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 February 2016 Contents

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Adult Fiction

  Crime and Thrillers

Science Fiction & Fantasy

  Children's Books
  Nonfiction & Reference

  Pen and Sword Books

  The Nostalgia Page

  The Jerry Dowlen Column

 

This issue contains a new page dedicated to the fantastic books from Pen and Sword Publishing - on their page you'll find details of a couple of remarkable new books about the Great War, one featuring illustrations from hundreds of postcards, the other being the second volume in their planned five-volume set The Great War Illustrated, and this month sees the publication of 1915. These two books are among the very finest I've ever read on the subject of the Great War...

 

From Simon and Schuster comes the brilliant Doctor Turner's Casebook - Call the Midwife remains my favourite drama series on the BBC (whilst Endeavour, which has just finished its third series on ITV remains my overall favourite drama series). Doctor Turner has become one of the central characters of Call The Midwife during the last two series, and this fantastic book showcases the character and the problems he faces with the nascient NHS (how that's still in the news, even today, seventy-odd years later!). Also on the nonfction page you'll find three brilliant new Dorling Kindersley books, including their new "Illustrated Family Bible".

 

My Crime book of the month is a fantastic thriller by Carol Goodman: River Road, while my SF and Fantasy book of the month is the brilliant novelisation of the new Star Wars movie: The Force Awakens. My Kids Book of the Month is the second of Anne Digby's superb Trebizon series, as republished by Egmont - what a fantastic job they've done on the series!

 

Loads more new books arrived this week, too late for me to include in the February issue - one to mention, though: James Martin's More Home Comforts...

 

 

Published by Quadrille, hardback, on 11th February 2016

 

More Home Comforts introduces 100 new recipes from James Martin, favourites that you will want to cook time and time again.This brand new book features super-fast Instant Comforts, including Pea and Parmesan Soup and Keralan Prawns; Sharing Comforts for when you have a tableful, like Lamb Belly with Barbecue Sauce or Dahl Chicken with Naan Bread; Childhood Comforts such as soothing Fish Pie or Tomato Soup; Posh Comforts for when you're entertaining, with the likes of Carpaccio of Tuna and Perfect Rump Steak; Indulgent Comforts that are naughty but nice (Dark and White Chocolate Cherry Brownies, Churros with Peaches and Custard); and Sweet Comforts, with classic cakes and bakes like Fruit Meringue Gateau and Sticky Toffee Roulade.James guides you through the recipes with their clear, easy-to-follow instructions and beautiful photography. Whether you want a seasonal summer salad or an autumnal roast, here are all the recipes you will need from a master of his trade. This sumptuous book will almost certainly be my nonfiction book of the month in the next issue... James Martin is for me the very best celebrity chef on the telly - I love Bake-off, but James is one of us, one of the lads as it were. His Home Comforts series (there have been three now) are brilliant, particularly the end sequence, where he cooks a special meal for a special guest. He's a natural comedian, a gifted presenter, and, for me, the best TV cook there has ever been. He's great, his books are great, it's that simple. Full review in the March issue, but watch out for this book on 11th February - you wont want to be without it!

 

 

 

 

You are here: Books Monthly The Home Page  RIP Sir Terry Wogan...


       


A word or two about Sir Terry Wogan, who died yesterday...

