Books Monthly March 2015

Daniel Falconer's Fifth Hobbit: Chronicles book is the best of the lot... and a new Tony Hawks book arrives...

 C o n t e n t s

Adult fiction

Crime & Thrillers

  Science Fiction & Fantasy

  Children's books

  Nonfiction & Reference
  The Nostalgia Page

The Stephen King Page

  The Jerry Dowlen Column

  The J.F. Norris Book Blog

  New from MagBooks

 

 

The brilliantly funny new book from Tony Hawks, published by Hodder and Stoughton - read about it on this page...

 

NEW this month from Dorling Kindersley...

Reviewed on the nonfiction page...

 

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Greetings one and all! I'm looking forward to the DVD release of The Battle of the Five Armies as I haven't seen it yet. However, thanks to the magnificent set of books from Harper Collins, I know what to expect! These Hobbit Chronicles are really the very best quality keepsakes of any cinema experience I have ever seen, and the final one, reviewed in this issue, is the best (though they are all superb, of course!). Elsewhere, on the Nostalgia page, you'll find a second Famous Five Collection containing books 4,5 and 6 of Enid Blyton's masterly series of adventure stories that are still revered and hungrily devoured today. Strange to find two classics of English Literature from the first half of the previous century dominating my magazine... Oh, and lest I forget, there are reviews of three magnificent new Haynes books below...


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My thoughts on this month's book selections...

 

Few things in my long life have given me more pleasure than reading - when I was growing up, my only experience of TV was the occasional visit to a miserly, miserable great Aunt, in whose home I was occasionally allowed to watch THE LONE RANGER, and I found myself listening more and more to the radio, lapping up programmes like THE GOON SHOW, THE NAVY LARK, CHILDREN'S HOUR, MRS DALE'S DIARY, etc., etc., together with all of the music programmes I could fit in around my homework... and playing! I was always happy when it was time for bed, especially in the summer months, when the days (and nights) lengthened, and there was sufficient light for me to read sitting up in bed until it was simply too dark, and in any case, I needed my sleep because I had to be up at five the next morning for my paper round and paper mark-up duties. I didn't discover THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT until much later, when my wife started to to read it and recommended it to me - we were newly weds, about twenty years old, and these books opened up a fascination for me with all things fantastic. Previously I had discovered that ERB wrote more than just Tarzan, but his non-Tarzan stories were adventures rather than fantasy, and Tolkien opened my eyes to the world of fantasy, one I would never turn my back on. But Enid Blyton was a childhood favourite. I probably read some FAMOUS FIVE titles, though I never did own any - my favourite EB's were the BARNEY MYSTERIES, and the best was the first, THE ROCKINGDOWN MYSTERY. I cannot adequately put into words the pleasure it has given me to hold and to read the magnificent second compendium of Famous Five stories, volumes 4,5 and 6, published in February by Hodder Children's Books. Even though the stories are quite predictable, there is something warm and comforting about the characters - the grumpy adults, the famous five themselves, including mongrel Timmy, who never fails to become the centre of the action! It's like coming home, putting on your comfortable slippers and relaxing with a cup of coffee and a biscuit.

 

The stories are as fresh as when they were first written, sixty-plus years ago, and it's not hard to see why children still flock to Enid Blyton's works. They fire the imagination, they inspire, and they reinforce the notion of good vs evil in a way that many modern writers struggle to emulate. This handsome volume from Hodder vies for overall book of the month with the sumptuous Hobbit: Chronicles from Daniel Falconer, and I simply can't decide which to choose. They both gave me enormous pleasure and will continue to do so for years to come, because they are the best of their kind... the finest example of good, wholesome children's adventure stories, and the finest example of a celebration of the modern, breathtaking world of special effects and dedication to their artform in the stunning world of make-believe cinema. Why THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES wasn't nominated for anything at this year's BAFTAs is beyond me. I haven't seen the film, I will do when it's out on DVD later this year, but it has to be equally as good as the first two Hobbit movies, and that's good enough for me. What is the matter with these people, choosing something that looks like a dire, dreadful documentary (BOYHOOD) as best picture? How many people will remember BOYHOOD in ten years time, and how many millions of us will still be watching the LOTR and the HOBBIT trilogies? I know the answer to that. It's a shame the people who voted at the BAFTAs can't see - they're too busy admiring the Emperor's new clothes...

