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march 2018 - adult fiction

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Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures Underground

Published by Alma Classics 1st December 2017


In 1864, Lewis Carroll sent Alice's Adventures Under Ground, a handwritten and illustrated manuscript, as a gift to Alice Liddell, the daughter of his Oxford dean. This formed the basis for Carroll's Alice in Wonderland - introducing timeless characters such as Alice, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and the Gryphon - although it differs considerably from the later work, with the author himself approving its publication in 1886. Alice's Adventures Under Ground provides an enchanting glimpse into Carroll's imaginative process, and deserves to be ranked as a classic for all ages in its own right.


I've been a fan of Alice for as long as I can remember - and this superb facsimile reproduction of the original tale that inspired Alice is a welcome addition to the canon. It's a slim, handwritten volume, but the ideas, the concepts, the content are all there. Alice fans will have to have this amazing precursor to one of the world's best-loved classics.





Philippa Gregory: Dark Tracks

       Published by Simon and Schuster 25th January 2018

Luca Vero is a member of the secret Order of Darkness, tasked by his master to uncover the truth behind strange happenings. Together with Lady Isolde, her friend and confidant Ishraq, Luca’s manservant Freize, and Brother Peter, Luca travels across medieval Europe – seeking out the signs of the end of days, judging the supernatural and testing the new science.
Trapped in a village possessed by a dancing madness, the group fights to keep their own sanity. When Isolde dances away in red shoes and Ishraq takes dramatic revenge on their covert assassin the young people discover that the greatest danger is in the men who have come to their rescue. These are the truly dangerous madmen of Europe who carry a dark hatred that will last for centuries. 
Dive deep into the world of medieval legends and disentangle reality from fear in this powerful series from the internationally renowned author of historical fiction Philippa Gregory.


Philippa's mediaeval mysteries continue with a stirring tale of secret societies and age-old secrets that threaten the very fabric of existence. The atmosphere is electric as she describes ancient Europe and the people that gather in secret places to plot the world's downfall with assassinations and danger at every corner.An amazing series, quite unlike anything else she has ever written, spellbinding stuff.


Jackie Carreira: Sleeping Through War

       Published by Matador 28th February 2018

Set against the backdrop of real, world-changing events, these are the stories that are forgotten in the history books. The year is 1968 and the world is changing forever. During the month of May, students are rioting and workers are striking across the globe, civil rights are being fought and died for, nuclear bombs are being tested, there are major conflicts on every continent, and war is raging in Vietnam. Against this volatile background, three women strive to keep everything together. Rose must keep her dignity and compassion as a West Indian nurse in East London. Amalia must keep hoping that her son can escape their seedy life in Lisbon. And Mrs Johnson in Washington DC must keep writing to her son in Vietnam. She has no-one else to talk to. Three different women, three different countries, but all striving to survive - a courageous attitude that everybody can relate to. Although Sleeping Through War is a work of fiction, this somewhat hidden history attempts to humanise a few weeks in time that were so stuffed with monumental events that it's easy to forget the people involved. The author was a child in 1968 and lived in London and Lisbon during the 1960s. She met women like these and didn't want their voices to go unheard into the future. Readers of both history and literary fiction will enjoy this emotionally-vivid work that weaves fiction into fact.


This is a beautiful new edition of the renowned classic tale of the French revolution and the undercover agent Sir Percy Blakeney.


Gwynn Davis: Aberystwyth Boyr

       Published by Matador 28th January 2018

Aberystwyth Boy contains fourteen stories that range from the light and humorous to the sombre, even tragic. Seen through the eyes of an unsophisticated teenage boy who may not fully comprehend all that he observes, the stories are a study of character and relationships based on the author s own experiences.

Set in rural West Wales in the 1950s and 60s, the events described are often dramatic, shaping the lives of the author, his family and school friends. The book features a cast of well-rounded and accessible characters, some of whom appear in several stories. Key figures include the author s brother and an uncle, both of whom face challenges that test them to their limits.

The collection was initially published by a Welsh publishing house and was well received. That edition is now out of print. There is one additional tale in this second edition, making fourteen stories in all.


I've included this on the adult fiction page because it's good enough for both young adults and adults alike. Modern social problems are tackled head-on and the result is a staggeringly good read.

