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Ed Shepherd (England)

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The Turning of the Tide
The Turning of the Tide
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid And Convincing Sage Of A Great Dynasty Of British History, 1 Sept. 2017
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In the two and a half centuries prior to the Norman Conquest, the Christian people of England struggled against the heathen Vikings. This latest novel from the historical fiction writer David Bruce vividly and convincingly interprets the course of some of the most important decades in the history of England; those of the reigns of King Alfred and his children. Alfred of Wessex and his family are at the heart of this novel which covers over four decades of change in England. From what is known from the remaining historical records, this family made radical changes to English society that had a long-term influence and profoundly affected neighbouring nations. This is a novel populated by characters from every stratum of a bustling and changing Anglo-Saxon society; the characters range from monarchs to commoners. There are courageous figures, devious figures, and the self-serving, and they all play roles that are important to this epic story. The novel has a pace that never allows the story to drag. The relationships between the nobles at the Mercian court are key to the plot, as are the strategies they decide to employ against the intelligent and devious Vikings. But the impulsive Edward, who inherits the crown of Wessex, is a growing source of tension between the two realms. Women had significant status in Anglo-Saxon society. Spells of stable governance under a revered and formidable female ruler always seem to be popular with the English nation, and the occasional ruthlessness of the “Ladies of Mercia” accords with the times. A key point in this novel is when the rule of Mercia passes directly from a woman to her daughter for the only time in English history. The true story of this inheritance is obscure but David Bruce's interpretation of the event is credible as well as moving. One of the aspects of history that is brought to life in the novel is the continuing influence of the Roman Empire. Respect for Roman Imperial architecture, technology, and organisation, persists amongst the Anglo-Saxons. Rome has a real influence on the events of the novel, and Alfred’s youthful education in Rome was the foundation of his standing as one of the most influential figures in English history. The whole of the Welsh border faces Mercia, and Welsh rulers are necessarily a significant part of the story, at times skilfully treading the political tightrope that is strung between them and their powerful Anglo-Saxon neighbours, and the border town of Chester is a bustling trading port, ripe for taking by both Dane and Norse. Battle scenes take place many times during this saga. The combat ranges from frequent skirmishing with Viking raiding bands to decisively violent clashes when both sides have mustered enough warriors to meet in pitched battle. The novel also describes several sieges based on true events and there are numerous inventive or unexpected ways in which the sieges were maintained, resisted, or succeeded. As in the historical record, the Vikings in the novel are sometimes bought off with silver in an attempt to halt their draining raids, but could also involve spiritual agreements, such as the Alfred becoming godfather to the children of a Viking opponent. The eventual fate of one member of the royal dynasty of Wessex-Mercia is an unsolved mystery of English history. David Bruce puts forward his version of events in the last chapters of the novel in a way that is possible and consistent. The reader will have to decide whether this version might have been true. Decades more turbulent Anglo-Saxon history lay ahead after the year in which this novel ends. The tide of British history had turned due to Alfred and his immediate successors but resonant events lay ahead. This epic family saga left me wanting to find out what took place in the future and I hope that David Bruce will write another saga interpreting the next generation's lives and times.


Flogging the Field
Flogging the Field
by Philip Moss
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wild Country Comedy, 26 Dec. 2016
This review is from: Flogging the Field (Paperback)
Outrageous comic writing that will satisfy anyone who enjoys the books of the much-loved Tom Sharpe. It centres around the unruly behaviour of rural folk that has always been a cornerstone of British comic writing. Badly behaved animals, explosive-wielding countrymen and incomprehensible foreigners abound. Pomposity is pricked, corruption thwarted and honest, hardworking grafters win the day. The game fair circuit is rich ground for comedy (and perhaps tragedy) but is very rarely portrayed in fiction of any kind. Philp Moss brings an insiders view, a love of the characters who populate the game fairs and an absurdist perspective. Great fun to read.


