books monthly christmas 2017 - Season's Greetings!

In this issue, on the Pen And Sword page, you could be the lucky winner of a copy of Dickens and Christmas from Pen and Sword...

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Blue Planet II from BBC Books!



My review of Blue Planet II appears on the Nonfiction page...


During the summer I announced, quite pompously, that I wouldn't be watching the Channel 4 version of Great British Bake Off. I did watch it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! So, apologies to Channel 4, they made a great job of it... which brings me neatly to Mary Berry and her new TV series about Britain's stately homes. I've gone right off Mary Berry, and I don't think this new series is going to go down very well in an era of enforced austerity courtesy of the people she's courting in it, the "ruling classes", and their disgusting hunting, shooting and fishing practices. What's more, her ridiculous announcement in the trailers for the show, that"this is your chance to dine...etc." are really, really annoying and quite, quite stupid. This series gets an emphatic thumbs down from me, and Mary Berry, many of whose books I have reviewed in the pages of Books Monthly over the years, has well and truly blown it. I simply don't like her any more. She now represents everything that is wrong with this country... and pandering to the sort of people who live in disgusting luxury whilst nurses, firemen etc., have to go to food banks is really taking the biscuit. The sooner she retires the better.



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I usually try to publish an issue of Books Monthly in January, but this year, as I celebrate being on the web for a full twenty years, I am taking an extended break, for a number of reasons - the first and most important being that many of the books I anticipate receiving that would  normally populate the January issue, will not be available or arriving until January, because the publishers are all frantically busy during December, as you would expect. So, let me take this opportunity of saying that I hope you have a splendid Christmas despite us all still being in the grip of that enforced and artificial austerity - and I'll see you at the launch of the February issue... I hope you don't mind waiting that long. This is, of course, subject to change - if I get enough books together during December, which at the moment is doubtful, I may well change my mind, so keep watching the Facebook page for announcements!

A Happy 1950s Christmas... which I reveal the contents of my pillow case* as first investigated by me around 4:30am on Christmas morning in 1956...

Christmas 1956 - I was ten years old, and looking forward to opening my presents, which were all housed in a pure white pillow case hanging at the end of my bed. I always woke early, especially at Christmas, and, as quietly as I could, I got out of bed and hauled the heavy pillow case onto my bed so that I could investigate the contents. There were the usual items of fruit, an orange and an apple, but the remainder were wrapped... did I dare open one at 4:30 in the morning, whilst Mum, Dad and sister Jean were still asleep? I contented myself with taking out the packages, one by one and arranging them neatly on the end of the bed. There was a small rectangular tin... that would be sweets of some sort, I guessed. A cubic parcel - no idea what that could be. I tried to think what I had put on my list, and there was nothing of a cubic nature whatsoever. Another, smaller box, slightly heavier - no idea what that could be either. And yet another smaller box. Surely I could risk opening one gift? The weightier items were easy to guess at: books - annuals to be precise. And yet one of the book parcels was much heavier than the other two - a bigger book - an encyclopedia of some kind, perhaps? I cast my mind over what I had got for Mum and Dad, and Jean - California Poppy scent for Mum, a pack of yellow socks for Dad, a tin of Yardley talc for Jean. Not very much compared with the sackful of treasure Mum and Dad had got for me. I had no idea what Jean might have got for me, but my wristwatch now said 4:45, so not too long to wait! I tried going back to sleep, but the mysterious cubic parcel and the other two unidentifiable parcels were making me impatient. I switched on my bedroom light at the wall and took down one of my books from the shelves Dad had fixed to the wall to hold my considerable collection of books. Robin Hood - the Regent Classics edition -  my favourite! I read for half an hour, dozed for half an hour, maybe longer, and then Mum opened my door and grinned - "you can open them now - Merry Christmas!"


The cubic parcel contained a leather football - as used by the First Division! I had little knowledge of football other than my Dad's attempts to win big money with his football pools coupon, something quite mysterious that I didn't understand, other than to watch his face as the announcer read out Saturday's results and him tearing up his coupon and depositing it gently in the waste paper basket by the hearth. But I loved to kick a ball about... and it had been on my list. Now all we had to do was borrow a bicycle pump and inflate it... which didn't go as well as we planned - there was always not quite enough air in it to make it a truly first division football, just enough for it to be pounded against the wall and kicked about in the playing fields with next door's twins, who always moaned about it not being inflated quite enough... The second parcel contained a kit to make a transistor radio. I've spoken about this in previous issues of Books Monthly, so we'll leave it there, I think. The third parcel was a torch with three different coloured lenses - not ideal for reading in bed after lights out, but a brilliant piece of machinery! There was a tin of Sharp's Toffees - the reason for all that tooth decay during my childhood years before I realised the damaging effects of Spangles and toffees! And finally, the books - there was Lion Annual, my Tiger Annual, and then there was the bigger book. I carefully removed the wrapping in case there was a dustjacket, to reveal the most colourful book I had ever seen in my life. Five strips of full colour artwork depicting scenes from the stories I was going to find inside the Commander Story Annual for Boys. Nowadays you can search the web for forthcoming books. In 1956, round about high summer, i.e. August, you could find adverts in your weekly comics telling you that there would be a Lion Annual published later this year, and, similarly, a Tiger Annual. These were significant books, not like the 60-odd pages (if you're lucky) that you get in today's pathetic "annuals". The Lion and the Tiger annual contained around 250 pages of picture-strip stories and text stories featuring your favourite characters from the weekly comics. They were excellent value, and would keep me entertained for weeks after Christmas. But the Commander Story Annual was something else: 450+ pages of stories brilliantly illustrated, and what a mix of stories there were! Schoolboy stories, adventure stories, western stories, stories set in India and Pakistan, American wilderness stories, you name it, there it was. The little panel on the dustjacket read: A Year's Exciting Reading for Every Schoolboy... It didn't take me that long to read it, but I did genuinely return to it every few weeks, and that continued for three more years, although the final Commander was populated entirely with classic stories such as The Prisoner of Zenda... That pillowcase contained everything a ten year old boy could want - a football, a transistor radio kit (which we never got to work!), a torch, some fruit, a tin of toffees, and three magnificent books. The Commander Annual ran for three more years, and I had them all. Now, sadly, I only have volumes two and three - that fantastic first one eludes me because of price and availability, but I keep my eyes open in the charity shops and boot sales we regularly visit. One day I'll have it again... (Update - found a copy on Amazon yesterday- reasonable condition, torn dustjacket, reasonable price - it's coming this weekend!)


*Well, you couldn't have got all those superb books into a stocking, could you? Pillow cases were standard practice in my day - and you hung them on the end of your bed...


Books Monthly has now been online for twenty whole years! I hope you all have a superb Christmas! See you 2018... another year of austerity - well, we're used to it now, aren't we, and no one seems able to topple the evil tories from power! And on that gloomy note, I'm off to do some Christmas shopping... You will find the next issue of Books Monthly online around the first week of January, by the way. Definitely not January 1st, but soon after. Keep up with announcements on the Books Monthly Facebook page. Seasons' Greetings to you all!


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.