The engrossing Sedition by Katharine Grant and Sue Monk Kidd’s long-awaited follow-up to The Secret Life Of Bees, The Invention of Wings.
Sedition by Katharine Grant (£14.99, ebook £4.72).
Set in 1794 London, this tale of seduction and piano playing is a gripping read.
The tale revolves around the daughters of some city men.
The fathers, many from humble backgrounds themselves, are desperate to see their daughters married off to eligible bachelors.
The answer, one of the fathers Tobias Drigg, believes, is to teach them to play the pianoforte and have them perform a concert where prospective husbands can take their pick.
And so Drigg sets off to find a pianoforte, meeting facially deformed Annie, daughter of the shopkeeper.
He is also offered a French pianoforte teacher – both characters becoming key to the story.
What follows is a lot of sex of all kinds – extra-marital, cherry-popping, gay and incest.
In fact, it seems the only ones who aren’t having sex are the married couples.
This is no 50 Shades Of Grey though – the encounters aren’t described in detail and are over in the blink of an eye – and there is much more to this book than lusty encounters.
Power – both male and female – is explored, and in a time when the French Revolution was causing a stir, anything really did seem possible, especially for women.
(But then, that’s not all that surprising, seeing as this book’s published by the brilliant Virago – publisher of only female writers).
You won’t be able to put this book down and, despite a slightly abrupt ending, it’s certainly one to recommend (though maybe not to an elderly relative).
Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates (£14.99, ebook £6.99).
Cressida, the ‘clever’ daughter as opposed to her ‘pretty’ sister Juliet, is missing in the mountainous wilderness near her home.
The 19-year-old’s disappearance plunges us into Carthage, named after the upstate New York town where she lived with her family, including her father, its former mayor.
Things appear desperate as a full-scale search is launched, and Joyce Carol Oates creates a tense narrative, weaving in strands from the perspectives of those close to the missing girl.
This includes Juliet’s ex-fiance Brett Kincaid, an injured veteran of the war in Iraq, whose involvement in what happened to Cressida is far from clear, especially in his own head.
The fallibility of memory and the endurance of trauma borne in the horrors of war are at the fore as we navigate our way through Carthage in the aftermath of losing Cressida.
As a teenager we find the girl had been obsessed with MC Escher, his works illustrating the impossibility of knowing which way is up.
Like his intricate illusions, Carthage is both assured and disconcerting, and is the work of an author clearly at the top of her game.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (£14.99, ebook £4.72).
The Invention of Wings tells the parallel stories of Hetty ‘Handful’ Grimke, and Sarah Grimke, two women bound together on Sarah’s 11th birthday, when Handful is presented to her as her gift: her very own waiting maid.
As Sarah, the difficult, stammering middle child, refuses her gift due to her “resistance about slavery”, so the dynamic between the two girls is set up.
Though Sarah is told by her domineering mother, entrenched in the ways of the Deep South, that this is their way of life and she must ‘make... peace with it’, Sarah refuses.
What follows is the story of their turbulent lives, each resisting the path that is set out for them.
This long-awaited follow-up from the author of The Secret Lives of Bees is epic in scale and, though there’s a certain lack of pace towards the end, it’s an immensely satisfying read.
The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta (£12.99, ebook £7.47).
Dan Vyleta’s third novel finds him back on the familiar ground of his previous books, with the survivors amid the rubble of a city ruined by the Second World War.
It starts with two strangers on a train, one a schoolboy and the other a woman hoping for a reunion with her prisoner-of-war husband, and follows them through the bombed-out streets of post-war Vienna.
Wounded war veterans, Soviet spies, unrepentant Nazis and their victims all rub shoulders in the 400-plus pages as the writer unravels half-a-dozen different mysteries, including several possible murders, suspected kidnappings and sprawling family secrets.
But this is not your typical thriller and it is not the twists and turns of the plot that will keep readers turning the pages.
It is the atmosphere Vyleta builds up, line by line, of a world of secrets threatening to fall down on the characters’ heads at any moment.
Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh (£13.99, ebook £4.68).
Shovel Ready, the debut novel from the New York Times culture editor Adam Sternbergh, isn’t easy to pigeonhole.
Set in a barren New York city, which has been destroyed after a bomb hit Times Square, former garbageman-turned-hitman Spademan has been hired to kill the runway teenage daughter of a high-profile evangelical preacher.