I don't really remember when it was that I first started listening to Terry Wogan on Radio 2... it was probably in the 1970s, and I was a supervisor in this photographic processing factory in Stevenage (see below), where the ladies I was supervising always had the radio on as it helped their productivity. One day I started to pay attention to what he was saying. When it was time to hand over to Jimmy Young, one day I heard him say something like: "Jimmy Young has just entered the studio in his wheelchair...", and my mate Steve and I nearly fell off the top of the storage rack, some twenty feet up, where we were stacking boxes of envelopes... and that was how it started, before the TOGs got going, I think. After that, I tried never to miss a show. If I was home with the flu or something, I would put the radio on the minute Wendy had gone out shopping, so I could listen to him ranting on about Miss Ellie's clothes hangers (Dallas), or playing about with the words from Super Trooper (Abba), when it became "when I called you last night from Tesco...", and "beams are gonna find me" became "beans are gonna bind me..." I always felt that he was talking to me as an individual, rather than as just one of eight million "listeners". For me he was the greatest ever radio broadcaster - I've been listening to the radio since the 1940s, so I know what I'm talking about - he was not like Dimbleby and Snagge (and most broadcasters had similar voices to those two gents for the rest of the BBC's previous broadcasting history). Only Cuddly Kenny Everett ever moved me in a similar way, but Wogan was my favourite. I used to drive to work with tears in my eyes from laughter at his interplay with Alan Dedicote, Fran, John etc., and at his "Janet and John" stories. I've read all of his books with immense pleasure; I've watched him interview the great and the good on his various chat shows; watched him reduce a panel of contestants on Blankety Blank to helpless laughter. I remember him talking with sadness at the passing of his very good friend Paul (Pauly) Walters, from cancer; now we're talking about him in the same way, but he was larger than life, and he's certainly larger than death. He was a colossus, a titan of broadcasting - he made radio his own and then shared it with his millions of fans, when it really was our BBC. The BBC will today be mourning one of its greatest heroes, and the nation, who adopted him from his native Southern Ireland's Limerick, will be wondering who else is going to go this winter... a great, great man has left us bereft, except we have so many joyous memories of a man who taught us how to laugh again...

Memories of the 1950s... my love of photography...

One of this month's fantastic Dorling Kindersley books is Tom Ang's DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY MONTH BY MONTH. I've always been fascinated by photography, and now that I own a DSLR I take loads of photos which I share with my friends on my Facebook page, in common with millions of other Facebook users. But how did I come to be interested in photography in the first place? It was like this. I was twelve years old in 1958 when I found a carboard box filled with old negatives in the cupboard under the stairs in our family home in Brockworth, Gloucester. Now, unlike any cupboard under the stairs in the fantasy universe that Stephen King inhabits, this one didn't lead to a cellar, and the untold horrors that King developed after reading works of fantasy literature by previous masters such as H P Lovecraft and A A Merritt. This one contained the gas meter, which was fed by one and two penny pieces, a selection of brushes and buckets, and a random shelf on which I found candles, matches, and this cardboard box full of negatives. Young children have always been fascinated by family photographs, and I was no exception. Whenever we visited distant relatives, in Hornchurch, Dagenham, Romford etc., etc., I would ask to see family photos, often discovering pictures of my Mum and Dad that were obviously not in their own collection. Every family in the nineteen-fifties had photo albums and/or boxes of old photographs, and mine was no exception. But a box of negatives?

 

These would have been about three inches square, possibly, and if you held them up to the light, you could make out people on them, people I was desperate to see... One of my annuals had at some time contained an article about contact printing from negatives - it wouldn't be worth doing from the later 35mm format as they were too small. But these square negatives had the potential to reveal their secrets to me, and I was determined to uncover those secrets! I found the annual and the article and worked out that by holding a piece of photographic print paper to the negative and exposing it to light of some sort, then "developing" it in a tank of some fluid, I would end up with a contact print of what was on the negative. After a few failed experiments, I managed to get a print, albeit out of focus, showing a man in uniform - a great uncle from the Great War, I believe. No one in the family knew who he was, but I was hooked on photography. I begged, borrowed or appropriated the family camera, although I don't remember its make - if I remember correctly it was a khaki box with a small lens at the front and a clunky exposure lever at the side, probably a box Brownie. I bought film for it from the chemist's shop in the city, and took my first pictures... did contact prints of them - and then promptly moved on to another hobby.

 

Fast forward to 1966, and my soon-to-be brother-in-law suggested that I would need a camera to record the highlights of Wendy's and my forthcoming honeymoon. He suggested the purchase of a Boots Beirette 35mm camera, a camera which served me well until the late 1970s, when I decided to go for one of the new Prinzflex 35mm SLR cameras - in reality a Russian Zenit E camera with the Zenit brand obscured by a chunky Prinzflex badge and sold in Dixons. This was the real deal! One actually had to focus the camera oneself! I managed to save enough money to buy a 135mm telephoto lens and quickly started to stockpile a huge number of negatives and colour slides; but we were struggling by that time to make ends meet and film was expensive. I experimented with a 110 camera, but the quality of the prints was poor, and I longed to get back to SLR photography, which I did, with another, secondhand Zenit E (this time without the Prinzflex badge obscuring the make) and a job lot of photographic processing stuff including an enlarger (again, Russian make, very basic but did the job), a developing tank and various other bits and pieces. Blackout curtains transformed our small third bedroom into a darkroom, and we were back in business. Processing 35mm slide film was easier still, because you ended up with an immediate finished product except for the slide mounts, which were available from Boots in those days, along with all the processing chemicals, fixers etc., that were necessary for home developing. Family holidays to Hunstanton, Sheringham and Southwold resulted in upwards of 72 colour slides for projection - back then I think there were only three TV stations and there would always be time for a slide show on a Sunday evening.

