books monthly home page september 2016               

EMail me about Books Monthly     This issue of Books Monthly is dedicated to Holly, my Border Collie, who passed away August 15th 2016...

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Adult Fiction

  Crime and Thrillers

Science Fiction & Fantasy

  Children's Books
  Nonfiction & Reference

  Military History/history

  The Nostalgia Page

  The Jerry Dowlen Column

 

 

I'm proud to announce that in the October issue of Books Monthly you can join me in celebrating one of the twentieth century's finest children's book illustrators, Mabel Lucie Attwell, when Macmillan Children's Books publish two major children's classics illustrated by Mabel: Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and Wendy.

 

Update on Holly: on Monday 15th August, Holly had a brilliant day that finished with her eating her last dinner, her most favourite thing in the entire world. After that, she lay down to rest and didn't seem to want to rouse up. In the early evening we took her to the vet, who thought she might have an infection, and gave her two massive injections of antibiotics, then asked to see her again in 24 hours, but by 10pm Holly was really struggling. I took her back to the vet and at 10:45 she was put to sleep. I sat with her, stroking her, kissing her, singing lullabies to settle her as the sedation took effect, and then held her in my arms as the vet sent her on her way for her final sleep. She was the most special dog, she will always be remembered as the most faithful, the most protective, the most loving companion we could ever have wished for. It's been difficult compiling this issue of Books Monthly because I simply can't stop thinking about her. She was, quite simply, one of the best. She was too young, but it was a privilege to share her life and to care for, love and protect her to the best of our ability. Holly, we love you with all our hearts... (My tribute to Holly - All You Need To Know About Holly - is at the foot of the opposite column here...)

 

As for Skipper - this time last month we were told that his only option was to have his eye removed, but I spoke to the vet and asked her if she would have another go at removing the tunour. She agreed, and he had his op at the beginning of August, recovering from it brilliantly just a few hours afterwards. She didn't get all of the tumour, and it will almost certainly grow back, but  we don't know how long that will take and when it gets too big, the eye will have to be removed. I spoke to a lady sitting on a bench throwing a ball for her little dog before Skipper's operation. The next time we saw her, we learned that she was a curate of the local church (Beeston Regis All Saints) and she had been saying prayers for Skipper and Holly. A lovely lady with a big heart - thank you!

 

See you next month, when you'll be able to read about two fabulous books illustrated by Mabel Lucie Attwell... Happy reading!

 

 

 

  Fifty Years of Star Trek....

 

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Celebrating 50 Years of Star Trek...well, some of us are!

September 8th 1966 was the broadcast date in the US of the very first of the Star Trek: The Original Series episodes, a television series that changed the world we live in, introducing us to Captain James T Kirk, Mr Spock, and Dr McCoy, characters who are still on screen fifty years later. To be perfectly honest, there are very few celebratory books... most notably, from Titan Books, there is Star Trek: 50 Artists 50 Years, which is published 9th September, and about which I can say very little because of a publisher's embargo. Come back a few days after the 9th and you'll be able to read all about this terrific book. The Dorling Kindersley Star Trek Book remains the best of the rest, as it explains everything, in particular about star dates, taking into account the relaunch of the franchise with Chris Pine et al. Bearing in mind that the Star Trek universe is as big as, if not bigger than (in terms of books) Star Wars, it seems to me that the publishers have missed out on celebrating the first 50 years of the greatest TV and film series ever... Now if Dorling Kindersley were also the official Star Trek publisher as well, we might have had a splendid series of Star Trek books to be talking about! At least Titan books are doing their bit... I'm a little disappointed that other publishers haven't marked this groundbreaking occasion with special Star Trek books, and I can't talk about the Titan Book until after 9th September. But there are plenty of other brilliant new books in this issue of Books Monthly, so get reading, get choosing!

Growing up in the fifties (and the sixties) - part 6: entertainment part one...

I've told this story before in the pages of Books Monthly, but it's pertinent to my current nostalgia-fest, and will stand being told again, I feel... We're jumping ahead to the sixties for a moment, but I haven't quite finished with growing up in the fifties, so bear with me while I don my time-travelling gear and transport you forwards to 1962. I was nuts about Bobby Darin. I still am. There was something about that voice, something about the songs he was singing that caught my imagination. In those days there was, of course, no social media. There were two music papers, The Melody Maker (my favourite) and the New Musical Express. In the NME you could still read about jazz, proper jazz, like Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, and Kenny Ball, because the trad jazz revival was still in full swing (pardon the pun!), and records by at least two of the aforementioned were cropping up in the UK charts, particularly Acker Bilk. I should add here that my musical tastes were quite broad at the time; I loved traditional jazz, and the slightly more modern jazz of Django Reinhardt that simply mystified me - how anyone with two paralysed fingers on the hand that made the notes could play the guitar like that seemed somehow other-worldly... I loved skiffle, and collected records by Lonnie Donegan.

