The Thing About December by Donal Ryan – his poignant second novel – and the latest release from Christos Tsiolkas, Barracuda
The Thing About December by Donal Ryan (£12.99, ebook £6.02).
The follow-up to a first novel is never easy, especially when that novel – The Spinning Heart – won the Guardian First Book Award and Book of the Year at the Irish book awards; was long listed for the Man Booker prize; and was on the Waterstones Eleven list.
However, this book proves that Ryan is no flash in the pan.
While similarly sparse and curiously poetic in style, The Thing About December is a novel of huge emotional depth.
The writing is cool and detached, narrated by Johnsey Cunliffe, the 24-year-old village ‘eejit’.
He is both astute in his observations and desperately sad (recollections of a disco had me in tears), as, following the death of his parents during Celtic Tiger times, he is left to negotiate property developers after his land, deal with bullies and make his own friends.
A hugely satisfying follow-up, and a gem of a novel.
The Impossible Lives Of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer (£14.99, ebook £5.03).
Many people may feel at some points in time that their lives have become impossible – stuck in a rut and unable to see the light of day.
None more so than Greta Wells. Her brother has died following his long battle with Aids and her long-term partner has left her following an affair with a younger woman.
She appeals for help, and her doctor suggests a controversial electroconvulsive therapy.
The results, however, are far more shocking than he or she could ever have imagined, submerging Greta into three eras – 1918, 1941 and 1985 – where she awakes in the same room, on the same street, with the same family members surrounding her.
She realises that what her aunt told her as a child may have just come to life.
“You make a wish, and another world is formed in which that wish comes true, though you may never see it... Perhaps in one of them, all rights are wronged and life is as you wish it. So what happens if you found the door? And what if you had the key? Because everyone knows this: That the impossible happens once to each of us.”
Andrew Sean Greer perfects the tone and you soon forget that it is a male author writing from a female perspective.
The novel takes a beautiful journey through history, allowing us to consider what life may have been like had we been born in a different era – and which one we ultimately would choose.
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas (£12.99, ebook £6.02).
From the bestselling author of The Slap comes Barracuda, a story about a misfit second-generation immigrant schoolboy who dreams of swimming to Olympic victory for Australia.
Narrated in snatches at different points in Danny’s life, we learn early on that the dream went badly wrong.
Tsiolkas slowly reveals what happened to this hungry, angry young man, against a backdrop of multilayered disillusion with Australian society: Danny’s teenage activist ambitious friends bemoan the country’s not-so-secret Aboriginal apartheid and endemic sexism, but grow up to be the average, status-seeking middle-class who try to redeem themselves with left-wing ranting over many bottles of wine.
Barracuda is a book about failure. It’s difficult to discern the difference between the bleakness which accompanies Danny’s unfulfilled character, from that which expresses Tsiolkas’s own misgivings about modern Australia.
Emotionally an uncomfortable read, Barracuda loses its way structurally in the second half as Tsiolkas struggles to develop the plot of Danny’s life post-crisis.
Making a clunky turn to Danny’s redemption through rejuvenated relationships with family and friends, the plot loses narrative direction and the multiple time settings begin to grate.
Sharper editing and a substantive ending would have slapped this otherwise peculiarly gripping book into shape.
Extreme: Most Wanted by Chris Ryan (£12.99).
Chris Ryan’s service in the SAS and his now-legendary escape during the Gulf War gave the ex-soldier the knowledge and experience which enabled him to become a bestselling author.
But what Ryan has since done is move on from writing about his own endeavours and branch out into fiction writing, for both adults and children.
His Extreme series is a logical move into the world of mercenaries, men for hire who will do whatever they are asked without question and usually for ample financial reward.
Most Wanted finds his fictional hero John Bald, himself a former SAS man, swapping the cut-throat world of the drugs trade in Almaty for the slums of Caracas.
Charged with ‘kidnapping’ a Russian oligarch from under the noses of the Venezuelan authorities, Bald does not know which way to turn as working out who is friend and who is foe is not as easy as it first appears.
Drawing on his training Bald must extract himself from a deadly situation if he is to have any hope of redemption.
Ryan has already proved himself to be a bestselling chart leader and the latest adventure of John Bald proves he is every bit as adept at telling stories as he once was at evading the Iraqi army.
Fans of Ryan’s previous work will not be disappointed and those new to him will enjoy the fast pace and expert insight of his latest work.
Fear Nothing by Lisa Gardner (£14.99, ebook £4.72).
US author Lisa Gardner is back with her 21st novel and the eighth crime book featuring Detective DD Warren.
Her latest thriller focuses on two sisters – one a successful therapist, Doctor Adeline Glen, who suffers from congenital analgesia (she can’t feel pain), the other, Shana Day, a serial killer serving time in prison for multiple murders.
As daughters of mass murderer Harry Day, they now have to join forces to help DD catch a predator copying their late father’s modus operandi.
On top of it all, DD is at a disadvantage after being injured visiting a crime scene after hours, when she encountered the killer.
In addition to her physical injuries, where getting out of bed and getting dressed already poses a huge challenge, she is emotionally traumatised and has trouble recalling details about the night, which would help Boston’s finest find their killer, who terrorises lone females.
As Gardner’s novels go, Fear Nothing has upped the stakes.
It is gorier (the murderer flays his victims’ skin in strips), creepier and will leave the reader guessing the identity of the killer until the end – everything a crime thriller needs.
Down To The Sea Of Ships by Horatio Clare (£20, ebook £11.99).
Despite sharing his name with Nelson, Horatio Clare was no seafarer; yet, fascinated by the great container ships without whose cargo “what we call normality would not exist”, he resolved to join their journeys, and tell the story of the men who maintain the arteries of international commerce.
Two voyages are recounted here; one around much of the world on the mighty Gerd Maersk, the other to the frozen North on the battered Maersk Pembroke.
Both are enlivened with a miscellany of facts and reflections, covering humanity’s nautical history from the Bronze Age to the present.
Clare is rightly furious about the racial inequities, corporate malpractice and sheer baffling waste entailed in international shipping, but simultaneously seems determined to re-enchant life on the ocean waves.
For all the mechanisation, pollution and enforced sobriety, there remains something majestic and timeless about the sailor’s life, captured here in moments of pure poetry.
Meet The Parents by Peter Bently (£11.99, ebook £3.49).
If your little one thinks that all Mum and Dad do is nag them to clean their teeth, eat their greens and tidy up, you might want to read them Meet The Parents.
This beautifully illustrated and humorous book details, in rhyme, all the things Mum and Dad are good for, from carrying toys to holding up wonky tents.
“Parents are towels for wiping your grime on; They’re whirlers and twirlers and tree trunks to climb on,” the book tells us.
But that’s not all they are there for, they also fix your problems and tuck you up at night.
This book, the perfect bedtime read, will make your kids realise that parents aren’t so bad after all.