Thursday 18 January 2018

Books: Ten of this season's must-read paperbacks

Our reviewer leafs through ten of the best paperbacks to read as autumn nights draw in

Joely Richardson as Catherine Parr, who survived her marriage to Henry VIII, as told in 'The Taming of the Queen'
Joely Richardson as Catherine Parr, who survived her marriage to Henry VIII, as told in 'The Taming of the Queen'

Justine Carbery

If you missed a gem in hardback or you're looking for something totally new, here is the definitive guide. Be it literary or historical fiction, memoir or thriller, self-help or non-fiction, we have something for everyone here.

Set in the 1540s, The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory (Simon and Schuster €18.99) has as its heroine and narrator Katherine Parr, who famously survived marriage to the much-wedded Henry VIII.

But Katherine - smart, quick-thinking and scholarly (the first woman to publish original work written in English under her own name) came dangerously close to dying at the stake and only just about managed to outlive her scheming, irascible husband.

This intimate portrait of a most fascinating royal consort is exciting and plausible, a testament to Gregory's skill at bringing a character and an era to life.

After the Crash by Michel Bussi (Orion €8.99) is an entertaining, fast-paced thriller that centres on a plane crash in the Alps. The sole survivor is a three-month-old baby girl, but there are two French families who claim the baby belongs to them - one rich and influential, the other from a poorer, working-class background.

A private detective, employed to find out which family the baby is related to, is about to commit suicide, having failed in his task, when suddenly he sees what he missed in the intervening 18 years and sets out to reveal the truth. An enjoyable whodunnit with a difference.

In We Never Asked for Wings (Ballantine €18.99), by the author Vanessa Diffenbaugh, who wrote the hugely popular The Language of Flowers, comes this tale of an American immigrant family struggling to survive in California.

Letty Espinosa, mother of two, works hard to make ends meet and send money back to her family in Mexico, while her mother raises her children - Alex, 15, and Luna, 6. When Letty's parents move back to Mexico, Letty struggles to look after her children on her own for the first time in her life.

Forced to step up, she faces many challenges and obstacles as a lone mother, difficult choices that will make or break them.

A thoughtful novel from a talented writer.

Late Fragments by Kate Gross (William Collins €12.99) is a moving memoir, written by an ambitious 36 year-old mother of five-year-old twins who was diagnosed with colon cancer. Sounds depressing? On the contrary, this book is one of the most remarkably life-affirming, brave and uplifting books you'll ever read.

An advisor to Tony Blair, chief executive of a national charity, loving wife, mother, daughter and sister, Gross inspires in this exceptional chronicle of a life cut short. Gross' courage and intellect will stay with you long after the final page. A beautiful book.

Elizabeth Gilbert, who shot to fame with Eat, Pray, Love, is back with Big Magic (Bloomsbury €17.99), a self-help guide to living the creative life, be it painting, music, rearing goats, ice-skating or any pursuit that takes you out of yourself.

She shares her wisdom through personal anecdotes and ideas in a simple, accessible style, but it does assume you are the kind of reader who is open to the magic of the creative process.

Full of thought-provoking revelations, personal thoughts and discoveries, this is a book for those interested in the artist's way.

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (Granta €17.99), the latest offering by the Canadian author of The Sisters Brothers (2012) is a weirdly funny, dark, Kafkaesque fairy tale for adults. Think Alice In Wonderland and The Grand Budapest Hotel and you're on the right track.

It features an initially unlikeable anti-hero Lucy, setting out on a peculiar adventure, seeking employment in the mysterious castle of Baron Von Aux. What follows is a series of bizarre encounters and madcap conversations in this quirky, off-beat book.

The Crossing by Andrew Miller (Sceptre €19.99) is an unusual novel of two halves, which centres on an enigmatic woman, Maud, as seen initially through her husband's eyes. They meet at the local sailing club, move in together and go about their lives until tragedy strikes and Maud literally and metaphorically sets out to sea, on a journey that will change everything and test her to the utmost.

A gut-wrenching examination of love, loss and human nature, The Crossing is a beautifully written novel, complete with vivid imagery and a genuinely surprising plot.

In Numero Zero (Harvill Secker €22.00), Umberto Eco returns to the conspiracy themes of Foucault's Pendulum, taking on the world of the media this time in a clever puzzle of a book.

Set in post-war Italy, a divorced, depressed journalist Colonna, desperate for a scoop, is given the chance to work on a fledgling newspaper.

However, the paper is really a scam, committed to blackmail and slander, rather than actual news, and part of a bigger plan by big business to make money.

A smart, modern mystery.

Bryan Stevenson, a real-life Atticus Finch, is the brilliant lawyer and inspiring author of Just Mercy (Scribe Publications €21.50), a powerful book about the legal war he waged against unjust sentencing practices in the USA.

He explores a number of real-life cases, including life imprisonment for children and scores of cases of unfair convictions of people on death row - mostly poor, mostly black.

But the main focus is on Walter McMillan, a black man sentenced to death for the murder of a young white woman. Despite a cast-iron alibi, McMillan was convicted and sentenced to death and Stevenson spent years trying and finally succeeding in getting the conviction overturned.

A fascinating case and a terrible indictment of the US legal system, this book will shock, anger and inspire you.

A rollercoaster of a thriller, with delicious twists and turns, The Kind Worth Killing (Faber & Faber €10.99), by Peter Swanson, is a stylish murder-mystery which surprisingly has you rooting for the killer!

Super-rich Ted Severson meets a stunning redhead, Lily Kintner, at an airport bar and after a few too many cocktails he reveals his fury at his wife for having an affair with their building contractor.

Lily encourages him to talk and tells him that his wife sounds like the kind worth killing. And she will help him.

Not surprisingly, things get complicated and a little far-fetched but this smart, unpredictable thriller demands your attention right to the explosive conclusion.

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