books monthly march 2017

This month's pick of the new Adult Fiction titles...

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Bernard Hall: Miss Perfect

Published by Matador 28th March 2017

 

Looking back from Ireland, Miss Madge Perfect remembers the time when social work was her life - before Dan, her ambitious young deputy, conspired with the bosses at County Hall to 'ease her out'. They called it 'restructuring', with no place for a fifty-something woman who put her clients first. The arrival of the oddball sociology professor, Mitchell, hired by County Hall to evaluate service delivery in her office, brings a change in Madge's outlook on her life and work - his university seems as mad as her local authority. Mitchell catching fire is good for a laugh, but after he is disgraced following allegations by a female student, Madge's feelings hibernate again. When a child in her care goes missing and a body is reported, she becomes the centre of a media firestorm as the suits prepare to dismiss her. Waiting in the wings, however, is Billy, a client in his childhood but now deputy manager and bouncer at the Golden Slipper massage parlour. Billy has information to her advantage but wants something in return. Can she sacrifice her principles and resort to blackmail? In this humorous and thoughtful novel set in a gritty town in the north-east of England between the Falklands War and the miners' strike, two middle-aged people, surrounded by 'young people nowadays', find ways of making sense of life, love and the meaning of happiness in middle age.

 

 

 

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Philippa Gregory: Three Sisters, Three Queens

Published by Simon and Schuster 23rd February 2017

 

“There is only one bond that I trust: between a woman and her sisters. We never take our eyes off each other. In love and in rivalry, we always think of each other.”
    When Katherine of Aragon is brought to the Tudor court as a young bride, the oldest princess, Margaret, takes her measure.  With one look, each knows the other for a rival, an ally, a pawn, destined – with Margaret’s younger sister Mary – to a sisterhood unique in all the world. The three sisters will become the queens of England, Scotland and France.
    United by family loyalties and affections, the three queens find themselves set against each other.  Katherine commands an army against Margaret and kills her husband James IV of Scotland. But Margaret’s boy becomes heir to the Tudor throne when Katherine loses her son. Mary steals the widowed Margaret’s proposed husband, but when Mary is widowed it is her secret marriage for love that is the envy of the others. As they experience betrayals, dangers, loss and passion, the three sisters find that the only constant in their perilous lives is their special bond, more powerful than any man, even a king.

 

This was my adult book of the month when it was first published in hardback last year, and I had no hesitation in choosing it as my adult book of the month again now it's available in paperback. There is talk of a second series based on Philippa's Cousins' War series, and this fantastic book gives so much background detail on the three "sisters", Katherine, Margaret and Mary that you simply have to read it! Philippa has done more than any other historical author to raise the profile of the cousins' war (the wars of the Roses). Note the looming presence of Henry VIII in the background on the front cover... This is brilliant historical fare, brilliant!

 

Brian Stanyer: The King's Tower Rascal

Published by The Book Guild 28th January 2017

 

Even as a little boy, Eric Bovin wonders how God can really exist in a world where he allows terrible things to happen. As he grows up, his own life, as he painfully discovers, is beset by overwhelming tragedy and grief. And yet... he survives and even finds happiness and fulfilment. How, he comes to wonder, can a life be both happy and sad, both charmed and cursed? This is the central theme of this quietly moving novel tracing the story of a working man across seven decades - from his difficult, troubled childhood in wartime, through his youth as a farm labourer and his maturity as a successful businessman and loving husband and father, to his rediscovery of self and family after devastating loss in his final, declining years. Set against the urban sprawl of England's north-west and the idyllic landscapes and villages of the surrounding countryside, this heartfelt novel will strike a chord with every reader.

 

Brian  Stanyer revives the heady prose of books like those of Laurie Lee in this stunning saga that traces the story of Eric Bovin, a farm labourer, who lives through most of the 20th century. A thoroughly engaging and satisfying read.

 

Bethany Askew: Poppy's Seed

Published by Matador 28th February 2017

 

“They had talked about it for years. Looked forward to it. It was their dream. Somehow the reality isn’t living up to the dream.”

When Emily and Peter Stanchester retire to Lyme Regis, they both struggle to adapt to their new life. Peter misses his routine and the feeling of being important and useful; Emily misses her freedom and her friends at work. The happy retirement they had been looking forward to seems out of reach and their once-unshakeable marriage is on the brink of falling apart.

Practical and optimistic, Emily adjusts more quickly. She finds new interests and makes new friends. But with no clear picture of how to spend his retirement, Peter is at a loss. He has no outside interests and feels useless and worthless. Left alone at home, he becomes resentful, moody and needy.

