Books for Christmas
THIS YEAR’S Shetland Times Christmas book club has a whopping 24 titles on a wide range of subjects, meaning there should be something for everyone’s Santa sack. You can get a 20 per cent discount on the price listed here for each book at The Shetland Times Bookshop.
The Last Men: A Journey Among the Tribes of New Guinea by Iago Corazza. Published by Whitestar Publishers, £35.
THIS book is quite simply amazing. It is an insight into the tribes of New Guinea, some of which have only been discovered in the last 50 years, and provides a window on a world few of us will ever be privileged to see.
Gloriously coloured photographs fill every page, depicting festivals, ceremonies and customs, illustrating the lives of people who hunt with spears and bows and arrows and who kills pigs for honoured guests (men eat the meat, women mainly just potatoes).
Close-up photographs of tribal dress of wild boar tusks on the nose and shell necklaces, elaborate face painting, animal-like masks, feathered headdresses and leaf skirts make it hard to put the book down.
The text explains the customs and the attire, and makes accessible, as much as possible, the absolute strangeness of the world of around 700 tribes.
One of these is the tribe of the skeleton warriors who live in the high luxuriant forest, whose bodies are painted in black and white “bones” and whose ceremonies involve warriors in costumes of leaves and pitch that resemble wild animals.
Other tribes hang frightening fetishes at their territory, but are in reality very friendly. Sometimes tribes come together to stage “dramas” of dance and music such as the Sing Sing, which the author describes as being “intoxicating”. His verdict on the country: “hospitable, curious and so real it does not need to worry about proving its authenticity”. RG
Visions of Paradise. Published by National Geographic, £19.99.
National Geographic is one of the world’s most civilising institutions, and somehow no adult’s Christmas stocking seems quite complete without the sort of glorious photography books it regularly produces.
Here, under the titles of Land, Water, Air and Bios, the reader is treated to a cornucopia of extraordinary images. As ever, the text is kept to a minimum, but the photographs conspire with the viewer to tell their own stories.
It seems invidious to choose a favourite, but mine was Nina Berman’s image of the approach to a T-junction in North Dakota. Leave aside the Fargo references, for they don’t help with the interpretation, and you are left with a wonderful, almost religious, metaphor for the human condition itself. You are asked to stop. A fence prevents you going straight ahead into the snowy wasteland. You must turn left or right – yet each way lies a bleak flatness. The sign says the new road, left and right, is University Drive. Exquisite. PR
The Living Coast: An Aerial View of Britain’s Shoreline. Photography by Adrian Warren and Sae Sasitorn, text by Christopher Somerville. Published by Last Refuge, £14.99.
SOME of the most remarkable and varied coastlines are to be found in Great Britain, and aerial photography is one of the best ways of charting them. Adrian Warren and Dae Sasitorn spent several years flying an old Cessna 182 aircraft, capturing a string of quite remarkable images as they did so.
From the mudflats of Essex, round the sandy coves of Devon and Cornwall, right north to the well-known geos of Shetland and back down to Flamborough Head and The Wash, great beauty can be found in the many contrasting zones of water, rock, scrub and, surprisingly, industrial complexes.
Obviously not everything can be included, but on reflection Warren and Sasitorn have made an excellent fist of their task.
Well-known travel writer Christopher Somerville, who prefers to stroll rather than soar, has added just enough informed text to enhance, not detract from, the captivating shots on offer.
Perhaps local flyboy John Coutts, who must be building up a pretty comprehensive file of aerial shots around Shetland, could consider launching his own version of our living coast. JWT
Oceans: Exploring the Hidden Depths of the Underwater World by Paul Rose and Ann Laking. Published by BBC Books, £20.
THIS is the book of the TV series. And while the still images do not match the moving film, there is depth to be had in the writing which presents a far more detailed picture of what is going on under the surface than documentary narrative ever can.
Introduced by Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the famous underwater pioneer Jacques, the book takes the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Red Sea and Arctic Ocean in turn and blends history, travelogue and science to give the reader a real understanding of how vital the oceans are and how climate change is affecting them. Marvellous.
British Intelligence by Stephen Twigge, Edward Hampshire and Graham Macklin. Published by The National Archives, £19.99.
FOR over 10 years the National Archives at Kew have been filling up with previously classified documents detailing the activities of Britain’s secret services at home and abroad, with the exception of the Secret Intelligence Service.
