AzareenVan der Vliet Oloomi: Call Me Zebra
Published by Alma Books 24th May 2018
After the death of her father, an exiled Iranian man of letters, the bookish twenty-two-year-old Zebra finds herself alone in New York and decides to retrace the steps of her traumatic flight with her family from their homeland in the 1990s, hoping that in the process she will be inspired to write a major manifesto on literature. Her first stop is Barcelona, where she meets the Italian Ludo, who becomes her lover, intellectual sparring partner and travelling companion in her picaresque meanderings around Catalonia. A natural-born raconteur, Zebra takes the reader on an irresistible journey through her thoughts, as she conceives elaborate theories about art and is increasingly convinced that her mother has been reincarnated as a cockatoo. Sparkling with wit and mischief and brimming with imaginative vignettes and unconventional musings, Call Me Zebra is a riotous, erudite, unpredictable novel about literature, lust and dislocation.
An extraordinary work of fiction, in some ways a coming of age story, but I have to say that I found the sex scenes a little cold and unfeeling. The dialogue is sparkling, but I feel that the sex scenes rather let it down overall.
Book of the month - Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White
Published by Alma 1st January 2016
In love with the beautiful heiress Laura Fairlie, the impoverished art teacher Walter Hartright finds his romantic desires thwarted by her previous engagement to Sir Percival Glyde. But all is not as it seems with Sir Percival, as becomes clear when he arrives with his eccentric friend Count Fosco. The mystery and intrigue are further deepened by the ghostly appearances of a woman in white, apparently harbouring a secret that concerns Sir Percival's past.A tale of love, madness, deceit and redemption, boasting sublime Gothic settings and pulse-quickening suspense, The Woman in White was the first best-selling Victorian sensation novel, sparking off a huge trend in the fiction of the time with its compulsive, fascinating narrative.
Normally, after a major TV serial by the BBC or ITV, based on a novel by a classic author, such as Dickens, you'd expect to find a TV Tie-in version of that novel. On this occasion there wasn't one, but a couple of years ago the excellent Alma Books published this edition, and my very good friend William sent me a copy. The TV series is mostly irrelevant to this review, except to say that it was the catalyst that prompted me to read it - and I am so glad that I did. The TV version was instrumental in catching the essence of a brilliant story, brilliantly written, and it has been a pleasure and privilege to read the Alma edition. The story is utterly mesmerising, and constructed in a way a little similar to Bram Stoker's Dracula, with large portions of the story unfolded, as it were, by major players in the drama. There is no single storyteller, and it is quite unlike any other classic novel I have ever read, given the time in which it was written. When I was a youth, fourteen years old, embarking on my studies towards English Literature A Level back in 1961, Wilkie Collins was not on the list of books we were expected to have read during the summer holidays, but in my opinion he should have been. The Woman in White is the precursor to every piece of detective fiction that has ever been written. It is as fine a piece of writing as anything Dickens wrote, and in this magnificent edition from Alma Books, it is sumptuously celebrated. Stunning.
Lena Coakley: Worlds of Ink and Shadow
Published by Amulet 7th May 2018
Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, transporting them into the glittering, high society world of Verdopolis, literally. The children realize that crossing over comes at a steep price, but when they try to stop, their creations haunt them. They vow to travel to Verdopolis one more time to destroy it—and risk being trapped there forever. Gorgeously written and meticulously researched, Worlds of Ink and Shadow brings to life the upbringing of one of history’s most celebrated literary families.
Not ever having read any significant books about the lives of the Brontes, I'm not qualified to say if this is an accurate representation of those lives or not, but what I can say is that is a delightful and iaginative piece of writing which cannot help but bring readers closer to writers who have been in the hearts of most readers for many many years. Brilliant.
Jasper Barry: That Deplorable Boy
Published by Matador 28th April 2018
Who is Max Fabien? Is he the loyal secretary and faithful lover of the marquis de Miremont? Or a handsome but unscrupulous trickster, who regards lying as an accomplishment and any sexual quarry as fair game?
Miremont's heart says one thing, his jealousy another. But his obsessive passion for the boy must remain a dark secret-no easy task when his estranged wife and their younger daughter arrive in Paris for a prolonged visit.
Soon the strain begins to tell. The Hotel de Miremont becomes a hive of gossip, mistrust, intrigue and deceit, and Miremont is faced with an impossible choice.
Meanwhile the grim secrets of Max's past continue to haunt him. Has the time come for him to claim his not-so-rightful destiny?
That Deplorable Boy is the second book of the Miremont trilogy, charting the course of a gay love affair between an aristocrat and a former servant in late 19th-century France. Rich in period detail and set in the grand chateaux of Paris and Burgundy, the novels explore the suffocating social codes of the time and the conflicts and dangers they bring for those who must live outside them.
Dizzy Greenfield: Strays and Relations
Published by Matador 28th May 2018
Strays and Relations follows the story of Dizzy, whose search for her birth parents is sad, humorous, and in parts bizarre. Dizzy learns that she began life as a surviving twin, then was fostered until a permanent home was found.
