Pig and Pepper – David Footman

Some time ago I read a potted history of the Russian revolutions by David Footman and, whilst researching the author to write my blog on the book, I came across references to this book. So, of course, I ordered it and it finally floated to the top of my “to read” pile.

David Footman was a diplomat, a spy and a historian so it isn’t surprising that this book is set in the diplomatic community in the Balkan state of Vuchinia where the narrator, Mills, has been posted.

The story is, ostensibly, about how an underemployed consul and other members of the bored ex-pat community fall for a con man who turns up in Vuchinia, having fled Poland.

Vickery, the con man, stirs things up, makes life more interesting and exciting and then moves on, leaving a trail of turmoil and destruction behind him.

The story is also a picture of early to mid-20th century English-abroad behaviour; the cliquishness, the superiority and the smugness.

It was clear from early on how the story was going to unfold but mostly I enjoyed the journey. Occasionally, I wanted to shout at Mills not to be so naive, to stop being so self-centred and to treat the women in his life better. It is definitely a book of its time when it comes to women’s role in the plotline!

This book isn’t a page turner but it is a pleasant way to while away a Sunday.

Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims – Toby Clements

It isn’t often I review the “story books” I read but I really enjoyed this one and wanted to share my thoughts.

The book is set during the War of the Roses, an era of history I find interesting. The main protagonists are Thomas and Katherine and we follow their journey from rural calm to the middle of the action at the Battle of Towton.

When we first meet them Thomas is monk whose role is to write and illustrate texts. Katherine is an oblate at the nunnery next to the monastery. Katherine, at the nearby river washing is attacked by a band of horseman and Thomas comes to her rescue. Both end up fleeing religious life and the book follows their adventure to Calais, Wales, Northampton and, finally, Towton.

I enjoyed reading this book; I liked the setting, both time and places and I liked the characters, wanting to know more about Katherine’s mysterious past and what happens next. The ending is definitely calculated to make you buy the next in the series and I’m pleased I picked up this series when all 4 books are published; it would have been frustrating to have to wait for the next book to come out!

It is interesting to read the descriptions of the battles and to have a glimmer of an idea about what it must have been like to be in the thick of the action at Towton. It will be interesting to go back to the site of the battle with this imagery in my head; nowadays it is peaceful, rural, agricultural scene. (The picture at the top is of Towton)

I can’t, at the moment, think of anything I didn’t enjoy about this book. It was a good page turner, set in a period I know a little about and would like to know more of, with likable, interesting characters. Clearly, with this type of book, you need to suspend disbelief to some extent – these characters would almost certainly not have had all these adventures – but it’s a good story.

If you like historical adventure stories I’d recommend it.

Click here to find out more about the Battle of Towton


Motor Racing; the golden age. Extraordinary images from 1900 to 1970 – John Tennant

A lovely, surprise birthday present from my partner.  This book is a book of photographs of various motor racing events from, as the title says, 1900 to 1970.  There are few words, mainly captions explaining what the event is, where it is and who is in the photo, where these details are known.

It’s the kind of book to look through on a wet Sunday afternoon, curled up in a chair with a nice glass of red or cup of good coffee.

Unlike modern motor racing photos where you can see the car and, because of the speed, everything else is a blur these photos show details of where the cars are racing and the people watching.  This makes it interesting to examine the pictures rather than just look at them.

You can study how the landscape around Brooklands changes.  You can watch how fashions change, how people made a day out of going to a race (and compare it to a modern race meet).  It is interesting to see how the cars develop and what drivers wear to race.

In one way I really liked the fact that the pictures are in no particular order other than that’s the way they fitted onto the pages and is how the author/editor wanted them.  In another way it’s a bit frustrating leaping from a 1902 hill climb to the end of the 1968 Grand Prix on the same double spread (this might be a bit of an extreme exaggeration but you get the point).

It would have been nice to have a bit of a thematic link and perhaps some narrative to link the pictures and put them into some sort of context.

That said, on the next rainy, Sunday afternoon you’re likely to find me curled up, with a nice glass of red, pouring over these pictures again.

How to Build a Car – Adrian Newey

A completely different kettle of fish from the last autobiography I read!  This one is written by Adrian Newey, designer of F1 cars.  The book is part autobiography and partly about how Newey designs and builds cars.

I was bought the book for Christmas 2017 and have been saving it, looking forward to finding the right time to indulge in reading it.

The autobiography part of the book is interesting.  I always enjoy finding out about people and how they get to where they are at, in whatever field.  In Adrian Newey’s case it seems to have been a lifelong passion to be able to design/draw cars and then be able to build them.  It’s somehow always uplifting to read about someone achieving their ambition, although I expect that level of drive and determination makes them a pain to live with – something alluded to in the book.

Once the author gets a job working in motor racing the autobiography parts of the book become more of a background narrative to the development of the cars and their performance.  As someone who is interested in how cars work I really enjoyed reading about the development of F1 cars and reading about the sport has become more scientific in its development methods over the years.

It’s also interesting to get a different perspective on the “names” from F1 Newey has worked with; Nigel Mansell, Patrick Head, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis etc. I hadn’t realised Adrian Newey had designed the car Ayrton Senna died in. And although it is covered in the book I can’t begin to imagine how that must feel.

The downside of the book is that it rather trails off at the end.  There is no proper summing up or ending.  I can see why; Adrian Newey is still very much alive and kicking, moving on to do other things, but I feel he could have picked a clear end point for the book and put the rest in a short “watch this space, this is what’s coming next” chapter.  Possibly the end of chapter 74 when Red Bull have just won their third Driver’s and Constructor’s championship would have been the right place to stop.

Overall though I really enjoyed reading this book and, as long as you have some interest in how cats are built and work, I’d really recommend it.