What to read this Easter

THIS bank holiday brings a chance to wind down and open a good book. But what would make an exciting read this week? Features editor TYRACEY SPARLING suggests half a dozen new titles to try.

By Tracey Sparling

THIS bank holiday brings a chance to wind down and open a good book. But what would make an exciting read this week? Features editor TYRACEY SPARLING suggests half a dozen new titles to try.

INSIDE, by Kenneth J Harvey, is published in hardback by Harvill Secker, priced £16.99.

When Mister Myrden is released from prison, the authorities having belatedly realised his innocence, his freedom comes at a severe price. He's disoriented, confused to the point of bewilderment, angry, and lost.

He returns to his old estate and finds friends he barely knows, a wife who has found another man and a world he struggles to assimilate.

In another writer's hands this simple, unaffected story might feel leaden and predictable. Indeed, Kenneth Harvey's prose - staccato sentences so short they often resemble Morse Code more than the English language - does take some absorbing.

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Gradually, though, he reveals a stark and sharp imagination at work exploring the mind of a man starting to grasp that getting out of jail is just the first step on a long road back.

For Myrden, his escape into the future is based on a hope for his daughter and her little girl, and providing them with an escape from a brutal husband. He has the promise of money from the government and some old friendships give him renewed hope.

As Myrden battles his demons within and scrambles away from ruins of his past, Harvey builds a gently transfixing story with real, tangible impact.

:: HOME TRUTHS, by Freya North, is published in paperback by HarperCollins, priced £10.99.

Fans of Freya North will already be familiar with the McCabe sisters - Pip, Fen and Cat - the heroines of three of her previous bestsellers.

This time, she brings the trio back together, several years on from the last instalment, complete with husbands, boyfriends, babies and the ever-loveable eccentric uncle Django.

If you've been an avid reader of North's other novels, Home Truths will be like settling down for a good gossipy catch-up with an old friend - and if you're a newcomer, it'll make you realise what you've been missing out on.

As ever North manages to balance humour with deftly tackled tricky subjects, from motherhood to mortality, as well as perhaps the hardest trick of all - believably readable sex scenes which don't make you cringe.

This time the sisters are settled in their relationships, although - inevitably - things aren't always as rosy as they might seem. With motherhood the focus in all their lives, they begin to wonder about their own absent mother, who abandoned them as babies leaving them to be brought up by their uncle.

Then, as Django's 70th birthday approaches, the celebration of their own, unusual but happy family is suddenly shaken by a string of unexpected revelations. After a lifetime of certainties, the trio find themselves with nothing but questions, and not even the most basic family ties to rely on.

As they struggle to come to terms with their own identities, as well as what really makes someone family, they're faced with yet another piece of shattering news.

North inevitably gets pigeonholed as chick lit, but her thought-provoking novels are far from the stereotypical 'girl-meets-boy', and Home Truths is no different. From imperfect heroines to sympathetic villains, her characters couldn't be more real, whether they take centre stage or a single line cameo.

Freya North's novels are all immensely satisfying, but Home Truths is simply the hugely enjoyable icing on the cake.

:: THE PERFECT MAN, by Naeem Murr, is published in hardback by William Heinemann, priced £14.99.

Despite its title, Naeem Murr's novel The Perfect Man is an eloquent study of the dark underside of human relationships, as it charts one boy's struggle to fit in to a community where secrets inflict damage from just below the surface.

Abandoned by his English father and left with his uncle's mistress Ruth in a small American town, Indian-born Rajiv becomes close to Annie and her friends, including Lewis who spent more than a year in a mental institution after being blamed for his younger brother's death.

Despite growing up in an apparent rural idyll, the lives of the youngsters are overshadowed by Lewis' struggle to remain connected to reality, and by other tensions in the small community.

Moving forwards and backwards through time to reveal the truth behind the town's lies, The Perfect Man captures with heartwrenching accuracy the damage done by adults to children, and by adults to one another.

The youngsters' world comes alive through the idiosyncratic characters with which Murr has populated his novel, from Ruth, an emotionally-remote romantic novelist, to the pathologically vain Reverend Hewitt.

The Perfect Man is also a well observed coming-of-age story, with the ordinary adolescent problems of acne, first love and sexual encounters juxtaposed with haunting descriptions of the loss of innocence the teenagers suffer.

It is not always an easy read, in part because Murr's ability to make you empathise with the protagonists - despite or perhaps because of their insecurities and flaws - can leave you angry and frustrated at the way they are treated.

But this is a story which will draw you in and leave you moved by the tragedies which frame the characters' young lives, and which only some of them are able to escape or survive.

TOURISM, by Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal, is published in paperback original by Vintage, priced £7.99

An overwhelming sense of a life unfulfilled is the predominant theme seeping from every page of Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal's startling debut novel, Tourism.

Set in the summer of 2002, Dhaliwal's story revolves around Bhupinder 'Puppy' Singh Johal, a layabout and occasional journalist/writer whose only real passion appears to be of a sexual nature.

