Life

Books: Five new books to read this week

This week's bookcase includes reviews of Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen and Burntcoat by Sarah Hall. Travel abroad with these new releases, from Jonathan Franzen's Illinois to John Banville's Spanish setting…

The Bear And Her Book by Frances Tosdevin, illustrated by Sophia O'Connor
By Prudence Wade, PA

FICTION

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen is published in hardback by Fourth Estate, priced £20 (ebook £12.99). Available now

JONATHAN Franzen's engrossing new novel, Crossroads, takes us to New Prospect, Illinois. Here, behind a veneer of small ‘c' conservative respectability, we find a melting pot of American insecurities. Head of the Hildebrandt family is Russ, an associate pastor at the First Reformed church, but as Christmas approaches this community leader is in danger of straying from his God and his marriage. His wife, Marion, questions her own future as she deals with a traumatic past, while their children are deviating from the flock, falling into sex, drugs and the Vietnam war. One by one, Franzen dissects each family member's anxieties and their retreat into temptation – everyone one of them rich, complex and a novel in themselves. Promised as the opening salvo in a trilogy, from Crossroads it is tempting to wonder which direction Franzen will take next as he charts some of America's most disquieting days.

9/10

Ian Parker

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall is published in hardback by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99 (ebook £14.99).

EDITH is making preparations for her death. A privilege and last rite not all get, especially not those dying in their thousands during a global pandemic. Years later, she has finished the national memorial she was commissioned to make and, a carrier of the AG3 virus, is tying up loose ends as the deadly disease finally catches up with her. As Edith closes the door to her studio at Burntcoat with her lover Halit, the book captures the suffocating isolation we can all recall from recent lockdowns. It articulates the utter separateness of the past, the before and the now with brutal clarity, the birdsong in the place of traffic and those left irrevocably changed, suffering as the virus recedes. But it is more than that – a goodbye revelling in bodily pleasure, pain, and touch with prose visceral and saturated. The words, like the virus, linger. Perhaps, as wood's transformed by fire, we too can be remade.

8/10

Jemma Crew

April In Spain by John Banville is published in hardback by Faber & Faber, priced £14.99 (ebook £8.99).

IN HIS latest compelling crime novel John Banville returns to his heavy-drinking Irish pathologist Quirke. While on holiday with his enigmatic psychiatrist wife in the Basque city of San Sebastian, he spots a half-remembered face. A restless and curious Quirke tries to identify the young woman – long-thought dead – and sets in motion a train of events threatening to uncover political and familial scandal and bring about deadly consequences. April In Spain is a brooding, controlled book, gradually unravelling the mystery while taking time to explore issues around Irish politics, contrasting cultures, social class, relationships and love. The building tension unfolds across beautifully observed 1950s London, northern Spain and Dublin. Banville's complex and expertly crafted characters – from cold killer Terry Tice to Quirke's determined daughter Phoebe – are portrayed in taut and insightful prose. An absorbing story worth taking the time to enjoy.

8/10

Tom Pilgrim

NON-FICTION

Peak Mind by Amishi Jha is published in hardback by Piatkus, priced £20 (ebook £9.99)

WITH all the day-to-day challenges of life in the 21st century, our attention can be pulled in all directions as we juggle busy home lives and work assignments. Things can pass us by as we get easily distracted, with our minds wandering – so we're not actually living our lives fully in the moment. Neuroscientist Dr Amishi Jha has dedicated her career to researching what we can do to increase our attention, be more aware and more present in the now – which can improve our response to times of high stress. Jha specialises in mindfulness and the results of her many experiments, which she shares in depth in this book, prove we can strengthen our attention by practising for just 12 minutes a day. If you're new to meditation, it's simple to grasp as Jha speaks to the reader on a personal level and doesn't overcomplicate things. She writes in a way that's easy to get on board with.

8/10

Karen Sykes

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK

The Bear And Her Book by Frances Tosdevin, illustrated by Sophia O'Connor, is published in paperback by UCLan Publishing, priced £7.99 (no ebook).

THE bear is an inquisitive soul – like any child she wonders what lies beyond the borders of her domain. In The Bear And Her Book, the title character goes on adventures and meets new creatures – including a crab, a crocodile and a lizard, trying her best to help them all. Her reward at the end is both surprising and fulfilling – for both bear and reader. This storybook tells of the wonders that await all inquisitive minds, full of beautiful descriptions and illustrations by Frances Tosdevin and Sophia O'Connor. It's an education for any child or adult looking to break beyond their borders, and will be a well-read addition to any bookshelf.

9/10

Roddy Brooks

BOOK CHARTS FOR THE WEEK ENDING OCTOBER 9

HARDBACK (FICTION)

1. The Man Who Died Twice,The:The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

2. Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

3. Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

4. Kingdom of the Cursed: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

5. Sharpe's Assassin: The Sharpe Series by Bernard Cornwell

6. The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

7. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

8. Once Upon A Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

9. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

10 How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

(Compiled by Waterstones)

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