 

TONY HAWKS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST... COUNTRY

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, hardback, 12th March 2015the city, but is the countryside ready for him?

Comedian and born and bred townie, Tony Hawks is not afraid of a challenge - or indeed a good bet. He's hitchhiked round Ireland with a fridge and taken on the Moldovan football team at tennis, one by one. Now the time has come for his greatest gamble yet - turning his back on comfortable city life to move to the wilds of the West Country. With his partner Fran in tow and their first child on the way, he embraces the rituals of village life with often absurd and hilarious results, introducing us to an ensemble of eclectic characters along the way. One minute he's taking part in a calamitous tractor run, the next he's chairing a village meeting, but of course he still finds time for one last solo adventure before fatherhood arrives - cycling coast to coast with a mini pig called Titch. In the epic battle of man vs countryside, who will win out?

 

Tony Hawks is one of the funniest men alive. I've read all of his books and they are amongst the funniest it has been my privilege to read. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST... COUNTRY, sees Tony and his partner, Fran, selling their London house and moving to Devon, where they embrace country life in the manner of a celebrity couple on Escape to the Country. What ensues is a brilliant examination of country life, with its various fêtes, committees and village hall events seen through the eyes of a comic genius in full flow. Tony reads the small ads in the parish magazine and wonders why a "timewaster" would bother to ring and enquire about a lawnmower, and decides that the caveat "NO TIMEWASTERS" must surely act as a magnet to the people it is supposed to discourage. He finds himself elected chairman of the village committee simply because no one else wants to do it, and rejoices in the feeling of power this manifests in him. And then his world is turned upside-down when Fran discovers she is pregnant... This is a supremely funny book, with the mild, brilliant hilarity and characters of a P G Wodehouse novel, a wonderful tonic in these dark, grey, depressing months of winter, a real laugh-out-loud pick-me-up and a touch of comic genius from someone who describes himself as "taller than he appears on radio"... This wonderful book arrived yesterday, too late for me to include on the non-fiction page, where it would almost certainly have been my book of the month, but it's worthy of a place on the home page, and quite the best book I've read for a long, long time! Deliciously funny...

 

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Coming in April and featured in the next issue of BOOKS MONTHLY: Allison and Busby have announced that on the back of the phenomenal success of the British Library's reprints of classic crime thrillers from the 1920s and 1930s, they will be reprinting a series of Golden Age espionage thrillers by ALEXANDER WILSON. There are nine titles in the series, which will be published during this year and 2016. The brilliant actor RUTH WILSON, last seen walking away with Luther, is Alexander Wilson's granddaughter and has been engaged to be involved with the publicity programme. Wilson himself has been featured recently in the Independent and the London Evening Standard. Wilson was a writer, a spy and a secret service officer. He served in the first World War before moving to India to teach as a Professor of English Literature, and began writing spy novels whilst there. During WW2, Wilson worked as an intelligence agent. He enjoyed great success and notoriety for his writing in the 1940s, with reviews in the Telegraph, the Observer, the Scotsman and the Times Literary Supplement. I can't wait - I've been privileged to receive an advanced proof copy of the first in the series, THE MYSTERY OF TUNNEL 51, and I can tell you, you are in for a rare treat! (Although I have seen the designs for the covers, they are not yet on the web - here's a scan of one of Wilson's "Wallace" novels published in 1939)... You can read the Independent article on Wilson here, but don't forget to come back to Books Monthly when you've finished it!

 

These three superb new Haynes Manuals just arrived - too late to include them on the nonfiction page, but too important to leave till next month!

