Books Monthly July 2020 nonfiction books - Thank You NHS...
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Book of the Month - David Ousoga & Melanie Backe-Hansen: A House Through Time

 Published by Picador 14th May 2020

In recent years house histories have become the new frontier of popular, participatory history. People, many of whom have already embarked upon that great adventure of genealogical research, and who have encountered their ancestors in the archives and uncovered family secrets, are now turning to the secrets contained within the four walls of their homes and in doing so finding a direct link to earlier generations. And it is ordinary homes, not grand public buildings or the mansions of the rich that have all the best stories.

As with the television series, A House Through Time offers readers not only the tools to explore the histories of their own homes, but also a vividly readable history of the British city, the forces of industry, disease, mass transportation, crime and class. The rises and falls, the shifts in the fortunes of neighbourhoods and whole cities are here, tracing the often surprising journey one single house can take from elegant dwelling in a fashionable district to a tenement for society’s rejects.

Packed with remarkable human stories, it is a phenomenal insight into living history, a history we can see every day on the streets where we live. And it reminds us that it is at home that we are truly ourselves. It is there that the honest face of life can be seen. At home, behind closed doors and drawn curtains, we live out our inner lives and family lives.

The BBC programme on which this book is based finished this week (16th June) and has been as riveting as the first two series. As the Black Lives Matter campaign has gathered momentum, so has the prominence of Professor David Olusoga in the media - his opinions as a respected historian make perfect sense to me, but then we've watched all three series and consider him to be one of the very best TV presenters we've ever seen. We've also been interested - well, more than interested, really - in genealogy, and spent a few months a couple of years back trawling through the records on and FindMyPast in an attempt to discover our family secrets, and there were several secrets to be uncovered. The houses we came from are a different matter. I think I know the history of the house I was born in - built in the late 1930s in rural Gloucestershire, and my parents waited for it to be finished, as my older sister Jean was born in the flat above the general store down the road. This may be nonsense. My parents may have been waiting for number 72 Boverton Drive, Brockworth, Gloucestershire to be vacated - there may already have been a family living there, and armed with the information in David and Melanie's book, I may be able to confirm or correct what I thought I knew. My wife's circumstances are entirely different - she lived in a Victorian terrace in North-East London until the family moved out of London to Stevenage New Town, where we met, fell in love and got married 54 years ago (we actually met 56 years ago, which is important). What strikes me about this book (and the television progranmme), is that genealogy, whilst being mainly about people, can also include the property they inhabit or inhabited, and houses are now an important part of tracing your family's history. The book is terrific. You don't need to know which of the joint authors wrote which chapter - it is seamless, and hugely interesting, with references to the three series we've so far enjoyed (a fourth series is planned for a property in Leeds next year). It amazes me how David and his team select a property with so much fascinating history in the first place! Over the last three years, A House Through Time has become our favourite factual programme. The book is superb, and contains a dedicated chapter on the sources online and elsewhere that are available to people who might wish to conduct their own investigations into the lives of the properties their familes inhabited through the centuries. I was particularly fascinated by the maps compiled during the Victorian era to record how well-to-do the inhabitant were, and colour-coded accordingly. I don't read many nonfiction books nowadays - most of them are picture books (art of etc.) but A House Through Time is utterly fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable, a brilliant and very useful adjunct to the television programme. This may turn out to be my choice of best nonfiction book of the year when it comes to choosing in December. David Olusoga is as brilliant a writer as he is a television presenter...

John Ayto: Oxford Dictionary of Idioms

 Published by OUP 18th June 2020

What is it to 'cock a snook', where is the land of Nod, and who was first to go the extra mile? Find the answers to these questions (and many more!) in the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms.

This dictionary uncovers the meanings of myriad phrases and sayings that are used daily in the English language, encompassing more than 10,000 figurative expressions, similes, sayings, and proverbs. More than 400 idioms have been added to this new edition, and comprise recently coined and common sayings alike. New additions include 'back of the net', 'drag and drop', 'go it alone', 'how come?', 'if you ask me', 'make your skin crawl', and 'woe betide'.

Illustrative quotations sourced from the Oxford corpora give contextual examples of the idioms and their standard usage, and many entries include background information on the origins of the idiom in question. An updated thematic index makes for easy navigation, and anyone who is interested in the origins and diversity of English vernacular will have hours of fun browsing this fascinating dictionary.

