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Books: Fans of His Dark Materials will be pleased to hear Philip Pullman is back with more drama

1. An Olive Grove In Ends

Moses McKenzie

Wildfire, £16.99 (ebook £8.99).

Sayon Hughes has a dream to rise to the heights – social and literal – of Bristol’s Clifton neighbourhood. But born into the infamous Hughes family, the only way to drag himself out of the deprivation he lives in is to deal drugs. The hurdles he faces are made clear 10 pages into Moses McKenzie’s engrossing debut novel, when he commits a crime. Sayon, son of a pastor and in love with the daughter of another, must work out who knows of his crime, and who can be trusted. In a manner tender yet unsentimental, McKenzie describes Sayon’s battle to navigate this complex neighbourhood, which offers few escape routes from the usual predetermined outcomes for its inhabitants – none of which traditionally end in Clifton. Just 24, McKenzie has delivered a remarkable debut full of wisdom.

9/10

2. Here Goes Nothing

Steve Toltz

Sceptre, £18.99 (ebook £8.99)

For anyone who has gone through the last few years and thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Steve Toltz’s latest novel Here Goes Nothing is here to prove you wrong. Angus Mooney is trying to come to terms with his own death, as his murderer makes moves on his pregnant widow. Meanwhile a new, even more deadly, pandemic is sweeping the globe. This vision of the afterlife is far from utopian, with the dead taking all the worst aspects of human nature with them as they depart the mortal plane. Toltz – whose debut novel A Fraction Of The Whole was shortlisted for the Booker Prize – offers wit and plenty of food for thought with this dystopian novel, but if you’re looking for a feel-good read, you should steer clear.

7/10

3. The Schoolhouse

Sophie Ward

Corsair, £16.99 (ebook £9.99).

Sophie Ward’s second novel is a blend of thriller, police procedural and teenage diary, predominantly set in an experimental school in the 1970s. Protagonist Isobel becomes entangled in the search for a missing schoolgirl in the 1990s, as her own troubled past rears its ugly head. The mysteries of the child’s disappearance and of what scarred Isobel so deeply 15 years earlier make the book a page-turner, with some intriguing themes of trauma and abuse. But the links between the cases are tenuous, and breakthroughs by investigators solving them appear at times contrived. Some of the violence seems sensational and the motives not entirely convincing.

5/10

Non-fiction

4. Time Is A Mother

Ocean Vuong

Jonathan Cape, £14.99 (ebook £8.99)

Ocean Vuong is a writer to watch – he proved that in his impossibly moving debut book On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous. This is his second poetry collection, and he touches upon many of the same themes – sexuality, being an immigrant in America, art – plus, throughout the poems, he’s constantly grappling with the death of his mother. While some of the more experimental poems don’t feel hugely accessible, the simpler verses feel more powerful. Vuong is certainly a talented writer, but will likely reach more people with his fiction than poetry.

7/10

Children’s book of the week

5. The Imagination Chamber

Philip Pullman

Scholastic, £12.99 (ebook £7.99).

The many worlds Philip Pullman has created are already impossibly rich, but fans will be pleased to discover yet more layers in this series of sketches and snapshots. Each page is a window offering tantalising glimpses into the characters of His Dark Materials and the not-yet-completed trilogy, The Book Of Dust. The witch Serafina Pekkala hovering above a field at night, taking in the stillness of a silence that contains multitudes. Lyra as a child, eating too much cake during a visit from an eminent writer and hiding her vomit under a rug. And Will, a surgeon in training, needing to obscure the true precision of his hands – a legacy from his time as bearer of the subtle knife. Slim in volume only, less is more with this quiet, beautifully crafted companion book. A wonderful stopgap for fans impatient for the highly-anticipated Book Of Dust finale.

9/10

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