A review of sorts for David Cable’s Rails Across…

Anyone that knows me personally knows I am not a train fanatic by any stretch of the
imagination. I grew up with a Thomas the Tank Engine train set and have since held a grudge towards my father for it (no matter how much I really loved it deep down – you know the one: wooden train tracks with the wide grooves, plastic trains with the magnetic dome to link with the carriages…)

So for me to review a ‘train book’ is a first. But all things considered, David Cable’s Rails Across series isn’t just your average collection of ‘train pictures’. I’m a sucker for National Geographic-esque photographs, the ones that exhibit such spectacular scenery you can’t help but investigate every tiny detail, and that’s exactly what you get with Cable’s books.

Of course though, you must bear in mind that the subject of each photo is a train (expect for in Rails Across Australia where the subject is a witch-looking tree, I guess you’ll have to buy the book to decide for yourself) and so for some readers it can get a little tedious – some of the photos only feature a specific engine without a fantastic backdrop – I didn’t like these.

At the beginning of each book Cable includes a short intro that looks into the history of the area, his involvement in the photo taking and who helped. It doesn’t go into great detail, but for the amateur reader it is plenty and gives a basic understanding for what they are looking at. Each photograph comes with a very short caption that identifies the locomotive and, sometimes, location. Thankfully for me, I wasn’t too bothered, being interested only in the photo, but I can see that for some this may not be enough.

I highly recommend these books to the train fanatic, the photographer and the landscape lover. It’s an incredible collection that documents the way of the land in a different, and sometimes very beautiful, way.

Bok 8.jpg

I haven’t reviewed each book in any particular order, but I have started with my favourite; Rails Across Canada.

There are 200 pages of glossy-paged photographs, and I have no doubt that readers will have chosen different images for different reasons. I have four that I absolutely love from this collection.

18
Being a young’n still, I love the advertisement on this 6424, decorated for the NFL Super Bowl in Ottawa ON, 1985. (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)
45
Oh man, just look at that powder against the bright orange and yellow. A spectacular shot. (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)
64
Just for the mountains and that crystal-blue river. (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)
37
It’s Christmas in one picture… (Courtesy of David Cable and Pen & Sword Books)

 

Next up; Rails Across North America

The landscape featured in the photographs from Rails Across North America are not too dissimilar to Rails Across Canadaexcept that it seems the land is drier, more arid and agricultural. The Union Pacific reminds me of a Disney Pixar character.

I admire Cable’s eye and appreciate that he hasn’t just compiled a selection of books based on photographs of an engine; the composition of landscape and locomotion, in most cases, is incredible. The Chicago skyline (May 1993) and industrial-looking Amtrak F40Ph create a fascinating photo with the solid grey collection of skyscrapers, grey offices and stark blue sky.

Here’s Rails Across Australia. Don’t worry, there are no super-huge spiders or slithering snakes. Nor are there any Kangaroos, sorry.

The fact that there are only four photographs in this selection is absolutely no reflection on the book. It’s awash with amazing images showcasing a variety of landscapes and locations. Personally, I only liked these ones; one for it’s postcard potential (im. 3) and another because it looks like a miniature modelling scene (im. 4).

These photographs seem a lot less professional than in perhaps the other books, but I don’t feel like that takes anything away from them. In fact, it makes me like them more. The blurry, grainy texture gives them a retro feel. Cable explains that they were taken while he lived in South Australia between 1967 and 1973.

Lastly, Rails Across Europe: Northern and Western Europe. Now, this one is completely different to the other three. The landscape changes dramatically (obviously) and the photographs themselves focus more on the locomotive. Cable has explored Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Northern France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Latvia & Lithuania, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden. As you would expect from European architecture, some of the photographs are outstanding. In one, an AM86 EMU 914 awaits departure from Antwerp Centraal station back in 1991; the stark contrast of the grand architecture of the building makes the simple-looking locomotive stand out like a sore thumb.

