THE FAIR BOTANISTS
Sara Sheridan (Hodder & Stoughton)
This gorgeous, floral-design hardback contains the latest work by the prolific Sara Sheridan. Having written countless novels to date, Sheridan shows us why her work is becoming ever more popular, in this terrific tale of two women, their friendship, and the search for a sensational scent in 19th century Edinburgh.
Beginning with the parade of hundreds of transplanted trees being transported from one Botanic Garden to another, The Fair Botanists invites a sensory immersion which makes the storyline even more evocative. Perfume, in this book – and at the hand of its female protagonist, “Edinburgh’s most expensive courtesan’ – becomes a dark and daring pursuit, in which ladies belie the insipid image foisted upon them by the world to delve into the hard, humourless art of business.
The storyline is compelling, the pace perfect, and the characters consistently engaging, but what made this a stand-out book for me was the quality and quantity of the research, and the skilful way that this is interwoven throughout the narrative. It’s perhaps the thing which, for me, separates an historical novel from an amazing historical novel, and the aspect which most immerses the reader into a different time and place, I feel. If you want to be transported, intoxicated and spellbound, then please do read this book.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words MAB JONES
THE PERFECT LIFE
Nuala Ellwood (Penguin)
Advertised as a gripping thriller, Nuala Ellwood’s The Perfect Life proved a conflicting read. The premise sounds amazing: the transgressive thrill of pretending to be someone else, and how it can go horribly wrong. Vanessa dresses up as a different, wealthier woman and feigns interest in buying houses she can’t afford. This seems like low-stakes escapism, until the owner of one of these houses is found dead; Vanessa is the last person who saw him alive.
This sounds like the preamble to a murder mystery, one with rather more twists and turns than we actually get. The story is told entirely through a ‘now’ and ‘then’ narrative, alternating between the two chapter by chapter. The trouble with this is that the twin plotlines feel like two distinct stories, with Ellwood making no obvious attempt to blend the two.
The murder itself, too, appears simply tacked on to fulfil the mystery criteria. Though The Perfect Life does tackle upsetting and important topics, their addition seems as much in the service of shock value as anything. Even so, the easy-reading prose style is enjoyable enough to make me keen to encounter Ellwood’s work again.
Price: £7.99/£13.99 audiobook. Info: here
words SARAH BOWDIDGE
Sasha Filipenko (Europa)
Tatiana Alexeyevna is a 90-year woman who is slowly losing her memory to Alzheimer’s. Her past, though, is still vivid to her, and she longs to share what’s happened before it’s too late. Conversely, Alexander, a young man whose life has been torn apart, is trying to forget the past and the events that brought him to Minsk. He lives in the flat next door to Tatiana, and soon finds himself drawn to her and her tragic story.
Red Crosses, titled in reference to a memorial device employed by the ailing Tatiana, shifts between her memories of the Russian 20th century and its horrors, and the friendship formed between the two neighbours. It is a tale of adversity, and finding the strength to go on in such circumstances. Combining Russian history with a heart-moving tale of human perseverance even in the toughest of situations, this is a powerful account of historical events and the reality and hardship they brought with them.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words EMILY EDWARDS
Jed Mercurio, Prasanna Puwanarajah & Coke Navarro (Scribner)
Police corruption drama Line Of Duty captured some 12 million viewers for its series finale earlier this year: its writer, Jed Mercurio, knows how to keep an audience on its toes. Here, he’s teamed up with actor, writer and director Prasanna Puwanarajah along with illustrator Coke Navarro for Sleeper, a sci-fi graphic novel set in the 24th century.
A climate war has wreaked havoc on the solar system after the discovery of a new energy source, named Titan Green. DS-5 is a ‘biologically-enhanced’ law-enforcement marshal, who after decades policing deep space is recalled to be decommissioned – until an explosion destroys the space station he’s been recalled to. When his escape pod crashlands on Titan, DS-5 comes across a geologist whose father has mysteriously gone missing. Technology is liable to glitch, and DS-5 is no different, his memories becoming more and more darkly bizarre. And then there’s the murky Texonsaturn corporation lurking in the background, as well as nefarious politicians on planet Earth…
Sleeper cannot be fully absorbed in one sitting. Navarro’s cells are richly detailed, encouraging the reader to encompass every word and detail; skip any part and you could miss a vital clue or trick. An abrupt cliffhanger concludes the first part of a Sleeper series: hopefully the next instalment will be sooner rather than later.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words DAVID NOBAKHT
SMALL BODIES OF WATER
Nina Mingya Powles (Canongate)
This book is a beautiful exploration of identity and belonging in the various places life takes us, Nina Mingya Powles guiding the reader through various points of her life in New Zealand, Shanghai and in London. It’s rare I enjoy a book so much I find myself wanting to read it slowly, but that is exactly what happened with Small Bodies Of Water – pausing for a day or two after each chapter, letting the thoughts that Powles presented sit with me.
There is a quiet strength to this author’s ability to present political perspectives without it feeling authoritative or preachy. Femininity, climate change, identity and human nature are all touched on deeply, and yet it never feels as though you are weighed down with it. This, I believe, is due to the lyricism of Powles’ writing.
She moves between settings and timelines fluidly, as though the water she describes has taken on a physical form through the structure of the novel, and you can see her background as a poet in every line. Her use of metaphor and description is so vivid, I found myself picturing locations I have never actually visited with ease: I felt transported.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words SEREN MCKEEVER
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