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First published in AdXtra

A look at the latest releases, plus what's new in paperback.

By Kate Whiting

New fiction

The Sunshine Years by Afsaneh Knight is published in hardback by Doubleday, priced £16.99 (ebook £9.20). Available now.

The theme of the hang-up of getting older and leaving your best physical years behind you has to be handled well if a writer is to make it laugh-out-loud funny, especially if the reader is in that interesting position. Afsaneh Knight manages it fine in her second novel.

It's about a group of friends in Sydney who went through school together and still hang out and drink after work years later.

Knight explores each character's angst about where their life is going and how each of them copes, switching from their sadness to their cheerful vulgarity in an instant.

The depiction of sunny Sydney and its inhabitants is convincing, perhaps helped by Knight having an Australian husband, but it seems that the book's title hangs over the story with a sense of irony from early on.

9/10 (Review by Chris Gibbings) The First Book Of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz is published in hardback by Hutchinson, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.54). Available now.

The First Book Of Calamity Leek is also the first foray into the literary world for TV producer Paula Lichtarowicz.

Calamity is one of a group of girls who live completely cloistered lives in a walled rose garden.

Controlled by the fearsome duo of Aunty and Mother, they are brought up believing that the sun is the Devil and the Outside World is a deadly place full of 'Injuns' and 'Demonmales'.

When one girl attempts to escape, it will test Calamity's faith in all that she has ever known.

Lichtarowicz's dystopian creation is intriguing, especially in its juxtaposition with the world as we know it.

Calamity's inability to accept reality will have the reader wanting to shake her in frustration, while Aunty and Mother's pantomime mix of hideously cruel and comic will unsettle.

Although at times it seems that Lichtarowicz unnecessarily tempers tension, the novel remains a compelling, page-turning read.

7/10 (Review by Zahra Saeed) The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam is published in hardback by Faber and Faber, priced £18.99 (ebook £9.90). Available now.

Nadeem Aslam, author of the award-winning The Wasted Vigil (2008), returns to our shelves with another powerful novel.

In the months following 9/11, two foster brothers, Jeo and Mikal, leave their home in Pakistan and travel to Afghanistan covertly with the intention to help wounded civilians.

The novel maps a nation losing its soul through the lenses of war, familial loss, nationhood and religious fanaticism.

The upheaval and cruelty of war in its ability to fracture and rupture relationships - and to steal humanity from the most unlikely of people - is all bound in Aslam's lucid narrative and his ability to give voice to the most pyretic jihadist, fanatical freedom fighters on both sides, and the most sorrowful widow with equal dexterity.

"What strange times are these, when Muslims must fear other Muslims" - the fine line between conviction and fanaticism, freedom and oppression is alluded to constantly and the hysteria of violence in all its forms reaches the heart of every life.

This is the most unabashed fictional realisation of the "War on Terror" that I have read so far, written with a great deal of intuitiveness and it is a wonderful read.

9/10 (Review by Natsayi Sithole) Salvation Of A Saint by Keigo Higashino is published in paperback by Little, Brown, priced £12.99 (ebook £5.99). Available now.

The latest in Keigo Higashino's series of Galileo murder mysteries, Salvation Of A Saint will keep you guessing right to the last word.

But who is the saviour and who is the saint? The author leaves the reader to make that tantalising decision.

Detective Kusanagi is once again the hero of the piece, stumbling his way to a result in spite of his personal feelings.

A mystery which makes the reader work for the solution, Salvation Of A Saint is the latest tale of murder and intrigue from an established author who hit the best-selling heights with The Devotion Of Suspect X.

And this is another book that should be added to your reading list.

8/10 (Review by Roddy Brooks) Don't Want To Miss A Thing by Jill Mansell is published in hardback by Headline Review, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.99). Available now.

As one of the big names in chic-lit, Jill Mansell is showing no signs that she is running out of steam.

Indeed, Don't Want To Miss A Thing doesn't follow the usual format of a single city girl searching for love.

Instead, the majority of the novel is focused on a male protagonist: the dashing Dexter, who gives up his bachelor lifestyle in London to move to the country and care for his deceased sister's baby.

