books monthly november 2019
  Nonfiction books for Christmas 2019




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

 Published by Trapeze 3rd October 2019

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

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

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

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

Last month I had the pleasure of 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!

Shea Fontana - DC: Women of Action

Published by Chronicle Books 22nd October 2019

For decades, Super Heroes have inspired us to reach new heights, find strength in adversity, and access our inner power. This gorgeously illustrated collection tracks this progress, profiling the fiercest, strongest, and most independent female Super Heroes and Super-Villains in the DC Universe, along with the real-life women integral to their development. Featuring Wonder Woman™, Lois Lane, Bat-girl, Bumblebee, Hawkgirl, Black Canary, Amanda Waller, and many more, this lush volume is a vivid celebration of the amazing, inspirational women of DC.


Chronicle Books have published other titles like this one -m this time it's DC Comics' turn for the treatment, and once again I have to say that while the content is outstanding, the illustrations are no match for photographs or illustrations from the actual comics or from the various films based on DC characters. Once again, some of the artwork is brilliant, others are not so good. It's a crying shame, because comic book art is so brilliant. Maybe Chronicle don't have the money to avail themselves of the right illustrations.

Christina Harrison & Tony Kirkham: Remarkable Trees

Published by Thames & Hudson 3rd October 2019

More than 60,000 species of trees are found in an amazing variety of forms, sizes and habitats. Every tree has its own story and here are over 60, selected for their particular resonance and connection with humankind and representing most of the world’s major zones and ecologies. In portraits that combine vivid cultural and historical narrative with a firm scientific grounding, the authors reveal the details of trees from around the world, both familiar and strange. We use timbers for building and creating, have discovered which tree fruits and seeds taste delicious, and which can kill or cure us, and which species can add colour and spirituality to our lives – from the timber of mahogany to the delights of chocolate and pomegranate, from the medicinal tea tree to the deadly manchineel, and from fragrant frankincense to the highly prized dragon’s blood tree.

Artists and botanists alike have been inspired by trees for centuries, and a varied and beautiful range of images from the unrivalled archive at Kew illustrate the stories, to create this enlightening and enchanting book.


When I worked in the public library service back in the 1960s, Thames and Hudson were always the go-to publishers for fine art and flora and fauna. In this century, they've probably been overtaken, just, by Dorling Kindersley, but now and then they come up with a book that is really beautiful, informative and thoroughly superb. Remarkable Trees is just such a book, with approachable, knowledgable text, and stunning illustrations. Those in this wonderful book are from the Kew Gardens archives, and illustrate to perfection the wonder of trees of all kinds. The book concentrates on sixty specific types of tree, and illustrates perfectly the gifts they bring to other forms of life (including ourselves), here on Earth. A magical book about a species of flora that we all too often take for granted. Absolutely stunning, the perfect Christmas gift.

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.

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!


Vogue on Location: People, Places, Portraits

 Published by Abrams 29th October 2019

Travel around the globe with Vogue’s most exotic fashion, travel, and lifestyle stories

Have fashion, will travel. That’s the vision behind Vogue on Location, a journey in itself through the many spectacular voyages that the magazine took over the years. Spanning a century, this remarkable book includes dispatches and travel writing by journalistic icons like Jan Morris, Truman Capote, Lee Miller, Lesley Blanch, and Frances FitzGerald, as well as stunning editorials from legendary photographers like Irving Penn, Henry Clarke, Helmut Newton, Arthur Elgort, Mario Testino, Peter Lindbergh, and Annie Leibovitz.

With historic reportage and landmark fashion shoots in far-flung locales like India, Iran, Morocco, Bali, Vogue on Location captures important moments in both travel and fashion history. An essential addition to any Vogue lover’s shelf, Vogue on Location is sure to inspire a sense of fantasy and flight.

Collections of photos from Vogue's chequered mighty past in which the locations play as much part in the make-up of the image as the various models that grace them. I don't know if it's just me, but I got the distinct impression that photos from the earlier decades were sharper and perhaps more impressive, and certainly, for me, the earlier models were far more attractive than some of the angular-faced, gaunt looking models of the more recent years. Yes, it's just me. A brilliant collectable coffee table book.

Stevie Chick: Foo Fighters, The Band That Dave Made

 Published by Palazzo Editions 15th August 2019

From the ashes of Nirvana, Dave Grohl rose as a one-man band with a self-titled album: The Foo Fighters. Now, 25 years on, and with a rock solid outfit that includes Nate Mendel (bass), Taylor Hawkins (drums), Chris Shiflett (guitar), Pat Smear (rhythm guitar) and latest addition, Rami Jaffee (keyboards) - The Foo Fighters are revelling in the success of their ninth studio album, Concrete and Gold. Paying homage to the band's enduring longevity, The Foo Fighters: The Band that Dave Made is a comprehensive look at a career that boasts six, million-selling albums, eleven Grammies and hit stadium rock anthems such as "Learn to Fly", "Best of You" and "Everlong". Fully Illustrated, this handsome biography from acclaimed rock writer, Stevie Chick, is a fitting tribute to a band born out of the "nicest guy in rock's" single-minded vision and now one of the planet's biggest rock groups.

I have no knowledge of Dave Grohl or Foo Fighters, in fact I can state categorically that I have never consciously heard any of their recordings. However, books about musicians are always at the very least, interesting, and Stevie Chick has compiled a brilliant biopic about a man whose career is in every sense of the word stellar. The photos are impressive, the content equally so. I feel as though I know almost as much about Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters as I do about Jeff Lynne... this is a brilliant piece of journalism that will appeal to musicians and fans alike.

Chris Roberts: Elton John Rocket Man

 Published by Palazzo Editions 29th October 2019

One of the most prolific and commercially successful artists in modern pop music, Elton John has won six Grammy Awards, five Brit Awards and sold more than 300 million records during a career spanning over half a century: his Candle in the Wind 1997 remains the bestselling single of all time. Just in time for his farewell world tour, this lavish, unofficial retrospective commemorates Elton's incredible life and career.

Fully illustrated throughout, it contains more than 235 images, including rare and previously unpublished photographs. The book covers everything from his childhood as a piano prodigy to his early days playing West End gigs and his fortuitous meeting, and subsequent enduring partnership, with lyricist Bernie Taupin; it goes back to the song that started it all,Your Song, and charts Elton's meteoric rise to stardom, his challenges along the way, and his tireless work for many charities, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation. This is a wonderful photographic keepsake for all Elton John fans.

I bought two of Elton John's albums in the early days, Honky Chateau, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I still have the latter and will shortly be getting the former, because these were, for me, Elton's glory days, before he disappeared into a miasma of glam-rock (a real turn off for me) and drugs. Those albums, with Bernie Taupin's mesmerising words, were brilliant, especially, for me, the stand-out track Mona Lisa's and Mad Hatters, something on which the author, Chris Roberts and I agree. The book is terrific, especially the early chapters, which cover the emergence of Elton as a major star, and the account of his early years in North London, when he would hang about those now famous places where people like Clapton and Page hung out, is brilliant. Another fantastic biopic from Palazzo Editions, lavishly illustrated and written with authority, wit and understanding. Tells you all you need to know about this supreme superstar.



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 and I'll let you know where to send it.