With hair "as golden as the sun" and eyes of azure blue, Louise Colet was the perfect muse for aspiring Romantic writers - and she could even knock up a tasty poulet a la provencale. She was also on her way to being one of the most feted poets of her generation, that is until she kissed Flaubert in the back of the horse-drawn coach. As this gripping biography relates, he proceeded to make Colet's life every bit as wretched as Emma Bovary's.
A Dance Between Flames: Berlin Between the Wars by Anton Gill (Abacus, pounds 7.99)
Life between the wars for most Berliners was dominated by the spectre of starvation. Sandwiches were stowed in briefcases, along with rollmops, meatballs, pickled eggs and gherkins. Spawning the world's first fast food restaurants, Berlin burned the candle at both ends for almost two decades, producing artists as talented and varied as Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Lang and Otto Klemperer. Gill's book thrives on anecdotal reminiscence. Reversed Forecast by Nicola Barker (Faber, pounds 5.99)
Set in the litter-strewn streets of Soho and Hackney, Barker's first novel beds down with some unusual women and practices. Ruby is a devotee of the racetrack, with a soft spot for down-and-outs; Sylvia lives in a room full of pigeons and suffers from a bad dose of bird fancier's lung. It's a book whose images stick around after you've finished reading it ... especially those you'd rather forget, such as the harsh "taramasalata- pink" of a drunk's vomit.
The Brontes by Juliet Barker (Phoenix, pounds 9.99)
It takes guts to write yet another biography of the Brontes, especially with such heavyweights as Elizabeth Gaskell and Winifred Gerin looking over your shoulder, but Juliet Barker has something new to say. With painstaking scholarship, she re-tells the familiar tale with a more sympathetic look at the men in the sisters' lives - Patrick, Branwell and the kindly Mr Nicholls who married Charlotte. Even the best-versed Brontemaniac will find this book a treat.
Lesbian Studies: Setting An Agenda by Tamsin Wilton (Routledge, pounds 12.99)
If the idea of "Women's Studies" sent a shudder through British universities, then "Lesbian Studies" triggered a debate worthy of a medieval theologian. This look at the birth of a new discipline soon reduces the debate to good old-fashioned semantics, confronting such sticky issues as whether "les-being" is preferable to "lesbian". In the "exhilarating gender- fuck of queer politics", word-play, like fore-play, never quite gets to it.
The Married Man: A Life of DH Lawrence by Brenda Maddox (Minerva, pounds 7.99)
A fast-moving, entertaining portrait of a massive talent whose stock is somewhat in the descendant. Unexpectedly, Lawrence emerges as a sprightly fellow who was good company, if prone to inviting you to a "German blood rite on the moors". Maddox is revealing about DHL's mix of crankiness and wisdom. His uxorious attachment to Frieda, despite repeated cuckolding, is one of many paradoxes.
Russia Under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes (Penguin, pounds 9.99)
Unless you're an expert on Russia, your knowledge will be transformed by every page of this outspoken and illuminating history. Drawing on a wealth of material, Pipes substantiates his allegation that Tsarist absolutism, unchallenged by a weak middle class and compliant church, laid the ground for a police state. Presciently (the book first appeared in 1974), he points out the importance of Russia's age-old "endemic lawlessness".
James Dean: Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Paul Alexander (Warner, pounds 6.99)
The introduction contains the bizarre suggestion that being forced to hide his true sexuality was a "much more poignant" tragedy for Dean than the car crash which killed him at 24. Presumably, the blow-by-blow accounts of Dean's gay liaisons which follow are by way of making restitution. The author works wonders in coaxing a lengthy biography from the star's brief life, especially since there is scant discussion of his screen prowess.
Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper (Phoenix, pounds 6.99)
Yet another great work on soccer. Why was it undiscovered for so long? Taking a potentially arid theme - the tangled links between world football and politics - Simon Kuper has produced a book which is both effervescent and hilarious. Starting in Moscow ("the laziest performance by 22 men I have ever seen"), he visits 22 countries, ending in the truly alien territory of Celtic versus Rangers.