1. Fast By The Horns by Moses McKenzie is published in hardback by Wildfire

Following on from his outstanding debut novel An Olive Grove In Ends, Moses McKenzie’s second book sees him remain on home turf in the West Indian communities of Bristol. Here he turns the clock back to 1980, when the lives of those in St Paul’s are made harder by the racism of the police and the neglect of the city council. In an environment where the locals have competing visions of how to fight the forces raging against them, 14-year-old Jabari comes of age trying to make sense of his Rastafari faith and the lessons of his father, community leader Ras Levi. Taught the bible story of Abraham and Isaac, Jabari faces his own tests of faith and loyalty as violence descends on the community. McKenzie’s beautiful prose, thick with dialect, elevates this parable, another example of his remarkable ability to write with a wisdom which belies his tender age.

2. Queen Macbeth by Val McDermid is published in hardback by Polygon

Queen Macbeth sees a reimagining of one of Shakespeare’s best known characters, previously immortalised as the ultimate pushy wife. The novel is a different direction for author Val McDermid, best known for her gritty thrillers, and the latest in the Darkland Tales series, which sees Scotland’s history and myths retold by modern authors. McDermid allows Lady Macbeth to reclaim her real name – Gruoch – and casts her in an altogether more sympathetic light. The three witches are not a trio of crones but a close-knit friendship group with an aptitude for healing, the Macbeths are not so much power-hungry conspirators as products of their circumstances. The short book may not have the intrigue of McDermid’s usual murder mysteries, but is a page-turner nonetheless, leaving the reader with a different perspective on The Scottish Play.

3. Earth by John Boyne is published in hardback by Doubleday

Earth is the second in the elements-themed quartet by Irish author John Boyne, following 2023’s Water. It sits in the same universe – with background aspects overlapping between the two – but tells a new story: that of Evan, a young boy from an isolated island off Ireland who dreamt of being a painter. He wasn’t good enough, so after a brief spell as a sex worker, he succumbed to his true talent and became a footballer. The main thrust of the story is Evan on trial for filming his footballer friend Robbie rape a young woman. So much of the story is sympathetic to Evan – building up his emotional back story and troubled past, which feels almost like excusing his actions. While it might not necessarily end this way, and Robbie is certainly an unsympathetic character, it’s hard to see the point in this kind of story, which so sidelines the woman and victim’s perspective. While Boyne’s writing is gripping, the story is a bit exhausting when these kinds of high-profile trials are the norm, and victims so often smeared and discarded.

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4. An African History Of Africa by Zeinab Badawi is published in hardback by WH Allen

The immensity of the scope journalist Zeinab Badawi covers in writing a history of the vast continent of Africa from the origin of the humankind to the modern era is truly ambitious. But Badawi rises to the task, providing an African lens on sometimes familiar history, sometimes a revelation to the average person, for example talking about a ruler who was probably the richest person to ever have lived – Mansa Musa. The nature of the task sometimes makes it feel like a list of rulers and battles, but she also considers the deeper influences and how these changing situations have left their mark. From religious sway to slavery, the value of salt compared with gold and a proclamation of rights, the Manden Charter in 1236, that guaranteed liberty, dignity and equality to citizens 500 years before the French Revolution argued for similar rights, there are revelations in every chapter. Badawi has interviewed local historians and scholars whose expertise and knowledge is woven through the text. The panoramic scope makes some aspects fleeting, but also makes it an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to know more about Africa and its history without an imposed Euro-centric view.

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Children’s book of the week

5. Max Magic: The Incredible Holiday Hideout by Stephen Mulhern and Tom Easton, illustrated by Begoña Fernández Corbalán, is published in paperback by Piccadilly Press

This is the third instalment in presenter and magician Stephen Mulhern’s wildly popular children’s series, starring Max Magic – a budding magician loosely based on Mulhern’s own childhood. As with all the books, there’s plenty of nudge-nudge, wink-wink elements – we’ve previously seen the beautiful presenter Willow Holloughby, and this time round we’ve got the return of East End baddies the Crayfish twins – who have busted out of prison, and Max and his friends are taken to Bupkins holiday camp (sound familiar?) for refuge. Hijinks ensue, and trouble is never far off. Mulhern has built a captivating world of magic, bravery and fun – you can see why kids age seven and up go bananas for it.

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