Arts

Book reviews: this week's new publications rated

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakani is published in paperback by Portobello Books, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.54). Available now

HIROMI Kawakani is one of Japan's most popular contemporary novelists and, thanks to Allison Markin Powell's translation, we get to enjoy this meandering and innocent novel. Kawakani's tales of a small Japanese thrift shop, where Hitomi works on the till, form a collection of short stories, each one centred around an item from the shop. The delightful nature of the story comes from the magic of the ordinary and the everyday goings on in the shop owned by the enigmatic Mr Nakano. Through Hitomi's cautious, watching eyes, we see a relationship grow between herself and Takeo, a seemingly straightforward young man, who is more affected by the 30-something 'girl' than even he is aware. This book is a definite slow burn, but totally worth the perseverance. The glimpse it offers into the relationships between families and friends in Japan results in a tenderly handled mystery and a fractured love story.

Rachel Howdle

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson, published in hardback by Corvus, priced £12.99 (ebook 98p). Available now

AUTHOR MM Banning and her 'eccentric' son Frank live a reclusive life in a mansion in Los Angeles.

Echoing the likes of Salinger and Harper Lee, Banning was the author of a literary classic at the age of 19 and has famously not written a word since.

Having now found herself in financial turmoil, she reaches out to her publisher with the promise of a new novel, providing she is given an assistant to help with Frank.

Enter Alice, a determined young woman who defiantly manages Banning and Frank's individually challenging personalities to end up forming a close and enduring friendship with the wonderfully unique Frank.

Be Frank With Me is Julia Claiborne Johnson's first novel, and one that took her six years to write. This fact is reflected in the brilliant and detailed depiction of Frank and his many intricacies that lovingly unfold throughout.

Admittedly, by comparison, the rest of the novel does feel somewhat lacking, and the narrative is a little too familiar to really make an impact.

Certainly no game-changer, but an optimistic and heartfelt read all the same.

Erin Bateman

Hide by Matthew Griffin is published in hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £16.99 (ebook £10.04). Available now

THIS debut novel from Matthew Griffin is a deliberately paced, poignant story of two men in love against all the odds. Narrated over a considerable number of years, Hide tells the tale of taxidermist Wendell Wilson and veteran Frank Clifton, who meet after the Second World War in a run-down North Carolina mill town.

Unsurprisingly, due to the climate of the time, the pair are forced to hide their love and live in fear, never exchanging love notes or speaking in public.

Many years later, after the couple have created a home for themselves on the outskirts of town, Wendell reflects on the consequences of isolating himself from the world as Frank's strength and health deteriorate.

Griffin creates a fascinating and raw journey for Frank and Wendell, championing the love between two people, regardless of the lack of support from the outside world.

Despite some rather gruesome descriptions of taxidermy and a slight feeling of repetition around halfway through, which would put some readers off, this is quite a remarkable novel.

Deeply touching and thought provoking.

Heather Doughty

Minds Of Winter by Ed O'Loughlin, published in hardback by riverrun, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.49). Available August 25

TWO strangers happen upon each other in a most unlikely place near the top of the world, both chasing their own personal mysteries, which are actually intertwined.

Flitting between several timelines in a variety of locations across the globe, the story (loosely based on real events) attempts to unravel how a timepiece from a ship lost while charting the Nothwest Passage in the mid-1800s wound up on a modern-day London mantelpiece.

While O'Loughlin clearly laboured over research for the book, his writing leaves much to be desired.

Convoluted by maritime lore, the book seems to be a love letter to naval history rather than a compelling (or even cohesive) story. The hopping around is tiresome and uncomfortable, some chapters contributing little to the overall arc, leaving the characters empty and under-developed.

I simply didn't care for any of them or their struggles.

There are odd glimmers of hope here and there, such as the description of the vast bleakness of the harsh tundra, but it wasn't enough to make it an enjoyable read.

Wayne Walls

NON FICTION BOOK OF THE WEEK

The Little Book of Donegal, by Cathal Coyle, published by The History Press. Available now

GET beyond the instinct to trumpet your home county's virtues and most might quietly admit that Donegal is probably Ireland's best county.

Coyle's second Little Book (after Tyrone) explores the wonders of Tyrconnell, with cosy ideas like bumping into Ireland's only king on Tory Island, or knowing you can hop on a bus in Glasgow and hop off outside Mr Chippy in Letterkenny.

Adam Kee's illustrations enhance fantastic tales like the terrible power of Balor's poisonous eye, the storm off the Donegal coast that inspired 'Amazing Grace' and the mysterious disappearance of a Harvard Professor from Inishboffin in 1933.

The county is routinely praised for its beauty, but the book shows the locals' knack for names is underrated.

Atmospheric descriptions of the Lake of Shadows, the Mountain of the Snows and The Bridge of Tears make it clear that poetry is woven into the landscape.

Not one for the bookshelf, the Little Book is a bring-along guide, at home in a car or bag, well-thumbed and ready for your next adventure.

Cathal McGuigan

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