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.
Anna Jacobs's third and fourth novels in the Peppercorn series now available
Anna Jacobs: Saffron Street
Published by Allison and Busby 22nd March 2018
Nell has come to feel very at home in her beautiful corner of Wiltshire with her partner Angus. What she could do with, however, is a challenge, and the prospect of bringing life back to an abandoned row of houses, Saffron Lane, is just what she's looking for. Stacy, lost and alone after a divorce she didn't see coming, is trying her best to start over. And Elise, battling her nieces who would force her into residential care, longs for a home where she can get back to her painting. When their paths cross, the future starts to look brighter although not all goes according to plan.
When I was a lad in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, there was no library in the village, but two evenings a week, the county library service brought two bookcases full of books and set them up in the primary school where I was a pupil. By the time I was ready to leave for the grammar school, at the age of ten, I had read just about every fiction book going, including dozens by romantic fiction authors such as Netta Muskett. I think the standard of romantic or saga fiction has improved a lot since the late 1950s, with superb authors like Anna Jacobs penning superb novels with great characters like Nell, and series like the Peppercorn series. Allison and Busby specialise in fiction of this nature and calibre, but I have to say that Anna Jacobs has always been my favourite, and this month there are two titles in the series - this is as near to real life as you can get without involving real people. Anna has crafted her novels in such a way that you really want to know what's happening to them, because what's happening to them happens to real, ordinary people every day of every year, and you want to see how they cope on the understanding that such things may happen to you. There's a safe, middle class comfort about many of Anna's books, including the Peppercorn series, and for me, it's that which appeals. These two superb novels will keep me quiet for a few days. They are absolutely brilliant!
Anna Jacobs: Bay Tree Cottage
Published by Allison and Busby 22nd March 2018
The houses in Saffron Lane are being filled with artists thanks to the efforts of Nell and Angus. Ginger doesn't win a place there, but gets a job running the small cafe/art gallery, taking refuge there from her abusive bully of a son. When she meets Iain, sparks fly between them, the first time she's felt attracted to anyone for years. But will her son spoil it? Emil is in town to open the small museum in Saffron Lane and run his father's business. This throws new opportunities in his path, and new problems too. Will the newcomers manage to build new lives or will selfish people destroy their attempts to find happiness?
Rosie Howard: The Homecoming
Published by Allison and Busby 15th February 2018
Maddy fled the idyllic market town of Havenbury Magna three years ago, the scene of a traumatic incident she revisits most clearly in her dreams. Even so, when she is called back to help at the Havenbury Arms when her godfather Patrick suffers a heart attack, she is unprepared for the welter of emotions her return provokes. Psychologist and ex-army officer Ben is sure he can help Maddy to resolve her fears, until he finds himself falling for her, and struggling with a recently uncovered family secret of which Maddy is blissfully unaware. Then Maddy's mother, Helen, arrives and Patrick himself must confront a few uncomfortable truths about his history and the pub's future.
Rosie's strengths lie primarily in the characters that she creates and the situations in which they find themselves. The Homecoming is a story about ordinary people and the struggles with relationships they face. Like the Anna Jacobs titles above, this is familiar territory for me - I get the feeling that Rosie would be just as comfortable with writing about the characters we see on TV each week in Casualty and Holby City. Her powers of observation are terrific and the result is a hugely readable story that satisfies completely. I love it.
James Macmanus: Ike and Kay
Published by Duckworth Overlook 2018
From the fogbound streets of London reeling from the Blitz, acclaimed author James MacManus, conjures a compelling historical novel based on the true story of the secret love affair at the heart of the Second World War.
It is 1942, and war-battered London plays host to the imposing figure of General Ike Eisenhower on a vital mission for the US army. Kay Summersby, an ambulance driver who survived the horrors of the Blitz, is chosen to be his aide, a role that will change her life forever. Charmed by Ike's affable and disarming nature so different from the stiffness of British military convention she accompanies him during the North African campaign against Rommel and the war in Europe against Nazi Germany. Amid the carnage a secret affair unfolds between the General and his attractive aide. Rumours of Ike's infidelity reach across the ocean to Washington and worse yet, to his wife. In a time where scandal and war threaten to break them apart, can Kay hold on to the man she loves?
Ike and Kay is a thrilling tale of wartime romance, brimming with love, duty, sacrifice and heartbreak, set against the backdrop of the most tumultuous period of the twentieth century.
