Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham (Vol. III)

Maugham was a witty fellow. This collection of short stories features the British agent Ashenden – who it is said inspired Ian Fleming’s Bond. { particularly in Ian Fleming’s accounts of James Bond’s dealings with M}

In any case, they revolve around the First World War – and are loosely based on the author’s experience of being an agent for the Intelligence Dept. during this time. As he puts it – ” The work of an agent in the Intelligence Department is on the whole monotonous. A lot of it is uncommonly useless. The material it offers for stories is scrappy and pointless, the author has himself to make it coherent, dramatic and probable’

Apparently some of his stories were juicier and closer to the truth but were axed by Winston Churchill because they violated the Official Secrets Act..

Very readable, witty, highly recommended.

Another work – Ashenden: Or the British Agent which Somerset Maugham published in 1928 and is a complete collection of all the Ashenden short stories.



William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris in 1874, his father the solicitor at the British Consulate. He studied literature and philosophy at Heidelberg University, and then medicine at St. Thomas’ in London. It was during this time as a medical student he built on his experiences and published Liza of Lambeth in 1897.

After the 1930s Maugham’s reputation abroad was greater than in England.


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The Holy Blood – Holy Grail – Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)

Holy Blood Holy Grail Cover
Written as a follow up to a BBC documentary, this is the book where the authors presented an ‘audacious’ and groundbreaking hypothesis : theories which of course have achieved notoriety in the shape of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. It’s funny – on the back cover ( it did cause a fair amount of hoo-ha when it was released) Newsweek said ‘ A brilliant thriller in the making’ – and of course, as we know, some people came along and did just that. Definitely worth a read. Of course for all Templar and Grail enthusiasts but nowadays anyone who wanted to know about where some of the ideas presented in the fictional Da Vinci Code had their roots ( and enough information and bibliography is presented in the text for people to take their own research further and draw their own conclusions about the subject matter) Again – they make it clear that theirs is a startling hypothesis and a set of speculations about historical events.

The Rule of Four – Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason


Great – I really enjoyed reading this – I admit i’m fascinated with ancient and mediaeval texts and a good mystery at the same time so this was right up my street. It’s focus is the mysterious, lengthy, erudite and anonymous Renaissance text – the Hypneromatochia Poliphili

“A mysterious coded manuscript, a violent Ivy League murder, and the secrets of a Renaissance prince collide in a labyrinth of betrayal, obsession, and genius..”

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Zadie Smith discusses her latest book ‘On Beauty’ at Wanstead Library this Saturday – 29th July.

book cover zadie smith

This is her third novel and was published in 2005, and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction. It’s been referred to in a lot of reviews as a ‘homage to EM Forster’.

Starts at 7.00 p.m. and tickets are £3.


Wanstead Library is in the London Borough of Redbridge

Spratt Hall Road
E11 2RQ

Tel: 020 8708 7400

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Ring – Koji Suzuki 


Published in 1991 – the book behind the cult movie/s. Has been since translated into English and published by HarperCollins.

The guardian review referred to this as 'postmodern japanese terror' – well however you choose to phrase it – it was certainly that. Postmodern – perhaps because there are no gory scenes – certainly nothing to compare with the usual fare of the 'horror' genre (and suzuki has been referred to as the japanese 'Stephen King'..) – instead this i would say is coldly terrifying. Much more spine-chilling than the conventional gore-filled horror. There is something about the tightly written script that inspires dread and that prickling feeling .. Delicately ambiguous, fast-paced and tense, it grips you all the way to the shattering conclusion. The Ring is the first book in a trilogy that has been hugely succesful – Spiral and Loop are the others.

Read more here – Interview with author

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summer house

from the blurb on the back cover:

Rose Fell’s friends think she’s taking a big risk when she leaves the security of home and career to move to the beautiful but isolated village of Grosso, near Genoa. But after a year of emotional turmoil Rose no longer has any ties back home, and she relishes the challenges of a new start.

Making a home, however, in the ravishing, haunted landscape of Italy’s riviera coast, turns out to be lonelier than Rose had anticipated. And it is only when she is asked to write a profile of one of her reclusive neighbours, the once-glamorous film star Elvira Vitale, that Rose feels her new life is really beginning.

But when a young girl’s body is found on the local beach, and the following day Elvira’s cleaner, Ania, goes missing, Rose finds herself embroiled in a murder investigation that threatens the idyll she has worked so hard to establish.

–an interesting tale –she paints an evocative picture of the landscape–

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beautiful bodies – laura shaine cunningham

painfully honest and reflexive. i don't often read too many books that deal honestly with certain aspects of 'female friendship' – the group dynamics, peer pressure, the bully of the group that no-one actually likes but are too kind and diplomatic to do anything about. it reveals the frustration that results from having stressful friends ( who needs enemies when your friends stress you out eh?)

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‘London under London: A Subterranean Guide’

by Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman. Published by John Murray Ltd. New edition 1994

A wonderfully fascinating- and- highly informative account and details of subterranean London. From the history of digging beneath the streets, tunnels under the Thames, the history of the Underground, the ‘lost’rivers that have ‘gone’ under, the Blitz and the digging of the Channel Tunnel, it is riveting reading all the way. very witty and amusing as well.

Likely to be of interest to a wide range of readers, not just those with an interest in archaeology/history. A must-read for anyone who’s interested in London.

On a related note – Underground History –> a fascinating website all about disused stations on the London Underground.

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Green Tea and Other Tales by Sheridan LeFanu

Irish writer born in 1814 well known for his ghost stories and supernaturalist fiction. M.R. James was a great fan of his work. He published his vampire story Carmilla in 1872 – predating Bram Stoker's Dracula – ( it is theorized that Stoker was possibly influenced by Carmilla).

the wikipedia article on him points out:

"His best-known works, still read today, are the macabre mystery novel Uncle Silas (1864), 'The Rose and the Key' (1871), and the collection In a Glass Darkly (1872), which contains Carmilla as well as 'Green Tea' and 'The Familiar', two famous stories of enigmatic hauntings apparently provoked by obscure guilt "

A lot of his work is available online – the Green Tea e-text is available here.


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images from old books

A lovely resource i've found via Leighton Cooke – From Old Books : here you can find scanned images, engravings and pictures from old books.

"Remains of Ruined Castles, Deserted Abbeys, Old Manor Houses, mansions and stately homes.."


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Persian Pictures

Persian Pictures by Gertrude Bell (1892) London: Ernest Benn Ltd.

her first published work : a poetic travelogue full of sensuous imagery. after finishing at Oxford, Gertrude Bell went out to Tehran in May 1892 where her uncle had a posting.

"Here in the dust and the sunshine is an epitome of the living East, and standing unnoticed in a doorway, you will admit that you have not travelled in vain. But as the procession of people files past you, you will realize what a gulf lies between you. The East looks to itself; it knows nothing of the greater world of which you are a citizen, asks nothing of you and your civilization."

persian pictures

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