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FICTION THIRST by Benjamin Warner, Bloomsbury, PS12.99 (ebook PS7.47) ..... FANS of post-apocalyptic fiction will welcome Benjamin Warner's debut novel. It's a disturbing, enigmatic book, all the more troubling for its humdrum setting.

The nightmare scenario Warner conjures up is of a sudden and total lack of water. Inexplicably, rivers and reservoirs have combusted, leaving only beds of ash and charred foliage. We don't know how far this disaster extends, only that food and drink is rapidly running out in the sprawling suburb where unhappy young couple Eddie and Laura live.

The situation becomes increasingly desperate as the temperature soars and the inhabitants wait passively for help that never comes. Warner has something to say about dependence on authority and lack of meaningful community.

But really this is a visceral book and where it excels is in its gutwrenching descriptions of how dehydration ravages the body and mind.

THE DOG WHO DARED TO DREAM by Sun-Mi Hwang, Abacus, PS7.99 (ebook PS4.99) ... .. THE Dog Who Dared To Dream is the latest release from South Korean author Sun-Mi Hwang, most famous for her bestseller The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, a story that was adapted into the highest-grossing animated film in Korean history.

As its similar title suggests, this new release is something of a sister novel to its predecessor in terms of its animal-focused narrative.

The protagonist is a dishevelled puppy named Scraggly who captures the affection of her owner who is rearing dogs to be sold. A series of heartbreaking events that litter Scraggly's life lead her to dream of life outside the boundaries of her home, and propel her to act boldly and without fear.

It's an endearingly simplistic story that reflects the modesty and spirit of Hwang's own upbringing in South Korea. Within the confines of a small garden, themes of friendship, motherhood and betrayal are examined. Whilst the narrative is not particularly daring and felt a little insubstantial at times, it is overall a poignant, hopeful and charming read.

DEAD TO ME by Lesley Pearse, Michael Joseph, PS18.99 (ebook PS9.99) ..... SET in London and Devon before and during the Second World War, Dead To Me follows the unlikely friendship of two young girls whose lives are poles apart - privately educated Verity, and Ruby, who grew up in extreme poverty.

Written from dual perspectives, the story draws on themes of relationships, class and feminism, beginning with the moment the girls meet, to a pivotal event that threatens to tear them apart.

From the first page, the novel's dark undertones are evident, and in her usual style, author Lesley Pearse crafts a gripping plot that twists and turns, leaving the reader second guessing right up until the heartracing climax. With a compelling mix of history and drama, it is definitely one to be read in as few sittings as possible.

NON-FICTION STRAIGHT JACKET: HOW TO BE GAY AND HAPPY by Matthew Todd, Bantam Press, PS16.99 (ebook PS9.99) ..... IN the watershed 1970 film The Boys In The Band, a character remarks, "Show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse."

These sardonic words reverberate through Matthew Todd's sobering assessment of the mental health crisis impacting the LGBT community, which the author candidly refracts through the prism of his self-destructive behaviour before and during his editorship of gay lifestyle magazine, Attitude.

Straight Jacket is a cri de coeur for a rainbow flag generation living under a dark cloud of self-loathing and body dysmorphia, for which Todd accepts some blame by promoting images of gym-toned perfection on Attitude's front cover.

In his enthusiasm to share a polemic of exhaustively researched argument about toxic shame, addiction and escapism, Todd overloads early chapters with quotations from estimable sources.

Clambering through dense paragraphs of expert opinion reaps rewards, including shocking accounts of bullying at school - from teachers as well as pupils - and young people committing suicide to escape their torment.

In these moments of unvarnished, heartbreaking truth, Todd's call to arms strikes an undeniably moving chord.

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK THE BONE SPARROW by Zana Fraillon, Orion Children's Books, PS12.99 (eBook PS6.99) ..... TWO voices weave together this story of loss and division in Australia. On one side of a metal fence there's Rohingyan refugee Subhi, who has spent his entire short life in a camp with his mother and sister; and on the other, Jimmie, who, since her own mother's death spends her days careering about, hoping her brother will buy her a bike.

With a fence at its centre, it's no wonder The Bone Sparrow is already drawing comparisons with The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. The language captures the children's confusion, their hope mixed with worry over their families and dreams of freedom (physical freedom for Subhi, and the imaginative freedom to read for Jimmie) with nuance, heightened by their naivete. The novel doesn't flounder in abject misery when it easily could. However, there are scenes so upsetting you are less gripped than you are desperate to set it aside for a breather. There's a particularly nasty incident with a rat that leaves your heart a little more broken than before.

Cleverly imagined and very affecting, getting to the end is just a bit of a struggle.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 16, 2016
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