books monthly january 2020 nonfiction books - two fantastic new Dorling Kindersley books on DC Comics and Science...
  books monthly new nonfiction books


My nonfiction book of the month for Christmas is an updated and revised edition of a book DK have published before - a visual chronicled history of DC Comics. As a young teenager, I was always happier with DC than Marvel, and I still think that Superman and Supergirl are superior to any of Marvel's suoperheroes. This book is, quite simply, a visual feast, a celebration of the finest comic book publisher in the world. Some of the books on this page are held over for another month, because they make extraordinary gifts at a time when reading is high on everyone's agenda, and because, quite simply, they make a brilliant selection of the very best nonfiction books around!

Book of the Month - DC Comics Year By Year - A Visual Chronicle (New Edition)

 Published by Dorling Kindersley 3rd October 2019

Embark on an amazing adventure through more than 80 years of DC Comics history!

Explore the evolution of DC Comics from Superman first taking to the skies in 1938 to the Rebirth of the DC multiverse and the final countdown of the Doomsday Clock.

Comics, characters, and storylines are presented alongside background information and real-world events to give readers unique insights into the DC Universe.

Now fully updated, this spectacular visual chronicle is written by DC Comics experts and includes comic book art from legendary artists such as Bob Kane and C.C. Beck to latter-day superstars like Jim Lee and Tony Daniel, and many more of DC's finest talents.

Includes two stunning prints.

This stunning new edition of an old favourite is, quite simply, comic book history at its very finest. When I was a youngster, my uncle Leslie somehow seemed to get hold of a huge number of American comics in the early 1950s. Most of them were DC comics, Superman, Batman, Supergirl, Superboy, Wonder Woman etc. It was he who introduced me to the brilliance of Tarzan of the Apes, who went on to figure large in my literary preferences - at one time I had every single Tarzan book in existence, and went on to co-found the British Edgar Rice Burroughs Society with like-minded lovers of ERB and his creations. Tarzan came to DC comics courtesy of the great Joe Kubert in the 1970s/80s, along with Korak (Son of Tarzan) and John Carter of Mars. These are among the finest Tarzan and ERB comics ever, although they don't get the coverage they deserve in this magnificent book. DC Comics will forever be remembered for Superman and Batman. For me, it's about quite a lot more, but the book's coverage is extraordinary and superb in every detail. An instant collectors' item if ever there was one!

Robert Winston: Explanatorium Of Science

 Published by Dorling Kindersley 5th September 2019

Welcome to the Explanatorium - the only science encyclopedia for children you'll ever need, with amazing photography that shows and explains how chemistry, physics, and biology work.

Open up this book to reveal how science really works! Watch as mixtures merge and matter changes state. Discover how some chemical changes can be reversed, yet others can't, and why some reactions produce a bang! See bacteria at work in the world around us, and even inside the human digestive system. Understand the tricks that light plays and unlock the secrets of electricity to find out how it powers your home.

Whether it's elements, evolution, or energy, the world of science is brought to life by stunning photographic explanations that answer the biggest and smallest questions about our Universe.

Packed full of astounding close-up images, Explanatorium of Science is the ultimate guide to how the world works, explaining every aspect of science from gigantic galaxies to tiny cells and miniscule atoms.

Professor Robert Winston is one of those extraordinary people who have the capability of being able to communicate with people in a way that commands attention, like Sir David Attenborough. This latest book is one of a series written by Professor Winston, and introduces people of all ages to the wonders of science. I know it's intended for younger readers, but I'm exploding that myth and saying that it has taught me so much about science that I didn't know, in a very short space of time. It's a wonderful treatise on science to which I shall return time and time again. It should win awards...

Jane Rockett & Lucy St George: Extraordinary Interiors in Colour

 Published by Ryland Peters and Small 8th October 2019

In Extraordinary Interiors In Colour, self-confessed colour addicts Jane Rockett and Lucy St George follow on from their best-selling first book by tackling the topic of choosing colour for the home.

Such is their passion for colour that Jane and Lucy launched the Rockett St George paint range in August 2018 sophisticated, earthy shades that work perfectly together. This new book allows them to explore the world of colour and reveal their inspirations – travel, hotels and restaurants, Instagram, the natural world and vintage design. Starting at the beginning, Jane and Lucy investigate colour theory before plunging into the history of colour and how it affects our emotions. Next, they take a look at the natural world and explore what colour means in different cultures around the globe. They then tackle the million-dollar question – which colours should you choose? A final chapter explores inventive ways to decorate with colour, from bold blocking to brave use of contrasting hues. Each chapter is interspersed with a real-life home that exemplifies the Rockett St George style. If you want maximum impact when updating an interior, there’s no better way to achieve it than with bold, clever and creative use of colour.

Extraordinary Interiors is an apt name for this stunning book, which not only celebrates the intensity and the vibrancy of interiors decorated with Rockett St George paint, it also takes the reader on a journey through what colouir is, how it works, what colours go together and why in a truly extraordinary celebration of colour. With reference to the Natural World, amongst other things, this remarkable book shows how nature blocks colours together, and why it works. This truly is the century of amazing books, and this one, from RPS, is a shining example of a book that's both practical in terms of advice on the use of colour in interior design, and is also a stupendous book that's a pleasure to look at and to have on your bookshelves.

Ros Byam Shaw: Farrow and Ball Living With Colour

 Published by Ryland Peters and Small 8th October 2019

Iconic brand Farrow & Ball began in the 1940s as a small firm based in Dorset specializing in paints made in the traditional way from traditional ingredients.

Despite its success, Farrow & Ball has stayed true to its origins. It is the quality of the paint, with its exceptional depth and subtlety of colour, that has made the company famous worldwide. Farrow & Ball paints look as good on the walls of a slick apartment as they do in a period drawing room and are as perfect for a cottage as in a castle. Divided into chapters according to style, including Classical, City, Modern Country, Cottage and Country House, the first part of the book shows Farrow & Ball paints and wallpapers in a variety of beautiful interiors. Part Two is devoted to colour. From All White and In Neutral to Softly, Softly and Bright and Beautiful, each chapter explores a particular palette and shows how colour can be used to create atmosphere and character. Inspiring, instructive and celebratory, Living with Colour brings out the painter and decorator in us all.

Slightly more practical than the Rockett St George book above, Farrow & Ball Living With Colour is another prime example of a beautiful book that;s also exemplary and helpful when it comes to interior design and its use of colour. We all want to make the most of our houses, in particular the rooms in which we spend most of our time, the living room, the bedrooms etc., and this book and the one above celebrate the decoration of such rooms in grand style. The printing of these two books is stupendously good - the colours in both are vibrant and stunning. There are loads of makeover programmes on TV, but I'd choose a book (or books) such as these two over TV programmes any day. Inspiration by the bucketful in both of these amazing books!

Ammonite Press's Biographic Series...

