books monthly july 2017

A stunning new book on Barack Obama, a brilliant return to Middle Earth, a new Inspector Banks and a new curio from Stephen King!

 In this issue:

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Adult Fiction

  Crime and Thrillers
  Science Fiction & Fantasy

  Children's books

  Nonfiction & Reference
  The Nostalgia Page
  The Military History Page

  The Jerry Dowlen Column


The best book I've read this month:



The little town of CASTLE ROCK, MAINE has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told...until now. There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside. At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game. One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: 'Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.' On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black suit coat, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat... Journey back to Castle Rock in this chilling new novella by Stephen King, bestselling author of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December.


This arrived one day last week - I opened the package, and put it aside to read later, but when I sat down to lunch, I couldn't resist it, and I read it in just under an hour. This story could have been set anywhere - the publishers are wrong to stress the fact it's set in Castle Rock, as there is very little about Castle Rock we don't know from King's other Derry novels. It is extraordinarily good; you kind of know what's going to happen when Gwendy starts to play with the buttons on the box, but that's cool. I'm always mystified by novels that purport to be written by two authors, and I have to say that in my opinion most of this seems to have been written by Richard Chizmar - but it says Stephen King on the cover, so that's good enough to make it the best book I've read this month...






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This month I've decided to reserve this page for latecomers - that is, titles that have arrived during the latter part of the month that would normally be given book of the month status; the first three titles are absolutely superb. I have so much to tell you about how my life has been dominated by books, but during the first week of the month, we suffered storm damage to the garage, which blew the fusebox, causing us to be without power for 24 hours. It's amazing how far behind you get in terms of being without the internet in just 24 hours, but it threw me out big time and I've been unable to catch up in time to write this month's reminiscences. As I'm writing this we have a battle royal with the insurance company - they really are bastards here in the UK, as I'm sure you know... Back to normal next month, I promise!

Eddie Izzard: Believe me

Published by Michael Joseph 15th June 2017

A memoir of love, death and jazz chickens, Eddie Izzard's fabulous Believe Me is his one and only autobiography . . . 'I know why I'm doing all this,' I said. 'Everything I do in life is trying to get her back. I think if I do enough things . . . that maybe she'll come back.' When Eddie Izzard was six, he and his brother Mark lost their mother. That day, he lost his childhood too. Despite or perhaps because of this, he has always felt he needed to take on things that some people would consider impossible. In Believe Me, Eddie takes us on a journey which begins in Yemen (before the revolution), then takes us to Northern Ireland (before The Troubles), England and Wales, then across the seas to Europe and America. In a story jam-packed with incident he tells of teddy bear shows on boarding school beds, renouncing accountancy for swordfighting on the streets of London and making those first tentative steps towards becoming an Action Transvestite, touring France in French and playing the Hollywood Bowl. Above all, this is a tale about someone who has always done everything his own way (which often didn't work at first) and, sometimes almost by accident but always with grit and determination, achieving what he set out to do. Brimming with the surreal humour and disarming candor of his shows (with occasional digressions), Believe Me tells the story of a little boy who lost his mother yet who has risen to become a star of comedy and drama, a leading advocate of total clothing rights, a British European and extreme runner of marathons, who bestrides the world stage as a world stage bestrider.

There is an advert on BBC1 at the moment imploring us to watch their reruns of Peter Kaye, (who simply isn't funny at all) and it set me thinking: whatever happened to comedy in Britain. The modern era of comedy, for me, began with the Goons, was taken up by Marty Feldman, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and finally the Pythons. A lot of material was written by Eric Sykes and Barry Cryer. If we home in on stand-up comedians, there are men who are funny (sorry, ladies, I can't think of a single one of you who makes me laugh, and most of you are simply embarrassing and mostly downright rude, the worst, and unfunniest being Jo Brand, who leaves me absolutely cold) and men who are not. Some of the men who are not funny have redeeming qualities, like Ricky Gervaise, who is a committed animal lover; Peter Kaye may have a dog, for all I know, but as for being funny, well, he just isn't. Stony-faced would describe me if I had to sit through something he created and appeared in. Try as he might, he cannot raise a laugh or even a smile in me. Only three modern "comedians" have what it takes to make me really laugh; David Mitchell, Lee Mack (and I've seen his stand-up routine, which I don't like! It's Would I Lie To You and Not Going Out that have me in hysterics), and Eddie Izzard. Eddie, for me, is the funniest man in the world, and has been for the last fifteen or so years, since my two youngest children let me watch their videos of him. This wonderful book is like one of his shows. It's a stream of consciousness thing, and it works wonderfully as he tells his stories.

DC Wonder Woman Ultimate Guide

Published by Dorling Kindersley 5th May 2017

DC Wonder Woman Ultimate Guide explores all aspects of the thrilling world of Wonder Woman. Showcasing stunning Wonder Woman comic artwork and examining iconic characters as well as key issues and storylines, DC Wonder Woman Ultimate Guide is your one stop for everything Wonder Woman. Packed with information on allies, enemies, locations, and much more, this book is a must-have for fans of DC Comics, Wonder Woman comics characters and the Justice League of America.