There his new neighbour, Molly, just so happens to be witty, attractive, yet terribly unlucky in love: there are no prizes for guessing how this story turns out.

However, the twists along the way and the involving storylines of the supporting characters make this is an absorbing book that is genuinely hard to put down.

Written with great sensitivity and in a way that is clever, yet instantly accessible, this shouldn't be dismissed as just another fluffy romance novel.

8/10 (Review by Harriet Shephard) The Voyage by Murray Bail is published in hardback by MacLehose Press, priced £12 (ebook £7.87). Available now.

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Australian Murray Bail's latest novel is about piano inventor and manufacturer Frank Delage taking the long way home, travelling from Europe to Australia on the ship Romance.

Meandering through the Mediterranean, he reflects on his time in Vienna, a chance encounter with the affluent Amalia von Schalla and his altogether foreign experience.

The novel is exceptional in its ability to convey a sense of 'being foreign'. The relationships that are formed with the Von Schalla family are unconventional, as are the feelings of exploring and being explored by others in an unknown land.

Bail's The Voyage requires commitment from the reader; lacking a set storyline and structure, it weaves in and out of the European zeitgeist, present time on the ship, and nostalgia of Australian landscapes.

If you allow for this, and follow Delage's flow of thoughts and ideas - it is almost therapeutic to read.

6/10 (Review by Lynley Myers) Children's book of the week: Back To Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald is published in hardback by Orion, priced £9.99 (ebook £5.99). Available now.

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald is a professor specialising in psychology and this is her first work of fiction, having had several non-fiction books published already. It is aimed at the teenage market, but is a captivating and enchanting read for all ages.

Back To Blackbrick tells the tale of Cosmo, a young boy who lives with his grandparents.

The story begins as Cosmo realises all is not well with his grandfather's memory. One day his grandfather hands him a key and urges Cosmo to go to Blackbrick Abbey.

Cosmo's grandfather claims he will find the answers he is looking for through the South Gate of the Abbey. Cosmo thinks his grandfather has finally gone mad, but gradually the lure of Blackbrick reels him in.

This is a fantastic debut novel for Moore Fitzgerald, with the reader being drawn very quickly into the story and hooked from the start.

It is at times tragic, but also heart-warming and beautifully written. Go along for the ride and discover the mystery of Blackbrick Abbey for yourself.

8/10 (Review by Rachael Dunn) Non-fiction Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew Up And Tried To Be A Popstar by Tracey Thorn is published in hardback by Virago, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.99). Available now.

Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn's memoir documents her life in music - from early inspirations as an awkward teenage wannabe punk in the late 1970s through to 2007, a now happily domesticated stay-at-home mother.

Rich material is plundered from the once-bloated music industry - particularly the major labels.

Thorn's writing is littered with wry asides and anecdotes highlighting the sublime and the ridiculous: there are Spinal Tap-style touring experiences, pop video awkwardness and Lenny Kravitz's hair having a disagreement with her dress.

Thorn's self-depreciation is endearing, her honesty often inspiring - particularly when she looks back on her teenage self, with tales of relationships, songwriting inspirations, the horror of live performances, self-doubt and aloof behaviour.

A constant presence by her side, long-term partner and EBTG collaborator Ben Watt's near-death experience is dealt with without mawkishness, the experience acting as the catalyst which offers a happy ending of sorts: the unlikely tale of a worldwide smash hit.

9/10 (Review by James Cleary) Flight 777: The Mystery Of Leslie Howard by Ian Colvin is published in hardback by Pen and Sword, priced £19.99 (ebook not available). Available now.

Leading British film star Leslie Howard, and 16 other people, died in 1943 when their unarmed civil aircraft was shot down by German fighters over the Bay of Biscay. There were no survivors.

Howard was on a flight from Lisbon to Whitchurch near Bristol, and it was the only time that a plane on the daily air service was lost in this way.

Throughout the war there seems to have been a loose "gentleman's agreement" with the enemy that they would allow civil flights between England and neutral Portugal.

Howard, accompanied by his business manager, was returning home after undertaking an official lecture tour in Portugal and Spain, to promote Britain's image.