Viv Croot: Biographic Beatles

Published by Ammonite Press December 2019

Most people know that The Beatles (1960 1970) were the most famous pop group of all time, who were at the heart of Sixties counterculture and whose songs transformed the music world. What, perhaps, they don t know is that they have spent more than 1,300 weeks, or 25 years, on the Billboard chart; that the artwork for Sgt. Pepper cost £3,000, 60 times that of a normal album at the time; that their first live US television performance was watched by 34 per cent of the population; and that they were the first band to include all the song lyrics in their album artwork. Biographic: The Beatles presents an instant impression of their life, work and legacy, with an array of irresistible facts and figures converted into infographics to reveal the musicians behind the music.

If I were asked to say what music, which band/performer changed popular music in the last 100 years, my answer would have to be: The Beatles. Ammonite Press's heavily stylised series of "biographics" kicks off with the Beatles - the covers (and the interior illustrations) remind me of something by Andy Warhol, who was around at the time of the Beatles, of course. All of the essential information is there in bite-sized chunks; not a comprehensive biography by any means, and I'd turn to someone like Hunter Davies for that. This new series of books is designed to kick start your knowledge of these icons, and they succeed, but only on a certain level. This is popular culture biography, not literary biography. All I'm saying is, don't expect too much, this is very much like the Ladybird Book of the Beatles, but with a different style of illustration.

Katie Greenwood: Biographic Marilyn

Published by Ammonite Press December 2019

Most people know that Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) was a Hollywood icon, and at one time the most famous movie star on the planet. What, perhaps, they don't know is that she lived in 43 different homes; that she performed as a singer to an audience of 100,000 servicemen in Korea; that her dress from The Seven Year Itch sold at auction for $4.6 million; and that she was born in the same year as Harper Lee, and was reading her novel To Kill a Mockingbird at the time of her death. Biographic: Marilyn presents an instant impression of her life, work and legacy, with an array of irresistible facts and figures converted into infographics to reveal the actor behind the movies.

Once again, some very interesting and essential facts about Marilyn Monroe, but this might be an appetiser for a more thorough and traditional biography. It's an introduction to her life, certainly, and as I say, very interesting.

Liz Flavell: Biographic Marley

 Published by Ammonite Press December 2019

Most people know that Bob Marley (1945 1981) was a singer-songwriter who popularised reggae music and whose Jamaican culture and Rastafarian beliefs have attained worldwide influence. What, perhaps, they don't know is that his music inspired 7,000 prisoners of war to escape; that after running out of money he was forced to spend two years living in London; that he has sold more than 75 million records around the world; and that he was shot twice while trying to bring peace between two political groups. Biographic: Marley presents an instant impression of his life, work and legacy, with an array of irresistible facts and figures converted into infographics to reveal the musician behind the music.

I know nothing whatever about Bob Marley, not even in the "most people know" category of information. I certainly didn't know about the 7,000 prisoners of war, or that he was shot, not once, but twice. The way the information is presented in these books has been done before, mainly in children's books. It works for them, so I'm guessing it will also work for adults.

Sophie Collins: Biographic Audrey

 Published by Ammonite Press December 2019

Most people know that Audrey Hepburn (1929 1993) was a Hollywood movie star and world famous fashion icon. What, perhaps, they don't know is that she is one of a few select people to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony; that she could speak 5 different languages; that she owned a pet deer named Pippin; and that she broke her back after being thrown off her horse during the filming of Unforgiven. Biographic: Audrey presents an instant impression of her life, work and legacy, with an array of irresistible facts and figures converted into infographics to reveal the actor behind the movies.

SI do happen to know more about Audrey Hepburn, because she was recently the subject of a long article in my favourite monthly magazine, Yours: Retro. Not much of that information is covered in Sophie's book, but what is covered makes for fascinating reading. I haven't seen more than a couple of Audrey Hepburn's films. This is so far the best of the series as far as I'm concerned.

Natalie Price-Cabrera: Biographic Picasso

 Published by Ammonite Press December 2019

Many people know that Pablo Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker and poet. What, perhaps, they dont know is that his full name is 23 words long; that he painted 15 different versions of Les Femmes DAlgers, one of which sold for $179 million; and that he was interviewed by police over the theft of the Mona Lisa. Biographic: Picasso presents a modern study of his life and work, with an array of irresistible facts and figures converted into infographics to reveal the artist behind the pictures.

When I was studying for my Open University BA Degree, I attended a summer school week in London, where one of the tutors was Diana Norman, a noted art critic and expert. She told me that I was at liberty to say that I didn't like Picasso, but I had to be able to say why. So here goes: I don't like Picasso because his illustrations are nothing like what they are supposed to represent. I think it was Paul Merton in one of his more hilarious sketches who, referring to a Picasso painting, said "have you ever seen a woman like that?" The thing that annoys me about Picasso is that he was an extremely talented artist and painter before he embarked on the paintings for which he is best remembered. For me, these paintings, all of them, smack of The Emperor's New Clothes. Someone says they're great and one by one everybody in the art world falls over themselves to agree for fear of looking stupid. I can't abide modern art. Most of the Turner Prize winners of the past forty years have been rubbish - not art at all. An unmade bed. I mean to say... I like art to look like what it's meant to look like. Abstract art leaves me cold, modern art like Picasso's dreadful daubs leave me frozen. Give me a Constable, a Gainsborough, a Michaelangelo, a Leonardo anyday. The Tate Modern is the art gallery I would least like to visit in the world. Enough people like Picasso (?!?) to include him in the series, but he's simply not someone I want to know about.

Jonk: Baikonur - Vestiges of the Soviet Space Programme

 Published by Jonglez 1st October 2019

The first ever collection of photographs showing in detail the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world's most important urban exploration site.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was created by the Soviets in the 1950s. It was from Baikonur in 1988 that the first Soviet spaceplane, Buran, was launched in response to the United States Space Shuttle. The Buran programme would officially end in 1993 during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, with only one Buran launch ever taking place, in 1998. Thereafter, parts of the Baikonur Cosmodrome fell into disuse, notably the sites connected with the launch of these Soviet craft. The two shuttles that were completed remain abandoned there, laid to rest in this atmospheric place. This is the first time that photographs of these spectacular locations have been published in a book. Jonk travelled 20km through the Kazakh desert under cover of night, entered the hangars clandestinely, and spent three nights there under the radar of military security to produce a truly incredible photographic reportage of what is considered today the world's most important urban exploration site. Jonk reveals his excellent collection of photographs taken in the disused part of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. As well as providing us with these amazing pictures, he describes the incredible adventure of visiting a location that is unique in the world.

Last month I published a review of a stupendous book chronicling the USA's manned spaceflight programmes, from Mercury thru Gemini to Apollo, the International Space Station and beyond (It's still on this page, further down). This month it's the turn of the Soviet space programme, with a stunning array of photographs, most of which have never been seen before, of spacecraft and associated operations. In stark contrast to the way we used to get information during the Cold War, this is an amazing collection of photos and data of what went on at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. A very important slice of Soviet social history.

You might still like to check out these great non-fiction titles...

