THE web may seem a strange place to promote the printed word but there is no reason why the two can not maintain a harmonious relationship.
I have had a love of the printed word since childhood when I haunted our local library to satisfy my desires. In retirement (having spent the best part of half a century working on newspapers and magazines) I now have more time to continue that love affair with books and now host a review site on the web.
But less of that at present and more of the subject of this column - books.
Among recent new releases I’ll begin with that perennial favourite the murder mystery.
The Judas Pair by Jonathan Gash (a Constable Crime paperback, £6.99) was published on 21 March.
I first became acquainted with Lovejoy (Gash’s antique dealer anti-hero) in the 1970s and then discovered, in the late 1980s, that Lovejoy had come to life on the TV screen in the shape of the equally roguish Ian McShane - a perfect example of choosing the right man to fit the character.
Reading Lovejoy anew does not take away from the original pleasure of Gash’s writing. His descriptions of the East Anglian countryside, and its inhabitants, are true to type (and I should be able to tell having lived there for over a decade) except that in the book the villains are much more villainous than the somewhat comic-book antics on TV.
Lovejoy certainly makes a change from the usual amateur sleuth, semi-professional private detective or full-fledged member of Her Majesty’s constabulary. His uncovering of the criminal is an added bonus to the unexpected adventures he meets in the antiques world.
Taking a completely different direction in new releases may I suggest The Three Musketeers, an abridged retelling of the classic story by Alexandre Dumas, aimed at younger readers (a Ladybird Classic hardback at £5.99) published on 4 April.
I must admit I was surprised to find that Ladybird books were still going strong after all these years and have added to their range to make them appealing to older youngsters.
Many classic tales have that element of derring-do loved by young readers but a full-blown version of a book such as The Three Musketeers could prove too wearing for the minds of the average under-10, let alone the weight of the book which would soon tire little hands.
The problem with some modern versions of the classics is that they tend to be dumbed-down too far as though children would not be able to handle a properly-told story. Joan Cameron has made an excellent effort at this-retelling, however, and retains the fun and adventure of the original book, as well as strong hints at the political undertones of the period, without risking losing the interest of younger readers.
At 70 pages this is just the right length to retain the integrity of the original story without losing the interest of the reader.
When we think of 1918 we tend to think of Armistice Day and the ending of a war which brought about the death of so many people in the trenches in Europe. We tend to forget that 1918 was also the time when the so-called Spanish influenza was at its height. This was a pandemic, lasting three years, which saw 500 million people infected throughout the world and brought about the death of between 50 and 100 million.
It is this aspect of death that lies at the centre of a debut novel which I would recommend to readers. In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters (Amulet hardback, £9.99), published on 2 April.
The author depicts the world apparently on the edge of an apocalypse, or rather part of that world, as Americans roam the streets in gauze masks in a bid to ward off the deadly influenza while government ships are still transporting young men to the front lines of a brutal war.
It is in this world that Mary Shelley Black, just 16, watches as the bereaved families of the dead soldiers and civilians alike, seek to make some form of final contact with those they have lost. A situation that helps put money in the pockets of so-called spirit photographers.
Mary does not believe in ghosts but she too mourns her lost love, the young boy who went to war and did not return. She is drawn in to being photographed by her lost love’s brother who then uses the portrait to claim that the boy’s spirit can be seen in the picture.
Eventually her loss and the fact that she falls prey to the Spanish influenza take her into that half-world of delirium. Cat Winters vividly recreates this terrible period in history and then goes on to create a situation for her heroine which leaves the reader wondering whether or not spirits can wait around to say a final farewell.
This is exceptional writing for a young debut author and I will not spoil your enjoyment by revealing anything further. Prepare to shed tears.
My final choice for this column takes us away from the world of fiction into that of historical fact (or at least as much fact as historians can tend to agree on).
At a time when the education secretary is forever plugging away at the need to concentrate on British history this book, The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris (a Windmill paperback, £8.99) published in March, offers a hefty chunk of what is a defining moment in the making of the Britain we live in today.
To most people 1066 means William the Conqueror, King Harold getting an arrow in the eye, a bit of needlework to tell the story and the subjugation of the native British population (actually Angles and Saxons) by the Norman invaders.
Beyond this the majority tend not to be interested, considering it to be dry as dust history argued over by academics.
Well Tony Robinson and Time Team proved that history need not be dull and Marc Morris has taken it all a step further by producing a history book which I had trouble getting back from my wife long enough for me to read it for a review. Then my history teacher daughter turned up and wanted to take it as well.
Whereas history books tend to be something we dip in and out of and eventually give up on about 100 pages in Marc Morris has produced a riveting piece of work which would tempt many to read from cover to cover.
He has produced an engaging, readable account of what many believe to be a pivotal moment in British history, let alone English history.
It is a pulsating narrative which deals not just with William and Harold and their differences over the crown but also takes us back to a generation earlier to show why England had become such a desirable prize and why it should have been particularly vulnerable at this historical moment.
You can read more about these books, and other new releases from a variety of publishers at http://robinsreviews.info/