It’s a fantastic week for fiction with Jojo Moyes’s latest novel The One Plus One, and Jill Dawson’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (£14.99, ebook £4.72).
A large part of Jojo Moyes’s appeal is that she’s a real woman who has worked extremely hard to become the bestselling novelist she is today, and as such, writes about similarly relatable women.
The protagonist in her latest offering The One Plus One certainly fits the bill.
Down-to-earth Jess has had a tough go of it; a single mum, she is struggling to get by, working two jobs to make ends meet, while also desperately hoping that her son doesn’t get beaten up by the local yobs.
When she and her chaotic family take a trip up to Scotland with the handsome, rich and seemingly snobby Ed, things start to get interesting.
Moyes has a gift of making you instantly relate to her characters and her narrative is so strong it’s easy to imagine they are real.
When bad things happen to them, it is tear-jerking and you are genuinely praying for a happy ending.
A two-time winner of the Romantic Novel Of The Year Award, Moyes has crafted The One Plus One into an easy-to-read, absorbing story that takes you through every emotion.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson (£17.99, ebook £6.99).
How much of ourselves are carried in our bodies’ organs? That’s the question Jill Dawson explores in this beautifully haunting tale.
Patrick Robson is a university professor with a heart condition that will kill him in six months and a harassment charge hanging over him at work, when a donor heart suddenly becomes available.
As Patrick begins noticing subtle changes to his personality, he’s unsure if they are due to the stress of having had major surgery or if, as his transplant co-ordinator suggests, his donor heart could have carried some of its previous owner’s characteristics with it.
Chapters about Patrick alternate with others about his donor and donor’s ancestors, all set against the bleak backdrop and turbulent history of a Fens town in decline.
Dawson doesn’t try to answer whether personalities really can cross over between donors and recipients and nor do her characters – instead, she gives a skilfully subtle suggestion that momentous events and passionate feelings can’t be confined to one person or time.
The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh (£12.99, ebook £4.35).
You would be forgiven for thinking that The Lemon Grove is a love story – or rather, a lust story – if you had the general gist explained to you: Jenn, a woman on the cusp of middle age, has a brief affair with her stepdaughter’s 17-year-old boyfriend, Nathan, while they holiday in lush, arty Deia in Mallorca.
However, while the erotic scenes are masterfully and evocatively written, there is much more in the novel than a cliched affair.
Stepdaughter Emma is 15, on the cusp of sexual maturity, and starting to pull away from her stepmother’s grasp; Greg is Emma’s father, Jenn’s older husband, the keeper of a secret from the family, a secret that makes Nathan’s burgeoning masculinity a further point of conflict; and Nathan himself is a working-class teenager, beautiful, clever and intent on wielding his power among this fracturing family.
A gripping read with a tumultuous finish.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (£12.99, ebook £6.02).
In the winter of 1953 20-year-old Boy Novak runs away from New York and her bullying, abusive father. She ends up in Flax Hill, Massachusetts, makes friends, gets a job and eventually marries a local widower, Arturo Whitman.
She becomes stepmother to his beautiful, beguiling daughter Snow, but when Boy gives birth to her daughter Bird, the Whitmans’ dark secret is revealed, her world is turned upside down and her relationship with Snow changes.
Boy is forced to reconsider the image Arturo’s family have presented to her, and she, Snow and Bird are broken apart.
Then a startling revelation about Boy’s own identity and her absent mother makes all three women confront who they are individually and together.
Clever, vibrant and inventive, this is a fairytale for the 21st century that challenges our perceptions about race, gender, appearance and family, and explores the nature of love in all its complex guises.
Just So Happens by Fumio Obata (£16.99, ebook £9.99).
There are not enough graphic novels on the mainstream market, and is this because putting pictures in books seems somewhat juvenile; taking us back to our childhood and making us think they aren’t ‘grown up’ enough?
Well, that thought is surely challenged in the reading of Fumio Obata’s Just So Happens.
Set across two very different cities and cultures, protagonist Yumiko travels from her home in London back to Japan for the funeral of her father.
Though the story itself doesn’t contain a huge amount of action, the interest lies in Yumiko’s journey of her culture, home and self.
It is told with great care and dignity on what is an extremely sensitive subject matter.
The illustrations reflect the mood of the story perfectly with many sepia tones and soft lines from a watercolour finish creating a sense of movement and transition which mirrors Yumiko’s journey.
Do not rule out graphic novels if you have never tried them; this would surely be the place to start.
The Wind Is Not A River by Brian Payton (£16.99, ebook £5.39).
Canadian author Brian Payton has built a vivid depiction of a resonant period of history for his latest novel The Wind Is Not A River.
Opening in the snow-swept landscape of 1943, landed and lost in the northern Pacific, the reader is parachuted into a twisting tale of survival, sacrifice and war.
It’s a strong story, and one that reminds you of love’s brute strength – the other side of the same coin so frequently spent by traditional romance authors.
Payton writes with clean prose, giving his readers a stark, uncluttered view of a romance.
This evocative novel is a deeply moving read which commands your full attention.
My Life In Agony: Confessions Of A Professional Agony Aunt by Irma Kurtz (£14.99, ebook £7.12).
To the numerous women and teenagers who have read Cosmopolitan, the name Irma Kurtz will sound familiar.
She’s the ‘no-nonsense’ agony aunt who has delivered advice on sex, love, friendships and careers, not only to the letter-writers, but any readers facing similar issues (and those who read her columns out of nosy fascination).
My Life In Agony is not a linear autobiography, nor is it a confessional – swathes of Irma’s life are skirted around and she takes care not to reveal all her innermost feelings on a plate.
There’s a sense that she’s slightly guarded, though she’s not dressing up her experiences as entirely smooth – early on, she admits “Has the agony aunt troubles of her own? You bet she has”.
Kurtz presents herself as a voice of wisdom and common sense, but while her advice, for the most part, seems honest, straightforward and sensible, there are occasions where others will not agree and it seems as if, at times, there’s not enough recognition that she doesn’t always have all the answers.
There’s also a tendency towards generalisation – while her theories on the spiteful attitudes of envious women do ring true when applied to certain examples, they don’t hold for the majority.
Even so, the realisation that the same old problems, feelings and disputes are rehashed and regurgitated through the decades is comforting.
People will always search for answers and sometimes, as Kurtz points out, just need someone to put into words what they already know deep down.
Hello, Hugless Douglas! by David Melling (£1 with a World Book Day.
David Melling’s beloved big brown bear Hugless Douglas is back with Hello, Hugless Douglas! a new tale for World Book Day (March 6).
This time Melling takes us through a day with the big-hearted bear who never tires of giving or receiving hugs.
After a wake up hug and a scrub of his fur, he’s off bouncing around with the Funny Bunnies and climbing trees to pick off apples.
Then he has a bath and settles down for his favourite book, before bundling all his friends together for a huge Hugless Douglas hug.
Sweetly enough, the book ends with a gallery of hugs, including an upside-down hug, a bug toy hug and a woolly hug which should tickle little ones.
For just one book token, Hello, Hugless Douglas, which is available until March 30, is a lovely introduction to the world of the friendly brown bear and is a great, cheap way of helping ignite your child’s inner bookworm.