Always useful, but there are faults. Just one example: I saw the phrase "just deserts" in the newspaper and looked it up, thinking it had been misspelt, and should have read "just desserts". John Ayto's entry says "just deserts", but I had to look it up on Wikipedia to discover why it was "deserts" and not "desserts". I know what the phrase means, and it's here in the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, but the author assumes that you know it's spelt that way. Maybe he's right, and I should have known, but I think a little explanation would not have gone amiss in this particular case. Also, I lost count of the number of times I found an entry I was interested in reading, but was referred to another page, as in "See...", and in many cases, the dominant word of a phrase was cross referenced in this way to another page in the book which showcased the less dominant word. But still very interesting and very useful.

Adam Kay: Dear NHS - 100 Stories to Say Thank You

 Published by Trapeze 9th July 2020

Curated and edited by Adam Kay (author of multi-million bestseller This is Going to Hurt), Dear NHS features 100 household names telling their personal stories of the health service. Contributors include: Paul McCartney, Emilia Clarke, Peter Kay, Stephen Fry, Dawn French, Sir Trevor McDonald, Graham Norton, Sir Michael Palin, Naomie Harris, Ricky Gervais, Sir David Jason, Dame Emma Thompson, Joanna Lumley, Miranda Hart, Dermot O'Leary, Jamie Oliver, Ed Sheeran, David Tennant, Dame Julie Walters, Emma Watson, Malala Yousafzai and many, many more.

All profits from this book will go to NHS Charities Together to fund vital research and projects, and The Lullaby Trust which supports parents bereaved of babies and young children. Other writers include Chris O'Dowd, Johnny Vegas, Jack Whitehall, Chris Evans, Lorraine Kelly, Lee Mack, Jonathan Ross, Konnie Huq, Greg James, Frank Skinner, Louis Theroux, KT Tunstall, Sandi Toksvig and Kevin Bridges.The NHS is our single greatest achievement as a country. No matter who you are, no matter what your health needs are, and no matter how much money you have, the NHS is there for you. In Dear NHS, 100 inspirational people come together to share their stories of how the national health service has been there for them, and changed their lives in the process. By turns deeply moving, hilarious, hopeful and impassioned, these stories together become a love letter to the NHS and the 1.4 million people who go above and beyond the call of duty every single day - selflessly, generously, putting others before themselves, never more so than now.They are all heroes, and this book is our way of saying thank you.

Dr Amir Khan: The Doctor Will See You Now

 Published by Ebury Press 20th August 2020

Charting his 15 years working as a GP, from rookie to becoming a partner in one of the UK’s busiest surgeries, Dr Amir Khan’s stories are as much about community and care as they are about blood tests and bodily fluids. Along the way, he introduces us to the patients that have taught him about love, loss and family – from the regulars to the rarities – giving him the most unbelievable highs and crushing lows, and often in just 10 minutes. There is the unsuspecting pregnant woman about to give birth at the surgery; the man offering to drop his trousers and take a urine sample there and then; the family who needs support through bereavement, the vulnerable child who will need continuing care for a long-term health condition; and, of course, the onset of COVID-19 that tested the surgery at every twist and turn. But, it’s all in a day’s work for Amir. The Doctor Will See You Now is a powerful story of hope, love and compassion, but it’s also a rare insider account of what really goes on behind those surgery doors.

Edd Kimber: One Tin Bakes

 Published by Kyle Books 25th June 2020

Whether you want cookies or cakes, pastries or desserts, something fruity, chocolatey, spiced or nutty, baking just got a whole lot easier. From Praline Meringue Cake to Matcha Roll Cake, Peanut Butter Brookies to Tahini Babka Buns, all you need is just one standard 9 x 13in baking tin.
Varied and versatile, requiring minimal skill and little equipment, Edd Kimber's delicious treats range from simple bakes to slice and serve to impressive but achievable showstoppers. 'Edd Kimber's One Tin Bakes is a dazzler of a baking book, using one simple tin to make utterly enviable cakes, gorgeous pies, flavour-loaded buns and bars that'll have you swooping in for seconds. Edd's photography and easy style captures in each recipe a beautiful immediacy and freshness that made me linger on every page without exception.' Dan Lepard. 'A terrifically clever idea - one tin, seventy bakes: From fabulous cakes, cookies and bars to perfect pies and tarts. The recipes are accessible and gorgeous - Edd really knows how to entice - but more importantly, he gives clear instructions for successful bakes. A must-have in your kitchen!' Helen Goh. 'This book is a peek inside the mind of one of my favorite bakers, where creativity with butter and sugar is paired with solid technique and downright fun. Edd shares a true world of possibilities - all within a 9x13 tin. This book is an absolute must-have for every home baker.' Joy Wilson. 'I've been a fan of Edd's since he won the bake off, not only because of his recipes but because of his character. There are no gimmicks and his passion and energy are contagious. Most of all, he makes me want to bake his recipes. This book is accessible yet elegantly photographed and you always feel like he is speaking directly to you, which is special. Of course, being American, I love a sheet cake and the generosity in these recipes makes me want to go to a picnic or a potluck.' Claire Ptak. 'Baking requires skill and perfection and Edd's got it' Mary Berry. 'Edd Kimber brings baking back into British homes' Vogue