Rails Across Europe: Eastern and Southern Europe continues across the continent, looking at Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Southern France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey (in Europe) and Ukraine. As you would expect, the photographs from Austria are just stunning; luscious green grass and snow-capped mountains. If there was a Rails Across that you had to add to the pile, it would be this one. It is due for release at the end of August, 2016 from Pen and Sword Books.

All other titles in the series are available to buy from Pen and Sword Books. RRP £25.

All photos have been published here with the permission of the publisher and not subject to redistribution without prior consent. I thank Pen & Sword Books for allowing me to publish them on this post.

 

 

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Review: Red Steel: Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of the Cold War

Red SteelRed Steel: Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of the Cold War is full of descriptions and introductions of Soviet tanks and Combat Vehicles of the Cold War – essentially doing exactly what is says on the tin.

Although Phillips uses technical language throughout, it is easy to understand, and each description is complete with a black and white image of the vehicle in question. The introductions are succinct and don’t faff about with fluff, and useful specifications are supplied.

This is perfect for amateurs and modellers, although enthusiasts might want something a bit more in-depth. Otherwise, though, this is a fantastic little reference book that can be dipped in and out of whenever the reader chooses.

Well done Phillips.

Red Steel is available to buy from Amazon

For more news about Phillips’ books, visit his website.

Review: The Second World War at Sea in Photographs: 1943

I recently got my bourbon biscuit-covered hands on a copy of Phil Carradice’s The Second World War at Sea in Photographs: 1943 (biscuit is evident on page 7).

I don’t know a lot about battles that happened at sea (a lot of it just makes me think of pirates me’hearties) other than what I have learnt in the 6 months of working at Pen and Sword Books and researching The Battle of Jutland for quizzes, articles, interviews and what not. So this book sort of ‘went over my head’. 

It’s incredibly well produced – it’s nice to touch (stroke), very ‘booky’, which always makes me like a book just that bit more.

The introduction is succinct and to the point, which I am sure for sea battle aficionados is excellent, but for us amateurs it can become tedious; I think pre-existing knowledge would be helpful. Lots of names and places and battles and ship names are mentioned, but it is very well-written and informative. But I skipped to the photographs – the whole point of the book.

As always with Amberley books, the photographs and images are always great –see The Lancaster – and some are real jems in this one. Some, however, are blurred (I know they are black and white, and old) and seem to have been blown up just a bit too much. But others are fantastic. There are LOTS of ships! Some aeroplanes, and my favourite part – retro posters. They are in colour as well, and really add that little extra.

The story runs from January right through the year to December 1943. I was really impressed by the layout and chronology – it was easy to follow and gave a great overview of the year in pictures and captions.

I definitely recommend this to those interested in battles at sea, and I would even recommend to other amateurs like me – the photographs help to tell the story without bogging you down with jargon and information that can get lost in translation.

The Second World War at Sea in Photographs is available from Amberley Publishing

Review: Me Before You

I’ve always liked to think that I am one of those people that isn’t affected by advertising…Or books like this, unless I’m looking for ‘holiday reading’. But if you go and stick Finnick Odair’s (or Sam Claflin’s) face on the front cover of a book looking all fine and dandy, apparently I’ll buy it. Well played Penguin, well played.

I knew little about the book when I placed it on the counter of a WHSmith’s and paid £7.99. All I knew was: it’s now a major movie from Warner Bros, a colleague was keen to see it, and Finnick is handsome. For once I didn’t read the blurb – I wanted the story to be a complete surprise. Apparently I didn’t really look at the cover either, as it wasn’t until a few chapters in that I realised what it was about! The fact he’s in a wheelchair should have given me a little nudge in the right direction.

This is a ‘feel good’ (*spoiler alert* until the heart-wrenching ending) story of determination, friendship, and a fight for life and love. A weepy one, essentially. Lou Clark has lost her job, has a pretty rubbish boyfriend, and finds herself working for Will Traynor – a quadriplegic.

Moyes delves into a whole host of sensitive subjects: redundancy, disability and assisted suicide. But she does so in a very mature, unbiased and relateable way. Writing from the point of view of every character, except Lou’s parents and boyfriend, the reader has a full overview of how everyone feels and thinks of each situation. It is refreshing to read a book that doesn’t solely focus on one  character. It seems important to relay different ideas and opinions from different perspectives, and I praise Moyes for doing it so well.