This book is an attempt to draw together some of the detail of what our spies got up to and paint in the institutional backdrop. It has a rather academic feel to it, but don’t let that put you off – it is a compelling read.
The most interesting parts, naturally enough, concern the world wars. So we find out that Churchill seriously considered a plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. Initially, he concluded that the German dictator was making enough military blunders to justify letting him stay in command. Yet from a wider perspective, he came to the view that it might be a good idea after all. Several schemes were toyed with, including snipers in the grounds of the Berghof at Berchtesgaden, but none was sanctioned.
The book is brought right up to date with an account of the so-called war on terror. PR
Voyages of Discovery by Tony Rice. Published by the Natural History Museum, £20.
THIS book is a work of exquisite beauty. It is more than just an account of some of the most famous voyages of biological discovery ever undertaken, including Darwin’s in the Beagle. The book is replete with drawings, diagrams and plans that almost bring alive the very journeys themselves.
Appropriately published by the Natural History Museum, it is like having in your hands a slice of that wonderful Victorian Kensington institution all to yourself.
Clouds by Eric M Wilcox. Published by Duncan Baird Publishers, £16.99.
MANY a childhood will have been spent looking upwards, eyes squinting in the sun, pointing out elephants, sharks or pirate ships made up of huge fluffy clouds.
And as the blurb in the inside sleeve of Clouds points out, although blue cloudless skies are often sought after, in reality a few clouds often make for a more interesting sky.
Author Eric M Wilcox clearly has a passion for all things “cloud”, and as an atmospheric scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre he is suitably qualified to write on the subject.
The foreword comes from Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society. He encourages us to appreciate the skies as a part of nature and not “merely in terms of their physical outcome: no more than so many inches of rain, sleet or snow”, something which living in Shetland perhaps makes more challenging. However his descriptions of “crisp cauliflower mounds” and “weightless, wispy streaks” do inspire a more sympathetic attitude.
The book, a photographic study, covers every aspect of clouds, from the science behind their formation to cloud mythology and weather lore. It is broken up into chapters which cover the 10 main types of clouds, from cumulus to cirrostratus, each of which feature some amazing images. The pictures are accompanied by informative captions, with facts about the particular type of cloud.
There is also a chapter on rare clouds and other phenomena such as rainbows, auroras and noctilucent clouds – which are found in altitudes twice as high as the highest cirrus clouds.
The book is written in a clear, easy to follow style and contains simple diagrams, and so could be helpful to older children and teenagers, perhaps for school projects or just for their own interest.
Despite the large amount of scientific detail, the way the book is laid out, in particular the striking photos, help to break up what could be quite a dry subject for anyone who isn’t interested in the skies, making it a good choice as an unusual coffee table book.
With over 100 stunning images of skies and clouds ranging from fluffy cotton wool like strands to awesome technicolour storms, this beautiful book would also make a great gift for anyone interested in photography. LT
Dear Fatty by Dawn French. Published by Century, £18.99.
DAWN French is familiar to most as one half of French and Saunders or the constantly amusing Vicar of Dibley, among other things. But this “memoir rather than an autobiography” gives readers an insight (Continued on next page) (Continued from previous page) into her “dull-in-parts” life and the lives of those who are important to her.
The book is written as a series of letters instead of chapters. Letters to many people – to her beloved dad, her “superheroine” mum, her adored daughter, her brother, nieces and nephews, various “idols” and Fatty, who is actually Jennifer Saunders.
She writes of her young life as the daughter of an RAF serviceman and of the varied postings, schools and friends. And about her grannies, both so different but both very much loved. There are letters about her adolescent years and the “talk” her dad gave before her first proper teenage party; of her pride in her astute daughter’s athletic achievements and of her reaction to the tannoy announcement which followed. She tells us that, in her opinion, “fame, money and politics are among the most corrupting influences we live with” and that she is baffled by the importance given to “celebrity”.
All the wishes, dreams and true-life episodes – some hilarious and some moving, including the tragic death of her dad – that have shaped Dawn’s life and career so far are written about in this easy-to-read “memoir”.
A big, funny book by a big, funny lady. JLH
Doors Open by Ian Rankin. Published by Orion Books, £18.99.
THIS latest Rankin crime novel is again set in his familiar Edinburgh and features “self- made software mogul” and art lover Mike Mackenzie.
