Following on from the success of The Other Hand and Incendiary, Chris Cleave turns his attention to the world of elite track-cycling. Gold charts the story of best friends and fierce rivals Kate Meadows and Zoe Castle as they embark on a tumultuous path to be crowned Olympic cycling sprint champion at London 2012.
All-round nice girl Kate is married to fellow cyclist Jack Argall and they have a daughter, Sophie, who is fighting leukaemia. She's the polar opposite of the unabashedly ruthless Zoe who declares: "I'm ugly on the inside. I'll mess your head up." Underpinning their stories is poignant tragedy, fierce ambition, hope, failure and a glorious twist in the tale that will take your breath away. I tore through the pages with such rabid abandon that, by the time I looked up again, it was dark outside.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99)
A tender tale of family dysfunction in all its bittersweet and gory glory. Eccentric architectural genius Bernadette Fox has no time for the fellow mothers on the school run she dubs "gnats". Such is her social awkwardness and inability to mix with the general populace, she employs a "virtual assistant" in India to do everything from grocery shopping to ordering medication.
Most teenage kids would die of embarrassment, but for 15-year-old Bee, her mum is the coolest person on the planet – not least when Bernadette agrees to a family trip to Antarctica. Then there's Bee's hapless workaholic father, Elgie Branch, a technological wunderkind working on the top secret "Samantha 2" project at Microsoft, who has all the awareness of an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. All pretences of happy family life shatter, however, when Bernadette mysteriously disappears, and father and daughter must overcome their differences to find her.
Told through email correspondence, transcripts and journal entries, the wry observation and dark wit will have you laughing out loud.
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate, £20)
There are few eras of history that fascinate and enthrall more than that of the Tudors, not least the world which orbits Henry VIII, his wives and scheming chief minister Thomas Cromwell. In this sequel to Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel explores one of the most mesmerising and terrifying periods of all: the demise of Anne Boleyn.
It is 1535, and Henry VIII has broken ties with Rome to create his own church. But his actions have placed the country in a dangerous predicament and Anne has yet to bear a son to secure the Tudor line. Just as Wolf Hall tracked Henry VIII's waning interest in Katherine of Aragon, Anne's fortunes hang precariously in the balance when Jane Seymour catches the king's eye.
Power-hungry master puppeteer Cromwell must find a way to protect the interests of the nation while meeting his master's demands and furthering his own ambition. Clever, insightful and ultimately explosive.
Peaches For Monsieur Le Cure by Joanne Harris (Doubleday, £18.99)
Joanne Harris's new novel opens as Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave. Eight years have passed since the events chronicled in the beguiling Chocolat, and our main protagonist is now living on a house boat in Paris with her lover and two children. Summoned to return to the village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes in south-west France, where on the surface everything appears as picture-perfect as it once was, Vianne is distraught to discover her once-thriving chocolaterie has fallen into wrack and ruin.
Downriver in Les Marauds, a community of Moroccans has sprung up among the disused tanneries. Conflict is brewing between the two communities and at its heart is Ines Bencharki, an incomer as Vianne was once, whose presence has sparked distrust and division. As Ramadan arrives, the simmering resentment boils to a head and Vianne finds herself unexpectedly drawn to the aid of her old adversary, Father Reynaud. A delightfully sensuous and evocative tale.
Perfect Strangers by Tasmina Perry (Headline Review, £12.99)
Glamour? Check. Exotic locations? Check. Dashing hero to sweep us off our feet? Check. Tasmina Perry's pacy novel has all the right ingredients for kicking back on a sun lounger, switching off from the world and indulging in some good old-fashioned guilty-pleasure reading.
It follows the misadventures of Sophie Ellis who, after the death of her father and social pariahdom of her family's evaporating finances, thinks she has finally landed back on her feet with a luxury house-sit, new job as a personal trainer to ladies who lunch and a handsome, rich boyfriend.
But nothing is quite what it seems. When her new beau turns up dead in a hotel room, Sophie finds herself in the frame for his murder. Cue Eastern European gangsters on her tail, flying bullets and an incorrigibly annoying – and charming – knight in shining armour. A must for the beach bag.
