books monthly december 2019 Alma Classics - your chance to get an Alice in Wonderland tote bag - see below
  books monthly christmas issue 2019
  The War of the Worlds, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Charles Dickens...

 



Alma Classics are the foremost publisher of classic literature both for children and for grownups right now. Their brilliantly stylised front cover art is second to none, and the books contain not only the original, unabridged text, but also additional material like annotated notes and biographies of the authors. Record magazines have regular articles on building a record library - this is my take, only on classic literature, starting with five genuine classics - more next month... in the meantime, if you've been watching The War of the Worlds on BBC1 Sunday nights, the Alma Classics edition is just right for you!


H G Wells: The War of the Worlds

 Published by Alma Classics 21st April 2017


When an army of invading Martians lands in England, panic and terror seize the population. As the aliens traverse the country in huge three-legged machines, incinerating all in their path with a heat ray and spreading noxious toxic gases, the people ofthe Earth must come to terms with the prospect of the end of human civilization and the beginning of Martian rule.Inspiring fi lms, radio dramas, comic-book adaptations, television series and sequels,The War of the Worlds is a prototypical work of science fiction which has influenced every alien story that has come since, and is unsurpassed in its ability to thrill, well over a century since it was first published.

ABOUT THE SERIES: Alma Evergreens is a series of popular classics. All the titles in the series are provided with an extensive critical apparatus, extra reading material and notes. The texts are based on the most authoritative edition (or collated from the most authoritative editions or manuscripts) and edited using a fresh, intelligent editorial approach. With an emphasis on the production, editorial and typographical values of a book, Alma Classics aspires to revitalize the whole experience of reading the classics.


Alma Classics first published their edition of The War of the Worlds a couple of years ago, but with the BBC TV series due to finish today, I approached my contact at Alma and he was happy to oblige. My knowledge of the book had been confined to the film starring Gene Barry, set in the USA and at a time far removed from the original Victorian setting that Wells wrote about. "Far removed" is a phrase that can be used to describe the film as well, because it really bears no relation to the novel at all. The same can be said of the Tom Cruise blockbuster, which had better special effects (obviously), but deviated from the story right the way through. At the time of writing this review, I am a few hours away from watching the first episode of the new series, (17th November, Sunday BBC1 at 9:00pm) and from what I have seen in the trailers that have already been shown, I am hopeful.

The book is a pioneering treatise on the subject of alien invasion, and is generally accepted as the first science fiction novel of any real import. Written at a time when it was thought that lines that were visible on the Martian surface might be man made, and that there was a real possibility the planet might be inhabited, Wells as the narrator of the story (but not called Wells, obviously) accepts that the object they thought was a meteor has come from Mars and that the creatures that emerge from it and begin to destroy everything and everyone in their path are evidence of a superior race of beings from Mars.

It is typical of Wells's narrative style and typical of fiction writing at the time. Wells's descriptions of the riotous fleeing of the people of London from the onslaught of the Martians is interspersed with his younger brother's own experiences (his brother is the eldest of the two of them in the BBC TV adaptation, and holds a higher office in government), and for me this is the strongest part of the narrative, with the panic, the violence, the death, the carnage being amongst the finest descriptions of such events in science fiction. I know there are plenty of copies of The War of the Worlds available, including Penguin Classics, Wordsworth Classics etc., but I love the stylised illustration on Alma's edition, and I do firmly believe this edition will stand out in the crowd. There is much to enjoy in the TV adaptation - Amy has a far larger part to play than is the case in the book, which is a good thing, in my opinion; and much of the story has been changed for dramatic effect. But with the Gene Barry and the Tom Cruise Hollywood versions being so far removed from the original story as to be nonsense, really, this adaptation remains true to the story for large parts of it, and is hugely enjoyable. The special effects are stunning, amazing, the sets are brilliant, and the acting is fine.

As a non-smoker, I was disappointed to see a brief sequence in which Eleanor Tomlinson took a drag on a cigarette then stamped it out. This was unnecessary. We all know that huge numbers of past populations all around the world used to smoke, and smoking was endorsed by the medical profession for some strange reason. Better to make a programme in which one can assume that people smoked but to leave it out in the interests of public health, surely? I don't recall seeing anyone smoke during the whole of Sanditon's eight week run, and it wasn't missed. It was missing entirely from Episode three of His Dark Materials which preceded The War of the Worlds, and the brief scene added nothing to the story in last night's first episode. Having studied The First Men in the Moon for GCE O Level back in the early 1960s, I was familiar with Wells's work, and have a copy of The Time Machine (again Alma's brilliant edition) on my shelves. It and The War of the Worlds are far and away the best of Wells's output, both of them stellar examples of the very earliest science fiction. The TV adaptation will put Wells in the forefront of science fiction again, which is where it was in 1898, the original date of publication (Update - the TV series is set in 1905). But if you really want to experience the power of Wells's story, you must read the book.