 

Everyone wanted to play the guitar - some people made their own guitars at youth club in Hucclecote ( why the next village had a youth club and Brockworth, which was at least twice the size didn't is something of a puzzle, but there you are!) I loved the crooners: Michael Holliday, Matt Monroe, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstein, Nat King Cole - they all cropped up regularly on Two-Way Family Favourites every Sunday morning - it was a Light Programme broadcast we never missed, along with the sitcoms that surrounded it: Life With The Lyons, The Navy Lark, The Clitheroe Kid, Educating Archie, Take It From Here etc., etc. And I loved classical music too - I loved Mario Lanza and all of the tenors and soprani whose records Jean Metcalf and Cliff Michelmore played at the behest of the gallant servicemen in Cyprus, Germany, etc., etc., all wanted to hear, along with people like Guy Mitchell singing about biscuits dipped in gravy, and songs from the musicals - I loved it all. I hated modern jazz, and I didn't much like big band music although I quite liked some of the tunes Glenn Miller's Orchestra played. But modern jazz left me cold and unmoved.

 

So, quite by chance I heard Ray Charles singing What'd I say at some point on the radio, and I went off to the city one afternoon in 1962 to search out a copy. Bon Marché, the department store that dominated King's Square in Gloucester, didn't have it, so I trudged down to Northgate (down to Northgate?) to Hickies music shop. I think it was in Northgate, yes it was, it wasn't far from the Cathedral. And there, in a cardboard box on the left hand side of the shop, I found the single I was looking for. Only it wasn't by Ray Charles, it was by Bobby Darin. What a find! My favourite performer singing the song I was looking for! And then someone said: "What record you buyin?" At this point in my life I hadn't surged to the maximum 5ft11" I would eventually become, but I looked up (even though the person who'd spoken was not really towering over me, he was probably an inch or so taller) and saw someone not much older than me, with a mop of hair that would not have been allowed at my school, wearing a dapper black suit, very smart. But the accent was unmistakable Liverpool. I showed him the record I'd selected. "Great choice!" the boy/man said with a beaming smile. "Great song!" He had two companions with him, and I discovered later that the one missing, the Beatle who was not there in Hickies music shop that afternoon in 1962, was Ringo. He was off with his camera, probably taking photographs of the cathedral, because, after all, it is extremely photogenic, and Ringo was (and is) very handy with a camera!

 

The three men were John, Paul and George - I don't know which one spoke to me, because they all looked and sounded the same. They were picking up and playing the guitars - Hickies had a fair few on display though from memory none were electric, they were all mostly Spanish. My guitar came from Hickies, but I chose it from a catalogue, a one-sheet catalogue, and I chose a Rosetti, because it had a cutaway like Django Reinhardt's Maccaferri, and it had a cello-shaped body (apart from the cutaway) which appealed to me. It was white with a black bead all around the edge, two f-holes, and it looked every inch the kind of guitar someone in a jazz band might play. Actually, thinking back, it looked like the kind of guitar someone like Roy Rogers might play... It cost three pounds, and I could play it quite well. But the Beatles were something else on those guitars in Hickies that day, in fact they were so good that the assistant asked them to stop in case they were annoying the other customers - there were no other customers except me, but Hickies was Hickies, a little like Grace Brothers, I guess. I don't suppose that assistant knew who he was talking to, but I did, and I boasted about it at school the following Monday, to the envy of everyone in the class with the exception of Elvin Young, (who I believe is now dead), who was a classical piano student, and Francis G B Aldhouse, who didn't have anything to do with music at all, and Kelvin, who might have been on drugs even at that early age. The rest of the class adored the Beatles, who were new, fresh and exciting, not like the insipid Cliff and the Shadows, and way better than Elvis because they were British. For one brief moment I was the toast of the class, and then things got back to normal. But that day, the day I met three of the Beatles in Hickies Music Shop in the city, is forever etched on my memory - until I lose such memories to Alzheimers and very old age, that is!

