The bookcase

Halesowen News: The bookcase The bookcase

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

By Kate Whiting


New fiction

Back To Blood by Tom Wolfe is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £20. Available now.

At 700 pages, Tom Wolfe's latest tome is a doorstep. But if, like me, you don't have an e-reader, it's definitely worth its hefty weight.

Set in Miami, pioneer of New Journalism and 81-year-old Wolfe mines the race relations of this melting pot for all its worth.

He creates an ensemble cast of characters, introducing us to Cuban cop Nestor Camacho, whose heroics manage to alienate his own people and then the African American community; porn addiction psychiatrist Dr Norman Lewis, who could use some of his own medicine and who is sleeping with his nurse and Nestor's ex Magdalena; Russian oligarch and art magnate Sergei Korolyov, who catches Magdalena's eye; and cub reporter John Smith, who's desperate to expose Korolyov as a fraud.

And he presents this cast through their thoughts, punctuated by bursts of pure onomatopoeia - as Nestor's boat goes SMACK on the water and the music in the strip club goes BEAT thung.

The title comes from the editor of the Miami Herald, whose cameo opens the book, and who pronounces, "Religion is dying... only our blood, the bloodlines that course through our very bodies (is left) to unite us".

Whether you're a fan of Wolfe or not, it's an extraordinarily compelling indictment on the vices of the modern world.

9/10

(Review by Kate Whiting)


Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox is published in paperback by Orion, priced £12.99 (ebook £6.99). Available now.

Dive into the sordid underworld of Victorian London in Elijah's Mermaid, the second novel from Essie Fox.

Discovered floating in the Thames as a baby, Pearl is a web-toed girl who leads a cloistered life in a brothel until she is sold to the highest bidder: a brutal artist whose obsession with painting her as a mermaid threatens destruction.

Elijah and Lily are orphaned twins whose destinies become inextricably intertwined with Pearl's following a chance meeting in a freak-show tent, leading to a dark adventure involving seedy backstreets, Dickensian baddies and a horrific mental asylum for "hysterical" women.

Fox's well-researched novel is an intriguing insight into the discrepancy between the respectability and morality of Victorian times and its fascination with sex, voyeurism and often unsavoury medical experimentation.

Although the novel begins somewhat slow-paced, the second half is awash with exhilarating twists and turns that will keep the reader gripped to its satisfying end.

7/10

(Review by Zahra Saeed)


The Heresy Of Dr Dee by Phil Rickman is published in hardback by Corvus, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.98). Available now.

Phil Rickman's second novel in The John Dee Papers series maintains the adventure theme of The Bones Of Avalon.

Astrologer royal and adviser at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, Dr Dee and his friend and former student, Lord Robert Dudley, travel to the Welsh border in search of the Wigmore Shewstone, a crystal noted for apparent supernatural properties.

With Dudley suspected of involvement in his wife's murder to clear the way for impending marriage to the Queen, there is a dark cloud that follows the party.

The expedition takes a further negative turn when the pair become embroiled in complications relating to politics, corruption, religion and superstition, leaving Dee in serious danger in his family's homeland.

As a thorough body of work, there is much to admire; the plot is at times engaging and the period detail extensive.

However, the narrative proved heavy going and the characterisation grated somewhat, with the guardedness of the period failing to engage.

The overriding difficulty in warming to the seemingly never-ending cast of characters and their subsequent actions ultimately left an unsatisfactory aftertaste.

5/10

(Review by James Cleary)


The Corn Maiden And Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates is published in hardback by Head of Zeus, priced £16.99 (£6.23 ebook). Available now.

The prolific Joyce Carol Oates returns with her 23rd collection of short stories, a morbid series of stories focusing on themes of familial injustice and loneliness.

The titular tale is the collection's real triumph, effectively meshing a creepy plotline with jarring, stream-of-consciousness language.

This story follows a group of teenage girls in US suburbia as they prepare to sacrifice a blond innocent.