The scenes of death and desolation described by the storyteller are prophetic and pre-empt the horrors and the carnage of the First World War, and yet the reader is left in no doubt that this havoc is caused by an alien invasion by extra-terrestrials and not by man's inhumanity to man. The ultimate demise of the Martians by human biology is similarly prophetic of the demise of John Wyndham's triffids by salt water in the 1950s. Wells's The Time Machine, written three years earlier, in 1895, established him at the forefront of the new Science Fiction genre, of which Jules Verne was probably the only other notable exponent. The War of the Worlds cemented Wells's position of eminence and confirmed him as the true father of science fiction, the genre that later saw authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C Clarke and Ray Bradbury take on the fictional histories of the Red Planet. The War of the Worlds is superlative science fiction and Alma's edition is the one to have.

As a footnote to this review, I have to tell you that I searched for a TV tie-in edition on Amazon and found a Kindle edition with an illustration from the adaptation that shows Eleanor Tomlinson and Rafe Spall fleeing from the Martians. For some unfathomable reason, The BBC have chosen not to issue a paperback copy of this edition. I know that the BBC are not the force they used to be having been taken over by Rupert Murdoch and right-wing politics, but surely they could release a paperback to accompany the TV series? Having said that, I'm not really all that surprised. The BBC has plummeted to the bottom of organisations you respect and rely on for right thinking and reporting so why would you trust them to get a basic business decision like publishing a TV tie-in version of a classic serial right?. They are not to be trusted any longer, and the people running it have taken so many wrong turns in recent years it's difficult seeing them being able to drag themselves back up now.

You will find five brilliant Alma Classics in this issue of Books Monthly. Alma Books publish a number of "new" classics each month. Right now, if you sign up to receive a new book each month, you can get yourself a free Alice in Wonderland tote bag - there are 6-monthly and 12-monthly subscriptions available, for £30 and £60 respectively. The 12-monthly subscription is one of the very best offers, as it would normally be £117, and you get a free book at Christmas. Here's an idea, why not give your loved one a subscription as one of their Christmas gifts? For full details of Alma's amazing offer, click here. On the Alma Christmas page you'll also find several special offers on various collections, such as Children's classics, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Gothic Horror Classics, H G Wells etc., etc. There are some amazing deals on the page, so why not check it out while you're searching for Christmas gifts. The H G Wells collection is particularly good value at £7.98, reduced from £19.96, and includes The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man - a stunning selection of pioneering Science Fiction to start off or to enhance your collections. Clicking on either of the images below will also take you to Alma's Christmas offers page...



Charles Dickens: David Copperfield

Published by Alma Classics Evergreens 19th October 2019


One of the most famous and celebrated Victorian coming-of-age novels, David Copperfield charts the adventures and vicissitudes of its eponymous hero's life, from the misery of his childhood after his mother's marriage to the tyrannical Mr Murdstone, through to his first steps as a writer and his search for love and happiness. Along the way he encounters a vast array of gloriously vivid characters many of whom number among the most memorable in literature such as the eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood, the eloquent debtor Wilkins Micawber and the obsequious villain Uriah Heep.

Replete with comedy and tragedy in equal measure, and cited by Dickens as his favourite child, this partially autobiographical work provides tantalizing glimpses into Dickens s own childhood and remains one of the most enduringly popular novels in the English language.

ABOUT THE SERIES: Alma Evergreens is a series of popular classics. All the titles in the series are provided with an extensive critical apparatus, extra reading material including a section of photographs and notes. The texts are based on the most authoritative edition (or collated from the most authoritative editions or manuscripts) and edited using a fresh, intelligent editorial approach. With an emphasis on the production, editorial and typographical values of a book, Alma Classics aspires to revitalize the whole experience of reading the classics.

I had a copy of David Copperfield for Christmas in 1957 in a handsome blue leather edition that was intended to be kept forever, a gift from a loving Aunt and Uncle who wanted to foster my growing love of classic literature. Most of my classics were Regency Classics, and I had Robin Hood, King Arthur and Lorna Doone, together with a couple of Dickens: Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, and also Treasure Island. Regrettably, I didn't keep this handsome leather-bound volume, and I'm overjoyed to have it back on my shelf courtesy of Alma Evergreens. I love the stylised design of Alma's paperbacks, and I love the fact that I have nearly nine hundred pages of Dickens to read over Christmas! Update: I've just finished David Copperfield whilst waiting for Spring Comes to Emmerdale to arrive - this has to be my new favourite Dickens! The characters are sublime - Betsey Trotwood, Little Amy, Agnes, Uriah Heap, Barkis (who is willing) and Peggotty etc. It's a genuine page turner, and a great, great story. There is humour of the Victorian kind, and tragedy as you would expect, set in Victorian Britain as it is. There is the bullying by Mr Murdstone and his poisonous sister, both of whom Aunt Betsey treats with disdain and contempt in the most satisfying way, and tells them their fortune. It's a family saga of gigantic proportions. And the good news is that there's a new film out in January, The Personal History of David Copperfield starring Dev Patel (?!), Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton and Ben Whishaw - something to look forward to after reading this extraordinary book. There will doubtless be a movie tie-in book, but for me, Alma Classics' edition is all you need. This is Charles Dickens at his very finest. Read it and enjoy the King of British literature at his best and most engaging.