Dan Cruickshank: Manmade Wonders of the World

 Published by Dorling Kindersley 3rd October 2019

Discover and explore the most incredible statues, monuments, temples, bridges, and ancient cities with this unparalleled survey of the most famous buildings and structures created by humans.

From Stonehenge to the Sagrada Familia, from the Great Wall of China to the Burj Khalifa, Manmade Wonders of the World plots a continent-by-continent journey around the world, exploring and charting the ingenuity and imagination used by different cultures to create iconic buildings. This truly global approach reveals how humans have tackled similar challenges - such as keeping the enemy out or venerating their gods - in vastly different parts of the world. As writer, historian, and broadcaster Dan Cruickshank writes in his foreword, "reading this book is like taking a journey through the world not only of the present but also of the past, because the roots of many wonders lie in antiquity."

By combining breathtaking photography with 3D cutaway artworks, floorplans, and other illustrations, the hidden details and engineering innovations that make each building remarkable are revealed.

Featuring the most visited monuments in the world - such as the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, and Machu Picchu - as well as some hidden gems, Manmade Wonders of the World can help you to map out the trip of a lifetime or simply be enjoyed as a celebration of the world that humans have built over thousands of years.

Blu Ray DVDs are supposed to be anything from four times to seven times sharper than ordinary DVDs, and HD television is of course much sharper than ordinary TV. 4K (Ultra high definition) is sharper still, and most modern laptops are displaying in HD. This latest title from Dorling Kindersley has its photographic illustrations in Ultra High Definition, or so it seems to me, because they are clearer, sharper than any other book I have ever seen. The subject of these photographs is Manmade Wonders, with a glowing foreword by the great Dan Cruikshank, and I cannot remember ever enjoying a "coffee table" book more than this one. It is stunning and beautiful in every aspect, the photographs are jaw-droppingly good, very high definition, and the maps and diagrams (the cutaways) are second to none, stunning. This is a strong candidate for my nonfiction book of the year, and quite frankly, I can't see anything else coming anywhere near. I've had the privilege of reviewing a vast array of nonfiction books over the years, and this one has to be the very best of all of them! "Breathtaking" indeed!

Neil Oliver: The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places

 Published by Transworld 20th September 2019

"Everyone should have two copies - one for the car and one for the house to plan journeys. . . a reminder to think more about the places you pass and less about your route, because every British journey is through rich history." (Edward Stourton)

From much-loved historian Neil Oliver, comes this beautifully written, kaleidoscopic history of a place with a story like no other.

The British Isles, this archipelago of islands, is to Neil Oliver the best place in the world. From north to south, east to west it cradles astonishing beauty. The human story here is a million years old, and counting. But the tolerant, easygoing peace we enjoy has been hard won. We have made and known the best and worst of times. We have been hero and villain and all else in between, and we have learned some lessons.

The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places is Neil’s very personal account of what makes these islands so special, told through the places that have witnessed the unfolding of our history. Beginning with footprints made in the sand by humankind’s earliest ancestors, he takes us via Romans and Vikings, the flowering of religion, through civil war, industrial revolution and two world wars. From windswept headlands to battlefields, ancient trees to magnificent cathedrals, each of his destinations is a place where, somehow, the spirit of the past seems to linger.

Neil Oliver is one of my two favourite history/archaeology presenters, the other being Professor Alice Roberts, and I've reviewed some of Alice's work in Books Monthly in the past, but this is the first time I've seen Neil in print, and the result is superlative. At first glance, the 100 places may seem random, but the more I got into the book, I realised there was a structure to it. It may be that the places are in order of importance to the development of the British Isles over the years in terms of time, or it may be they are in order of importance to Neil. Either way, the result is absolutely extraordinary. Neil chooses Happisburgh on the North Norfolk Coast (where I live, just along the road) as his kick-off point, because that was where human habitation of the globe suddenly slipped back to over 900,000 years overnight when a receding tide exposed footprints in the mud. If that's not the most important development in the story of the British Isles, I don't know what it. Neil's writing is as engaging and endearing as his TV documentaries, and you can hear his voice loud and clear as he picks a subject and expands on it to reveal its place in our history. I can hear him saying "The Ness of Brodgar" because I've heard him say it on TV, and his voice is just perfect for this kind of programme and book. This is a book you can dip in and out of at will, you don't have to read it in Neil's order. If you're like me, you'll look at the stories about places you've visited yourself, like Avebury, Stonehenge, The Wash etc., and then catch up with the places you might know about because of Bernard Cornwell's Dark Ages series (Lindisfarne, Bamburgh Castle etc.) There's lots of Dark Ages material in this brilliant book, and it is one of the most readable and fascinating books on history, specifically the history of the British Isles, I have ever read. If only Neil Oliver had been my history teacher back in the 1950s... but then that wouldn't work, would it, because I'm considerably older than he is! A glorious, fantastic book that every home should invest in.

Jonny Keeling & Scott Alexander: Seven Worlds One Planet

 Published by BBC Books 10th October 2019

Welcome home. A place 200 million years in the making.

Long ago, our planet had only one gigantic land mass. Then something monumental happened. That supercontinent ruptured and seven different worlds were born.

Each of those worlds - or continents - evolved, and continues to evolve, its own way of life. From the jungle of the Congo or the majestic Himalayas to the densely populated wilds of Europe or the comparatively isolated Australasia, Seven Worlds, One Planet explores the natural wonders that give each of our continents its distinct character. Following the animals that have made these iconic environments their home, it discovers spectacular wildlife stories that reveal what makes each of these seven worlds unique.

With a foreword by Sir David Attenborough and over 250 breathtaking images, including stills from the BBC Natural History Unit’s spectacular footage, Seven Worlds, One Planet is a stunning exploration of the planet, and the worlds within it, that we call home.

With blu ray still in mind, I have to say that we have been watching Sir David Attenborough's latest documentary on our 4K TV on the BBC1 HD channel, and the clarity is staggering. The book, as always, has so much more information in it than Sir David could impart in the course of the one-hour programmes, and the photography is absolutely stunning, as it is in the companion book which, as always, gives you so much more. It's my confirmed belief that if you're hooked on the TV programme, then you need the book as well. Written by experts in their field, and with absolutely crystal clear photography, this book would stand alone as a brilliant exposition of the fauna of our unique world, together with the mountainous challenges they face to survive in the relentless onslaught of man's progress and continual usurpation of their breeding and feeding grounds. Sir David is encouraged by the reaction to his Blue Planet 2 series, which has brought about new attitudes to the use of plastics on our world. Seven Worlds One Planet is both a celebration of our wildlife, with whom we should be sharing the planet, and a warning that if we don't check that progress, further extinctions will surely follow. The book isn't written by Sir David, but it carries his messages loud and clear. It is fascinating to read about the amazing diversity of wildlife on the different continents or worlds. In the introduction, we're told about the fact that millions of years ago there was one super-continent, Pangea, and that over time it split into the continents we know and recognise today. This is the only fault with this book, that I can find, that the maps of Pangea and the splitting into seven continents, are small, not much larger than a fifty pence piece. I think the introduction would have benefited from whole page maps - other than that, it is faultless and fascinating. Another brilliant Christmas gift if ever I saw one, and thanks to BBC books for allowing me the opportunity to review it in Books Monthly. Books are the lifeblood of our education and development, and this is another shining example of all that's good in the modern publishing world.

