Books: New reads from Stephen King, Leila Slimani, Shelley Parker-Chan and more...
BILLY SUMMERS by Stephen King is published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20 (ebook £10.99)
CONTRACT killer Billy Summers is offered a fortune to carry out one final hit job – with the promise he could spend the rest of his life drinking pina coladas in the sunshine. With his reputation for doing a Houdini disappearing act after a killing, and an assurance that the target is a very bad person – one of Billy's conditions – he agrees.
The Iraq war veteran plans the shooting meticulously, but grows increasingly suspicious. It's tough to not like the different characters Billy meets, and in some cases impersonates. They are all believable, interesting, shocking and help keep the reader guessing from plot to sub-plot.
It's yet another gripping thriller from the legendary King.
THE COUNTRY OF OTHERS by Leila Slimani is published in hardback by Faber & Faber, priced £14.99 (ebook £10.82)
FRENCH-Moroccan novelist Leila Slimani's third novel, The Country Of Others, is a powerful and moving exploration of early decolonisation in 1950s Morocco.
Centred on the lives of French woman Mathilde, married to soldier and farmer Amine, their daughter Aicha, and Amine's sister, the beautiful Selma, the novel is the first in a planned trilogy based around the author's own family history.
Dealing primarily with themes of isolation, expectations and disconnect, Slimani creates an immersive and stunningly described fictional world and ratchets up the tension as the novel ambles towards its sudden climax.
From women asserting their freedom in a male-dominated society, to growing tensions between the French occupiers and Moroccan freedom fighters, the book is nuanced in its perspective – but at times the pace feels slow-moving, and events at a distance from the characters.
SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN by Shelley Parker-Chan is published in hardback by Mantle, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.99)
IN FAMINE-stricken China in the mid-1300s, a poor second daughter sets out on a journey eventually leading her to life as one of the most powerful emperors of the Ming Dynasty.
A brutal, war-strewn epic, Parker-Chan's world building is beautiful and detailed with queer reimaginings of history. The subsequent exploration of gender is one of the strongest parts of the book.
However, described as The Song Of Achilles-meets-Mulan, it doesn't quite live up to this promise. The central love story feels forced and one-dimensional, and the pacing of the book also struggles – a strong and captivating opening grinds to a halt, bogged down by excessive details and characters.
AN UGLY TRUTH: INSIDE FACEBOOK'S BATTLE FOR DOMINATION by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang is published in hardback by The Bridge Street Press, priced £20 (ebook £10.99)
AN UGLY Truth sets the tone in its title, as New York Times reporters Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel draw on strong sources to weave a compelling narrative about the dark underbelly of Facebook.
It is a story familiar to many – from the early days in founder Mark Zuckerberg's dormitory room to controversies over Russian interference in US elections – but the book offers more. Its strength lies in some of the more chilling passages, showing how concerns over privacy, elections and even a possible genocide were repeatedly brushed aside.
Kang and Frenkel show at times Zuckerberg's problem, and that of his chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, seem to almost mirror how his platform works. By curating Facebook's upper echelons in the same way it curates the news feeds of users, Zuckerberg surrounded himself with 'yes' men.
At times the book feels very US-focused, save for a chapter on Myanmar.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK:
MY BEAUTIFUL VOICE by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Allison Colpoys, is published in hardback by Frances Lincoln Children's Books, priced £11.99 (ebook £9.99). Available now
MY BEAUTIFUL Voice is a must-read for any child who struggles with shyness, or isn't yet sure of their place in the world – so any young person, really.
It follows an unnamed child on the first day of school: she gets teased for staying silent, but is transfixed by the colourful tales of her adventurous teacher. All the while, she's scribbling lines of poetry in her notebook – and maybe, just maybe, she'll find the courage to read it out loud.
Joseph Coelho is a poet and playwright, and you can tell: his words are lyrical, they flow magically and spring off the page.
What might be even better are Allison Colpoys' illustrations, full of life and colour. My Beautiful Voice is a lesson in what picture books can – and should – be: uplifting, diverse, and a lot of fun.
AUDIOBOOK CHART (FICTION AND NON-FICTION)
1. Think Of A Number by John Verdon
2. The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
3. How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie
4. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
5. Atomic Habits by James Clear
6. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
7. Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
8. Operation Trojan Horse by Stephen Davis
9. Mythos by Stephen Fry
10. Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamas O'Reilly
(Compiled by Audible)