The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

5 out of 5 stars

Cohen can remember many things, the time when heroes didn’t need to worry about offending people or be concerned by the ruminations of anyone in the legal industry and he wasn’t that concerned about civilisation. The thing that he was struggling to remember though, was where he’d left his teeth.

However, that is not the important thing, Cohen and his Silver Horde, ancient heroes from all over the Disc are on a final quest to visit the Gods. They are returning to the Gods what was stolen by the first hero but with added interest, with the intention of obliterating their mountain home, Cori Celesti. So that their monumental quest can be immortalised and passed into lore, they have, shall we say, persuaded a bard to come along and create the saga.

The Wizards of the Unseen University are in a bit of a panic about this. Destroying Cori Celesti will cause the magic of Discworld to cease holding together the Disc and it will be curtain for everyone. Lord Vetinari recruits Leonard of Quirm, who sets about designing the Discworld’s second known spacecraft, The Kite. This is powered by dragons and will slingshot around the world and land in the home of the Gods. Leonard of Quirm, Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, and a very reluctant Rincewind are to be the pilots of the craft and they are launched on their mission to say the world, except unbeknown to them, they have an extra passenger on board.

It this to be the end of the world as they know it, or will another hero save the day?

It has been a long while since I read a Pratchett book, and I forgot how much I love his writing. His managed to perfectly blend a carefully crafted plot, with humour, steampunk gadgets, and of course the librarian. Pratchett really was the comic fantasy master, and The Last Hero is as good as I’d expected. It is helped by the fantastic art by illustrator Paul Kidby turns the fine plot into this fantastic technicolour extravaganza.

Assurances by J.O. Morgan

3.5 out of 5 stars

War poetry has normally been set on the battlefield, the place where war and death were much more personal, tangible and raw. What Morgan has done here is to consider the position of those that were the hands-on people looking after the nuclear deterrent and considered how they felt about their role. For this, he has borrowed heavily from his father’s experience in the R. A. F. Airborne Nuclear Deterrent.

It is a long poem too, taking up the entire book, but he mixes prose and stanza to move between the different voices that he uses in the book. This change of pace in the various parts of the poem conveys many things, the pressure that the pilots were under as they carried their deadly cargo, the almost gallows humour that they had to not think about the consequences of them having to carry out the task they were employed to do as well as the secrecy of the task in hand.

At night he matches its motions to

the pulse of an atomic clock

where forward change is marked and set

by nuclear decay,

each measure to show how far we’ve come

how far we’ve still to go

It is a powerful poem, and it reminded me of the dread that I used to feel with the cold war in the early 1980s and the horrific promise of Mutually Assured Destruction that was almost palpable in the air at the time. I really liked the mix of styles throughout the book, it made it much more readable and fitted well with what he was doing by coming from different perspectives. This is the first of Morgan’s poetry books that I had read and I will definitely be reading more.

Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne and published by Tinder Press. This was one of the books longlisted for the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize 2019.

 

About the Book

For Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf, growing up under the towers of Stones Estate, summer means what it does anywhere: football, music, freedom. But now, after the killing of a British soldier, riots are spreading across the city, and nowhere is safe.

While the fury swirls around them, Selvon and Ardan remain focused on their own obsessions, girls and grime. Their friend Yusuf is caught up in a different tide, a wave of radicalism surging through his local mosque, threatening to carry his troubled brother, Irfan, with it.

Provocative, raw, poetic yet tender, In Our Mad And Furious City marks the arrival of a major new talent in fiction.

 

About the Author

Guy Gunaratne was born in North West London and has lived in Berlin, Helsinki, San Francisco and Malmö, Sweden. He has worked as a designer, documentary filmmaker and as a video journalist covering post-conflict areas around the world. He co-founded two technology companies and has given public talks on new media, storytelling and human rights issues globally. He now lives in London with his wife and two beautiful cats.

