In Georgian London rich and fashionable society gentlemen queue to catch a glimpse of a mermaid. But it is not the beautiful and graceful creature of dreams and fairy tales, but dark, dead cold and wizened. Despite its ugliness, though, it does appear to be the genuine remains of a mermaid and thus a marvel that becomes the talk of London.
The oddity was discovered in the far east by the captain of a boat owned by widowed merchant, Jonah Hancock. It quickly makes Hancock a very rich man – but wealth cannot fill he loneliness in his soul. The mermaid is a ticket into high society where he meets the famous courtesan, Angelica Neal. Beguiled and besotted, he seeks her attention whilst investing his new-found fortune in a massive building project.
The dirt and destitution, the pomp and pretensions of eighteenth century London are a brilliantly realised background for a moving tale of pride, passion and ambition.
This is the sparkling debut novel from an enormously talented new writer.
Hardback, Vintage £12.99
It is a hundred years ago since the Representation of the People Act gave the vote to women over 30 who held £5 of property, (or had husbands who did). Many books have hit the shelves to mark this key moment in our political and social history. ‘Hearts and Minds’ is particularly interesting. It focuses on the little reported Great Pilgrimage of 1913, when thousands of women from all over the country embarked upon a 6-week protest march. From all across the country, marchers converged on London where a mass rally of 50,000 people demonstrated in Hyde Park.
On route publicity raising lectures were arranged in town halls, accommodation was organised and refreshments prepared. All set up in just two months, it was an astonishing feat of planning.
The marchers were ordinary people, rich and poor, young and old; from aristocrats and vicar’s wives to nurses and mill workers. Using letters and diaries, Jane Robinson brings to life the colourful, sometimes funny, sometimes moving stories of these women and places the events of 1913 in context within the suffrage movement.
Slough House is a scruffy neglected building with mildew stained walls and rusty leaking radiators. It is home to the least favoured department of MI5; a dumping ground for outcasts and no hopers whose intelligence careers are on the scrap heap.
Headed up by the loud mouthed, self-serving, politically incorrect, Jackson Lamb, his staff of misfits are confined to the most tedious desk work and endless computer research.
But when a series of random terror attacks shock the country and one of his own team is targeted, Lamb sees a chance to out manoeuvre his bosses at MI5’s swanky Regent’s Park HQ.
The Slough House gang are finally called to action in a murky tale featuring a weak Prime Minister, a charismatic, crusading Brexiteer MP with his eyes set on number 10, and a tabloid columnist with her own agenda.
This is the fifth of Mick Herron’s wonderfully unconventional spy thrillers. It crackles with sparkling dialogue and dark humour and is a brilliantly entertaining read.
John Murray hardback, £12.99
Every football lover knows that supporting your local team is mostly an emotionally rocky ride – unless you happen to support Manchester City this year, that is.
Colchester United fans have had more than their fair share of tears over the years. Those who grew up to the sound of hands beating on the corrugated iron at the back of the old Layer Road Ground stands will be disappointed that the move to the new Community Stadium in 2008 didn’t spur the team to a new golden era.
This book is a wonderful collection of key moments in the club’s history arranged in the form of a diary. There are entries, of course, for the U’s glorious 5th round FA cup win over Don Revie’s mighty Leeds in 1971 and the heady days of promotion to the Championship in 2006. More often though the story is of chances not taken – and worst of all the 1990 relegation from the Football League.
Graeson Laitt is dedicated Col U supporter, historian and statistician has put together this remarkable record of the ups and downs of his beloved team.
Coludata paperback, £12.00
I had no idea that within months of the end of the First World War there were guided tours of the battlefield sites of Belgium and Northern France. But the people who set out for the devastated fields of Flanders were not tourists looking for a good time. Most were relatives of servicemen who never returned home and the tours were undertaken in a desperate search for news of loved ones or some evidence of where and how they had fallen.
This book follows three very different women, one from England, one from America and one from Germany. They meet at a rundown hotel in a small village near Flanders, travelling in hope of discovering some trace of their lost loves to help them understand their loss.
In this novel three wonderfully resilient women bring differing personal insights into the devastation and sorrow that war brings, but through their meeting come opportunities for reconciliation and for hope.
Pan Macmillan paperback £7.99
It is so easy to take trees for granted. We enjoy the blossoms in spring and then later the fruits. And when autumn comes we sweep up the leaves. Year after year trees go through this same cycle but otherwise nothing really seems to change. But behind the scenes a wood is a much more dramatic place than we realise.
A mature beech tree might send 130 gallons of water up into its canopy every day. The roots of a Swedish spruce have been shown to be nearly 10,000 years old. Trees of the same species communicate with each other with subtle chemical and electrical signals that might warn of a foraging giraffe or an impending insect attack. Underground, the roots of different trees touch and entwine and through these contacts healthy trees will pass nutrients over to their struggling neighbours. In fact, it makes more sense to think of a wood as a social network rather than a collection of individual trees.
This book by a German forester, draws on scientific studies and his own experience to demonstrate the remarkable, unseen wonders of trees.
HarperCollins, paperback £9.99.