Set in the early 1970’s this is a spy novel with a difference. It begins when Martha, a feisty Cambridge student, is sent packing for bringing the university into disrepute. Her gay friend Kit is a junior diplomat posted to Moscow and over a few New Year drinks they agree to a marriage of convenience. Marriage would help Kit fit the diplomatic community conventions while for Martha it would bring the chance to escape her middle-class suburban roots and explore an exciting and exotic new city.
She is not disappointed. The beauty and strangeness of Moscow enthrals her. She dodges high teas and choir practices with the embassy wives to learn Russian and explore Moscow. But her movements are tracked and she is drawn into a web of intrigue that she does not understand.
Without high-level intelligence leaks, car chases or fight scenes, this story is still gripping and full of suspense, concentrating firmly on character and the disturbing impact of the tensions, secrecy and claustrophobia of cold war Moscow.
Sandstone Press, hardback, £12.99
When we open a book and begin to read, we are transported to a world of the authors creation. Here is a novel that imagines a world where books have a stranger purpose. Hand-made and crafted with magic they can take your pain, your grief, your secrets, and can bind them, bringing freedom from the darkest of memories. A world where books and those that make them are viewed with suspicion and dread.
Emmett is a young lad working on the family farm, he expects one day to inherit. But Emmett is slowly recovering from a mysterious illness and is no longer strong enough for labouring in the fields. He is apprenticed to Seredith, an old woman, to learn the craft of bookbinding. He learns not only the skills of tooling leather, of sewing, gluing and gilding but also the magical process that traps guilty secrets within the pages. And with knowledge comes dangers that he must face.
Ideas of freedom and social morality are highlighted by forbidden love in this remarkable and richly imagined historical fantasy.
Borough Press, hardback, £12.99
Now nearly 90, Edith Eger is an acclaimed psychologist. In 1944 she was living in Nazi occupied Eastern Europe, a Jewish teenager with a passion for ballet and qymnastics. She was training for the Olympics until one evening there was a knock on the door. The family were transported to Aushwitz where her parents lives soon ended in the gas chambers. Edith was forced to dance for the entertainment of the prison officers. Her life was saved by her dancing – but only just. In May 1945, the liberating armies arrived and an American soldier saw the tiniest of movements amongst a pile of bodies. Edith’s life was saved.
This book describes her long slow journey to come to terms with the horrors she endured and to build a new life for herself in America. Ultimately, she came to understand that whatever horrors a person may suffer, it is possible to choose whether or not to let the past define the future. On this recognition she founded her clinical practice helping many people overcome deep trauma. Her memoir is an inspirational read.
Ebury paperback, £8.99
With the threat of closure hanging over so many Essex libraries this is a timely novel. Set in the late 1950’s when librarianship was a ‘job with a proper future’, young Sylvia Blackwell takes up the post of children’s librarian in East Mole, a sleepy market town in rural Wiltshire. She enthusiastically sets to work to reinvigorate the rundown library. Offloading the dusty rows of Dickens and Walter Scott, she buys in her favourite child friendly tales and embarks on a crusade to inspire the local children in their reading.
But life doesn’t run smoothly. One stormy night a tree crashes through the roof of Sylvia’s rented cottage and, while staying with a friend, she bumps into Dr Hugh Bell, the new GP. A scandalous affair between Sylvia and the older married doctor causes another kind of storm to descend on East Mole.
Sylvia’s youthful idealism meets the prejudices, hypocrisies and social moralities, of post war middle England as she tries to save the library, her job and her ambition to harness the power of books to enrich children’s lives.
Penguin paperback, £8.99
Our first pick of the week for 2019 is a short fiction of rare grace, imagination and gentle wisdom.
Mary is a poor girl living in an unnamed city where rich and powerful rulers live in luxury whilst everyone else struggles. Mary is clever and bright; she makes her little patch of garden seem larger by taking the tiniest of steps across it. One day in the garden she meets a beautiful golden talking snake with magical powers. The snake’s name is Lamno and his real purpose is to ease the journey onward of those whose life is ending. Lamno takes time out from these duties to befriend the girl. From Mary, he learns truths about human life and love while protecting her from danger. Life becomes harder as Mary grows up. Armies mobilise, bombs fall and the city faces destruction.
This enchanting tale of Mary and the magical golden snake is a fable about the greed of the powerful, the kindness of strangers, and the enduring importance of friendship and compassion.
Canongate Books, hardback, £9.99
Now here is a stocking filler with a difference. Within these pages are 40 OS maps from around the British Isles, each chosen to highlight a significant moment in history, an unusual geological feature or an area of particular cultural interest. A paragraph explaining the importance of each map is followed by a set of mind-bending brainteasers.
The maps include range from the first ever OS map produced in 1801 and the remote island of Foula in the Shetlands to the Olympic Park in Stratford at the time of the 2012 London games. Closer to home is the best-preserved WW1 airfield at Stow Maries, near South Woodham Ferrers.
Explore the maps and tackle general knowledge questions, map reading and navigational challenges, word puzzles and mathematical posers. The questions are graded from simple to fiendishly difficult making this an intriguing puzzle book that the whole family can tackle together.
Orion paperback, £14.99