BE GUID TAE YER MAMMY

Emma Grae

Unbound, £9.99

As a girl, Jean fantasised about being a star of the silver screen, a goal that wasn’t completely unattainable as her friend Lizzie actually managed it. Decades later, the unfulfilled Jean is the matriarch of a Glaswegian family spanning three generations, and her bitterness has spread through the clan like poison. Her youngest daughter, Stella Marie, has been a target for her mother and sisters all her life. Now, with illness preventing her skivvying for Jean like a good daughter should, they turn against her, emboldened by the belief that being “a guid Catholic” absolves any hurtful behaviour. Emma Grae shows an acute understanding of the fault-lines in a dysfunctional family, and of how old resentments can escalate, pitting complex characters against each other with ease in a painfully raw debut, its claustrophobic atmosphere ramped up by Jean’s granddaughters’ fears that they’ll be trapped in their insular town of Thistlegate forever.

HeraldScotland:

THE STRANGERS OF BRAAMFONTEIN

Onyeka Nwelue

Abibiman, £9.99

Nwelue’s background as a filmmaker is evident in this compelling novel, his first book to be published in the UK, which tells of young painter Osas, who leaves behind the poverty of Benin for what he hopes will be a better life in Johannesburg. He winds up in the deprived and crime-ridden suburb of Braamfontein, alongside desperate immigrants from all over Africa who have found to their cost that their prospects are little better here. Like them, Osas has to rely on his wits to survive in a predatory gangland awash with drugs, prostitution and violence. Hired by Papi, a Nigerian drug lord, he becomes dehumanised by the brutal retribution he dishes out to Papi’s enemies. It’s a grim, grisly view of post-Apartheid South Africa, and among its wide range of characters there are barely any who aren’t morally compromised. But, for all its bleakness, it sizzles with a visceral, pulpy energy.

HeraldScotland:

THE HUMAN COSMOS

Jo Marchant

Canongate, £9.99

From the Lascaux cave paintings to cutting-edge astronomy, Marchant traces humanity’s relationship with the night sky. It’s a fascinating saga, central to our development as a species that takes in ancient monuments, the birth of astrology, the rise of monotheism, the ability to navigate and the evolution of science – before clocks began to loosen our reliance on the sky and new ideas changed our conception of humanity’s place in the Universe. Marchant’s brief is wide, and she meanders into some unexpected areas to collect historical anecdotes and nuggets of philosophical and scientific speculation. Her ambivalence towards rational enquiry feels misplaced in a book of this type, and her confident assertion that science has robbed the cosmos of its awe and beauty is debatable. But she’s right to bemoan the loss of the night sky to light pollution and the consequent loss of connection with the stars that have lit up our imaginations for millennia.