Paul Talling: London's Lost Music Venues

 Published by Damaged Goods Books 25th June 2020

A photographic guide to the iconic lost live music venues of London, as they are today. Did you get tinnitus from too many gigs at The Bull & Gate? Spent your youth propping up the bar at The Marquee Club? Or witness early gigs by rock legends on Eel Pie Island? Then this book is for you] Paul Talling takes a look at some of London's much missed music venues from the post-war period to the present day. Featuring photos, adverts & tickets, this book is a portal to a less homogenised London, taking you back to the city's halcyon days of jazz, blues, folk, rock, punk, indie and more. Paul Talling, author of Derelict London and London's Lost Rivers (Random House) turns his attention to the lost and derelict music venues of London, focusing on the smaller, club-sized venues. This book takes a look at some of the iconic venues of the last 60 years with images, flyers and modern day photos of what they are now. Venues include The Marquee Club, The Vortex, The Roxy, The Falcon, The Bull & Gate and many more.

Trish Bure: The Kew Book of Embroidered Flowers

 Published by Search Press 15th July 2020

This sumptuous and inspiring book, complete with reusable iron-on transfers, is written by needlework expert Trish Burr and created in association with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and is the ultimate guide to embroidering flowers. 

All the reusable iron-on transfers needed are kept safely together with the book in an attractive hardback folder.

Focusing mainly on long-and-short stitch and Trish's delicate, considered use of silk shading, the book contains all the clearly-illustrated stitches needed, and gives thorough advice on preparation and choosing fabrics and threads including a handy thread conversion chart. 

The embroideries are reworkings of botanical artworks from Kew's Art Collection. There is one 'starter' project to encourage readers to try out the techniques, one large sampler containing 18 small elements that can be worked individually or as a group, and nine further projects- including a striking spider chrysanthemum, an elegant waterlily and an opulent magnolia. All the projects are shown step-by-step, with an order of work diagram given where appropriate.

The enclosed reusable iron-on transfer papers offer embroiderers a fast and accurate method of transferring the designs - the transfers simply need ironing on to fabric so that the reader can start embroidering straight away. The templates are also included at full size at the back of the book. 

This stunning yet practical book is a must-have for anyone interested in capturing flowers in thread.

Olia Hercules: Summer Kitchens

 Published by Bloomsbury Publishing 25th June 2020

This summer, here are the only recipes you need...

What is a 'summer kitchen'? In Ukraine, it means a small cooking space located in the veg garden, away from the main house. Calling on fond childhood memories and countless conversations and cooking sessions, Olia Hercules shows how you can truly make the most of summery ingredients to create new, inventive and utterly delicious plates of food. Her recipes include burnt aubergine butter on tomato toast, sourdough garlic buns and poppyseed cake with elderflower and strawberries - each bite more delicious than the last.

As you cook your way through generous salads, moreish mains and sweet delights, you'll discover a way of cooking that is both traditional and contemporary, because these techniques and flavour combinations have been handed down through generations, yet reworked for every home kitchen.

Summer Kitchens also has a detailed chapter on fermentation, preserving and pickling (an ancient practice in Ukraine) that will inspire beginners and frequent picklers alike. It's a gorgeous way to discover sustainable, healthy and delicious food for the summer and beyond.

Carol Klein: RHS Grow Your Own Fruit and Veg Bible

 Published by Mitchell Beazley 25th June 2020

Highly-regarded gardener Carol Klein has collaborated with the Royal Horticultural Society to create a lavishly illustrated, easy-to-follow, practical and inspiring beginner's guide to everything you need to know to grow fruit, vegetables, salads and herbs all year round.

With an approach that is environmentally friendly and easy, Carol gives all the advice you need to succeed. Beginners and experienced gardeners alike will be inspired by this indispensable reference for every gardener's bookshelf.

Whatever the size of the garden, this is a book to convert readers to the pleasures of growing and harvesting their own food. From preparing a plot, planning what to plant, and how to grow any one of the 80 featured food plants, this is a book to which growers can return every year, whatever their level of expertise. Key techniques are shown in step-by-step photography and there are invaluable illustrated directories of the best varieties to select for best results.

With her usual energy and enthusiasm, Carol Klein offers green-fingered advice for growing all your appetizing favourites plus many less familiar crops also.

The material is taken from the bestselling RHS Grow Your Own: Veg and RHS Grow Your Own: Fruit.

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 22nd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at and I'll let you know where to send it.

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