books monthly november 2019
  home page - Christmas gift books for 2019


Welcome to the November issue of Books Monthly - you can tell it's getting near to Christmas when the big books start to arrive! In this issue, there are three fantastic mega-books from Dorling Kindersley, a fabulous book about trees, three brilliant new Tolkien books by David Day, two fabulous music books from Palazzo, and many, many more. In addition there are two new books by Peter James, one of which will have you thinking about M R James rather than Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple... and a new Inspector Banks from Peter Robinson... it's the time of the year when you should be thinking about which books you're going to buy for your loved ones this Christmas, and Books Monthly is here to help with the selection process! Two nonfiction books of the month this month! Happy reading...

Book of the Month - Sara Sheridan: The World of Sanditon

 Published by Trapeze 3rd October 2019

The official TV tie-in to accompany the ITV drama scripted by Andrew Davies

The official companion to ITV's hotly anticipated new drama, The World of Sanditon delves behind the scenes of Sanditon, giving you the inside scoop on Jane Austen's unfinished masterpiece, adapted for television by Andrew Davies.

Produced by Red Planet Pictures, ITV's Sanditon series tells the story of the joyously impulsive, spirited and unconventional Charlotte Heywood and her spiky relationship with the humorous, charming and slightly wild Sidney Parker. Written by Emmy and BAFTA-Award winning writer Andrew Davies, the series will bring Austen's story to life and this book will allow you to go behind the scenes of the cast and crew, exploring the world that Austen created and offering fascinating insights about the period and about the real-life heartbreak behind her final story. Readers will also have access to location guides, interviews with the cast, and in-depth historical information by esteemed author Sara Sheridan.

Full of beautiful photography from the series, this is the only guide you need to Autumn's biggest show - welcome to Sanditon!

Last month I had the pleasure of reviewing the sumptuous companion to the new Downton Abbey film; this month I'm honoured to be able to review the companion to ITV's latest Sunday night blockbuster, Sanditon, which I hope, along with millions of other viewers, could become ITV's new Downton Abbey! This companion, compiled by Sara Sheridan and with a foreword by Sanditon creator Andrew Davies, is the very finest example of a literary companion it has ever been my good fortune to review. I don't need to say that the many fine photographs are stunning, that goes without saying, but I've said it anyway... read the full review on the nonfiction page!

Book of the Month - The Bake-off Team: The Big Book of Amazing Cakes

 Published by Sphere 3rd October 2019



The Big Book of Amazing Cakes brings the magic of The Great British Bake Off to your kitchen with easy-to-follow recipes for every shape, size and delicious flavour of cake you can imagine.

Featuring the very best cakes from inside the Bake Off tent, alongside much-loved family favourites, stunning showstoppers and classic bakes, the book is packed with expert advice and helpful tips for decorating. From simple sponges to spectacular celebration cakes, aspiring star bakers will have everything they need to create the perfect bake for any occasion.

Includes exclusive recipes by the series 10 bakers, and favourite bakes from contestants across all ten series.

I honestly think that Bake-off has benefited from the move from the BBC to Channel 4, the production is better, the presenters are better, and the format of the programme is better. To add to that, the books that accompany the series are definitely better, and this Big Book of Amazing Cakes has to be the best yet, with stunning photography, clear, easy-to follow recipes, and genuinely mouthwatering recipes... read the full review on the nonfiction page!

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Christmas Is Coming!

Published by Abrams Books 15th October 2019

From The Metropolitan Museum, this Christmas treasury of stories, poems, recipes, and songs is sure to light up the holiday season...

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and this richly illustrated treasury celebrates everything there is to love about the holiday season! It’s filled with favorite Christmas stories, such as “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “Little Women, A Merry Christmas,” and songs as well as original poems from Lee Bennett Hopkins, Naomi Shihab Nye, and others; original recipes from Erin Gleeson, Yvette van Boven, and Yotam Ottolenghi; and other holiday trappings. All the artwork is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, ranging from religious paintings depicting the Nativity, to 20th-century illustrations showing Santa Claus, to wintry scenes of snowy landscapes and ice skaters. With beautiful art and joyful text, this is a wonderful book for the entire family to share.

It's certainly not too early to be thinking about Christmas, and this issue of Books Monthly is crammed with brilliant suggestions for Christmas book gifts, including this one from publisher Abrams and Chronicle, which showcases Christmas in a way that used to be the norm. Utterly charming, crammed with stories, poems, carols (including the piano music) and essays, and the most brilliant set of illustrations I've seen celebrating Christmas for ages.

The world of Jane Austen's Sanditon

I first read a romantic novel at the age of twelve, back in the days when the local library filled two bookshelves in my primary school and we went to borrow books twice a week - Tuesdays and Thursdays. I read them all, many of them were hospital romances, which probably explains why I so love Casualty and Holby City. I remember authors such as Netta Muskett, for example, and I remember how brilliant it was that in these books there was always a resolution of all conflicts and the heroine married the man she loved. I loved those books, but I never once thought to consider the authoress, Jane Austen, who was responsible for bringing romance to the printed word back in the back end of the 18th and early years of the 19th century. Indeed, I cannot remember when I first picked up a Jane Austen novel, other than it might have been after I had watched the final espisode of Andrew Davies's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for BBC1 and starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I don't believe I was doing Books Monthly back then, or I might have asked for Jane Austen novels to be sent for me to review. Instead I brought my family from our home in Fakenham to the seaside town of Sheringham every weekend as a treat, and we would inevitably end up in Starlings toyshop and later Bertram A Watts's dingy, badly-stocked bookshop in Church Street. Watts's saving grace, for me, was that they had a whole bookcase devoted to the then new £1 Penguin classics. I still have every one of that series that I purchased, one or sometimes two titles a week, and that's where I got my Jane Austens, and Pride and Prejudice soon became a firm favourite. The books are faded, now, though otherwise in pristine condition; and because they make up a set, I won't get rid of them even though they have been replaced (or added to) by the very finest collection of English classics currently available, which come from Alma Books. Trapeze published The World of Sanditon, it's one of my two nonfiction books of the month this month and you can find it on the Nonfiction page... (and at the top of this page, too!)