David Mitchell: Dishonesty is the Second-best Policy - And Other Rules To Live By

 Published by Guardian Faber Publishing 7th November 2019

David Mitchell’s 2014 bestseller 
Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse must really have made people think – because everything’s got worse. We’ve gone from UKIP surge to Brexit shambles, from horsemeat in lasagne to Donald Trump in the White House, from Woolworths going under to all the other shops going under. It’s probably socially irresponsible even to try to cheer up.

But if you’re determined to give it a go, you might enjoy this eclectic collection (or eclection) of David Mitchell’s attempts to make light of all that darkness. Scampi, politics, the Olympics, terrorism, exercise, rude street names, inheritance tax, salad cream, proportional representation and farts are all touched upon by Mitchell’s unremitting laser of chit-chat, as he negotiates a path between the commercialisation of Christmas and the true spirit of Halloween. Read this book and slightly change your life!

David Mitchell, Lee Mack and Eddie Izzard are the three people guaranteed today to make me laugh. Situation comedies on both BBC and ITV are dire and have been since Victor Meldrew came "to the End of the Line" (the last series ended with the classic song by the Travelling Wilburies), with the notable exception of Not Going Out. There are legions of stand-up comedians who are simply not funny, there are dozens of so-called sitcoms such as Citizen Khan, Still Open All Hours and a whole host of others that simply wither and die for want of being funny in any way whatsoever. I won't mention Mrs Brown's Boys, which plumbs the depths of all that's wrong with TV broadcasting today. But Friday nights on BBC1 are guaranteed to raise not just a laugh but side-splitting hysterics when David and Lee, together with Rob Brydon, and especially when Bob Mortimer is a guest, appear on Would I Lie To You. That and Not Going Out are the two most brilliant and funny programmes on the television (for me). David Mitchell's extraordinary sense of humour is at its best when he's railing against something, which he does often on WILTY and even more so in his books. Dishonesty... is his second such book, and to read him pitching out against such things as Scampi, farting, the Olympics etc., brings just unutterable pleasure, because you can imagine him sitting in your living room (or wherever you choose to read this brilliant book) and saying it aloud, just to you. He has an opinion on everything, and can turn any subject into one of hilarity. He's a genuine philosopher who hides his philosophy behind the mask of a seriously funny person. The episode of WILTY when his wife, Victoria Coren-Mitchell was on it with him recently - she's not a comedienne in the sense that she does stand-up comedy, but as host of a genuinely funny quiz show, she is brilliantly funny in her own right, - was one of the funniest episodes ever, rivalling the inimitable Bob Mortimer. I would include Bob in my list of best comedians but unfortunately he associates regularly with two "comedians" who are simply not funny in any sense of the word: Vic Reeves and Paul Whitehouse. David and Victoria are well-matched, and one can only imagine how a typical day in the Mitchell household goes down. I try to see humour in everything except tragedy and health issues myself, my passion is words and turning them inside out and around - I'm good at anagrams and I have a phenomenal memory for 1950s/1960s radio shows, monologues, song lyrics etc., etc. I'm not a comedian, never have been, but generally try to make people laugh as it lightens the mood and laughter; laughter, as Readers' Digest has said forever, is the best medicine. David's book is genuinely good medicine. It will bring a smile to your face, it will make you laugh, and it will make you think you're in the room with David himself. Utterly, utterly brilliant.

Sinclair McKay: The Scotland Yard Puzzle Book

 Published by Headline 17th October 2019

Pit your wits against the brilliant minds of Scotland Yard, from the bestselling author of Bletchley Park Brainteasers, Sinclair McKay.

If you cracked the GCHQ Puzzle Book and tore through the Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book, you MUST show off your brainteaser abilities and prove that you have what it takes to be a detective at the Yard...

How can a man be in two places at once? How might a murder be committed when no one is seen entering or exiting the house? Can an entire crime be solved with just a suitcase of empty beer bottles?

It's time for you to tackle the conundrums that confounded the best detectives over the years.

Since it opened its doors in 1829, Scotland Yard has used the science of detection to solve the most macabre of murders and catch the most audacious of thieves. The Scotland Yard Puzzle Book takes a look through the history of this famous institution and recreates some of the most complex puzzles its detectives have ever faced. Technology can now shine a light on some of the most difficult cases, but the analytical mind needed to crack the clues remains as essential as ever.

Do you have what it takes to be a Scotland Yard detective?

For a year or so, when I was fifteen years old, there was one thing on my agenda for a career, and that was to be a policeman. I don't know if it was the uniform and the chance to become a figure of authority (I was never made a prefect at school because the headmaster knew that I was due to leave at the end of July that year, which I thought was unfair); I don't know if it was because of the books I read - I was a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, of John Creasey's Inspector West, and of PC49 in the Eagle comic. We didn't have television, so I didn't know about TV detective dramas, although I loved them from 1963 onwards, when we did have access to a television, my favourites being No Hiding Place (Inspector Lockhart) and eventually Z Cars. Nowadays, there isn't a TV police drama that I don't like, though I do have my favourites, which are Endeavour, Lewis and Inspector Morse, closely followed by Vera and Shetland. This brilliant puzzle book gives you the opportunity to become a detective, with a series of terrific puzzles to solve, clues to unravel, villains to catch, crimes to solve. This is the perfect antidote to television, laptop, iPad and phone. Pit your wits against the great detectives and see how well you'd cope as a detective! If you like puzzles, and if you like setting your mind to solving them, this terrific book will keep you occupied for hours with access to many real-life Scotland Yard cases. Are you up to the challenge?

Dr Gareth Moore: The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain

 Published by Trapeze 17th October 2019

The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book was the biggest-selling puzzle book of 2018. And now it is back, with brand new maps, and bigger and better brainteasers!

In The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain map your way around Britain in 40 new regional maps,with hundreds of puzzles, mind-boggling brainteasers, navigational tests, word games, code-crackers, anagrams and mathematical conundrums to keep you occupied as you go!

With maps covering the 8 areas of South-West England, South-East England, the Midlands, East England, North-West England, North-East England, Wales and Scotland, you'll put your knowledge and skills to the test and become a local - as you discover amazing facts about each region's folklore, famous historical events and the perfect day out from the OS's GetOutside Champions.

With four levels of difficulty that make this fun for all the family, The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain is also a celebration of the regional diversity, history and landscapes that make Great Britain so great.

