Fifty new nonfiction titles in this issue - make sure you look at them all, there are some real gems on the Nonfiction page!

 In this issue:

Home Page

Adult Fiction

  Crime and Thrillers
  Science Fiction & Fantasy

  Children's books

  Nonfiction & Reference
  The Nostalgia Page
  The Military History Page

  The Jerry Dowlen Column


Boot Sale / Charity Shop bargain of the month: Andy Weir: The Martian, published by Del Rey

A friend lent me the Blu-Ray DVD when it first came out, and we were captivated by it, a superb film, and I now have my own copy. I knew it was based on a book, and snapped it up when I saw it on the shelf in the Big C Cancer Charity Shop in our little town - it is a superb novel - side-splittingly funny, more so than the film, in my opinion, and it is by far the best charity shop purchase so far this year, being in absolute pristine condition, just like 99% of my own book collection.


Boot Sale / Charity Shop bargain of the month 2: Chris Smith: The Lord of the Rings Weapons and Warfare Published by Harper Collins 6th June 2003

A detailed and fascinating tour through all of the major and minor conflicts that occur during the three parts of The Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy. Battles, armour, weaponry, cultures and creatures: all are covered and explained, together with photos and illustrations and specially commissioned battle plans. As the memorable experience of watching The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers shows, Peter Jackson’s epic movie trilogy is destined to become one of the most exciting action adventure series ever filmed. The only problem is that the furious pace of the films means that the viewer barely has time to enjoy the visual spectacle of one particular action scene before they are hurtled headlong into another conflict. The Lord of the Rings: Weapons & Warfare will provide all the background that is absent from the films, taking the reader on a detailed tour through all of the major and minor conflicts that occur during the three parts of The Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy. It explains the history behind each battle and examines the strategy used by both forces. Each of the major conflicts – The Last Alliance of Elves and Men, the Mines of Moria, Helm’s Deep and the climactic battle of the Pelennor Fields at Minas Tirith – will be illustrated by a specially commissioned battle plan that reveals exactly how the battle was fought. The book also describes in detail each of the many different races and armies that appear in the trilogy: Men, Elves, Dwarves, all the different races of Orcs, and the various allies of both the Fellowship and Mordor. Each will be discussed at length – how they fight, why they are fighting, what armour they wear and what weapons they use. These will enable the reader to get as close to a marauding Orc as they could ever wish, without suffering the consequences! All of the above will be richly illustrated with exciting scenes from all three films together with close-up photography of all the swords, axes and other weapons and armour, plus digital and conceptual imagery produced by Weta Workshop.


This one turned up at a car boot sale last week, again in pristine condition apart from a grubby dust jacket, which I ditched at the earliest opportunity! Of course, with the unparalleled success of LOTR, Harper Collins really went to town with the books based on the three Hobbit films, producing six magnificent books showcasing the work that went into the making of the films from every aspect. Not so many books on LOTR, and not on the same scale, but I have to confess I did not know about this one, and it is magnificent, comprehensive and absolutely riveting. The LOTR trilogy did change the course of motion pictures, stopped it dead in its tracks, actually, and remains a genuine landmark. It is rightly celebrated in books like this one and I am privileged to have been able to secure it for a measly £1.50!






You are here: Books Monthly » The Home Page »


Hallo there! This issue of Books Monthly contains more new titles than ever, with more than fifty on the nonfiction page alone! Look out for some stunning new books from Dorling Kindersley on Crime (on the Crime and Thrillers page, or course!), Archaeology, Engineers etc., but the page is dominated by a number of brilliant home improvement and makeover books from Ryland Peters and Small (Cico Books), and some superb social history titles from Amberley. On the Nostalgia page I look at the latest issue of Yours Retro magazine (issue 5) and regret not knowing about it before! Next month's issue will feature Dorling Kindersley's RHS Garden Flowers book in an edition that is simply out of this world. I hope you enjoy this issue!


Mahler was gear! In the latest issue of BBC Music Magazine: Sir Paul McCartney - "I have always adored Mahler, and Mahler was a major influence on the music of the Beatles. John and me used to sit and do the Kindertotenlieder and Wunderhorn for hours; we'd take turns singing and playing the piano. We thought Mahler was gear."

How my life changed in the 1950s: school days...