Mark Seaman: A Corner Of My Heart

       Published by The Book Guild 28th November 2017

Mary was just seven-weeks-old when she was adopted by James and Carol Rowland following her birth in 1949 in the grim and austere surroundings of a home for young unmarried mothers which was governed by Nuns. Mary grew up living happily within the Rowland family home, accepting that she had been adopted and never seeking to know more about the full circumstances surrounding her being given away by her birth mother, Ruth. Now twenty-eight years on and as a single mother raising a daughter of her own, Mary begins to question those long forgotten and still unresolved questions about her own birth, her mother, and as to why she was abandoned at such a young age. The appalling detail of violence and abuse experienced by Ruth throughout her early life as a young Jewish girl transported to the death camp at Birkenau, and again she struggled to make a life for herself after the war - coupled with the shocking detail of her pregnancy will dramatically challenge and change the two women's lives forever.




Moira Murphy: You Must Be Jo King

       Published by The Book Guild 28th November 2017

Newly single 39-year-old Joanne has decided on three goals to achieve in her life. The first is to train her dog, while she still has some house and furniture left. The second is to try and be nicer about Fran, at least in front of the children anyway, and purely for George's sake. And finally, to "get a life", which with a bit of luck might include some romance. Jo must cope with the teenage intolerance of her children, Lucy and Josh, the demands of her 83-year-old mother, Gwen, and the destruction capabilities of their new puppy, Millie - a leaving gift from George to the children. A hilarious and indulging chic-lit exploring the many encounters in Jo's life - including hopes of romance with an artist, a blind date with a policeman, a chance meeting with physiotherapist, Nick King, and a battle with her ex-husband George's new "soulmate", Fran.





Chris Vale: Listen, It's Wednesday

       Published by The Book Guild 28th November 2017

Listen, It's Wednesday is set in the 1960s and follows a talented member of an all-female brass band, who is rescued from suicide after her world has been blown apart after the loss of her lesbian lover. She is kept going by humour and discovers the truth of Shakespeare's dictum - Sweet are the uses of adversity.












Angela Jean Young: Field Of Dust

       Published by The Book Guild 28th November 2017

September 3rd, 1878. The paddle steamer SS Princess Alice is making a `Moonlight Trip' from Northfleet on the Thames Estuary to Swan Pier near London Bridge. Close to Woolwich town, she collides with the collier Bywell Castle which slices her in two. Within minutes the Alice sinks to the bottom of the river. Six hundred and fifty Londoners lose their lives. It is the worst maritime disaster in Thames history. For days the bloated bodies of men, women and children are hauled out of the stinking river, watched by the children of The Creek, a dust-blown harbour community whose forty six cottages and three ale houses sustain the lives of the labourers and their families who toil in the cement factories lining the Northfleet riverbank. For the ordinary people who live, breathe, love and die amid the dust and grime, the choking atmosphere of the cement factories is taken for granted. For the factory owners, the air they breathe is fresh by comparison. They live above it all. After Florence Grant and her sister Lottie are abandoned by their mother, she uncovers evidence of her parents' secret lives. But it raises more questions than answers. Based on a true story and set against a backdrop of Victorian poverty, exploitation and the fight for women's rights, Field of Dust charts a working class girl's search for the truth about her drunken mother and the wreckage of her family. Florence is a survivor. But will she find the love and happiness she so desperately longs for?


David Evered: Beyond The Arch

       Published by Matador 28th January 2018

A provocative challenge at a dinner party, a serendipitous encounter on a Northumberland cliff top, the accidental death of a friend and the rupture of his marriage converge to disrupt Peter Bowman's well-ordered middle-class existence as he approaches middle age. Peter negotiates a sabbatical from his job as a solicitor to pursue his long held ambition to write fiction. He embarks on an odyssey which leads him to new challenges and loves shaped by happiness and tragedy. When Peter goes to France to stay with Sally, an enigmatic freelance journalist with a troubled past, he takes the first tentative steps towards writing a novel. But can he, as a member of the pre-baby boomer generation, ever fully escape from the constraints imposed by his background and upbringing and embrace the liberal and permissive attitudes of the 1960s and achieve his lifelong ambition? Inspired by modern writers including Sebastian Faulks, Kate Atkinson and Julian Barnes, Beyond the Arch is the debut novel from David Evered which explores the changing society and culture of the late 1960s. The book will appeal to readers that enjoy contemporary fiction, as well as those interested in relationships.




