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A warm welcome to the new issue of Books Monthly Reviews for 2019. Some truly awe-inspiring titles in this issue!

John Wade: The Golden Age of Science Fiction

 Published by Pen and Sword Books February 2019

902uJohn Wade grew up in the 1950s, a decade that has since been dubbed the ‘golden age of science fiction’. It was a wonderful decade for science fiction, but not so great for young fans. With early television broadcasts being advertised for the first time as ‘unsuitable for children’ and the inescapable barrier of the ‘X’ certificate in the cinema barring anyone under the age of sixteen, the author had only the radio to fall back on – and that turned out to be more fertile for the budding SF fan than might otherwise have been thought. Which is probably why, as he grew older, rediscovering those old TV broadcasts and films that had been out of bounds when he was a kid took on a lure that soon became an obsession. For him, the super-accuracy and amazing technical quality of today’s science fiction films pale into insignificance beside the radio, early TV and B-picture films about people who built rockets in their back gardens and flew them to lost planets, or tales of aliens who wanted to take over, if not our entire world, then at least our bodies. This book is a personal account of John Wade’s fascination with the genre across all the entertainment media in which it appeared – the sort of stuff he revelled in as a young boy – and still enjoys today.

I share most of John’s memories, having been brought up in the 1950s, and reember the thrill of believing that man would have conquered space by the turn of the century, although my own memories of science fiction include many comics he doesn’t mention, such as the Lion with Captain Condor, and the Tiger with Jet Ace Logan and his sidekick PlumDuff; also the Sun and the Comet had similar space-themed serials that thrilled and delighted us. All in all, this book is a joy to read because of our similar backgrounds and ages, and the illustrations are simply superb and literally out of this world! I will be treasuring this book and returning to it several times over the coming years. Magnificent!

 

Naomi Alderman: Thirteen Doctors 13 Stories

 Published by Puffin March 2019

902vA new version of this much-loved anthology, with a brand-new story featuring the brand-new Thirteenth Doctor from literary sensation Naomi Alderman!

Twelve wonderful tales of adventure, science, magic, monsters and time travel – featuring all twelve Doctors – are waiting for you in this very special Doctor Who book.

And now they’re joined by a very exciting, and very exclusive, new tale – written by Naomi Alderman, author of The Power – that will star the Thirteenth Doctor, as she battles to save the universe with her three close and trusted friends.

Other authors featured are: Eoin Colfer, Michael Scott, Marcus Sedgwick, Philip Reeve, Patrick Ness, Richelle Mead, Malorie Blackman, Alex Scarrow, Charlie Higson, Derek Landy, Neil Gaiman, and Holly Black.

I read the first four stories featuring William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, but then as with the TV series, it paled, because I couldn’t picture the other doctors speaking the lines the various authors gave them, because I didn’t watch it after Tom Baker, who, for me, was the greatest of all the doctors. Until Jodie Whitaker, that is… I read that one, and I have to say that the five stories featuring the five greatest of the thirteen doctors are brilliant! The anthology is a great idea, and Dr Who fans will treasure it!

Zahi Hawass: Tutankhamun

 Published by Thames & Hudson August 2018

902rThe tomb of Tutankhamun, with its breathtaking treasures, remains the most sensational archaeological find of all time. This brilliantly illustrated volume takes the reader through Tutankhamun’s tomb room-by-room in the order that it was discovered and excavated by Howard Carter in 1922. Dr Zahi Hawass imbues the text with his own inimitable flavour, imagining how the uncovering and opening of the tomb must have felt for Carter, while Sandro Vannini’s extraordinary photographs reproduce the objects in infinitesimal detail. With stunning full-colour spreads and foldouts throughout the book, this sumptuous volume is the definitive record of Tutankhamun’s glittering legacy.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Adventures of Howard Carter and Zahi Hawass • The Stairway and Entrance Corridor • The Antechamber • The Burial Chamber • The Treasury • The Annexe • Conclusion

The unique treasures of the tomb of Tutankhamun are encapsulated in this stunning book for all time – it is one thing to revel in the many documentaries on TV about Egyptology, many of them presented by the brilliant and enthusiastic Zahi Hawass – it’s quite another to be able to own such a brilliant book and to be able to revisit the treasures over and over again at your leisure. The quality of the photographs is second to none – I remember when I worked in the public library service in Stevenage New Town, we always took special care with the Thames and Hudson books, and it seems nothing has changed. Their production values are mind-blowing. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to own a book like this. Quite extraordinary to be in the presence of such an account of one of the most remarkable treasure troves of the ancient world. Breathtaking.

