Book Reviews

1:57pm Thursday 26th February 2009

< A look at the latest book releases, plus what's new in paperback.

By Sarah O'Meara

NEW FICTION

:: Greenfly by Tom Lee is published in hardback by Harvill Secker, priced £10, Available now.

Lee's deceptively upbeat tone often belies the dark content of his stories. In this mesmerising collection of tales, he explores the human psyche.

Greenfly - the first short story - describes a woman who has quit work and spends her days playing computer games and fretting about a greenfly infestation, while her husband becomes infatuated with a glamourous new work colleague.

Final story Island 21 marks the meticulous routine of a marine stranded on a desert island, whose letters to his beloved reveal a state of mind which contrasts sharply with his organised behaviour.

The border between reality and imagination, sanity and insanity, fidelity and betrayal, and genius and obsession is consistently blurred throughout this book. But Lee's themes are so well-defined that three-quarters of the way through the stories begin to border on predictable.

But while each tale might be formulaic in theme, every one remains daring in setting and fearless in subject.

8/10

(Review by Lisa Williams)

:: The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah is published in hardback by Hodder and Stoughton, priced £12.99. Available now.

Ruth Bussey is a vulnerable, introverted, woman who works for framer, Aidan Seed.

But Aiden is also her lover and while on a business trip reveals to besotted Ruth that he once strangled a mutual acquaintance called Mary.

Yet while Ruth knows that Aidan couldn't possibly have killed this women, whom she saw just a few months ago, Aidan refuses to listen to Ruth and goes to the police.

Soon inspectors Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse are unravelling a web of death, lies and murky pasts.

Sophie Hannah's latest thriller echoes her former books with its twisted, dark characters. From the first to the last page, she creates a sinister undertone of fear and impending doom. The outcome is so unpredictable that it leaves the reader squirming with curiosity until the final chapters. A must read.

8/10

(Review by Caroline Davison)

:: UFO In Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo is published in hardback by Chatto & Windus, priced £12.99. Available now.

This tale of the unexpected from Orange Prize shortlisted author Xiaolu Guo is set in a peasant village in China in the year 2012.

In Silver Hill Village on the twentieth day of the seventh moon Kwok Yun is cycling through the rice fields when she sees what she thinks is a UFO hovering in the sky.

Spotting a distressed Westerner lying in its shadow she instinctively helps. In that instant her life changes forever.

When the stranger repays Kwok Yun's kindness with a large cheque she becomes a local celebrity, but a closely scrutinised one.

Soon UFO hotels are springing up and the village is crawling with officers from the National Security and Intelligence Army, who all have questions for Kwok Yun.

UFO in Her Eyes is told through a series of interrogation scripts compiled by the various agents sent to investigate the strange sighting giving the reader a birds-eye view from various standpoints. An original, if slightly underwhelming, novel.

(Review by Tanya Russell)

6/10

NEW NON-FICTION

:: Hitler's Private Library - The Books That Shaped His Life by Timothy W Ryback is published in hardback by The Bodley Head, priced £18.99. Available now.

A hitherto neglected, but highly significant, aspect of Hitler's life is brilliantly explored in this book.

Its source material is the approximately 1,600 surviving volumes - many bearing the German dictator's book-plate and sometimes scribbled marginal notes - from his original private library of 16,000 books.

Ryback has focused on those which possessed either emotional or intellectual significance for Hitler. They provide a fascinating and often chilling insight into his mind.

To critical eyes, he appeared no more than a poorly-educated rabble-rouser who banned books and whose taste in art was often execrable but, surprisingly, he was also a voracious reader. His library covered a wide range of subjects from cowboy pulp novels to art, architecture and military history.

Liberal or humanitarian reading matter were clearly unwanted and the "philosophical" volumes he enjoyed were mainly anti-Semitic or occult tosh. He favoured those that backed up his prejudices and he undoubtedly acquired some very nasty ideas in this way.

9/10 (Review by Anthony Looch)

:: Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire by Iain Sinclair is published by Hamish Hamilton, priced £20. Available February 26.

Sinclair's latest psycho-geographical report comes from his home borough, and as such is uncharacteristically personal. The tour of forgotten streets, secret histories and local characters is present and correct; but there's also more about family, home and children growing up as the area falling prey to the twin scourges of decay and corrupt, mismanaged 'regeneration'.

The shoddily totalitarian and insensitive handling of the Olympics is a particular bugbear. Sinclair sees the site's blue fence as a symbolic erasure of the history and community of Hackney, benefiting only politicians and "investors prepared to mortgage a city's future on the demolition and ransacking of a mythical past".

One contributor to this "fractured narrative of manipulated facts, poorly recorded and inaccurately transcribed interviews" warns that "careers have been destroyed by writing about Hackney". But this impassioned and uncharacteristically accessible work, which sacrifices none of his poetic verve, deserves to take Sinclair to a wider audience.

Review by Alex Sarll

(9/10)

CHILDREN'S CHOICE

:: Love, Splat by Rob Scotton is published by HarperCollins, priced £5.99. Book and audio CD also available, priced £7.99. Available now.

Splat the cat has got a crush on a cute little kitten at school, but doesn't know how to tell her. He plucks up the courage to write her a Valentine's Day card, but it looks like he's got competition from another suitor, super-confident Spike.

Will Splat lose his nerve, or will love save the day?

This is a very sweet story, beautifully illustrated and written by award-winning Leicester author Rob Scotton. Younger children may struggle to understand or identify with Splat's dilemma (which is probably a good thing!), but there's lots of gentle fun for adults and older kids.

7/10

(Review by Lucy Corry)

PAPERBACK CHOICE

:: The Difference A Day Makes by Carole Matthews is published in paperback by Headline, priced £12.99. Available now

When William Ashurst collapses on his way to work, he decides that the rat race is not for him. Within three months he's moved wife Amy and two kids to the Yorkshire moors and replaced the family Audi with a Land Rover. But how long will urbanite mum, Amy, survive in the countryside?

:: The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson is published as a paperback by Headline, priced £6.99. Available now.

This author's second novel, The Pirate's Daughter, was a huge best-seller, and now her debut is being re-published. Again set in Jamaica - where the author was born and raised - she writes about three women born in this divided and troubled paradise.

BOOKCLUB CHOICE

:: East of the Sun by Julia Gregson is published in paperback by Orion, priced £7.99. Available now.

This story about love, friendship and adventure won the Romantic Novel of the Year 2009. Organised by the Romantic Novelists' Association, the award recognises the best of the year's novels which explore the deep mysteries of the human heart. See if you agree with the judges about this rich and colourful love story, set in India.

:: BEST SELLERS for the week ending February 7, 2009

PAPERBACKS

1 (-) The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson

2 (3) Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer

3 (2) New Moon, Stephenie Meyer

4 (1) The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher, Kate Summerscale

5 (4) Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

6 (-) Miracle At Speedy Motors, Alexander McCall Smith

7 (9) The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry

8 (6) Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

9 (7) When Will There Be Good News?, Kate Atkinson

10 (5) Dreams From My Father: A Story Of Race And Inheritance by Barack Obama

HARDBACKS

1 (1) Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer

2 (2) The Associate, John Grisham

3 (3) Tales of Beedle the Bard, J K Rowling

4 (4) The Magician's Apprentice, Trudi Canavan

5 (-) Wetlands, Charlotte Roche

6 (5) Run For Your Life, James Patterson

7 (-) Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition 2009

8 (6) The Secret, Rhonda Byrne

9 (-) Love Letters of Great Men, edited Ursula Doyle

10 (-) Too Close To Home, Linwood Barclay

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