Chocolat author Joanne Harris’ new fantasy novel, The Gospel Of Loki, and the Orange Prize-winning Valerie Martin’s latest release, The Ghost Of The Mary Celeste.
The Gospel Of Loki by Joanne M Harris (£14.99, ebook £7.99).
Everybody loves an under-god.
In her Gospel of Loki, Joanne M Harris brings her fascination with Norse mythology from her previous children’s literature foray to her long-standing adult audience – with wit, style, and obvious enjoyment.
Loki, Odin’s blood-brother, has long been misunderstood by the tales handed down, epoch after epoch.
In fact, he’s had such a bad rap that it’s high time he set the record straight.
All those times he betrayed a mate, or stirred up trouble in Asgard for fun, it turns out that – in Harris’ hands – he was just a cheeky chap with a penchant for practical jokes, who struggled with godly political niceties as he vacillated between his desire to fit in and his self-destructive streak.
Harris’ colloquial style renders Loki rather like your average teenager – rebellious, snarky, and deadpan, innit.
His Gospel is a lot of fun, rattling through story after story with good humour and the occasional portending of doom ahead.
He’s sufficiently endearing that the inevitable god-sized mess he makes appears in the narrative with an ugly bang.
It’s all entertaining, if emotionally light.
For lovers of myth, legend and Game of Thrones.
The Bear by Claire Cameron (£9.99, ebook £4.68).
Children can go through the most traumatic of events and yet manage to develop a coping mechanism.
When Anna and her younger brother Alex get caught up in a bear attack on their family’s campsite in the Canadian wilderness, only Anna’s childish approach to the world helps them get through the experience.
Told through Anna’s eyes, The Bear is a gripping narrative of how to deal with grief and being lost in a hostile environment.
Claire Cameron, a Canadian novelist and journalist, has taken a big risk but has succeeded in telling a thrilling story in the language and nuances of a small child.
Surviving the ordeal is not guaranteed, yet Cameron has delivered an exciting tale of how to cope with a deadly event.
The siblings somehow deal with everything they encounter, but whether they come through the ordeal and its consequences unscathed is not revealed until a fitting climax.
The childlike narrative might put some readers off, but once used to how Anna tells her story it actually becomes a vital part of making The Bear a compelling read.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer (£10, ebook £4.50).
Jeff Vandermeer begins his Southern Reach trilogy with this aggressively titled novel Annihilation.
Given the name I was expecting a fast-paced action story. Although this was not quite the case, it is equally as captivating.
After an unexplained “event”, Area X has been of intrigue to the people of Southern Reach military base situated on its border.
Eleven expeditions had previously been sent to survey the area, but various horrors had beset them on their return home.
This is the story of the 12th group, four women: a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor and a biologist.
The story is told in a narration style through the eyes of the biologist.
Early on, she discovers the group is being controlled by the psychologist’s hypnotic suggestions, but when members of the team begin disappearing she discovers that there is a lot more to this strange ever-expanding land than first thought.
The sense of fear will certainly leave you hungry for the next book in the series.
Killer by Jonathan Kellerman (£18.99, ebook £6.64).
Fans of LA psychologist and sleuth Dr Alex Delaware won’t be disappointed with this latest thriller in the series, which grips right from the start.
The good doctor’s entanglement in what turns out to be a web of intrigue and murder begins with a weird custody case.
Constance Sykes, cold, unpleasant and wealthy, is trying to take her sister Ree’s baby away from her on the basis of what appears to be little more than spite.
Delaware gets involved when he’s called in to assess Ree’s fitness as a mother, and it’s not long before Delaware finds himself the target of Connie’s vengeful fury.
But when people start getting killed and the little girl at the centre of the custody battle goes missing, Delaware realises he’s involved in something much nastier and more dangerous than an extreme case of sibling rivalry.
Joining Delaware in trying to crack a case is dogged cop and best buddy Detective Milo Sturgis, but the pair find themselves hitting one brick wall after another.
Is Ree really just a gentle hippy or is she at the heart of a sinister conspiracy? Does the identity of the baby’s father hold the key to the mystery?
Meanwhile, there’s a killer on the loose and no-one involved with the Sykes sisters is safe.
One of the great things about Kellerman’s writing is his sense of place.
