Friday, 08 April 2016

Book reviews: 8 April

The Lady reviews of the latest books available to buy and download


books-man-of-geniusA MAN OF GENIUS by Janet Todd (Bitter Lemon Press, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Todd’s academic expertise on women writers and the Romantic period serves her well in this gripping, original historical novel with abundant thrills, spills and revelations.

Ann (perhaps a nod to Ann Radcliffe), the independent-minded protagonist, is a writer of successful, melodramatic, populist Gothic novels featuring innocent women pursued by manipulative villains. She falls head over heels into an obsessive passion for narcissistic, Romantic idealist and poet Robert James (a cross between Shelley and Lord Byron). His self-acknowledged genius conceals the darkness of madness and violence, as she discovers in Venice. Forced to flee or be consumed by this destructive relationship, she makes major discoveries about her psychological and social identity, like the typical heroine of her own and others’ Gothic novels.

A powerful sense of atmosphere is conjured up through Todd’s detailed descriptions, whether the setting is 1819 Regency London or Venice, while the vivid depiction of everyday life’s ephemera, the racy dialogue and elaborate mannerisms, all sound and feel authentic.
Steve Barfield

books-all-in-their-mindsALL THEIR MINDS IN TANDEM by David Sanger (Quercus, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
Mild and mysterious Emerson Limeflower puzzles the people of 1870s New Georgetown when he appears in the hushed area and announces himself as The Maker. They are drawn towards this figure who reminds them of someone else and they are to discover powerful links with him. He, too, is selfsearching, but not without a motive. His past and present experiences are ones of darkness, absolution and love.

Sanger’s assorted collection of characters ring true: sinuous, abusive, vulnerable and watchful. His assured dramatic skills compensate for a plot that borders on unimpressive. So vigorous are his style and visual imagery that a generally rather flat progression of events holds its own for more than 40 chapters. Much of the prose is gritty, but he is still unsparing with metaphor. A ribbon is an ‘exuberant tongue’; a memory is like a barberry twig. Particularly harrowing scenes can pulse gently with sensual imagery.

Sanger’s writing would suit either a concentrated or an expansive storyline – simply with a stronger focus than that here. An excellent novel is surely yet to come.
Philippa Williams


books-book-of-the-weekUnder Medusa’s gaze
HOT MILK by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton, £12.99; offer price, £10.99)
In a scorched town in southern Spain, 25-year-old Sofia and Rose, her Yorkshire-born mother, are on a quest.

Rose has long been the victim of mysterious health problems and has placed her remaining hopes in dapper Dr Gomez, the unconventional proprietor of a remote, palm-fringed clinic overlooking the Mediterranean. Meanwhile Sofia, a former anthropology student and sometime waitress, is preoccupied by catering to Rose’s every whim. ‘My mother will display her various symptoms to the consultant like an assortment of canapés,’ Sofia reflects. ‘I will be holding the tray.’ But even as Gomez advises Sofia to ‘free herself’, fresh entanglements are taking shape in the form of a lifeguard named Juan and a beautiful, gladiator-sandalwearing seamstress by the name of Ingrid.

The poisonous medusa jellyfish that float beneath the cerulean waves point to this novel’s twin interests in myth and the human psyche’s murky depths. Identity, desire, the mother-daughter bond – all are subjected to the Booker-short-listed Levy’s probing. Yet this is also a tale cut with sharp wit, and one from which the tang of brine and the bright glare of the sun seem to radiate: the ideal summer beach read, in fact – although it seems a shame to wait until then.
Stephanie Cross


ISSEY MIYAKE by Kazuko Koike and Midori Kitamura (Taschen, £44.95; offer price, £38.95)

books-coffee-table-bookThe Lady Bookshop Order by phone 0843-060 0035 Calls cost 7p per minute, plus your telephone company’s access charge. Online www. By post Send your cheque, payable to The Lady Bookshop, to: The Lady Bookshop, PO Box 69, Helston TR13 OTP

In the 1980s, Japanese designer Issey Miyake blazed onto the international fashion scene with a groundbreaking aesthetic, one that merged tradition and modernity, poetry and practicality, visually striking form and utterly wearable function. Published to coincide with an exhibition in Tokyo’s National Art Centre, this luxurious book is the first comprehensive study of his work, from his early days through the foundation of the Issey Miyake Design Studio and the Body Series of the 1980s, to his continuing innovation and influence in the present day. Kitamura, who has collaborated with Miyake over four decades, and cultural critic Koike join forces to showcase the designer’s flair for technical innovation and texture-driven vision.