The Riddle of the Wooden Bombs
The Riddle of the Wooden Bombs
by Courouble Pierre Ant
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A Knotty Puzzle Is Untied Neatly, 23 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Firstly, I must note that the author of this book approached me when he was writing it and asked me if I knew the answer to the riddle. I told him that I had heard of this legend but I was not sure if the story of the wooden bombs was true. I said that I would be interested to find out the answer. Well, thanks to this delightful, engaging and candid piece of research, I now know that.... Monsieur Courouble approaches this subject in a thorough manner. He's a hard-worker. The book is an exciting detective story and a veritable page-turner. It's a race against time: the witnesses are getting very old. He must interview them before their lives and their memories fade away. It's clear from some of the abruptly ended email exchanges that some witnesses have died or become unable to respond during his correspondence with them. The author's urge to know the answer to the bizarre story that he heard during childhood drives him on like the airmen opening the throttles of their Mustangs heading into the heart of Europe. He has to travel hundreds of miles to speak to those with memories and to find the physical objects that will give him the satisfaction that he seeks. But there's plenty of humour in here too. I think that must be the Belgian side of the Courouble genes! The legend is a comical one. It is about an act of defiance, bravado and mockery. This book correctly notes that one reason the legend has been disapproved of in official circles is that it might be considered distasteful to be using valuable aircraft to play pranks during a genocidal war. But the gallows humour of the serviceman cannot be denied and the book shows how it has persisted long after the world wars. Official records seem to be of little help in solving the riddle nor do the sniffy responses that he receives from the denizens of the aviation-history forums; how much those self-regarding keyboard-dilletantes know but also how little...Pierre-Antoine gives their pomposity a well-deserved strafing. This book's galloping pace swept me along and I devoured it's meaty stories. Do I believe the conclusions of the author? Does he find the answer to the legend? Settle down with a pastis in your favourite pavement-cafe with a copy of this roaring read that brings to life the madcap antics of the airmen of all nations, the humourless curtness of the Whitehall seat-shiners and the earthy, unshockable earnestness of the brassica farmers. Enfin, you will find an answer...


Finishing School (The MacKay series Book 1)
Finishing School (The MacKay series Book 1)
Price: £0.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Intense Story Of A Bomber Crew Under Fire, 24 Jan. 2012
This novel starts off with the story of a crippled Stirling bomber aircraft struggling to get back home to Britain. The pilot survives his painful wounds and is given the task of training a new crew. The book asks the question as to whether a man who is emotionally damaged by the war can keep enough self-control to take command of a rookie bomber crew and keep them alive during their first dangerous mission. The reader can visualise the cramped scenes within a damaged Lancaster that is under attack. The tensions within a team from all corners of the Commonwealth contrast with the hero's search for his own peace and a romance under the disruptions of wartime. David Bruce has built a reputation for writing historically accurate stories with realistic characters. Fiction about the bomber campaigns has not been explored since the 1960's and 1970's so this is a welcome publication. Finishing School reminds the reader of how this aspect of warfare combined the use of the best of 1940's technology with the need for men with strong nerves to throw themselves into the storm of enemy fire that David Bruce describes so vividly. The tensions keep building and the danger keeps increasing right until the last page. I won't give away the ending but it leaves open the possibility of a welcome sequel.


Night of the Whirlwind (The Ackroyd Series Book 1)
Night of the Whirlwind (The Ackroyd Series Book 1)
Price: £0.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Read, 24 Jan. 2012
With enough detail to satisfy aviation enthusiasts plus characters who behave in a believable fashion, this is a superior novel. Well-worth reading and real page-turner. I found I was gripped by the plot and was keen to keep reading in order to find out if the pilots' secret mission would succeed. Staggeringly well-researched, I could almost taste the Woolton Pie and Brown Ale being served in the Officers' Mess. Highly recommended.