LA is here in all its sleaze and splendour, from the lush suburbs in the hills to the squalor of downtown Hollywood.
Cops, judges and legal eagles rub shoulders with gangsters, hippies and low-lifes as Delaware and Sturgis find themselves in a hunt for answers that keeps them, and the reader, guessing until the end.
The Ghost Of The Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin (£18.99, ebook £6.64).
In 1872 a ship called the Mary Celeste was found abandoned.
This real-life mystery forms the centrepiece for Valerie Martin’s new work of historical fiction.
Beginning with a visceral and a gripping opening chapter set at sea, the Orange Prize-winning author takes us on a journey over 30 years, told through the experiences of several widely different people in the late 1800s.
At first these characters seem completely unrelated but as the book reaches its conclusion, their fates become intertwined by the spectre of the famous ship.
The fate of the Mary Celeste hangs over everyone in the book, whether it’s a famed psychic whose exciting lifestyle hides a sad existence, or Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Martin builds a fascinating world around her main players, blurring the line between fact and fiction with aplomb.
But the author’s richest writing is in the numerous moments where the story takes to the water – these passages are wonderfully evocative, vividly describing life at sea where calm and beauty can give way to chaos and tragedy at a moment’s notice.
Part ghost story, part seafaring adventure, I recommend this to anyone who fancies bringing a bit of mystery into their literary lives.
Five Came Back: A Story Of Five Legendary Film Directors And The Second World War by Mark Harris (£30, ebook £13.87).
Five Came Back is ideal for film fans and Second World War history enthusiasts, as it deftly weaves the story of five classic directors into the story of the war.
Film journalist Mark Harris tells in a clear style how they left highly paid careers to film the war in the Pacific, North Africa and Europe, sometimes faking it by recreating battles, and sometimes putting their lives on the line.
Standout documentary films of the war seem to have included John Ford’s Battle Of Midway, William Wyler’s Memphis Belle (in which the director went on bombing missions to personally film what happened), and the British film Desert Victory – the Americans also amusingly strong-armed the British into making a badly reviewed joint re-enactment of this called Tunisian Victory.
Throughout the book, Harris also movingly tells the grim effects the war had on the filmmakers, who included George Stevens, John Huston and Frank Capra.
Letters To A Midwife by Jennifer Worth (£14.99, ebook £7.99).
Before she died in 2011, Jennifer Worth, the author of novel-turned-BBC TV series Call The Midwife, was swamped with letters from readers.
Not only did Jennifer’s fans want to praise her insight into life in the East End of London in the late 1940s, but they also felt inspired to share their own experiences of life, death and childbirth from that chapter in social history.
Now these letters – some hilarious and some tear-jerkingly sad – have been published for the first time in Letters To The Midwife.
From former midwives and lorry drivers, to the mothers whom Jennifer and her colleagues helped give birth, the letters are stuffed with nostalgic accounts of the heart-warming sense of community which Jennifer so brilliantly captures in her books.
Amazingly, Jennifer replied to most of her fan mail and her responses have also been published, alongside beautifully-written passages from her time spent in Paris.
There’s also revealing extracts from her journal, and a moving introduction from Jennifer’s family, who show her not just as nurse, but as a musician, a cyclist, an adventurer and a woman of unwavering faith.
The raw emotion in these letters, and the glimpse we get into a fast-vanishing world, are testament to the huge affection Jennifer stirred through her writing.
A remarkable book, inspired by an extraordinary woman, which leaves you craving for a return to that lost age of letter-writing.
There’s A Dinosaur In My Bathtub by Catalina Echeverri (£6.99).
Forget squeaky rubber ducks and sponges, young Amelia has a moustachioed dinosaur called Pierre in her bath.
Pierre is a French dinosaur, only visible to Amelia, who stays with her throughout the summer months.
It might only be a short time, but he makes up for his absence the rest of the year by packing in lots of fun activities like playing his violin, eating stinky cheese, slurping down hot chocolates and sailing in a magical boat.
And when it’s Pierre’s time to go away, Amelia isn’t sad because she knows he’ll be back.
With entertaining visuals and the odd French phrase thrown in for good measure, Colombian author and illustrator Catalina Echeverri ensures her whipsmart book is a jolly read.