ANDREW FFRENCH reviews the latest releases to hit the bookshelves

* Big Brother by Lionel Shriver is published in hardback by HarperCollins, priced £16.99 (ebook £10.99). Pandora, the main character and our narrator in Big Brother, is described by her husband Fletcher as “stealth attractive”.

Stealth is a perfect word to describe author Lionel Shriver’s novel, which after a rather slow first chapter steadily builds into a powerful and thought-provoking work.

Horrified to discover her once handsome and slim older brother is addicted to junk food and has piled on hundreds of pounds in weight, Pandora attempts to help.

The subsequent tale is all the more poignant, given that the author’s real older brother Greg died of complications arising from obesity.

As she proved in We Need To Talk About Kevin, Shriver is fearless when it comes to tackling subjects many authors might be too squeamish to attempt.

Here, she focuses her dry observations on our obsession with food and asks why we seem to have “mislaid the most animal of masteries”.

Near the end, a clever sleight of hand adds another dimension but the real skill lies in the way our complicated relationship with food and fat is dissected with surgical-like precision.

* This House Is Haunted by John Boyne is published in hardback by Doubleday, priced £14.99 (ebook £8.54). Many people will be familiar with Irish novelist John Boyne for his international best-seller The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which went on to be made into a successful feature film.

This offering from Boyne is set in the late 1860s and is a chilling ghost story telling the tale of Eliza Caine, who following the death of her father takes a position as governess at Gaudlin Hall in Norfolk.

Right from the outset, the reader is drawn in to the mystery surrounding the house and Eliza’s two charges, Isabella and Eustace.

With no other adults present at the house, Eliza has to turn to the local villagers and the family solicitor to find answers to her questions.

It is clear from the start that there is a malign presence in the house, but who is it and what does it want?

The story is both unsettling and absorbing, with the writing doing a fantastic job of evoking the period in which the novel is set. Both dark and mysterious, it will have you gripped until the last page.

* Constance by Patrick McGrath is published in paperback by Bloomsbury, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.51). Award-winning British novelist Patrick McGrath, author of The Grotesque, Spider, Asylum (all of which have been subsequently made into films), returns with the psychologically scarring Constance.

Constance Schuyler is a damaged young woman – ignored by her father since birth, abandoned by her mother who died young, and living in the shadow of her outspoken younger sister. She meets and marries professor Sidney Klein – a man 20 years her senior – and almost immediately regrets her decision to marry a man who is so much like her father.

As Constance’s life progresses, her mental health suffers enormously. She discovers a shattering secret from her dementia-suffering father, and becomes paranoid, dangerous and delusional.

Her husband, the man she married “to punish him for loving her”, pleads with her to get help, but she refuses. What follows is a chilling, yet hopelessly sad, chain of events that lead to death, suicide and a near mental breakdown.

Constance is a challenging book – there are glimmers of hope, but ultimately you get swept into the main protagonist’s psyche, and that’s a very troubling place.

We flit between Constance and Sidney’s version of events, and in no way does that affect the telling of the story – it makes it more realistic, as you never really can tell who is telling the truth. A fantastic read.

* Tiny Islands: 60 Remarkable Little Worlds Around Britain by Dixe Wills is published in paperback by AA Publishing, priced £14.99 (ebook £6.71). Sixty islands no larger than 300 acres are explored by Dixe Wills as he uncovers the hidden mysteries of these manmade and natural islands of Britain.

Accessed by causeway, bridge, or a ferryman called George, these tiny islands can be found in rivers, lochs, lakes and along the coast, often inhabited by magnificent seabirds rather than the usual human beings.

With quirky and informative historical facts, geographical and literary references, as well as tall tales and legends, even the smallest rocky outcrop has a story to tell.

Not just an enjoyable read, Tiny Islands fulfils the requirements of a guidebook providing information on how to get there, accommodation, facilities and local amenities.

And the beautiful photography that accompanies this book helps to transport the reader to these mystical isles.

* The Wheels On The Bus by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Lindsey Gardiner, is published in hardback by Oxford University Press, priced £11.99. This picture book for toddlers grabs you from its colourful front cover, showing a safari bus of smiling faces and a monkey and a lemur trying to climb aboard.

Jan Omerod has carefully reworked the classic nursery rhyme into a bouncy romp through a safari park, where the children on the zebra-striped bus see the wolfy cubs, otters, baboons, antelopes, llamas, sloths and more all leaping, splashing and howling in their natural environments.

It’s fun and beautifully illustrated and will keep little ones captivated for hours.