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First published in NewsXtra

A look at the latest releases, plus what's new in paperback.

By Kate Whiting

New fiction

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence is published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £14.99 (ebook £8.99). Available January 31.

On the surface, geeky schoolboy Alex Woods doesn't have a lot going for him.

With a clairvoyant for a mum and a natural talent for saying and doing the wrong thing, he finds himself branded weird and bullied by his classmates.

A rather unpromising first meeting with elderly curmudgeon Mr Peterson marks the start of an unlikely friendship which is to have major repercussions for them both.

Laugh-out-loud funny in places, Gavin Extence's debut novel perfectly captures the awkwardness and agonies of growing up.

A touching account of Alex's attempts to make sense of a nonsensical world and stand up for his beliefs, it raises some difficult questions.

Death, faith and morality are some of the gigantic concepts tackled here but with a lightness of touch and humour that never sounds like preaching.

8/10 (Review by Gill Oliver) The Low Road by Chris Womersley is published in paperback by Quercus, priced £7.99. Available now.

Australian author Chris Womersley won a prestigious Ned Kelly award for his debut novel, but it has somehow taken almost six years for it to arrive in the UK. For fans of noir fiction, it is worth the wait.

The Low Road is a moody thriller with a classic premise: two flawed heroes trying to outrun their past with a suitcase full of money.

Lee is the young ex-con with a bullet in his side, desperate for a fresh start, while Wild is the morphine-addicted doctor who is roped in to save him.

As this odd couple make their way towards a safe house, they face a series of increasingly violent decisions.

Womersley doesn't hold back on the blood and gore, and he isn't afraid to make his lead characters fairly unlikeable.

This bold characterisation and his beautifully descriptive writing will keep you hooked right to the end.

7/10 (Review by Kathryn Gaw) Unexpected Lessons In Love by Bernadine Bishop is published in hardback by John Murray, priced £16.99. Available now.

Cecilia and Helen are two very different women - but they have something very powerful in common; both are being treated for cancer and have undergone colostomy surgery.

Their chance meeting in a doctor's waiting room brings them together at just the right time. Not only is their friendship a much-needed comfort as they navigate emotional and physical battles, but, as they discover they've more in common than they first thought, shocks and surprises ensue for both.

Bernadine Bishop, who was a successful psychotherapist before cancer forced her own retirement and a return to her first love, writing, begins Unexpected Lessons In Love with scenes involving a nun in her nineties and a blunt introduction to living with a colostomy. Hardly the most exciting of starts...

But 'unexpectedness' is at the core of her story. Honesty, adaptability and, ultimately, relationships are what carry the characters through their journeys - as humans approaching old age, in the grip of a deeply unpleasant disease, but still mothers and friends and very much relied upon by the people around them.

Bishop approaches her subjects with matter-of-factness and warmth, making this an enjoyable, informative and reassuring read.

8/10 (Review by Abi Jackson) Children's book of the week: Lexiland by Suzi Moore is published in paperback by Simon & Schuster, priced £6.99 (ebook £4.99). Available January 31.

With an understanding of children based on her work as a nanny and teaching assistant, and a picture book already under her belt, this debut young fiction novel from Suzi Moore sounds promising - and it doesn't disappoint.

Lexiland is told from the perspective of Emma, a young girl who lost her twin sister on their birthday.

The story is set nearly a year after the tragic day and it explores how the family cope with their loss.

The reader follows Emma through her day-to-day life as she documents her intense feelings of loneliness. Then, a mysterious new girl arrives at school.

After a difficult start, the two girls become firm friends and Emma enters a whole new world.

Although primarily aimed at younger readers, Lexiland has universal appeal, showing that there is hope after loss.

It's an engaging and heartwarming read.

8/10 (Review by Rachael Dunn) Non-fiction The Love-Charm Of Bombs: Restless Lives In The Second World War by Lara Feigel is published in hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £25. Available now.

Literary historian and journalist Dr Lara Feigel lectures in English and the medical humanities at King's College, London.

The Love-Charm Of Bombs is an enchanting biography examining the first-hand experiences of five prominent authors - Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen, Rose Macaulay, Henry Yorke (pen-name Henry Green) and Hilde Spiel - in wartime London.

Volunteering as ambulance drivers, fire-fighters and ARP wardens in the height of the Blitz, the fearful blackouts and images of London ablaze are brought vividly to life through the authors' eyes.

Utilising a mixture of letters, diaries, journalism, official records and fiction the writers later penned, Feigel expertly guides the reader through the incredible agonies and the ecstasies experienced by our protagonists.

With the nation under siege, even the strongest nerves and loyalties were tested, and Feigel beautifully chronicles the exhilaration and dread brought about by certain death looming each night, and delves into the elicit affairs each author had a dalliance with in the war years.

Woven together with keen attention to detail, Feigel's writing style is all at once inviting, entertaining and informative.

A genuinely accessible text, littered with photographs, maps and extracts, it is a compelling look at the Second World War through the eyes of not so 'ordinary' people but our best-loved authors whose personal histories led to them penning some of the greatest literary works of their generation.

9/10 (Review by Angela Johnson) The Church Of Fear: Inside The Weird World Of Scientology by John Sweeney is published in paperback by Silvertail Books, priced £12.99. Available now.