 

My Review

It was supposed to be like every summer they could remember, hanging out, football, freedom and music. But an off duty soldier has just been murdered and the tension in the air is palpable. The anger in the area is spilling over into riots. Selvon and Ardan are wary of what is going on around them, but their friend, Yusuf, is starting to get caught up in the rise of radicalism in his own mosque. Worryingly, his brother is falling for the rhetoric from the Imam. Watching from the sidelines are the emigres, Caroline from Ireland and Nelson from West India. They and their children, Arden an aspiring rapper and Selvon who is trying to run his way out of the estate.

The bonds that have been forged between the youngsters as they played football and grew up together are going to be stretched to the maximum as the tension builds in the community. A march has been arranged by a right-wing group through the estate, something is going to snap soon, who will survive the coming maelstrom.

Gunaratne’s debut novel has drawn on recent and past events from London’s story of immigration and inner-city estates and is both raw and simmering with tension. It pulses with the language from the street, which did take a while to get the hang of, but added authenticity that fits the backdrop perfectly. Setting the plot over the course of two days works really well too, the pace is relentless with short chapters as the story is told from multiple perspectives. He holds a mirror up to recent events, not to criticise our modern society, but to ask searching questions about why the tensions are there in the first place. Well worth reading as a sparkling contemporary novel.

 

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour

 

 

This is one of the books longlisted for the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize.  Do also take a look at the website here for more information

Recognised for its celebration of experimental and challenging young voices in contemporary writing, this year’s longlist highlights more than ever the challenging world we live by tackling head on difficult topics – including domestic violence, mental health, rape, racism, gender and identity.

This year’s longlist of 12 books comprises eight novels, two short story collections and two poetry collections:

  • Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Friday Black (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (US) and Riverrun (UK))
  • Michael Donkor, Hold (4th Estate)
  • Clare Fisher, How the Light Gets In (Influx Press)
  • Zoe Gilbert, Folk (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Emma Glass, Peach ((Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Guy Gunaratne, In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press, Headline)
  • Louisa Hall, Trinity (Ecco)
  • Sarah Perry, Melmoth (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Sally Rooney, Normal People (Faber & Faber)
  • Richard Scott, Soho (Faber & Faber)
  • Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, House of Stone (Atlantic Books)
  • Jenny Xie, Eye Level (Graywolf Press)

 

Don’t forget to buy this and any of the other books at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Agnes at Midas PR for sending me a copy of the book to read.

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

4.5 out of 5 stars

A  man dressed in a drab grey suit standing in a street corner in the middle of Moscow looking like the other citizens passing him by would have been almost unnoticeable, but because he was holding a plastic bag from the British supermarket, Safeway, for the people looking out for him he stood out like a beacon. He was not a regular Soviet citizen, he was a senior KGB officer and he had just activated his escape plan. He now had to hope that his signal had been noticed by those who needed to see it and not by those that were hunting for him.

In the world of smoke and mirrors that constitutes the fragmented world of the intelligence agencies, the truth is often stranger than fiction and often way beyond that. No one would have thought that pillars of the establishment would have spied for the Russians, but when Philby and his cohorts defected it was realised that your background was not a passport to trust. The same logic could have been applied to Oleg Gordievsky. His father and brother were KGB officers and staunch supporters of the regime but he carried a secret that not even his KGB wife knew. For the past eleven years, he had been a spy for MI6.

In this book, Macintyre takes us right through Gordievsky’s life, from his earliest days in the KGB, his realisation that the regime that he worked for did not suit his growing liberal outlook the horror he experience when he was there when the Berlin Wall went up. He has his first contact with MI6 in the early 1970s when he was based in Denmark. For MI6 it seemed too good to be true and they took a while to realise that he was not going to be a double agent, but he was for real and had a genuine and personal reason for passing on the information that he did. As he rose in the rank he managed to get a posting to the UK, ideal for MI6 as they could meet him under much more relaxed circumstances. That was until he was recalled to Moscow suddenly, he knew he had been betrayed, but he didn’t know just by who or how much.

MI6 knew that things were not right and set about implementing the escape plan that they had codenamed Pimlico to snatch Gordievsky right from under the noses of the KGB and spirit him across the border to freedom.