For many years now I've regretted my decision at Grammar School not to include geography in my curriculum. It goes hand in hand with history, after all, at which I excelled; and now I can't get enough of it, with BBC TV programmes like Coast and Neil Oliver's tours and documentaries, along with what I've learned from Sir David Attenborough's nature programmes and Michael Portillo's great British Railway Journeys (and railway journeys elsewhere in the world. Geography fascinates me more than ever, and looking back, what I was being taught in grammar school was really not geography but a mixture of geology and international trade. From memory, we never looked at a map, and for me, maps are the mainstay of geography. I am fascinated by maps, especially large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, but also road atlas maps as well. I don't know how well I will get on with Dr Moore's Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour, but it looks absolutely fascinating, the maps are brilliant! I can't wait to get started on this terrific book, and have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who takes an interest in where we are. On reflection, I don't honestly think I missed much by not taking Doughy Baker's geography lessons - he was a dreadful teacher and I've learned much more with textbooks, road atlases and OS Maps, certainly enough to enjoy this book and its puzzles. By the way, this and the Scotland Yard book above are recommended as a pair on Amazon - they're from different publishers, not that it matters! Congratulations to both publishers on coming up with two terrific puzzle books in an age of computer games. Books matter more now than ever, in my opinion. I hope my selection of books this month will inspire you in your Christmas gift choices!

Helen Brocklehurst: The AA British Road Map Puzzle Book

 Published by Sphere 17th October 2019

How well do you really know your way around Britain?

Uncover the history of Britain's roads and work your way around its highways, byways, bypasses and backwaters in these map-based challenges.

Test your word-puzzling skills, map-reading savvy, general knowledge and problem-solving prowess, with over 400 mind-stretching questions. Guaranteed to drive your mind round the bend, this is the ultimate quiz to British places for motorists and map addicts.

From producing the first road signs and handwriting route directions, to its bestselling atlases and touring guides, The AA has been helping motorists navigate British roads since 1905 - and no one knows Britain's roads better.

Whilst researching on Amazon which puzzle books would make good Christmas gifts, I stumbled on this third one, coincidentally published, like the other gtwo, on 17th October (three different publishers, three puzzle books, all published on the same date - I don't suppose anyone other than me takes any notice of who publishes what - they're all books, after all, what does it matter who the publisher is? That may be the subject of a small piece in Books Monthly at some stage next year). I've been equally fascinated by road atlases and ordnance survey maps for as long as can remember - I don't have a SatNav, I'd rather study my road atlas and work out my journey than be distracted by something in the car when I should be concentrating on my driving. I don't know what percentage of the driving population own road atlases, but even of you don't, this brilliant puzzle book is crammed with information about elements of the highway code and exercises (puzzles) in reading the kinds of maps you get in road atlases - it's great for brain-training, great for keeping you alert when you're actually driving, because it's educational, and most importantly, it's great fun!

The Classic FM Puzzle Book, Foreword by Alexander Armstrong

 Published by Cassell 3rd October 2019

Think you know classical music? It's time to put your knowledge to the test with this collection of questions and puzzles designed to challenge, to entertain - and to educate.

Blending together basic trivia, complex wordplay and a range of visual teasers, the book calls on the knowledge of the Classic FM experts to provide hours of music-themed challenges.

With difficulty levels varying from pleasantly tricky to fiendishly hard, The Classic FM Puzzle Book will entertain from the first bar until the very last note.

As someone who loves classical music, (we have a substantial CD library of all the major composers, favourites being Mahler, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Prokoviev, Borodin etc.) I always have Classic FM on Saturdays and Sundays - it's far more listenable than Radio 3, the presenters (with one notable exception, I won't name her but her voice is dreary and her presentation even more dreary, and she's comparatively new to Classic FM) are great, knowledgeable, approachable and so on, and there is genuinely classical music for all tastes: baroque, classical, romantic, modern. The new Classic FM Puzzle Book is a cornucopia of stuff about composers, their lives and their works. If you like Classic FM, you will absolutely adore this book!

Simon Heptinstall: 1001 Cars (You must drive before you die)

 Published by Cassell 3rd October 2019

With a preface from founding member of Pink Floyd, Nick Mason.

Prepare yourself for the world's greatest road trip.

Strap yourself in for a cavalcade of the fastest, biggest, smallest, most expensive, most innovative and downright sexiest motorized vehicles ever produced. Whether you're a vintage car spotter or an armchair petrolhead, 1001 Cars To Dream Of Driving Before You Die brings you the best stories and the most amazing photographs of the finest cars from every corner of the globe.

This truly global guide offers a unique history of motoring through the ages, from Henry Ford's pioneering Model T, with its hand-cranked starter, to the latest hi-tech vehicles, such as the Lexus LS 600h, hybrid-powered, 4x4 sports saloon, and reveals the stories behind the cars, the geniuses who designed them, the companies and factories who built them, and the people who drove them.

Discover the extraordinary contraptions that started it all more than 100 years ago and drool over today's most spectacular supercars. From the most famous Ferraris and Porsches to ground-breaking sports cars from Brazil, South Africa and New Zealand, 1001 Cars To Dream of Driving Before You Die is the ultimate car enthusiast's companion. Featuring cars chosen by stars, millionaires and world leaders, from James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder and Al Capone's Cadillac V16 to the classic James Bond favourite, the Aston Martin DB5, there's a car here for every petrol-head.

The ultimate guide for every car fanatic.

I recognise this book as a must-have for motoring fanatics. I enjoy F1 motor racing, but I wouldn't take out a subscription to Sky in order to watch it - I think the broadcasting authorities are wrong to allow anything other than "conventional" broadcasters (terrestrial broadcasters like the BBC or ITV) to show F1 racing, but I'm not that obsessed with it that I would allow myself to be lured into something I can't afford just for the sake of watching it, although I have friends who would do just that! For me, looking at pictures of cars is just as satisfying as actually driving them. Again, I once sat in a Lotus Esprit belonging to a friend, and found it to be one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life! I have a car that is a few months short of its twentieth birthday and which will, very soon, be recognised as a classic car. It cost me £500 and it is a joy to drive. I don't hunger for driving other cars, I'm happy just to look at them in just such a sensational gift book as this one, compiled by Simon Heptinstall. The photography is sublime, some of the cars (not all, by any means) are very nice to look at. This is a superb gift book for any motorist or enthusiast. Petrolheads will go out of their way to actually sit in or drive these motors, and have to watch inane and time-wasting TV programmes like Top Gear, which lost its appeal when Raymond Baxter stopped presenting it. If you're an old fuddy-duddy like me, you'll be content with this book on your lap, a cup of coffee and a biscuit in your other hand while you turn the pages and dream. You're unlikely to ever drive or ever to have driven more than twenty of the cars in this book, there are many, many American and other foreign ones, and the two Ford Focuses are out of most people's reach, of course. No Ford Prefect, no Ford Anglia, no Sierra, no classic Fords at all, in fact, so in that respect the book is somewhat disappointing. But the illustrations are beautiful. You may get to see 1000 movies (see below), although only a handful will be in the following book; the chances of you getting beyond twenty cars is remote, to say the least. Even seeing more than a couple of hundred of the cars in this book is remote... but a joy to look at in this remarkable and well-illustrated book...