Mike’s 37, a bachelor, rich, bored and looking for something, other than his hopeful flirting with Laura, the auctioneer, to add excitement to his life. When a chance meeting with an old school “friend” supplies him and a couple of his pals from the art world with an opportunity to dupe the National Gallery of Scotland, the “Doors Open” event provides the ideal time to carry out the perfect heist … or so they think.
A door is ajar for the young, ambitious DI Ransome to make an appearance, ask the questions, tie up the loose ends, and close the door when he’s finished … or has he?
Lovers of Rankin’s Rebus writings may find Doors Open a bit slow-moving and slightly predictable, maybe even a let-down, but although not as compelling as the Rebus series, the twists and turns in this book hold the interest enough to keep reading to the end … or is it the end – a knock on a door in far-off Tangier leaves you wondering. JLH
By Any Means by Charley Boorman. Published by Sphere, £18.99.
INTENDING to travel to Australia by whatever mode of transport is available seems a daunting task.
The idea appeals to me but without a timetable and pocketful of bookings, it seems a high-risk challenge.
Obviously the challenge seems another adventure to Charley Boorman, having completed his Long Way Round and Long Way Down excursions alongside Scottish actor Ewan McGregor. After a suggestion by his expedition leader Russ Malkin, Charley, Russ and cameraman Paul Mungeam set off on what must have been one of the greatest adventures of their lives.
From Charley’s father’s home in County Wicklow, Ireland, they set off on their trusty old British motorbikes to head to Sydney, Australia – a distance of over 20,000 miles passing through 25 countries – not knowing what will happen during the next 100 plus days. I think the appeal of this book is just hearing about all the different countries and different modes of transport used, including cars, buses, rickshaws, elephants, camels, helicopters, boats, and, of course, their favourite motorbikes.
From the Orient Express, where we hear about the two bedrooms Stalin used, container ships from Dubai to Mumbai where the threat of piracy looms and learning about the Vietnam war from Vietnamese veterans, we get a first hand look at how the rest of the world live from a different perspective.
By Any Means is an enjoyable read, full of descriptive language, and any tourist or traveller would find it hard to put down. MJL
For Crying Out Loud! by Jeremy Clarkson. Published by Penguin Books, £20.
DON’T get me wrong – I quite like Jeremy Clarkson, even if the long-standing front man of BBC’s Top Gear has the capacity to cause tension almost every time he opens his mouth.
The man who speaks out against all that offends him often finds himself offending others in the process.
Nevertheless, I’ve always found the witty put-downs in his Sunday Times column refreshing in a world that is increasingly politically-correct.
So, really, I should have enjoyed For Crying Out Loud!, his latest compilation of complaints and criticisms contributed to theSunday Times.
Tellingly, Clarkson dedicates his book to the green movement, the Americans and the health and safety executive “for giving me so much to write about”.
It’s just there’s only so much of this mad-capped writer I can take. Once we’ve got past Clarkson’s ridiculous theory that “Osama Bin Laden might be hiding in his wife’s handbag”, or deciphered his theory on why binge drinking is good for you, his self-opinionated rants get a bit waring.
Best read in small doses, then. But perhaps no bad thing considering.
Clearly aimed at the festive market – as proof, the first entry asks us to admit we had a lousy Christmas – For Crying Out Loud! is a worthy companion for occasional quiet moments throughout the year ahead. RT
Loving Peter: My life with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore by Judy Cook with Angela Levin. Published by Piatkus, £17.99.
THIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY tells the story of Judy Huxtable, a 60s actress and “It” girl and her relationship with Peter Cook, the comedian, and also her relationship with Peter’s comedy partner Dudley Moore.
The book gives a glamorous account of the lifestyle of an It girl in the 1960s and 70s, when being a celebrity was a million miles away from what it is today.
Judy describes lavish parties, being taken for meals by Michael Caine, going for drinks with David and Angie Bowie, watching the Beatles at the Cavern Club with Judy Garland and having a party at Jackie Onassis’s house.
However while it is a story of glamour and a rock and roll lifestyle, it is also quite a sad story, unfortunately only too familiar to many, that of the turbulent life of living with an alcoholic.
And while the 1960s were supposedly a time for female emancipation and freedoms from the pressures of 1950s expectations, it is clear from Judy’s account that many women didn’t know how to achieve this, and the constraints of their upbringing, wealth or social standing kept them feeling lonely, trapped and dependent.
