New releases this week include books by Donna Tartt, Kate Mosse, Joanna Trollope and John Bishop
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (£20, ebook £9.50).
The Goldfinch was one of a few paintings by a Dutch master, a pupil of Rembrandt, to survive an explosion in Delft that killed the artist.
At the start of Tartt’s novel, more than 350 years later, the painting survives a second explosion, in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It is rescued (well, taken) from a dust-storm of collapsing rubble by 13-year-old Theo, who was visiting the museum with his mother.
She was killed in the blast, and the painting becomes a powerful force in Theo’s life – a dangerous secret and the key to his survival.
The stolen, unearned treasure acts as a metaphor for survivor’s guilt and becomes a commodity for criminals who use it as collateral.
It’s been a long wait for The Goldfinch – Tartt’s last novel came out a decade ago – but we knew we would be rewarded.
Her previous work, The Little Stranger, was a Gothic murder mystery, set in the deep South.
In The Secret History, we heard of the hedonistic, private world of privileged classics scholars.
Here in The Goldfinch, a dysfunctional family who live in an upper East Side apartment take Theo in, and he forms an intense friendship with motherless Russian teenager Boris.
The book moves from the smart parts of New York to the edge of Las Vegas, where, unsupervised by his gambling addict father, life is a rollercoaster ride not so much fuelled by drugs, as crazed, anaesthetised and trashed by them.
But the book’s real heart is the Dickensian furniture restoration workshop of Hobie, Theo’s saviour and moral touchstone, an exquisite figure surrounded by beautiful broken things.
Tartt’s writing is sumptuous and multi-layered (prompting comparisons with Proust); the bomb in the Met is a virtuoso passage, evoking the sensory and mental confusion of a survivor, and providing a catalyst that reverberates devastatingly through his life.
The book is immense in scope, and though it might have benefited from a trim, its treatment of lofty themes in sensuous passages will bear much re-reading.
The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales by Kate Mosse (£14.99, ebook £6.65).
This book is the first short story collection by Kate Mosse, best-selling author of the Languedoc Trilogy, Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel.
The Mistletoe Bride tells the story of a Christmas bride who disappears on her wedding day during a game of hide and seek.
In Red Letter Day, Claire visits the mountain citadel of Montsegur in the Pyrenees and follows a mysterious woman.
The Drowned Village is the tale of orphaned Gaston, transfixed by ancient inhabitants of the village under the sea.
In The Revenant, there’s the tale of a familiar-looking young woman out in the marshes and an odd smell of rotting eggs.
These and ten other ghostly tales, plus the script for Mosse’s first play, Syrinx, were inspired by traditional folk tales and country legends from England and France; grief-stricken, haunted spirits seeking revenge and coming to terms with their destiny.
This collection is captivating and Mosse’s writing is so enthralling and atmospheric the reader will shiver as they feel the presence of the ghosts.
Once again, fans of Mosse are in for a treat.
Sycamore Row by John Grisham (£19.99, ebook £8.54).
Nearly a quarter of a century ago an unknown author named John Grisham had an unspectacular literary debut with the courtroom drama A Time To Kill.
Since then, Grisham has gone on to become a number one best-seller of 26 legal novels.
With his name firmly established, and with his first two books having made a successful transfer to Hollywood, Grisham has now returned to Clanton, the small Mississippi town that was the setting for his first literary work.
Grisham has squared the circle by continuing the story of lawyer Jake Brigance, now involved in the case of a white local businessman, Seth Hubbard, who has left most of his fortune to his black housekeeper, cutting out his children and his grandchildren.
Charged with carrying out Hubbard’s dying wishes, Brigance has to fight off the best attempts of the family to regain their inheritance.
Like all good lawyers, Grisham saves the biggest surprise to the very end of the trial, digging deep into the sordid history of America’s Deep South before delivering the knockout blow.
Grisham already has legions of fans the world over, and Sycamore Row is sure to win him even more.
Black Sheep by Susan Hill (£10.99, ebook £7.31).
Susan Hill leaves her usual ghost stories behind for Black Sheep, a short tale that is no less disturbing.
It takes place in a pit village called Mount of Zeal.