 

In the 1980s I worked for the now defunct PTP (Photo Trade Processing) company, owned by Dixons, in Stevenage. Thousands and thousands of customers' films were sent there for processing - I worked there for a couple of years, keeping my hand in sometimes by working in the vast darkroom, and then supervising the printing of peoples' holiday snaps as they trundled off the seemingly endless rolls of photographic paper. And then came digital photography. And now the internet is filled with millions of photos... I normally take something like 100-200 shots a week, fifty or so of which are uploaded to Facebook for everyone to see who wants to - mainly of the two border collies we have, but also of the extraordinary sunrises and enormous skies we have here in North Norfolk. I've embraced digital photography with the joy of the knowledge that there are no limits to how many photos you can take - unlike back then when rolls of film were so expensive - but so necessary to keep a record of your growing family, their leisure activities and their progress through life. Such a joyous hobby! More nostalgic memories next month...

 

...and now a word or two on the BBC...

My wife and I were among the many thousands of people who complained to the BBC about Laura Kuenssberg and Andrew Neil's manipulation of the news to encourage a disaffected shadow cabinet minister to resign publicly on air. We've felt for some time that the BBC has become totally biased against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, and discovered during the course of this sordid affair that the head of BBC News is George Osborne's best friend and a previous employee of the vile Rupert Murdoch; also that Andrew Neil was a Conservative party researcher and that Kuenssberg (who we never thought was the correct choice for top political commentator) also has ties to the Conservatives. It now seems clear to us that she has an agenda, which is to rubbish Jeremy Corbyn at every opportunity, and that the BBC are now, in fact, controlled by the Conservatives and Murdoch. They will claim they are independent but the evidence is there for all to see. We, like the other people who complained, have had a communication from the BBC which they think closes this sad story down. The really sad thing, for me, is that it is a clear indication that the BBC don't think they did anything wrong in going along with Neil and Kuenssberg's "making of the news" - in fact they claim it is their job to do just that, whereas all right-thinking people will agree that their job is to report the news and comment on it, not to make it. It's a shame. Every other news broadcaster is rubbish - Sky is Murdoch's, ITV is so bad it's laughable, like 90% of their programmes, which are dire (FYI we love Emmerdale and the ITV's detective drama series and many of the costume dramas such as Downton Abbey - the rest of it, including their flagship soap Coronation Street, is second-rate entertainment as far as we're concerned). Which leaves the BBC. The Breakfast team (Bill Turnbull, Louise Minchin, Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchety) are fabulous, the best presenters in the world. I don't personally like Rita Chakrabarti simply because she cannot say the word "years" properly - it grates on me in the same way that the erroneous phrase "for free" grates. Some of the other BBC news presenters are OK, but they're only as good as the material they're asked to read out, and it's clear the BBC is constrained by the Conservatives, and told what to say by Murdoch, like most of our ugly press, with the exception of the Daily Mirror, The Guardian and the Independent. A sad state of affairs when a public broadcaster has been infiltrated by the sort of people who were running the Soviet Union a few years ago...

