn’s diaries, and although there was no doubt he was a lovely, kind man, I got fed up with his constant belief that he was right (let alone his somewhat Fred Kite-ish reverence for Communism).  The outstanding strength of Chris Mullins’s diaries is that he wasn’t a major player.  As the title suggests, he was often very much on the sidelines looking on.  To look at him, Mullins looks every bit the archetypal Man From The Ministry. A slight figure, balding and bespectacled, he reminds me a bit of the sort of character the marvellous Richard Wattis would have played in 1950s British comedies. One Amazon reviewer compared the book to ‘The Diary Of A Nobody’, and undoubtedly there are touches of that, but Mullins has a shrewdness and self-awareness that dear old Mr Pooter wouldn’t have had.  The diaries cover the years 2001-2005, from one election victory to the next, and covering the high velocity years of the Afghan and Iraq wars. Although Mullins clearly admires Tony Blair, there is no doubt he was also completely exasperated by the way the government was going. At one point, when he learns that doctors and nurses are up in arms against them, he cries “haven’t we made anyone happy?” This is politics made human, and God knows we need that these days.


Considering how long this book is (about 700 pages) it’s a testament to how good it is that I zipped through in what felt like no time at all. The book covers the years from July 1969, when they were making the very first Monty Python episode, to the end of 1979, when the Pythons were riding high on the huge success of ‘The Life Of Brian’. Palin is an affable diarist, as you would expect from the one usually known as the Nice Python, and the man everyone would ideally like to have a next-door neighbour. Some Amazon reviewers have accused him of having no deep thoughts, but I think he does, in his own way, it’s just he under-states them, for example when he’s writing about his father’s final illness. Even a big book like this though is only a fraction of the length of the real diaries, and it is tantalising to imagine what he’s left out. Now I can understand that he doesn’t want to go into too much detail about his private life (although, having said that, why publish your diaries if that’s the case!), but his wife Helen is an elusive figure. She seems to hover permanently on the fringes, being there just to keep the house ticking over in his constant absences, and bringing up their three children. It would have been nice to have got more of a handle on her as a person. When you live with someone there are always going to be anecdotes about funny things they’ve said, or things they’ve got angry about, and yet with Helen we have nothing at all. Likewise, he can be aggravatingly discreet about his fellow Pythons. There is one bit, at the beginning of the diaries, when he clearly wants to write something catty about Graham Chapman, but stops himself just in time. Frankly, no one reads a diary for it’s discretion! BUT, you do get some idea of the Pythons and their individual characteristics. John Cleese, as the eldest, is very much the big brother of the group, regarding himself as the most mature one, the most cynical and the most remote. The two Terry’s (Jones and Gilliam) are amiable and hard-working, and Palin clearly gets on with them the most. Eric Idle can be difficult, flighty and stroppy. Graham Chapman was a tortured soul, hampered by his alcohol addiction. And yet there are charming touches about him when he was on the wagon during the making of ‘Brian’, and had to revert to his old Doctor Chapman mode, tending everyone’s illnesses. The endless Python meetings can get tedious, but it just goes to show how much of a business, and how hardworking, successful comedy has to be. Some reviewers have accused Palin of being “smug”. He’s not (although there are touches of it coming in towards the end). Most of the time he seems to be a gentle, unassuming man, who is constantly baffled by his own good fortune. There is one moment when I got exasperated with him though. He’s chatting to one of The Goodies, who tells him they’ve just been to switch the Christmas lights on in Morecambe. Palin is astonished, as he can’t imagine the Pythons stooping to such a gig. Hmmm. (Although I’m undoubtedly a huge Python fan, I would actually rate The Goodies as more genuinely anarchic, surreal and inventive. Goddamnit, they once caused one viewer to actually DIE LAUGHING, literally!!). Anyway, if you’re a Python fan this book is a must. Even if you’re not, it’s a fascinating view of the 1970s, the decade of power-cuts, IRA bomb attacks, the drought of 1976, the Winter Of Discontent etc etc, and Palin is a great narrator to the whole thing.


