Bookshelf: Society hostess who backed a loser in the abdication crisis

Queen Bees: Six Brilliant And Extraordinary Society Hostesses Between The Wars by Sian Evans
Queen Bees: Six Brilliant And Extraordinary Society Hostesses Between The Wars by Sian Evans
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Queen Bees: Six Brilliant and Extraordinary Society Hostesses Between the Wars by Sian Evans. Two Roads, £20 (ebook £9.99). Review by Anthony Looch

This delightful book by journalist and author Sian Evans tells the story of six formidable and intelligent women, who, by means of lavish entertaining, sought influence and power over leading politicians and famous people in the creative arts. One was Nancy Astor, the staunch teetotaller and campaigner against drink, who became the first woman MP to take her seat. Another was Lady Sybil Colefax, who backed the wrong horse in the Abdication Crisis and paid a bitter price socially for her error of judgement. It is crammed with fascinating anecdotes about people enjoying a privileged lifestyle, which would be changed permanently by the Second World War.

Out of Bounds by Val McDermid. Little, Brown, £18.99 (£9.99). Review by Roddy Brooks

DCI Karen Pirie has an uncanny knack for treading on toes, but that is what makes her such a good officer. The head of Police Scotland’s historic case unit, Pirie is like a dog with a bone when she gets the merest sniff of solving a case long buried in the unsolved files. But when she comes across two unrelated cases, one linked firmly to a fresh death, even this tough Edinburgh lass has her work cut out. Pirie has to unearth the connection between a new murder inquiry and a terrorist bombing from decades ago, at the same time as following a DNA trail to give the relatives of a deceased hairdresser closure. This is McDermid at the height of her game.

The Art Teacher by Paul Read. Legend Press, £8.99 (ebook £3.79). Review by Jackie Kingsley

The author of this debut thriller was himself a teacher and it shows. Read is very good on the drudgery and dread that characterise life at the chalkface. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of The Art Teacher. Although the book has some of the makings of a pacy thriller, it’s let down by a plot that doesn’t so much twist and turn as flail around in blind panic. The action revolves around Patrick, a teacher with an interesting history as an almost-made-it pop star, and his escalating conflict with an unpleasant pupil. There’s a lot of stuff about drugs, gangs, guns, Patrick’s failed marriage and his sort-of-affair with a pupil’s mother. But for the most part, it’s a bit of a mess.

A Little History of Religion by Richard Holloway. Yale University Press, £14.99 (ebook £11.39). Review by Catherine Small

From Hinduism to Scientology and everything in between, Richard Holloway’s potted guide to world religions attempts to explain what religion is and where it came from. As a former bishop who lost his faith, Holloway is a uniquely qualified and respectful guide. He neither preaches nor mocks, but objectively chronicles the origins of each religion, sets out its basic tenets and puts it in context. Whether you’re a believer or not, this little book is a fascinating read. And at a time when religious attitudes seem to be hardening and religious violence is on the rise, it’s a timely reminder that, despite our differences, we have more in common than we think.