Or Is That Just Me?
Or Is That Just Me?
by Richard Hammond
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Funny Side of Serious, 27 Jan. 2010
This review is from: Or Is That Just Me? (Hardcover)
Another good read from a very engaging and essentially very serious personality. Richard writes an engaging story of what it is like to be a celebrity who is admired by boisterous petrolheads but is essentially a sensitive artistic character. He is an skilled writer of comedy (he has always been a fan of the great PG Wodehouse) whose descriptions of the horrendous pain of having treatment for kidney stones manage to pull off the rare trick of making the reader laugh and wince simultaneously. As another reviewer has said there is a serious subtext here about bullying and social exclusion. Richard is a fair-minded character and is clearly embarassed about a frankly bizarre act of teasing that he took part in when 13. I was in the next dormitory to that imaginative but rather tasteless act of bullying and heard about it over breakfast the next day. It certainly put me off breakfast! Richard clearly wants to get some guilt off his chest and writing about it must feel as cathartic as losing that kidney stone. In fact bullying of much worse kinds was rife at the Solihull School at that time and Richard showed his character by taking a stand against it. It has not made him popular with many of the perpetrators. This book is both his way of dealing with ageing (although he still retains the good looks that make him popular with females) and his way of distancing himself from the aspects of the past that he despised. "Or Is That Just Me" is not just a jokey title but a hint that Richard often feels doubts and uncertainties about his fame and how he is perceived.


Save the Triumph Bonneville! - The Inside Story of the Meriden Workers' Co-op
Save the Triumph Bonneville! - The Inside Story of the Meriden Workers' Co-op
by John Rosamond
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.49

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph of A Book, 23 Jan. 2010
This beautifully produced hardback book is the true story of how the Triumph motorcycle company was run as a Workers' Co-Operative during the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties.

The ending of this story will be known to anyone with even a passing interest in motorcycles or in British industry. Ultimately, the company was liquidated from 1983 onwards. However, the reader's knowledge of this sad outcome does not diminish this enticing story. John Rosamond has done a highly effective job of drawing the reader in to share in the excitement and frustrations of the co-operative venture at the Meriden factory.

John Rosamond writes the story largely in the first person. He is the former chairman of the Triumph Workers' Co-Op and it becomes clear that he is a remarkable character even though the book is written with an almost complete absence of egotism or self-justification. John travelled the rare path from factory-floor welder to chairman of a much-loved company. The name "Triumph" is almost a household word for a perceived golden age of transport. He writes detailed historical prose with an amiable honesty that inspires confidence that he is hiding nothing from the reader.

The detail that John includes inspires one of my few criticisms of this superbly illustrated and packaged book. The small size of the print that is describing frequently complex industrial negotiations can be tiring to read and I suggest all readers accept that this book will take a considerable time to finish. Some of the extracts from letters or documents of the time might have been easier to understand if they had been printed on separate pages, for instance. I assume that there were some publishing constraints on the eventual size of the book. On that note, it can certainly be said to be excellent value for it's cover price since it contains 442 pages that are packed with information and photographs.

The illustrations and photographs are superb. The book has colour photographs every few pages and the end-papers are a photograph plus a technical drawing of the factory. It is a very handsome package by any standards that inspires a firm confidence this is the definitive version of the Triumph Co-Op story and will not be superceded.
Sometimes, John's humility led me to feel unsatisfied that I have learnt the full story. John Rosamond is clearly a kind-hearted character and an appeaser by nature. That must have made him the perfect individual to lead a Workers' Co-Operative but I have a longing to know what he really thought about some of the people and incidents within the book. What did John think about controversial characters such as Brenda Price or Geoffrey Robinson? Did he feel frustrated when trivial issues such as the opening times of the Triumph social club were debated at meetings during a time when the factory was heavily indebted and failing to meet production targets? How did he get on with the politicians that he met? Of course, John is far too polite to reveal too much of his feelings.

There is fascinating subplot concerning Triumph's sales to the police and armed forces in various African countries. I knew very little about the African Triumphs and it is one of the most fascinating parts of the story. Some aspects of these sales and subsequent servicing must have been thoroughly frustrating but the author reveals little about how he felt about these difficulties. Perhaps if he was the type of character to make his feelings known he would never have been able to combine the jobs of welder and chairman.

The story of the African sales left this reviewer wondering how classic Triumphs are still in these African countries awaiting discovery by collectors.

