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The Oyster Thief, by Sonia Faruqi, Pegasus Books, $22.95. Coralline is a mermaid who  is training to be an apothecary. She is also engaged to the merman of her dreams. But an oil spill wreaks havoc on her idyllic life and threatens the life of her brother.

Coralline knew the precise perils of black poison spill: gill slits could close, causing suffocation, and ingestion of the poison could cause blood contamination. The difference between the two forms of death was speed – fast versus slow.

She embarks on a search for the legendary elixir of life to save her brother, and meets Izar, a human on a quest of his own.

Think of The Oyster Thief as The Shape of Water meets The Little Mermaid. But is it a book for kids? Well, Dr Sylvia Earle, the world’s foremost ocean scientist, has endorsed it.

The Oyster Thief deftly weaves a mermaid’s tale while bringing real and urgent ocean conservation issues to the reader’s attention. Dive in and enjoy!”

In addition to first-hand knowledge of the ocean gained from snorkelling, diving and swimming with sharks, Sonia Faruqi conducted extensive research to make the book as scientifically accurate as possible. She originally envisaged Coralline as dark-skinned, but, she writes, merpeople, if they did exist, would not have dark skin. “...merpeople would lack melanin, and so would have pale, fine, almost translucent skin.”

She weaves science and environmental conservation facts into a fascinating tale of love, drama and intrigue. It’s a fable for modern times, a must-read for all who believe we can and must pull together to save the planet. 

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The Gratitude Diaries, by Janice Kaplan, Dutton, $32. One New Year’s Eve, Janice Kaplan resolved to be grateful; and look on the bright side. This is a record of a year spent living gratefully and gaining a fresh outlook that transformed her marriage, family life, work and health.

Like a modern-day Pollyanna, she realizes that how she feels has less to do with the events and more to do with her perspective. Easier realized than put into practice, I think, as I begin reading. But Kaplan draws one in with a combination of personal experience backed with in-depth research. She learns and shares how appreciating your spouse can change the neurons of your brain. Or that saying thanks helps CEOs succeed.

You can, writes Kaplan, actually lose weight by being grateful. Of course, you have to exercise and watch what you consume, but being thankful for eating right and believing that you will fit into those skinny jeans again goes a long way.

Being more appreciative of what I ate put me back in control – and I seemed to be consuming a lot less. I decided not to check the scale, because I wanted to focus on being grateful for my body and the food I put into it. But off the record, I thought the jeans that had gotten so tight were fitting just a little bit better.

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A Necessary Evil, by Abir Mukherjee, Harvill Secker, $27.99. Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant “Surrender-not” Banerjee are back, solving their next case. This time, the murder takes place in the Kingdom of Sambalpore, a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules and those who cross them pay with their lives. Entangled in this dangerous world, will the two be able to find the murderer before the murderer finds them? A Necessary Evil, like Abir Mukherjee’s previous novel A Rising Man, is historical crime fiction of the best kind – an intriguing whodunnit true to its setting in India of the 1920s.

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Expect Great Things, by Kevin Dann, Tarcher Perigee, $24. Henry David Thoreau is widely regarded as one of the most influential spiritual visionaries of our age. In Expect Great Things The Life and Search of Henry David Thoreau, Kevin Dann captures the full arc of his life as a mystic, spiritual seeker and explorer of transcendental realms. One of the best observers of the natural world, Thoreau left us with new ways of seeing. Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed – a, to me, equally mysterious origin for it. Convince me that you have a seed there and I am prepared to expect wonders.


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Another Year of Plumdog, by Emma Chichester Clark Jonathan Cape, $35. A few years ago Plumdog – a blog which records the daily life of Plum in Plum’s own words – became the best-selling book written by a dog, ever.

Another Year of Plumdog is exactly what it says: another year of leaping, catching balls, diving into puddles and hanging out with friends.

Sunday, 7th February: If anyone makes a rude noise or an awful smell in our house they always say “Oh, Plum!” It’s so unfair and I’m fed up with it. It is more than irksome and I don’t suppose I am the only dog who has to put with it. So when I found some ancient, abandoned fish and chips in the park and ate them before Emma could stop me – well... later on that evening... I can only say that they had it coming to them: I excelled myself, and all the cries of “Oh, Plum!” were entirely justified.

Plum is as irresistible and huggable as ever!

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 Galileo’s Middle Finger, by Alice Dreger, Penguin, $32.95. Alice Dregger combines activist service to victims of unethical medical reserach with defence of scientists whose work has outraged many. An impassioned defense of intellectual freedom and a clarion call to intellectual responsibility, Galileo’s Middle Finger is an eye-opening story of life in the trenches of scientific controversy.

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The Penguin Book of English Song, edited by Richard Stokes, Penguin, $27.99. Richard Stokes brings together all the poets desis of a certain vintage studied at school, and many less familiar ones in the Penguin Book of English Song. Spanning seven centuries, he covers everyone from Auden to  Yeats, with the stories behind poems of serious “literary pedigree” as well as ones we call nursery rhymes. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, I discover, is by Jane Taylor and first appeared in Rhymes for the Nursery in 1806. The book is a  treat for anyone who loves the magic of poetry.

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