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

Ways Of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra is published in hardback by Granta, priced £12.99. Available now.

Rising through the ranks of Latin American literature is Alejandro Zambra, a writer from Chile who has won over critics with his captivating work.

His award-winning first book, Bonsai, has been praised for its stylish and deeply moving prose. His latest novel, Ways of Going Home, is no different.

Translated into English by Megan McDowell, the story's backdrop is 1980s Chile during dictator Pinochet's regime.

Our boy narrator sets the tone from the get-go with his naive, almost humorous account of a major Santiago earthquake, made even more charming by Zambra's poetic touch.

But it is this event that has a huge impact on the boy's life - it's where he meets and later falls in love with Claudia.

In the latter part of the book as a grown man trying to revive his marriage, Claudia returns to the neighbourhood and soon his world is rocked to its core.

Thought-provoking and inspiring, the book also echoes some of the author's own nostalgia of growing up during that turbulent time.

8/10 (Review by Mary Ann Pickford) The Taste Of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena is published in paperback by Atlantic Books, priced £12.99. Available now.

When her grandmother dies, Iris returns to the small German town in which she spent her childhood for the funeral.

She learns that her grandmother, who'd slowly wilted with dementia in her later years, has left Iris the family home in her will.

Surprised, and unsure what to do, Iris decides to take a few days off work, which she spends mostly in the house, revisiting her childhood haunts and memories - both warm and bitter.

Over the course of the week, she realises that it's not only her own recollections, secrets and experiences wrapped up in the familiar walls and floorboards and the apple trees outside, but those of her relatives too.

Through her musings and discoveries, Iris reveals the untimely death that shocked the family to its core when she was a schoolgirl, the hidden romances and dreams, and the rifts and bonds which shaped one family's journey.

Though Katharina Hagena has a background in literature and has previously published books on the subject, The Taste Of Apple Seeds is her first novel.

It's already an international best-seller and it's easy to see why. Hagena's sensitivity and attention to detail, and a narrator whose honesty and comical clumsiness keep the story light and engaging, have universal appeal.

8/10 (Review by Abi Jackson) The Chessmen by Peter May is published in hardback by Quercus, priced £14.99. Available now.

The final part in a best-selling trilogy of crime thrillers by journalist-turned-novelist Peter May finds former cop Fin Macleod running into old friends on the bleak but beautiful Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides.

The discovery of a body and a plane at the bottom of a lake starts a murder hunt, with the plot moving backwards and forwards through the decades - and a long-buried secret coming to the surface.

May does a good job of evoking old memories from Macleod's misspent youth, but the constant shuttling between the present day and the mystery's roots stops the story building up a head of steam until the very end, where several twists are crammed into the final pages.

Despite that, it is an enjoyable story and fans of the first two books will love it.

7/10 (Review by Robert Dex) Little Known Facts by Christine Sneed is published in paperback by Bloomsbury, priced £12.99. Available January 17.

Christine Sneed's debut novel follows her short story collection Portraits Of A Few Of The People I've Made Cry, which was named the Chicago Writers Association's Book of the Year in 2011.

Little Known Facts charts the trials and tribulations of the children of Renn Ivins - a renowned Hollywood actor-turned-director - as they deal with living in his rather large shadow.

Will is trying to forge his own identity, something that proves tricky when he has his father's wealth to fall back on, and has to compete with his overachieving sister Anna, who seems unperturbed by her dad's status - but they are both compelled and repelled by Renn, and find it difficult to escape his influence.

Sneed manages to expose the underbelly of fame and fortune while steering clear of Hollywood's gaudy facades, presenting a well-observed look at how stardom affects families.

7/10 (Review by Ben Major) Children's book of the week: The Shape Of My Heart by Mark Sperring & Alys Paterson is published in hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £10.99 (ebook £5.99). Available January 17.

Very rarely does a book land on my desk which I pick up and read immediately - and which has me in tears by the end - but Mark Sperring and Alys Paterson's beautiful, heart-warming picture book, The Shape Of My Heart, did just that.

The first collaboration between these two friends, a former bookseller and an illustrator, takes its reader through a series of shapes of ordinary, everyday things, a car, a bird, which become more personal (our house), until the final, tender page which gives the book its name.

Every child's bookshelf should be home to a copy.

9/10 (Review by Kate Whiting) Non-fiction The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond is published by Allen Lane, priced £20. Available now.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond returns with a typically in-depth and illuminating read that showcases his talent for informative storytelling.