Told from the very different perspectives of the confused child, her frantic mother, the plotting teenagers and the wrongfully accused man, it plays to the most common fears of adults and children alike.

Other stories worth a mention include A Hole In The Head, a slow-burning surgical nightmare, and the haunting Nobody Knows My Name, which follows a child coming to terms with the disruption of a new baby.

Oates explores some dark material in this collection, and isn't afraid to throw in the occasional shocking twist. Whether that is a good thing or not very much depends on your capacity for misery lit.

7/10

(Review by Kathryn Gaw)


Winter Wonderland by Belinda Jones is published in paperback by Hodder Paperbacks, priced £6.99. Available now.

This seasonal tome is the 10th novel from chick-lit stalwart Belinda Jones.

Travel journalist Krista heads from the UK to Quebec, spending 10 days in sub-zero conditions to find the most amazing trips for her Va-Va-Vacation website.

After a night attempting sleep in a hotel carved out of ice, Krista - along with photographer Gilles and tour guide Annique - begins to explore the frosty delights that Canada's glittering Winter Carnival has to offer.

Krista soon finds herself drawn to husky dog-sledding champion Jacques. Distant and private, the mysterious and handsome man plucks at the travel writer's heart strings.

As Krista gets sucked into Quebec's Bonhomme, sampling the sweet treats on offer, her emotional walls begin to fall down and Jacques reveals they have a shared secret.

Can Krista find a heated romance amid the frozen landscapes that will also thaw the heart of her paramour?

8/10

(Review by Rachel Howdle)


Two Brothers by Ben Elton is published in hardback by Bantam Press, priced £18.99. Available now

Ben Elton returns with his 14th and most personal novel to date, set in the tumultuous years that followed the First World War.

Tracing the birth and growth of three entities born in Berlin 1920 - two brothers and the National Socialist German Workers' Party - Elton explores the limits of fraternal loyalty, family ties, friendships and adolescent love during the most pivotal and shocking years in modern history.

When the characters are in full bloom, Elton demonstrates that he has learned a thing or two about novel writing and Two Brothers does deliver on readability.

However, too often there are clumsy linguistic choices which fracture the narrative and crush the pace and drama of the novel for the reader, as one is pulled in and suddenly out of the narrative repeatedly.

Despite the frustration, Two Brothers is certainly worth reading and is an undeniable page-turner.

7/10

(Review by Natsayi Sithole)


Children's book of the week:

The Moomins And The Great Flood by Tove Jansson is published in hardback by Sort of Books, priced £9.99. Available now.

One of the first books I was given as a child was a paperback from the Moomin series, with a handwritten note promising Moominmamma would look after me for years to come.

Today, these magical Finnish characters are still popular with children and adults, with a theme park, soundtrack CD and even a phone app launched in their honour.

Written in 1945, Tove Jansson's first Moomin book is published in the UK for the first time with this beautiful hardback edition.

The story, written as escapism during post-Second World War gloom, follows Moominmamma and little Moomintroll as they travel through dark forests and serpent-infested waters in search of Moominpappa.

Their travels through a colourful dream-like world are complemented by cheerful watercolour and ink illustrations.

True to her word, Moominmamma has stuck by me for years and the paperback I owned as a child still sits on my bookshelf.

This edition, no doubt, will bring similar pleasure to young children with bright and inventive minds.

9/10

(Review by Sarah Marshall)


Non-fiction

A Billion Jokes! (Volume One.) by Peter Serafinowicz is published in hardback by Boxtree, priced £12.99. Available now.

A Billion Jokes (Volume One) by Peter Serafinowicz is by turns clever, smutty, cute, crazy and quirky.

Fans of his Twitter wordplay and tangential TV programmes will love it.

Serafinowicz has a unique wit and the short quips and observations have the exhausting rapidity of Tim Vine while being apparently inspired by the sensibilities of the surrealist movement.

At their best the jokes are very, very funny, but they can be patchy. This should be a big hit as a Christmas stocking filler.