The Seamstress by Maria Duenas (Viking, £12.99)
Having fled her comfortable life in Madrid in 1936, Sira Quiroga finds herself alone and penniless in Tangier in Morocco after her charismatic lover Ramiro vanishes unexpectedly. As civil war erupts across Spain returning home is no longer an option. With no money, nowhere to live and no one to turn to, Sira must reinvent herself. Going back to her roots as a seamstress, she finds herself becoming the in-demand couture designer and frock-maker for the socialite wives of German Nazi officers.
Soon, however, her skills are in demand for an entirely different reason as Sira becomes embroiled in a world of espionage, passing on information gleaned from the unguarded gossiping of her clients to the British Secret Service through a code stitched into the hems of her dresses. Deftly weaving together history, politics, romance, grief, heartbreak and hope, this beautifully written novel is a page-turner from the opening line.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99)
Nick Dunne arrives home on his fifth wedding anniversary to find the house empty, although the iron is turned on and a dress is waiting to be pressed, a gift lies half-wrapped on the floor, the coffee table is shattered and shards of glass are spread across the carpet. His wife Amy is gone. All signs point to an abduction but the police have another theory and Nick soon finds himself the prime suspect in his wife's disappearance.
Amy's friends reveal she was afraid of him and kept secrets from her husband. The media are quick to seize on the image of Amy as the beautiful, perfect wife, building the case against him. But as Nick protests his innocence, the sequence of events becomes ever more muddied.
The voices of Nick and Amy run side-by-side in the book, starkly juxtaposed and contradictory. An acerbic and brooding tale where nothing is as it first seems.
Born To Ride: The Autobiography Of Stephen Roche (Yellow Jersey Press, £12.99)
In 1987 Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche won the sport's coveted triple crown, capturing the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and World Road Race Championship, a feat which, 25 years on, remains unmatched. Here, he recounts the events that sealed his place in cycling folklore, not least an unshrinkingly candid account of the 1987 Giro d'Italia in which Roche famously defied Carrera team orders to take the maglia rosa back from team-mate Roberto Visentini. Then there was his superhuman heroics on La Plagne to catch Pedro Delgado and salvage his bid for Tour de France victory.
Charting Roche's rise from amateur to pro ranks – where Peugeot team directeur, the late Maurice De Muer, once mistook him for Robert Millar's fat chauffeur – he unshrinkingly tackles the realities of life on and off the bike, including doping allegations, defeats, fierce rivalries and family breakdown. One of the most riveting sporting biographies I've read for ages.
The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory (Simon & Schuster, £18.99)
Philippa Gregory's latest novel on the Plantagenet dynasty turns its attention to Anne Neville and her sister Isabel, the daughters of the 16th Earl of Warwick. In the absence of a son and heir, the Earl – known as The Kingmaker – ruthlessly uses the girls as pawns to further his own cause. Against the complex rivalries of the court of Edward IV and his new queen, former commoner Elizabeth Woodville, the author deftly captures the voice of Anne as she attempts to navigate the intricate and rigid social structure, one where peril lies around every corner.
Betrothed at the age of 14, she metamorphoses like a butterfly in reverse from a charming child into womanhood marred by fear and desperation as her father's enemies turn against her. But her role in history has already been sealed.
Gods And Beasts by Denise Mina (Orion, £12.99)
Denise Mina's latest offering opens in her trademark breathtaking pacy style, with a Glasgow post office robbery gone wrong. The collateral damage is an old man who appeared to stand calmly resolved to his fate as he was shot by a masked gunman with an AK47. Our favourite tartan noir cop DS Alex Morrow returns, back at work after giving birth to twins. There's no rest for the wicked, however, as she is soon charged with heading up the investigation.
But something is bothering her: the complicity of the grandfather in his own death. It appears a noble act of self-sacrifice, but did he in fact know his killer? Throw in a promiscuous politician, blackmail scam and a sizeable bag of missing money, and we have a tantalising tale that leads from murky criminal underworld to the highest echelons of international society.