A little over two weeks ago the American and British forces left Afghanistan, 20 years after they entered following 9/11, the anniversary of which is marked this weekend. In the aftermath of any military campaign, especially one which entailed such a chaotic departure, it is often questioned as to what was achieved and did all those who died, die in vain? Even one hundred and seven years on from the first world war, questions are still asked by historians, and quotes still attributed to politicians and commentators of the day about the outcome.

U.S. President Wilson, thought then it would be “the war to end all wars..”, he didn’t live to see the Second World War. Hemmingway did, he was an ambulance driver in the first war and a correspondent in the second. In 1946 he wrote “never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime..”. That maybe so, but if nothing is done after all the talking and diplomatic avenues have been exhausted, then there’s the “Sliding Doors” theory that we may have all ended up speaking German, especially in relation to WW2. This month’s first book review is set in WW1, it’s ‘A Hundred Years To Arras’ by J.M. Cobley and published by Unbound ( 19th August.

Robert Gooding Henson is a twenty-three-year-old farmers son from Somerset in Southwest England. Who, against his father’s wishes, joins up just after the start of the first world war. He quickly forms deep rooted friendships with Stanley, who has lied about his age, and Ernest, who joined up to escape a life living rough on the streets. The bonds of their friendship are forged through gas attacks, spirit sapping life in frozen trenches, and hunting down kidnapped regimental dogs; while all along keeping up a sense of humour. The story follows Robert, and his regimental friends as they fight through France to a crucial battle at Arras. Thoughts of his parents farm and past loves on both sides of the channel draw him home, and leave him wondering if he or his friends will ever see their beloved home again.

I’ve watched numerous war movies over the years, but the most recent one set during world war one was the 2019 release ‘1917’, which received amazing reviews for its camera work and the performance of its unknown leads, along with the stellar support cast. But as for books set in World War One, this one stands out as the grittiest and most memorable, I’ve read to date.

From the first page you’re introduced to a simple, but seemingly well-read and rational farm boy, who is exposed to the to horrors of war, where for a lot of his fellow men and women rational thoughts and actions are destroyed by the sights, sounds and smells of modern warfare. The descriptions and detailed writing by Cobley, sticks with you like the cloying and frozen mud the characters trudge through day in and day out.

No more so than one pivotal scene where Robert is selected to make up a firing squad, tasked with executing two underage British soldiers, who are caught deserting. If nothing else in this or any other book you may have read on the subject, brings you up close and personal to the realities of having to shoot two young innocent boys, for just running from their fears and the reality of their situation, this scene alone will sear itself onto your memory.

On top of that there are the realities of the effect on the animals, both the working ones and the wildlife. Caught up in this unreal and hell like scenario, which is cutting a swathe across their home, and cut down by, bullets, gas and bombs. This all seen through eyes of a young man brought up to admire and respect nature. No where is this more poigniant then on the front cover, with an image of a dead sparrow liying on top of spent cartridges.

I couldn’t put this book down. Even though, I did think the relationship with his dad was a bit of an overused storyline, until at the end you discover that this is more than a well-researched work of fiction, and that J.M Cobley is actually a descendant of Robert, and Robert Henson Snr. not wanting his son to go to war was fact. After that, I was filled with admiration for both the story of Robert and how the author came to find out about his relative.

J.M. Cobley

This is English author Jason M. Cobley’s ( first novel. He is best known for his work writing scripts for the long running Commando comic series and graphic novel adaptations of classics such as An Inspector Calls, as well as a children’s novel The Legend of Tom Hickathrift (2018). He also hosts a weekly progressive rock show on Radio Abbey in Kenilworth, and currently lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughter.

With a month to go to my choice for the November read of my book group, I now have a selection headache, with three possible choices. But I can tell you, it won’t take you long to go out and pick up this book or download it, Neither will it take you a hundred years to read it, but you may wish you could immerse yourself in it for that long.

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what ther other reviwers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.



the-photographer-of-the-lost-9781471186394_lgWhile reading an article the other day on the topic of golf course etiquette, and when it might be okay to walk off a course, the author claimed we have all been taught the same thing; and that is to always finish what you started. They went on to provide certain examples such as a DIY project, a sandwich…. (probably depends on who made it) and finally a book you are reading.

Well not in my experience! There are times when the old adage applies; that life is too short to drink bad wine or continue reading a book that you are not enjoying. This happened with this month’s second book review, which is sad, seeing as it was published at the end of October and this review is going up the day before Remembrance Sunday, when across the world we mark those who lost their lives in both world wars and all conflicts since.

The book is The Photographer of the lost by Caroline Scott and published by Simon & Schuster ( on the 31st of October.

Its 1921 and families are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many survivors of the Great War have been reunited with their loved ones Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He is considered ‘missing in action’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph taken by Francis in the post, hope flares. And so she beings to search.

Harry, Francis’ brother, fought alongside him. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last things they ever said. Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is that which brings Harry back to the Western Front. Hired by grieving families to photograph grave-sites, as he travels through battle-scarred France gathering news for British wives and mothers,

Then as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth.

I got as far as the eighty fifth page of this four hundred and ninety-five-page tome, most books get fifty pages to get me hooked, but it’s all relative when you have this many pages to read.

The two main characters seemed to be endlessly meandering back and fourth across rain sodden and mortar scarred battle fields looking for their loved ones, I found it hard to want pick it up and continue to read it, let alone overlook the inconvenience of lugging it around on my daily commute. Yes, if you have an e-reader its ok, but I don’t because I’m a traditionalist.