He has little in common with his family in Southall and despite his love for them, his overwhelming feelings towards them are of scorn and disdain.

Documenting slices of life across every social class in London, Puppy's cyclical quest for fulfilment sees him flitting from friend to friend who, just like him, are constantly searching for some meaning in their lives.

The struggles and sense of a life wasted follow Puppy around as he gets by with the occasional stint of rewriting press releases to review music in order to keep the bills paid, his dreams of making it as a novelist seemingly banished into the ether.

But when he meets Sophie, a fashion journalist and part-time model, he begins to see a different side to London where money talks far louder than words.

The only problem is that all Puppy really wants is the girl who Sophie's cousin is engaged to - Sarupa.

Her very presence completely throws his outward cool and charisma, while she always seems to keep her distance - that is until Puppy and Sophie are invited to spend a weekend in the country with her.

Interspersed with an examination of Puppy's harsh family life and continual struggles to fit in, I found that Tourism flowed readily, with both a compelling narrative and believably flawed characters.

Often coarse and brutally honest, Tourism is a truly fascinating examination of race and greed, and Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal is certainly a name I will look out for in the future.

:: FRAGILE: WHAT'S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? WHERE DO YOUR DARKEST FEARS LIE?, by Niki Shisler, is published in hardback by Ebury Press, priced £14.99.

'Medically fragile' was the term given to Niki Shisler's twin sons Theo and Felix when they were born with a mysterious, life-threatening illness. But fragile is perhaps one of the last adjectives that could be used to describe Shisler herself.

In her searingly honest memoir Fragile, Niki recounts her pregnancy and the birth and first year in the lives of her tiny twins Theo and Felix who were only diagnosed with the condition Nemaline Myopathy after the tragic death of Theo at just seven months.

Much of the strength of this remarkable book lies in its perception - for many people their darkest fears would lie in the alcohol abuse that Shisler suffered for years before she remarried.

For others, the responsibility of having even healthy twins so swiftly after a newborn would be a difficult and frightening proposition.

But for Shisler, the troubles of her past paled into insignificance when compared to the rewards bought to her by her beautiful sons Theo and Felix: no matter how ill they were and how much worry the family had to bear during countless days in hospitals, Shisler found inspiration to be happy.

Her descriptions of her sons are those any mother will recognise - painted with joy, love and hope that somehow manages to outweigh every other worry and fear.

With each heartbreaking development there is a sense of resolution and strength from Shisler, which on the surface seems almost impossible - but shows just how strong the human will to survive can be.

The other remarkable part of Shisler's story is the unerring support she received from internet groups when the world wide web was still a mostly unknown tool.

From the Twins List to bereavement groups and NM support sites, she found unconditional friendships and a constant shoulder to cry on with people she had never met before in person.

As well as being a painfully frank and candid read, Fragile should also serve as an inspiring testament to the power of the human being faced with extraordinary challenges.

:: THE UNDERCOVER ECONOMIST, by Tim Harford, is published in hardback by Little Brown, priced £17.99.

Why are the rich rich and the poor poor? How is globalisation affecting China? And, more importantly, why is your morning cup of coffee so ridiculously expensive? These questions and more get a thorough going over by Tim Harford in his new book.

Rarely can an introductory economics text have been so well-written or readable. In Harford's hands the dismal science becomes revealing and illuminating in a chatty, easy-to-read way. Turns out the railways do really well out of coffee and, perhaps less surprisingly, the bean growers less so.

Everyone has a vested interest in the tricks supermarkets use to extract your pennies and pounds. So how is it that you win with two-for-one but the bill looks bigger every time? Harford explains, and, as with all his explanations, thankfully there's not a graph or a pie chart in sight.

This technique works well for the cup of coffee and the supermarket, but comes under pressure when dealing with more complex subjects like Chinese economic growth and globalisation.

Nevertheless, Harford has succeeded in doing for economics what science writers have done for black holes and quantum theory - opening up the revelations of a potentially mind-numbingly complex subject with style and readability.

PAPERBACK

1 One Shot Lee Child

2 Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro

3 Labyrinth Kate Mosse

4 A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian Marina Lewycka

5 The Lincoln Lawyer Michael Connelly

6 Saturday Ian McEwan

7 The Constant Gardener John Le Carre

8 Cross Bones Kathy Reichs

9 The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown

10 The Historian Elizabeth Kostova

HARDBACK

1 Candyfloss Jacqueline Wilson

2 Blue Shoes and Happiness Alexander McCall Smith

3 The Other Side Of Nowhere Danniella Westbrook

4 Suite Francaise Irene Nemirovsky

5 Cell Stephen King

6 False Impression Jeffrey Archer

7 The 5th Horseman J. Patterson & M. Paetro

8 Ugly Constance Briscoe

9 Jordan: A Whole New World Katie Price

10 The Rise and Fall of a Yummy Mummy Polly Williams

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