This week's Checklist book reviews include Haruki Murakami's Wind/Pinball, Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal, Pillow Man by Nick Coleman and Naked At Lunch: The Adventures Of A Reluctant Nudist by Mark Haskell Smith


Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal is published in hardback by Quercus, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.49). Available now

It's quite hard to write a review for a book when all you want to do is press it into people's hands and force them to read it; because this is exactly what I want to do with this brilliant novel.

Eight chapters tell the story of Eva Thorvald from a different character's point of view. However tangentially they may be connected to her, they take us chronologically through the life of the owner of the most incredible palate. When Eva's mother runs off with a sommelier shortly after Eva's birth, her father - a passionate, if not hugely successful, chef - sets out to instil in her his own love of cooking. Though his plan doesn't quite go accordingly, it quickly becomes apparent that though she is not the most popular girl at school, Eva is destined for great things. As she grows up we see her culinary skills develop, from growing, selling and consuming the hottest peppers aged 10, learning how to cook fish following her first date, and dominating a toe-curlingly recognisable supper club, culminating in her becoming the renowned chef behind an elusive pop up restaurant, one at which a plate can come at the cost of $5,000.

J. Ryan Stradal is a TV producer (Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch are amongst the programmes he works on), and this recognition of the very human moments - those which a viewer, reader, listener might connect to - is overwhelmingly apparent here. Moreover, his very funny portrayal of groups of people (from students, to foodies, to suburbians) is spot on.

Funny, bittersweet and joyful, it's a startlingly brilliant debut. Think Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, but with food, not music.This is the only book I've ever given 10/10 to; I urge you to read it.


(Review by Emma Herdman)


Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami is published in hardback by Harvill Secker, priced £16.99 (ebook £5.69). Available now

Haruki Murakami, the celebrated and prolific Japanese author behind novels such as Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage, is back with two short stories - Hear The Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. These adventures, which have been translated into English for the first time and have been published as a reversible hardback, are actually the writer's first works and precede A Wild Sheep Chase, first published in Japan in 1982. It's interesting to discover an author's roots and many of the themes Murakami touches upon on in these two stories, such as loneliness, obsession and sex, recur in his later books. Hear The Wind Sing follows an unnamed narrator as he returns home for his summer break from university, his friendship with his friend, known as the Rat, and an unlikely romance with a girl with nine fingers. Pinball, 1973, set three years later, sees the still-unnamed protagonist now working in Tokyo, whilst the Rat remains behind. Haunted by memories of his own doomed relationship, the narrator is also focussed on his short-lived obsession playing pinball, leading him on a mission to find a three-flipper Spaceship machine. Bizarre and often surreal, these stories act as an intriguing exploration into Murakami's wacky mind and thought processes.

Rating: 7/10

(Review by Shereen Low)

Pillow Man by Nick Coleman is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £16.99 (ebook £6.99). Available now

It's the unexpected details that really stand out in Pillow Man. The two protagonists - William, a 50-something ex-rock musician turned department store salesman, and Lucy, a free-spirited part-time baker approaching her forties - are certainly not your typical leading man or leading lady. The novel follows the two insomniacs and their developing relationship in alternate chapters, William's related in the first person, Lucy's in the third. It's a beautifully written, thoroughly modern and witty exploration of love, relationships and getting older, with no sign of cheesiness or sentimentality. Author Nick Coleman is an eloquent writer, skilfully balancing the more tender and poignant moments with his characteristic dry wit and sarcasm. This is the second novel from the London-based writer, whose debut novel The Train In The Night was shortlisted for the 2012 Wellcome Book Prize, and similarly it's a moving, thoughtful and sensitive examination of modern life, which will, fairly frequently, make you snort with laughter.


(Review by Alison Potter)

Fishbowl by Bradley Somer is published in hardback by Ebury Press, priced £12.99 (ebook £4.35). Available now.

Following the thoughts of a goldfish plunging from the 27th floor of an apartment building is a sure way to grab a reader's attention, but Bradley Somer's second novel is much more than that gimmick. It focuses instead on the inhabitants, including an agoraphobic sex worker, a nymphomanic PhD student and an 11-year-old boy who thinks he can time travel. When the lift breaks, the characters are forced into contact and their encounters are retold from each other's perspective, insightfully inching separate plots forward. Dancing from one storyline to the next ramps up the tension and Ian-the-goldfish's plunge adds a continual line of cleverly built-up suspense. Although the novel's internal time scale is just 30 minutes, Somer does an excellent job of sketching a collection of idiosyncratic yet widely plausible characters. All of life, from birth to death, love to hate, is explored with sensitivity, humour and some whimsical musing on the nature of goldfish.


