Bookshelf: Four great reads

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
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The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. Chatto & Windus, £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Review by Jackie Kingsley

At the core of Rose Tremain’s finely crafted tales are seemingly unremarkable characters whose inner lives throw a subtle light on the way human beings think and feel. In The Gustav Sonata, two boys forge a lifelong friendship in post-war Switzerland. They’re very different. Gustav spends his harsh childhood trying to win his mother’s love. Talented musician Anton is the much-loved only child of a Jewish family. The counterpoint to their evolving relationship is the history of Switzerland’s conduct during the Second World War. There are few great dramas here, just a moving study of human emotions that will make you cry without being even slightly sentimental.

Love You Dead by Peter James. Pan Macmillan, £20 (ebook £7.99). Review by Shereen Low

The 12th book in the British crime novelist’s Roy Grace series, Love You Dead sees the Detective Superintendent trying to juggle three cases – the re-emergence of serial killer Dr Edward Crisp, the return of his missing wife Sandy and a dangerous black widow, Jodie Bentley, operating on his home ground of Brighton. Bentley’s story dominates here, with the reader following her as she works her way through a number of rich, older husbands, who she eventually kills off in an attempt to gain their fortunes. With cliffhanger endings to each chapter and the gripping cat-and-mouse relationship between the cops and criminal, Love You Dead is another hit.

The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty by Tracy Borman. Hodder and Stoughton, priced £25 (ebook £16.99). Review by Anthony Looch

The glittering private world of Britain’s five Tudor monarchs returns gloriously in these pages. The now-legendary Tudor rulers were Henry VII, Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Edward VI and Elizabeth I, who gained awe and respect, at home and abroad, through the deliberate opulence and blazing theatricality of their palaces, banquets, rituals and, above all, their clothes. Borman produces much fascinating personal detail about the temperamental monarchs and everyday life in their palaces. Toilet arrangements, albeit in opulent settings, were primitive and bad smells never far away. It is not surprising that the use of strong perfumes was a vital feature of royal life.

So Sad Today by Melissa Broder. Scribe Publications, £12.99 (ebook £6.71). Review by Frances Wright

So Sad Today began as a sardonic Twitter account run by American poet Melissa Broder, which eventually morphed into this book. At first, I was unsure whether it would work in anything other than 140-character nuggets, but Broder’s stream of consciousness-style weaves its way through this confessional voyage of self-obsession and self-disgust. For the most part, her writing is undeniably crude and a little shocking, but her frank tales of teen sex, lifelong eating disorders, failed relationships and general maladjustment are as hilarious as they are miserable. For those who were once anxiety-ridden adolescents, there is much to find comfort in.