One of those travel books which does exactly what it says on the tin. Lois Pryce sets off on a motorbike to travel down from Britain to the bottom of Africa. As you would expect, there are some scary moments, and it was interesting to get the perspective of Africa from a woman travelling alone through it. I was going to compare it to Ffyona Campbell’s ‘On Foot Through Africa’, and whilst that’s a good book, and I admire Ffyona, the fact remains she still had some beefy men travelling along with her in a van. Lois was completely alone and self-supporting (how the blazes did she manage with just one change of clothes??). She rides through areas which have absolutely nothing, and reminded me of the sort of people who bang on about Britain being a 3rd world country (they haven’t got a clue). Can also recommend ‘Lois On The Loose’ where she rides her motorbike from Alaska down to the bottom of Chile. I hope she does some more.

THE TUDOR WIFE by Emily Purdy

This book has been absolutely slated on Amazon, virtually blitzed with 1-star reviews. I’m glad I ignored them, as it’s thoroughly enjoyable. It’s totally outrageous, with gothic touches probably more suited to a horror novel than historical fiction, but hey, much of history was outrageously gothic. If you can get past the beginning where Jane Parker sees her husband’s ghost (complete with carrying his head under his arm) in the Tower of London, you are in a for a treat. There are fantastical scenes which must lay Serious History Fans practically prostrate, waving a scented hankie around and pleading for mercy, such as Anne of Cleves and Kathryn Howard having a lesbian tryst, or Jane kissing her husband’s decapitated head. Unfortunately, she has made all the other Tudor novels I’ve tried reading since seem thoroughly tame and pedestrian!


‘Quartet In Autumn’ was Barbara Pym’s triumphant comeback novel.  In the 1950s she had been a successful novelist, regarded as a sort of mid-20th century Jane Austen, writing funny but poignant stories about the lovelorn middle-classes.  But in the early 1960s she suffered a terrible blow when her publisher rejected her 7th novel, and she went into an eclipse for several years.  In the mid-1970s the ‘Sunday Times’ included her on a list of the most underrated authors of the 20th century, and she was rediscovered, to great acclaim. ‘Quartet In Autumn’ was even nominated for the Booker Prize.  Quartet is sadder and more melancholy than her earlier works, but it is still a very smooth, enjoyable read.  The book centres on 4 middle-aged work colleagues, all single (only Edwin, a widower, has any real family nearby), and all facing a lonely retirement.  One of the four, Marcia, is a truly tragic figure, reminding me somewhat of a character from a Ruth Rendell thriller.  Once retired, Marcia’s world shrinks so alarmingly that even sorting out the tins in her kitchen cupboard becomes a major event to look forward to.  She becomes more and more detached from reality, storing milk bottles in her garden shed, forming an obsession with the surgeon who performed her mastectomy, and constantly being hassled by ghastly do-gooder Janice.  If all of this doesn’t exactly sound a barrel of laughs, well don’t be put off.  The book is suffused with enough survival-of-the-human-spirit to make it bearable, and Ms Pym had the refreshing good sense to give it an upbeat ending.


The Camino Way is the old pilgrim’s way across the north of Spain. Jean undertook to walk this. It’s a sobering, fairly serious book. It’s interesting to get a middle-aged woman’s (I speak as one myself) perspective on this sort of thing.


As I said earlier in the list, it is very rare that I come across a ghost/horror/suspense story that absolutely enthrals me these days, but this one did. Charlie takes the old legend of the horrific tales that surrounded Victorian-era 50 Berkeley Square (which you can read about in my book ‘Strange Tales’ #chutzpah), and turns it into a very absorbing gothic thriller. His prose is clear and to the point, and the atmosphere he conveys of a claustrophobic, depraved 19th century household is very memorable. Charlie has also written novels about Jack The Ripper and The Devil’s Footprints, and I look forward to reading those too.


Jaw-dropping romp through over 200 years of absolutely bonkers royal history, proving successfully that where blue blood is concerned “there’s enough material there for an entire conference”, as the psychiatrist on ‘Fawlty Towers’ once put it.  Rampant in-breeding, insanity, sex-crimes, murder .. it’s all there, from the truly gothic Russian rulers of the 18th century to the many bizarre European royal states of the 19th century, with a hefty dose of British bonkers-ness thrown in.  The latter 20th century Windsors are largely glossed over, except for Edward VIII, who gets a right royal pasting.  My only grievance is that the book tails off sharply towards the end, but I guess there’s not much you can say about the current lot … not without getting the lawyers involved anyway, and “The Firm” tend to be pretty hot on that.  All I will say is this: bad blood will out.


