THIS week’s Book of the Week is Let Us Be True by Alex Christofi, a tale set in Paris in the aftermath of the Second World War.

A man meets a mysterious woman in a bar and falls in love despite his better judgement. It’s a tale as old as time. Let Us Be True is set in 1958, with the aftermath of war swirling around the German-born lovers like winds of repressed emotion and experience.

Elsa, in particular, strives to keep her secrets hidden, while Ralf finds himself caught in another conflict, this time between Algeria and his adopted France. London-based author and editor Alex Christofi draws this political context of living with victory and defeat behind his character-focused love story like a classical painter perfecting the backdrop to a portrait. Ralf and Elsa are each damaged by the war – he’s a ‘few years, but an entire generation’ older than she – but Christofi’s page-turning second novel ensures their relationship is the focal point. Convincing, sympathetic and heartbreakingly inevitable, one to reread with a tissue handy.


Review by Natalie Bowen

Let Us Be True is published in hardback by Serpent’s Tail, priced £14.99 (ebook £8.99). Available now.


Philippa Gregory’s latest novel The Last Tudor is the story of the Grey sisters.

While the tale of poor Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen is familiar; that of her younger sisters, Katherine and Mary, is less so. All were (via their mother’s line) princesses of the blood and all paid a heavy price for being plausible heirs to the Tudor throne.

For the historical novelist, history itself can be a hard taskmaster. On the plus side, each of the Grey girls seems to have been genuinely personable and struggled (on the whole, disastrously) to control her own destiny. On the downside, by choosing to write in the first person about each sister in turn, Gregory has limited herself to three increasingly bitter and unreliable narrators, each of whom spent a large proportion of her life in captivity.

The prejudices of her protagonists allow Gregory to incorporate all sorts of sensationalist allegations into the novel. But whether ardent, and knowledgeable, fans of Tudor-bethan fiction will forgive her portrayal of Elizabeth I as cold, spiteful, lewd and vacillating is another thing entirely.


Review by Liz Ryan

The Last Tudor is published in hardback by Simon & Schuster, priced £20 (ebook £11.99). Available now.

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang is published in hardback by Bloomsbury Circus, priced £16.99 (ebook £6.47). Available now

From New York-based Jenny Zhang, Sour Heart contains seven bold stories centred on Chinese immigrants living in the Big Apple. The voices for each of the story are female - young girls and daughters, mothers and grandmothers - and describe a side of life many people never encounter, including living on the breadline in a new country while remembering the struggles of the old. Through the female perspective, the stories unfold, such as the life of a young girl experiencing school and all the pressures that come with it. Many, especially those written from the point of view of the younger characters, contain fast, roller coaster-like winding sentences that try to encapsulate the inquisitiveness and restlessness of being a child/young person, though it is certainly not a book for children. The book occasionally touches on subjects that might make some readers uncomfortable, rendering some stories less compelling than others.


(Review by Ryan Ward)


London In The Company Of Painters by Richard Blandford is published in hardback by Laurence King, priced £40. Available August 21.

Since the rise of the panoramic city view as a subject for art in the 17th century, London has inspired artists including Hogarth, Canaletto, Whistler and Ford Madox Brown. Richard Blandford’s coffee table book, London In The Company Of Painters, draws together the full range of views of Britain’s capital city and its inhabitants. The book is arranged as a journey west to east, much of it along the all-important River Thames, pulling together paintings of different eras but similar subjects. So, for example, Claude Monet’s Leicester Square at Night is just a page or two away from John Bartlett’s depiction of poll tax riots in Trafalgar Square. Despite the rise of photography in the 20th century, London still attracts painters, with the construction of the current Canary Wharf among the most modern subjects in the book, featured in Carl Laubin’s 1991 painting, Canary Wharf. Wisely, Blandford does not attempt to use the paintings to tell a detailed history of London, though he does sketch stories of landmarks and artists, peppered with quirky facts and quotes about the city. The additions complement the pictures, the stars of this elegantly produced book, and make for an enjoyable read for anyone who loves London and art.


(Review by Emily Beament)


Patricia Cleveland-Peck, the author of You Can’t Take An Elephant On A Bus, has turned to the mysteries of ancient Egypt for her latest book for schoolchildren.

We’re introduced to a cast of characters in The Story Of Tutankhamun through picture profiles, before learning about the childhood of the young Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, how he succeeded his father Akhenaten, married his half-sister Ankhesenamun and then died mysteriously at 18. The ins and outs of mummification are explained - a process that took 70 days - before we meet Howard Carter 3,000 years after the pharaoh’s burial and learn about the race to find his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

The magical moment Carter discovers the top of a sunken staircase will send shivers down your spine, and so will Isabel Greenberg’s dark and light illustrations of the contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Rumours of a curse after the fifth Earl of Carnarvon’s untimely death, as well as mysteries solved and found are swiftly dealt with, and there’s a long section on the pharaoh’s sarcophagus, which ought to have been at least introduced during the section on mummification and his funeral, among other slightly confusing lapses between words and pictures. But overall, it’s an eye-opening and engaging read that will spark children’s interest in history.


Review by Kate Whiting

The Story Of Tutankhamun by Patricia Cleveland-Peck, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg, is published in hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £14.99. Available now.