When Emily meets local artist Poppy James, she is instantly drawn to her. With her bohemian lifestyle, dubious reputation and total disregard for convention, Poppy is unlike anyone Emily has ever known. Peter, too, is fascinated by her, and flattered when she turns to him for advice. But is Poppy really who she says she is? And what exactly does she want from them both?

Poppy’s Seed is a contemporary novel that explores the changing dynamics of relationships at different points in life. It will appeal to fans of William Boyd, Anne Tyler and Maggie O’Farrell and readers interested in stories about women’s lives and relationships.

 

Poppy's Seed is one of those thought-provoking relationship studies that blossoms into something quite extraordinary. One can never tell what's going on in other people's minds, and Bethany describes a group of people in the latter stages of their lives who come into contact with and are affected by someone from outside their sphere of existence. Superb!

 

Natasha Itzcovitz: The Whimsical Fashion Colouring Book

Published by Matador 28th January 2017

Welcome into the little head of fashion designer Natasha Itzcovitz! The Whimsical Fashion Colouring Book is a fun and fashion-centred colouring book for all budding fashionistas. With 100 hand-drawn fashion illustrations there's plenty of fabulous outfits to colour in. Full of crazy and wacky outfits, this book follows fashion through the ages, from famous fashionistas including Marie Antoinette and Jane Austen, to more contemporary styles including boho chic and hipster street style. Release your inner fashionista and get creating. Similar to colouring books such as Iain R Webb's Vogue Colouring Book, Parisian Street Style by Zoe de Las Cases and My Fashion Colouring Book by Marie Perron, The Whimsical Fashion Colouring Book is a colouring book that will be enjoyed by fashionistas of all ages.

 

Absolutely perfect for people with a passion for passion - not for me, I'm afraid, the industry and everything about it is anathema to me!

 

David Hewitt: Joseph, 1917

Published by Matador 28th February 2017

Joseph didn't want to go to war. He wasn't a conscientious objector, but neither was he garlanded with battle honours. He resembles none of our burnished archetypes and he isn't the sort of man books are normally written about. He fought only because a military tribunal forced him to. That tribunal sat in Westminster, many miles away, and it was led by the Marquess of Salisbury. The Westminster decision so enraged Joseph's friends and neighbours that his own, local tribunal went on strike. Drawing on legal records and vibrant newspaper reports of the time, Joseph, 1917 raises an interesting question - if you put a man in harm's way then realise you made a mistake, shouldn't you at least try to make amends? The book also offers some thoughts on tribunals and the law they applied and about the different ways they let Joseph down. But it is also interested in the events and characters of the time and the strange story of the place Joseph called home. Joseph, 1917 is a book that is different in its subject and its scope from almost every other one published about the war and would serve as the perfect complement to those books. It combines several genres in which there is currently great interest - not only is it a military history, it is a life story and it contains a good deal of social history (and even genealogy) and legal and political history. It is likely to appeal not only to devotees of Richard Holmes, but also to people who enjoy Who Do You Think You Are? and The Secret History of My Family and to readers of History Today.

 

There must have been countless hundreds of thousands of men who didn't want to go to war. Hewitt's book centres on one man and the way he was treated by the war tribunals that tried his case after the war. Ponderous but thought-provoking.

 

Sandra Wallman: Listening For Water and Other Stories

Published by Matador 28th January 2017

Listening for Water is a fascinating collection of short stories which introduce a range of people mis-placed by migration or circumstance. Over the course of the nineteen tales, Sandra Wallman explores those moments of decision and encounter that make all the difference between salvation and disaster. The title piece describes a good man's life blighted by memories of a single failure. In others a group of Sunday strollers witness the leap of a girl from the Golden Gate Bridge; a Ugandan in France brings her own way of honouring the death of a neighbour; a woman discovers the limits of motherly love when tending to a very different kind of infant...These stories are as varied in their style and themes as they are in their setting. Some have no geography, four are set in Africa, two in France, others span as wide as Germany, London, Amsterdam and San Francisco...Listening for Water is fiction lit by its author's ethnographic skill. In stories threaded with delicacy and humour, the edginess of life everywhere is richly observed.

 

Selections of contemporary short stories are always welcome as a change from some of the gigantc blockbuster novels that are around at the present time... Sandra's stories are well-written and draw you in easily.

