This month features lots a fiction titles but there are also some particularly strong memoirs.
I read significantly more fiction than non-fiction when selecting for this feature. This is good for me I know, but it’s always pleasing to find some stand-out memoirs. This month, I highlight Noisy at the Wrong Times, a memoir by Michael Volpe, founder of Opera Holland Park (the memorable title comes from a remark made about him in a school report) which will appeal to readers of Alan Johnson’s This Boy. But I was also taken with Marco Previero’s Dear Millie: Diary of a Seven Year Old With Cancer.
Reasons to self-publish are of course various, from lack of success in piquing the interest of traditional publishers to the naked desire to make money. The AlCs survey released last week showed that profits of £7,000 or more are being made by the top 10% of self-published authors. However, I do believe that some authors have more altruistic motives: they want to share their life experiences for the benefit of others. Such a book is Dear Millie, and so is Vegetarian Single Meals for the 5:2 Diet by Liz Armond who is evangelical about a diet which helped her. And Debbie Young, author of my Editor’s Choice, Quick Change is also the author of a helpful and hopeful guide to Type 1 diabetes with which both her husband and daughter were diagnosed. self-publishing is not always about “self”.
Noisy at the Wrong Times: Battles with Myself
Set against a memorable backdrop of nuns, hit men, gangsters, rugby and ice-cream, this is an absorbing memoir by Michael Volpe, general manager and founder of Opera Holland Park, now one of the Uk’s most popular opera festivals. Volpe’s upbringing, in a mostly fatherless Italian family in London, was a turbulent one, and hardly one from which you would expect a champion of the highbrow classical arts to emerge. but at the heart of the matter is Volpe’s time at Woolverstone Hall, a prestigious state boarding school which took bright inner-city boys and gave them an eton-style education, with culture at the heart of the curriculum. Volpe’s sudden immersion in a world of rules, traditions and high expectations produced some surprising—and not so surprising—results. now he looks back in honesty at his torrid path through this extraordinary experimental school and how it changed his life forever. Fascinating.
Quick Change: Tiny Tales of Transformation
p/b 9780993087967, e-book 2940046254983
I was charmed by this bijou volume of very short, flashly fictional stories by the blog editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors, which can be enjoyably consumed in one sitting or savoured one by one like a series of espresso coffee breaks. Ranging in length from a spartan 100 words to an expansive 1,000, they feature such characters as a talking newborn, a mother who wreaks fashion revenge on her teenage daughter and an overweight woman who discovers the Alchemy of Chocolate. The final story—“Upwardly Mobile”, about a mobile library—was chosen for inclusion in Change the Ending, an anthology of flash fiction about the future of public life. Young describes herself as a “cheerful english authorpreneur, speaker and consultant, blessed with a butterfly mind”.
Crime Fiction & Thrillers
p/b 9781781323410, e-book 2940151431392
“Nuclear Apocalypse: Is survival an option?” In 2014, Russian troops invade Ukraine, attacking NATO forces positioned to defend their new ally. After repeated warnings, the president of Russia finally loses patience with the West’s barriers to its expansion and decides a more devastating approach is needed. Three-hundred megatons of nuclear missiles hit the Uk alone. And then purgatory—a living hell on earth— begins. Graphic and pacey account of the aftermath of a nuclear strike. The author formerly served with british Army Intelligence.
The Khazar Codex
p/b 9781784621278, e-book 2940151284080
When fire breaks out in a West End theatre, the Prime Minister’s son Nigel Hastings, two cast members and seven spectators are taken hostage by new Metro, a group militating for London’s homeless. With the theatre under siege, one of the hostages breaks through the theatre basement into a neighbouring vault and discovers an enigmatic casket. Soon they find themselves attempting to crack its ancient codex, one which holds explosive consequences for Judaism, Christianity and Islam by purporting to invalidate their very foundations. Billed as thriller, this novel also contains deeper existential questions.
J F Penn
One Day in New York: An Arkane Thriller Book 7
p/b 9781508643579/ e-book 2940151316415
When a woman is crucified on a burning cross in downtown Manhattan, it marks the beginning of a dangerous crusade. The Confessors seek the powerful relic of a dark angel and they will stop at nothing to get it. Arkane agent Jake Timber is in New York to investigate the 11th-century Cloisters Cross when he becomes entangled in the mystery. Can Jake find the relic of the angel before The Confessors destroy the city? This is the seventh in Penn’s Arkane series of erudite supernatural thrillers, but it can also be enjoyed as a standalone.
A Chance Kill
p/b 9781781323137/ e-book 2940151547024
Can an individual shape destiny, or is it all a matter of chance? In this wartime thriller romance, based on true events, 17-year-old polish Catholic Dyta finds herself on the run from wartime Warsaw owing to her family’s shadowy connections, and on a mission to confront a leading Nazi. Meanwhile, an RAF crew embarks on Britain’s first offensive of the Second World War. Dyta’s destiny and that of the RAF crew edge closer together as the Allies launch a dangerous covert operation to strike at the Nazi elite. Even more dangerous than the enemy however, is the assumption that your enemy’s enemy is your friend.
