Remembering the true spirit of Christmas... and the Christmas Truce of 1914 - this page was updated 17th December...

   Books Monthly's Christmas issue December 2014

Your search for fantastic Christmas gift books ends here...

 December 2014 Contents

Adult fiction

Crime & Thrillers

  Science Fiction & Fantasy

  Children's books

  Nonfiction & Reference
  The Nostalgia Page

The Stephen King Page

  The Jerry Dowlen Column

  New from MagBooks

Out now...

Katherine Nichols: Alice's Wonderland - A Visual Journey Through Lewis Carroll's Mad, Mad World

Race Point Publishing, hardback, 4th December 2014

 

Alice's Wonderland dives down the rabbit hole and looks at the dazzling ways that Wonderland has been imagined by artists, filmmakers, writers, and more. Get a behind-the-scenes looks at how the books were created, meet Alice Liddell, the inspiration for the fictional Alice, and view the original manuscript copy of Alice in Wonderland, illustrated in Carroll's own hand. The fantastical world imagined by Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) - where a white rabbit carries a pocket watch, a crying baby morphs into a squealing pig, and a flamingo is used as a croquet mallet - has inspired countless artists to produce some of their best work. Illustrators such as John Tenniel, chose to tackle the work directly, producing illustrations, films, and shows that strive to accurately depict Wonderland. Others, such as artist Salvador Dali and director Tim Burton, freely adapted Dodgson's creation, using it as a springboard for their own incredible interpretations. Lushly illustrated paintings, artwork, and sketches, Alice's Wonderland explores how artists in different fields like art, music, theater, film, and more have interpreted Carroll's works through the ages. A must-have book for any Alice fan.

 

This amazing book examines the history of Lewis Carroll's timeless classic in such minute detail, you want to dig out your copy and read it again! The author looks at the people that inspired Carroll's extraordinary vision, at its publishing history, its many famous artists, such as Tenniel, Rackham and Mervyn Peake, whhy he wrote it, who it has inspired through the ages (John Lennon, for example), and provides stunning illustrations throughout. As comprehensive a look at this iconic title as you are ever likely to see. A brilliant, brilliant book!

 

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Imperial War Museum: First World War A-Z

Imperial War Museum, hardback, 8th October 2014

 

A pocket-sized guide to who's who and what's what in the First World War. The alphabetical entries not only cover leaders and battles but quirky items such as songs, superstitions and slang, making it a perfect little book to dip into. Throughout there are snippets of testimony moving, funny from the people who took part in the war.

 

The beauty of this superb little book is that it is genuinely pocket-sized, perfect for pulling out and dipping into on the bus or the tube - not only that, it is comprehensive, informative, and educational. Everything you could possibly want to know about WWI is referenced here - with enough information either to satisfy you or to inspire you to carry out further research by referring to the now vast library of titles on the conflict. This is absolutely brilliant - a companion WWII volume will be published in 2015, but this is the important one, really, published in the centenary year. Full marks to the IWM for such a brilliant concept!

 

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Greetings one and all! At a time when the spirit of Christmas has been more or less destroyed by a government comprising millionaires with no connection to or compassion for people less fortunate than themselves, and the burgeoning threat of an even more right-wing party holding the balance of power, my seasonal message is one of hope - that this time next year we will have a compassionate Labour government capable of uniting the country and of regenerating our belief in the power of love and goodwill towards each other, something that's sadly lacking right now...



 

As promised, I've added about thirty new titles to this edition of BOOKS MONTHLY since publication date three weeks ago - and I'm publishing now, a few days before Christmas, because there is still time for you to get some of these fabulous books; if not, you'll be able to choose something you really want to spend your Christmas money or Amazon vouchers on after Christmas, and I guess some of the shops will be open Boxing Day, and if not, on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th, because it seems that we simply can't get enough shopping hours! Of particular interest to me are the superb Canongate reprints of the two John Lennon books: IN HIS OWN WRITE and A SPANIARD IN THE WORKS. I purchased both of these titles when they were first published, but my copies disappeared over the years - these are not, I believe, the first reprints of the original Jonathan Cape editions from the 1960s, but they are a timely reminder of the comic genius of John Lennon and it's the fiftieth anniversary of first publication of IN HIS OWN WRITE. Read about these two iconic books on the Nostalgia Page...

