Skip to content

Posts from the ‘On our Bookshelf’ Category


Great Railway Maps of the World

A colourful and beautifully realised book that details different railway maps, past and present, from around the world.  The scale of the reproductions limits the use of the book as a reference work – some of the maps can only be interpreted with high magnification – but its true worth lies in its artistic presentation of the varying styles adopted in mapping railway systems.

The accompanying text is clear and comfortingly non-specialist, and the book is enriched by the inclusion of advertising poster images commissioned by railway companies.

The book also tries to show in several cases how railway systems have shrunk – USA and the United Kingdom being familiar examples – and also how developing countries have grown their networks.  The book uses these as examples only, for its aim is not to provide a comprehensive history of the railways of the world.   What it does do, in its 138 pages, is to show how the functional railway could make striking use of art and design in proclaiming its identity and in marketing its services.

Author: Mark Ovenden      Publisher: Particular Books        ISBN: 978 1 84614 392 5

Reviewed by Les Tucker, contributing author
Les enjoyed a teaching career in Further and Higher Education, moving from English to leading a Drama and Performing Arts Department. He studied Spanish History at University and still lists History as one of his main interests. He has never stopped being a trainspotter and wears his anorak with pride. His other sources of pleasure, if not profit, are the Turf, the British brewing industry and experimental theatre. Les is a scriptwriter and drama examiner. He describes himself as an omnivore where books are concerned.

A history of the World in 100 Objects

Oh yes, this is dip in reading for at least a year!  With 100 historical objects to read about, from the earliest surviving object made by human hands to the 100th object – a solar powered lamp and charger it would fascinate anyone interested in man’s history.

The BBC wanted a series of talks about historical objects that previous civilisations have left behind them, often accidentally, as prisms through which we can explore past worlds and the lives of the men and women who lived in them. They collaborated with the British Museum and the chosen range of objects is enormous. Those talks were broadcast on Radio 4 and are still available via the web where you will also find a list of the objects, access to the programmes and other related and relevant information. Each day shows a different object.

In the book Neil MacGregor shows us the significance of each object, how a stone pillar tells us about a great Indian emperor preaching tolerance to his people, how Spanish pieces of eight tell us about the beginning of a global currency, or how an early Victorian tea set tells us about the impact of empire.

Polished stone axe made from jadeite quarried in the Italian Alps found in Canterbury © Trustees of the British Museum

Polished stone axe made from jadeite quarried in the Italian Alps found in Canterbury © Trustees of the British Museum

Each immerses you the reader in a past civilisation accompanied by an exceptionally well informed guide.

This is truly a feast of information, well written, easy to assimilate and most memorable.

It is a family book too, not just for dad. I’m sure many a pupil will find the book a very good source of reference. It is a triumph of planning and dissemination.

Reviewed by Bob Beaney, social observer and guest contributor


Our Top Ten SIMPLY SUPER Christmas Gifts

In the space of a year we see a fair number of items we rather like. Here are our top ten we think would make fabulous, interesting and thoughtful gifts for Christmas 2011. They are of course equally appropriate at other times of the year.

Jean Christophe Novelli - Connoisseur Knives

Jean Christophe Novelli - Connoisseur Knives

1. Novelli Cooking Knives

These knives will last a lifetime, in fact they are designed to last for more than one generation. Beautifully balanced, made from the best of materials they are a joy to work with. We love using them. More …

Wolsztyn Steam Train Centre © Trevor Jones

Wolsztyn Steam Train Centre © Trevor Jones

2. A Footplate Holiday in Poland – The Steam Engine Enthusiast’s Dream More …

3. However this beautiful book  Great Railway Maps of the World may be a less generous gift than a trip to Poland but just as acceptable we’re sure. More …

4. Forever Rumpole

The loveable legal rough diamond Horace Rumpole who refers to his wife as She who must be obeyed, conjures up an appropriate bon mot whatever the occasion. Forever Rumpole is a fine choice for bedtime reading. More …

5. A History of the World in 100 Objects

Oh yes, this is bedtime reading for at least a year!  This is a great dip into book, with 100 historical objects to read about, from the earliest surviving object made by human hands to the 100th object – a solar powered lamp and charger. It would fascinate anyone interested in man’s history. Wonderful book. More …

6. Garden tools Investing in garden tools can be a hit and miss affair but here are three we have tried and liked for their utility. We loved the Fiskar trowel, patio broom and axes – our choice for 2012. More

Fiskar Trowel

Fiskar Trowel

7. Growing plants from seeds is one of our passions. We usually go for Thompson & Morgan seeds but sometimes when we can’t find what we are looking for, we look at the Sow Seeds website. A small independent seed business based in Cheshire offering the home gardener, allotment holder and commercial growers the finest quality seeds at great prices it is worthy of support. They provide Gift Vouchers and Seed Boxes, ideal gifts for beginner gardeners and old timers alike.

