books monthly september 2017

An amazing new book from Stephen McGann which breaks new ground in the autobiography genre is my book of the month...

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Robert Galbraith: Cuckoo's Calling


Published by Sphere August 2017



When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case. Strike is a war veteran - wounded both physically and psychologically - and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model's complex world, the darker things get - and the closer he gets to terrible danger. First crime novel by J.K. Rowling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith


J K Rowling's trilogy featuring private detective Cormoran Strike has been made into a miniseries for BBC TV. The series is bright, breezy and funny, and although it's up against the ITV blockbuster Victoria series 2, I think it should prove to be a smash hit even if people record Strike and watch it later. I can't wait to read the books and I believe they may be on their way...






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Book of the month - Stephen McGann: Flesh And Blood

Published by Simon and Schuster 27th July 2017

His family survived famine-ravaged Ireland in the 1850s. His ancestors settled in poverty-rife Victorian Liverpool, working to survive and thrive. Some of them became soldiers serving on the Western Front. One would be the last man to step off the SS Titanic as it sank beneath the icy waves. He would testify at the inquest. This is their story. Stephen McGann is Doctor Turner in the BBC hit-drama series Call the Midwife.  Flesh and Blood is the story of the McGann family as told through seven maladies – diseases, wounds or ailments that have afflicted Stephen’s relatives over the last century and a half, and which have helped mould him into what he now perceives himself to be. It’s the story of how health, or the lack of it, fuels our collective will and informs our personal narrative. Health is the motivational antagonist in the drama of our life story - circumscribing the extent of our actions, the quality of our character and the breadth of our ambition. Our maladies are the scribes that write the restless and mutating genome of our self-identity.
  Flesh and Blood combines McGann’s passion for genealogy with an academic interest in the social dimensions of medicine – and fuses these with a lifelong exploration of drama as a way to understand what motivates human beings to do the things they do. He looks back at scenes from his own life that were moulded by medical malady, and traces the crooked roots of each affliction through the lives of his  ancestors, whose grim maladies punctuate the public documents or military records of his family tree. In this way he asks a simple, searching question: how have these maladies helped to shape the story of the person he is today?


I have to say that this latest book by Stephen McGann could well turn out to be my nonfiction book of the year, if not of the decade. The way it is constructed, and the fact it combines many of the subjects I hold most dear and are interesting to me personally, is a revelation. I cannot remember when I last enjoyed a nonfiction title as much as this one. You can read my review on the nonfiction page.

Dodie Kazandjian: Vogue - The Covers

Published by Abrams 5th September 2017

In this stunning updated edition of the successful Vogue: The Covers, Vogue continues to pay tribute to its tradition of beauty and excellence with a compilation of even more spectacular cover art. In addition to featur­ing classic covers from the magazine's 125-year history, this updated edition features every cover since 2010, with each cover displaying the magazine's cutting-edge takes on style, fashion, and culture. Unforgettable new covers feature such celebrated subjects as Michelle Obama, Kim and Kanye, Lena Dunham, and more. This lavish, beautifully illustrated book even includes four new frameable Vogue cover prints that can be removed from the back of the book. Vogue: The Covers (Updated Edition) is a must-have for every fashion lover and collector.


On the nonfiction page in the left-hand column, you will find my review of another Abrams book, their publication of the entire Playboy centrefolds from six decades of Playboy magazine. This volume, Vogue - The Covers, stretches back into the 19th century, and although it doesn't have every single cover of this iconic magazine, it is nevertheless extremely comprehensive in its cover, and will delight any reader who chances upon it. It is a worthy tribute to the beauty of women - there has been much talk lately in the press and media of the need to do away with gender altogether; not just gender stereotypes but any talk of boys and girls is to be discouraged. I find this absolutely abhorrent and nonsensical; there are two distinct sexes and both should be celebrated separately, in my opinion. These two magnificent books from Abrams do just that - both happen to celebrate the beauty of women, and that's absolutely fine by me. Let women buy books about men and we men will buy the books about the women we love to look at. The Vogue Covers book contains many iconic females, and without exception they are all beautiful and exhibit the qualities that distinguish them from men, just as the Playboy book also does, only in a more revealing fashion! These are books to be treasured before the lunatics who believe we should live in a gender-free society take over. There are toys for boys and toys for girls - so what? There are books for boys and there are books for girls, clothes for boys and clothes for girls. I'm assuming there is some kind of political emphasis here on the part of the lunatics, something to do with bridging the pay gap. That has nothing whatsoever to do with the distinction between boys and girls, men and women. This debate is unnecessary and disturbing on a grand scale as far as I'm concerned. I'm happy and thankful that publisher Abrams has given us two sensationally good books in the same month whereby we can enjoy the look of the women we treasure.

Candice Brown: Comfort - Delicious Bakes and Family Treats

Published by Ebury Press 13th July 2017

The first book from the winner of The Great British Bake Off 2016! Secondary school teacher and pub landlord's daughter Candice Brown stole the show with her amazing bakes and weekly lipstick change in The Great British Bake Off tent of 2016. This year the Sunday Times columnist will be bringing out her first cookbook - all about home comforts. These are the recipes Candice learned to bake from her nan and mum, recipes close to her heart, that should be served up as a big generous slice - and preferably on a vintage plate if you have one. Candice's recipes are easy to make, no nonsense and hearty. She has a recipe up her sleeve for every occasion - for baking with kids, birthday parties for all ages, Christmas, afternoon tea, quick savoury bakes for weeknights and fancier recipes for weekends.


I don't really want to watch the new Bake Off on Channel 4 - I don't personally like any of the presenters but I guess that should be no barrier, because I didn't actually like all of the presenters on the BBC Bake Off... I will end up watching some of it, because my wife will want to see what it's like, and we do things together, always have. But I know I shan't like it. I do think that of all the past winners, Candice Brown's book is far and away the best. Many of the recipes are so good that we will try them together - they are recipes closest to the kinds of foods we like to eat, nothing controversial, nothing that is actually out of place in such a book, which is often the case. Candice's personality shines through in her very personal and very readable notes, and although it's not part of the Bake Off library, it is nevertheless a timely reminder that she was the last winner of the real Bake Off, with an extraordinary talent for creating cakes and treats that people really do like to eat. A lovely cook book, the best this year! (Update: I watched the first Channel 4 Bake Off and apart from the different presenters, nothing has changed, and it was quite enjoyable. You have to record it to watch later, because the advert breaks are more annoying than ever and at particularly stupid times during the programme).


And finally, I just need to tell you the publication dates for the next couple of months: the September issue will be uploaded on September 1st; the October issue will be uploaded on September 26th because of the new Stephen King book, a proof of which I am now reading! 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.