This week, we review the book everyone is talking about, the new Bridget Jones diary; the incredible autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, and the story behind finding Richard III’s body in that Leicester car park
Bridget Jones – Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding (£18.99, ebook £7.20).
Times may have changed, but Bridget Jones hasn’t.
In the third eagerly-anticipated instalment of her diaries, we find her older, though definitely not wiser.
Now 51, with two children and a toyboy in tow, Bridget’s priorities should have shifted, and yet the obsession with calories, weight and alcohol units remain.
There is also a new fascination in the form of the world of social media, from Twitter to texting.
The trouble is, so many books before Mad About The Boy have already been there, done that – it is not a dazzling insight to tell readers that dating rule number one is “do not text when drunk”, nor to describe said text message as a “nuclear bomb”.
We find Bridget dealing with the yummy mummies at the school gate in North London.
This means the smug marrieds have been replaced with smug mummies, all designer clothes, competitive parenting and round robin emails.
On top of that, she is negotiating the obstacles of trying to find a partner after the age of 50 (yes, Bridget is alone again and Mark Darcy is no more).
But while it could be said that dealing with widowhood is all part of life’s rich tapestry, this story line lends an air of melancholy to the whole book, making her a far cry from Bridget of the past who was all about fun, humour and hope.
Even her relationship with 30-year-old Roxster, while having its moments of levity, is tinged with sadness and lacks the chemistry that her relationship with Mark, or even with the dastardly Daniel Cleaver.
He pops up in the book to babysit little Billy and Mabel, but each time he does, it feels like an afterthought, his questions about the colour of people’s “panties” feeling anachronistic and a little tragic.
While it is nice to have Bridget back, it feels like catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in years only to find them making the same gags, crippled with the same neuroses and, to be frank, not that much fun any more.
You want to see her get her happy ending – no matter how shoe-horned in it might feel – but you find, to your surprise, you are equally glad to see the back of her.
The King’s Grave: The Search For Richard III by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones (£20, ebook £8.99).
In September 2012 the grave of Richard III was discovered beneath a council car park in Leicester.
It was found on the site of the old Greyfriars church, where he had been hastily buried after his death at Bosworth in 1485.
The King’s Grave, by screenwriter Philippa Langley and historian Michael Jones, reveals the remarkable story of how the remains came to be unearthed.
Langley spearheaded the search for Richard’s grave after years of research and a touch of intuition told her that she would find the king’s remains exactly where they were discovered.
She and Jones present two aspects of Richard’s tale in alternating chapters of this cleverly constructed book.
While Langley reveals the inside story of the excavation of the car park, Jones offers an account of Richard’s life and death in the 15th century.
The authors seek to reassess his reputation as the murderous and deformed tyrant made famous in Shakespeare’s play.
Langley’s determination to find Richard is admirable, but her relentlessly sympathetic view of him can be off-putting at times.
However, this is skilfully counterbalanced by Jones, who has penned a number of critically-acclaimed books including Bosworth 1485.
Rather than classifying Richard simply as good or evil, Jones instead seeks to place him firmly within the context of his own times.
The overall result is a compelling portrayal of one of this century’s most important archaeological discoveries, and one which will allow for a re-evaluation of England’s last Plantagenet king.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb (£18.99, ebook £7.49).
If this book was written by a 60-year-old politician it would be an impressive account of a remarkable life.
That it is the autobiography of 16-year-old schoolgirl from Pakistan makes it all the more astonishing.
Malala Yousafzai gained worldwide fame when, in 2012, she was shot by a Taliban militant on the bus home from school in the Swat Valley.
But that’s not even half the story. For years, Malala spoke out as the Taliban took over Swat, imposing their strict moral code, destroying girls’ schools and murdering those who stood in their way.
Malala’s story is gripping, tragic and, at times, horrifying, and yet ultimately it is full of hope.
Faced with religious fundamentalism, suicide bombers and death threats – not to mention floods and an earthquake – her courage, stoicism and wisdom shine through at every turn.
The bond she shares with her father – an equally courageous man whose views on equality are at odds with many of his countrymen – is also very movingly described.