In The World Until Yesterday, Diamond draws upon his extensive personal knowledge - gained from decades of fieldwork in the Pacific Islands - as well as evidence from elsewhere to analyse what lessons can be taken from studying traditional ways of life.

In order to cover his broad subject matter in sufficient detail without exceeding 500 pages, the author focuses on specific topics, such as child-rearing and the treatment of the elderly.

Comparing past practices to those commonly seen in the Western world today, Diamond is careful not to blithely romanticise the way tribal societies operated, but concludes that much can be learned from their way of living.

Anyone with an interest in the human past is likely to find this book interesting and instructive in equal measure.

8/10 (Review by Chris Devine) Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem And The Modernisation Of The Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy is published in hardback by Head of Zeus, priced £25. Available now.

During her long reign, Queen Victoria survived eight physical attacks on her life.

Colorado academic Paul Thomas Murphy explores how this 64-year period changed the relationship between Britain and its monarchy to something approaching the modern situation, convincingly suggesting that these outrages changed the public's perception of the establishment.

Contrary to the blurb, though, it seems these were not "genuine attempts on her life" in any meaningful sense, but futile gestures (often knowingly so) by men who were variously deranged, depressed and/or fame-hungry.

This is shown in interesting contrast to the political motives of some of the assassins in other lands during the 19th century, but Murphy is too often distracted by other minimally relevant historical incidents.

The sheer excess of detail makes Shooting Victoria feel overlong.

6/10 (Review by Alex Sarll) Three Things You Need To Know About Rockets: A Memoir by Jessica Fox is published in paperback by Short Books, priced £12.99. Available now.

It's hard to find an author more girly than Jessica Fox, author of the The Hen Night Prophecies series.

Her latest work is claimed to be a 'memoir' and follows a protagonist called Jessica Fox who abandons her life in LA to work in a bookshop in a remote part of Scotland. This is clearly Fox's own life story.

Jessica's trip is prompted by a 'vision' she had in which she pictured herself feeling blissfully at peace by the Scottish coast.

From this moment on, you know you need to leave any cynicism behind and embrace the ludicrously romantic story.

That said, her descriptions of the beauty of the Scottish highlands are vivid, her writing is engaging and the 'will they, won't they' storyline between her and the bookshop owner is gripping.

Great for inspiring you to take a risk and follow your dreams, but only for those looking for a serious dose of chic-lit.

7/10 (Review by Harriet Shephard) The New Rules: The Dating Dos And Don'ts For The Digital Generation by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider is published in paperback by Piatkus, priced £9.99. Available now.

Best friends Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider have followed up their 1995 dating guide, The Rules, with a new edition for the digital generation.

They have previously caused controversy among feminists and faced the embarrassment of Fein's divorce, which coincided with the release of their book on keeping marriage alive.

The New Rules will be no different, with its out-dated dating rules and gender stereotyping.

The book advises readers on how to get and keep Mr Right. It suggests that, along with playing hard to get, short skirts, hoop earrings and a bleached moustache are the way to his heart.

It's extremely repetitive and patronising - there is even a table suggesting how long you should wait before replying to texts.

Anecdotes on successful Rule-following romances run throughout the book, so much so it starts to read like an advertorial.

There is nothing new about The New Rules, they are old-fashioned and make falling in love feel like a regimented process.

3/10 (Review by Nicole Gallagher) Best-sellers for the week ending January 5 Paperbacks 1 The Hairy Dieters: How To Love Food And Lose Weight, Dave Myers and Si King 2 HHhH, Laurent Binet 3 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson 4 Life Of Pi, Yann Martel 5 The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year, Sue Townsend 6 Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn 7 Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel 8 A Street Cat Named Bob, James Bowen 9 Capital, John Lanchester 10 Stonemouth, Iain Banks Hardbacks 1 Jamie's 15-Minute Meals, Jamie Oliver 2 Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, Jeff Kinney 3 Is It Just Me? Miranda Hart 4 My Animals And Other Family, Clare Balding 5 Gangsta Granny, David Walliams 6 The Chessmen, Peter May 7 Standing In Another Man's Grave, Ian Rankin 8 On The Map, Simon Garfield 9 Dominion, CJ Samson 10 Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel :: Please note: this is a re-send of the Book column, including the latest chart from Waterstone's

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