Giorgio Vasari: The Life of Leonardo da Vinci

 Published by Thames & Hudson February 2019

902sThis beautiful edition offers a literary translation that respects the 16th-century Italian, transposing Vasari’s vocabulary into its modern equivalent. Martin Kemp is an eminent scholar, who has written on the vocabulary of Renaissance writings on art, and has co-translated Leonardo on Painting and Leonardo’s Codex Leicester. Translated in partnership with Lucy Russell, the text will be the first to cover both the 1550 edition and the expanded version of 1568, and the first to integrate the texts of the two editions on the page. Discreet endnotes will provide succinct comments in the light of modern knowledge of Leonardo’s career.

Illustrated with all the works of art discussed by Vasari and a selection of Leonardo’s studies of science and technology, this will be the perfect accompaniment to Leonardo’s 500th anniversary celebrations.

This is a superb translation of Vasari’s ground-breaking work on the inimitable Leonardo Da Vinci. Not many illustrations, but everyone knows of Da Vinci’s genius, not everyone will know his life story. Meserising.

Sophie D Coe & Michael D Coe: The True History of Chocolate

 Published by Thames & Hudson February 2019

902tChocolate – ‘the food of the Gods’ – has had a long and eventful history. Its story is expertly told here by the doyen of Maya studies, Michael Coe, and his late wife, Sophie. The book begins 3,000 years ago in the Mexican jungles and goes on to draw on aspects of archaeology, botany and socio-economics. Used as currency and traded by the Aztecs, chocolate arrived in Europe via the conquistadors, and was soon a favourite drink with aristocrats. By the 19th century and industrialization, chocolate became a food for the masses – until its revival in our own time as a luxury item. Chocolate has also been giving up some of its secrets to modern neuroscientists, who have been investigating how flavour perception is mediated by the human brain. And, finally, the book closes with two contemporary accounts of how chocolate manufacturers have (or have not) been dealing with the ethical side of the industry.

This is an attention-grabbing account of the foodstuff that gives the most pleasure to human beings. I remember reading the novels about  Angélique in the late 1950s, and one volume certainly mentioned the opening of a coffee shop in Paris that specialised in serving the latest sensation – chocolate. That was fiction, this is fact, and it is an engaging and entertaining story about something that is extraordinarily delicious!

Tess Sharpe: Captain Marvel Liberation Run

 Published by Titan Books 26th February 2019

902qAn all-new original novel in which the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe must free Inhuman slaves imprisoned on a distant world.

When a mysterious spacecraft comes hurtling toward Earth, Carol Danvers—the hero known as Captain Marvel—narrowly prevents it from crashing and killing its mysterious pilot. The young woman, Rhi, is an Inhuman, part of a group who rejected that society’s caste system and left for the stars in search of a new life. What they found, however, was imprisonment on a planet ruled by a cruel patriarchy. There, Inhumans are treated like currency, and possession of an Inhuman girl brings the master great power and influence. To refuse means death, and Rhi has risked everything to seek help. Horrified by the picture the young woman paints, Carol pledges to accompany her back to the planet and pulls together a team of heroes to help. Joined by Ant-Man, Mantis, and Amadeus Cho (Brawn), Carol and Rhi set out to free her family, her people, and an entire planet.

This is not the story of the forthcoming blockbuster film, at least I don’t believe it to be, but it is pure, magnificent, hugely enjoyable science fiction. I don’t believe the cover art is as eye-catching as that associated with the film, which is more sensational, but in this case it’s the story that counts, and this one is quite superb! A handsome title from Titan Books…

Charles & Mary Lamb: Tales From Shakespeare

 Published by Alma Books November 2017

902nIn 1807, Charles Lamb and his sister Mary wrote a collection of stories retelling twenty of Shakespeare’s plays for children. While making sure that the pieces were accessible for a younger audience, they took care to stay faithful to the language and vocabulary of the Bard as much as possible. Ranging from the high drama of Romeo and Juliet to the delightful fancy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the humour of As You Like it, this collection of vivid adaptations here presented in a lavish new edition has been a much loved children’s classic for more than two hundred years, offering budding readers an accessible route to Shakespeare’s works.

