Blair’s firecracker memoir

Hutchinson, £25

Very unusually, no review copies were sent out, nor was a serialisation deal struck. So it was amid intense hype and speculation that Tony Blair’s madly anticipated autobiography, A Journey, hit bookshops yesterday. It didn’t disappoint.

One of the most delicious assertions in this overall rather delicious tell-all and Brown-bashing is that Blair himself was responsible giving the Bank of England independence – something that Brown had always touted as one of his proudest achievements. “I allowed Gordon to make the statement and indeed gave him every paean of praise and status in becoming the major economic figure of the government,” he writes. Indeed, Blair claims credit for overall economic strategy. In other words, mature Blair let childish Brown have his toys and trumpet his toy horn. The power struggle and sense of skulduggery between the two men – though we knew it all before – makes one heck of a read when it comes straight from the horse’s mouth. Needless to say, Brown’s former press secretary, Charlie Whelan, doesn’t rate the book (he called it “trash”).

The Iraq War, including Blair’s anguish at soldiers’ deaths, is another stage-stealer. Other topics include the Queen (Blair describes a trip to Balmoral as “freaky”), the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, the hated Ken Livingtsone, the sometimes “very bitter indeed” Claire Short, Ireland, religion, boozing, and the London 7/7 bombings. It’s packed full of piquant personal tidbits, such as the already-famous comment about not being “excessively excessive” in consumption of alcohol.

A Journey reminds you of just how dense and important a time Blair’s was. Those who loathe him – and there are many – cannot and should not deny this.

Random House, £14.99

Danielle Steel is a one-woman Mills ?& Boone. That she’s sold 600 m copies of her books means she’s doing something right.

What “right” evidently means is plotlines oozing with family values, heartbreak, and wholesome romance; villains are in short supply. Danielle Steele books are Hallmark cards in book form. Readers accustomed to more rigorous forms of fiction will flinch right the way through at her saccharine prose and cliché descriptions. They will cringe at her corny storylines. But, take it from me, they’ll find it hard to stop reading.

Her latest, Family Ties, is about Annie, who at 26 is forced to choose motherhood over a fun and fancy-free 20s. Her sister Jane suddenly dies in a plane crash with her husband on the way back from their summer house in Martha’s Vineyard, and Annie must – indeed she wants to – take on Jane’s children as her own.

But now that the children are grown up, Annie feels a touch of empty nest syndrome. But a chance encounter with a dreamy man jolts Annie’s life into a new phase, and the kids still have problems requiring Annie’s maternal ingenuity. In one strange plot twist, Annie has to fly to Tehran to rescue her niece from the clutches of an evil Persian patriarch who has confiscated her boyfriend’s passport. But a good dollop of treacle helps the story beyond this awkward pass to a resolution that is so preachy and cloying that you might want to have the sick bucket nearby.

Portobello Books, £9.99

HOLLIS, an architect who has restored Sri Lankan follies and Scottish breweries, is fascinated by the mythical quality of buildings, but his chief interest is the ways in which their character changes over time. The Parthenon has been both a Roman and Orthodox church, a mosque and a gunpowder store before becoming the touristic, austere monument we know today. Notre Dame was rebuilt, almost entirely, 150 years ago by Viollet-le-Duc.
Hollis takes us through the story of 13 famous buildings, including the Berlin Wall, the Alhambra and Sans Souci, Frederick the Great’s summer palace, describing alterations, modifications, destructions and reconstructions. Crucially, he questions our relationships to these buildings. Anyone who has ever felt an emotional or intellectual attachment to buildings will find this book as charming as it is illuminating.