Bookof the Week, April 20th 2019

Of all the miracles performed by Jesus the raising of Lazarus from the dead must be the most exceptional. Yet John is the only gospel writer to tell this extraordinary story. And there is little to help us understand why, out of all the sad deaths he must have encountered, it was Lazarus that Jesus chose to bring back to life.

This remarkable novel imaginatively recreates a plausible backstory to this miracle. It supposes that Jesus and Lazarus were friends from childhood and remained close as Jesus developed into a revolutionary spiritual teacher. It explores what it might have been like for Lazarus to realise that he had been dead for four days. His memory of that period is blank and he has seen no evidence for the promised life to come.

Through the eyes of Lazarus, the well-known story of Jesus’s last days in Jerusalem is retold with fresh insights in this gripping and compassionate historical novel.

Peter Owen hardback, £14.99

Books of the Week, April 13th 2019

It is thirty years since Percy the park keeper first appeared in a picture book. Since then he has become one of the most popular characters for young children, featuring in a string of award winning books as well as his own television series. After a wait of many years a new story has been released to celebrate the anniversary.

Percy and his animal friends decide to play hide and seek. The animals are told they can hide anywhere except in Percy’s workshop. But fox cannot find a good hiding place and slips through the door into the forbidden workshop. He manages to tip over a pot of Very Sticky Glue and very soon everything he touches is stuck to him. Can fox get out of this very sticky predicament?

This wonderfully illustrated tale will appeal to any child who likes playing hide and seek – and that is probably all of them!

HarperCollins hardback, £12.99

Book of the Week, April 6th 2019

The Boer War seems rarely thought of these days yet in 1901 there were over 400,000 British troops fighting in South Africa. Farms, crops and livestock were destroyed in a scorched earth policy and survivors, mostly women and children, were rounded up into concentration camps, where they were told they would be safe.

This novel opens in 1901 when Sarah van der Watt and her young son are taken to Bloemfontein Camp. Food is scarce but disease is common.

Based on true stories it tracks a family through generations showing the impact of that war on the development of South Africa through the next century.

In 2010 another boy enters another kind of camp. Sixteen year old Willem is a sad and troubled misfit, but the ‘New Dawn Safari Training Camp’ offers a guarantee to turn wayward boys into men. Through some disturbing and heart breaking stories this novel highlights the cruel streak within us, the damage it can do and the kindness that can heal.

Bloomsbury Hardback, £16.99.

Book of the Week, March 30th 2019

Back in 1880 East Anglia had more ponds than anywhere else in the country – over thirty per square mile. The number has steadily declined as towns have grown and farming become more intensive.

Though lacking the scale and grandeur of lake, the humble pond is a vital habitat for hundreds of creatures. This book explores the watery world of the pond through the seasons. Lewis-Stempel’s sharp eye and deft prose bring to life the dramas of springtime toad orgies, the exuberant courtship dance of the great crested newt and the precision engineering of dragonflies, which can reach 30 mph and see in all directions at the same time.

We learn also about ponds in history; the ducking stool for nagging women and the swimming test for those accused of witchcraft. Interspersed with poems and literary associations this is a nature book to open your eyes to the rich secrets of the humble pond.

Transworld Hardback, £14.99.

Book of the Week, March 23rd 2019

In 1864 Cora Burns was born in Birmingham gaol to a convicted criminal. Raised in a workhouse, by the time she was nine she was back in gaol again now serving a long sentence for an horrendous crime which she cannot clearly remember.

As a young woman, Cora is finally released into a world she cannot understand. She finds work as a scullery maid but struggles to fit in having never known any kind of home or family or lasting friendship.

Her employer turns out to be a scientist who is studying criminality and heredity. As Cora seeks to uncover the truth of her own past; her mother and the mystery of her childhood crime, she realises that she might herself be part of a social experiment.

This novel is both a brilliant depiction of the mean streets and poverty of Victorian Birmingham and an exploration of what makes character – is it our upbringing or is it our genes?

No Exit Press, paperback, £12.99

Book of the Week, 16th March 2019

It is always interesting to hear an author talk about writing. Last week, at an Essex Book Festival event in Witham, Ann Cleeves, the author behind both the Shetland and Vera TV series, said she doesn’t plot out her novels in advance – she just puts pen to paper and sees what happens! This is very unusual, particularly for a crime novelist – but perhaps it explains why her novels are always so strong on character and relationships. Her heroine, Vera Stanhope is the unlikeliest of detectives. She first appeared in a book that was never intended to be a murder mystery.  With tousled hair, thick stockings and a shapeless mac, she wandered into a funeral ‘looking more like a bag lady than a detective inspector’

The most recent novel finds Vera confronted with a reopened cold case which leads back to a derelict nightclub where her father used to hang out. She must face the possibility of her own father’s involvement as it becomes clear that corruption runs deep into the community’s past.

PanMacmillan paberback, £7.99