books monthly october 2017

Victoria and Albert, Christopher Robin, World History and Mary Berry on this page... not too early to be thinking about Christmas gifts!

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George Macdonald Fraser: Flashman

 

 

I remember reading Flashman when it was first published in the 1960s, and it is as funny now as it was back then. This is the first tale in a series that puts Flashman, the cowardly bully from the Rugby school of Tom Brown's Schooldays, into a series of military encounters from which he always emerges unscathed and more often than not highly decorated and feted. Absolutely superb in every way!

 

As is always now the case, it seems, I close the magazine for the month, and thirty brilliant new books arrive on my doorstep! I have earmarked this page, the home page, for those that I simply cannot leave until the November issue, and the rest, many of which are from Casemate publishers, will grace the pages of the next issue. I crave your indulgence on this matter...

 

 From next month, the nonfiction page will be split into three, with a dedicated page for Pen and Sword books, and a dedicated page for Amberley books... fifty books on one page is just too many, and makes it difficult for you, the readers, to find what you might be looking for...

 

 

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Ann Thwaite: Goodbye Christopher Robin

Published by Pan 21st September 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin: A.A. Milne and the Making of Winnie-the-Pooh is drawn from Ann Thwaite’s acclaimed biography of A. A. Milne, one of the most successful English writers ever, and the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, and of Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and Christopher Robin. But the fictional Christopher Robin was based on Milne’s own son. This heart-warming and touching book recounts the true story that inspired the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, directed by Simon Curtis and starring Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie and Kelly Macdonald, and offers the reader a glimpse into the relationship between Milne and the real-life Christopher Robin, whose toys inspired the magical world of the Hundred Acre Wood. Along with his mother Daphne and his nanny Olive, Christopher Robin and his family were swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales brought hope and comfort to an England ravaged by the First World War. But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin, what will the cost be to the family? With a preface by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, co-writer of the screenplay.

 

A A Milne's Winnie The Pooh stories were recently voted the best children's stories of all time - this brilliant little book is partly based on Ann Thwaite's superb biography of Milne from 1990, adapted for the purposes of the new film, Goodbye Christopher Robin, which will have been released in British cinemas by the time you read this issue of Books Monthly. This book tackles the subject of Milne and his wife Daphne's son, christened Christopher Robin but known as Billy except to millions of readers, young and adult alike, who became familiar with him through the Winnie The Pooh books. I found this immensely enjoyable, and one of the best biographical books I have ever read -  shall be keeping a keen eye out for A A Milne: His Life, by Ann. The story of the creation of Winnie The Pooh and the inclusion of Christopher Robin is intriguing, massively so, and Ann's writing style is perfectly suited to the subject matter - I was reminded of Barbara Stoney's brilliant biography of the equally famous Enid Blyton - maybe it's the period that intrigues me so much, after all it did produce some of the finest writers in the world, men and women like Blyton, Christie, Milne, Barrie, Doyle, Wells, Buchan etc., etc. This is a film I very much want to see, and a book that I have enjoyed and wished it was a little longer. Superb.

 

Daisy Goodwin and Sarah Sheridan: Victoria and Albert

Published by Harper Collins 21st September 2017

The second tie-in to ITV drama Victoria unveils the complex, passionate relationship of Victoria and Albert. What happened after the Queen married her handsome prince? Did they live happily ever after, or did their marriage, like so many royal marriages past and present fizzle into a loveless bond of duty? Victoria and Albert were the royal couple that broke the mould – it may have been an arranged match, yet their union was a passionate, tempestuous relationship between two extremely strong-willed individuals. Despite the fact that they were first cousins they could not have been more different people – she was impulsive, emotional, capricious, while he was cautious, self-controlled, and logical. But together they became the most successful royal couple there had ever been, and this book reveals the private and the public face of Victoria and Albert’s marriage. Using their letters and diaries, Victoria and Albert charts the constant ebb and flow of power between the couple, and presents a picture of a very modern marriage. This companion book, full of rich historical detail, takes fans deeper into that period than ever before. Discover the inner workings behind the scenes, with profiles of all the major characters, interviews with the actors and fascinating, in-depth information on the production, the costumes and the props.

 

 

This second companion volume, this time to the second series of Victoria, which has surely taken over from Downton Abbey as the most lavish and enjoyable costume drama, is sumptous from start to finish. The real-life couple, Jemma Coleman and Tom Hughes, who would undoubtedly make the finest Harry Flashman (see panel, left) are perfect as Victoria and Albert, and the focus of this superb second volume is on them, of course. But Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan have also looked at the circumstances in which the couple existed, and provide not only plenty of information about them and the court, including the scandal I did not know about, that Victoria's Uncle Leopold could well have been Albert's real father, but also a whole heap of information about Victorian life in general, about the statistics surrounding childbirth and the inherent dangers to the mothers,about child poverty, etc., etc. This is a brilliantly illustrated social history of Victorian life and its legendary royal family. The entire cast of Victoria is, in a word, perfect, and the companion books from Harper Collins is perfect too. I'm a sucker for history, particularly Victorian history, because it depicts a society of brilliant inventors and engineers who were equally as successful, if not more so, than the Romans. The history of Great Britain's royal family is always fascinating, and Daisy and Sara have the perfect subjects to write about. I cannot recommend this book highly enough - it is a piece of publishing perfection that will delight anyone who is fortunate enough to receive a copy. My thanks to Harper Collins for sending me a review copy to include in this month's Books Monthly.