 

Then there is the magnificent movie novelisation of PADDINGTON - about which no oneseems to have a bad word to say! It looks absolutely delightful, and Mark Kermode has described it in glowing terms in the same vein as Mary Poppins - high praise indeed, and I can't wait to see it. The book is terrific, as you'll find out when you read my review, and the three other tie-in books, (all four from Harper Collins Children's Books) are equally superb. All of the new titles added since 1st December are prefaced with "NEW TITLE".

 

Just time to talk about Stephen King: THE STAND, which for many is his greatest work (not me, I love it, but the Dark Tower series is my absolute favourite, followed closely by IT and 11:22:63) is to be made into a series of four movies. not only that, Fukunaga is to remake IT. How he'll do that in just one film is beyond me, because the terrific Tim Curry mini-series was six hours long and that wasn't long enough! A third series of Endeavour is filming, the Bernard Cornwell Dark Ages series is filming, with Matthew MacFadyen, Ian Hart and Rytger Hauer, and the third Hobbit movie is now out. All of these fantastic TV series and films are ultimately based on books (except for Endeavour, and surely someone could commission an Endeavour book - please!), and the future of books is secure, with a rich vein of material and a superb array of writing talent to bring it to us! Stephen King is on record as saying that books are the ultimate entertainment, and I have to agree, which is my justification for compiling Books Monthly every month. I'm taking a short break now, because I want to finish writing my second novel before getting stuck into the inevitable rewrites of the first, before publication some time in the New Year, so the next issue of Books Monthly will be on February 1st. I wish you all a joyous and loving Christmas! See you soon...

 

Just look at the images on this page and reflect on how attractive they are - the new Stuart MacBride, which is out in January, represents the very latest design concept for crime novel cover art, the size of the lettering of Stuart's name commensurate with his super-star author status that comes from producing the very highest quality police drama - he's definitely top of my reading list right now. Next we have the tie-in edition of Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death - already there are rumours (backed up by significant tweets, that a second series is on the cards, and it would be a travesty if there wasn't! TV tie-in editions remind us of what we've been watching, and if it's been successful, that's a real bonus. In fact, the library editions (the hardback versions) of the first three novels in the series, are really, really handsome, and in some cases no more pricey than the paperback versions if you shop around on Amazon. Next we have a nostalgic title from the excellent Girls Gone By Publishers, the third in the famous Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer, the cover art by the adorable Nina K Brisley. And then there's the first of two movie books associated with the third and final Hobbit films, encapsulating everything that's great about Peter Jackson's vision of Tolkien's Middle Earth. How on Earth will he follow this? There are other Tolkien books, of course, many of them back histories of Middle Earth... And finally, on the left of your screen, the visually stunning ALICE'S WONDERLAND - if you were me, but didn't have prior access to all of these fantastic books, you'd have them on your Christmas list, I'm sure. And that's just for starters...

The new Logan McRae novel from Stuart MacBride - coming in January of next year...

Stuart MacBride: The Missing and the Dead

Published by Harper Collins, hardback, on 15th January 2015

The new Logan McRae novel from the No. 1 bestselling author of CLOSE TO THE BONE and A SONG FOR THE DYING. One mistake can cost you everything… When you catch a twisted killer there should be a reward, right? What Acting Detective Inspector Logan McRae gets instead is a ‘development opportunity’ out in the depths of rural Aberdeenshire. Welcome to divisional policing – catching drug dealers, shop lifters, vandals and the odd escaped farm animal. Then a little girl’s body washes up just outside the sleepy town of Banff, kicking off a massive manhunt. The Major Investigation Team is up from Aberdeen, wanting answers, and they don’t care who they trample over to get them. Logan’s got enough on his plate keeping B Division together, but DCI Steel wants him back on her team. As his old colleagues stomp around the countryside, burning bridges, Logan gets dragged deeper and deeper into the investigation. One thing’s clear: there are dangerous predators lurking in the wilds of Aberdeenshire, and not everyone’s going to get out of this alive…

 