Ruby was an Essex housewife who kept a diary throughout World War 2. This was fascinating, such a refreshing change to get a view from the homefront. I know some haven’t taken to Ruby, but she was a sensitive, intelligent woman living in extremely difficult circumstances. Ruby brings the horror of war well and truly home to us. Her anger at the sheer waste and terror of it all shouts from the page. It’s not just the soldiers who suffer. NB: I’ve just done a check on Kindle, and these books seem to have been withdrawn from sale.  This is a great pity, and I hope it’s only temporary.


I should mention this with one of those old advertising slogans, along the lines of “if you only read one book about UFOs make it this one!” This is a bumper volume, at a very reasonable price, which covers every aspect of UFO lore you can possibly think of. Several writers of varying viewpoints have contributed to this, which gives it a well-balanced feel. Many of the articles are very detailed. I have come away from the book feeling very skeptical about the whole phenomenon, and yet perversely this has made me even more interested in it! That alien abduction can be put down psychologically to Fantasy Prone individuals is by far and away the most logical explanation for the whole thing (one self-proclaimed alien abductee I have known was clearly doing it to make herself more important and interesting, and viciously trolled anyone who debated with her). That various governments and the military have encouraged the public to believe in UFOs for their own ends also makes sense, and as one author puts it, that is probably the most shameful aspect of the entire phenomenon. This is by no means a lightweight look at this crazy subject, and should be required reading for all keen ufologists.


Outstanding thriller which I found completely absorbing. A real-page turner. Set in the mid-1950s, it concerns a young doctor, James Richardson, who goes to work at a mental health clinic deep in the Suffolk countryside. The clinic is run by the flamboyant Hugh Maitland, who pioneers a controversial treatment whereby patients are put to sleep for long periods of time, in an effort to cure them of severe psychological disorders. During his work there Richardson becomes aware of strange paranormal happenings. Could they be connected to the unconscious patients in the Sleep Room? To be honest it takes a lot for me to be creeped out by a story these days, but this book had it’s fair share of eerie and disturbing moments. I also liked the intelligence and subtlety with which it was all done. Apart from a horrifying incident in the padded cell in the tower room there are no moments of outright gore. In some ways it reminded me of James Herbert’s last novel ‘Ash’, but without the constant splatterfest of that novel. The location was also a masterly stroke. In an interview at the end of the book Tallis said he deliberately chose the Suffolk coast for it’s strong paranormal associations, most famously with the ghost stories of M R James. I paid a flying visit to Dunwich many years ago, and this book has made me want to go back there. An engrossing read.


Thoroughly engrossing zombie apocalypse novel.  It’s the diary of Bill Wright, who breaks his leg just before all hell breaks loose.  As such, he misses out when the evacuation of London is ordered due to the rise of the Undead.  For several weeks he stays holed up in his flat, trying to avoid detection by the Infected roaming the streets outside.  This is more eerie than gory, which makes a refreshing change, as does the British setting (the zombie stood listening in the street is more unsettling than any amount of gore).  Bill isn’t exactly armed to the teeth with a limitless supply of guns and ammo.  There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and enough questions left unanswered to carry us over into the next in the series.  The final quarter of the book, when Bill finally leaves London, and heads out into the countryside, has some very dark moments, which are more tragic than splatterfest.   It’s also a conspiracy theorist’s delight, with savage attacks on the Establishment.  I enjoyed it very much.  UPDATE: Sadly I didn’t enjoy the follow-up anywhere near as much (although it has largely favourable reviews on Amazon).  The characters Bill meets on his travels are either crushingly dull, or too angry.  OK I know people would be angry during a zombie apocalypse, but it still gets bluddy tedious after a while.  There are some atmospheric scenes at the old manor-house, but on the whole it just didn’t gel with me, and I found myself skipping large chunks of it.  He does mention zombies surviving in the sea though, which kind of makes the Head To An Island idea more fraught with complications than I first realised.   (On one chat-forum I came across, somebody mentioned that they would soon be fish food … so that’s good to know).