The book is fascinating in it's descriptions of how new models were introduced even as the factory was effectively dying. These new models seem to have been well-received by reviewers and motorcyclists of the day. The photographs show how attractive these bikes were and the engineering modifications applied at the factory were clearly remarkable. It would have been very welcome to read a little more about who bought the Triumph bikes of the period. The bikes clearly sold in their thousands even during severe recessions and maintained cult status in the USA but it is never quite clear whether they were being bought as collectibles, playthings or as day-to-day transport. The sumptuous special editions must have proved a valuable investment.

This reviewer read the book as someone with little knowledge of British motorcycles but with an interest in British industrial history and politics. It is of necessity a political book with a partisan and valuable foreword by the charismatic, forward-thinking politician Tony Benn. The rest of the book is not political in a polemical sense or a party political way but the story it tells is charged with politics. It becomes clear that the factory was an important political pawn at a time of changing economic philosophies. I was interested to learn that the Conservative government continued to provide financial support for the factory when the "new broom" of Thatcherism swept the British factory floors of the early eighties.

The concept of the Workers' Co-Op must have posed a thorny dilemma for both the Labour and Conservative governments of the time. There were clearly aspects of the Labour party such as Tony Benn who saw the Co-Ops as an ultimate outcome of the Labour party's political aims. However, I have no doubt that there was a view by some in the Labour party that the Co-Op should have been nationalised rather than running autonomously with favourable state-financing.

Likewise, the Co-Op reveals one of the many paradoxes of Thatcherism. If a strand of that classically liberal philosophy holds that the members of the working class should be encouraged to form their own businesses as part of widespread enterprise within society rather than being little more than drones in sprawling nationalised businesses then the Co-Op in it's idiosyncratic way should have been encouraged as a practical example of that philosophy. For instance, John Rosamond is an inspiring example of British workman pulling himself up "by his bootstraps". He literally "gets on his bike and looks for work"! However, the running of a Co-Op and in the case of Triumph it's origins in grass-roots rebellion against a discredited owner, necessitates the collectivism that is distasteful to Thatcherism.

A key theme is that the Triumph employees were producing a widely admired product that was popular in key export markets. As a reader, I could feel the frustration of everyone involved in the Co-Op as they produced a good quality product that could never seem to yield enough to make the factory financially viable.

This brings up an intriguing question that is never fully answered. There is mention in the foreword by Tony Benn that other co-operatives were in existence at the same time as Triumph. Sadly, the book makes only passing mention of the other co-ops. I was left wondering how many other co-operatives continued to function after Triumph was liquidated and whether they were a success.

No doubt John Rosamond does not feel that it is his job to stray outside the Meriden story and he would not claim to be a historian although he clearly has the skills to be one. It is sad that John was born twenty years too early to be part of that generation that benefitted from wider access to higher education and to greater respect for subjects such as business or management studies.

That brings up another question that interested this reviewer. Although John describes his role in the long process of winding up the Triumph company, he does not discuss in detail what work he did when the Co-Op ended. John mentions that he was later employed by the "reborn" Triumph brand that is in production today. I hope that in future John will be able to publish the story of this role and his subsequent life.

Despite the winding-up of the factory, John tells us enough to show that there was something of a happy ending to the Triumph Co-Operative story. The name of the brand was effectively given to someone who could be relied on to resurrect the Triumph name on a range of British bikes. That it is still possible to buy a brand-new Triumph motorbike today is the greatest of a number of admirable legacies of the Triumph Co-Op.


Prototype
Prototype
by David Bruce
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cut Above, 9 Sept. 2006
This review is from: Prototype (Paperback)
This was a cut above most war-novels. It's rich in technical detail and descriptions of aerial combat but also has characters with depth who do not behave in cliche-ridden ways. As someone who has studied the development of fighter aircraft , I can vouch that the author has a strong knowledge of technical detail and his research is clearly thorough. There is also a sub-plot involving the private lives of some of the characters and this was refreshingly free of cliche or sleaze (which often mars war-novels that try to include a love-story). I wondered how the writer could finish the novel without having to justify completely re-writing all history since 1942. He succeeds in a very clever way that is consistent with the motivation of the main characters.


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