Book cover: The Collector of Lost Things - Jeremy Page - a ship under sail on the horizon, shades of blueHaunted Eliot Saxby is employed by men with more means than sense to search for traces of the recently-extinct Great Auk. He is not the only unusual passenger aboard the Amethyst. Edward Bletchley, bright and brittle, has brought his engraved guns and his mysterious cousin Clara. Will these troubled southern souls find any peace in the blood-soaked travels of an Arctic trader?

Book cover: Signs for Lost ChildrenRecently qualified and newly wed, Dr Ally Moberley-Cavendish has a lot to adjust to as a wife and as a doctor in a women’s asylum. Can she and Tom survive a separation of months so soon after their marriage; is she right to stay behind with her ghosts as he sets sail for Japan?

Book cover: The Signature of All ThingsHenry Whittaker is a ‘useful little fingerstink’. Born to a gifted Kew gardener in the reign of George III, his ambition and determination drive him across the world and to the heady heights of Philadelphia society, reinventing himself as one of America’s richest men. His daughter Alma is a marvel: intellectually gifted and impeccably educated, if socially awkward. The novel is a majestic epic weaving historical facts into a fictional tapestry as she struggles to understand the mechanisms of creation and alteration in the age of Darwin.

When my 's grandmother downsized, I was invited to rescue any books she was shedding from her sizeable collection. This led to a random assortment of older volumes leaping onto my shelves that I would never otherwise have heard of (or acquired) – this is one; others include various early Penguin non-fiction titles of the colonially-incorrect variety, some fringe erotica (cool grandma!) and a much-thumbed copy of Usage and Abusage, which the family couldn't believe I didn't already own. I picked up Liza of Lambeth because I vaguely thought I ought to have read some Maugham and because I used to live in Lambeth.

Liza is a gay young lady of the working class, who lives on Vere Street with her self-absorbed drunk mother, an assortment of cheerful children, and various hard-drinking men and endlessly-pregnant or bruised wives who claim their husbands are gentle when they haven't been drinking. The novel charts Liza's downfall from the well-loved young woman out-dancing the street in her new purple dress to the social outcast pushed into a public fistfight with her rival for the amusement of her neighbours.

Having learnt that it draws heavily on his experiences as a doctor in Lambeth, I take it that Maugham was aiming for a truthful representation of his experiences of the London working class. The picnic sequence lived up to this – I rather enjoyed this glimpse of a day off in the country – but elements such as the dancing in the street to the Italian organ grinder and much of the faux-Cockney language felt like cliches. Perhaps I'm being too harsh (were these tropes already well-trodden by 1897?), but I can't blame anyone but Maugham for the strong whiff of moral and social superiority that accompany them.

Liza is a difficult heroine to root for, being self-absorbed and hard-hearted (perhaps unsurprising, considering her mother); the only likeable character, Tom, is perceived as weak or wet and is rejected repeatedly. Although the narrator never overtly comments on Liza's choices, it's difficult not to read the novel as a cautionary tale. That said, it's even-handed in its disdain for slum life as the men – Tom excepted – are all drunks, braggarts and wife beaters.

However, I found myself most troubled by the start of Liza's affair, largely because