500 MILE WALKIES  by Mark Wallington

Travel books can be notoriously hard to get right.  I’ve read enough of them, and the ones that are genuinely absorbing and entertaining are a rarity.  Often they can feel as fascinating as reading a bus timetable.  Page after page of “I got up, walked/cycled a few miles, checked into a camp-site, had a beer, went to sleep, did exactly the same thing the next day”, that sort of thing.  Or the Superman ones, where the author can come across like Bear Ghrylls on steroids, and I feel like too much of a humble mere mortal to relate to that person.   Mark Wallington is a happy exception.  It helps a lot that he has a healthy sense of humour, and doesn’t take himself too seriously.  In 1982 he set off to walk the South-West Way, an epic trek starting in Minehead, going round Land’s End, and finishing eventually at Poole Harbour.  I had previously read Julia May’s account of her trek doing this, in ‘My Feet And Other Animals’, and whilst I had enjoyed that, it doesn’t appear on this list because she simply wasn’t someone I grew fond of.  She had an annoying tendency (a bit like cyclist Josie Dew) of repeating long, boring conversations ad-nauseum, and seemed to lack imagination.  Plus I’ve never forgiven her for slating West Bay, a quirky place I have a lot of affection for.   Mark went accompanied by a reluctant mongrel dog, Boogie, who I can best describe as a sort of Albert Steptoe of dogs.  He should go down as one of literature’s great canine characters.  Mark often slept rough, and this was fascinating, as previous walkers I’ve read tend to go to authorised camp-sites or B&Bs.  I did find myself wondering how it would be for a female walker to do this.  Not just on the safety level, but practicalities too.  Mark often freshens himself up in men’s public conveniences for instance, and I suspect that would be much harder for a woman (in a women’s loo I mean, not the Gents).  Although this walk took place over 30 years ago, I found myself forgetting that.  Apart from the complete absence of mobile phones, and the occasional reference to the Falklands War, it didn’t feel much different to today.  The only time it really stood out was when he was desperate to find somewhere to watch the FA Cup Final.  These days he could power up his portable computer, Kindle Fire, phone etc, and watch it on that, let alone most pubs having SkySports!  The lack of technology was also interesting.  These days walkers and cyclists seem to go out armed to the teeth with mobiles, laptops, SatNav, Online blogs, and daily contact with Facebook and Twitter.   This was a very engaging read, which zipped along pleasantly.  Mr Wallington is a funny guy, in a nice understated way, and Boogie was a legend.


At last! I hear you cry, a Classic makes its way onto this list. I finally got round to downloading this vintage sci-fi novel (it is free on Kindle by the way). I desperately wish I hadn’t seen the films before reading it, because, although the 1950s version is undoubtedly very entertaining, they don’t do the book full justice. It is the kind of trippy tale which came out of the fantasy writers of the late Victorian/Edwardian era. I compare it with William Hope Hodgeson’s ‘The House On The Borderland’ for its thrilling, hallucinogenic quality. We have the Eloi and the Morlochs of course, but the narrator then takes his machine and goes to the furthest ends of time, to see Earth just before the Sun burns out, and our lovely planet is lost forever. This is mind-bending stuff, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

SIXTY DAYS TO LIVE by Dennis Wheatley

I first read this about 30 years ago, and thought it was a rip-roaring stuff. It gives the reader exactly what they want, an apocalyptic end-of-the-world novel, without all the tedious Hollywood stuff of American angst and Spectacularly Annoying Kid. A comet is due to smash into Earth, and – gulp- we all have only 60 days to live. A small band of resourceful survivors get together to build an inflatable craft to help them survive the oncoming catastrophe. It has dated in parts, and there is a tedious sub-plot about some dastardly scoundrel who is threatening to expose the government to the press (these days he’d be regarded as a hero not a villain!), but on the whole it moves along at a good lick and keeps you enthralled. A lot of Wheatley’s stuff is now available on Kindle, and it’s a pretty mixed bag. His historical novels get too bogged down in mind-numbing detail, where characters break off normal conversations to give each other lengthy history lessons for instance. And some books, like ‘The Satanist’ have ridiculous racist views that I’m not going to even attempt to defend. But this does exactly what it’s supposed to do.



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