Edward Lear:  The Owl And The Pussycat and Other Nonsense Poetry

Published by Alma Quirky Classics 29th October 2019


Written for the poet John Addington Symonds's young daughter Janet while she was ill and confined to her bed, `The Owl and the Pussycat' sees the two enamoured animals sail away in a boat 'for a year and a day / To the land with the bong tree grows', where they get married. Long considered one of the nation's favourite poems, it is combined here with other memorable examples of what Lear called 'nonsense songs', such as `Calico Pie' and `The Duck and the Kangaroo', as well as with nonsense stories, cookery, botany and alphabets, in a collection that transports adults and children alike to the extraordinary world of Edward Lear's imagination.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Quirky Classics collection includes humorous works by famous authors, such as Jonathan Swift, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Oscar Wilde and many others. All the books in this collection are presented in a small paperback format.



It's the poem and its companions that inspired the lunacy of Spike Milligan, Monty Python's Flying Circus and the strange but fascinating writings of John Lennon, together with Alice in Wonderland, these wonderful poems and rhymes that make you laugh. The Owl and the Pussycat is a fantasy story in essence, and its appeal is its very strangeness. I loved it when I was growing up, and I still do. I can't read it without thinking of the brilliant song sung by Elton Hayes back in the 1950s and heard regularly on Children's Favourites with Uncle Mac. Those were the days! Full marks to Alma for bringing it back for us!

Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Published by Alma Classics Evergreens 25th August 2016


Widely considered one of the greatest American novels, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tells the story of Huck Finn and his companion, the slave Jim, as they journey down the Mississippi river after running away from Huck's alcoholic father and Jim s owners. As they travel, they encounter a floating house, feuding families and cunning grifters, but more importantly Huck gets to know Jim and regard him as a friend and equal, overcoming the racial prejudices of the time, in a landmark narrative which poignantly addresses the issues of growing up and finding freedom.

ABOUT THE SERIES: Alma Evergreens is a series of popular classics. All the titles in the series are provided with an extensive critical apparatus, extra reading material including a section of photographs and notes. The texts are based on the most authoritative edition (or collated from the most authoritative editions or manuscripts) and edited using a fresh, intelligent editorial approach. With an emphasis on the production, editorial and typographical values of a book, Alma Classics aspires to revitalize the whole experience of reading the classics.

A groundbreaking children's classic from the inimitable Mark Twain in which racial barriers are cast aside in favour of childhood friendships and adventure. This is, in my opinion, the finest available new edition - there are plenty of older versions, especially from the Golden Age of Children's literature (the 1950s) to be had secondhand, but if you want a brand spanking new edition, this Alma Evergreens version is the one you should aim for.

Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Tom Sawyer, Detective

Published by Alma Classics Evergreens 15th July 2015


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer charts the escapades of a thirteen-year-old boy growing up on the banks of the Mississippi. Testing the patience of his aunt Polly, the bold and sharp-witted Tom Sawyer frequently skips school in search of excitement, and the scrapes he gets into with his friend Huckleberry Finn range from innocent japes to more serious events such as the witnessing of a murder. One of the most popular and influential American novels, Mark Twain's masterpiece is at the same time a highly entertaining romp which celebrates youth and freedom and a more profound investigation of his times, touching on themes such as race, revenge and slavery. This volume includes Tom Sawyer, Detective, a sequel and pastiche of the detective genre, first published in 1896.

ABOUT THE SERIES: Alma Evergreens is a series of popular classics. All the titles in the series are provided with an extensive critical apparatus, extra reading material including a section of photographs and notes. The texts are based on the most authoritative edition (or collated from the most authoritative editions or manuscripts) and edited using a fresh, intelligent editorial approach. With an emphasis on the production, editorial and typographical values of a book, Alma Classics aspires to revitalize the whole experience of reading the classics.



Always considered a companion volume to Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is less concerned with the politics of the time, and more with the exhilarating adventures of a young boy intent on defying authority and making his mark on the world in which he lived. Exquisite humour that inspired all kinds of childhood heroes including Just William and various characters from boys' school stories. Absolutely brilliant, and another example of the classy values Alma attach to their stunning classic literature series.


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 paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.




Menu

Home Page

Children's Books

Bloomsbury Children's Books

Fiction books

Fantasy & Science Fiction

Nonfiction Books

Pen and Sword Books

Email me


The books below will make perfect Christmas gifts!