David Taylor: The Man Who Lived Twice

       Published by Matador 16th January 2018

The Man Who Lived Twice tells the remarkable story of a nineteenth century British anti-hero. Colonel George St Leger Grenfell was the black sheep in one of Cornwall s most illustrious families. His wild speculations in Paris bankrupted his father and drove his brothers and sisters out of their home. Wanted for fraud in France and mosque desecration in Morocco, Grenfell became a soldier of fortune, a mercenary who fought in innumerable campaigns all over the world, always with conspicuous gallantry. He charged with the Light Brigade at Balaclava, defended the bullet-strewn barricades in the Indian Mutiny, hacked his way through the Chinese Opium War and helped Garibaldi to liberate Italy. Sailing to America to fight in their Civil War, Ole St Lege became a legend to the gullible hillbillies under his command.

As massive armies collided and one hair-raising cavalry charge followed another, this complex man fell in love with a beautiful spy and came to realise that he could no longer run away from his past. In what was to become a spiritual odyssey, Grenfell met the men and women who made, marred and mythologised the American century: the business tycoons and social reformers as well as the Lincoln conspirators and back-shooting gunslingers. Although seemingly indestructible - in one military skirmish he was shot eleven times without serious injury - Grenfell had to endure long years in prison before his luck finally changed. The Man Who Lived Twice describes a personal search for redemption set against the emergence of the United States as a world power.


Jeremy Welch: Chrysalis

       Published by Matador 28th January 2018

Chrysalis is the debut novel from Jeremy Welch exploring a range of themes in a universal and ultimately hopeful story. The book follows Sebastian, a self-absorbed financier who spends his time wallowing in a social ambiance he despises. Sebastian is dissatisfied with his life and his inability to take any positive decisions since making a catastrophic error when he was a young officer serving in Iraq. When Sebastian is fired from his job, he turns to his ex-lover Zoe who urges him to pursue his passion for writing. Following her advice, Sebastian moves to Amsterdam to try to complete the novel he started as a student, hoping that this will rekindle his interest in life. While living in Amsterdam, Sebastian befriends the ethereal owner of a travelling Spiegeltent called Chrysalis. The cast of the Spiegeltent offer him a glimpse of a life he desires. The only thing holding Sebastian back is his inability to make a decision. Overcoming his usual passivity Sebastian surprises himself by intervening in the assault of a prostitute. So opens the gateway to the underworld of Amsterdam and the possibility of his redemption. Inspired by the work of William Boyd and John Irving, Chrysalis is a unique novel exploring a wide range of themes. The book will appeal to readers that enjoy contemporary fiction, as well as those interested in serious issues such as love, widowhood, post-traumatic stress disorder and migration and sex trafficking.


N L Collier: Home Before The Leaves Fall

       Published by Matador 28th January 2018

Offering a different perspective of the First World War, Home Before the Leaves Fall follows two young German soldiers as they struggle to survive during a period of danger and uncertainty. August 1914: as war breaks out across Europe, German university student Franz Becker rushes to enlist. Franz is nineteen and the war appears to offer and adventure and the opportunity to escape from his dull, safe life. Franz's closest friend, Karl von Leussow, is appalled by the conflict. Karl's family has provided the Prussian Army with officers for generations and he knows that war is brutal and bloody. But Karl too enlists to defend his country. After six weeks of inadequate training, the new recruits arrive in Ypres where intense fighting results in slaughter. Franz is profoundly shocked by the scenes he witnesses, but learns to fight for his life. Promoted to corporal and then sergeant, Franz rises up the military ranks until he is pressured to become an officer. Unwilling to take the `express ticket to eternity', he refuses the role. Karl, who grew up hunting, becomes a sniper much to Franz's dismay. As aircraft - fragile structures built using wood and fabric - start to appear increasingly above the trenches, Franz starts to wonder what it would be like to fly and observe the war from above. When he applies for a transfer to the Air Service, Franz tries to persuade Karl to go with him, but his friend refuses. Both men get their wishes and are transferred. Before separating for the foreseeable future, the two go on leave together, perhaps for the final time. N L Collier draws from extensive research to write a book that will appeal to readers that enjoy historical fiction, particularly that about the military. Home Before the Leaves Fall is the first book in The Flowers of the Grass series, which follows Franz from 1914 to the end of the war.


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.