I never got the impression that we were well off... I think my Mum actually groaned out loud when she received, through the post, a list of equipment I would need to be kitted out with before starting at the Crypt Grammar School for Boys in September 1957, in Tuffley, Gloucestershire. There were rugby shirts and socks in the school's colours: maroon and gold, white flannels (trousers, for the uninitiated) and a cream jumper for cricket, rugby boots (identical to soccer boots, but they charged more for them because rugby was considered a posher game than soccer - how unlightened were they, after all's said and done!), a cap (I turned up on that first day wearing a cap, only to find that I was the only one in the entire school of 600 pupils...); strong black shoes, satchel, rule, instruments for geometry, etc., etc. Have I left anything out? I may have. Pens and pencils, of course, but they were probably the cheapest of all the things Mum and Dad had to fork out for. I often wonder if the children who had not passed the 11+ exam and made their way to the secondary modern schools in Hucclecote and Churchdown were presented with such a list, but I don't think I'll ever know. We duly presented ourselves in the basement of the Bon Marché department store in Kings Square, Gloucester, armed with our list, and left a half hour later with everything on it. That first day at the Crypt - my uncles always had to say that I "crept to the crypt..." - there was more, but not in polite company, eh? That first day is etched on my memory to this day, sixty years on. There were two grammar schools for boys in Gloucester, and two for girls. I had deliberately chosen the Crypt for two reasons: it was founded in 1539 - in my last year at the Crypt there emerged evidence that it had, in fact, been founded several years earlier, in 1503, but nothing came of that - ever, even though I remember it vividly, being announced in assembly one morning in 1963. Secondly, my two older cousins, Brian and Peter, both went there, and everyone thought we should carry on the family tradition. The family moved to Brockworth, around four-five miles from the city, as early as 1935 - I recently found an Electoral Register entry dated 1935 for Uncle Bill and Auntie Eileen, and it seems that they were the pioneers. By 1937, the Normans and the Kimbers occupied four houses in Brockworth, one in Hucclecote and one in Matson. So Brian and Peter were the first in the family to attend the Crypt, and I continued the tradition. To the best of my knowledge, we were the last Normans to grace the Crypt Grammar School with our dynasty - there may have been further Kimbers, but I lost touch with Brian and Peter. I may look them up on Ancestry... back to school...


On that very first day, boys were grouping together - many came from primary schools they had attended together, and therefore already knew each other. In the first sixteen or so years of my life I was quite shy, still am to a certain extent. I joined my fellow classmates in form 2A - we were casually informed that the first forms at the school were the second forms, because the first forms were a throwback to when it was a preparatory school, which made little sense to me at the time, and even less sense now. There were approximately six hundred pupils at the Crypt - a modernish building erected in the 1930s, I believe, L-shaped, and set in acres of gorgeous playing fields. Our intake was split into three first forms, 2A, 2N and 2-something else, I forget the actual letter. Not the form teacher's surname initial, although I don't remember his name either. All of the teachers wore their university gowns. The headmaster's name was Colin Ewing, the deputy head's name was Whitehouse. Some of the more worldly boys called him Josh, I don't know why. I didn't know of a Josh Whitehouse... In the first year, we were streamed into what, it turned out, we were good at. It seemed that I was good at French and Latin, even though I had never done any before. There were boys in my class who had started French at primary school, but I soon overtook them; nobody had ever done Latin. It seemed I was good at both ancient and modern languages. I was not very good at the sciences. I hated chemistry and biology, and only one single lesson in physics caught my imagination, when the teacher pulled the blackout blinds, turned out the lights and shone a light through a prism, splitting the light into the colours of the rainbow. I didn't much like geography, which seemed to be all about trade and economics, not at all what I had been expecting. As we neared the end of year one, I was given a stark choice: classics or modern. Classics involved languages, (French, Spanish, Latin), English Language, English Literature, History, Mathematics, and Religious Studies, which everyone took. Modern involved the sciences, English Language, Geography, Mathematics. I chose to be a Classics scholar...