 

Joobin Bekhrad: Coming Down Again

Published by Matador 28th January 2017

One seemingly endless summer in Tehran, Asha, a broken-hearted schoolboy on sleepy Cypress Lane, finds himself with nothing to do. Nothing, that is, except daydream about escaping to London to become a rock and roll star, wait for Keith Richards and the Stones to come on the television, let his imagination run amok in his mum's closet, and pine away in vain for Arezu, the pretty girl upstairs who's hit it off with a classmate of his. Down and out in the manic, bustling Iranian capital, Asha only finds solace in Ghermezi, his battered cherry-red guitar, the pin-ups on his bedroom wall, and his dreams. Though he longs to leave Tehran, in which he sees no place or future for himself, he also holds in his heart a special love and affection for the only city he's ever known. Written in Bekhrad s signature prose, with vivid descriptions of Tehran, references to rock and roll, and heavy doses of angst interlaced with humour, Coming Down Again paints at once a delicate, endearing portrait of a disillusioned Iranian teenager and a city so often misunderstood. Bekhrad s book is also a must-read for rock and roll lovers, as well as those interested in learning more about the post-Revolution Iranian experience.

 

With Iran once again at the forefront of world news following the election of the madman, Donald J Trump to the White House, this is a must-read story, brilliantly told by Joobin Bekhrad...

 

Mary Alexander: The Wind On His Back and Other Stories

Published by Matador 28th January 2017

The Wind on his Back is a beautifully-written collection of six short stories that explore different aspects of love. From a furious divorced man who refuses to forgive his errant wife, to the wife faced with losing her husband of 30 years to a sudden terminal illness, to the motley group of relatives who come together to celebrate Christmas Eve, each story has love - and its offspring, pain and loss - at its core. Each story can be read independently of each other, although they are united by a common theme of love. The Wind on his Back will have you feeling a range of emotions as you share in the highs and lows in the relationship in each story, and will appeal to fans of female novelists such as Barbara Pym, Donna Tartt and Kate Atkinson, all of which the author enjoys herself. The Wind on his Back is a heartfelt collection that is ideal for those who are looking to dip in and out of a love story.

 

Another delicious collection of bright, cheery short stories, one of which will almost certainly match your mood for the day.

 

Tanya Van Hesselt: On Human Telling

Published by Matador 28th January 2017

A sharp-eyed look at the mysteries of love and obsession. Wharton is the quintessential English town, home to a famous public school, sought after for its comfortable middle class values - and where three families live side by side, hiding their private terrors and desires...a teenage boy afraid to come out, a mother driven by OCD, a small child who won't speak, a daughter leading a secret life, a guilty father waiting to leave. But there is also their music teacher Jane, a thirty-something innocent at large, struggling with jealousy, out of step with her old religious certainties. An unspoken love affair begins, only to be blighted by Ellen, aged eleven, a knife scar running down her face, desperate to keep her father to herself. The attempted suicide of a bullied teenager brings Wharton's disturbing undercurrents to the surface and relationships of all kinds must be re-negotiated if they are to survive. From the prize-winning author of All Desires Known, a subtle examination of romantic and family conflict that is both devastating and funny, while all the time reminding us of the ultimate triumph of goodness.

 

Tanya van Hesselt's novel will correspond with the trials and tribulations of many families of today...

 

Nima Lee: The Colour of Red

Published by Matador 28th January 2017

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. This extraordinary, yet relatively unknown period, is vibrantly captured in a sequence of short stories, full of tragedy, humour and satire in beautifully crafted vignettes of life at the time, both ordinary and otherwise. The Colour of Red is a gripping debut collection of short stories, set in China, and is based on true events that took place between 1966 and 1976. Nima Lee paints the moving human dramas behind this turbulent period in a powerful amalgam of betrayal, love, hate, ridicule and brutality. With the revival of an autocratic personality cult in China today, it is a stark reminder of potential catastrophic consequences. Stories include The Helmsman, which is a unique portrayal of Mao as an ordinary man in an ordinary day, elevated to an extraordinary position. In contrast to many books, Lee encourages the reader to form their own views and judgements on this prominent historic figure who dominated Chinese politics for a century. In stark contrast, The Autumns Tale will touch your heart at the fate of two young lovers, while Mango recounts perhaps one of the most bizarre episodes in recent history. In this remarkable collection Nima Lee reveals both the tribulations inflicted upon and the resilience of ordinary Chinese people through her variety of characters including a ten-year-old girl, a journalist, red guards, university students and soldiers. Written in chronological order, The Colour of Red is a highly informative and thoroughly entertaining collection that uses historical facts to bring fictional characters to life. In every sense, Lee has made the Cultural Revolution unforgettable, skilfully navigating the subject and exploring the politics of the time without being judgemental, maintaining a high level of writing that moves one to tears.

