Title: The Times Lives Less Ordinary

Author: Nigel Farndale and Times Books

Pages: 416 Pages

Publisher: Collins Reference

The Blurb

Discover the lives of some of the most fascinating and unconventional characters of recent times, with 80 obituaries carefully curated from The Times archive. Be they dons, pop stars, vicars, MPs, rugby players or aristocrats, each has marched to the beat of their own drum and led a life far from ordinary.

The Times obituaries have given readers throughout the world an instant picture of a life for more than 150 years. Meet the mavericks, rogues and eccentrics from recent history, including:

  • Baroness Trumpington, the codebreaking, chainsmoking, two-finger-flicking grande dame of British politics
  • ‘Magic Alex’ Mardas, inventor who was the Beatles’ ‘scientific guru’
  • Zsa Zsa Gábor, Hungarian socialite and actress who made a success out of celebrity and was best known for having married nine times
  • John Lucas, influential philosopher who argued against determinism and had a reputation for being the most eccentric don in Oxford
  • Brigadier Jack Thomas, military police commander who survived a landmine, bullet, rhino and faulty parachute and liked to watch TV with an owl on his head
  • April Ashley, model, socialite and transgender rights campaigner whose reassignment surgery was part of a rollercoaster life of lovers and high drama
  • Jordan Mooney, punk muse known as ‘the original Sex Pistol’ who appeared on stage with them, guided their ‘look’ and then became a veterinary nurse

Authoritative, insightful and endlessly engaging, this book is a must for anyone with an interest in the eccentrics and unique characters of recent times.

The Review

What a delightful collection of obituaries celebrating the lives of some really fascinating people.

Now I know it probably seems macabre reading obituaries but the collection found in The Times Lives Less Ordinary are absolutely brilliant. They really do look at the achievements and the curiosities of some creative characters throughout recent history.

This is a chunkster of a book though and I would class it more as a palette cleanser. Read it sparingly and in between other reads but it is a jolly good book.

The Times Lives Less Ordinary by Nigel Farndale is available now.

For more information regarding Nigel Farndale (@nigelfarndale) please visit www.nigelfarndale.com.

Title: The Royal Art of Poison – Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul

Author: Eleanor Herman

Pages: 304 Pages

Publisher: St Martin’s Press

The Blurb

Hugely entertaining, a work of pop history that traces the use of poison as a political—and cosmetic—tool in the royal courts of Western Europe from the Middle Ages to the Kremlin today

The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their chamber pots.

Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’t see what lies beneath the royal robes and the stench of unwashed bodies; the lice feasting on private parts; and worms nesting in the intestines. 

In The Royal Art of Poison, Eleanor Herman combines her unique access to royal archives with cutting-edge forensic discoveries to tell the true story of Europe’s glittering palaces: one of medical bafflement, poisonous cosmetics, ever-present excrement, festering natural illness, and, sometimes, murder.

The Review

What a fascinating read.

The Royal Art of Poison looks at the development of medicine and the concerns and hysteria surrounding poison throughout history. Eleanor Herman uses famous people throughout history and looks at the way they dealt with the threat of poison, the contemporary belief of what illnesses eventually got the famous person and also what a modern diagnosis would be. In some cases, the mystery has been resolved through exhumation of the body but in other cases it is conjecture.

With The Royal Art of Poison you are taken on a fascinating journey and as a modern reader you can laugh at some of the silly things that they thought but this is through the goggles of modern medicine. If you were a contemporary of those featured in this book then you would believe the same things. It is a testament to how much we have advanced in the medical world.

An absolutely fascinating read.

The Royal Art of Poison – Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman is available now.

For more information regarding Eleanor Herman (@eleanorherman) please visit www.eleanorherman.com.

For more information regarding St Martin’s Press (@StMartinsPress) please visit their Twitter page.

Title: The Breakup Monologues – The Unexpected Joy of Heartbreak

Author: Rosie Wilby

Pages: 288 Pages

Publisher: Bloomsbury

The Blurb

Mixing humour, heartache and science, award-winning comedian, author and accidental relationship guru Rosie Wilby embarks on a quest to investigate, understand and conquer the psychology of heartbreak. Tragedy plus time equals comedy, right?

In 2011, comedian Rosie Wilby was dumped by email. .. though she did feel a little better about it after correcting her ex’s spelling and punctuation. Obsessing about breakups ever since, she embarked on a quest to investigate, understand and conquer the psychology of heartbreak.

That quest proved to be a creatively fertile one, resulting in Rosie’s acclaimed podcast The Breakup Monologues. She decided to ask her colleagues on the circuit about their experiences of romantic disaster and recovery, thinking, ‘if one group of people have become adept at learning from catastrophe it is comedians. The worst onstage deaths are the performances that enlighten us most about how to improve.’ She wondered if comics had been able to transfer this ‘fail better’ logic to love.