And for those you know who suffered in the drought this year we highly recommend having some Supa Drippas to hand just in case it happens again next year. More

8. Our kitchen waste is now being collected in the kitchen itself, saves us going down the garden in all weathers. This is achieved because we are now using a Bokashi composter – the micro organic process with no smell. Believe us when we say it is so good we keep telling everyone about it! And it is our favourite gift to our gardening friends. More

9. For every harassed Mum or Dad – the answer to  replacing damaged playthings! Saves a fortune – a lifeline especially to anyone not handy with broken stuff. A great stocking filler/tree gift. More

Getting ready to taste eight different wines to match with Festive food

10. Our final suggestion is a course at the Wine Academy in Queen Anne St, Marylebone, for anyone you know  interested in knowing much more about wine. We recently attended a wine and food matching course, absolutely excellent, led by Suzy Atkins, wine writer for The Times. We can’t rate this highly enough. Fantastic gift. We will be writing about our experience in the near future.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Forever Rumpole – a wonderful read

Forever Rumpole  contains what John Mortimer described as the best of the Rumpole stories.  Fourteen stories, the first published in 1978, the last in 2004 together with the text of the last, unfinished, story – Rumpole and the Brave New World.

Mortimer had a truly unique style of writing and great powers of description …

I didn’t sleep well that night. Whether it was the Majestic mattress, which appeared to be stuffed with firewood, or the sounds, as of a giant suffering from indigestion, which reverberated from the central heating, or mere anxiety about the case, I don’t know. At any rate Albert and I were down in the cells as soon as they opened.

Mortimer was an excellent raconteur with a fund of stories to tell. His after dinner speeches were legendary and Anne Mallalieu, who worked with him for many years, describes a dinner where he had an audience of over a thousand people in the palm of his hand, a gift given to a very few.

I had a wonderful time with Rumpole, going to and from the Bailey, Wormwood Scrubs, meeting his most valued clients the Timsons, going home to Hilda, She Who Must be Obeyed, at 25B Froxbury Mansions in Gloucester Road, having a drink in Pommeroy’s Wine Bar, and getting to meet his colleagues Miss Phillida Trant, Claude Erskine-Brown and Uncle Tom among many others.

This book is an excellent bedtime read, it will send you asleep in a good humour!

To find out much more about Rumpole here is an excellent website

Forever Rumpole is published by Penguin Viking  ISBN 978 0 670 91936-9

Reviewed by Philippa Green, contributing author


Finding a Suitable Care Home, a book to help

© Pintail Media

© Pintail Media

The time may come when we are faced, probably unwillingly, with the possibility of finding a suitable care home for a relative or family friend. With little or no experience of such places searching out an acceptable home can be daunting. One that at least I had had no experience of. As luck would have it I heard about the independent guide to choosing a care home in the south east of England, entitled The Care Homes Guide – South East England. One in a series, it proved to be a mine of information especially in relation to financial considerations.

For us it raised more questions than answers which needed a lot of time to understand and resolve. However the book has an extensive directory of approved homes, impartial and clear comparisons, and essential advice on choosing the right home, as well as useful contacts. We found it a reliable and very readable source of information and became our essential reference source.

Highly recommended, published by Crimson Publishing, £14.99,

You may also find our recent feature Care Homes: How to avoid being wrongly charged of interest.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Jane Eyre – Major New Film – Giveaway Copies of Penguin Classic

Penguin Classic - Film tie-in

Penguin Classic - Film tie-in

The Penguin Classic Jane Eyre is the tie-in book for the major new film directed by Cary Fukunaga to be released next Friday, 9 September.

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell and Judi Dench it promises to be an exciting version of a wonderful story.

Orphaned Jane Eyre undergoes a baptism of fire – from suffering the cruelty of her coldhearted relatives to the harsh regime at a charity school. Emerging from these experiences a fiery heroine, Jane challenges inequality and the hypocrisy of her keepers. But the strictures of her upbringing are a thing apart when faced with her love for the brooding Mr Rochester and the secrets of his dark past.

Bronte’s controversial proto-feminist classic has had over eighteen film adaptations. Cary Fukunaga, the director of this 2011 versions, says ‘I’m a stickler for raw authenticity, so I’ve spent a lot of time rereading the book. Other adaptations treat it like it’s just a period romance, and I think it’s much more than that.’

Radical in its time for its depiction of women and its challenge to accepted class standards, Jane Eyre has attained enduring significance for combining these controversial issues with a classic love story.

Charlotte Bronte (1816-55) was the eldest sister of novelists Emily and Anne Bronte. Jane Eyre appeared in 1847 and was followed by Shirley (1848) and Villette (1853). In 1854 Charlotte Brontee married her father’s curate, Arther Bell Nicholls. She died on 31 March 1855 in Haworth, Yorkshire, and The Professor was posthumously published in 1857.

This is one of our all-time favourite books and are so looking forward to seeing the new film version.



We have three copies to give away to In Balance readers
To enter the draw send an email to with Jane Eyre – Cary Fukunaga’s new film in the subject box and your full contact details in the text box
Make sure your entry reaches us by latest 5 October 2011
Only one entry per household

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: