books monthly december 2019 new fantasy and science fiction
  books monthly christmas issue 2019
  Doctor Sleep, Doctor Who and The War of The Worlds...


On this page you'll find the sensational sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King, the sequel to Gwendy's Magic Box, by Richard Chizmar, and the second of Eric Saward's "lost" Dr Who novelisations, Revelation of the Daleks - all perfect Christmas gifts. Doctor Sleep is one of the Stephen King books I read again regularly, at least once a year, and this brilliant film tie-in version from Hodder & Stoughton is absolutely stunning, a must-have!

Book of the Month - Stephen King: Doctor Sleep

 Published by Hodder & Stoughton 19th September 2019

'By the end of this book your fingers will be mere stubs of their former selves . . . King's inventiveness and skill show no signs of slacking: Doctor Sleep has all the virtues of his best work' - Margaret Atwood, New York Times

An epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted readers of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

Following a childhood haunted by terrifying events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance has been drifting for decades.

Finally, he settles into a job at a nursing home where he draws on his remnant 'shining' power to help people pass on.

Then he meets Abra Stone, a young girl with the brightest 'shining' ever seen. But her gift is attracting a tribe of paranormals. They may look harmless, old and devoted to their Recreational Vehicles, but The True Knot live off the 'steam' that children like Abra produce.

Now Dan must confront his old demons as he battles for Abra's soul and survival...

I have a core of Stephen King books I'm happy to read over and over again, beginning with IT, followed by The Stand, and of course the Dark Tower series. There's also 11:22:63, Salem's Lot, Insomnia, Bag of Bones, and the four Holly Gibney titles. And now there's Doctor Sleep, which is the sequel to The Shining and follows the supernatural adventures of a grown-up Danny Torrance. I don't re-read The Shining that much, perhaps once in any ten years, but Doctor Sleep has been a fall back read several times now, and I never tire of it. The burgeoning relationship between Abra and Danny is terrific. I find Doctor Sleep a far more easier read than The Shining - there are no groups of youngsters in it, as with It, although we do follow the progress of Abra through kindergarten and early adolescence, which is when things start to get really interesting. I've read reviews of the Ewan McGregor film, and realise at once that when it's out on Blu Ray, I shall have to watch it on my own as my wife is not a huge fan of Stephen King movies, more's the pity. She will happily watch Salem's Lot, but then there is no gore in it. And as she's an Idris Elba fan, she's happy to watch The Dark Tower, which I thought a very good adventure film but didn't really capture the essence of the seven-volume fantasy blockbuster. Doctor Sleep is a tale of good vs evil, but it also contains scenes of child abuse and murder which could make for uncomfortable reading, although in King's expert hands these scenes move the story along at a terrific rate. This sensational new edition of Doctor Sleep obviously echoes that famous scene from The Shining, and the story is one of King's finest, in my opinion.

Doctor Who: Star Tales

 Published by BBC Books 5th December 2019

Even though they’re gone from the world, they’re never gone from me.’

The Doctor is many things – curious, funny, brave, protective of her friends...and a shameless namedropper. While she and her companions battled aliens and travelled across the universe, the Doctor hinted at a host of previous, untold adventures with the great and the good: we discovered she got her sunglasses from Pythagoras (or was it Audrey Hepburn?); lent a mobile phone to Elvis; had an encounter with Amelia Earhart where she discovered that a pencil-thick spider web can stop a plane; had a 'wet weekend' with Harry Houdini, learning how to escape from chains underwater; and more.

In this collection of new stories, Star Tales takes you on a rip-roaring ride through history, from 500BC to the swinging 60s, going deeper into the Doctor's notorious name-dropping and revealing the truth behind these anecdotes.

I love the new Doctor Who and look forward to the new series which must start soon after Christmas, surely? In the meantime, you can console yourself with this brilliant set of new original short stories in a book with a stunning cover. In it, the new Doctor is reminiscing with Yaz et al about her past encounters, and each story is set in a time when the doctor was a different incarnation to Jodie Whitaker. This is premium science fiction, not just for Doctor Who aficianodos but also for lovers of the science fiction and fantasy genre.

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 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 from the opening scenes. 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. By the way, the image of the front cover above in no way does the book justice. It is jet black and stunning. 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. But if you really want to experience the power of Wells's story, you must read the book.

The scsnes 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 sdaw 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 bem having been taken over by Rupert Murdoch and right-wing politics, but surely they could release a paperback to axccompany 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. 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 by far the best option, 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...

Richard Chizmar: Gwendy's Magic Feather

 Published by Hodder & Stoughton 19th November 2019


Something evil has swept into the small Maine town of Castle Rock on the heels of the latest winter storm. Sheriff Norris Ridgewick and his team are desperately searching for two missing girls, but time is running out to bring them home alive.