 

And now back to the fifties... Entertainment was very thin on the ground apart from the radio and records; I wouldn't call reading entertainment, it was just something you did - lots of people had TVs in the late 1950s, my Great Aunt Grace and Great Uncle Ernie had one, and sometimes, on rare occasions, I was allowed round to their house in Boverton Avenue to watch The Lone Ranger. I always felt as though I was intruding, and I cannot for the life of me remember why I was sent round there to watch TV in the first place, because I didn't much like them, but I loved the Lone Ranger! Our next door neighbours, where the ginger-haired twins lived, had a set, and I remember lots of us crowding into their hallway to watch the coronation in 1953. They didn't use their lounge, it was kept ultra clean and tidy, and the door was never opened except on very rare occasions, like when they had Methodist preachers visiting from Nigeria, for example. I often knocked to see if the twins wanted to play, even though they were two years older then me, and thinking back, I don't believe I ever saw that television switched on at any other time. Once I went next door to ask if I could borrow the twins' copy of Enid Blyton's The Rockingdown Mystery, which was my all-time favourite book at the time, and Norman Hughes opened the front door, disappeared inside for a brief moment and came back with the book. Why it was in the front room I do not know, all I knew was that I had it in my grubby little hands and knew that I would be reluctant to give it back!

 

My main toys were cars, Dinky and Corgi toys, and figures of cowboys and Indians, some military but not many. I had a Red Indian with a bow and arrow which I pretended was Robin Hood. As the figure had on a fringed jacket, he clearly couldn't be Tarzan of the Apes, so he was Robin Hood. These two characters, along with King Arthur, were my favourites, so any game involving figures inevitably featured one or both of them. I don't believe I had a toy castle or fort, I never had figures of knights either. Sometimes, if I had read them all, I would take my Tarzan comics and cut out some of the larger illustrated figures of Tarzan (and Jane, in her lion-skin bikini) and play with them, long before Bunty came along with its cut-out dolls! These cut-out figures inevitably ended up in the rubbish, of course. My favourite toy car was a Triumph TR3 - I loved the shape of it, and played with it more than any other toy car. I do remember at the beginning of the decade, taking a toy truck out into the front garden and digging up the earth to make a road, but I hated getting dirty even at that early age, just as I hated getting ink on my hands at school. In primary school we had desks with incorporated ink wells, and ink monitors whose job it was to go around the classroom filling up these ink wells. When it was my turn, like all the others in the class, I always got ink on my fingers, ink which wouldn't come off, no matter how hard you scrubbed - I hated that! Even now, if I work on the car and get oil or black stuff on my hands, I scrub and scrub with a nail brush until it's off; similarly, if I work in the garden, whatever I'm doing I wear gloves. I can't stand getting dirty, that's just the way I am!

 

So, aside from indoor pursuits, which occasionally included drawing or painting, neither of which I was very good at, what did we get up to in the 1950s? At the top of our road, you crossed some wasteland, where they sometimes had a fairground, before you reached Brockworth New County Primary School. At the side of the school was the playground, where we would indulge in skipping, and playing games like "What's the time, Mr Wolf" during playtime or dinner time, and beyond the playground was the path that led to the playing fields, where we would play football or cricket, depending on the season of the year. At the bottom of the road was the roundabout with the small parade of shops, Mr Ellis's general store occupying one stretch, Mr Jacomelli's butcher's shop on the other. If you turned right into Ermin Park, eventually the houses petered out and you could get down to the brook, which we did quite often, first on foot and then on bikes. Someone once told me that Brockworth, our village, got its name from the fact that a brook ran through it. The countryside was wild down there, and we would play cowboys and Indians, or soldiers, making our own bows and arrows and shooting them at each other. We went home when someone with a wrist watch said it was time for our evening meal, arranging to meet again the following day for more of the same. At home, I would listen to Children's hour, relishing every word of a serial or a one-off dramatisation of, say, a story by Angus MacVicar about spies or whatever.

 

There was one particular series I remember about a dog and a cat that spoke to each other. I don't remember if the family members were aware that their pets spoke to each other, but it was a long-running series, and the theme music was the Popular Song from William Walton's Facade, although I didn't know that at the time. The show was called "Said the cat to the dog", and it was great fun! After a while, Dad would come home from work at the Rank factory in Mitcheldean, and we would have our evening meal together, then we would all listen to the radio before going to bed. We rarely played records during the week, that was reserved for weekends, because there was always something worth listening to in the evenings, such as Friday Night is Music Night with Henry Hall and his Orchestra. We would mimic the great Henry, pretending to introduce his own programme by saying "I'm Henry Hall, and Tonight is my Bath Night" rather than "Music Night" - you had to be there. We listened to the Goon Show, we listened to Journey Into Space, and we listened to The Day of the Triffids. Or rather Mum, Dad and Jean listened to it - it was a book I had read, and I loved it, but the wailing noises of the people who had been blinded by the meteor shower during the night absolutely terrified me, and I crept up to my bedroom, leaving the door open, got ready for bed, and sat up in bed reading, whilst also listening to what was going on on the radio.