THE SHADOW HOUR by Kate Riordan (Penguin, £7.99; offer price, £7.49)
Following her successful novel The Girl In The Photograph, Riordan has returned with an equally suspenseful story charting the lives of two women in different eras. In 1878 Harriet Jenner takes a job as a governess at Fenix House but, recovering from a family tragedy, she cannot imagine the hold that the house and the Pembridge family will have over her.

Fifty years later, Harriet’s granddaughter Grace finds work at Fenix House and, following in her grandmother’s footsteps, she discovers the secrets and lies buried within the grand house. It’s wonderfully written with a ghostly undertone; Riordan has once again produced a haunting tale.
Lyndsy Spence

THE MINOR OUTSIDER by Ted McDermott (One Pushkin Press, £10; offer price, £8.99)
Ed and Taylor both aspire to write for a living. They become romantically entangled during a directionless summer, but there are two potential problems: the medical condition about which Ed remains in denial, and Taylor’s pregnancy. From these intriguing starting points comes a tale that is by turns poignant and hopeless – and seems destined for failure in spite of the protagonists’ efforts. The Minor Outsider marks the emergence of a formidable talent which, although it remains somewhat raw here, nevertheless demonstrates a vision that leaves the reader eager for more.
Martyn Colebrook

BAMBOO ISLAND by Ann Bennett (Monsoon Books, £8.99; offer price, £8.49)
This is the second book in Bennett’s Bamboo Trilogy. In 1960s Malaya, reclusive plantation owner Juliet is forced to revisit her wartime past when a young Indonesian woman appears at her remote estate.

Their meeting shakes Juliet from her safe but lonely existence and forces her to revisit her pre-war marriage, the Japanese occupation, her imprisonment at Changi and the loss of her loved ones. This is a vivid account of a brutal period and a searing exploration of trauma, memory and loss.
Juanita Coulson


Books on healthy cooking for ‘busy’ people can inspire or irritate. By Juanita Coulson

READY, STEADY, GLOW by Madeleine Shaw (Orion, £20; offer price, £17)
In her bestselling 2015 debut Get The Glow, nutritional guru to the stars Madeleine Shaw claimed that her easy recipes would ‘nourish you from inside out’. Her new offering has the same philosophy – food that gives pleasure as well as health benefits – but here the emphasis is on ease and speed of preparation. It is two books in one, really: 30-minute weekday wonders and weekend indulgences. All of it wheat- and sugar-free, from opulent Sunday brunches to on-thego meals. Courgette and halloumi frittatas with lemon poppy yoghurt would make a divine al fresco spring lunch. Packed with practical advice, it is realistic, accessible and inspiring.

IT’S ALL EASY: Delicious Weekday Recipes For The Super-Busy Home Cook by Gwyneth Paltrow (Sphere, £20; offer price, £17)
The actress who gave us ‘conscious uncoupling’ now shares her culinary and nutritional wisdom in a book designed for mere mortals, apparently by popular demand from her fans and readers of her wristslittingly inane and smug website Goop. Like Shaw’s, the low-fat, mostly sugar- and gluten-free recipes can be made in under 30 minutes. But unlike Shaw, the author is not a trained nutritionist. I found everything, from the beatifically smiling Gwyneth on the cover to the styling and the breathless and patronising tone intensely annoying. Nasties like sugar and wheat won’t irritate your gut, but the book itself might.

Tweet us your recipe reads @TheLadyMagazine using #ladyrecipereads

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