In Washington D.C., thirty-seven-year-old Gwendy Peterson couldn't be more different from the self-conscious teenaged girl who once spent a summer running up Castle Rock's Suicide Stairs. That same summer, she was entrusted - or some might say cursed - with the extraordinary button box by a mysterious stranger in a black suit. The seductive and powerful box offered Gwendy small gifts in exchange for its care until the stranger eventually returned, promising Gwendy she'd never see the box again.

Gwendy has never told a soul about the button box - not even her husband. But one day the button box shows up without warning and without the man in the black suit to explain what she is supposed to do with it. The curious reappearance of the box, along with the troubling disappearances in Castle Rock, leads Gwendy home again...where she just might be able to help rescue the missing girls and stop a dangerous man before he does something too terrible to contemplate...

From New York Times bestseller Richard Chizmar comes Gwendy's Magic Feather, a breathtaking novel that asks whether our lives are controlled by fate or the choices we make... and what price we might have to pay for those choices when we reach for the things we most desire. Prepare to return again to Stephen King's Castle Rock, the sleepy little town built on a bedrock of deep, dark secrets, which is about to awaken from its quiet slumber once more.

I loved the original novella, Gwendy's Magic Box, but it's always a distraction when you have two writers to contend with and you have no way of knowing which one wrote which bit, in my opinion. Gwendy's Magic Feather I'm much more comfortable with, because it's solely the work of Richard Chizmar, and it's great. Gwendy (inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow and Wendy from Peter Pan, according to Stephen King!) is now a congresswoman, on vacation back in Castle Rock. It's 1998, and a Trump-like president is vilified and ridiculed throughout the book, which really shows what King thinks of Trump, of course, and shows him up to be a dangerous president, just as Trump is, of course. Gwendy partakes freely of the magic chocolates, and uses them to cure her mum's cancer. She also has "moments" of clarification and extreme power which she uses to good effect. Excellent fantasy, totally believable - I think Richard Chizmar has made this series his own. I'm tempted to say "who needs Stephen King", but having recently re-read Doctor Sleep, the answer is that I do... of course!

Eric Saward: Revelation of the Daleks

Published by BBC Books 14th November 2019

Beware the hands that heal.

The Doctor and Peri land on the planet Necros to visit the funerary home Tranquil Repose – where the dead are interred and the near-dead placed in suspended animation until such time as their conditions can be cured.

But the Great Healer of Tranquil Repose is far from benign. Under his command, Daleks guard the catacombs where sickening experiments are conducted on human bodies. The new life he offers the dying comes at a terrible cost – and the Doctor and Peri are being lured into a trap that will change them forever.

At last, the only classic-era Doctor Who adventure never to be novelised is here, and by the author of the original script, Eric Saward.

It's certainly not too early to be thinking about Christmas, and this second of Eric Saward's novelisations of his own Doctor Who screenplays makes the perfect gift both for Doctor Who fans and for lovers of good science fiction. I forget which doctor had Peri as a companion (was it Peter Davison or Colin Baker, perhaps?) because by that time I'd lost interest in the programme and had to wait for the first female doctor to reignite my interest. Anyway, this is vintage Doctor Who at its very best, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rebecca Roanhorse: Star Wars Resistance Reborn

Published by Century 7th November 2019

Beware the hands that heal.

In this pivotal prequel to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the heroes of the Resistance―Poe Dameron, General Leia Organa, Rey, and Finn―must fight back from the edge of oblivion.

The Resistance is in ruins. In the wake of their harrowing escape from Crait, what was once an army has been reduced to a handful of wounded heroes. Finn, Poe, Rey, Rose, Chewbacca, Leia Organa―their names are famous among the oppressed worlds they fight to liberate. But names can only get you so far, and Leia’s last desperate call for aid has gone unanswered.

From the jungles of Ryloth to the shipyards of Corellia, the shadow of the First Order looms large, and those with the bravery to face the darkness are scattered and isolated. If hope is to survive, the Resistance must journey throughout the galaxy, seeking out more leaders―including those who, in days gone by, helped a nascent rebellion topple an empire. Battles will be fought, alliances will be forged, and the Resistance will be reborn.

It's this Christmas that sees The Rise of Skywalker come to the screens as the last of the Skywalker tranche of Star Wars films, and Rebecca's "Resistance Reborn" is set just before it in the Star Wars timeline. Poe and his associates, Karé, Snap, Leia, Finn, Rey and Chewie are on a mission to recruit people (and planets) to resist the growing dominance and power of the First Order. I've always found that the Star Wars books with the best dust jackets make for the best Star Wars read, and this one proves my point. When the covers are dull, or avant garde, or just plain bad, the books aren't that good. The dustjacket for Resistance Reborn is stunning, and Rebecca's story is as good as any Star Wars I've read, with the notable exception of Kenobi, which remains, for me, the greatest Star Wars book of all time, eclipsing even the original story its creator, George Lucas. Fantastic read!

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":