Daniel Shand (Sandstone, £8.99)

Having finished primary school, Chloe (or just “the girl”) is taken to stay with her grandparents, “just until your mum’s got sorted out”, marking the beginning of a summer that will change her life forever. Feeling rejected by her mother, misunderstood by her grandparents and convinced there’s something wrong with her, Chloe has grown up seeing the world as a dark place inhabited by sleazy male predators. Her life is based around various coping strategies attuned to living with a damaged, erratic mother with a dysfunctional dependence on men. When Chloe starts hanging out with a group of local boys, she finds companionship but also discovers a cruel streak within herself and is self-aware enough to understand where it comes from. With Crocodile’s psychological complexity, Daniel Shand easily surpasses his fine debut novel, Fallow. He presents a bleak, chilling vision, with little to lighten the tone, but his sustained attempt to show the world through Chloe’s eyes is grimly compelling.


Salley Vickers (Penguin, £8.99)

It sounds like an idyllic job: a children’s librarian in the English market town of East Mole. But things don’t turn out as 25-year-old Sylvia Blackwell expected. Her mission to expand the horizons of young people with good literature is compromised by her affair with an older, married GP, which by the standards of 1958 is scandalous enough. But Sylvia’s friendships with the doctor’s daughter, her neighbour’s son and her landlady’s grandchild turn her quiet rebellion against the old-fashioned, male-dominated library system into a confrontation with her boss and the conservative attitudes of the town, threatening the future of the library. The Librarian takes a long time to get anywhere, though that does allow the reader to soak up the atmosphere of East Mole in the late 1950s and get to know the characters. And, although it’s a treat for book-lovers, Vickers’ social criticism can feel didactic and heavy-handed in places, with some of the town’s residents painted in broad strokes.


Judith Flanders (Picador, £9.99)

Those who dream of Christmas rediscovering its religious roots will be disappointed by Judith Flanders’ absorbing account of the festive season, as the record shows that it’s always been a time when revelry overshadowed piety. Going back to the early days, when Lords of Misrule and various manifestations of winter demons dominated Christmas, she explodes a number of myths. Yes, trees became part of Christmas iconography in Germany, but, no, they weren’t brought over here by Prince Albert; and Santa’s red suit was established long before Coca-Cola’s famous promotional campaign. But Flanders also explores the origins of festive customs, noting that gift-giving in feudal times was akin to tribute from tenants to their lords, before the tradition reversed and the well-off learned to bask in the glow of their own generosity. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the season, and comes with the timely caution that even in the 1600s people were moaning that the golden age of Christmas was behind them.