The majority of the jokes and warped aphorisms really hit the mark - leaving you waiting desperately for Volume 2.

6/10

(Review by Edward Reed)


The Redgraves: A Family Epic by Donald Spoto is published in hardback by The Robson Press, priced £25. Available now.

This biography of a brilliant theatrical family tells a story so bizarre, it would be considered far-fetched if it were a work of fiction.

It describes enormous unhappiness at times, an abundance of male bisexuality, and matrimonial complications that would not be out of place in a Feydeau farce.

Donald Spoto is a prolific biographer of famous people and has again produced a compulsively readable book.

Sir Michael Redgrave, his wife Rachel Kempson and their children, Vanessa, Corin and Lynn, were all stars. Vanessa, the only one still alive, is by far the greatest.

Sir Michael's life was bedevilled by his guilt-laden homosexual activity throughout his marriage, alcoholism and, eventually, Parkinson's disease.

His unhappy but loyal wife later had a long affair with a married bisexual actor and the three Redgrave children chalked up quite a few divorces.

Despite all this, the family stuck together, retained their dignity in public and went on acting. They deserve sympathy and admiration.

9/10

(Review by Anthony Looch)


Gossip From The Forest: The Tangled Roots Of Our Forests And Fairytales by Sara Maitland is published in hardback by Granta, priced £20. Available now.

Accomplished novelist Sara Maitland can be described as having a magical realist approach to her writing, incorporating fairy stories and folk tales into her work.

It is of little surprise, then, that she has offered us this examination of the historical roots of fairytales and their links to forests to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the first publication of the Grimm Brothers' first collection of fairytales.

At times digressive, Maitland presents us with a tangle of history, politics and nature as she demonstrates the connections between fairytales and forests.

Dispelling several myths along the way, she visits 12 different British forests over the course of a year, describing her surroundings with perfect clarity and ending each chapter with her own unique re-telling of a fairy story.

An imaginative work, but one for true devotees of the genre due to the sprawling nature of Maitland's writing.

6/10

(By Rachael Dunn)


#yourmoney: Everything You Need To Know About Earning, Spending And Saving by Jeannette A Lichner is published in paperback by CISI, priced £13 (ebook £7). Available now.

Today's students are entering a world of record tuition fees and rising unemployment and a slew of money management books have hit the shelves in response.

Jeannette A Lichner's #yourmoney takes a pared-down approach to some of the most tedious but inevitable financial issues facing young people today.

The result is a veritable survival guide to the scary world of finance: from HMRC, to student loans, to achievable savings goals.

There are a few very basic money-saving tips - such as "avoid getting mugged" - but the accessible language, personal anecdotes and inspirational quotes make it one of the more manageable additions to the financial books marketplace.

For veterans of the financial crisis, and financially astute young adults, there will be no huge revelations here. But for young people setting out on the road to financial independence, #yourmoney will be a must-read.

8/10

(Review by Kathryn Gaw)


Best-sellers for the week ending November 17

Paperbacks

1 A Street Cat Named Bob, James Bowen

2 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

3 The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year, Sue Townsend

4 Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

5 Thinking, Fast And Slow, Daniel Kahneman

6 The House Of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel, Anthony Horowitz

7 The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas, Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter

8 The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey

9 Billionaire Boy, David Walliams

10 Mr Stink, David Walliams


Hardbacks

1 Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel,

2 Jamie's 15-Minute Meals, Jamie Oliver

3 Standing in Another Man's Grave, Ian Rankin

4 Guinness World Records 2013

5 Is It Just Me? Miranda Hart

6 Rod: The Autobiography, Rod Stewart

7 Dominion, CJ Sansom

8 Bradley Wiggins: My Time: An Autobiography, Bradley Wiggins

9 Ratburger, David Walliams

10 1,227 QI Facts to Blow Your Socks Off, John Lloyd & John Mitchinson


:: Note to editors: Here is the latest book chart from Waterstone's. The Book Reviews column was transmitted yesterday, Wednesday, November 21

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