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7:00am Saturday 19th May 2012 in NewsXtra
A look at the latest releases, plus what's new in paperback.
By Kate Whiting.
The Red House by Mark Haddon is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £16.99. Available May 10.
You can't choose your family - but you can choose, perhaps despite your better judgment, to spend a week with them.
After their mother's death, Richard rents a remote Welsh cottage to share with his sister Angela and their partners and children, with the aim of patching up their relationship.
The four adults and four children all come with their burdens - Angela haunted by Karen, the stillborn daughter whose birthday falls the week of the holiday, newly married doctor Richard facing a disciplinary hearing at work, Angela's husband Dominic grappling with a secret affair, and their teenage children working out what kind of adults they might become.
Vulnerable eight-year-old Benjy is left as the lone voice of reason in the whirling maelstrom of emotions.
Mark Haddon has a ventriloquist's touch and writes with economical beauty, revealing a detailed anatomy of the human condition.
He has struck gold with The Red House, which deserves to be as big a hit as his previous best-seller The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time. A must-read.
9/10 (Review by Lauren Turner) The Innocents by Francesca Segal is published in hardback by Chatto & Windus, priced £14.99. Available now.
The Innocents is the debut novel from journalist and critic Francesca Segal.
The novel is a modern reworking of Edith Wharton's much-loved The Age Of Innocence, set in a tight-knit north London Jewish community.
Reputable junior lawyer Adam is about to marry his childhood sweetheart Rachel. She represents everything safe and traditional about his upbringing and they are set for a comfortable future together.
But a visit from Ellie, Rachel's sexier and vulnerable cousin from New York, suddenly throws Adam off guard.
Ellie unleashes something he has never known before and he must choose between lust and the responsibility owed to his community.
Meanwhile, Adam's law firm, run by Rachel's father, is representing Ellie in a case filed against her for extra-marital relations and underage sex. Should Adam mix business with pleasure?
An absorbing page-turner, The Innocents combines a thrilling read with an insight into Jewish culture.
7/10 (Review by Daisy Wyatt) Her Giant Octopus Moment by Kay Langdale is published in paperback by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £7.99. Available May 10.
This unusually titled story is the third novel from talented writer Kay Langdale, and follows the story of a young girl named Scout Simpson.
Conceived initially as a surrogate baby for Elisabetta and Ned Beecham, Scout's mother Joanie then has a sudden change of heart and decides to keep her and tell everyone involved that she has had a miscarriage.
Fast forward a decade later and Joanie is spotted with Scout by an embryologist, and as the truth slowly unravels, the pair are forced to go on the run.
Beautifully weaving together the stories of all involved, from the cheated surrogate couple, to Joanie and Scout, plus the authorities involved, Langdale tackles the sensitive issue of surrogacy well.
A story about choices and their far-reaching consequences, this novel manages to be poignant, funny, witty and warm. A thought-provoking book that is definitely one to put on your 'to-read' list.
9/10 (Review by Lyndsey Cartwright) Ignorance by Michele Roberts is published in hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £14.99. Available May 10.
Poet, novelist and WHSmith literary award winner Michele Roberts brings us her latest offering, set in wartime France.
We meet two young girls before the breakout of the war - Jeanne and Marie-Angele. They're friends, and attend the local Catholic school, but their lives could not be more different - Jeanne has a troubled and poor upbringing, whereas Marie-Angele is brought up with wealth and ambition.
An incident with an older Jewish man tears their friendship apart, and they go on to live separate lives. Once the war breaks out, Jeanne grabs every opportunity she can to stay alive, while Marie-Angele's high ambitions lead her to safety.
The relationship between the two women is complex, and we discover more about their childhood, which is filled with abuse, secrets and confusion. Not much changes when they enter womanhood, and when Marie-Angele offers her old friend a lifeline, Jeanne makes a decision that changes her life, and breaks her heart.
It's not an easy book to read, as it flits between both characters' stories. However, Roberts's description of heartache, loss and guilt is breathtaking. I could barely read the book's final sentences as my tears spilled on to the pages. Simply brilliant.
9/10 (Review by Emma Everingham) Driving Jarvis Ham by Jim Bob is published in hardback by The Friday Project, priced £12.99. Available May 10.
Better known as half of witty, under-rated indie veterans Carter USM, this unpicking of childhood friendships is Jim Bob's second novel.
Obsessed with Diana, Princess of Wales and Tom Cruise, Jarvis Ham looks like a Jelly Baby and is devoid of talent to the extent that he can't even get on reality TV.
But he remains perpetually convinced that stardom is just around the corner - a reminder that in spite of Hollywood rhetoric, sometimes holding on to your dreams is less empowering than toxic.
The unnamed narrator met Jarvis simply because alphabetical order left them sat together at school, and then got stuck with him; decades later, he's still giving the delusional, bumptious and increasingly sorry figure lifts to doomed auditions.