This book is a love letter to her breakups, a celebration of what they have taught her peppered with anecdotes from illustrious friends and interviews with relationship therapists, scientists and sociologists about separating in the modern age of ghosting, breadcrumbing and conscious uncoupling. Her plan is to assimilate their advice and ideas in order to not break up with Girlfriend, her partner of nearly three years. Will this self-confessed serial monogamist, and breakup addict, finally settle down?

The Review

The theme of love is a topic long since discussed but often we shy away from talking about the pain of heartbreak. Rosie Wilby, in her book The Breakup Monologues, does just that and she does it well.

Mixing pathos and humour we hear about the bad relationship experiences that Rosie Wilby has had that have led her to understand breakups and look at them with fresh eyes. What is really rather nice is that not once in the book does Wilby point blame or make her exes out to be bad people she just explains things from her perspective and how she felt during the relationships which led to the breakup. If she had become angry and showering people with blame then I feel that it would be a less enjoyable read.

Along with opinions of experts and her friends you get a multi-perspective view on what it feels like to break up with someone or be broken up with and there is comfort in knowing you aren’t alone in that feeling.

The Breakup Monologues – The Unexpected Joy of Heartbreak by Rosie Wilby is available now.

For more information regarding Rosie Wilby (@rosiewilby) please visit www.rosiewilbynews.blogspot.com.

For more information regarding Bloomsbury (@BloomsburyBooks) please visit www.bloomsbury.com.

Title: After Agatha – Women Write Crime

Author: Sally Cline

Pages: 256 Pages

Publisher: Oldcastle Books

The Blurb

From Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith to Val McDermid and JK Rowling, After Agatha is an indispensable guide to women’s crime writing over the last century and an exploration of why women read crime

Spanning the 1930s to present day, After Agatha charts the explosion in women’s crime writing and examines key developments on both sides of the Atlantic: from the women writers at the helm of the UK Golden Age and their American and Canadian counterparts fighting to be heard, to the 1980s experimental trio, Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton, who created the first female PIs, and the more recent emergence of forensic crime writing and domestic noir thrillers such as Gone Girl and Apple Tree Yard.

After Agatha examines the diversification of crime writing and highlights landmark women’s novels which featured the marginalised in society as centralised characters.

Cline also explores why women readers are drawn to the genre and seek out justice in crime fiction, in a world where violent crimes against women rarely have such resolution.

The book includes interviews with dozens of contemporary authors such as Ann Cleeves, Sophie Hannah, Tess Gerritsen and Kathy Reichs and features the work of hundreds of women crime and mystery writers.

It is an essential read for crime fiction lovers.

The Review

I am not really a reader of crime fiction and I have to admit I have never read an Agatha Christie novel (I feel like I need to had back by book club membership card. That being said, I am the perfect audience for crime novels because the ones that I have read have completely floored me. I have been flabbergasted and shocked and totally outfoxed by the writer. I never predict the ending and everything is a shock to me. I am the audience that a crime writer wants to read their book.

I went into After Agatha really looking for direction into what authors I should read to get fully immersed in the genre. I got that which is good but I also got a full rounded education into the reasons why people, women in particular, like crime fiction. It was truly fascinating. And whilst that element was really interesting, how the various writers deal with brutality and crime was equally engaging and gave me more focus on whose work I would like to read.

This is a great read if you are looking for your next crime series.

After Agatha by Sally Cline is available now.

For more information regarding Oldcastle Books (@OldcastleBooks) please visit www.oldcastlebooks.co.uk.

Title: Gay Bar

Author: Jeremy Atherton Lin

Pages: 320 Pages

Publisher: Granta Books

The Blurb

From leather parties in the Castro to Gay Liberation Front touch-ins; from disco at Studio One to dark rooms in Vauxhall railway arches, the gay bar has long been a place of joy, solidarity and sexual expression. But around the world, gay bars are closing. In the wake of this cultural demolition, Jeremy Atherton Lin rediscovers the party boys and renegades who lived and loved in these spaces.

Gay Bar is a sparkling, richly individual history of enclaves in London, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is also the story of the author’s own experiences as a mixed-race gay man, and the transatlantic romance that began one restless night in Soho. Expansive, vivacious, curious, celebratory, Gay Bar asks: where shall we go tonight?

The Review

Jeremy Atherton Lin’s book Gay Bar is a great amalgamation of bothe memoir and history book. The book centres on not only gay bars but the community he finds or at times doesn’t find in them. With Atherton Lin we travel across the western world to look at the gay bars and what they mean to people. How they became a safe haven for the exploration of sexuality, something that has only been legal for just over half a century.

I did feel that sometimes Jeremy Atherton Lin kept you at arms length in the memoir part of Gay Bar and therefore I did find the history sections much more engaging. However, it is an interesting read but not for the faint hearted. If you are offended by reading about sex in its many forms then this may not be the read for you.

Gay Bar by Jeremy Atherton Lin is available now.

For more information regarding Granta Books (@GrantaBooks) please visit www.granta.com.