Now to Sanditon. I was captivated by the TV adaptation, although horrified by the incest (which turned out not to be incest after all, if they didn't share parents, and it seems that they did not), and I don't believe for one moment that Jane Austen would have allowed Charlotte Heywood to observe Sidney Parker emerge from the sea completely nude, and he did take rather a long time to make any attempt to clothe himself. I watched the last episode with baited breath, fully believing that Andrew Davies would resolve the dilemma of Tom Parker's money difficulties, and the burgeoning romance between Charlotte and Sidney. The minutes ticked by, and I eventually realised that their romance was, in fact doomed. Even when Sidney stopped Charlotte's coach, I knew there was not going to be a resolution, and I thought to myself that this was not how Jane Austen would have finished this novel. I was right. There has been uproar among the millions of viewers, who are mostly outraged. I took a calmer approach, and surmised that this might have been deliberate on the part of Mr Davies, and that he hoped to get a second series out of this very short fragment of a novel, uncompleted by Jane Austen, but promising so much. And in preparation for that, I have been fortunate enough to receive two books tied to the Sanditon TV series from publishers Trapeze, which you can read about on the nonfiction and ficition pages respectively. Jane Austen remains one of our very finest female authors (not that it matters what her gender is, it's just the way we still talk about things, isn't it?) along with Charlotte Bronte and her sister Anne Bronte. She is certainly our very finest romantic novelist, and although the TV series has for the most part captured the essence of Jane Austen, and although I would happily watch the first series again and am hoping for a second series, I believe we have to divorce ourselves from Jane Austen when it comes to Sanditon, with reference to both the TV series and the novelisation, because Andrew Davies deserts Jane Austen fairly early on.

Charlotte Heywood (erroneously referred to as Charlotte Heyworth in The World of Sanditon, but I'll forgive them, because the book is such a joy to read) is more of a Georgette Heyer heroine than a Jane Austen one. And the novelisation by noted writer Kate Riordan gives less than a passing nod to Jane Austen in terms of style, and reads rather more like a slice of chick-lit than a classic novel. Thoroughly entertaining, and sticking to the screenplay like glue, with all the overt sexual references that were prevalent in the TV series. I loved Sanditon and a genuinly hope there is a second series. Andrew Davies says that he has many more Sanditon stories to tell, and indeed, there is one overriding story that cannot be ignored or sidelined. As well as reading the Sanditon novelisation, I have also been fortunate enough to receive, from Alma Books, the original fragment of Sanditon written by Jane Austen in the year that she died, and you can read about that also on the fiction page. It is as different from all of her other more well known novels as Kate Riordan's novelisation is from the original Jane Austen piece, and a sign of things that might have come had she lived. Rich characterisation and a prevailing sense of humour abound in Jane's Sanditon, enough to whet the appetite. I don't believe anyone other than Andrew Davies and Kate Riordan could have done it justice. Finally, Alma Books also sent me Love and Friendship, also by Jane Austen, which appears to be a collection of essays and pieces on the subject of Love and Friendship. This issue of Books Monthly is the first of two that are heavy with recommendations for Christmas gifts. Many of these books you will be hard pressed to find in high street bookshops (although they will, of course, order them for you, and this is in no way meant as a criticism of high street bookshops!), but, as always, they are all available online. Until the December issue, happy reading!

Mortal Engines - the film and the book...

I discovered Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines courtesy of Peter Jackson's fabulous film, which I received as one of my birthday gifts. Jackson's skill, as the director and creator of the three most incredible and brilliant films ever made, precedes him, and I knew that Mortal Engines woulkd be to my taste. I was so blown away by it, I sought a copy of the book. The first thing to say is that Philip Reeve's book has many more stories in it than the film, which reinforces a point I have made on countless other occasions - that books are the be-all and end-all of stories. You might watch a film and keep it in your mind as the greatest film you've ever watched - but in the original book, there is always so much more to discover (not in the case of Sanditon, but that is an exception, of course). I am desperate to read the remainder of Philip's Mortal Engines books, and I understand there are another six to collect, along with an illustrated companion to the world of Mortal Engines. But the road to discovery, when it comes to books, is joyously long, and I have to be patient, unless I can persuade Scholastic, the publisher, to part with some of the books. I know they're not new, but they're new to me, and with the film still quite fresh (it was released this year and will probably sell well at Christmas), I may be lucky. You can read my review of Mortal Engines on the fantasy page...

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 22nd 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 at and I'll let you know where to send it.


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Here is my pick of the month: this month's "must-reads":

Just time to tell you that, as always, a number of superb titles have arrived in the last few days, including a new blockbuster from Val McDermid: Insidious Intent, and  a cracking new Elinor Brent-Dyer: The Chalet School and Theodora, published by the inimitable GGBP. Many of these new titles I would like to have shared with you in this issue but they will sadly have to wait until the December issue. And many of the brilliant books reviewed in this issue will remain in the December issue as my recommendations for Christmas, together with my books of the year selections.

So, coming next month (amongst many others, of course):