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REVIEWS.

BOOK OF THE WEEK BECOMING NICOLE: THE EXTRAORDINARY TRANSFORMATION OF AN ORDINARY FAMILY by Amy Ellis Nutt, (Atlantic, paperback PS12.99) HHHH H THIS is the inspiring, New York Times best-selling true story of a transgender girl and her family's journey to understand, help and celebrate her uniqueness.

Wayne and Ellis Maines are a very normal and hardworking American couple and after failing to conceive their own children, are given the opportunity to adopt identical twin boys.

When Jonas and Wyatt start to develop their own personalities, it becomes clear that the boys like different things; Wyatt imagines he is the Little Mermaid and likes to dress up in his tutu.

However, more than that, at the age of three, declares he "hates" his penis and asks: "When do I get to be a girl?" Becoming Nicole chronicles the journey of the whole family - and their community - and their views on gender and identity.

A compelling, enlightening and informative read.

FICTION THE CRIME WRITER by Jill Dawson (Sceptre, hardback PS18.99, ebook PS12.99) HHHH H MELODRAMA and suspense are the twin pillars of this novel which echoes the turmoil of psychological thriller writer Patricia Highsmith's life.

Fans of the Texan's stories, such as Strangers On A Train, The Talented Mr Ripley, The Two Faces Of January and The Price Of Salt - the basis of critically acclaimed film Carol - will delight in spotting the many nods to her work.

Prowlers in the night, guilt and compulsive behaviour are all centre stage in this homage to Highsmith, as author Jill Dawson imagines the minute detail of a few key months in 1964.

The hard-drinking, chain-smoking, socially inept Highsmith is holed up in a Suffolk village, supposedly to finish a novel, but planning assignations with her married lover.

Throw in a journalist desperate to secure an interview and it makes for a dangerous cocktail of emotion and perhaps, even murder.

It's twisty, tumultuous and irritating in parts, but never boring.

Much like Highsmith herself.

THE NEST by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (The Borough Press, hardback PS12.99, ebook PS5.99) HHH HH WITH one of the best opening lines for a book you'll read in a long time, LA-based Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney plunges her readers into the chaotic lives of the Plumb family, which all revolve around the charismatic golden boy Leo.

After one thoughtless act of lust (drink-driving away from a family wedding with a young waitress in tow) which ends in disaster, Leo lands in rehab and his mother bails him out by using the family trust fund, the so-called Nest of the title, which each grown-up child had a particular need for.

There's gay antiques dealer Jack, who's been secretly borrowing against his husband's beach house to keep his business afloat; Melody, who wants to give her twin daughters the best education, and writer Beatrice, who's desperately trying to finish her novel.

Promising he'll repay them, Leo pitches up at the Brooklyn home of Beatrice's one-time agent and his former flame Stephanie.

After the pacey beginning, D'Aprix Sweeney takes her foot off the gas, but she captures the ugly, personal side of capitalism and the dysfunctional family dynamics with aplomb.

NON-FICTION ZERO HOUR: 100 YEARS ON: VIEWS FROM THE PARAPET OF THE SOMME by Jolyon Fenwick (Profile Books, hardback PS25) HHHH H BOOKS normally tell the story of a lifetime, or at least part of a life.

Very few are dedicated to an hour and the cataclysmic events which followed over the course of a single day. But few days have had the breathtaking effect upon a nation as July 1, 1916.

That hour was Zero Hour: 7:30am on a summer morning.

On a day when a staggering 116,000 British and Empire troops were committed to the battle, by nightfall almost half had become casualties and close on 20,000 were dead.

In a chilling testament to the futility of out-dated battlefield strategy and total disregard for human life, whole villages saw their entire population of working age men wiped out, some families losing three brothers in the first hour alone as bullets and bombs rained down on rural France.

Historian Jolyon Fenwick's third book, Zero Hour recounts the story of that fateful day when simple acts of bravery and human endurance were lost in the sheer carnage and suffering. Through his powerful words and the clever use of panoramic photographs of what the same fields look like today, Fenwick paints a fitting memorial to a tale of unstinting courage and unspeakable suffering.

Published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the bloodiest day of modern warfare, Fenwick's painstaking research tells of an event which should never be repeated.

THE GIFT OF THE GAB: HOW ELOQUENCE WORKS by David Crystal (Yale University Press, hardback PS14.99, ebook PS9.97) HH HHH DAVID CRYSTAL is probably Britain's best-known populariser of linguistic science. His style is down-to-earth and lucid, and his evidence-based descriptivism is a beacon of common sense in a world of green-ink grammarians and self-appointed usage experts.

Unfortunately, this study of 'how eloquence works' - what it is and how to achieve it - comes across as a rather thin blend of anecdote, basic practical tips and only isolated nuggets of real interest.

The book gets more into its stride when Crystal comes to less obvious topics where his linguistic insights add real value, such as in his discussion of pitch, rate and rhythm, the end-weight principle and order of mention; there's also an absorbingly detailed analysis of US president Barack Obama's celebrated 'Yes we can' speech.

Recent books on rhetoric such as Sam Leith's You Talkin' to Me? and The Elements Of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth have covered similar ground with a depth and panache that are lacking here.

In this book, as in some of Crystal's others, you can't help wishing he wore his learning a little less lightly.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 11, 2016
Words:981
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