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The best new books to read this weekend: Our critics give their verdict on everything from a paranormal page-turner to a haunting fantasy


Enticingly readable debuts, haunting fantasy, paranormal page-turners and a harrowing account from a prisoner of war, check out our critics’ picks of the best new books to read this weekend…

MUST READS 

JANE SHILLING

Pineapple Street

By Jenny Jackson

(Penguin  £8.99, 320pp)

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ Jackson’s first novel is a deftly observed study of the difference that wealth makes.

The Stockton family’s inherited wealth comes from a real estate business managed by patriarch, Chip. He and his wife, Tilly, whose interests include tennis and tablescaping, have moved out of the family mansion on Brooklyn’s fashionable Pineapple Street so that their son, Cord, and his new wife, Sasha, can move in.

Sasha, who comes from a warm-hearted, blue-collar family, is known as ‘the gold-digger’ by her sisters-in-law, Darley and Georgiana, because she baulked at signing a pre-nup.

Now she is frustrated by the family’s reluctance to let her make any changes to their cluttered mansion. This enticingly readable debut finds each of the Stockton children facing an emotional fall-out when love and money collide.

Putin’s Prisoner

by Aiden Aslin

(Penguin £10.99, 288pp)

The brutality and torture inflicted on those incarcerated in Russian prisons is currently all too familiar. But Aslin has first-hand experience of the conditions. Born in Nottinghamshire, he enlisted in the Ukrainian army in 2018. In February 2022, at the start of the Russian invasion, he was stationed in the trenches on the frontline.

He and his comrades retreated to Mariupol, where they were besieged in a steelworks. A month later, out of supplies, they were forced to surrender. Imprisoned in a ‘boutique concentration camp’ in Donetsk, Aslin was beaten, and tortured and eventually sentenced to death.

After six months he was freed in a prisoner exchange partly brokered by the oligarch Roman Abramovich. His memoir is a graphic account of the conditions endured by those who attempt to defy Russian aggression.

The Land of Lost Things

by John Connolly

(Hodder £9.99, 416pp)

Eight-year-old Phoebe is in a coma following an accident. Her mother, Ceres, agrees that she should be transferred to a nursing home in the countryside, set up by an author with the proceeds from his best-selling novel, The Book Of Lost Things.

Ceres finds a copy in a local bookshop and, as she begins to read, is drawn into its sinister dreamworld, where she is transformed into her 16-year-old self.

The second fantasy novel by this award-winning thriller writer, Connolly revisits the dark realm he created in his debut. Ceres encounters monsters such as the Crooked Man and the child-stealing Fae, as well as a feisty, crossbow-wielding Rapunzel.

Alternately chilling and comic, this richly imagined tale concludes with a haunting reflection on the healing power of storytelling.

PICTURE THIS

KATHARINE SPURRIER

Bonsai Master Class

by Kunio Kobayashi 

(Tuttle Publishing £19.99, 224pp)

Anyone who has ever said gardening was easy has never looked after a bonsai tree. Originating in Japan and meaning ‘planted in a container’, bonsai bring inside the ‘intrinsic beauty hidden within the dignity of life’ according to Kobayashi.

Across 600 photographs and diagrams he makes the precise art — and it is artistry — of bonsai maintenance feel manageable. What with our modern fascination with all things small, cute and perfect for any tiny studio flat, who wouldn’t want a miniature hanamono, or baby pine (pictured), in their living room?

LITERARY FICTION

ANTHONY CUMMINS

How I won a Nobel Prize

by Julius Taranto

(Picador £16.99, 304pp)

This first novel from New York writer Taranto pulls off an unlikely conjuring trick by dishing up an addictive page-turner centred on two, perhaps equally forbidding, subjects: physics and cancel culture.

Helen is a gifted postgraduate working on the question of high-temperature superconductivity — or how to stop wires getting too hot as her widowed father’s girlfriend thinks of it. The solution she’s working on has the potential to combat climate change, but then her supervisor is disgraced by a sex scandal — only to land on his feet at a new campus founded by an anti-woke gazillionaire.

When Helen joins him, her right-on husband opts to hold his nose and tag along too. Cue domestic disharmony and topical farce that sharpens when online protests against the new campus take violent real-world shape.

Avoiding the cheap point-scoring that tends to weigh down this type of exercise, Taranto unspools a twisty satire with verve and sass.

Fervour

by Toby Lloyd

(Sceptre £16.99, 320pp)

First-time author Lloyd splices paranormal chills with domestic intrigue in this tense debut about the disintegration of a devout Jewish family who suspect their daughter is possessed. Elsie’s journalist mother, Hannah, is about to publish a book drawn on the memories of her father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor living in their North London attic.

But then Elsie vanishes from her posh private school, only to return talking about the dead people she can see — including a boy her grandfather encountered as a prisoner in Treblinka. Part of the novel is narrated by a university pal of Elsie’s older brother Toyvah, whose secular outlook leads him to think the cause of his sister’s behaviour lies closer to home, not least when the strife puts fresh ink in Hannah’s pen.

