books monthly january 2017

2017 is Books Monthly's 20th year on the web... Happy New Year to one and all!

 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

 

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How books changed my life...

From a very early age I was obsessed with books... My primary school opened in 1950, and I transferred to it from the one-class Shurdington village school at the age of five after spending my first six months of learning there. The new school had a library! I don't remember how old I was when I was allowed to actually borrow a book from the Brockworth New County Primary School library, but I do remember what the book was: the life of Beethoven. I was entranced by the two bookcases filled with books - more books than I had ever seen in my life, other than in the two branches of W H Smith in the city of Gloucester - a school library that made my single bedroom bookshelf pale into insignificance. Nevertheless, I soon hit on a plan to buy more books of my own - I started my own lending library. I made stickers to paste inside the covers of all of my books, I issued my Mum, Dad and sister Jean with library cards, and I charged them tuppence (two old pennies) for the privilege of borrowing one of my books, whether or not they wanted to. The money probably didn't go on books at the start of my enterprise, it was more likely to go on a packet of Spangles (boiled fruit sweets) or a bar of Fry's Five Centres, or a Robin comic (or it may have been Jack and Jill)...

 

As the years passed, I started to visit the library that set up home in my school once a week, Tuesday or Wednesday evenings, that would have been, going with my Mum and pretty soon graduating to more adult titles, having speedily exhausted the children's books that occupied one shelf of the two bookcases. Mum, Dad and Jean didn't get long to read the books they had borrowed from my library - it was quite often the case that I desperately wanted to read the Regent Classics versions of Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Lorna Doone (again) more than they did, so I would sneak into their bedrooms and take them back. It never occurred to me to impose a fine for late return of books, and besides, they wouldn't have been able to produce the books, because they were back on my shelf! But the seeds were sewn. My priority was to collect books and more books, and every relative that asked my Mum what I wanted for Christmas and birthday was told to buy me a book. Sometimes it was a book of trains, sometimes an annual, sometimes a handsome leather-bound classic - Dickens, maybe, or What Katy Did, Little Women, etc., etc. Nowadays I don't have a problem with getting hold of the books that I want - almost every publisher is only too willing to send me books to feature in Books Monthly, something for which I shall be eternally grateful. In the past twenty years, thousands of pounds worth of fabulous books have made their way to my house, enhancing my collection and giving me endless joy. I hope you find something to your liking in this first issue of Books Monthly for 2017, and that your books will enable you to cope with the stress of modern living in this artificial era of austerity imposed on us by people who don't suffer it and never will...

My Books of the Year for 2016...

My Book of the Year for 2016 was an easy choice - in between reading the books that have come my way for the various issues of Books Monthly, I've been re-reading Stuart MacBride's entire collection of Logan MacRae adventures, right from the very first title, COLD GRANITE. I have no doubt I shall have reached IN THE COLD DARK GROUND by the time we get to Christmas week. There are various sets of books that give me immense pleasure, titles I am happy to read again and again and again - for example, one of my birthday presents for my 70th birthday this September was the Blu-Ray version of Stephen King's best ever novel, 11:22:63, and during September I set aside my Logan MacRae and read it for probably the fifth or sixth time. I never tire of it. I never tire of Stephen King, and happily re-read the Dark Tower novels, The Stand, IT and 11:22:63 again and again. Towards the end of September, my review copy of Bernard Cornwell's tenth Dark Ages novel, THE FLAME BEARER arrived (see below), and I once again put on hold my journey through the extraordinarily colourful life of Logan MacRae, knowing that I would be coming back to him ere long. And the point is this: you go through life discovering authors who become favourites: firm favourites. The first of these, for me, was Enid Blyton. Whenever I was stuck for something to read, I would turn to the Barney mysteries. A couple of years later, I discovered Leslie Charteris's Saint books, then Mazo de la Roche's Whiteoak series, and the last few of my formative teenaged years were occupied by Dennis Wheatley, and in particular his occult novels. All of these books are still available, because they have become favourites, not just of mine, but of countless thousands of people around the world who derive great joy from reading what our favourite authors write for us. Nowadays, if I'm stuck for something to read, I turn to Stephen King and Bernard Cornwell, but first and foremost, it's Stuart MacBride and the adventures of Logan MacRae. IN THE COLD DARK GROUND is the tenth full-length novel featuring Logan MacRae, and it outshines every other crime novel of 2016 for me, and, indeed, every other novel I've had the privilege of reading. I have no hesitation in declaring it my book of the year for 2016. I've just learned that Stuart's next novel, A DARK SO DEADLY, will be published in April of next year...

 

My adult book of the year is Daisy Goodwin's superb novel about Young Victoria. Until I watched the TV series starring Jenna Coleman, I knew very little about the early years of Victoria's reign, but that all changed with the three books that were released to coincide with the best TV drama of 2016 (not counting the third Endeavour series, of course!). And Daisy Goodwin was heavily involved with two of those books; the novelisation, which is absolutely fantastic, and gives such a great deal more information than you get in the TV series, of course, and The Victoria Letters, the companion to the TV series. I have no doubt she drew heavily on A N Wilson's Victoria: A Life, which was the third book to complete my education into the turbulent but fascinating early years of the young Queen Victoria. The novelisation is sublime, reminiscent of the very best of Georgette Heyer, and I hope there's a novel to accompany the second series of Victoria when it returns at the end of 2017! Bernard Cornwell's The Flame Bearer is the tenth novel in his Dark Ages series featuring Uhtred of Bebbanburg, already the subject of a fantastic first TV series that makes Game of Thrones look very shallow indeed. I know that this is not science fiction or fantasy, but it is so much better than any fantasy series (apart from Lord of the Rings) that I've ever read, and it is extraordinarily high adventure, so I make no apologies for nominating it my favourite sf/fantasy book of the year. Bernard runs a very close second to Stuart MacBride, and with Stephen King makes up the third of my trio of unbeatable favourite authors in that they never, ever, let me down.

 

My Nonfiction book of the year relates to a TV series and an autobiography that is very dear to me, Call the Midwife, and this year Simon and Schuster brought out Dr Turner's Casebook, written by Stephen McGann and lavishly illustrated, a brilliant new companion to the long-running family favourite TV show. Once again this year there's a Christmas special which will be followed by the new series early in the new year. It's a fabulous programme with a stunning, stellar cast and a never-ending supply of superb storylines. Anything that gives me something more than the TV show to read while it's off-air is OK by me, and this book is an absolute treasure trove of information about the infant NHS.

 

And my children's book of the year is First Term At Trebizon. I was proud and privileged to interview author Anne Digby when Fidra published one of her Trebizon books several years ago, and I was as pleased as Punch when Egmont announced that they would be republishing the entire series. Anne took an established genre and brought it bang up to date with Trebizon and its central characters, Rebecca and Trish, and I for one never tire of reading about their exploits. I can't remember if Pen and Sword's Illustrated History of the First World War 2016 was on the nonfiction page or the military history page. Whatever... it is my Military History Book of the Year, without hesitation - I always look through these books in the hope of seeing a photograph of my granddad, Arthur Robert Norman, who died at the Battle of the Somme in August 1916. Not only did I never get to meet him, this was a man who, in answering the call to serve his country, missed also seeing his own son grow up, my father, also Arthur Robert Norman. I have one photo of him, which I treasure, but one day, I'm sure, someone will write a history of the 13th Middlesex Regiment. In the meantime, I am proud to be able to remember all of them with the aid of this magnificent series of books from dedicated publisher Pen and Sword...


 

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