Philip Parker: World History - From the Ancient World to the Information Age

Published by Dorling Kindersley 28th September 2017

A truly global view of history covering over 350 of the world's most important turning points. Presented in a beautiful slipcase, this is an essential gift for every history buff. World History is the most accessible guide to the history of human civilisation, covering the Neanderthals, the Assyrian Empire, Chinese dynasties, Vikings, World War I, apartheid, the rise of ISIS, and everything in-between. This remarkable book offers the most up-to-date coverage of global history, up to and including the Arab Spring, global terror, Russia and Ukraine, and the rise of populism in the EU. Historical moments and movements from across the globe are brought to life with contemporary photography, iconic maps, and stunning paintings. Follow humanity's journey and discover all the key thinkers, leaders, ideas, and inventions that shaped the modern world.

 

I have long believed that Dorling Kindersley's history books are the best in the world, and this latest one, World History, in a sumptuous slipcase, and with its front cover depicting the mesmerising death mask of Tutankhamun, is possibly the finest one they have ever published. There are detailed explanations of conflicts I never understood, like the Turkish conflict from 1991-1995; there are profiles of famous people and events, and the photography is simply stunning. This is a book to learn from, to treasure, and ultimately one to revel in. It's not complete, although it does cover Donald Trump's ridiculous access to the Presidency of the United States, a presidency that could take us into world war 3 and possible oblivion. There are gaps in its coverage, but what it does cover, it covers in style and substance. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!

Mary Berry's Complete Cookbook 650 Recipes

Published by Dorling Kindersley 4th September 2017

Packed with over 650 everyday Mary Berry recipes, this is the biggest ever cookbook from Britain's best-loved cookery writer that no kitchen should be without. This updated edition of Mary's million-selling cookbook is the only Mary Berry book that you need. Every delicious recipe is accompanied by beautiful photography to inspire your cooking, with an eclectic mix of traditional dishes, exotic flavours, and classic Mary Berry recipes. Learn to make every type of dish, including soups, poultry, game, pies, desserts, cakes, and vegetarian favourites. Every enticing chapter starts with a know-how section to get you ready to cook and shows you Mary's trusted tips and tricks. These tried and tested Mary Berry recipes include mouth-watering dishes for family and friends no matter the occasion, including hummus, paella, dairy-free lasagne, prawn, tacos, chicken pot pie, English roast beef, croissants, cherry cheesecake, and her best-ever chocolate brownies! Perfect for everyday cooks and Mary Berry fans alike, Mary Berry's Complete Cookbook is the crowning glory of every cook's shelf.

 

This is, quite simply, the most comprehensive volume of Mary Berry you are likely to find. I wrote last month on this page about not intending to watch the Channel 4 Great British Bake Off, but I'vechanged my mind and find it excellent, with the exception of Prue Leith, who is just strange, and Sandi Toksvig, who looks totally uncomfortable. Noel Fielding is really, really good, the contestants are mostly likeable, and the retained format is comforting. I can't see Mary Berry on Channel 4, but she was always quite good on Bake Off, certainly more human than Prue, who doesn't have the same relaxed and approachable style as Mary. This book has over 650 of Mary's tried and tested recipes, and it's a safe bet that other Mary Berry books which you may already own, have some of these recipes in them. That doesn't detract in any way from this book, which is terrific, one of DK's best ever recipe books, with stunning food photography and a clear, easy to follow layout. Brilliant.

Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Garden Design

Published by Dorling Kindersley 28th September 2017

Plant the garden of your dreams and transform your outdoor space with award-winning Royal Horticultural Society garden design experts. Whether you're looking to revive a tired flowerbed or aiming for a complete design overhaul, the RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design will show you how to make your ideal garden a reality. Grasp the fundamentals of garden design, find a style that suits you, and bring your ideas to life. This design bible is packed with advice to guide you from planning to planting. From preparation such as choosing the correct materials for your structures and assessing your drainage, to laying patios, making ponds, and planting perennials, the RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design is with you every step of the way. Discover inspirational portfolios including modernist, sustainable, Japanese, urban, family, and cottage gardens. Understand the unique features of each garden style, create your own plan, and marvel at case studies showcasing the gold standard of each garden type. With a handy visual dictionary and coverage of all the latest gardening trends, this book combines style with substance to guide you as you plant your perfect outdoor space.

 

This is a new version of a book first published several years ago, and does exaxtly what it says on the cover. When we first moved to our current (and probably last) home in North Norfolk, we found the original version invaluable in helping us to plan and plant our garden, which was totally overgrown and in a terrible state. The words are brilliant, the pictures are superb. The entire book is a triumph of garden know-how.

 


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.