(Review by Natalie Bowen)

Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts is published in paperback by Michael Joseph, priced £7.99 (ebook £2.99). Available now

Outsider Daniel Shepherd arrives at Durham University as a Fresher one cold night, and meets, on the train, the beautiful, upper middle class Emily Brabents. Whilst one strand of the narrative describes Daniel and Emily's friendship (read 'obsession' in Daniel's case), the other narrative is set in present day, where Emily's body has been found in the river. DI Erica Martin sets out to find her murderer, uncovering as she does the dark underbelly of the student community: a culture of trolling, sex pictures and struggles to fit in. Though the plot is pacy and the characters believable, there are aspects that don't always ring true (the use of Facebook and Twitter for trolling are a key example), and it's hard not to draw comparisons with the superlative novel Engleby by Sebastian Faulks - but the twist is good. Though this isn't the hottest debut, Clark-Platts is certainly an author to look out for.


(Review by Emma Herdman)


Naked At Lunch: The Adventures Of A Reluctant Nudist by Mark Haskell Smith is published in paperback by Atlantic Books, priced £8.99 (ebook £4.29). Available now

On a hot summer's day, the idea of stripping down to your birthday suit is strangely quite appealing, but nudity's not for everyone. Fascinated by what makes people want to commune 'non-sexually' in the buff, author and virgin naturist Mark Haskell Smith has reluctantly thrown himself into his subject in the name of research. And it's very funny stuff. His travels take him from San Francisco, where public nudity has recently been banned because certain members of the gay community took it too far, to French resort of Cap d'Agde, where pretty much anything goes, and even hiking through the Austrian Alps on the annual Naked European Walking Tour (NEWT). Interspersed with accounts of these adventures is a potted history of naturism, which grew simultaneously in Europe and America as an underground movement interested in all things healthy - so vegetarians exposing their skin to the fresh air. There is, it seems, only so much you can say about the reasons for non-sexual nudity and although Haskell Smith writes entertainingly, it's unlikely this reader will be a convert anytime soon.


(Review by Kate Whiting)

The Orpheus Clock by Simon Goodman is published in paperback by Scribner, priced £14.99 (ebook £8.39). Available August 13

Simon Goodman grew up in London, knowing nothing of his family history. He didn't know that he was descended from a long line of German Jewish bankers. He didn't know that they had amassed a vast art collection, which the Nazis had stolen before sending his grandparents to a concentration camp. Going through a box of papers after his father's death, Goodman discovers that his father had been trying to trace and recover the family's stolen property, with little success. And so begins a decades-long, worldwide treasure hunt. A colossal amount of research has gone into The Orpheus Clock, but it is too long and unwieldy. It's hard to keep track of who's who in the Goodman diaspora and the sheer number of artworks is mindboggling. Goodman's back story is incredibly moving â and his achievement laudable â but it would be all the more remarkable for some judicious editing.


(Review by Catherine Small)


Darkmere by Helen Maslin is published in paperback by Chicken House Ltd, priced £7.99 (ebook £6.83). Available now

Darkmere is Helen Maslin's debut novel - an ambitious split timeline of a spooky tale aimed at the young adult market. Slow to start, and erring on the fragmented, token poor kid Kate at the local private school is invited to spend the summer with Leo (the coolest kid in the school) and his friends at his newly inherited castle on the Devon coast. At first she thinks this could be the perfect opportunity to realise her dreams about romancing Leo, however, it soon becomes apparent there is something not quite right as the family legacy starts to house some frightening behaviours. How are they linked to the property's dark history? Kate is determined to find out after she is drawn to the story of a 19th-century girl who is rumoured to haunt the tunnels and towers. There is a lot of heart in the tale, but the burgeoning modern-day romances and relationships are lost behind the fascination of the history of the haunting.


(Review by Rachel Howdle)



1. Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee

2. Hello Life, Marcus Butler

3. The Girl On The Train, Paula Hawkins

4. Early One Morning, Virginia Baily

5. Katy, Jacqueline Wilson

6. Claude: Lights! Camera! Action!, Alex T Smith

7. Wind/ Pinball:Two Novels, Haruki Murakami

8. Percy Jackson and the Greek Heroes: Percy Jackson's Greek Myths, Rick Riordan

9. Daft Wee Stories, Limmy & Brian Limond

10. Great British Bake off: Celebrations:With Recipes from the 2015 Series, Linda Collister


1. Village of Secrets:Defying the Nazis in Vichy France, Caroline Moorehead

2. Paper Towns, John Green

3. The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim

4. Runaway, Peter May

5. Edge Of Eternity: The Century Trilogy, Ken Follett

6. All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven

7. Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt And Colouring Book, Johanna Basford

8. Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest And Colouring Book, Johanna Basford

9. Us, David Nicholls

10. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr


1. How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst

2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

3. Revenge by Martina Cole

4. No-One Ever Has Sex in the Suburbs by Tracy Bloom

5. Together Apart by Natalie K Martin

6. The Lie by C.L Taylor

7. Abducted by T. R. Ragan

8. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

9. Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as told by Christian by E L James

10. Because She Loves Me by Mark Edwards