The book is an enjoyable read, especially for someone interested in British comedy and films, and gives an interesting and honest account of the life of, arguably, one of Britain’s best comedians. LT
Cooking for Friends by Gordon Ramsay. Published by Harper Collins, £25.
GORDON Ramsay has become a tiresome force of nature on television, bobbing up and down with faked energy and mouthing off as if he was fighting for the paras. But boy can he cook.
I have been fortunate enough to eat at three of his establishments – and each time the food has been truly memorable. So how to deal with him? Switch off the TV and look at his books.
In the early days, the recipes in his books were far too complicated, full of the sort of ingredients you can only get at very specialised outlets or the Harrods and Harvey Nics food halls.
His more recent efforts are much more accessible to the common or garden cook like me while still having a “something special” quality to the output when – and if – you get it right.
It takes a long time to work your way properly through a cook book, but I was taken by his fish and shellfish section, and particularly savoured his poached halibut with creamy white wine and tarragon sauce.
There’s a suitably seasonal feel to the book, with a glorious section on pies and tarts that I’m looking forward to getting stuck into. It is nicely presented, with understated pictures and not too many of him. PR
The Inverawe smoked fish cookbook by Rosie Campbell-Preston. Published by Quiller, £14.99.
ALTHOUGH some of Lerwick’s eateries – the Queen’s Hotel in particular – make a fine fist of serving up one of our most valuable natural resources, the lack of a dedicated fish restaurant in the town means that home cooking still remains one of the best ways of enjoying the scaly stuff on a regular basis.
Rosie Campbell-Preston, co-founder along with her husband Robert of the Argyll-based Inverawe Smokehouses, has created a rather appetising array of recipes for the smoked variety which includes straightforward dishes like Cullen skink and salmon carbonara, along with uncomplicated guides to various sauces and dressings and a guide to smoking fish “the Inverawe way”.
The more adventurous cook may want to try his or her hand at a smoked salmon, egg and herb mousse starter or a smoked mackerel roulade, but simplicity is very much the key for most of the dishes featured.
Celebrity chefs including Rick Stein and Phil Vickery are avowed fans of the Inverawe brand (which has been on the go since 1980) and, although dishes like smoked eel, chorizo and potato frittata provide welcome possibilities for veering away from traditional means of serving smoked fish, by and large this is a very useful collection of easy-to-make recipes. NR
Jamie’s Ministry of Food: Anyone Can Learn to Cook in 24 Hours by Jamie Oliver. Published by Michael Joseph, £25.
“Hi guys – I’d like to ask you a favour: I need your help with a food movement I’ve started. On the surface it’s quite simply about friends teaching friends how to cook good, honest, affordable food and just generally be a bit more streetwise about cooking. And it’ll rake me in a few quid at the same time.”
Ok, I made that last bit up; it’s easy to be cynical about cheeky-chappy Jamie and his hectoring, nannying approach to food. But when you see some of the crap people ingest it’s not hard to understand why he is like this.
Drawing on the success the wartime Ministry of Food had in mobilizing those women who could cook to help teach others, this book is another attempt to raise the level of food consumption in the UK.
It is full of great tips about kitchen hardware and larder basics plus loads of simple – the key to good food – recipes. In between are scores of vox-pops with reformed or first-time cooks who embody the Obama motto “Yes, we can.” PR
Footynotes: The Ultimate Countdown of Footy Trivia by Chris Kamara and Richard Digance. Published by Green Umbrella Publishing, £9.99.
WHILE I’m not always convinced about the justification of books on football trivia, there does seem to be some merit in this publication.
Comedian, singer and guitarist Richard Digance, a lifelong West Ham fan, has joined forces with former Portsmouth, Swindon and Brentford player Chris Kamara, currently one of Sky Sport’s most excitable pundits, for a selection of dinner party and pub quiz material.
As well as the actual facts and figures, Digance and Kamara have added their own “footynotes”, usually an attempt at humour which works on some occasions but fails miserably on others.
Did you know, for instance, that on the day of Scottish football’s record score, Arbroath’s 36-0 victory over Bon Accord, Dundee Harp beat Aberdeen Rovers 35-0?
Ever heard that Bobby Charlton scored twice on his first team debut in 1956 against, you’ve guessed it, Charlton. Or were you aware that the reason Juventus play in black and white stripes was as a tribute to Notts County, who gave the the Italian giants their first kit.