 

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David Baker: Space Rocket Owners' Workshop Manual: Space Rockets and Launch Vehicles 1942 Onwards)

 

Published by Haynes, hardback, 5th February 2015

 

Rocket motors have made possible everything we do in space - from the tiniest motor the size of a pea to giant motors bigger than a house, they have been used to propel into space launchers as tall as St Paul's Cathedral weighing as much as a Navy warship - the Saturn V. The Rocket Manual tells the story of rocket motors, how they were first developed, how they work, what they are used for and how they are operated. This fascinating Manual explains and describes not only the engines themselves but also the rockets that carry payloads into space, to the Moon and to the planets.

 

David Baker has written countless books on spaceflight and space exploration, and is acknowledged as an authority on anything to do with space. Haynes have chosen well to have him write this stupendous book. I have to take issue with the index at the back, however, which mentions Black Knight but does not include Blue Streak, at least, not in the index. I turned to the page on Black Knight and found a four page article on the Blue Streak Rocket Launcher (originally conceived as an ICBM) on which I worked in the late 1960s in Stenage at Hawker Siddeley Dynamics. David's writing is superb, and faultless. Maybe it's the publishers who didn't provide a complete index - but whatever the case, this is a truly inspirational book, one for anybody who loves the idea of space exploration, brilliantly illustrated and packed with technical details, diagrams and photographs. Absolutely superb!

 

 

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Dr Angus Konstam: Battleship Bismarck 1935-41 - Owners' Workshop Manual

 

Published by Haynes, hardback, 1st January 2015

 

The Bismarck was probably the most feared Nazi German battleship of the Second World War. Angus Konstam gives readers a detailed insight into her design, combat capability and short-lived fighting career that ended in her destruction by the Royal Navy in 1941. The anatomy of the Bismarck is examined in detail, including her construction, armoured protection, propulsion, weaponry, gunnery direction, the bridge, sensors, steering and crew quarters. Life on board is described and a final chapter reviews Robert Ballard's discovery of the wreck of the Bismarck. * The first WW2 battleship to receive the Haynes Manual treatment. * More than 200 archive photographs. * Bismarck and her sister ship Tirpitz were the largest battleships ever built by Germany. * May 2016 is the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Bismarck. * Perennial interest in the Bismarck story.

 

Mention of the Bismarck at any time in the twenty or so years after the end of the second world war elicited a thrill of excitement, chiefly amongst schoolboys, but also, of course, amongst the men who managed to destroy her. Dr Konstam takes us on a guided tour of the Bismarck, and of course, this isn't an owners' manual as such, but rather a complete, accurate history and description of a battleship that struck terror into the Allies until she was sunk by the Royal Navy in 1941. A brilliant book. I ought to have included this one on the nostalgia page, but there wasn't time. SUperb.

 

 

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DKeith WIlson: Battle of Britain Memorial Flight - Operations Manual

 

Published by Haynes, hardback, 5th February 2015

 

Behind the scenes at the RAF's premier classic aircraft display flight The world famous RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (RAF BBMF) operates five Spitfires, two Hurricanes, a Lancaster and a Dakota, which perform at flying displays all over Britain during the summer season. Photographer Keith Wilson has been granted full official access to 'the Flight' to give readers a unique behind-the-scenes 'how it's done' look at all its activities - from the aircraft and their crews, to ground crews and support staff, and from air display planning to major overhauls of the aircraft.

 

Each year, in North Norfolk, we have a 1940s weekend, during which a huge number of people, locals and visitors, dress in 1940s costume, as civilians, as military personnel etc., etc., and the weekend usually enjoys a flypast and demonstration by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Sometimes we just get a Spitfire, other times we get the whole shebang, and it is stirring, inspiring, tear-jerking and nostalgic. We still get a kick out of seeing these aircraft flying overhead seventy years after the end of the second world war. I think it may be the engine sounds that do it. This wonderful book looks at the aircraft, their crews, their logistics, everything you could possibly want to know about something this important, and with brilliant photographs, this book is to be treasured for all time as a reminder of what we owe our lives and our way of life to, even now. Awe inspiring stuff from Haynes, one of their finest non-vehicular books ever.

 

There are loads of brilliant new books that deserve your attention in this issue! Just press the back button on your browser...

 

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Paul Norman

Editor, publisher and author...


 

The small print: Books Monthly, now in its seventeenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from it, it's free. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.