The Witches of Manningtree by A K Blakemore
‘A witch,’ says the Bedlam West, accused of maleficent in the Essex witch trials of 1645, ‘is just their nasty word for anyone who makes things happen.’ As a community is pushed to the limits of hunger and suspicion by the outbreak of the English Civil War, a group of bawdy, independent women are ensnared in a witch hunt and imprisoned in Colchester jail to await trial. This is a fictionalised retelling of the 1645 Essex Witch Trials, as told by Rebecca West, daughter of the strident Bedlam West, tainted by association and also incarcerated. It is thick with immersive language, dark comedy and barely concealed fury as Blakemore demonstrates her poet’s linguistic flare in this, her first novel. Highly recommended.
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Written in 1918, and considered Cather’s most important work, this is one of Emma’s all-time favourite novels, and one of the many places from which she has drawn inspiration for her Lovebirds pottery collection. Set in the great plains of the America west, it is a celebration of the landscape and the brave, stoic nature of its settlers, most notably Antonia, the daughter of a struggling Bohemian family. (In creating Lovebirds, Emma considered the time-worn wooden trunk filled with hand-made treasures that a European settler may have hauled across the Atlantic and onto the wagon trails of the mid-west in search of a new life).
Endless Forms, the Secret Lives of Wasps by Seirian Sumner
Wasps, unlike their vegan cousins bees, have something of an image problem. In this witty, authoritative and immensely readable exploration of their genus, entomologist and professor of behavioural ecology at University College London Seirian Sumner seeks to alter this long held view, portraying wasps as not only complex and resourceful, but as vital to the well-being of the planet. The book is crammed full of anecdotes to make the study of this much-maligned insect group more palatable- from their highly developed sense of smell (apparently more powerful than a than a dog’s) to their use of antibiotics to kill fungi that are harmful to their young. Along with some extraordinary full colour photographs which are more akin to abstract art, this book will make you rethink your loathing of wasps and may make you more forgiving as they decide to ruin another picnic next summer.
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