I actually found that this novel wasn’t just a soppy, heart-felt, romance, but one that left me thinking about the more important things that she highlights; should assisted suicide be illegal? How far have we come in medical terms to ‘curing’ paraplegia? And, how would I cope if my partner suddenly got hit by a car or motorbike or anything else that left him paralyzed from the neck down: Would I leave him, like Will’s ex-girlfriend? Or would I fight for him like Lou?

This book, though I am sure will be slated somewhere for it’s content; that it is a poor portrayal of subject matter, should be given high praise, if for nothing more than making ordinary people think about matters they wouldn’t necessarily think of in the everyday.

I’m not going to rush to read the sequel, this was enough of a story and an ending to finish it there for me. And I’m certainly waiting for the film to come to DVD, just so that I can quietly, drool and lust over Claflin, and cry like a baby in private.

 

Review: Coventry’s Blitz

David McGrory’s first instalment about Coventry’s history of war started with Coventry’s Blitz. I know it’s an old cliché to say that a history book is ‘well-researched’, ‘well-written’ and ‘in-depth’, but the fact is, this is. And not just all three of those things, but it’s humorous and entertaining, at times making me giggle and smile, as well as human. It’s not a given that history books takes on a personality just because they are written about a person or a point in time, but what McGrory does really well is give his books character, mostly with the help of personal family anecdotes, stories of locals and his informal, light-hearted approach to writing.

P74, Crashed Dornier 17
A downed Dornier 17 from a Coventry address! Is this the Dornier shot down on 14 November?

His inclusion of some truly fantastic images add to this effect ten-fold, and sometimes I found myself skipping text just to intensely study them, trying to work out where it was taken (if no information was given) and what that places looks like now; what are the people in them thinking about; what’s happened to them; and the one question that strikes me most is, why are they smiling? I often wonder what people thought about during the war. Was that it for 6 years? Or was life more normal than we expect it to be?

“For many, the blitz in Coventry is thought of as being the night of 14/15 November 1940.”

As a Southerner who since 2009 believes herself to be a true Coventrian, I can say that for many, the effects of German attention during the blitz is still ever present. A walk through the city centre, passed the Cathedral, the Herbert Gallery, War Memorial Park, they all seem to hold this secret of times gone by – that of course every knows and hasn’t forgotten.

P95, National Provicial Bank Broadgate
Service personnel pose on the corner of Broadgate, an instantly recognisable scene today

As someone so enchanted by history and the effects of war, moving to Coventry for University did nothing but increase my fascination, and in turn make me fall in love with the city. When one single place where you have lived, and thrived, has the ability to inspire you and help shape the person you have become, you can’t help but find more meaning in this book. It makes it a lot more personal.

When you think of the state of the world as it is now; wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and such, it’s horrific and shocking, but it feels a bit detached. Perhaps the ever increasing media reports make us just that bit more desensitised to it all. But when something has  happened ‘at home’ and you’re reminded of it in a book such as this, it does truly bring it home, making it that more real. McGrory does that. He brings him home and makes us remember.

P122, American soldiers walking down Jordan Well
Two American soldiers walking down Jordan Well with the Council House in the background, probably 1944

So in short, I recommend this to anyone who lives in Coventry. It’s not just a history book. It’s an incredible tribute to the city and the people in it. To others, the outsiders, perhaps it is just a history book, documenting events and lives and destruction. But to me, it’s a very carefully written documentation of destruction. By chronologically describing the events, it somehow tells a more harrowing tale, like when fiction builds up to the climax.

This is a terrific book that highlights how Coventry is saturated in a rich and colourful history.

And it kind of leaves you feeling, what if? What if it all happened again? How on earth would we cope as well as the people of 1940s Britain?

 

Coventry’s Blitz is available from Amberley Publishing.

Images have been extracted from Coventry’s Blitz and used with the permission of the publisher.