Even as the comedy grows increasingly dark, with a brutal killer stalking a chain of ghastly roadside restaurants, Driving Jarvis Ham remains an easy and sometimes hilarious read.
7/10 (Review by Alex Sarll) The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Simon Mawer is published in hardback by Little, Brown, priced £16.99. Available now.
Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Simon Mawer doesn't disappoint with his latest spy novel about a young woman plucked from her desk job at the Women's Auxiliary Air Force to train for a secret Second World War mission.
Marian Sutro's fluency in French is one draw for her unnamed recruiters, but her ability to easily tackle exercises in hand-to-hand combat, as well as staying cool and inventing a cover story, mean she is picked to go into occupied France to help the resistance.
She's faced with the enemy, love and betrayal - but will she make it back home alive?
Mawer's thriller is nerve-wracking and tense, while its twists and turns leave question marks until the very last page.
8/10 (Review by Caroline Davison) Children's pick Hero On A Bicycle by Shirley Hughes is published in hardback by Walker Books, priced £9.99. Available now.
Shirley Hughes has enriched thousands of childhoods with her illustrations for more than 200 picture books including the award-winning Dogger.
Now at 84, she has written her first novel for children.
Set in wartime Florence, it follows the Crivelli family: 13-year-old wannabe hero Paolo, his dreaming older sister Constanza and their English-born mother Rosemary are trying to cope without dad Franco, who's fighting with the Italian resistance, the Partisans.
The book starts with Paolo making forays on his bike into the city each night, but the action really ramps up at the halfway mark, when the family are asked to shelter two Allied soldiers.
With Nazi soldiers watching their every move, the Crivellis suddenly find themselves at the centre of the fighting, as the Allies liberate Italy.
Hughes herself visited and fell in love with Florence just after the Second World War ended, saw the poverty and even met a family similar to the Crivellis, who had helped escaping prisoners of war.
It's an exciting and colourful read, and doesn't shelter its young reader from the horrors of war, just as The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas has done.
The plodding start repays patience, and shows Hughes is indeed a master storyteller.
7/10 (Review by Kate Whiting) Non-fiction India Rising: Tales From A Changing Nation by Oliver Balch is published in paperback by Faber and Faber, priced £14.99. Available now.
After exploring the beautiful and politically unstable nations of South America in his debut travelogue Viva South America, Oliver Balch heads eastwards to India to find out more about a country that has been on the global radar in the past decade.
His latest offering is all about the voice of the people - resounding from Mumbai's downtrodden slums and overcrowded cricket stadiums to the glossy malls and information technology hubs in Bengaluru and Chennai.
Travelling across the country, Balch takes a detour from the beaten tourist track to find out how economic boom has catapulted the nation into the limelight and how its citizens are coping with the transition.
From cab drivers and charity workers to budding actors, corporate stalwarts and seasoned politicians - they all tell a story of 'New India'.
Witty and entertaining, Guardian journalist Balch keeps the pages turning with anecdotes and personal accounts of his interviewees, while analysing what makes modern India tick.
7/10 (Review by Nilima Dey Sarker) Facing The Torturer: Inside The Mind Of A War Criminal by Francois Bizot is published in hardback by Rider Books, priced £16.99. Available now.
When the French ethnographer Francois Bizot was studying the history of the Buddhist religion in the Cambodian countryside, death came close to claiming him.
Arrested by the feared Khmer Rouge, he was thought to be a CIA spy and sentenced to death, but he was to be saved by a man who at first wanted to kill him, 'Comrade Duch'.
The book deals with Bizot's imprisonment, and the trial of his former jailer and other followers of Pol Pot.
Bizot understands one truly terrible thing: Duch is no monster. He has been fashioned into the appearance of one by circumstance.
A memoir and a court record, it is a disturbing read on many levels. And a testimony for those millions who have no voice since Duch, and others like him, silenced them.
A difficult but essential read.
9/10 (Review by David McLoughlin) On The Eve: The Jews Of Europe Before The Second World War by Bernard Wasserstein is published in hardback by Profile Books, priced £25. Available now.
This comprehensive and well-researched study of the Jews in Europe between the two World Wars shows how their persecution was not confined to Germany.
History professor Bernard Wasserstein catalogues cruel anti-Semitic discrimination in countries including France, Poland and Hungary.
Hitler's obsessional preoccupation with the Jews was different in degree, but not in kind, from other far-right demagogues elsewhere in Europe.
The Nazis' anti-Semitism differed from the rest of the continent in its radical brutality but not, for the most part, in its origins.
Hitler was deranged and powerful enough to transform his hatred into the cold-blooded extermination of more that half of Europe's 10 million Jews during the Second World War.
Before the conflict broke out in September 1939, the Jews were themselves disunited and, when trying to flee from the Nazis, were often refused admission to other countries.
This tragic book paints a picture of a giant trap slowly closing in on its victims. Some were already accurately predicting their terrible, ultimate fate.
8/10 (Review by Anthony Looch)