Here, the mine is a hot and smoky hell at the bottom of a dip, and tiers of housing rise up from the polluted Lower Terrace to the coveted, airier dwellings of Paradise at the top.
The book has the feel of a Bible story – as the title suggests – and the central character of the parable is Ted Howker, the youngest son of a mining family living in poverty.
Snapshots of Ted’s life from his early schooldays to his working life are set against his brothers’ struggles, his sister’s unhappy marriage and his parents’ tough lives trying to make a living from the pit before hurtling towards two shocking events which change life for the Howkers forever.
Black Sheep certainly isn’t what you’d call a cheery tale, but Hill’s beautiful, soulful descriptions of pit village life still make this a great short read every bit as gripping as her longer spine-chilling stories.
Sense And Sensibility by Joanna Trollope (£18.99, ebook £7.70).
This modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s comedy of manners is part of Harper Collins’s six-part series in which popular authors reimagine the classics in modern times.
But as one of the most loved classical writers of all time, attempting to re-write the works of Jane Austen is no easy feat.
This new version of Sense and Sensibility retains the heart of the original, but this is one of the many reasons it fails.
In a lot of ways, the language used is archaic and there is nothing in place to reach out to a younger generation, apart from the fact the characters own iPods.
The fact that the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, are plucked from Norland Park and transported to Devon with no money after their father dies seems obviously dated, and the story just doesn’t work as well in today’s world.
Fans of the original will not warm to this, and it isn’t going to appeal to the younger generation in the same way The Hunger Games or Twilight will.
Recently in the press, Trollope said she wants 19th century authors like Jane Austen and George Eliot to be taught in schools to give children a “stronger sense of guidance”.
In my opinion though, this contradicts her need to rewrite the novel – the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ springs to mind.
Keep the classics classic, Joanna.
The Blood Crows by Simon Scarrow (£18.99, ebook £8.55).
In his latest tale of the exploits of the Roman Empire, number one best-selling author Simon Scarrow has taken his list of titles on the Roman Empire to a dozen.
Once again, he shows his talent for bringing history to life.
The Roman Empire has battled for years to conquer Britain, the farthest and perhaps wildest of its outposts.
Battle-hardened soldiers Cato and Macro have been charged with helping to becalm the warring tribes led by Caratacus in the mountain valleys of Wales.
But, as well as taking on the worst the natives and their Druids can throw at them, the two friends must also watch out for the political games which so often hindered Rome’s march towards domination.
As the brave Cato tries to carry out the bidding of his masters, he has to dodge attacks from his enemy while also keeping an eye on his supposed allies, adding a twist of mystery to this gripping adventure.
True Grit by Bear Grylls (£20, ebook £9).
TV adventurer and Chief Scout Bear Grylls is bound to return to the best-seller lists with True Grit.
The follow-up to Mud, Sweat and Tears is an anthology of true stories and unbelievable tales of people who survived unthinkable accidents or came through extreme adversities.
What all these stories have in common is a thread of heroism, driving them to succeed and live where others would surely have certainly perished.
From the experiences of Uruguayan rugby player Nando Parrado, whose plane crash landed in the ice-bound Andes and who resorted to eating the flesh of his dead companions, to the well-known misadventures of Captain Scott and Aron Ralston, who amputated his own hand to free himself from the Utah canyon, Grylls has captured the intense courage that made these individuals so special when the pressure was at it’s highest.
How Did This All Happen? by John Bishop (£20, ebook £8.55).
Jimmy Tarbuck-esque gagsmith John Bishop tells his life story in his typical, harmless, likeable style.
Inoffensive with a whiff of ‘nudge, nudge, wink wink’ material, much of the subject matter in the narrative has already been covered in his largely autobiographical stage act, or in the snippets on his innumerable mainstream TV show appearances: the break-up and reconciliation with his wife, the influence of his kids and his almost accidental awakening to the industry.
There are some rare nuggets for fans though, and some entertaining observational stories, particularly involving his travels overseas.
He also duly credits some inspirational people who helped him become the poster boy for working class comedians.
There are instances where stronger editorial control could have curbed his natural comic licence – just one gag about how white his skin was under the glare of an Australian sun would have sufficed – but when allowed to flow, Bishop’s story makes for entertaining reading.