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Lovely books highlight British natural beauty
'The Coast of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland'
'The Countryside of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland'
Harry N. Abrams, $24.95
Review by Emily Looney
(CNN) -- The old chestnut "You can't judge a book by its cover" surely was not meant to be applied to coffee-table books.
Accordingly, I gave in directly to the beautiful covers of the twin books, "The Coast of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland" and "The Countryside of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland."
These books showcase the acres and shores belonging to Britain's National Trust, a leading conservation group founded in 1895. (Another group looks after Scotland.)
The results are, appropriately, rather British and, as they might put it, lovely.
The books are relatively small and slender as coffee-table books go, but this suits the series approach and makes them more approachable. They still pack in a lot of information.
Many of the pictures, all in color and taken by three British photographers (Joe Cornish, Paul Wakefield and David Noton), are compelling. They show a rural, rugged and even desolate side of England, Wales and Northern Ireland not commonly seen.
There's a map at the front of each book, to help the armchair traveler locate the properties in the photographs; to foster cross-reference, the place names on the map are put in capital letters in photograph captions.
The paper is a solid weight with understated luster. The often-dramatic pictures are left -- indeed expected -- to speak for themselves on this platform.
The captions casually mix references to Romans, King Arthur, Wordsworth and the like with present-day concerns. As British, perhaps, is a caption for a photo showing waves and a corner of sand banked by boulders in Wales: "The beaches here are particularly suited to bathing and family holidays." Well, the sun is shining.
The books do assume familiarity with British geography and expressions. Even having lived and traveled there, I found things at times tricky to follow.
In each book, the map is sized to fit on one page, with names stacked together in tiny type. I often wound up scanning much of each map to find a place name, even with the photos generally grouped by region. A table of contents, regionally based sections and an index would have helped.
It also was unclear how comprehensive the books were of National Trust properties. The point is the beautiful pictures, but lists would have been easy enough to toss in.
And the books included some older pictures, their out-of-date aspects spelled out in captions. These forthright words didn't have it in them to do what side-by-side, then-and-now photos could have.
Still, "The Coast" and "The Countryside" reflect uncommon thoughtfulness. Any set of books that gives two pages to "ladybirds (ladybugs) perching on the reeds in the early morning" at the beach, and to photos looking up into and out through branches of unusual trees, is a pleasure to have around.
More in the series are planned next year, and it no doubt would be inviting to happen upon their covers.
Emily Looney is an editor at CNN Interactive.