In 2007, while making a Panorama documentary about the Church of Scientology, BBC reporter John Sweeney did what he describes as an "impression of an exploding tomato" in the face of one of the Church's main men, Tommy Davis. The resulting clip of Sweeney roaring at Davis went viral.

This brave book recounts the events leading up to and following that fateful moment, as Sweeney and his small production team attempted to report on both sides of Scientology - that it helps those in it and is criticised by those who leave it.

So the transcripts of interviews with Hollywood stars and current Scientologists, including Kirstie Alley and Juliette Lewis, sit alongside those of defectors from the Church who previously worked in its Sea Org division, where, they claim, they were mistreated.

Sweeney bases much of his argument for the Church being a "brainwashing cult" on the work of Dr Robert Lifton, who outlines eight criteria for thought reform.

Following his experience in the States, Sweeney also got hold of leaked emails purportedly between Davis and senior Church members which appear to show they were tracking his every move.

It's hugely compelling and convincing writing, even if, at times, you cringe with Sweeney over his lack of decorum.

8/10 (Review by Kate Whiting) Landscapes Of The Metropolis Of Death by Otto Dov Kulka is published in hardback by Allen Lane, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99). Available January 31 In this moving and poignant testimony, distinguished historian Otto Dov Kulka draws the reader into the horror of the death-camp through a montage of historical research, essays and poetical images of memory.

As a young boy, Kulka travelled from the ghetto of Theresienstadt to become a prisoner in the 'family camp' of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In this book, through testimony, images and poetry, he recalls his experiences of growing up as a prisoner in one of the most infamous concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

In an attempt to come to terms with his ordeal, Kulka explores the meaning of the Holocaust through the pages of his diaries and his journey back to the camp as an adult.

This account of the concentration camps is unique in its powerful, personal tone and historical and philosophical debates throughout.

It is a constantly thought-provoking and fascinating reflection on modern history and a personal quest for knowledge.

8/10 (Review by Chloe Chaplain) The Myth Of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, And Other Self-Destructive Killers by Adam Lankford is published in hardback by Palgrave Macmillan, priced £16.99. Available now.

Adam Lankford's second book comes at a very timely period, in the wake of the shootings in the US at Newtown, Colorado and Chicago, but also as deadly suicide bomb attacks continue in the Middle East, namely Iraq and Syria.

A criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, Lankford's three-year research into suicide terrorism has already featured on CNN, The Huffington Post and Foreign Policy.

In The Myth Of Martyrdom, he challenges experts who claim that suicide bombers and the like are martyrs, willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their cause or for the greater good.

Instead, he insists that these people are "mentally unstable" and their so-called martyrdom is actually an underlying and desperate death wish as he looks into the backgrounds of the 9/11 aeroplane hijackers, cult members, rampage shooters and suicide bombers.

Lankford argues that, by being open-minded about theories and learning more about the histories of past 'martyrs', governments could help avoid tragedies by pinpointing citizens who pose a potential threat.

It's an interesting and intriguing read.

8/10 (Review by Shereen Low) Africa: Eye To Eye With The Unknown by Michael Bright is published by Quercus, priced £25. Available now Immerse yourself in a different world with this offering from natural history author Michael Bright.

Designed to accompany the recent BBC television series Africa, it features a foreword by David Attenborough, the narrator of the series.

As expected from a book accompanying a BBC series, it features stunning photography, an excellent layout and informative prose, but what sets this book apart is the interactive capability with the addition of a new feature - the QuercusEye app - which allows photographs to come alive with the aid of a smartphone.

If you think you've seen all the wildlife and landscapes that Africa has to offer, then be prepared for a surprise as Africa: Eye To Eye With The Unknown takes the reader on a spectacular journey through the continent, revealing just how diverse it really is.

It's a visually stunning book that will challenge what you thought you knew about Africa.

9/10 (Review by Rachael Dunn) Best-sellers for the week ending January 26 Paperbacks 1 The Great Comic Relief Bake Off: 13 Easy Recipes Perfect For A Bake Sale, Great British Bake Off 2 The Fast Diet, Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer 3 HHhH, Laurent Binet 4 Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn 5 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson 6 The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce 7 Waiting For Sunrise, William Boyd 8 Capital, John Lanchester 9 Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain 10 Wonder, RJ Palacio Hardbacks 1 A Memory Of Light: The Wheel Of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson 2 Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, Jeff Kinney 3 The Examined Life: How We Lose And Find Ourselves, Stephen Grosz 4 Close To The Bone, Stuart MacBride 5 Jamie's 15-Minute Meals, Jamie Oliver 6 Tales From Acorn Wood: Fox's Socks, Julia Donaldson 7 My Animals And Other Family, Clare Balding 8 Ratburger, David Walliams 9 Wonders Of Life, Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen 10 The Chessmen, Peter May EBooks 1 Life Of Pi, Yann Martel 2 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson 3 Safe House, Chris Ewan 4 Thursdays In The Park, Hilary Boyd 5 1,227 QI Facts To Blow Your Socks Off, John Lloyd, John Mitchinson 6 The Expats, Chris Pavone 7 You Had Me At Hello, Mhairi McFarlane 8 The Half-Life Of Hannah, Nick Alexander 9 Yours Truly, Kirsty Greenwood 10 Dark Winter, David Mark (Compiled by the Kindle store at Amazon.co.uk) :: Note to editors: This is a re-send of the book column, including the latest chart from Waterstone's

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