Cross and Burn by Val McDermid (£16.99, £8.49).
Fans of criminal psychologist Tony Hill and cop Carol Jordan will be delighted to see them pressed back into action in this, their eighth outing.
Last time we encountered the commitment-phobic couple, they had made a momentous decision to share their lives.
When we meet them this time around, the devastating events of a previous investigation have left their private lives and careers in tatters.
Jordan’s hand-picked team of crack detectives is scattered to the wind, while she has quit the force and is struggling to come to terms with the raw pain of recent bereavement.
Then comes the realisation that there is a sadistic serial killer on the loose and that there seems to be a highly personal connection to Jordan.
Forced out from brooding isolation, she and Hill must put aside their problems and work together to stop the perpetrator.
As ever, McDermid’s gift for taking ordinary, everyday events and giving them a sinister twist, plus her keen observations of human nature, make for a truly gripping tale.
The Good House by Ann Leary (£12.99, ebook £4.19).
Set in fictional Wendover, Ann Leary’s second novel The Good House is a warts-and-all insight into an affluent New England town, where the nouveau riche and out-priced locals live side-by-side.
Among the philanderers, hedge funders and local fishermen is narrator Hildy Good, a divorced 60-something estate agent who, two years earlier, was forced into rehab by her daughters.
Hard-nosed Hildy insists she’s not an alcoholic and explains so with witty defiance.
And at first, Hildy’s refreshingly candid assessment of her ‘problem’ means you’re almost rooting for her to enjoy that pinot grigio.
But it soon becomes clear that Hildy’s stance on her battle with the bottle isn’t all that reliable.
As she finds herself mixed up in her friends’ sordid secrets, Leary cleverly portrays Hildy as a lonely woman who is having difficulty figuring out – just as much as the reader is – whether she really is an alcoholic.
The book doesn’t have a standout storyline and is, at times, slow-moving.
But, the depth with which Leary describes her characters, and the skewed relationship they have with their vices, makes for a compelling, sometimes hilarious, and brilliantly-written novel.
Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson (£16.99, ebook £7.12).
Costa First Novel Award winner Christie Watson’s latest novel, Where Women Are Kings, brings to the fore the uncomfortable realities of the British care system, ritual abuse and mental illness.
Elijah is a seven-year-old boy of Nigerian descent.
Put into foster care following his mother’s increasingly unstable state, he is eventually adopted.
Believing he has an evil wizard living inside him, Elijah is terrified that that he will bring harm to Nikki and Obi, his adoptive parents.
Conversely, Nikki and Obi wonder if they are strong enough to help Elijah overcome his past, the horrors of which are slowly revealed by his biological mother’s letters to her son.
Watson’s second offering is deeply moving and disturbing, with a rich narrative that keeps the reader keen – yet fearful – of what happens next.
Conversations between characters could at times have benefited from being more realistic, and there is a little too much repetition of facts, but ultimately this is a story that will resonate with the reader for a good while.
Goat Mountain by David Vann (£16.99, ebook £9.49).
Alaskan-born David Vann is the international best-selling and prize-winning author of Goat Mountain, the story of a man looking back on one weekend spent with his grandfather, father, and father’s best friend, when he was 11.
Set upon a remote, 640-acre ranch in Northern California, the story begins with the foursome setting off on their family’s annual deer hunt, then reaching the secure gate that leads on to the land the family has owned for generations.
Here they spot a poacher in the distance and the boy’s father shows his son the man through the viewfinder of his rifle.
At that moment, the course of their idyllic weekend – and their lives – take a turn for the worst as the gun fires and the foursome must come to terms with what the young boy has done.
Sheer panic, anger and bitterness become the backdrop to the family’s weekend as they flit between trying to get on with their plan to hunt deer and working out their next move after the youngster’s crime.
The boy does not talk of his guilt at what he’s done, rather his lust for the hunt and fascination with the deceased, and in this way Goat Mountain hauntingly explores our primal urges, our need to survive, our deep bonds and facing the consequences of our actions.
Vann’s writing is highly descriptive and many will enjoy stepping into the world he creates, but others might find it slows the story down.
The subject matter, however, always makes it a gripping read.