Casroline Scott

Caroline Scott

This is English born Author Caroline Scott’s (@cscottbooks) first book and was inspired while completing a PhD in History at Durham University. While there, she developed an interest in the impact the first world war had on the landscapes of Belgium and France and in particular the experience of women during the conflict. She was allowed to indulge her passion while working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Originally from Lancashire, she now lives in Southwest France.

I always feel upset at not finishing a book, especially when its for book group and the others tell me how great it was after the sixty fifth page. This book is not in my opinion an ideal book group read, as trying to read a book like this in a month or less would be a struggle, unless you only read one book a month and have nothing else occupying your life.

I wish Caroline well with this book and look forward to reading her future works and to those we’ll remember over the next couple of days….

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

(The Fallen, L. Binyon)

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

This book is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the others thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you go off and read the book, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d love the feedback.

Photographer of the Lost 2 BT Poster




Girl You Lft Bhnd CvrThere a was story in the news recently about the claim by two Polish men that they know the location of  a mysterious Nazi Ghost train which disappeared  at the end of the second world war. The train which  is supposedly laden with gold, gems, art work and weapons was hidden by a special German unit fleeing the advancing Russian forces at the end of the war, when it was parked in a long forgotten tunnel in Poland and blocked up. Add to that the discovery, 2 years ago, of a horde of stolen art in the walls of a Munich apartment and the success of the movie The Monuments Men last year, you’d wonder why very little is heard about art being stolen during world war one. Quite simply the Treaty of Versailles catered for repatriation of stolen art, were as this wasn’t the case after WWII. One of the pieces found in the flat in Munich was “Woman in a Chair” by the French artist Henri Matisse, this could have been the inspiration for this month book, “The Girl You Left Behind” by JoJo Moyes (

The book starts in France midway through First World War. Sophie Leferve is running her family’s hotel the Le Coq Rouge in the northern  French town of St. Perrone not far from where the battle of the Somme is raging. The town is under the control of the German army and it’s brutal rules and regulations. Shortly after arriving in the town the local German Commandant orders the hotel to be used as a mess for

Woman Sitting In A Chair by Henri Matisse

Woman Sitting In A Chair by Henri Matisse

his officers and one night after eating the commandant discovers a portrait of Sophie painted by her husband Edouard,  a well known artist,who is away fighting the Germans on the front. The commandant immediately falls for the painting. A couple of weeks later after hearing Edouard has been captured and held prisoner Sophie secretly approaches the commandant and attempts to trade the portrait for her husband’s safe return. But in an apparent  misunderstanding she is arrested and taken away to an unknown fate.

Jump forward ninety years to  London 2006 and Liv Halston a young widow is struggling to stay on top of her mounting debts and living in a large state of the art waterfront house designed by her late husband. In the master bedroom hangs the portrait of Sophie Leferve titled “The Girl you Left Behind”. While out on drinking session on her husbands anniversary, her bag is stolen. That’s when she meets Paul McCafferty an ex- new york cop and now a stolen art specialist, they fall for each other then one night she brings Paul back to her place and he discovers the painting in the bedroom. Paul’s company has been hired by the Leferve family to find the painting that went missing during the war. The star crossed lovers thus find themselves on opposing sides of a bitter custody battle for the painting. Can Liv retain ownership or will “The Girl You Left behind” make it back to France? What is the real story about how the painting ended up on the other side of the English channel and what ever became of Sophie? Will Liv and Paul’s relationship survive the court case?

My initial thoughts on the book were that it was a bit disjointed. The first part is a gripping story about a family surviving under the suffocating tyranny of German occupied France. This pulls you in from page one and then unceremoniously dumps you into the present day without so much as Delorian and a flux capacitor. For the first couple of pages after this transition I was lost, wondering had there been a printing error. But alas no, it was planned. What Moyes has tried to do is marry together an eerily accurate war story with a piece of “Chick-Lit” and  some day time TV court room drama thrown into the mix for good measure. But this  she does with masterful aplomb, that shows what a skilled seasoned writer can do with the literary ingredients of Ready Steady Cook.

The second part of the story does come across rather ‘Rom Comie’, owing primarily to romance being Moyes’s preferred genre. If it were made into a movie it would have Hugh Grant’s and Richard Curtis names all over it but after the cold hard realities of occupied life, this is a warm and humorous  tale, which does get interesting when the tug of war court room drama kicks in. Then you start rooting for Liv to win, but also secretly for her romance with Paul to survive. You have to feel sorry for Liv, she’s a real down on her luck young widow struggling to get over the loss of her husband. Despite starting out as a difficult transition , this quickly re covers to deliver a charming well blended tale stretching across a generation and two wars.

JoJo Moyes

This is the first book of Moyes’ that I’ve read, although I’ve been aware of her for a while, mainly because being an Everton supporter, I noticed she  shares her surname with one of our great managers. This is the ninth book of thirteen, the thirteenth “After You” is due to be published at the end of September 2015. The former journalist and Arts correspondent started writing in 2002 with her first novel Sheltering Rain, the others include Foreign Fruit (Windfallen – U.S.) 2003, Ship of Brides 2005 and  Me Before You 2012 of which her thirteenth book is a sequel.  Her big claim to fame is that she is one of a small group of authors who have won the coveted Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Romantic Novel of The Year Award twice.

So, if like me, the unrelenting news of about the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe is getting you down. Pop into your local  book store or download a copy of this book and lose yourself in a unique blend of genres from an acclaimed British writer.