Romantic & Erotic Fiction
The Faerie Tree
A couple meet again, 20 years after a brief affair, only to discover that their memories of that turbulent, tragic time are completely different. Whose version of the past is right? And what part does the Faerie Tree play in their story? Romantic suspense novel, with themes of paganism and grief: the Faerie Tree was inspired by an oak in National Trust Woods in Oxfordshire. Cable won the Suspense & Crime category of the people’s novelist competition run by “The Alan Titchmarsh Show” ; her book has been praised by both Jeffrey Archer and Sophie Hannah.
In the spring of 1950, young writer Alexandra de Falla abandons her privileged but suffocating life in London and travels to Spain to be reunited with her long-estranged family. Instead of providing the sense of belonging she yearns for, the de Fallas are riven by seething emotions. Then Alexandra meets and falls for Salvador, the mercurial heir to her family’s estate, who awakens emotions she hardly knew existed. But their path is strewn with obstacles and indiscretions. Can love survive in a world where scandal and danger are never far away? Lush and evocative romance by the author of The Echoes of Love, which won the Romance category at the Independent Publisher Book Awards in New York in 2014.
H K Thompson
Tess Dawson had a bad start in life, a start that led to events that she didn’t choose, including the birth of a daughter, Rachel. How did Rachel die? Tess can’t remember. But she does remember how her brother Stephen died—she just hasn’t told anyone. For months before, during and after her trial, she hasn’t spoken a word. Then she meets therapist Evelyn Doyle, and as the whole story of her journey to west wales to see her brother unfolds, it also becomes a race against time. This is Thompson’s début novel.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Noah’s Ark: Voyage
p/b 9781508955436/ e-book 2940151546942
In this, the fourth novel in the post-apocalyptic Noah’s Ark sea adventure series, Captain Jake Noah and his team are struggling to make sense of recent events. When a new hope for the future emerges, Jake must lead his community of survivors on their longest journey yet. But a shocking revelation from his past throws his life into disarray and threatens to undermine his authority.
The Gift Knight’s Quest
p/b 9781784621414/ e-book 2940151551144
Chandra never asked to rule Kensrik, but fate took a strange course, and now she has a reputation as a usurper and sorceress, and is forced to make use of the few loyal allies she has in order to hold together her restless empire and defeat the conspirators who landed her in power. Derek is an aimless wanderer from a lineage long fallen from nobility. He finds himself summoned to serve a family historically considered to be the bitter enemy of his own. The choices Chandra and Derek make will shape the future of Kensrik. Fantasy adventure inspired by the work of Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny.
Young Adult Fiction
Stephen Barnard and Aidan Barnard
Leave the Last Page
Eleven-year-old Tom Holliday feels that life is holding him back, not because of his wheelchair but because of his overprotective father. His only adventures come about via his prolific story writing—until a spontaneous act by his maverick grandmother, and a strange kind of magic bring the world of Tom’s imagination to life. Written by a father and son, this is “a story about independence, family and a mysterious man in a black suit who has no intention of being confined by the pages of a book”.
Biography & Memoirs
Dear Millie: Diary of a Seven-Year-Old with Cancer
p/b 9781784622022/ e-book 2940151633208
Having “long accepted the gentle pleasures of an uneventful and ordinary life”, the author was “woefully unprepared” to support his seven-year-old daughter Millie through aggressive cancer treatment—some of it 4,000 miles from home—when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in April 2013. Taking its structure from dante’s “Divine Comedy”, and moving from Hell through Purgatory to Heaven, his day-by-day diary describes in heart-wrenching detail how he tried to step up to the mark and help his daughter through. The book concludes with a lovely facsimile letter from Millie.
James B Miles
The Free Will Delusion: How we Settled for the Illusion of Morality
p/b 9781784621698/ e-book 2940151226097
In 2009, a British publishing house withdrew its offer to publish this over concerns about the difficulty of marketing such a complex message. “And for many, a deeply unwelcome one,” says the author. Free will is not all it is cracked up to be, because it means never having to acknowledge your own good fortune, or recognise the far greater misfortune of others, Miles argues. It is the conceit of freedom of the will that today ensures that so many at the bottom are denied any chance of social and economic advancement. “Yes, life is not fair, but if we leave it up to the priests and the philosophers, it never will be.” His is an eloquent, persuasive stance.
Ideas for Britain
After his high-profile advertising and marketing career was cut short by an old rugby injury, the author—co-founder of lovereading.co.uk—started a blog entitled “A Different Hat”, in which he shares his observations on life and human behaviour, and challenges politicians to seek more creative solutions. Ideas for Britain collects his posts on a wide range of subjects: from the cruel effects of austerity policies and the impact of social media, to exciting new thinking for the NHS. His observations are often thought-provoking—and frequently provoke much nodding from me.
Food & Drink
Vegetarian Single Meals for The 5:2 Diet
Prolific author of health and diet titles with a straightforward and sensibly arranged guide to the 5:2 diet for vegetarians, both lone-dwelling ones, and those who have feeding a family to consider. It contains plenty of recipes, divided by calorie count; from Fruit Fools (55 calories) to Vegetarian Chilli (390 calories). Author Armond is a devotee of the diet, which she says has been a “huge success for her and her family”.