Steven Jay Schneider: 1001 Movies (You must see before you die)

 Published by Cassell 3rd October 2019

The bestselling film book returns fully updated for 2019!

This incredible gift series has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide!

'Both a fun stroll through some all-time favourites, and a guilty reminder of just how many great movies I haven't seen yet . . .'
Aubrey Day, Total Film

'As edited by Steven Jay Schneider, it makes for addictive browsing, and likewise features top quality stills.'
Film Review

With more than 1.75 million copies sold worldwide in thirty languages, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die celebrates the great and groundbreaking, classic and cult, must-see movies of all time, offering a treasure trove of incisive, witty and revealing insights. Spanning more than a century of extraordinary cinema, this comprehensive volume brings together some of the most significant movies from every country and all genres, from action to Western, through animation, comedy, documentary, musical, thriller, noir, short, romance and sci-fi.

Newly revised and updated, this definitive edition features 500 original movie posters and hundreds of stunning movie stills, including recent Oscar-winning and nominated films such as BlacKkKlansman, The Greatest Showman, The Favourite, Roma and A Star is Born. Quotes from movie directors and critics, together with little-known facts, complement the incisive reviews and vital statistics of each movie to make this the most fact-filled edition ever.

So, whether your passion is rom-com or art house, The Blue Angel or Blue Velvet, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is bound to become the only film book to which you will ever turn.

We are old age pensioners (on a shamefully low pension, the lowest in Europe, I believe), and our entertainment is home-grown from necessity. The last time we went to the cinema was to see a streaming of Henry IV Part 2 from the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon because our daughter appeared in it. But cinema is a large part of our lives. We watch with interest to see what films are due out in the cinema so that we are able to find out when they are going to be available on blu ray (we have a decent [4k UHD] TV to watch blu rays on). Time was, when I was working, we would go and see the latest Star Wars or Star Trek movie - we went to the cinema in Fakenham to see the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 2001/2/3, but for me and, I think, for my wife, enjoyment of these films is far enhanced by watching them in comfort in our own home on a 42 inch TV. This magnificent book suggests 1001 movies you must see before you die. I don't know who came up with the "You must see before you die" (substitute the word "drive" in the case of the 1001 cars book) strapline, but it's the least appealing part of this series of books for me. That said, this is a book that has been previously published like the 1001 cars book, and both have been updated to take into account new cars, or in this case, new films. We have The Greatest Showman, and love it. We have The Favourite, but have so far not got round to watching it. Including it in the 1001... book doesn't make it imperative that we watch it; after all, Steven Jay Schneider's list of 1001 films isn't either exhaustive or essential - it's a very personal selection, inevitably. But just seeing his selection, and reading about them in this beautiful book (more to my taste than the cars book, I have to say) combines two of my great passions - books and movies. This series has gone from strength to strength in the space of almost a decade - I remember reviewing some of the titles when they were first published back in 2012 (yes, Books Monthly is that old - twice as old, in fact!) and remarking then on what a terrific idea it was. These books are, for me, essential reading. I may not be interested in every title published, but the privilege of seeing these two titles, recently revised and updated, is immense, and I'm proud to have been able to feature them in Books Monthly!

I said earlier in this review that this selection of movies is lpersonal - it isn't, it's a collaborative selection made by people involved in the movie industry, or rather in the movie critics community. As such, it is not entirely without faults, and I was disappointed to see that there was no mention of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (although The Great Escape is in there, so the selectors didn't have a hang-up about Steve McQueen); no mention of OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, no mention of ZULU, and no mention of any of the STAR TREK films, not even the recent ones with Chris Pine. Instead the book is partially filled with obscure foreign films that no one has any intention of ever seeing, in foreign languages that would mean having to watch sub-titles, and that is no way to watch a film, films so obscure that they get two pages in the book rather than one or more commonly a half page as most of them do. It's a real pleasure to look back on the film posters that heralded these films at the cinemas we used to frequent, but I can't help thinking that it's the wrong thing to do to involve movie critics in compiling such a list, because they are a breed apart, and they don't watch films with the eyes of the cinema-going public, they like to impose their views as though they are the only people who really know what makes a good film, and they so often get it disastrously wrong. STAR WARS is in there, at least the original trio, but no TARZAN? On reflection, this book should have been compiled by just one man. I doubt if I could name 1000 movies, although I've probably seen that many in my time, thinking back to when I went to the cinema three times a week because the programme changed on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. An enjoyable book, and a good concept, but the glaring omissions and the terrible, terrible inclusions spoil it somewhat for me.

Luke Wesley Price: Space Mission Art - The Mission Patches & Insignias of America's Human Spaceflights

 Published by Ammonite Press December 2019

Since 1961, the United States of America has launched men and women into the hostile vacuum of space. For the adventures on which they were about to embark, astronauts, associates and designers commemorated each mission by creating a unique insignia that the crew could wear with pride on their spacesuits. Space Mission Art collects every one of these iconic designs, plus sticker sheets, to celebrate the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs. They are presented in full colour and glorious detail alongside the stories behind their design. There are also crew photos, mission facts and trivia that reveal the human face of space exploration, capturing the comedy, tragedy, bravery and beauty of these extraordinary adventures into the unknown.

I was fortunate enough to be working in the British Space industry at the time of the Apollo programme. Years earlier the whole family crowded outside in 1961, on 12th April to see Russia's Vostok 1 spacecraft carry Yuri Gagarin around the Earth. It was like seeing the science fiction heroes I followed each week in my Lion and Tiger comics coming to life before my very eyes, and when President Kennedy responded to the Russians' challenge with a promise to put men on the Moon and bring them back safely by the end of the decade, all of the forecasts of an Earth Space Force by the year 2000 seemed to be on course for coming true.

The truth, of course, was very different - but America's manned spaceflight programme was born, beginning with Mercury, then Gemini, followed by Apollo, Skylab and the Shuttle. Now, it seems that interest in manned spaceflight has been rekindled, with various reusable systems under development, and promises of commercial spaceflight within a couple of years. As I said, I was working for Hawker Siddeley Dynamics in Stevenage (Stevenage was known as Space City in the 1960s because there was also a British Aircraft Corporation factory just along the road, manufacturing rockets and missiles - I worked there for many years also) in 1969 and my job as Librarian was to gather as much information (data, you'd call it now) as possible on spaceflight, both manned and unmanned. There was a dedicated team of top scientists at Hawker's hell bent on getting satellites built and into Earth orbit. They were all passionate about manned spaceflight as well, and I managed to get myself on the circulation list for all NASA publications, including their press releases for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes. I prepared information for the James Burke and Geoffrey Pardoe TV coverage of Apollo, and we stayed up to watch Armstrong and Aldrin land on the moon in July 1969. I regularly visited the American Embassy in London to pick up the Nasa press releases, and I well remember admiring the suit patches for each mission.