The first story I turned to in this beautiful new edition of the Labs’ Tales From Shakespeare was my favourite, A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I’ve never read any edition of this book before, and I have to admit to a slight disappointment when I discovered that the Lambs had decided not to include the Rustics and their play within a play… that said, that’s not the fault of the publisher, but of the authors, and this handsome edition will grace any bookshelf, also the illustrations are quite beautiful too. A brilliant introduction to the genius of Shakespeare.

Francois Rabelais: Pantagruel & Gargantua

 Published by Alma Books Septeber 2018

902oWith his birth itself a monumental exploit in itself, it is clear that the giant Pantagruel is destined to great things, and the novel that bears his name chronicles the remarkable life of the exuberant youth: from his voracious reading habits to his escapades with the knave Panurge and his prowess in battle. The second work in this volume deals with the history of his father Gargantua, whose biography is equally if not more outlandish and larger than life. But these bawdy and boisterous tales, with their fixation on food and faeces, are not just entertaining yarns, as Francois Rabelais, one of the foremost humanists of the sixteenth century, parodies medieval learning, lambasts the established church authority and develops his own ideal visions for the ordering of society. Translated by critically-acclaimed translator Andrew Brown, this edition contains a wealth of material which will make this edition ideal for students

Beautifully retold and translated edition of one of the first fantasies ever written – there is something remarable about Rabelais and his coarse, earthy wit that captivates and entertains – I remember first reading this extraordinary duo of novels in the 1960s, and Alma Books’ superb new edition has rekindled my appetite for this classic romp through 16th century France.

Richard Wagner: Parsifal

 Published by Overture Opera Guides May 2017

902pFrom its conception in 1857 to its first performances in 1882, Parsifal represented the culmination of the themes that preoccupied Wagner during the latter part of his life. This guide includes a series of articles on Wagner’s profound and complex opera, which the composer preferred to call a Bühnenweihfestspiel, a Stage Consecration Festival Play . Dieter Borchmeyer discusses the mythological foundations of Parsifal and its relation to Wagner s earlier works. Barry Emslie’s thought-provoking piece explores the virtues of sin in Wagner’s last opera. Robin Holloway provides a study of Parsifal’s musical motifs, followed by Carolyn Abbate’s article, which examines the relation between music and drama in the opera. Gerd Rienäcker contributes an essay on the dramaturgy, and analyses some of the major scenes. Finally, Mike Ashman writes about Parsifal on the stage. The present edition contains a literal translation of the libretto opposite the original German text, a number of photographs covering a wide chronology to the present day, a comprehensive thematic guide, a bibliography and discography, as well as DVD and website guides. It will prove an essential companion for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Wagner’s final masterpiece. Contains: Recapitulation of a Lifetime, Dieter Borchmeyer; Parsifal: The Profanity of the Sacred; Barry Emslie: Experiencing Music and Imagery in Parsifal; Robin Holloway: Parsifal: Words and Music; Carolyn Abbate: Discursions into the Dramaturgy of Parsifal; Gerd Rienäcker: Parsifal on the Stage; Mike Ashman: Parsifal: Poem by Richard Wagner and Parsifal: English Translation by Lionel Salter.

The only thing missing from this comprehensive treatise on Wagner’s very last opera is the actual story of Parsifal, which I would have welcomed. Also, the author(s) have missed out on commenting on a performance (both on stage and on Compact Disc) by Herbert von Karajan, which was heralded at the time of its release by Gramophone magazine, as the very finest on record. The libretto is handy if you’re intending to follow the performance, but then the DG set has this included anyway. It would have been far better to include some sort of account of the story of the Grail Knight in addition to the very learned and somewhat over-bearing analyses of the opera. But nevertheless, a worthy addition to anyone’s library of books on the great composers.

 

 

 

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