The book is pieced together from a series of interviews that Macintyre has completed with the people involved in his unique case. The actual files concerning Gordievsky are still secret and I guess that they will remain that way for a long time. It reads like an actual spy thriller most of the time, including a stunning ending as they try to get him out of the Soviet Union. Gordievsky is still alive and well and living under an assumed name somewhere in the home counties. Given the reach of the FSB, his home is under 24-hour surveillance. One countries spy is another countries traitor, but from the accounts in here, it could be said that he helped stop nuclear war and bring about the demise of the totalitarian state. Another stunning book from Macintyre

Around the World in 80 Days by Mark Beaumont

3.5 out of 5 stars

Before 2008 the record for cycling 18,000 miles stood at 276 days and 19 hours. Then Mark Beaumont smashed it by completing the same distance in a staggering 194 days and 17 hours. He managed this unsupported and had 30kg of equipment, clothing and camping gear on his bike. Since then he has cycled the length of the American and African continents, climbed the odd mountain and tried to row across an ocean. Since then various people had beaten his record and it stood at 123 days and 43 minutes set by the New Zealander Andrew Nicholson for his unsupported circumnavigation in 2015.

However, Mark had plans to take the record back again, big plans. Inspired by the Jules Vern story, Around the World in 80 days, he calculated that he could cycle the required 18,000 miles with the appropriate allowances for transfers between the continents by doing a staggering 240 miles per day. Every day. To do this though he needed a large team of people and an even larger amount of sponsorship. As he started putting out the feelers for those wanting to support him. As people begun to support him in this monumental challenge, he began to form a team, however, he knew he needed to get the miles in with training for this epic ride. He decided to cycle around the coast of the UK to get a feel for the mileage. He called it The Leg Stretcher, and he would travel 3500 miles heading off clockwise from London. It took him 14.5 days…

After a few minor finance hiccups, with people stepping in to help ensure that he could do it. He began his journey at the Arc de Triomphe as he did all those years before. His route around the world would take him all across Eurasia, then Australia and New Zealand. From there he would head to America and Canada before arriving back in Europe for the final jaunt back to Paris. Not only was this a relentless physical journey, but he would suffer setbacks, accidents, low points and ache continuously. He would also see amazing sights and be lifted by the people who rode with him on his relentless schedule or who took the time to show that their support.

It wouldn’t be much of a spoiler to say that he completed the challenge, there wouldn’t be a book if he hadn’t.  He managed to obliterate the record for the second time in his life coming in 45 days faster with a new record of 78 days, 14 hours and 40 minutes. It is a stunning achievement for endurance cycling and to show the limits of human endurance, but this sort of achievement can really only be done with teams of support crew to enable him to cycle 240 miles in one day. I think that he can safely say that the record will be his for the foreseeable future. Not totally sure it is a travel book though as he is going so fast around the world that the human interaction that you’d get from a travel book really isn’t there. This is another really enjoyable book from Beaumont and if you have read his others then this should be on your reading list.

Blog Tour – 21st-Century Yokel by Tom Cox

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for 21st Century Yokel by Ton Cox and published by Unbound.

 

21st-Century Yokel is not quite nature writing, not quite a family memoir, not quite a book about walking, not quite a collection of humorous essays, but a bit of all five.

Thick with owls and badgers, oak trees and wood piles, scarecrows and ghosts, and Tom Cox’s loud and excitable dad, this book is full of the folklore of several counties – the ancient kind and the everyday variety – as well as wild places, mystical spots and curious objects. Emerging from this focus on the detail are themes that are broader and bigger and more important than ever.

Tom’s writing treads a new path, one that has a lot in common with a rambling country walk; it’s bewitched by fresh air and big skies, intrepid in minor ways, haunted by weather and old stories and the spooky edges of the outdoors, restless and prone to a few detours, but it always reaches its destination in the end.