A striking novel about real people who ultimately helped shape the world in which we currently live. Eisenhower was a colossus who strode through the years of the second world war to become the most powerful man in the world. His private life was never that important at the time the world was concentrating on halting the advance of the Nazis, but James MacManus persuades us that, of course, his private life was important to him as he embarked on a secret affaire with his aide, Kay Summersby, an English ambulance driver who survived the blitz. This would have made all the headlines back in the day, but at the time, there were other things to worry about. This is a fascinating insight into the private life of a man who dominated the latter years of the war, seemingly hell bent on achieving one thing only - the defeat of Hitler. In the same class as modern classics such as The Wind Cannot Read. An absolutely stunning book and based on real events.
R D Stevens: The Journal
Published by Matador 28th February 2018
Ethan Willis is a confused 18 year old who struggles with the uncertainties of life and has just embarked on a quest to find his elder sister, Charlotte, who disappeared whilst travelling in South East Asia. Ethan admires and idolises his sister for her spontaneity, individualism and worldly understanding. His quest to locate her throws him into the backpacking world and, following what could be his sister’s ghost, he is taken on a journey through the countryside of Cambodia, into the remotest parts of Laos and finally to the party islands of Thailand.
When Ethan finds his sister’s journal by chance, he traces her footsteps. The travel journal, along with flashbacks to their childhood, reveals Charlotte’s nature and her relationship with Ethan, taking the young man on an existential journey as he is led to address many of his questions about meaning, truth and beauty.
With the help of a Elodie, a fragile and complex girl with whom he has developed a meaningful relationship, and his own growing sense of self-esteem, Ethan begins to question his relationship with his sister and why she disappeared. When he finally learns of a place in which he might be able to locate his sister, will he be ready to find her?
Shruti Trivedi: Dark Knight
Published by Matador 28th February 2018
Once his nation's most beloved Prince and famed General, Aaryan Singh Shekhawat now lives in disgrace, accused of treason and murder in a world where honour is everything. Driven by hate, Aaryan thirsts for revenge and retribution from those who wronged him. When he crosses paths with the sweet but feisty Siya Udawat, a princess from an allied house, both of their worlds are thrown into turmoil. A chain of events is set in motion which pits them against numerous foes, some known and others yet to be discovered. As Aaryan and Siya encounter unexpected challenges and unearth secrets from Aaryan's past that threaten to destroy his future, their journey is changed irrevocably in this story spanning across the grandeur of the Rajputana courts to war-torn lands overrun by enemies. Dark Knight is a tale of passion and promise following soul mates who find each other in the unlikeliest of circumstances and must discover what their love means to them. The story contains elements of action and suspense which will have readers hooked until the final page.
Arthur Clifford: Far, Far The Mountain Peak
Published by The Book Guild 28th July 2018
Following on from Arthur's first novel, Far, Far the Mountain Peak (9781910508206), this next novel follows John Denby into adolescence. As he begins to explore his sexuality, he begins to realise that he is not attracted to females. As he struggles to come to terms with his homosexuality, John is faced with decisions that affect his relationships. As he tries desperately to be accepted in school and amongst his friends, he turns to the wider community and to his religion for help and guidance. But will those that he hopes can help him understand this development in his life have his best interests at heart? Praise for his first novel: "A most welcome return to the kitchen sink drama type of novel that was prevalent in the 1950s/60s... Most enjoyable!" (Books Monthly). "This is a very moving first novel and is well worth reading" (That's Entertainment).
Imogen Radwan: Clarice - A Novel
Published by The Book Guild 28th January 2018
It is the summer of 1969, and Clarice Stratford is reflecting on her younger years. Having experienced a sheltered upbringing in a family who love her dearly, she sometimes feels as though the world around her is moving too fast. However, with her passion for music, Clarice begins to establish herself. At the age of 15, she meets a boy called Jim and falls in love for the first time. Jim seems to be everything Clarice had ever hoped for in love, and life could not be better. Enjoying both stability and a lack of drama, it comes as a shock to Clarice when one night she finds herself confronted by an apparition, who calls herself Amelia. Amelia urgently communicates that a girl is in danger, and Clarice feels the need to investigate further. Following a series of tragic events, Clarice's life is turned upside down and she moves away. A decade later, Clarice is living a hedonist's dream in San Francisco, Wearing flowers in her hair, she indulges herself in drug-induced conversations late into the night. She lives with her lover, Clint in a long-term yet tumultuous relationship. Amelia starts to re-appear and Clarice is left to question the true reality of her life. But accepting who she really is brings an inevitable tragedy.