Bonkers: My Life In Laughs by Jennifer Saunders (£20, ebook £9.99).
Thank you Miss Saunders! This book was quickly devoured, and what an enjoyable read it was.
Celeb autobiographies are ten-a-penny these days; the trend has boomed in recent years and book shops are heaving with them, some of the ‘celebs’ writing them are barely out of short trousers.
Bonkers doesn’t disappoint though.
How do you begin fitting a whole life story into 200-odd pages?
You don’t – you pick out some of the best/most appropriate/funniest/saddest bits, and just write about those.
Saunders has done this superbly, from horse-obsessed childhood highlights to her pre-showbiz days as a dosser (she really was a bit of a layabout), how she climbed the comedy ladder with Dawn French, married, had kids and went through breast cancer.
It’s a light, humorous read, with laugh-out-loud moments, but with touching bits too (and a few good rants thrown in, like when she laments the BBC’s golden age and curses the modern (frustrating) way things are done).
Not everybody has a TV career, and brushes shoulders with movie stars at glam events, yet many readers will still relate to Saunders, to her crossroads, foibles, highs, lows and cherished treasures (family, friends, animals).
In a market filled with woe-is-me self-obsessed celeb memoirs, Saunders has produced a refreshingly funny and uplifting read.
What A Wonderful World: One Man’s Attempt To Explain The Big Stuff by Marcus Chown (£17.99, ebook £6.59).
Have you ever wondered why and how we breathe? What about time, does it really even exist?
There are so many unanswered questions in the universe, the most interesting generally being those closer to home.
Here, Marcus Chown, the best-selling author of We Need To Talk About Kelvin, explores a whole heap of conundrums and enigmas from respiration and evolution right through to reproduction and computers.
Though sometimes a little confusing, Chown still manages to tread that line between being an out-and-out science geek and being able to transmit relatable anecdotes that make you wish you had paid a little more attention in science class at school (though few science classes will have been quite this accessible and humorous).
If you were never interested in molecules and photosynthesis back in the day, then give this little gem a go.
With a perky narrative explaining how everything in the universe is connected, it will spark even the most dormant of curiosities hidden in your subconscious.
Beefy’s Cricket Tales: My Favourite Stories From On And Off The Field by Ian Botham (£18.99, ebook £9.49).
Seen by many as England’s greatest cricketer, Sir Ian Botham is back on the literary scene with his latest book – a collection of his favourite cricketing tales.
The legendary England all-rounder, who is now a Sky Sports commentator and a charity fundraiser, has collected hilarious stories from former teammates and opponents and current commentators, as well as offering a few of his own.
A few highlights include Andrew Strauss’s description of 2,000 fans surrounding the 2007 England team in India as they chowed down on stuffed crust meat feasts in Pizza Hut, and Australian spin-bowler Shane Warne’s story of getting locked out of his hotel room by Merv Hughes, while in his birthday suit, after trying to hide a greasy room service tray.
Cricket isn’t really a sport associated with secrets and boozy tales, but this book proves that there are many funny stories (mainly down to Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff).
This is a fun and easy read, and will make a fantastic present for any Beefy, or cricket, lover out there.
How To Lose A Lemur by Frann Preston-Gannon (£5.99).
Acclaimed author of The Journey Home, Frann Preston-Gannon, turns her attentions away from polar bears and dinosaurs and towards lemurs in her third children’s book, How To Lose A Lemur.
Throughout the tale, a boy finds himself followed by a throng of friendly lemurs who pop up in the park where he goes for a stroll and chase after him as he cycles away.
Annoyed, the boy takes a train to a different town but he still can’t shake off his group of furry friends.
The lemurs latch on to him as he tries to rid himself of them via boat, hot air balloon and camel.
But even worse than being stuck with his loyal long-tailed followers, the boy is now lost and has no idea of how to get home.
Lucky for him, the chirpy lemurs have memorised the route and are on hand to guide him back and keep him company as he journeys home.
This is a beautifully drawn book full of subtle colours and funny illustrations, and while the story is silly enough to make the little ones giggle, I felt that a few rhymes and more repetitive phrases along the way would not have gone amiss.