 

 

Tom Cox has written ten books, including The Good, The Bad And The Furry, which was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. This one,  21st Century Yokel, was described The Guardian as “a rich, strange, oddly glorious brew” and was longlisted for the Wainwright Nature Writing prize. His newest, Help The Witch, is a collection of sort-of-ghost stories-which draw on folklore and the power of landscape. He often works in collaboration with his mother, Jo, who is an artist and printmaker and whose prints have featured in his books. When not writing, he is usually reading, mooching about in a secondhand record shop or bookshop or swimming or walking somewhere out in the elements in the South West Of The UK, where I have lived for most of the last five years.

 

My Review

The facets that make up our character are drawn from many sources; our DNA, our family, our culture, our history and as Tom Cox argues in this book, the places where you grow up that can define you as much as these other things. The way that Cox recommends that immerse yourself in the local landscape is to walk through the lanes and paths, climb the hills and the stiles, take in the views and soak up the natural world at walking pace.

The blurb on the cover says: It’s not quite a nature book, not quite a humour book, not quite a family memoir, not quite folklore, not quite social history, not quite a collection of essays, but a bit of all six. But there is a lot more in this book than that; crammed into the covers of the book. He is captivated by all sorts of things that he encounters on his strolls, from bees to beavers, scarecrows to owls and even his cats make an appearance a few times. Keeping his sanity by taking longs walks in the country around his Devon home gives him plenty of time to consider the world. All of the subjects he tackles begin with a narrow focus, before becoming wider ranging and for me, much more interesting.

He is fascinated equally by the ghosts of the past as he concerned by the future of the countryside, but what makes 21st Century such a really good book is that it defies categorisation. Part of this reason behind this is because Cox writes about what he wants to without following any set agenda, and partly this is because this reflects modern life and all its distractions where you start on one project, get distracted by something else, wander off to get an item and arrive back four hours later wondering why you were starting that in the first place. Because of this, the book feels fresh and interesting, it has its poignant moments, the chapter on scarecrows is really quite creepy and is a great example of modern folklore, His VERY LOUD DAD makes me laugh every time he appears in the narrative too. This rich and varied book is not quite many things, but one thing it is, is fantastic.

 

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour

 

 

Don’t forget to buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Anne Cater at  Random Things through my Letterbox for arranging this.

Tom Cox can be found here online

Unbound, a publisher redefining how the industry works can be found here

 

 

 

Wellcome Prize Shortlist 2019

Last night at midnight (no I don’t know why midnight either) the Wellcome Prize announced their shortlist, and the books that they have chosen are:

Amateur: A true story about what makes a man by Thomas Page McBee

Heart: A history by Sandeep Jauhar

Mind on Fire: A memoir of madness and recovery by Arnold Thomas Fanning

Murmur by Will Eaves

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

The Trauma Cleaner: One woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

The shortlist has two novels on it this year, Murmur by Will Eaves and My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, neither of which I have read yet but have them reserved from the library.  The remainder of the shortlist is non-fiction. Two of the authors are writing about gender, with Thomas Page McBee looking at masculinity and violence as he becomes the first trans man to box at Madison Square Garden in Amateur. Sarah Krasnostein’s book, The Trauma Cleaner, is a biography about Sandra Pankhurst who was a husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife – and how her journey through childhood abuse, trauma and transphobic hostility has led her to care to both the living and the dead.

 Heart by Sandeep Jauhar is fairly self-explanatory as to what it is about and Mind on Fire is Arnold Thomas Fanning personal story of his battle with mania, psychosis and severe depression and how he has survived the mental torment. 

As a Shadow Panel, comprising Rebecca from Bookish Beck, Annabel from Annabookbel, Laura from Dr. Laura Tisdall and Clare from A Little Blog of Books we had an opportunity to vote on the favourites that we had and from that chose seven books for our shortlist:

Amateur: A true story about what makes a man by Thomas Page McBee

Educated by Tara Westover

Heart: A history by Sandeep Jauhar

Murmur by Will Eaves

Sight by Jessie Greengrass

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein

So we guessed four of them correctly!