We have high exectations of our favourite authors, and by and large they don't disappoint. The new Stephen King blockbuster, REVIVAL, is electrifyingly good, stupendously so, and I don't believe that anyone who has read it will have been disappointed in any way. Likewise the new Bernard Cornwell, THE EMPTY THRONE. They will not allow their standards to slip, and in fact, they just keep on getting better and better. If you wanted to read about contemporary police work in Scotland, the chronicles of Inspector Rebus by Ian Rankin would probably be your first port of call. But over the course of eight novels (nine if you count THE MISSING AND THE DEAD), Stuart MacBride has furnished us with a cast of characters so stellar it's hard to figure out why no TV series has been mooted. Some of the subject matter is shocking - the main thrust of BLIND EYE, for example, involved Eastern Europeans gouging out people's eyes - that's something that couldn't possibly be shown on British TV, of course, but there would be ways round it. Logan MacRae is probably the best Scottish policeman in today's crime fiction, and Stuart MacBride has rightly had a succession of four number one bestsellers. THE MISSING AND THE DEAD will be the fifth, without a doubt, and is in my opinion the best Logan MacRae novel yet. So, Stuart MacBride becomes the third of my favourite authors who never disappoint, and whose books I really, really look forward to. Once again I've been privileged to receive a proof copy to read several weeks in advance of publication, and it eclipses pretty much every fiction title in this issue with the exception of REVIVAL and THE EMPTY THRONE, which remain in place, along with a goodly number of last month's titles, because they are so good, and deserve their places in my Christmas special. THE MISSING AND THE DEAD, the ninth Logan MacRae novel, is published on January 15th, so not long to wait to read what is most definitely the best piece of crime fiction I've ever read... You may wish to hang on to your Amazon vouchers for a couple of weeks after Christmas! And just to show that I am not a closed book when it comes to favourite authors, scroll down a fraction and you'll discover a fourth writer whose next book I can't wait to read. The TV series of GRANTCHESTER didn't disappoint, and neither do the books....

 

James Runcie: Sidney Chambers And The Shadow Of Death

Published by Bloomsbury, paperback, on 25th September 2014

Now a major, prime-time six-part series Grantchester for ITV. Sidney Chambers, the Vicar of Grantchester, is a thirty-two year old bachelor. Sidney is an unconventional clergyman and can go where the police cannot. Together with his roguish friend Inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney inquires into the suspect suicide of a Cambridge solicitor, a scandalous jewellery theft at a New Year's Eve dinner party, the unexplained death of a well-known jazz promoter and a shocking art forgery, the disclosure of which puts a close friend in danger. Sidney discovers that being a detective, like being a clergyman, means that you are never off duty... Sidney Chambers will be played by James Norton (Death Comes to Pemberley), and Robson Green (Reckless) will take on the role of Geordie Keating. Other cast members include Morven Christie (Twenty Twelve) as the beautiful heiress Amanda Kendall, while Tessa Peake-Jones (Only Fools and Horses) will play Sidney's housekeeper, and Kacey Ainsworth (Eastenders) is to join them as Geordie's wife.

 

I had it fixed in my head that the Grantchester series which finished a couple of weeks ago, was based on books that had been written at the time, i.e., the series was set in the 1950s, and I thought that it was probably based on books written in the 1950s... James Runcie has produced something quite remarkable with his Sidney Chambers series - there are no books based on Endeavour (OK, that's set in the early 1960s, at least the first series was)... and WPC56, the brilliant daytime series on BBC that has just made it to DVD as a vastly overpriced title, is not based on anything literary, to the best of my knowledge, so the Grantchester series is most welcome, and Runcie's prose is a real treat for the eyes. There are to be a total of six Granchester novels, of which three have been published - two of them with TV series tie-in covers showing James Norton on the first, as Sidney Chambers, and what an extraordinarily fine actor he is! And the second showing James Norton together with Robson Green as Inspector Geordie Keating. The hardback books are spectacular, looking like library titles from the 1950s, and my contact at Bloomsbury, who kindly supplied the two paperbacks for this feature, assures me that the fourth title, which is published next May, will follow the same pattern as the first three - and they do look really handsome on my bookshelf, where they have pride of place. Now to the stories - all three titles so far published are a series of adventures, not really novels, but novellas, in which Sidney finds himself assisting Geordie in solving various crimes -there is a touch of Midsummer Murders, but the humour is more gentle, more subtle than Caroline Grahams, and for me suggests a time just after the Second World War but reinforcing the idea that nothing much had changed, culturally speaking, from the 1920s/1930s. There's also a touch of P G Wodehouse in the humour, but the entire package is absolutely charming, and the stories are brilliantly written with fantastic characters and superb denouements in each and every case. James Runcie already proved his ability to write about times past in the brilliant CANVEY ISLAND, which I reviewed when it was published - I seem to remember it being my book of the month at the time - and his command of 1950s England is second to none and hugely enjoyable. The Grantchester series does for Cambridge what Colin Dexter's Morse did for Oxford. This is a brilliant series, the DVD is highest on my Christmas wishlist and without wishing to wish away the months, I simply can't wait for the fourth in this most excellent series!

