Book reviews: George RR Martin, Stephen Fry, The Snowman, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Robin Shaw



Fire And Blood by George RR Martin is published in hardback by Harper Voyager, priced £25 (ebook £11.99)

Fire And Blood tells the epic tale of how the Targaryen kings united Westeros under the Iron Throne. The history is a departure in style from the Game Of Thrones books, as the tale is narrated by Citadel cleric Archmaester Gyldayn, aided by other officially sanctified sources and, the earthy and sardonic verdict of the court fool. But the step back in time to the founding of the Targaryen dynasty is more than an interesting diversion from the more recent events in George RR Martin’s Westeros, it’s a terrific expansion of the fantasy world. It’s not without faults, mainly the uneven treatment of some aspects of the story but, overall, it’s an enthralling read. From the moment Aegon the Conqueror leaves the Targaryen island of Dragonstone, advising the warring rulers of the kingdom to bend the knee or die, the body count starts to pile up. The bloodthirsty account of his reign and those that follow is a heady mix of violence, death and intrigue with lust and incest thrown in. Among the litany of death, there’s no shortage of births, and it soon becomes hard to keep track of who is who. Most fans will love this detailed history of who killed, or sired who in the 300 years before the current GoT story. Martin is as concerned as his fans about the looming finale in the main series and admits he’s under pressure to create something special. But if Fire And Blood is anything to go by, it will be worth waiting for.


Derek Watson

Heroes by Stephen Fry is published in hardback by Michael Joseph, priced £20 (ebook £9.99)

THE second instalment of Stephen Fry's foray into the exuberant world of Greek mythology tackles the heroes, from Perseus to Bellerophon, and is just as delightful and difficult to put down as the first. Any classics students who read their Homer and their Hesiod will know the Greek stories, while brilliant in their detail, depth and sense of epic adventure, are not altogether light or easy reading. Just as in Mythos, Heroes manages make the stories relatable without skimping on the wonderful gory details, or sacrificing the traditional truths of the myth. Heroic sons of Zeus become personable boys-next-door and malevolent kings have their motives laid bare through satirical and witty conversation, typical of Fry. It's rich, it's funny and once again you'll feel like you've learned a lot along the way. With the audiobook read by Fry, listening is as delightful as reading too.


Edd Dracott

And So It Begins by Rachel Abbott is published in hardback by Wildfire, priced £12.99 (ebook £4.99)

TWO murders in the same house, an abused woman and a lifelong ambition for revenge - if you're a fan of Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train, Rachel Abbott's And So It Begins won't disappoint. Gripping from the start, each unnerving twist leads you deeper into this psychological crime thriller. Evie Clarke ends an abusive relationship in an act of violence, but as she stands trial for murder, the courtroom unearths deeper truths about her life - or is everything a lie? Sergeant Stephanie King and DI Gus Brodie must untangle the realities from the complex family dynamics between Evie's partner Mark and his sister Cleo, in which everyone seemingly walks the line between being innocent and guilty. Switching between the perspective of vengeful Evie, overbearing older sister Cleo, and determined police sergeant Stephanie, Abbot cranks up the intensity, leaving you guessing until the final few pages.


Rebecca Wilcock


Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere by Jeanette Winterson is published in hardback by Canongate, priced £7.99 (ebook £2.99)

NAMED after the words featured on Gillian Wearing's Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square, London, this timely essay celebrates how far women have come in the past century, while issuing a wake-up call about why, in a climate of #MeToo and the gender pay gap, there's still a long way to go for women to achieve true equality. Winterson makes some interesting comments about how advancements in technology affect women, particularly that if artificial intelligence is the future, then we should be worried that so few women are attracted to Silicon Valley's top jobs. She follows up her points with a reprint of Emmeline Pankhurst's 1913 'Freedom or Death' speech, reminding us why brave, not silent women often shape the future. It's powerful and frank, but at just 80 pages long, I felt like there was more to say on many of the subjects Winterson touches on. However, it's a great primer for anyone who isn't sure whether they identify as a feminist, or why they really should.


Liz Connor


American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy In Three Acts by Chris McGreal is published in paperback by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99 (ebook £9.99)

AMERICAN Overdose is written by United States-based Guardian journalist Chris McGreal. It looks at the opioid crisis in the US, dealing with the origins of the drugs, their proliferation, efforts to combat the problems, and what the future holds for those caught up in the trade. McGreal delves deep into the story behind prescription painkillers that have left families and communities in ruin. We meet the good, the bad and the ugly characters involved. There are people who spotted the problems and tried to stop them; rogue doctors and pharmacists who cashed in with unscrupulous prescribing and dispensing, and then there are the people who have lost loved ones to addiction and its consequences. It is a riveting read, and as well as painting a detailed picture of this crisis and its history, it can also be seen as a warning of what can happen when healthcare is run like an industry.


Ryan Ward


Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown by Jeff Kinney is published in hardback by Puffin Books, priced £12.99 (ebook £5.99)

IN THE 13th book in the bestselling Wimpy Kid series, Greg and his trusty best friend Rowley get up to their usual crazy capers, but this time it turns into a battle for survival as a neighbourhood snowball fight turns feral. A sudden cold snap shuts down Greg's school and, snowed in and with nothing better to do, the local kids soon see this winter wonderland become a winter battleground. Rival gangs fight over their territory and friends make and break alliances in an epic fight of modern-day Lord Of The Flies proportions. Award-winning author Jeff Kinney dishes up his usual dry humour in this hilarious latest instalment, with many a laugh-out-loud moment thanks to Greg's bad ideas and loveable middle school neuroses.


Holly Williams

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Robin Shaw, is published in hardback by Penguin Random House Children's, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.99)

MICHAEL Morpurgo is the award-winning author of War Horse, Why The Whales Came and Kensuke's Kingdom. Inspired by another legendary children's author, Raymond Briggs, Morpurgo has taken Briggs' wordless and beautifully illustrated tale, The Snowman, and filled out the narrative with elements from the film and other adaptations to form a magical Christmas story. James is a lonely boy and longs for a friend of his own, and one December morning he wakes up to find his world transformed by snow. The original tale was simple and magical, and this new retelling is equally touching and has soft pencil drawings that match the gentleness of Briggs' original work. Very festive and enchanting.


Sue Barraclough

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