First thoughts

Leaving The Atocha Station

Ben LernerGranta, €19.80; Kindle, £7.54Review: Sarah Warwick

Adam Gordon, a young American poet on a literary fellowship in Madrid, is the main character in this well-crafted book that those who have lived abroad will no doubt identify with.

In a first novel that feels like it must be at least semi-autobiographical (Ben Lerner was a Fulbright poetry scholar in Spain), Adam spends his time getting to grips with the wine, women and song of his adopted city while procrastinating over his work and largely failing to understand much about anything.

Hailed by Jonathan Franzen as “hilarious and crackingly intelligent”, Lerner’s tale is deeper than just a comic novella about the daily life of a confused and horny student in a foreign city.

Indeed, he manages to convey, with the lightest of touches, the worldly truth that the truly profound and the totally mundane are sometimes a feather-width apart.

Come To The Edge

Joanna Kavenna

Quercus Press, €17.15;

Kindle, £2.09

Review: Natsayi Sithole 

Having been cast aside for a younger woman, the narrator of this novel becomes a proud owner of her own suburban bubble of bliss, leaving behind her job, home, and unfaithful husband. Retreating north to reclaim a semblance of happiness for herself, she becomes drawn into an assault on the observable imbalance of wealth and quality of life that blights the rural valley, under the command of her eccentric, flame-haired, survivalist landlady, Cassandra White.

With an abundance of unused second-homes belonging to bankers and rich city folk, and several poor and elderly villagers without homes, the solution to this unjust predicament is surely obvious. This is Joanna Kavenna’s fourth published novel and is certainly a noteworthy addition to her steadily expanding repertoire.

Named as one the Telegraph’s 20 British writers under 40 to watch in 2010, and the winner of the 2008 Orange New Writers’ Prize for her debut The Birth Of Love, Kavenna delivers a brilliantly executed satire that is both sharp and poignant. An addictive read.

The Land Of Stories: The Wishing Spell

Chris ColferAtom, €11.99;

Kindle, £5.49

Review: Shereen Low

Fairy tales are enjoying a revival on the big screen, with Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Jack And The Beanstalk and Hansel And Gretel all being given the modern treatment.

Chris Colfer, better known as Glee’s Kurt Hummel, has decided to join the trend with his debut novel, which sees twins Alex and Conner Bailey accidentally falling into the Land Of Stories, where fairy tales are real.

In modern-day story land, Goldilocks is a wanted fugitive, Red Riding Hood has her own kingdom after banishing wolves, and Queen Cinderella is about to become a mother.

Stuck in the fantasy kingdom, the only way that Alex and Conner can return to their land is by collecting the special ingredients needed to make a Wishing Spell. Packed with thrills and adventure, this book is an exciting read, whether you are eight or 80.

Identically Different: Why You Can Change Your Genes

Tim Spector

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20;

Kindle £9.99.

Review: Claire Ennis

The nature versus nurture debate has been rehearsed throughout the decades and the discovery of DNA seemed to strengthen the case for the role of genetics in shaping personality.

However, as Tim Spector points out, identical twins — with matching DNA and similar environments — can often have striking differences.

Spector reels off many examples of identical twins with non-identical outcomes in life — from cancer diagnoses to weight gain, from sexual orientation to success in boxing.

As well as subtle changes in environment, he also argues that while genes may be important, the interplay with the cells that host them is also key — and, what’s more, the resulting impact could potentially be passed on down the generations.

It’s an interesting read — although quite example-heavy.


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