A rich and dark stew that mixes ingredients from the Bible and the headlines, with a biting send-up of the vampiric nature of writing itself.

Blessings

by Chukwuebuka Ibeh

(Viking £14.99, 256pp)

Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are among early fans of this coming-of-age debut from a 22-year-old Nigerian writer boldly addressing repressive attitudes to homosexuality in his home country.

The action starts when Obiefuna, a teenager in the city of Port Harcourt, is banished to a brutally harsh Christian boarding school after his tyrannical father senses his attraction to another boy brought into the household to help with the family business.

As Obiefuna finds his nascent sexuality violently shaped in the hothouse environment of the dorm, we also sit in on a looming tragedy facing his mother, Uzoamaka, likewise a victim of her husband.

We toggle between parent and child as the novel unfolds against the tumultuous backdrop of Nigerian politics in the early 21st century.

Stark yet tender, balancing passages of hope with episodes of gut-plummeting sadness, this is an accomplished novel, distinguished by sensitive prose and taut scene-making.

POPULAR 

WENDY HOLDEN

Frank & Red

by Matt Coyne

(Wildfire £18.99, 432pp)

One of those odd-couple novels; Frank’s a grumpy widower; Red the just-arrived six-year-old next door.

Red’s autism makes his new school a challenge while grief has alienated Frank from most things, including his own son.

Gradually, with the ghostly intercession of Marcie, Frank’s deceased wife, the young boy and old man become unlikely friends.

Coyne weaves, with warmth and humour, the story of Marcie and Frank’s marriage with Red’s misadventures at school. Things reach a dramatic conclusion when Red decides to mend Frank’s fractured relationships.

Themes of love, loss and family are beautifully explored in this heartwarming and imaginative debut.

Leaving

by Roxana Robinson

(Magpie Books £16.99, 336pp)

Sarah and Warren, teenage sweethearts, married other people but regretted it. A chance meeting at the opera throws them together again and an affair begins. But when Warren wants to leave his wife, things turn ugly with his family and he’s forced to make an impossible choice.

Sarah’s daughter, meanwhile, suffers a health crisis that changes everything. The writing is beautiful; every sentence perfectly turned, and the settings are equally elegant; lots of upscale East Coast lifestyle detail. But behind the scenes it’s emotional chaos and we’re swept along to a tragic conclusion. Parenthood, divorce and the particular power of daughters are under the spotlight here.

The art of belonging

by Eleanor May

(Piatkus £20, 352pp)

All the novels this week feature older people feeling redundant in their families’ lives.

Grace, another such, is a retired widow who used to work as a Concorde engineer. These days her skills go into building train sets at her seniors crafting club.

It’s lonely, but then her prickly daughter Amelia returns home after a break-up, bringing Grace’s offbeat teenage granddaughter Charlotte. Initially treading on eggshells, Grace grows to enjoy their presence, and becomes involved in Charlotte’s friendships and concern for a missing teacher.

A warm-hearted, emotional read that’s about new beginnings and coming to terms with the difficult past.

CLASSIC CRIME

BARRY TURNER 

The Mystery Guest

by Nita Prose

(HarperCollins £16.99, 366pp)

Molly Gray is exceptional. With a literal mind that delights in the strict order of things, she shines as head maid in a smart hotel. Preparing for a press conference hosted by a famous crime writer, Molly is on hand to ensure that the arrangements are perfect in every detail.

But even she is unable to anticipate the novelist dropping dead at the microphone in the tearoom.

When murder by poison is indicated, Molly is caught up in an investigation that takes in her early years when the victim had made an unwelcome intrusion on her life.

But she is not alone in harbouring a grudge against the crime writer.

Deploying her gift for strictly logical thinking, Molly outsmarts the police to prove her own innocence while moving the black spot on to likelier suspects. In a novel full of surprises, this modest if self-assured maid-of-all-work is a stand-out character of crime fiction. Long may she thrive.

Death on the Lusitania

by R. L. Graham

(Macmillan £16.99, 400pp)

Sunk by a German torpedo in 1915, the luxury trans-Atlantic liner has been a continuing source of speculation and controversy. Could the British navy have done more to save lives and was it not asking for trouble for a civilian vessel to carry munitions?

In this outstanding novel of deception and double dealing, Graham delivers another element of mystery by having on board a secret service agent who is keeping tabs on a suspected traitor. But the ever-vigilant Patrick Gallagher soon finds he has more on his hands than escort duties.

Following on from an investigation into the violent death of a business chancer who has links to organised crime, Gallagher spreads his net to haul in other passengers who have much to hide.

Vivid characterisation adds spice to an adventure that must for many end in tragedy on the high seas. Death On The Lusitania is an instant classic.