 

PS We love War and Peace - it's stunning visually, but it's difficult remembering who everyone is. War and Peace is of course my Adult Fiction Book of the Month. As for Dickensian - well, it might have seemed like a good idea, but for me there are simply too many characters and storylines going on at once. Far better, in my opinion, to do a prequel to Great Expectations, or A Christmas Carol; but not all of those stories at once.Too many characters, too many stories crammed into each episode. As I write this, the third series of Endeavour has just finished, and this coming Sunday a new series of Vera begins to take its place. Endeavour remains my favourite TV detective series - I was inspired to read Colin Dexter's The Remorseful Day, which I picked up in a charity shop for 50p, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe I'll revisit all the Morse books this coming year, but right now I'm heavily into Ann Cleeves, who will have two series running concurrently come Sunday - Shetland on BBC1 and Vera on ITV. Shetland is brilliant, and had me revisit the first book in the series, Raven Black, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Series 1 and 2 are available from Amazon for 7.99 and this has gone straight to the top of my wish list! Now I'm reading Telling Tales, the second in the Vera series, a reprint, of course, which Pan Books kindly sent me, and which I shall be covering in more detail in the March issue of Books Monthly.

 

...and on why I think it's time to close down Channel 4...

...which is obviously owned by Messrs Allsopp and Spencer... A couple of years ago we were promised there would be no more of those dire Location programmes, yet here we are, the third new series now underway since that promise. What's wrong with Location Location Location, you ask? We like looking at other people's houses, and enjoy some of the episodes of Escape To The Country on BBC, picking holes in the people who have upwards of 500k to spend, purely because we're jealous. But Location's appeal is extremely limited for me by the presenters. Allsopp is, I believe, a friend of the Cameron set, which is enough for me to absolutely detest her; her presentation is puerile and stupid, like her co-presenter, who has as much charisma as... well, nothing, really. He's as likeable as Ricky Gervais, and nowhere near as funny. And bearing in mind that Gervais isn't and never has been, funny in any way whatsoever, that's not saying much. Gervais's only saving grace is that he's an animal lover. If Channel 4 would only make good on their promise never to show that unattractive pair and their dire Location programme ever again, then maybe the channel could close, because without Location and the other Allsopp and Spencer programme variations, there's nothing... It could close quietly. With no fuss, unlike BBC3, which has outstayed its welcome by about ten years...

 

Over Christmas, two TV programmes were brought to my attention by my newspaper, the I, in their "ones to watch" section: Peter Kay's Car Share, and the Steve Coogan film Alpha Papa. I duly recorded both and when there was a gap in our usual watching routine, I played them. Car Share, I was informed by I, was absolutely hilarious, had been a huge hit when first shown, and showcased Kay's talents to extraordinary perfection. Words fail me. Actually, they don't: I've never found Kay remotely funny, and Car Share plumbed new depths of exquisite hatred for someone who gets paid for making people laugh and simply doesn't deliver. Like Jo Brand, Kay supposedly does lots for charity - I don't care, I can't stomach either of them because they don't do what it says on the tin, they are simply not funny in any way. In the case of Brand, I find her particularly distasteful, tacky, in very bad taste, and not suitable for me to watch without getting either very angry or revolted. Like Kirsty Allsopp, who's bought her time on TV along with Spencer. There, that's off my chest... for now...

 

Alpha Papa, I was reliably informed, was a great advert for the North Norfolk Coast, and was an absolutely brilliant film - so funny it was unbelievable. They were right there - it was unbelievable. I won't say "words fail me" again, because my reason for mentioning it here is so I can have a go at it. Like Kay, Coogan is as funny as an ingrowing toenail. Alan Partridge is even less funny. In the 90-odd minutes of this dreadful film, about three were of the North Norfolk Coast, including a dire ending on Cromer pier; the rest was set in a radio studio and was as funny as one of those reports of people binge drinking at Christmas and ruining the lives of the poor people who work in our A&E departments. Not a film I ever want to spoil my television again. Ever. And talking of binge drinkers, why don't we have drunk tanks over here for these appalling, abominable dregs of humanity? And a last word on comedy: the last twenty years of so-called comedy in Britain have been the worst I can ever remember. Thank goodness for Would I Lie To You, the only genuinely funny programme on the TV today! I've named these people who simply aren't funny before; today I'll name the only person I think is a truly comic genius: Eddie Izzard... he does lots for charity and he's funny... I'll finish by reminding you that everything you read above is my opinion only. You may find Peter Kay, Steve Coogan and Jo Brand funny; you may even find Kirsty Allsopp and Phil Spencer appealing. I don't like any of them, it's as simple as that. And that's me done for this month. See you in March with loads more brilliant new books....

 

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The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its eighteenth 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 this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.