 

Review: Love May Fail

I read this book in about 5 hours…

Matthew Quick

I read this book in about 5 hours.

Granted I skipped a whole section of about 20 ish pages and skim read some to get to the more juicier parts of the story, but I didn’t want to stop reading. I was fully immersed in the tale of Portia Kane, Chuck Bass (I’m not sure if this is Chuck Bass #1 or #2 XOXO?), Mr Nate Vernon and the Mother nun (this is the part I skipped – I’m sure it added heaps to the story but I don’t feel that I missed anything in not reading her letters).

I was surprised, in fact, as I wasn’t really a fan of The Silver Linings Playbook film, but then is the film ever better than the book?

This was a raw and eye-opening story that almost made me cry at times, felt empowered and ultimately lonely when I’d finished the book. It has some cracking quotes in it that you should definitely highlight, squiggly line, post-it note or write down somewhere to remember! It’s a very relate-able story that will leave you feeling like you’ve lost a friend when you turn the last page.

Highly recommended that you pick up this book!

 

Published by HarperCollins
416 pages
June 2015
978-1447247517

Review: Soviet Military Badges

A History and Collector’s Guide

Richard Hollingdale

Soviet Military Badges are fascinating objects too often neglected in English language publications.

With amazingly clear and well-detailed images, this book would appeal to both novices and enthusiasts (with me being a definite novice when it comes to military badges).

The aim of this book has been to offer the reader the greatest amount of information in the most readily accessible format – a pocket reference that can easily be dipped into in order to help the reader quickly identify the badges in their collections, or make them aware if other variations yet to be found.

Soviet Military Badges

This book does exactly that. You don’t need to read this title cover to cover by any means. What I loved about it was it helped me, and will continue to help me, understand more about a person in a photograph based on the badges they wear.

With good descriptions and introductions, although sometimes technical, it is in no way patronising in its approach, nor does it expect you to already know heaps about the subject.

 

 

Published by Amberley Publishing
96 pages
April 2016
978-1445649160

Review: The Lancaster

Gordon A. A. Wilson
With photographs by Martin Keen

This book is both the story of the Lancaster and that of its seven-man crews: pilot, bomb aimer/nose gunner, wireless operator, flight engineer, navigator and mid-upper and rear gunners.

The Lancaster

This book is a great addition to Amberley Publishing’s library. I was swept away by the stunning photographs – both colour and black and white – that really helped to tell the story of the Lancaster and its crew.

Books like this are so important as they not only document history but they serve to keep memories alive.

Each chapter has an introduction, some that left me with goosebumps… *no spoilers*.

This is an exceptional piece of work that serves not only as something to be read, but something to keep. A great documentation of the history of the Lancaster.

Published by Amberley Publishing 
288 pages
November 2015

Review: Coventry and the Great War

This is definitely a book you should have on your shelf…

Coventry and the Great War
Coventry and the Great War is available from Amberley Publishing

This is a fantastic book, especially for those who are fascinated by the history of Coventry.

Although it starts with the school boy error of beginning a sentence with ‘On a warm summer’s evening…’, this can easily be overlooked as you read on and discover stories about the people of the city and what happened to it during the war.

McGrory’s addition of his own personal family history gives something a little extra and makes it all that more special.

Anyone that lives in or knows the area will enjoy seeing pictures of Great War Coventry and trying to imagine the difference between then and now. Especially as so much has changed around the Broadgate area!

Detailed with some great photographs and documents, this is definitely a book you should have on your shelf, even if just for reference or sentimental value.

Published by Amberley Publishing
128 pages
March  2016
978-1445644820

Review: Tessa the Tank and the Classic Vehicle Show

Written and Illustrated by Jen Phillips

This is a fantastic short story about a tank that makes it to the top in an unexpected way. It has a good moral story for children and is a great way to get them interested in military vehicles and shows. Lovely illustrations, very different from other authors and illustrators. Highly recommended for young readers and would make a great collection of stories.

Paperback
28 pages
Published by: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
16 January 2016