Murder by Candlelight

by Faith Martin

(HQ £14.99, 304pp)

For her latest venture into crime that amuses and intrigues in equal measure, Martin takes us back to the mid-1920s, when the calm of a quiet village in the Cotswolds is disturbed by rumours of a ghost walking.

Archie Swift, a light-hearted guide to ghost hunting, is persuaded against his better judgment to explain the apparent haunting. It all turns nasty when the grande dame who had initiated the investigation is found poisoned. That she died in bed behind a locked door with the windows locked is an added twist to a beguiling mystery.

Aided, if not always helpfully, by an independently minded Girl Friday, Archie delves into a disputed inheritance and secret love affairs to solve a seemingly impossible crime. Murder By Candlelight is certainly a splendid start to what promises to be a long-running series.

CHILDREN’S 

SALLY MORRIS

I LOVE BOOKS

by Mariajo Ilustrajo

(Frances Lincoln £12.99, 40pp)

This award-winning author and illustrator is on top form in this inspiring and entertaining story about a gadget-obsessed little girl who is horrified when her teacher tells her to read a book over the school holidays.

Dragged to the library, she reluctantly chooses a title, slumps in a chair but is soon lured into the pages, where she meets a fox-like creature who leads her on a magical quest to collect ingredients for a spell.

She meets witches, battles pirates and escapes dragons, until finally the potion converts her into an avid ‘story adventurer’. The transformation from monochrome illustrations to an explosion of colour reflects Ilustrajo’s imaginative journey, and it’s a witty treat from start to finish. Age 3+

THE CLOCKWORK CONSPIRACY

by Sam Sedgman

(Bloomsbury £7.99, 368pp)

Isaac Turner’s father Diggory is the horologist who looks after the mechanism of Big Ben. One night, as he’s turning the clock back an hour with Isaac, he goes missing, leaving behind in the belfry his gold pocket watch — smashed — and a cryptic message.

At the same time, Parliament is debating a New Time Bill, that aims to turn the country digital, with ten instead of 12-hour days.

Isaac joins forces with resourceful Hattie to crack the code that will reveal where Diggory is and, in doing so, they uncover an evil plan to control time itself.

Action-packed with twisty turns and a gripping plot, the two endearing central characters are perfectly balanced and ripe for more adventures. 9+

ON SILVER TIDES

by Sylvia Bishop

(Andersen £8.99, 306pp)

A timely environmental message underpins this beautifully written adventure, swirling with monsters and folklore based on Britain’s rivers.

Teenager Kilda and her family are silvermen who live on boats and can breathe underwater, but Isla, Kilda’s beloved little sister, is born without that skill. Locals fear that outsiders bring bad luck, so when the rivers become ‘sick’, they demand Isla’s death.

After a devastating betrayal, the sisters escape, leading a thrilling chase through waterways to Scotland. Can Kilda trust a mysterious young man as she makes a life-changing sacrifice to save her sister?

Broodingly atmospheric, this is a richly imagined world where love for family is tested at every single turn. 12+

THE BEST NEW FICTION

The List Of Suspicious Things

by Jennie Godfrey

Hutchinson Heinemann £14.99

It’s the tail end of the 1970s and, with the Yorkshire Ripper terrifyingly present and her mother ill, 12-year-old Miv is convinced her dad wants to move the family South, away from her best friend Sharon. But what if the girls were to solve the case of the disappearing women? They will end up uncovering secrets, heartbreaking sadness and a sense of community in a superlative coming-of-age story.

EITHNE FARRY

The Painter’s Daughters

by Emily Howes

Phoenix £20

In the mid-1750s, the artist Thomas Gainsborough turned his brush to his two young daughters, painting them rosy-cheeked and idealised. Yet, as Howes’ debut novel reveals, the sisters’ real life wasn’t half as bucolic. Telling of hidden parentage, suffocating social mores and the humiliation of ‘madness’, The Painter’s Daughters is a densely packed, glittering novel, with as much detail and intrigue as one of Gainsborough’s own canvases.

FRANCESCA PEACOCK

The Most Secret Memory Of Men

by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr

Harvill Secker £20

This capacious literary mystery opens in 2018, as young Senegalese writer Diégane Letyr Faye stumbles upon a rare copy of a novel whose author vanished amid plagiarism accusations in the 1930s. Faye sets off on a trail leading from Paris to Buenos Aires. Funny, sharp takes on questions of identity add grit to an inventive tribute to literature’s timeless potency.

HEPHZIBAH ANDERSON

The Rumor Game

by Thomas Mullen

Abacus £21.99

Boston, 1943. The USA has joined the war, but not everyone is happy about it. Fascist-sympathising Irish Americans are whipping up anti-Semitic feeling, attacking Jews on the street. A reporter, Anne Lemire, tries to investigate, but the city’s Irish-dominated police force are far from helpful. Her only ally is FBI agent Devon Mulvey – and she’s not sure how far he can be trusted. A first-class historical thriller, evoking a shabby time in Boston’s history.

JOHN WILLIAMS



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