A particularly useless piece of information is that Hull City is the only football team name in which no letter can be filled in by a pen.
Some of the anagrams are clever-ish, such as “sell us a chop” (Paul Scholes), “eg Get Sober” (George Best), “coronation lad sir” (Cristiano Ronaldo), “row ye anyone” (Wayne Rooney) and “yer magic ball” (Craig Bellamy). JWT
Can A Robot Be Human? 33 Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles and What’s Wrong With Eating People? 33 More Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles, by Peter Cave. Published by Oneworld, £7.99 each.
These little books are intended to introduce the reader to different aspects of philosophy – epistemology, logic, ethics – without getting snared in such terminology. They start from the conundrums – why does Achilles never catch the tortoise? – and work forwards rather than from the dead white European males who confronted and tried to solve them.
It’s a smart idea, and if the short pieces leave you hankering for more Cave has appended a substantial further reading section at the back of each book. The rapid-fire style grates a little.
Seven Troop by Andy McNab. Published by Bantam Press, £20.
PART way through the first chapter of Andy McNab’s latest book, I make an embarrassing discovery.
This is not a thrill-packed fictional novel but a return to McNab’s original form as inventor of the modern military memoir.
But my ignorance can, at least partly, be excused. The former SAS soldier, who became known for his account of the first Gulf War in Bravo Two Zero, has also let his imagination run riot through fictional works such as Brute Force and Crossfire.
Seven Troop, as it turns out, is a return to previous form, exploring his pre-Gulf days when he was assigned to B Squadron – one of the four Sabre Squadrons of the SAS.
From there, he joined A Troop, otherwise known as Seven Troop, and on to a life of adventure and unforgettable drama.
McNab’s books have certain appeal for some people, but to be honest I found his gung-ho attitude and comic-book style a bit wearisome.
Credit where it’s due, though. McNab makes a valid attempt to go beyond the usual boys with toys warfare antics.
Many things in war will take a man to breaking point: McNab acknowledges this by exploring some of the mental issues many of his band of brothers have had to deal with since hanging up their berets. RT
Computing for the Older and Wiser by Adrian Arnold. Published by Wiley, £12.99.
THIS IS an introduction to computers for those who might be frightened of using a computer because they might break it.
It has straightforward instructions on how to use your computer from switching it on and off right through to using the internet, email and getting the best from your digital photos.
Each chapter leads on to the next and a quick question and answer section at the end of each chapter to reinforces what you have learnt.
This book is ideal for anyone who would like to use a computer not to understand how it works, but as a tool for communication and entertainment. JC
That’s not my Santa, by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Rachel Wells. Published by Usborne, £5.99.
THE Christmas-themed book of the That’s not my… series is a wonderful way for young children to get a touchy-feely as well as visual sense of all those seasonal attributes so familiar to adults.
My 17-month-old son was very taken with the sparkly sleigh, the rough sack and the squashy boots at the end of Santa’s legs as they disappear down yet another chimney. It’s among his favourite books of the moment. PR
Noisy Wind-up Fire Engine, by Sam Taplin, illustrated by Gustavo Mazali. Published by Usborne, £14.99.
THIS hoot of a book comes with a small plastic wind-up fire engine which scoots around three different tracks – but it’s a bit more than a racetrack between covers. Each track is accompanied by a story chronicling some of the different events fire fighters get called out to. Beware of the loud siren which had my toddler smiling but me and his mother wincing after several minutes! PR
Commander Nova’s Pop-up Alien Space Station, by Nick Denchfield and Steve Cox. Published by Macmillan, £14.99.
WITH three pop-up space stations and a host of pop-out characters to populate them, this is a superb book with which school age children can indulge their intergalactic imaginations.
The story of Nick Nova and his pet rat Screech and their adventures on board the station commanded by his mother merely provide a starting-point for potentially hours of fun without a screen in sight. PR
My Fairy Funfair by Maggie Bateson and Louise Comfort. Published by MacMillan, £14.99.
THE sweet smell of fairy floss was floating in the air and that only meant one thing – the Fairy Funfair. I was inspired by this book. It was joyful, colourful and there was happiness on every page. There were pop-ups at the end and press-out fairies that you could just slip into the rides. Some rides would go wissshhh! Some others would go wwoooo! You could also move some of the rides. I enjoyed reading it – it was special to me.
Kirsty Tait, aged 7