I first featured this back in April of this year, not so long ago, but with the release of the movie starring Gal Gadot in the ttle role, I thought it might be timely to feature it again. I remember my primary beef with this otherwise brilliant book is that the artists are not credited on the page, but rather in a long list in the back of the book, and even then you can't look through the book and identify the artists from the list as no page numbers are given. That said, it's an encyclopedia of Wonder Woman, comprehensive, colourful and absolutely brilliant!


Super Earth Encyclopedia

Published by Dorling Kindersley 4th July 2017

DC A visual encyclopedia that showcases the most amazing things about our planet as kids have never seen them before with mind-blowing photography, brand-new CGI artworks, and incredible facts and stats. Kids can explore amazing natural structures, incredible weather patterns, ocean phenomena, and constantly changing features of Earth. They can look down from above, up from deep underground, and around from the middle of a raging storm as they journey through the spectacular imagery of colorful coral reefs, the center of a volcanic eruption, castle-like ice caves, and much more. Lively and informative text is based on the latest discoveries and scientific research, and dashboard-style fact files provide information at a glance. Super Earth Encyclopedia will take kids on an amazing journey, revealing the dramatic features of the phenomenal planet we call home.


This is what Dorling Kindersley do best - this book is intended for children but I'm seventy years old, knocking on seventy-one, and I found it absolutely fascinating and brilliantly put together. I would say that I wish I'd paid more attention in school, but I dropped the sciences during my first year of grammar school. I could say I wish I hadn't done that, but then the awe, the mystery and the wonder of discovery from books like this might have been somewhat dulled...


Philippa Faulks & Robert Cooper: The Masonic Magician - The Life and Death of Count Cagliostro & His Egyptian Rite

Published by Watkins 20th July 2017

Miracle-worker or man of straw? Count Alessandro Cagliostro was a cult figure of European society in the tumultuous years leading to the French Revolution. An alchemist, healer and freemason, he inspired both wild devotion and savage ridicule as well as novels by Alexandre Dumas, a drama by Goethe and Mozart's opera The Magic Flute.  Cagliostro's sincere belief in the magical powers, including immortality, conferred by his Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry won him fame, but made him dangerous enemies, too. His celebrated travels through the Middle East and the capitals of Europe ended abruptly in Rome in 1789, where he was arrested by the Inquisition and condemned to death for heresy. The Masonic Magician tells Cagliostro's extraordinary story, complete with the first English translation of the Egyptian Rite ever published. The authors examine the case made against him, that he was an impostor as well as a heretic, and find that the Roman Church, and history itself, have done him a terrible injustice. This engaging account, drawing on remarkable new documentary evidence, shows that the man condemned was a genuine visionary and true champion of Freemasonry. His teachings have much to reveal to us today not just of the secrets of Freemasonry, but of the mysterious hostility the movement continues to attract.


This is an account of the life and times of a character of whom I knew nothing until reading this book. Although I know ozart's The Magic Flute, I had no idea there were references to Cagliostro in it, and although I've read at least three of Dumas's books (The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask and Twenty Years After), I don't recall any mention of him in them. I'm surprised his name doesn't crop up in Dennis Wheatley, for there are many references to Egyptian legends and rites in his books. Cagliostro would seem to have as much claim to fame as Rasputin, but he remains a mystery, and I hope the authors and the publisher have some success in bringing this biography to the attention of the general reading public as in my opinion this is a story that needs to be read. I used to work with ordinary people who were Freemasons, and we know that our local town council has its fair share of them who seem able to get things done in a way that wouldn't happen without them. Freemasons are a closed book to the vast majority of ordrinary working-class people and to my mind they wield too much power. I think the Freemasonry aspect of Cagliostro's life plays second fiddle to his beliefs in real magic, and this aspect of the book that fascinates, ultimately.


Star Wars Character Encyclopedia

Published by Dorling Kindersley

Updated and expanded with amazing new material including characters from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"!"Star Wars Character Encyclopedia: Updated and Expanded," the definitive guide to the people, aliens, and droids of the "Star Wars" galaxy, is back, bigger and better than ever before, and packed with new "Star Wars" characters!Want to know how tall Darth Vader is? Or where the ferocious Nexu comes from? Look no further than the "Star Wars Character Encyclopedia: Updated and Expanded." With more than 200 profiles on heroes, villains, and more, this handy guide is full of fun facts and intriguing information guaranteed to enthrall fans for hours on end.(


This is an updated edition of DK's essential reference book to the major characters from the seven Star Wars movies (it doesn't yet include Rogue One, by the way). The words are essential but not over-long, and it's very much a visual encyclopedia, but it's spectacularly done and well worth having.


As always, my apologies to publishers who have sent books that I didn't have time to include in this issue - they will all be featured in the next issue, I promise, including a shipment of twenty brilliant books from Pen and Sword which has next month's Nonfiction Book of the Month, and got me very excited indeed.


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.