The mystery of why the Germans shot down his plane has never been satisfactorily resolved but all possibilities - and there are many - are thoroughly explored in this excellent book.

Written by the late Ian Colvin, a distinguished journalist and author, it first came out in 1957. Its re-publication, containing new material, is to be welcomed.

9/10 (Review by Anthony Looch) Office Politics: How To Survive In A World Of Lying, Backstabbing And Dirty Tricks by Oliver James is published in hardback by Vermilion, priced £20 (ebook £9.90). Available now.

Clinical psychologist Oliver James follows up his examination of consumerism Affluenza with a guide to understanding - and thriving - in the murky world of service industries.

Political techniques are vital for emotional wellbeing, James argues, as not participating will leave us dissatisfied when less deserving employees are promoted above us.

The first half is a serious study of the personality disorders commonly found in offices: namely psychopaths, Machiavels and narcissists; or, chillingly, 'triadic' people who combine all three.

Full of case studies from anonymous interviewees, readers are certain to identify colleagues who fit these descriptions, and James gives advice on how to deal with them.

The second half focuses on how to improve one's own political astuteness to play the game as well, which James maintains is healthy for us.

His theory is not indisputable, but reading it gives some insight into how the boss may think, which is always useful.

8/10 (Review by Natalie Bowen) The Rise Of Rome: The Making Of The World's Greatest Empire by Anthony Everitt is published in hardback by Head of Zeus, priced £20 (ebook £6.71). Available now.

Cambridge scholar and best-selling historical biographer Anthony Everitt provides an entertaining narrative delving into the origins of the mighty Roman Empire.

Most of us will be familiar with the legend of Romulus and his murderous twin Remus, but what occurred between Rome's foundation in 753 BC and its rise to unfathomable heights by 3rd century BC?

Previously focusing on biographies of singular heroes Augustus, Hadrian and Cicero, Everitt tackles several of Rome's infamous figures, including the first Brutus, Cincinnatus, Coriolanus, Pyrrhus, Hannibal and Pompey, while recounting the class war that ultimately defined the politics of the Roman Republic since its birth in 5th century BC.

"What was it that enabled a small Italian market town by a ford on the river Tiber to conquer the known world?" Everitt ponders.

Referencing the ancient accounts of Polybius and Livy, Everitt acknowledges that there are many reasons to doubt these works, moreover, that they are likely, in fact, to be embellishments of the truth.

For students seeking a dry, methodical breakdown of economic and political factors contributing to the rise of Rome, then you may find Everitt's conversational style frustrating rather than refreshing.

This tomb is a more accessible romp through early Roman history rather than a focused examination of economic growth over 500 years, and was, for me, all the more enjoyable a read for it.

7/10 (Review by Angela Johnson) Best-sellers for the week ending February 9 Ebooks 1 Life Of Pi, Yann Martel 2 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson 3 Safe House, Chris Ewan 4 Thursdays In The Park, Hilary Boyd 5 Dark Winter, David Mark 6 What Have I Done?, Amanda Prowse 7 The Half-Life Of Hannah, Nick Alexander 8 1,227 QI Facts To Blow Your Socks Off, John Lloyd and John Mitchinson 9 Wait For Me, Elisabeth Naughton 10 Take Two, Stephen Leather Best-sellers for the week ending February 9 Paperbacks 1 The Fault In Our Stars, John Green 2 Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn 3 The Fast Diet, Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer 4 Toby's Room, Pat Barker 5 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson 6 The Great Comic Relief Bake Off: 13 Easy Recipes Perfect For A Bake Sale, Great British Bake Off 7 The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce 8 Waiting For Sunrise, William Boyd 9 Capital, John Lanchester 10 Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain Hardbacks 1 Queenie, Jacqueline Wilson 2 The Return Of A King: The Battle For Afghanistan, William Dalrymple 3 Wonders Of Life, Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen 4 Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, Jeff Kinney 5 Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel 6 The Legend Of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma 7 The Examined Life: How We Lose And Find Ourselves, Stephen Grosz 8 A Memory Of Light: The Wheel Of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson 9 Jamie's 15-Minute Meals, Jamie Oliver 10 Tales From Acorn Wood: Fox's Socks, Julia Donaldson

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