 

Ruth Hartley: The Tin Heart Gold Mine

Published by Matador 28th January 2017

Heart of Darkness and Lust for Life collide as the Cold War in Africa gets hot. Lara, the artist, loves both Oscar, a suave, older entrepreneur, and owner of the Tin Heart Gold Mine and Tim, a journalist seeking truth. This is a dramatic story, about vibrant, intriguing characters passionate about art, love, the making of money and the African bush, whose lives become entangled in war and politics. How well do we ever know the people we love? The Tin Heart Gold Mine opens in 1985 with Lara and Oscar, lovers in the wilderness of Chambeshi, surrounded by beauty and hidden danger. It immediately switches to London in 1988, where Lara's past love for Oscar is threatening her marriage to Tim. He leaves for Africa on a journalistic assignment, furious because Oscar has left Lara valuable paintings. It is possible that Oscar, not Tim, may be the father of Lara's son - but Tim wants to be his sole provider. A traumatized Lara starts therapy. How has her passionate commitment to art trapped her in this situation? Lara began her career as a wildlife artist in Chambeshi where she met Tim and Oscar at her art exhibition. Tim and Lara become friends, whilst Oscar commissions art from her and promises employment at the Tin Heart Gold Mine. Lara is fascinated and curious about Oscar. They become lovers. Lara finds first-hand how colonialism and the Cold War are causing civil war in Chambeshi. Tim's investigations into Oscar's work make him distrust the man and his political ambitions, and he tries to warn Lara. Neither knows how dark and deep Oscar's plan for his survival is, where it will lead or the violence that Lara will have to physically endure at Oscar's hands...The Tin Heart Gold Mine is a fast-moving novel, providing an intense portrayal of an artist's life in London and painting the landscape and politics of an African country in colourful and truthful detail. It will appeal to fans of contemporary fiction, as well as those who enjoyed Ruth's first novel, The Shaping of Water.

 

Janet Kelly: For The Last Time

Published by Bobaloo Books 28th May 2017

Alan is serving the last few weeks of a life sentence for murder. Alternative chapters narrate his current life and thoughts, interspersed with a history of Alan’s life and what led him to do what he did.
For The Last Time follows Alan through his very difficult childhood, filled with abuse and poverty and takes him through his first criminal activities, to gangs and then to the event that led to his lengthy and life time sentencing.
But was he really to blame for what happened and does restorative justice work? Who makes that justice happen and what sort of mind sets allow it to progress to something positive?
As Alan looks back on his life he assesses his path with a clear head and shows how much ‘time’ he has wasted. He looks at the decisions he has made and what punishment he has received – not necessarily from the authorities, but more from a vantage of older age and regret.

 

Sorry, but I found this ultimately depressing...

 

David M V Spiller: Caught In The Act

Published by The Book Guild 28th February 2017

Caught in the Act is a collection of various short stories, some of which are based on the author s life and hold an autobiographical element. The remaining stories are completely fictitious, but often hold elements of truth. Caught in the Act conveys the rich tapestry of life and has been inspired in part by events that have affected author David s life. One of the stories, Murder in the Village is based on a true story of a local Reverend being brutally killed; another, Keeping Fit , examines the challenges of losing weight; Sailing humorously explores a couple in the first flushes of romance who don t perhaps share the same hobbies. Varied in tone and content, every reader will find something to enjoy in this entertaining anthology.

 

 

Chloe Grant-Jones: Forgotten In Memory

Published by The Book Guild 28th February 2017

Following the loss of their parents, Joanna, Imogene and Jason focus on rebuilding their lives.

From the outset it is very clear that despite the accident taking place nine years previously the mental and physical scars haunt the siblings. Imogene in particular distances herself from her family. Her relationship with her sister Joanna is volatile as she tries to hide her guilt and health worries.

Haunted by the nightmares of the past, Imogene finds herself descending further into her self-destructing darkness. Will she be able to find peace again, or will those that she thought were there to help only make things worse?

Forgotten in Memory focuses on the concept of memory and how every single person plays a role in the other people's lives, and yet how they are the protagonist of their own lives and hold their own perceptions.

 

Steven Baker: Chesney VC

Published by The Book Guild 28th February 2017

Harry Chesney is having a tough childhood. After losing his mother to tuberculosis and his father to alcoholism, he is orphaned in Victorian England. As a result of losing his parents, he finds himself working in a Victorian workhouse. He then joins the army and rises through the ranks to become the Colour Sergeant and Victorian Cross Holder. However, after a devastating battle during an uprising on the North-West Frontier of India in which every man in his platoon is killed except him, his army career looks set to come to an inglorious end. Eventually returning to England, Harry becomes the guardian of the illegitimate son of Captain Shervington, a late hero of the regiment. In the final twist of the tale, Ravi honours both his real father and guardian Harry Chesney by joining the army to fight in the Boer War…

 


 

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth 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.