The Boy At The Top Of The Mountain

John Boyne (Corgi, £7.99)

The author of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas returns once more to the Nazi era, and comes up with another winner. It concerns Pierrot, the son of a French mother and a proud German who fought in the First World War. Pierrot lives in Paris, his best friend a deaf Jewish boy, until he is orphaned and goes off to live with his father’s sister, the housekeeper of a chalet in Berchtesgaden, Austria. Yes, he’s been sent to Hitler’s infamous mountain retreat, where this young boy, ignorant of politics, is both seduced and repelled by these harsh men in uniforms and their strict ideas of purity. The boy who was once bullied can’t help but see the allure of appearing important and the advantages of being on the side of the bullies. Aimed mainly, but not exclusively, at teenage readers, it’s adroitly executed, playing on our ambivalence towards the central character and raising searching questions about corruption, complicity and atonement.

Man On Fire

Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

Sixty-year-old John Lock, suffering from cancer and trapped in an unhappy marriage, has faked his own death and come to India to offer his services to BB Nayak, a man who has grown impervious to pain and undertakes extreme feats of endurance. However, Lock is narrating his side of the story from a prison cell, so what can have gone amiss? Kelman knows Nayak personally, having got in touch after seeing him on TV. Plans to write a screenplay about him fell through, but their friendship resulted in this book, which is part novel and part biography. One can’t help but identify with Lock’s admiration for this unusual man, and the sense of wonder evoked in him by Nayak’s unorthodox attempts to get closer to the Almighty. A tale of friendship and spiritual yearning, in which a man seeks a meaningful end to a disappointing life, Man On Fire lives up to the standard set by Kelman’s Booker-nominated debut, Pigeon English.

A Million Years In A Day

Greg Jenner (Orion, £8.99)

Jenner is billed as the “chief nerd” on the BBC’s Horrible Histories, which means that his job is to check the factual accuracy of historical comedy sketches. In his spare time, he’s been working on this book, which follows an average person from breakfast to bedtime, explaining the origins and evolution of the everyday habits and activities we rarely stop to think about. This takes in all manner of subjects, such as bathing, measuring time and, inevitably, the history of toilets. Light-hearted but informative, it’s filled with the kind of facts that will delight fans of QI (or, going back a bit, James Burke’s Connections). Did you know, for instance, that lice have been such a persistent problem to the human race that Egyptian priests would bathe five times a day and shave off all their body hair? Or that it was once hotly debated whether men should only make telephone calls standing up, as a mark of respect?