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Holy Smoke

by Libby Purves

Hodder pounds 6.99

The dedication reads "to all the good nuns", a useful hint that there will be ghastly sisters on the pages ahead; but also that this is not just another bout of bitter convent-bashing. Purves was the daughter of a diplomat, taught by religious brothers and sisters around the world. In Tel Aviv, Franciscans said the Virgin looked like one of the ordinary Jewish girls in the street; in Bangkok Libby was pinched and poked by Siamese schoolmates, who saw her as the next best thing to a lucky white elephant. This gentle and witty religious memoir is more accessible than most, as Purves recalls her life's journey through plainsong and Beatlemania, apartheid and the Pill, political idealism and religious disillusionment, into middle age and the perplexing mystery of faith.

Traplines

by Eden Robinson

Abacus pounds 6.99

Life can be crap in Canada - it's not all majestic mountains and sparkling lakes, and here to prove it (as if Leonard Cohen were not enough) is Eden Robinson with four novellas about the dysfunctional lives of families lost among the urban ruins of the west coast. All the requisite addictions are present - alcohol, drugs, physical abuse - and practised by adults and teenagers alike. The tales are harrowing but the telling is masterful, in spare but powerful language. She can write, and she knows that evil is so often masked by banality. When seen from below, with the eyes of children born cynical but still wide-eyed at the world despite themselves, it makes some kind of weird sense that family life should include a sex mad poodle and a serial killer mom.

1974

by David Peace

Serpent's Tail pounds 8.99

The Seventies? Oh, they were so chic, darling. There was disco at Studio 54, Bowie as the Thin White Duke, those romantic Dutch playing Total Football, and 2001: A Space Odyssey at the cinema. But not in the world according to David Peace, whose version of 1974 is about Yorkshire, the Bay City Rollers, Leeds United and The Exorcist. A grim, gritty, noir-ish world in which girls are murdered, swans maimed and the ambitious new crime correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post finds himself in hell. This breathless, extravagant, ultra-violent debut thriller reads like it was written by a man with one hand down his pants and the other on a shotgun. Vinnie Jones should buy the film rights fast.

Divine

by Joanna Traynor

Bloomsbury pounds 6.99

Vivian Jackson is a 19-year-old with a face like the back of a bus (her words, describing the disfiguring effects of a childhood accident) and she's in trouble. The court rises in the opening paragraph and Viv is on trial for drugs offences, with every chance of a guilty verdict. The sense of injustice looms before we even know why, but as a former winner of the Saga Prize Joanna Traynor is known for writing about what it's like to be young and black in modern Britain, and impending injustice goes with that particular territory. The best passages of all are in the claustrophobic, archaic court room, as the uncomprehending wheels of justice threaten to crush a rather ballsy butterfly.

Astroturf Blonde

by Alyson Rudd

Headline pounds 7.99

The back cover says Alyson Rudd is "probably the last remnant of an era where [sic] a girl who loved football was not allowed to play it," which makes her sporting memoir seem out of date, but that's misleading. True, the final of the Women's World Cup in America this summer attracted a huge audience - but only because the scorer of the winning penalty whipped off her shirt to reveal a sponsored bra. Women are still banned from professional football here and segregated on most amateur pitches. Having fought for the right to fall flat on her back in the rain among men, Rudd had to learn to play the game half decently - and her account of that will be hugely entertaining to anyone, male or female, who has ever tried.

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