Click to follow

Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet by Shyama Perera, Sceptre £6.99

Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet by Shyama Perera, Sceptre £6.99

Bright and breezy chick-fic set in multi-ethnic, 1970s London by (so it says on the cover) the first Sri Lankan to be born in Moscow. However, that is not the only thing to recommend this lively first novel. Perera writes winningly about budding young girls, and recalls the feel-good innocence of the 1970s with brio. Eight-year-old Mala and her gang pursue Sindy dolls, sweets and Marc Bolan records before moving on to young men drenched in patchouli oil. For a while, they live the dream that they can be anyone and anything, but growing up amid skinheads and other undesirables realigns their expectations. Ultimately, this is a superficial take on the rites-of-passage genre, but is enjoyable for its period detail.

Gwen Johnby Alicia Foster, Tate £8.99

Gwen John lived a reclusive life in the vibrant artistic centres of Paris and London during exciting times. She is best known as a portraitist of solitary female figures in interior settings. This has led critics to interpret her in terms of her self-imposed isolation, but Alicia Foster rejects this one-dimensional reading. The result is a comprehensive analysis of the woman who was once Auguste Rodin's lover, and, more importantly, whose paintings were at the crux of changing attitudes towards women. Foster reclaims her subject's central place in the art world of the 1930s to 1940s. Her account is enlightening, especially on John's fascination with Catholicism, even though the delicacy of the artist's subtle palette is ill-served by the reproductions.

Visions of Heaven by Tom Wilkie and Mark Rosselli, Hodder £14.99

Spectacular images of quasars, distant galaxies and stellar nurseries where fledgeling stars are hatched out of immense clouds of gas and dust, accompanied by a text sufficiently dumbed-down for the average punter, constitute this awe-inspiring celestial celebration. Human ingenuity gets a look in as well, with pictures of white-clad repairmen fiddling with giant external telescopes hurtling through the universe at 18,000 miles per hour. Their mission: to place a pair of space spectacles on the mirror responsible for collecting light from distant objects. Its curvature was out of whack by approximately one 50th of the diameter of a human hair. The conjunction of deep space with precision engineering makes for a thrillingly complex story.

Lord of the Barnyard by Tristan Egolf, Picador £6.99

This frighteningly energetic first novel opens with the death of a woolly mammoth in the last ice age and concludes with a funeral cortege in the process of being chased by a greased pig in contemporary Middle America. Egolf is dazzlingly talented - his inventiveness never falters, and the reader is forced to commune with a man driven mad by years of quiet desperation on the factory floor.John Kaltenbrunner is an autodidact goat-roping farm boy who engages on a romp that takes in far too many bizarre incidents to list here. More intriguing is Egolf's pitiless portrayal of a weary man who when he does "crack the case and get the big picture, [is] really no longer a part of it".

The Happy Ant Heap and Other Pieces by Norman Lewis, Picador £7.99

Norman Lewis has written 13 novels but is best known as a travel writer. He is over 90 but continues to travel to the obscure ends of the earth in order to bring back the glories and oddities he finds. In this collection of essays, his keen eye for jarring details and human idiosyncracies is refreshing. He opens with a charming memoir of his childhood in an Essex village presided over by Colonel Sir Henry Ferryman Bowles, "a sporadically benevolent tyrant who would not have been out of place in Tsarist Russia". His unflappable style is the perfect antidote to the implicit theme of this collection: war, crime and regret for the world we have lost.