 

The broadcast was in 1957, and I was either ten or eleven years old, depending on the month of the broadcast. The others laughed at me for being scared of a radio programme, but I was genuinely terrified by the cast wailing and screaming. Most of the programmes we listened to were on the Light Programme or the Home Programme, but occasionally we would tune into the Third Programme, especially when the Promenade Concerts were being broadcast, and it was this series of concerts that first gave me my love of classical music. There was classical music on the light programme as well, of course. Semprini Serenade, with Alberto Semprini, was first broadcast in 1957, and he introduced his programme with the words: "Old Ones, New Ones, Loved Ones, Neglected Ones..." Wikipedia would have us believe that the theme tune for his programme was composed by himself, and was called Mediterranean Concerto. I remember it differently, as being either the slow movement of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto or else Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Readers the same age as me may have a better memory of this programme, but it introduced me to many hours of beautiful light classical music. Other evening broadcasts included a topical programme, In Town Tonight, various comedy shows such as Much Binding In The Marsh, Beyond Our Ken, Ignorance is Bliss and Down Your Way with Franklin Engelmann, among others, who visited villages around Britain, interviewed colourful local characters and then invited them to choose a piece of music. Then there was Have A Go with Wilfred Pickles, a kind of quiz show... And my Dad always insisted on listening to the Shipping Forecast.  I have never understood his obsession with the shipping forecast, but he would sit in silence, listening to it, every evening, and then it was time for one of the programmes we all wanted to listen to. 1950s radio on the BBC... the golden age of radio broadcasting, before it all went sour with the introduction of BBCs 1,2,3 and 4. Radio was never as good after that earthquake... More next month.

 

All You Need To Know About My Beautiful Border Collie Holly...

Holly was larger than life...

She came from Ivy Farm, Horningtoft, near Fakenham - what else could we call her but Holly?

She came into our lives part way through April 2008, and a couple of weeks later she stole our hearts, forever, on 4th May... this is the first picture I took of her when we got her home...what a cutie!

She was from champion stock; her grandfather was an international champion sheepdog trialler, Heathgate Ben...

She loved Skipper from the moment she laid eyes on him, and they were always best friends... when Skipper parked himself and wouldn't move because of a noise or something, we would say to Holly: "Where's Skipper" and she would bark, and he would follow...

She would never let him keep his toys, though; if we gave him a new toy on his birthday, or at Christmas, she would always pinch it...

She loved food, couldn't get enough of it; she wouldn't let you walk on until you gave her a treat...

She would round up all the humans if lots of us went for a walk...

She would chase rabbits, foxes, deer and squirrels as though her life depended on it. Not sure what she would have done if she'd caught one, but she was always ready to give it a go!

She loved playing ball, and would carry it with her everywhere we went on our walks. She always had to have a yellow one - no other colour would do!She was fiercely protective of me and Wendy from the moment she took her first walk...

She made friends easily; the boy dogs all adored her and she flirted with them mercilessly. All of the dog-walking friends we made on our walks loved her too... She was insanely jealous of the girl dogs, who all adored (and still do) Skipper...

She hated fireworks - but who in their right mind doesn't hate them? Noisy, smelly, stupid things...

She always went off at a furious pace - the harness has not been invented that could stop her from pulling...

She had the silkiest, softest fur I've ever felt on a dog... she loved to be stroked, and if you stopped, she put her paw on your hand to get you to start again...

She always came and lay next to me in the evenings when we settled down to watch our TV programmes...

She often went to sleep sitting up with me stroking her...

She loved programmes like Countryfile, especially when they had border collies on...

She had one upset tummy in her eight years and five months - she was tough, healthy, funny, naughty, loving, loyal, faithful, flirty, playful... she made us laugh and she filled every day of our lives with joy...

She fought off the lymphoma for several weeks with the aid of steroids, but they destroyed her immune system, and an infection on her last day was too much for her to get over...

She died in my arms, two weeks ago, and I don't yet know what to do about losing her, because it hurts so much. She was far too young...

My beautiful little Holly...this is the last picture I took of her, on Monday, August 15th 2016...

 

I hope you enjoy what I've uncovered for you in the way of books this month - next month we celebrate Queen Victoria and two of the most important figures in children's literature from her time: Beatrix Potter and Mabel Lucie Attwell. Macmillan are publishing two books to mark the anniversary of Mabel Lucie Attwell, and there's a fantastic new book from Dorling Kindersley about Beatrix Potter and the world of Peter Rabbit - another 150th anniversary, of which more in the October issue - happy reading!

 

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.