Arts

Book reviews: The Sealwoman's Gift is an absolute triumph of imagination

The Sealwoman's Gift by Sally Magnusson tells the story of the 1627 kidnapping hundreds of Icelanders by Barbary pirates

BOOK OF THE WEEK

The Sealwoman's Gift by Sally Magnusson is published in hardback by Two Roads, priced £16.99 (ebook £10.99). Available now

IN 1627, Barbary pirates struck a sneaky attack on the coast of Iceland, kidnapping hundreds of Icelanders to take back and sell into slavery, with the hope of bartering for hefty ransoms from Denmark. Sally Magnusson has taken this little-known snippet of history and imagined the events that unfolded for young mother Asta, and her pastor husband Olafur, who, among the captives, must survive a brutal grief-addled voyage and life as slaves in an alien Arab world. The journalist and broadcaster has quite a few books under her belt, but The Sealwoman's Gift is her first novel. Packed with detail and characters, at first I panic slightly that I'll struggle to keep up with the plot and who's who - but Sally's immersive prose and precision observations soon have me thrillingly entwined in the action and emotion of this dramatic tale. This is a book to get lost in - in fact I sometimes forgot I was even reading; so vividly the scenes played out in my mind (The Sealwoman's Gift is begging for the big screen). An absolute triumph of imagination.

9/10

Abi Jackson

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen is published in hardback by Macmillan, priced £12.99 (ebook £11.99). Available now

FORMER journalist turned fiction writer Sarah Pekkanen has teamed up with her editor and friend Greer Hendricks for her latest novel. The Wife Between Us tells the story of Vanessa whose rich and successful ex-husband is preparing to marry his new girlfriend. Vanessa is determined the wedding will not go ahead and tries to sabotage it. The plot seems quite straightforward until a surprising twist about halfway into the story forces the reader to rethink everything that has gone before. Unfortunately, the twist also interrupts the pace of the book and it seems to take a while to get going again. It does pick up eventually and luckily there are several other interesting surprises in the second half of this enjoyable book, where nothing is quite as it originally seemed. A good read, but probably not quite as clever or surprising as the blurb suggests.

6/10

Beverley Rouse

The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne is published in hardback by Hamish Hamilton, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99). Available now

OBJECTIVELY, this is a clever slip of a book. A reedy look at the utter shattering of Ray, a mid-30s freelance tech journalist and soon-to-be father, Dunthorne's sharpness and wit - remember how good his debut, Submarine was? - are intact. He's scathingly astute when tackling Ray's 'millennial' trappings (the desperation to buy even a truly grotty flat; the fact it's impossible to make any new 'meaningful' relationships in your 30s). But it's also really hard to devote any real time to Ray. You just get the sense, page after page, that he's not worth the effort. Which perhaps is the point; his nurse girlfriend Garthene (much is made of this name) would rather spend time with her life-saving colleagues, his parents prefer prodigy violinists, and his dysfunctional friends can barely prop themselves up, let alone support Ray in his narrative realisations. It's zeitgeisty and smartly written, yet rather unsatisfying.

6/10

Ella Walker

NON-FICTION

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence is published in hardback by Icon Books, priced £11.99 (ebook £6.64). Available now

DEAR Annie, I really wanted to like your book. I loved the idea of what you had done more than I actually loved the book. Writing letters to the books you love and the ones you are weeding out of the library stacks to tell them how you feel about them and why, makes sense to any reader. Maybe, it's because I'm not your target audience - I'm not a millennial who thinks "TLDR" about an article over 140 characters, or maybe because some of the US cultural references didn't mean much to me. We had some fun along the way - you made me smile in a few places, and I wanted more of your insights into relationships, but having written down a few titles that I might check out, you are being passed on to the charity shop. Not one to sit on my shelves. If you like the sound of it, borrow it from your library. Love from A baby boomer generation aged reviewer. PS. Not one for you if you mind bad language.

6/10

Bridie Pritchard

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK

Scythe by Neal Shusterman is published in paperback by Walker Books UK, priced £7.99 (ebook £5.31). Available now

IN AN alternate future, poverty, war and racism have been eliminated. Old age and sickness are a thing of the past, death can be overcome and people are able to reset themselves time and time again. Population control lies in the hands of Scythes - professional reapers who randomly select individuals to be "gleaned" or permanently killed. Citra and Rowan, the two main characters in Shusterman's young adult novel, find themselves as young apprentices to a Scythe, where they must learn the art of killing. This comes with a bitter twist though, only one of them will succeed, and failure will mean losing their life. This is the first novel in a chilling new series from award-winning author Neal Shusterman and it's a thrilling start, though the more sensitive reader may find some of the narrative a little too much at times. Thought-provoking and enthralling, you're sure to be gripped.

8/10

Rachael Dunn

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