Book reviews: New reads rated

Dark Pines by Will Dean

Dark Pines by Will Dean is published in paperback by Point Blank, priced £12.99 (ebook £3.83)

THIS is Will Dean's debut novel, and is set far from the East Midlands he grew up in. Dark Pines takes place in the backwaters of Sweden – a setting not unfamiliar to Dean, who himself lives in a similarly rural part of the country with his wife.

Dark Pines is a murder mystery, and its protagonist is a compelling one. Journalist Tuva Moodyson has reluctantly left living in big cities to be closer to her ailing mother, and is trying to cover (and indeed solve) a string of mysterious murders.

The peace of the seemingly safe little town is rattled, especially as all its victims have had their eyes cut out – similar to killings that took place back in the 90s.

Dean writes evocatively of the dark and dangerous natural Swedish landscape, which is the perfect scene for murders (and very in vogue right now). Tuva's deafness makes her a more intriguing and complex character, and it's dealt with sensitively.

While it's not the most ground-breaking of thrillers and follows a fairly standard formula, it's still a gripping read that will have you guessing to the end.

Review by Prudence Wade

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is published in hardback by Little, Brown, priced £16.99 (ebook £6.99).

LITTLE Fires Everywhere is the second novel from Asian American author Celeste Ng, following her bestselling debut Everything I Never Told You, and centres on the hidden undercurrents of US suburban life.

Free-spirited artist Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl, arrive in the planned community of Shaker Heights, Cleveland, Ohio. The focus is on the impact they have on their regimented surroundings as they become entangled with an eminent local family and then caught up in a scandal involving a Chinese-American baby abandoned at a fire station.

This deft and engrossing novel based in Ng's home town, explores motherhood, roots and identity and cleverly lays bare the strengths and restrictions of community and family.

Review by Laura Paterson

Swansong by Kerry Andrew is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99).

KERRY Andrew is a London-based composer, performer and writer, and Swansong is her debut novel. Unsurprisingly (considering Andrew's background), music is weaved throughout the story.

Swansong is told from the perspective of Polly Vaughan: a student who runs away from a terrible event she was involved with in London, to the relative peace and quiet of the Scottish Highlands.

She's a pretty typical young person, and soon seeks out entertainment, drugs and alcohol to numb her feelings of guilt. However, the calm is ruptured when Polly gets caught up with a mysterious man with a dark past, and she begins to see some fantastical things.

Andrew's descriptions of the Highlands are evocative and arresting, and as a reader you are drawn in by the loner Polly befriends.

However, Polly herself is a bit too immature to really connect with as a character, making her a frustrating narrator of the novel. Her childish emotions and actions are at odds with the ancient mythology Andrew brings into the story, which makes for a slightly jarring read.

Review by Prudence Wade

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton is published in hardback by Fig Tree, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99).

THE journalist and former dating columnist's first book looks back on her life with humour and a delightful lack of self indulgence.

Alderton breezes through tales of humiliations, failed romances and an eating disorder in a fairly matter of fact way without seeming to want to dwell on them for too long or to feel sorry for herself at all.

Despite the breezy tone, Alderton recalls feeling like she was "toppling from a gale of anxiety" at the age of 27 and finally opened up the "dark recesses" with her therapist until she found a sense of self.

There's a perfect balance of light and shade in the well-paced book which ends by Alderton revealing what she has learned about love by the age of 28.

It's an inspiring final chapter, worthy of any self help book, with a strong message about being happy with who you are before expecting anyone else to love you back.

Alderton seems wise beyond her years, so hopefully her delightful debut won't be her final book.

Review by Beverley Rouse


I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan is published in paperback by Pan Macmillan, priced £7.99 (ebook £4.74).

SOUTH London maths teacher Muhammad Khan's debut was prompted by the stories of three British schoolgirls who fled to Syria in 2015 to join so called Islamic State.

Khan, who lost a family member to religious extremism, said he wrote young adult novel I Am Thunder as a way of looking at how people were led to make bad choices.

His heroine, Muzna Saleem, is an ordinary 15-year-old English schoolgirl who dreams of being a novelist, although her traditional Pakistani parents would prefer her to become a doctor.

Sensible and academic, Muzna's head is turned when she moves school and meets the attractive Arif Malik who gradually lures her into a world of Muslim extremism. Muzna realises she is getting into something dangerous but fears taking a stand could mean her losing Arif forever.

Khan's characters are well drawn and the story, in large, believable, although the ending is a bit too neat.

Review by Beverley Rouse

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