Dizzy begins her search for her original identity. Why was she given up for adoption in the 1960s? Following a tenuous lead, she travels to Ireland with her best friend Sugar, but the trail takes a misleading turn. It ends in what they mistakenly believe is Dizzy's mother's grave.
Dizzy falls in love with Will, a blacksmith. But something is missing. Dizzy's life changes when her birth father Tommy makes contact using a private detective. He reveals that her birth mother is alive and married to a man called Vernon. Now the bigger, trickier task lies ahead: working out how to fit the disparate bits of her life together. This is a book which will both amuse and touch readers' hearts.
Strays and Relations manages sensitive subject matter with engaging wit and sharply-observed dialogue, and includes vivid descriptions of some rather unusual animals and people. It will appeal to readers who have encountered a recycled animal or family.
R S Holt: Modern Magic
Published by Matador 28th March 2018
Modern Magic is an adult fiction that follows a group of friends who live normal lives as shopkeepers by the New Forest and in Bloomsbury. The reader discovers that they also share secret lives of magic. Their charming, amusing and intellectually rich narratives take the reader through magical experiment exploration and daring adventure - raising some surprising emotional conclusions. The Stories of the Overbury Shops are three separate successive stories within one novel, following Pip, Geoffrey and Eleanor - each with their own narrator.
J J Faulks: The Seer's Curse
Published by Matador 28th April 2018
The Seer’s Curse is the debut Pre-Teen novel from a promising young author. Evocative, captivating and endearing with multi-generational relevance. Although set in a fantasy world, it is relevant for today as it deals with friendship, acceptance and self-discovery. Orleigh is cursed. Or so the other villagers believe. With each harvest worse than the last, something must be done. And so they consult the Seer. A deal is struck: the village will thrive once more, but in return, Orleigh must be sacrificed to the Earth God, Teymos. Years later, when Orleigh’s closest friend, Piprin, learns that Orleigh might still be alive, he resolves to rescue her and to return her to the Land of Mortals. Guided by the Seer and the myths of his childhood, Piprin sets out on a quest to the Land of Gods, where mortals like him are forbidden. But will Piprin survive his quest? And why is the Seer so interested in Orleigh’s fate? A tale of friendship, acceptance and self-discovery, filled with a new mythology, The Seer’s Curse is a moving debut to be enjoyed by all fantasy fans.
Judith Thomson: The Distant Hills
Published by The Book Guild 28th July 2018
1689. England is about to be plunged into a war with France. To say this does not suit half-French Philip Devalle would be an understatement. With King William III now ruling England, Philip, whose efforts during the ‘Glorious Revolution’ have helped put William there, is secure - for the moment. But his scheming has made him unpopular with many. William and Mary have no children, and with Mary’s sister, Anne, heir to the throne, Philip fears his future may yet be uncertain.
When he receives an invitation to meet with King Louis, the French King he has served in the past, Philip is intrigued. A gambler at heart, he risks the consequences and travels to Versailles, in the hope that it might be to his advantage. He believes he has no enemies in France. He is wrong.
Now with his life in peril, Philip must learn who wants him dead - and seek retribution. For this adventure to end well, no-one can be above suspicion... not even Louis himself.
A fantastic addition to the engaging and educational Philip Devalle series, this standalone novel will appeal to those fascinated by history’s political intrigues and larger-than-life characters, as well as those who enjoy a deft plot based on true events, where murder and scandal is rife and where players hide their motives in shadows.
Norm D'Plume: Seeking Atticus
Published by The Book Guild 28th April 2018
Laugh out loud in the face of Liv's adversity as she blunders through life, lurching from one catastrophe to the next, in her struggle to escape her disastrous marriage and build a new life for herself and her two young sons. Set in the mid-eighties, Seeking Atticus is a funny, heart-warming story that begins with a letter that finds thirty-something Olivia, living and working at a friend's boarding kennels as she awaits the outcome of an impending court case to determine her financial settlement from her recent divorce. From one debacle to another, it is her blossoming friendship with Michael that keeps her, just about, on the right side of sanity... Michael and Atticus Finch, of course! With Atticus's moral compass as her guide, Liv attempts to steer a course through troubled waters in her quest to find happiness on the other side.
Vivienne Vermes: The Barefoot Road
Published by Matador 28th April 2018
Vivienne Vermes' debut novel is a gripping read which will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, thrillers and evocative themes. The book begins with a young woman found, emaciated and unconscious, in the mountains surrounding a village in Transylvania. When it is discovered that she is of an ethnic group which was violently driven out of the regions many years before, old wounds are reopened as the villagers are reminded of their role in the bloodshed.
An uneasy peace is maintained until a young married man falls in love with the girl, and tension begin to rise within the community. The mysterious disappearance of a child causes this tension to mount into hysteria, driving the story to its chilling outcome.
The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its twenty-first 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.