This week, the stunning new novel from Jung-Myung Lee, The Investigation, Jenny Colgan’s new page-turner Little Beach Street Bakery and Bryant & May And The Bleeding Heart, the latest book in Christopher Fowler’s popular detective series.
The Investigation by Jung-Myung Lee (£16.99, ebook £7.47).
A guard has been found dead, hanging from a beam, at Fukuoka Prison. His name is Sugiyama Dozan, and he was feared and despised by the prisoners.
From the start, his death is not considered a suicide but a murder; a steel stake had been stabbed into his heart and his lips sewn shut.
A poem found in his uniform pocket soon intrigues young guard Watanabe Yuichi, who’s given the task of finding his murderer.
An inmate soon confesses, but Watanabe isn’t quite convinced of his guilt.
As he begins to dig deeper, he uncovers untold conspiracies within the prison, magical friendships and the effects war has on humanity.
This spellbinding novel from Korean author Jung-Myung Lee, translated by Chi-Young Kim, has been inspired by the life of dissident Korean poet Yun Dong-ju and his posthumously published body of work, with several of his poems featured here.
It’s impossible not to be moved by this epic story of the struggle to find and remember beauty in the face of cruelty and inhumanity.
Cat Out Of Hell by Lynne Truss (£9.99, ebook £6.99).
Author and journalist Lynne Truss is perhaps best known for Eats, Shoots And Leaves, her humorous guide to using grammar correctly.
Now, she heads in a very different route for her first novel in 15 years.
Cat Out Of Hell is a comedy horror that follows the story of the dashingly handsome talking cat Roger.
Roger is immortal, and has been forever haunted by the evil Captain, the biggest and baddest of talking cats, who can murder with a single hiss.
The story is narrated by a retired librarian, who along with his adorable dog Watson (who in Truss’s own words is the hero of the story), have to put a stop to the whole saga before any more blood is spilled.
While being genuinely creepy at times, with an alarming number of human deaths involved for a book about cats, the novella is also hilarious.
Truss’ well-educated sense of humour is rife throughout, every page dripping with witty comments.
This is certainly a novel like no other: original, engrossing and very, if darkly, funny.
Just be prepared to view cats with a certain amount of suspicion from now on.
Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan (£7.99, ebook £2.85).
Jenny Colgan’s latest offering, Little Beach Street Bakery, tells the story of a confused 32-year-old called Polly.
The business she and her boyfriend run has recently gone under and their relationship is on the rocks, and Polly needs to get away.
But she can’t afford to live in Plymouth on her own so she looks for somewhere cheaper and finds a run-down flat in a quiet coastal town.
Against her friends’ advice, Polly moves in and soon she’s making friends with fishermen, taking care of an injured puffin, but also making enemies with the local baker – also her landlady – when Polly starts offering her neighbours better, fresher bread.
Little Beach Street Bakery is a pleasant, easy read for a Sunday afternoon and for anyone who likes their romantic comedies and their food.
An added treat is the book’s set of recipes, including cinnamon rolls and cheese straws, for anyone feeling inspired.
Bryant & May And The Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler (£16.99, £6.99).
Fowler has written 10 previous mysteries starring London’s oldest detectives, dishevelled Arthur Bryant and dapper John May.
After two loosely-connected sequences, their latest case is a new beginning.
Their chaotic but oddly effective Peculiar Crimes Unit is investigating a mysteriously disinterred body, and the disappearance of the Tower Of London’s ravens – incidents which will lead them deep into the capital’s uneasy mesh of ambition, history, money and myth.
As the idiosyncratic duo battle bureaucratic interference and baffling crimes, Fowler drops in surprising items of London lore, all of them true (or at least, true legends).
The prose is sometimes uneven, and the editing can get a little clunky.
However, the joy in London’s strangeness, the intricate plotting and, above all, the fascinating figures of Bryant and May more than make up for these small flaws.
Everland by Rebecca Hunt (£12.99, ebook £6.02).
Telling the story of two Arctic journeys set nearly 100 years apart, Rebecca Hunt’s second novel is poles apart from her debut, Mr Chartwell, but nonetheless intriguing.
In 1913, Dinners, Millet-Bass and Napps head out on a thrilling adventure towards the uncharted territory they come to name Everland.
Yet as storms set in and the bleak frost threatens their safety, the three men come to rely on each other in ways they never imagined.
In 2013, to mark the centenary of their predecessors’ ill-fated voyage, Brix, Decker and Jess head towards the same barren land in the name of scientific research, yet it seems history is doomed to repeat itself.
Hunt’s language is wonderfully descriptive and fully immerses the reader in the harsh, bitter conditions of the Arctic, but her details are often overly explanatory, leaving the reader yearning for a bit less talk and a bit more action.
Power Play by Danielle Steel (£18.99, ebook £8.55).
The latest book from Danielle Steel has two main protagonists, both CEOs of successful American corporations.
One, Fiona Carson, a mid-40s, divorced mother-of-two, has sacrificed having a relationship in order to be a success.
The other, Marshall Weston, has three children with his wife Lucy, who effortlessly runs the household, and is conducting an eight-year-plus affair with a young artist, Ashley, who has borne him twins.
Steel is a good storyteller, but Power Play is not a good story, with a rather obvious plot making for a soulless read.
The stereotypes are all-pervading; Lucy giving up her law career to make her husband happy; Ashley knowing that Weston will never leave his wife, but believing the yarns he spins every time.
Steel no doubt has another bestseller on her hands, but for me, Power Play had no power at all.
Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years In New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes (£14.99, ebook £9.49).
The thing about rock legends is it’s easy to believe they were born that way, fully-formed with perfect eye-liner and hordes of adoring fans.
One of the many, brilliant aspects of this dense rock history is how it explores the humble beginnings of hundreds of influential musicians in New York in the early 1970s.
The New York Dolls, for example, originally dreamed of a career in fashion, Bruce Springsteen was hyped as a bearded folk singer, while Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine ran an independent poetry press.
Meanwhile leading lights of the new jazz scene rented space from painter and poet Virginia Admiral, who was the mother of an aspiring actor named Robert de Niro.
But this isn’t just an ambitious exploration of how New York became a music industry nexus.
It’s a love letter to old-school New York, when the city was broke and Lou Reed penned Walk on the Wild Side about his friends and neighbours.
A treat for lovers of music and Manhattan alike.7/10(Review by Anita Chaudhuri)
Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Hooks, Helps And Hurts Us by Murray Carpenter (£12.99, ebook £8.75).
Caffeinated tells the story of the human relationship with and dependency on the world’s most consumed natural and legal high.
Carpenter writes in a knowledgeable, yet non-judgmental, manner, about the way this substance has come to dominate the Western way of life.
His narrative takes the reader from the sidewalks of the United States to the streets of Mexico, Colombia, China, Guatemala and Antigua as he investigates the production, marketing and science of caffeine, as well as chocolate, coffee, cola, energy drinks tea and pain relievers.
As you would imagine, the book explores both the benefits and costs of consuming what many view as an innocuous substance, showing the murkier side of caffeine: from the way athletes abuse it through to the way it has managed to escape regulation (unlike other addictive substances).
Mixing the human story with science, pitched at a level a lay person can understand, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and addictive read, very much like its subject matter.
It makes you think about your own caffeinated existence, and is a definite read for those unable to get through the day without a cup of tea, a shot of espresso or a bite of a chocolate bar.