But when his target is different to what he expected, Spademan’s world is turned upside down.
Now, he must fight for survival and decide his own moral path – while trying to cope with a lawless New York and the preacher’s terrifying, fantasy world.
Straddling the genres of noir fiction, sci-fi and crime thriller, this book is a melting pot of action, dark humour, violence and flashes of tender emotion – with a dystopian reality thrown in.
With no proper punctuation and razor-sharp, one-line sentences, the plot is fast-moving and gripping.
And thanks to Sternbergh’s newsman’s eye, it is packed with effortless detail.
At times, though, the twists are obvious. And, with so many characters whose surfaces are only scratched, it can sometimes hard to follow.
But it’s a brave and welcome debut from an author who is certainly one to watch.
Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse (£12.99, ebook £5.03).
The Bed I Made author returns with a new story about how a woman’s seemingly perfect life is shattered by secrets and lies.
After living in America for years, Hannah falls in love with fellow Brit Mark Reilly.
She returns to England, married to the perfect man and living in the perfect house.
One day, Mark fails to come home from a business trip. As the hours tick by with no word, Hannah gets in touch with his work colleagues.
But when she receives an unexpected answer from his assistant, Hannah’s life begins to fall apart.
Things go from bad to worse as Hannah learns her bank account has been emptied and a woman has been calling Mark at work.
As she tries to find the answers, Hannah uncovers secrets from Mark’s past that surely can’t be true. What has Hannah discovered and how will it affect her marriage?
An intriguing read with unexpected twists.
Love Letters Of The Great War, edited by Mandy Kirkby (£9.99, ebook £4.19).
A collection of real, never-before-published correspondences between soldiers and their sweethearts from around the world.
During the First World War, many men and women suddenly found themselves separated by great distances, not knowing when or if they will be reunited, and countless numbers ended up never seeing their loved ones ever again.
These touching and fascinating first-hand accounts relay the separation, the longing and the conditions faced by individuals at that time.
There are heart-wrenching love notes, sweet drawings and tenderly exchanged photographs, but the focus isn’t just on the romantic, there are also wonderful bursts of humour, ‘Dear John’ letters, and barely concealed frustrations and fears.
As well as an insightful foreword by Helen Dunmore, every letter is prefaced by background notes from editor Mandy Kirby, further bringing to life the individual situation of each letter writer for the reader.
Love Letters Of The Great War is a short but wonderful anthology, which paints an intimate and human portrait of love and war, and it really brings to life one of the most significant events in recent history.
It also highlights the unsung heroes in the army postal service, who for more than four years performed miracles in keeping loved ones in touch, sending millions of letters, love tokens and parcels of home comforts to and from the frontline.
A brilliant collection, and a must-read for both young and old.
Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey Of Sound by Trevor Cox (£20, ebook £11.99).
Taking us on a journey over the peaks and troughs of everything audible is Trevor Cox, professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford.
Our quest across the globe takes us through sewer systems and reservoirs, under bridges and glaciers, across lakes and fjords, and to ancient monuments and cathedrals, where we clap our hands, pop balloons and fire pistols wherever possible, all in the name of science.
Sonic urban legends are laid to rest (ducks’ quacks echo the same as everything else) as the likeable professor searches for discoveries like the world’s most reverberant place, plays a solid stone xylophone, and tricks tourists with tricky echo poetry, all while explaining the behaviour and mechanisms at work within the materials involved.
While there are definitely anecdotes that will both tickle and educate you though, fighting through vast swathes of science-babble and mathematics make it an arduous read.
That said, it’s ultimately a rewarding one – and you’ll certainly never hear the same again.
There’s A Shark In The Bath by Sarah McIntyre (£6.99).
When Dulcie goes to pull the plug on some stagnant bath water, she notices that three cheeky sharks have sneaked into the tub.
Her parents laugh off her cries about the preying predators and soon Dulcie is back in the bathroom where the sharks are eyeing her up for breakfast.
But Dulcie has a plan up her sleeve and tells the sharks they can eat her after they have a game of “brushety brush” where they have to clean their teeth.
Next, Dulcie shows the hungry sharks the “wiggety wig game” and the “happy-wrappy-uppie game” – but they’re still peckish.
But before they sit down to eat Dulcie, her dad knocks at the door, scaring the sharks away in the process.
This is a lovely, brightly coloured tale which should hopefully persuade little ones that bathtime can be fun.