During that first year there was also Art and Woodwork. My artistic skills did not evolve until much later in my life; my woodworking skills emerged when I had to repair garden fences, put up bookshelves and make "houses" for loudspeakers, i.e. after I was married. I chose to be a classicist and said goodbye to the sciences and geography. This is a bone of contention between my wife and me: she also went to grammar school, first in Kilburn and then in Stevenage New Town, and insists that she did every subject on my two lists. Substitute domestic science for woodwork, and you had a list of eleven GCE subjects - far too many in my opinion, and I didn't miss any of the subjects I dropped. I was proud to be a classicist. Inevitably, by the end of the first year, friendships (and enmities) had been formed. I made friends early on with James Harding, who lived in a large Victorian rented house at the far end of Hucclecote, beyond the limits of my paper round (which I started at age eleven, my second school year); and David Farmer, who also lived in Hucclecote; finally Sam Hicks, who lived at the very foot of Coopers Hill, and who also went to the little primary school in Shurdington, though I don't remember him. He didn't live in Brockworth, so he didn't go to my primary school. We two were the furthest from the Crypt School, which was a cool seven miles away. The four of us shared a love of the Goon Show and groundbreaking comedy like that; James and I read the same comics, the same books - he loved ghost stories, as did I, and Saint books, and Dennis Wheatley. We were best mates, and eventually, before the end of year one, he had moved to the council estate in Brockworth, so we went to school together on the bus - two buses, actually. On the first day at school we were issued with bus passes which entitled us to a journey to and from the school at either end of the day. The first bus took us from Ermin Street, outside the Gloster Aircraft Company factory, to Eastgate Street in the city. The second bus on to Tuffley. Getting there was a piece of cake. I left home at eight o'clock and we got to school around 8:40am, in time for registration before assembly. Going home was a nightmare: there was a long drive leading down to the school gates, and the bus stop was a hundred yards along the road to the right. It seemed that every boy in the school needed to catch a bus into the city... I recall cramming onto a bus and standing all the way to Westgate Street, about forty of us standing in the aisle meant for ten, spilling off the bus and pelting through Southgate Street and through the alley to try and catch the No. 57 3:50 to Painswick, which stopped at Brockworth. It was tight - sometimes we made it, more often than not we didn't, and had to wait for the 4:30, arriving home around 5pm. OK in the late spring and summer, not so nice in the autumn and winter, when it was quite dark.


Not that I was afraid of the dark, or of walking home from the bus stop... (I was.... at first - later, as I grew older and bolder, I lost my fear, obviously). Getting home on the 3:50 meant that I was home in time for Mrs Dale's Diary, and then Children's Hour on the radio. Getting home on the 4:30 meant that I missed Mrs Dale, and the sweet voice of Jenny Dale... There was homework, of course. Our last year of primary school had involved homework in as much as we were encouraged to study for the 11+ (the 10+ in my case), but nothing else. Grammar School homework came as something of a shock at first, but we pretty soon learnt that we could do most of it during Religious Studies or in French and Latin because some of us were so much faster than the others, the teachers would tell us to "get on with something sensible while the others catch up". There were breaktimes, too, when you could learn your vocabulary or history dates, or read the set book for English Literature; after the first few months, homework sort of faded into the background. There was the occasional free period during the day, and if you wanted to listen to something on the radio, or to a new LP, you made sure you got your homework done before you got home. Second year: familiarity with the teachers; favourite teachers... there was "Dick" Barton for Latin; "George" Cross for French and Spanish; "Doughy" Baker for geography; "Roy" Castle for history; Charles Leper for English Language and Literature; the less said about mathematics the better - our second year teacher was called Wishbone (from the TV series Rawhide, I think - we didn't have a TV at home in 1957-8). He stank of cigarettes, wore glasses that had never been cleaned, and had a long, straggly, bushy beard that looked as though it might be infested with creatures. I wasn't very good at mathematics. I could add, subtract, multiply and divide like a good 'un, but geometry and trigonometry were alien concepts to me.


By and large, the Crypt Grammar School teachers were great. In the 1950s, schools were much as they had been since the turn of the century - change in schooling was slow, almost non-existent. I don't know when secondary modern schools first started, but R F Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days pretty much described my grammar school to a T. Many of the teachers had interrupted their university studies because of the second world war (first world war in Delderfield's book); many of them came back from military service to teaching, some of them were fresh from university - there was a mix of young and old teachers, but all commanded the utmost respect. My school practised corporal punishment. The headmaster, as far as I remember, was the only member of staff who administered the cane, although in his absence it would be the deputy head, Mr Whitehouse. Senior prefects were allowed to whack you on the behind with a gym shoe. I am proud to say that I was never on the receiving end of any corporal punishment, but the fear of the cane probably ensured my continuing good behaviour.