There was a time when I could have named all of the astronauts for each of the Apollo missions. I remember some, now, but not enough, not because my memory is failing, but because it's been hijacked by other genres of literature and information. This magnificent book collects all of the artwork for all of NASA's manned spaceflight missions, with crew photographs and profiles, mission profiles, suit patches etc., and is a fantastic reminder of the triumphs and the tragedies we witnessed along the way to the moon and to the International Space Station.

Again, there was a time when the BBC and to a lesser extent ITV covered manned spaceflight with relish, but interest faded when it became clear that successive US governments were less and less convinced of the benefits on the grounds of cost. Now there is talk of a manned mission to Mars, and I hope I'm around to see it, because I've been inspired by man in space for as long as I can remember. The book is beautifully presented, the printing is clear and the text is absolutely brilliant. This is an inspirational, commemorative book that will intrigue, delight and inform anyone lucky enough to get their hands on it. It's also a revelation - the huge number of shuttle missions listed in this book was something of a shock to me. Many are listed by Luke as classified or unclassified defence missions, and one wonders if there is some kind of defence missile system deployed in near or far-Earth orbit? Absolutely fascinating, and pure magic, as anything to do with manned spacflight surely is. Available from Amazon and from or by calling 01273 488005. Don't miss it!

Simon King & Clare Nasir: What Does Rain Smell Like?

 Published by 535 17th October 2019

Why doesn't rain fall all at once?
Can technology change the track of a hurricane?
What's the weather like on other planets?

Meteorologists Simon King and Clare Nasir reveal the captivating ways the weather works, from exploring incredible weather phenomenon (how are rainbows formed?), expertly breaking down our knowledge of the elements (could we harness the power of lightning?) to explaining the significance of weather in history (has the weather ever started a war?) and discussing the future of weather (could climate modification save the planet?).

In What Does Rain Smell Like? Simon and Clare uncover the thrilling science behind a subject that affects us all. They unearth and analyse all aspects of the weather and how it changes our lives through answering our most curious questions about the world around us.

The weather is a topic of conversation we are willing to engage in with anybody we meet; here in North Norfolk, the weather forecast is rarely right, no matter who the presenter or channel may be. We have lost count of the times they have said it would be a fine day, lots of sunshine etc., and we're out with our dog in pouring rain. Sheringham is one of those places that quite often gets a "haar" - days on end of thick fog when just down the road it's gloriously sunny and warm. This book is essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the weather, with the authors explaining just about every aspect of the weather in terms that even the layest of layment can understand. It's brilliant, simply brilliant.

Chris Packham: The Science of Animals

Published by Dorling Kindersley 26th September 2019

With spectacular, studio-quality photography and clear explanations, this book reveals the incredible anatomy, behaviour, and beauty of every type of creature, from hair to scale and whisker to tail.

This elegant introduction to zoology offers interesting views, angles, and close-ups that show you animals in surprising detail. The unique nose-to-tail approach, with chapters on different body parts, allows you to focus in on the beauty of the antenna of a moth, the flight feathers of a parrot, or the feeding tentacles of a jellyfish. It explains how form relates to function - how each feature is an evolutionary answer to the challenges of environment and lifestyle.

Features on key animals combine photography from the field with rounded descriptions of star species. These species are glowing examples of hunting, speed, camouflage, or any topic in question. The Science of Animals also explores how we have depicted animals in art, from zoological drawings that recorded new discoveries to great paintings inspired by a deep connection to the natural world.

With fascinating stories, such as how animals communicate, defend their territories, and attract mates, The Science of Animals offers an engaging introduction to the diversity of the animal kingdom.

The other blockbuster from Dorling Kindersley this month is this enormous coffee table book on how Earth's animals work, how they are structured, how they behave. It's like a giant biology textbook, with stunning illustrations and photographs. Had it been around when I was making my subject choices at grammar school back in the 1950s, I might well have chosen biology. As it is, I missed out. A simply sensational book.

David Day: The Hobbits of Tolkien

 Published by Pyramid Books 3rd October 2019

Forty years after the publication of renowned Tolkien expert David Day's A Tolkien Bestiary comes The Illustrated World of Tolkien - a collection of artworks and essays from expert illustrators, painters and etchers, accomapnied by David Day's fascinating and scholarly writing. Whether you are an expert or you just want to learn more about Tolkien's world and characters, this title is the one you've been waiting for - an exquisite  reference guide for any fan of the author's work and the imaginative brilliance his vision inspired. An entire race was born when J.R.R. Tolkien scrawled on a leaf, 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' From the invention of that single word (hobbit) Tolkien became the explorer and chronicler of the character, their race and their significant role in his fantastical world, Middle-earth.

Here in his latest book, Tolkien expert David Day unpicks the myriad of riddles, puns and mystical meanings in Tolkien's works; The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

David Day has been writing books about the various worlds of J R R Tolkien for as long as I can remember, and this paperback-sized book is one of a series of brilliantly written and illustrated books on the subject of the characters and races of Tolkien's Middle Earth. Faultless and reliable.

David Day: The Illustrated World of Tolkien

 Published by Pyramid Books 19th October 2019

Tolkien's works have inspired artists for generations and have given rise to myriad interpretations of the rich and magical worlds he created.
The Illustrated World of Tolkien gathers together artworks and essays from expert illustrators, painters and etchers, and fascinating and scholarly writing from renowned Tolkien expert David Day, and is an exquisite reference guide for any fan of Tolkien's work, Tolkien's world and the imaginative brilliance his vision inspired.

In this large-format book, David Day gathers together some of the finest current illustrators of Middle Earth alongside a number of noted and notable writers to bring us a comprehensive and delightful treatise on the worlds of J R R Tolkien. I think I spotted a mistake, when the book claims that Arwen spent most of her life with the Elves of Lothlorien - it was always my understanding that she lived for the most part with the Elves in her father Elrond's realm of Rivendell. I am prepared to be wrong about that, and for this to be simply a typo, and it certainly doesn't spoil the enjoyment of the book, which is simply superb!

David Day: A Dictionary of Sources of Tolkien

 Published by Pyramid 17th October 2019

The spellbinding world of Middle-earth is full of beasts and battles, heroes and heroines, and the struggle between good and evil.
In this dictionary of sources, Tolkien scholar and best-selling author David Day's four decades of research inform us about the lands, inhabitants, languages, geography and history of Middle-earth.
This compelling encyclopedia on Tolkien's world also includes over 200 illustrations and an appendix that examines the legends that were key sources for Tolkien's creations - the Völsunga Saga, the Nibelungenlied, and Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle.

David Day has written more books about Tolkien's worlds and work than just about anyone else, and this month sees the release of three brilliant new books; you can read about the others on this page but I thought I would whet your appetite here with this one, which brings together all of the books and sagas etc., that may have influenced J R R Tolkien as he embarked on his amazingly complex and massive creation. There are references to Norse myths, to Germanic folklore, to just about anything imaginable in the world of fantasy and myth, and it is a joy just to read this book, even though it it takes the form of a reference book, from cover to cover. The illustrations are striking, some of them are amazingly good, and this is a book any Tolkien fan will be proud to have on his bookshelf. Utterly amazing.