Daniel Falconer: The Hobbit - The Battle of the Five Armies - Chronicles - Art and Design

Published by Harper Collins, hardback, 17th December 2014

The ultimate celebration of the final Hobbit movie reveals the full creative vision of the art and design teams, with almost 2,000 exclusive images, including designs and concepts that never made it to the big screen. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Chronicles – Art & Design is packed to bursting with more than 1,800 pieces of conceptual artwork created for the epic final instalment of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Learn how the battle for the Lonely Mountain was plotted, its armies designed and its landscapes shaped, through detailed commentary by the films’ Academy Award®-winning creative team members at 3Foot7, Weta Digital and Weta Workshop. From Lake-town and Dol Guldur to Dale and Ravenhill, each section is richly illustrated with concept art depicting creatures, costumes, armour, props and environment design hand-picked by the artists themselves from the Dragon’s hoard of artwork generated for the film. Also included as a bonus feature, unique to this book, is a stunning full-colour, removable art print by Gus Hunter depicting a key moment in the trilogy. Compiled by Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer, with a foreword by Costume Designer, Bob Buck, and introduction by Concept Art Director and renowned Tolkien artist, John Howe, this fifth volume in The Hobbit: Chronicles series has been created in full collaboration with key members of the production’s creative team to ensure the most comprehensive and authentic film companion possible.

 

I can't say too much about this book because I don't have my copy yet, and the review copies are always tightly guarded - embargoed, almost. It will be out in time for Christmas, published to coincide with the cinema release of the third Hobbit film - you'll see my review in the next full issue...

 

FInally, I have to say something about THE MISSING, the eight-hour serial that finished last night (16th) - what a relief it's over! In my opinion it was six and a half hours too long, with far too many irrelevant characters, far too confusing and confused, and the finale, which was billed by the BBC as mind-blowing, with shock revelations "near the end", was over after twenty minutes with the discovery that the boy died the night he was kidnapped. This left a forty-minute ending which was simply an outpouring of angst and hand-wringing, with no relief for the viewers whatsoever. You may ask me why I watched it if it was so bad, and the answer is that the BBC kept assuring us that it was riveting, it would keep us on tenterhooks while we waited to find out what happened to Oliver, and, like a fool, I believed them. It was supposed to be riveting from the very start - here's news for you, BBC, it wasn't. It was a good twenty minutes before anything happened, and as the weeks wore on, it became more and more boring. If the two brothers who wrote it ever turned it into a book, it would have to be about two thousand pages long to include everything that happened. Alternatively, they could condense it into a novella. It was sheer, unadulterated rubbish. I'm a huge fan of James Nesbitt, but this has to be the worst thing he has ever done! Mind-numbing, rather than mind-blowing. THE FALL, though, with Gillian Anderson (she's not that good, but Colin Morgan is sensational)... now that's another matter entirely, and it finishes tomorrow night (18th). See you!

 

The next full issue of Books Monthly will be at the end of January.  Have a lovely Christmas,try to remember what its true meaning is, and try not to think too badly of other people...

 

Paul Norman

Editor, publisher and author...


 

The small print: Books Monthly, now rapidly approaching 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.