Five new books to read this week

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Five New Books To Read This Week
This week’s bookcase includes reviews of First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami and Stronger by Poorna Bell
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By Prudence Wade, PA

A literary giant is back with a new short story collection, and a grieving widow discovers her mental and physical strength…

Fiction

1. First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel, is published in hardback by Harvill Secker. Available now

A man reviews a fictional Charlie Parker record in a now-defunct literary magazine. The memory of a girl clutching a Beatles record triggers bittersweet reflections. A talking macaque monkey steals the names of the women he loves. These are just a few of the tales in Murakami’s latest short story collection, all told from the perspective of a narrator in the first person singular, as the title suggests. Murakami has a gift for reflecting on the philosophical, mixing the everyday with the surreal. Whether he’s laughing at absurdity or lamenting a lost love, there is a meditative quality to his writing – the words are so serene and comforting, it feels like the literary equivalent of slipping under a warm blanket on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Although his female characters felt disappointingly reductive at times, the stories were still enjoyable to read and are sure to satisfy both hardcore Murakami fans and those looking for an introduction to his work.
8/10
Review by Liz Connor

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2. Tall Bones by Anna Bailey is published in hardback by Doubleday. Available now

When teenager Emma ditches her friend Abi at a party in the woods, she doesn’t know it will be the last time they see each other. Abi’s disappearance unlocks the hidden secrets of their small town Whistling Ridge, with Abi’s father Samuel having a significant hold over the entire community through his role as preacher. Tall Bones alternates between past and present exploring various characters and how they, fuelled by rumours and resentment, come to terms with Abi’s disappearance. It is slow moving, but this fits the eerie narrative. Cleverly written, Anna Bailey’s debut shines a light on the darker and more oppressive side of small-town society. Exploring strong themes including abuse and religion, the novel has an almost Gothic feel.
7/10
Review by Sophie Morris

3. Fragile Monsters by Catherine Menon is published in hardback by Viking. Available now

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Durga, a mathematics professor, is stuck with her grandmother Mary in the rising heat and floodwaters of rural Malaysia, and soon realises much of what she’s been told about her family’s past is a myth. Spanning from the 1920s to the modern day, Fragile Monsters explores the difficulties of family relationships and what happens when secrets are allowed to fester across generations. The novel has an intriguing premise and a promising start with lyrically beautiful writing, but it quickly gets entangled with multiple sub-plots and a plethora of characters, making it difficult to follow at times. This begins to clear up in the final third – the story gains momentum, with Menon cleverly twisting reality and myth. It is a solid debut that creates a vivid atmosphere, but lacks a deep emotional connection between some of the characters, leaving the ending a little unsatisfying.
6/10
Review by Megan Baynes

Non-fiction

4. Stronger: Changing Everything I Knew About Women’s Strength by Poorna Bell is published in hardback by Bluebird. Available April 29th

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Poorna Bell is a journalist, formidable public speaker and author. One lesser known strings to her bow is her sideline in competitive amateur powerlifting – a hobby that helped lift her out of the deep malaise following the death of her husband in 2015. Rob, a successful journalist himself, took his own life after a battle with depression and heroin addiction, and Stronger contains the lessons Bell has learned since then. She can now lift over twice her own body weight, but the most striking account contained in the book is the holistic effect lifting has had on her mental health. Aimed at female readers, Stronger charts her journey in starkly person terms – but there is something here for readers of any gender or age: that strength comes in many forms.
7/10
Review by Alex Green

Children’s book of the week

5. The Incredible Record Smashers by Jenny Pearson, illustrated by Erica Salcedo, is published in paperback by Usborne Publishing. Available April 29th

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Jenny Pearson’s follow-up to her 2020 children’s debut, The Super Miraculous Journey Of Freddie Yates, is another feel-good adventure packed with as many laugh-out-loud moments as it is quirky world record facts. The Incredible Record Smashers tells the story of 11-year-old Lucy: after her mum is hospitalised with depression, Lucy comes up with a daring plan to help make her happy. Together with her best friend Sandesh, the madcap heroes attempt to break a world record of their own in a crazy escapade that involves watermelons, kumquats and a run in with two loveable baddies. It bravely tackles the serious issue of mental health, but with a light touch that is accessible to young readers. Friendship is at the heart of the story, showing how happiness can be found in the least expected places.
9/10
Review by Holly Williams

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