Will Stebbings: Mark's Out Of Eleven
Published by Matador 28th February 2018
It’s September 1960. Mark Barker has passed his eleven-plus and has followed his brother into Parkside Grammar School for boys. Having two sons at a Grammar School places a huge burden on his working class family and he is already wearing his brother’s hand-me-down blazer, while all around him are wearing brand new uniforms. The Headmaster at Parkside likes to run the school with an iron discipline and frequently punishes miscreants with the cane, putting a tremendous fear into this sensitive young boy. The pupils also fear Mr Tucker, the evil Sports Master who is not aversed to physical violence to instil discipline.
Having been split from his old primary school friends, Mark now seeks to forge new friendships and is reasonably successful, but he is unable to shake off the annoying Jarvis who is forever trying to crack silly jokes and gets Mark into trouble.
When puberty strikes, Mark finds himself discovering new sensations. His encounters with girls are few and far between, but when they occur, it leaves him perturbed and frustrated. However, if encounters with the opposite sex cause him anguish, those with the same sex confuse him even further. His new softly-spoken friend Lenny talks in sexual innuendos and when Mark discovers the truth about Lenny and his friend Toots, he has to tackle his prejudices head on.
Stephen Cardew: Café Britannica
Published by The Book Guild 26th February 2018
Café Britannica: Ten Tales with Tea and Cake is a collection of ten short stories, crafted to be an ideal length for those fifteen minutes of respite. All of the stories are set in and feature cafés from all around Britain (and one’s even abroad).
Perhaps the one unique feature of Café Britannica is its inclusion of a children’s story, designed to be read out but also featuring illustrations, designed to keep little ones’ attention and to inspire them for later.
All in all, Café Britannica is a delicious book – go on, tuck in!
Author Stephen Cardew lives in Matlock, Derbyshire and is a university tutor, teaching English to foreign students who are wishing to progress onto higher degree courses at the University of Nottingham. Stephen has lived in Derbyshire for 10 years but has spent time living and working in Portugal, Hong Kong, Bulgaria and Italy. Cafés are a favourite haunt of Stephen’s, as are pubs, and he has contributed extensively to a blog charting visits to over 100 pubs in and around Derbyshire. Stephen volunteers at the Tramway Museum in Crich where he is a qualified tram conductor.
Gary Santorella: Dyed Souls
Published by Matador 286th February 2018
Symbolises the growing ethical ambiguity of current American culture and examines the notion of identity in a civilisation lacking in substantive culture Set in the 1980's, Dyed Souls follows the life of 13-year-old Charlie; an intelligent, troubled teen, taken from his grandparents by his drug addicted mother, only to end up at Hawthorne Residential Treatment Village. There he ponders Darwin, Socrates, and Plato, and unexpectedly falls in love with a girl named Margo. When she breaks his heart, Charlie runs away, beginning a new journey that will leave him shattered before he finally makes it to Virginia. Back with his grandparents, the return of his mother forces him to learn a bitter truth that changes his life forever. Dyed Souls is more a work of philosophy than psychology, examining an America where the notion of living an ethical life has become increasingly vague, superficial, and distorted, and its implications for a species capable of both great cruelty and great compassion. It is a thought-provoking, gritty novel, highlighting how blatant self-interest and prurient self-gratification has replaced the pursuit of wisdom and reason. It will appeal to fans of literary fiction and philosophical literature. A coming-of-age novel, it is suitable for both young adult and adult readers.
Brenda Turner: The Arnolfini Connection
Published by Matador 286th February 2018
Vilnius, the historic Lithuanian capital, is a city which for the last three hundred years has been fought over and occupied at various periods by Poland, Russia and Germany. In the first half of the twentieth century it is populated almost entirely by foreigners with a Catholic Polish majority and a large Jewish minority. The Lithuanians want it back and will co-operate with any outside power promising to achieve this end. A clandestine love affair, which began in 1919 between two young members of disparate families has disastrous consequences. A vicious attack on the boy forces the girl and her brother to move quickly from Vilnius to join relatives in London. The lives of the Wolowski and Milowitz families in Vilnius are buffeted and then shattered by political events in Europe beyond their control. In both cities they struggle in their very different circumstances to endure the actual historical events surrounding and including the Second World War, when the extraordinary becomes chillingly normal. At significant points they are linked by a fifteenth century Renaissance painting, Jan Van Eyck's Arnolfini Couple. A chance encounter in London reconnects them. Their story moves between Vilnius and London and culminates in the journeys made by the survivors. It ends where it began - in Vilnius.
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.