Pendleton Playing Cards

 Published by Chronicle Books 25th September 2019

This handsome roll-up game combines convenience with style. It features a canvas board and a snap-on vegan leather pouch for storing pieces, and rolls up-just like a Pendleton blanket-for swift storage and easy travel.

This is an amazingly beautiful purse-like container for two handsome packs of playing cards, just one of the many fine examples of gift that publishers Abrams and Chronicle sell besides their beautiful and collectable books.

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 reviwing 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. There is such a wealth of information in this book I don't know where to begin! First of all, there is an excellent introduction to the life and works of Jane Austen, without whom there would be no Sanditon. There is information on how libraries started in England, and the blossoming publishing industry; on the seaside, because Sanditon was set at a time when seaside holidays  were starting to become fashionable; on turn of the century Great Britain, on food, on clothing, on everything about Jane Austen's England; and, of course, there are profiles of the main characters and the actors and actresses who portray them. You have to wait until the very end of the book before you get the profile you've been waiting for, that of Charlotte Heywood, portrayed by the stunning Rose Williams, who is the very essence of an Austen heroine, and who deserves an award for her acting prowess in Sanditon. Each profile looks at the character and the actor/actress portraying them, which is, for me, a first with this type of companion, and very welcome indeed. This sumptuous book arrived just in time to make it into this issue, and I decided that I would have two nonfiction books of the month because it is simply brilliant, quite the best TV/film companion I have ever been privileged to review in Books Monthly.

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. STOP PRESS: David just won the Bake-off trophy for 2019, and deservedly so. His show stopper blew the competition away!

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. Many of this year's contestants will go down as some of the best in the show's ten year history, and some will go on to write books of their own, of course, but this book showcases their recipes to perfection. There are the perennial favourites, such as Victoria Sponge, and Christmas Cake, but there are also some of the fantastic show-stoppers from the current series which, as I write this, is still going on, with about six contestants left. My personal favourite is Henry, followed by Steph, but really, they're all brilliant and the standard this year is incredibly high. But this is about the book, not the programme, and I honestly think that this book will be around for a long time as the perfect showcase for cake baking, as a shining example of a perfect TV show, and as a companion that does so many thing: educates and entertains, encourages and inspires. Fantastic. A strong contender for one of this year's very best nonfiction books.

Book of the Month - 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.

Dorling Kindersley: Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life

Published by Dorling Kindersley 17th September 2019

Fascinating and authoritative, this book is an unprecedented survey of millions of years of life on planet Earth. Featuring an incredible mix of 3-D reconstructions, extraordinary skeletons, and amazingly intricate fossils, it uses the latest scientific research to recreate a wealth of ancient species, from the earliest primitive life forms to great dinosaurs, early mammals, and even the first humans.

This richly illustrated catalogue starts with the first Precambrian microbes and traces the evolution of life through mass extinctions and ice ages. As well as dinosaurs, it features extinct plants, invertebrates, amphibians, fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals, conjuring up a series of past worlds. The book also explores geological time and examines how fossils preserve the story of evolution.

This abridged edition of DK's Prehistoric (2009) features updated information on hundreds of life forms, with a scattering of new entries - including the jellyfish Haootia, and the early Cretaceous mammal Ambolestes. Artists' impressions of the living, breathing animals have also been updated according to the latest findings about colouring, feathers, and scales.

Combining stunning visuals and clear text, Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life is a fascinating encyclopedia for the whole family - as well as anyone enthralled by T-Rex, or the dinosaurs of the Cretaceous and Jurassic worlds.


Three stunning books from Dorling Kindersley this month - the first is a brilliant book about dinosaurs and prehistoric life, and the content is absolutely amazing! Page after page about the formation of the Earth and the continents, arranged by the ages by which our prehistory is defined, with explanations about how fossils form and what fossils tell us; and that's just for starters. When we finally get to the age when the dinosaurs start to appear, the content becomes simply magical, with stunning illustrations and explanatory text. This fabulous book contains everything you need to know about how life evolved on Earth and the age of the dinosaurs. It's a coffee table book, but it's also much more than that - it's educational, entertaining and simply thrilling!

Dorling Kindersley: The Complete Classical Music Guide

Published by Dorling Kindersley 7th November 2019

What makes Mozart's music so great? Why does a minor chord sound sad and a major chord sound happy? What's the difference between opera and operetta? From Bach to Bernstein, this definitive guide offers a complete survey of the history of classical music.

Whether you already love classical music or you're just beginning to explore it, The Complete Classical Music Guide invites you to discover the spirituality of Byrd's masses, the awesome power of Handel's Messiah, and the wonders of Wagner's operas, as well as hundreds more composers and their masterpieces. This guide takes you on a journey through more than 1,000 years, charting the evolution of musical instruments, styles, and genres. Biographies of major and lesser-known composers offer rich insights into their music and the historical and cultural contexts that influenced their genius.

The book explores the features that defined each musical era - from the ornate brilliance of the Baroque, through the drama of Romantic music, to contemporary genres such as minimalism and electronic music. Timelines, quotes, and colour photographs give a voice to this music and the exceptionally gifted individuals who created it. Covering both music history and the fundamental building blocks of music theory, The Complete Classical Music Guide explains not just the who, what, and where of classical music, but the how and why.


This is a republishing of a book DK first published earlier this century, and it is a brilliant companion to the music that simply won't go away. Page after page about the various stages of classical music, through the baroque, the romantic and the modern periods, with profiles of composers and the instruments they composed for. If you're just beginning your appreciation of classical music, this one's for you; if you're already a committed classical music listener, this wonderful book will be the perfect companion. Absolutely outstanding!

RHS: Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers

Published by Dorling Kindersley 3rd October 2019

Choose the right plants for your garden and find all the inspiration and guidance you need with the new edition of this best-selling illustrated reference book organised by plant colour, size, and type.

Drawing on expert advice from the RHS, the book features an illustrated catalogue of more than 4,000 plants and flowers. Organised by colour, size, and type, rather than as an A-Z directory, and accompanied by beautiful, full-colour images, it will help you select the right varieties for your outdoor space. Browse the photographic catalogue to find at-a-glance plant choice inspiration, or use the extensive plant dictionary to look up more than 8,000 plant varieties and the best growing conditions for them.

This new edition features the latest and most popular cultivars, with more than 1,400 new plants added, as well as updated photography, hardiness ratings, and a brand-new introduction. Fully comprehensive yet easy to use, the RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers is the inspirational, informative guide every gardener needs on their bookshelf.


This is the most comprehensive book about plants and flowers you will ever need. The illustrations are out of this world and the way the book is arranged is superlative. I can't think of a better Christmas gift for the gardener in your family - it's a book you can sit and pore over for hours on end and still not entirely satisfy yourself. Dorling Kindersley at its very finest!

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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There is still time to get your hands on these great Christmas gifts! Don't forget: there are more nonfiction books on the Pen and Sword page...