In my first year, my maths teacher (not Wishbone) walked into the classroom carrying our exercise books, which he placed on the corner of the desk neatly. Wearing a beatific smile, he turned to address us: "I marked your homework last night, boys - it was terrible!" The last three words of his address were accompanied by a rise in tone and a sweep of his arm, sending the pile of books flying across the room. He was in a bad mood for the remainder of the lesson, and most lessons after that - hardly conducive to good learning!. He called me "Cecil", after Cecil Norman and his Rhythm Players, a regular musical act on Workers' Playtime on the Home Programme. He had a nickname for everyone in the glass. Graham Henderson was Fletcher Henderson, another regular musical performer on discs played on the radio. The radio was our lifeline to the rest of the world. From it we got our news (I wasn't interested in reading the newspaper, after all, my father's chosen paper was the Daily Telegraph!) and our entertainment - I don't know why he and Mum were so against the television, maybe it was just the cost involved.


I thrived on programmes like Mrs Dale's Diary, and raced home from school to catch it. It was the 1950s equivalent of a soap opera, and I had to have my fix every afternoon! My earliest memory of all is of standing up in my cot screaming as a band of marauding monkeys cried and chattered around me - I am reliably informed that I was about six months old, and there was a frieze at waist height all around the bedroom in which I was sleeping at the time, depicting cartoon monkeys and other zoo animals. I only mention this as an indication of my memory of those far-off days. As I got further into my grammar school education I was struck by how similar everything was to what went on in my Greyfriars stories and Anthony Buckeridge stories. I adored both; and remember that the Jennings books were regularly adapted for BBC's children's hour. The Children's Hour was broadcast on the BBC's Home Service from 1922 to 1964, and Jennings at School was by far my favourite series, because it was set in a school. My love of school was kindled in my newly built Primary School, of which I can find absolutely no mention on the web, by teachers who loved children and loved guiding them through a learning process that had been tried and tested for several decades. Whether or not I would approve of the 11+ method of selecting pupils for secondary education had I not passed the exam myself is something I can only wonder about. It certainly worked for me.


Education wasn't confined to my schools - there were radio broadcasts under the title "Broadcasts to Schools", which we listened to at school, and at home when we were on holiday, of course. The Crypt Grammar School was Jennings' and Darbyshire's Linbury and Greyfriars rolled into one. I recognised my actual teachers as being variations of the teachers in both of the fictional schools: Mr Pemberton-Oakes, the headmaster, Mr Carter, Mr Hind from Linbury, Henry Samuel Quelch, The Rev. Herbert Henry Locke, Horace Manfred Hacker etc., from Greyfriars, and I recognised my fellow pupils as characters from both schools, as well. Like those Linbury and Greyfriars pupils, I had classes I detested, and occasionally I dared to not turn up, spending the entire period in the library - my friend James would cover for me, I never had to ask him, and I did the same for him, of course. The school library was heaven - there were books there that I had never heard of, and bound volumes of Punch magazine stretching back into the 19th century. There were also books that you had to ask the librarian (a prefect) for, because they contained reproductions of paintings of naked ladies - Art Treasures of the Prado was recommended to me by a friendly prefect early on in my Grammar school career, and it didn't disappoint! At home, my father kept a three volume encyclopedia, French, Africa, and one other volume - they were handsome books, and probably belonged to a much larger set. The Africa book had a picture in it of a beautiful young African (probably Nigerian or Kenyan)  lady, naked from the waist up. To the best of my knowledge, this was the only book in the house containing nudity of any kind. James's house had a small collection of Health and Efficiency Magazines which we pored over whenever I visited him, and my aunt's house, where I sometimes went after school if neither Mum nor Gran were able to be home to greet me, had collections of periodicals like Reveille, TitBits, in which I discovered Angélique, also the Weekly News, and paperbacks about gangs and shocking pulp fiction crime with lurid bright colours depicting gangsters and their women, which were very appealing to a young teenager. Uncle John, who lived with Gran in Boverton Avenue, a short walk from our house in Boverton Drive, read the Daily Mirror and had no objection to my reading the "Jane" comic strip. But home life was very strict and as I say, I do not recall ever seeing any publications depicting nudity apart from this one beautiful African girl in the 3-volume encyclopedia. Art Treasures of the Prado, therefore, not only satisfied my growing desire to look at the beauty of the naked female form, it also introduced me to the great painters and paintings of our Western civilisation. Very educational!


See you next month!

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its twentieth 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.