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BOOK OF THE WEEK MOUNT! by Jilly Cooper (Bantam Press, hardback PS20, ebook PS9.99) HHHH H JILLY COOPER, (see interview, left) is back with her latest novel Mount!, which sees the highly anticipated return of her most popular character, the horsey heartbreaker Rupert Campbell-Black.

And while Rupert is once again setting hearts aflutter across the country, it's the horses that are getting most of the action, as Mount! is set in the world of horse breeding and flat racing.

The story follows Rupert, pitted against old enemies Isa Lovell and Cosmo Rannaldini in a race to win leading sire - with Rupert determined that his prize stallion Love Rat will be crowned.

Left at home juggling the family while Rupert's off chasing winners around the world, his darling wife Taggie falls into the arms of Jan, the exceptionally handsome and utterly charming carer of Rupert's wayward geriatric father Old Eddie, while setback after setback on the racing track make Rupert's dream seem ever more impossible.

Cooper writes characters that you can really root for, despite the fact that she never disguises their faults, from Rupert's infidelity and impetuousness to Taggie's doormat saintliness, Cooper's message is clear: we're all worthy of love and it will come to us in the end.

Mount! is quintessential Cooper, with horses and dogs having as big a role in the action as the people.

Fans will be thrilled with the return of many of Cooper's best-loved characters, culminating in a huge party which reads like a who's who of her best novels.

Cooper's writing is so ineffably joyful and uplifting, one hopes that, given her huge readership, Mount! will jolly well cheer the nation up.

FICTION A DEADLY THAW by Sarah Ward (Faber & Faber, hardback PS12.99, ebook PS4.68) HHHH H LENA FISHER served a 10-year prison sentence for killing her husband.

So, when his newly dead body is found a year after her release, it becomes apparent nothing is as it seems.

As Lena's sister, Kat, battles personal demons to unravel a web of love, loss, cruelty and false memories from two decades past, she reaches a chilling conclusion that is all-toobelievable.

Beautifully crafted with elegant understatement, this is Sarah Ward's second crime thriller set in the Peak District.

Her debut, Bitter Chill, published last year, was widely praised and compared to the best of Scandinavian noir.

In Deadly Thaw, she pulls off the near-impossible feat of balancing a credible plot with realistic characters who are broken and beautifully drawn.

And, like a double malt, her economical prose slides down smoothly, before leaving a catch in the throat.

SEX AND DEATH STORIES edited by Sarah Hall and Peter Hobbs (Faber & Faber, hardback PS18.99, ebook PS8.96) HHHH H IT COULD be argued that all tales are, somehow, about sex or death, but in this collection of 20 short stories written by authors around the world, these tantalising themes are thrust into the spotlight.

Some are laugh-out-loud funny, such as Alan Warner's Porto Baso Scale Modellers, when an attractive woman tries to join a group of elderly model plane enthusiasts.

Some are creepy, for example In The Reactor, by Peter Hobbs, about two dummy nuclear plant workers.

And some are overtly sexual, but it's not a collection of soft porn stories.

Instead, there's plenty to provoke longer thought - Fin by Lynn Coady and Reversible by Courttia Newland throw up difficult subjects that are hard to forget - with a couple of light-hearted one-shots to balance it all out.

UNDERTOW by Elizabeth Heathcote (Quercus, hardback PS12.99, ebook PS6.49) Available September 22. HH HHH WITH a background in writing and editing magazines and newspapers, Eliabeth Heathcote has now turned her hand to novels, in the form of Undertow.

The dark thriller follows freelance journalist Carmen as she begins to question whether the death of her husband's former lover really was a tragic accident.

Throughout the book, the author toys with the reader as the protagonist desperately tries to discover the truth about her partner Tom, a successful London lawyer, but she is met with a web of lies and unanswered questions at every turn.

The book has a somewhat slow and wordy start, but still manages to draw you in. Despite the real tension only really building in the final few chapters, Heathcote conjures up clear imagery throughout and executes a clever twist at the end.

NON-FICTION THE 37TH PARALLEL: THE SECRET TRUTH BEHIND AMERICA'S UFO HIGHWAY by Ben Mezrich (William Heinemann, hardback PS18.99, ebook PS9.99) HHHH H THIS book tells the real-life story of UFO buff Chuck Zukowski as he investigates paranormal happenings along a 3,000-mile highway through the centre of the USA. Chuck wants us to believe, but his sceptical wife, who he drags along for the ride, provides an interesting counterpoint that stops the book becoming too fantastical and one-sided.

The narrative is extremely engaging, but the inclusion of photos and important documents really helps the reader understand the intricacies of the investigation.

Ben Mezrich is a New York Times best-selling author, most noted for The Accidental Billionaires, which ultimately became movie blockbuster The Social Network, so it's safe to say he has a gift for making real-life events into exciting, pacy stories.

THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES: WHAT THEY FEEL, HOW THEY COMMUNICATE - DISCOVERIES FROM A SECRET WORLD by Peter Wohlleben (Greystone Books, hardback PS16.99, ebook PS14.14) HHH HH PETER WOHLLEBEN is a forester who's been working on more sustainable and harmonious ways of managing woodland, especially beech forests, and is keen to share the insights thus gleaned.

The key from which much here follows is thinking of forests not as a collection of trees engaged in all-out competition for sunlight and water, but as a mutually supportive network, exchanging information and even nutrients via subterranean networks of fungal symbiotes (inevitably described as "the forest internet" - the chummy anthropomorphism can grow wearying, as too the corny jokes, which in fairness may have been less groanworthy in the original German).

It's a fascinating vision, even if it's never entirely clear how trees know whether another trunk is a 'friend' with whom to co-operate, or a sibling with whom they fight for resources.

It can get a bit cloying in large doses, but dipped into, it's full of intriguing facts.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 24, 2016
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