Books: New from Philippa Gregory, Tea Obrecht, Madeline Stevens, Shane O'Mara
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Tidelands by Philippa Gregory is published in hardback by Simon & Schuster, priced £20 (ebook £9.99). Available now
ON THE very edge of a country at war with its own king, on an island which changes shape with the tide, midwife Alinor awaits news of her vanished husband. Instead she meets Thomas, a handsome Catholic royalist, and risks her own safety to protect him. So begins a spate of good luck for our protagonist that attracts the jealousy and whispers of her neighbours at a time when a single woman cannot afford to be the subject of gossip. Philippa Gregory returns with an English Civil War novel that excels in everything she does best. Historical events are written with breathless immediacy, keeping the reader enthralled even if they know the outcome. She pays close attention to the plight of women in the past, so often unchanged despite men's wars, and gives them a voice. And of course, there is a healthy dose of bodice-ripping romance. Fans will not be disappointed.
Inland by Tea Obrecht is published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.99). Available now
EIGHT years after her debut novel The Tiger's Wife was published to critical acclaim, Serbian American author Tea Obreht returns with Inland, a magical realist examination of frontier living and the creation of the myth of the American West. Following the twin narratives of youthful outlaw Lurie Mattie's escape westwards and acceptance by the Camel Corps, and frontierswoman Nora Lark's hardscrabble existence in her homestead, carved out of the Arizona Territory in 1893, Inland is shot through with the supernatural. The dead reappear among the living, mysterious disappearances abound, and the eerie, bewitching landscape – holding the power of life and death – becomes a character in itself. The two tales form a widescreen exploration of love, loss, yearning and reinvention, combining in a skilful and moving finale where mysteries are resolved.
Devotion by Madeline Stevens is published in paperback by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99 (ebook £6.99). Available now
SENSUAL, obsessive, unsettling, Madeline Stevens's debut novel is a meandering tour of toxic female friendship. There's more than a hint of Single White Female in the relationship between Ella – cash-strapped and alone – and Lonnie – rich and beautiful, with the perfect young family. As the two women's lives converge, the boundaries between their individual selves become blurred by jealousy and desire. Ella's fixation with a local serial killer, as well as her obsession with cataloguing Lonnie's possessions and hoarding her personal keepsakes – including childhood photos and baby teeth – create a sinister undercurrent to the seemingly perfect life in privileged Manhattan. There are no sudden twists or shocking turns in Devotion, but a sense of unease permeates throughout, as though at any moment tragedy might strike.
In Praise Of Walking by Shane O'Mara is published in hardback by Bodley Head, priced £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Available now
THIS is a book that had this reader scrambling to play a recording of the sound of neurons firing. Appropriately enough, because the fact we move about seems to be the reason we have a brain at all. Shane O'Mara is a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin, who has previously written about the neuroscience of interrogation and the brain in business; he is also a keen walker. It's not always easy to weigh up the various strands of research that tie into his present subject, but the final chapter is like a poem to walking, why we should do it more and feel the many benefits it can bring us in health, mood, creativity or socially. Even our personalities may be altered for the better. It's not all a new message but it bears repeating, here with the science that might help convince planners to prioritise walking as a means of getting around.
A Modern Herbal by Alys Fowler is published in hardback by Michael Joseph, priced £20 (ebook £9.99). Available now
GARDENER and writer Alys Fowler has a knack with words as well as plants, and in this compendium of herbs (each one simply and smartly illustrated), she infuses each page with lore, understanding and green-fingered know-how. While many dismiss herbalism as crackpot (and no, Fowler does not recommend you live solely by A Modern Herbal rather than the advice of registered medical practitioners), this sturdy tome doesn't conjure the ramblings of a witch over a cauldron. Instead, it offers to "show you how easy everyday herbalism is", with advice on everything from teas and cold cures to bath time infusions. Covering both the ecological and health benefits of filling up on the likes of angelica, chervil and meadowsweet, best of all, the horticulturist explains how to grow the frothy green plants you're unlikely to find wrapped in cellophane at the supermarket. Informative, enthusiastic and ideal dip-in material – it makes you feel like you're tapping into ancient and worthy botanical secrets.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, illustrated by Chris Mould, is published in hardback by Faber Children's, priced £16.99. Available now
TED Hughes's The Iron Man is an absolute classic – thoughtful, moving, ahead of its time and wondrously inventive, it was first published in 1968. Since then the story – boy (Hogarth) meets an Iron Man, and together they fight to save the world – has been refreshed for cinema (namely, Brad Bird's 1999 animated adaptation, renamed The Iron Giant, where our alien metal man is voiced by none other than Vin Diesel), and now this new illustrated version has artist Chris Mould to thank for its burnished depictions. Mould's scribbles in deep blues and sea greens soften up the edges of our Iron Man, but lend wit and graphic-novel gravitas. A respectful, enervating update.