These were the ones that I had nominated based on the few that I have read and what fitted the brief as my suggestion for the shortlist and I had also got four correct:

Amateur: A true story about what makes a man by Thomas Page McBee

Murmur by Will Eaves

Heart: A history by Sandeep Jauhar

Mind on Fire: A memoir of madness and recovery by Arnold Thomas Fanning

Polio: The Odyssey of eradication by Thomas Abraham

This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein

Have you read any of them? Are there any that you want to read having seen this list? Let me know below.

 

 

The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell Blog Tour

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for the first stop on the Blog Tour for The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell and published by Michael O’Mara Books.

About the Book

Emma Mitchell has suffered with depression – or as she calls it, ‘the grey slug’ – for twenty-five years. In 2003, she moved from the city to the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens and began to take walks in the countryside around her new home, photographing, collecting and drawing as she went. Each walk lifted her mood, proving to be as medicinal as any talking therapy or pharmaceutical.
In Emma’s hand-illustrated diary, she takes us with her as she follows the paths and trails around her cottage and further afield, sharing her nature finds and tracking the lives of local flora and fauna over the course of a year. Reflecting on how these encounters impact her mood, Emma’s moving and candid account of her own struggles is a powerful testament to how reconnecting with nature may offer some answers to today’s mental health epidemic. While charting her own seasonal highs and lows, she also explains the science behind such changes, calling on new research into such areas as forest bathing and the ways in which our bodies and minds respond to plants and wildlife when we venture outdoors.
Written with Emma’s characteristic wit and frankness, and filled with her beautiful drawings, paintings and photography, this is a truly unique book for anyone who has ever felt drawn to nature and wondered about its influence over us.

 

About the Author

Emma is an ex-biologist, naturalist, workshop-teacher, designer-maker, illustrator, mum, baker, gardener and keeper of guinea pigs. She shares her nature diaries and the things she makes on Instagram. Sometimes she likes to pretend I’m a Victorian museum curator with a massive crinoline and stovepipe hat.

 

My Review

Depression is a horrid illness that can thrive unseen in the people around us. Unless they are a very close friend or family member, it is only as the person suffering reaches the very limit of what they can tolerate that most of us come aware of their suffering. Emma Mitchell is one of those who has suffered from depression for over two decades. Sixteen years ago she moved from the city to the edge of the fens with the hope of overcoming ‘the grey slug’ as she has named her depression in her new environment. However, just over a year ago, it was back with a vengeance and it took her to one of her lowest points ever, right to the edge of the abyss.

This is her story of how she came back from that place with the help of her family and friends, her dog, Annie and most of all, the natural world. She is searingly honest in her account of the lowest points in her battle with the illness as she almost became a hermit. As she gains the courage to head outside once again, the healing power of nature combined with the medicine that she was taking begun to lift her out of her gloom.

Her journey back to better health was not without struggle, some days were much better and other days were bleak. As the days lengthen she begins to take longer walks with Annie, heads out with a friend to attempt to find glow worms or out to try and see a murmuration at dusk one night. Each sighting of one of the local flora and fauna such as an owl or butterfly raises her spirits little by little.

She has an eye for the inherent beauty in nature and this is what makes this an utterly glorious book. It is full of her own art sketches and photographs of the beautiful things that she has discovered as she goes out and about around her local area. But there is much more to it than this, through her recovery she is proving what science is confirming now, that we need exposure to the natural world for our essential and deep-rooted well being.

 

Getting out and about in the Natural World

So how do you go about getting rediscovering nature? You don’t need to book a train ticket on the overnight sleeper to Scotland, nor do you need to spend vast sums of money on kit. The first thing to do is to find where your nearest area for wildlife is here, here or here. Or head to the coast, still some of our wildest landscapes around if you are prepared to go beyond the arcades. There are also books with suggested places to visit, such as Wild and Free by Dominic Couzens or Where to See Wildlife in Britain and Ireland by Christopher Somerville.

If all else fails head to your local park, there will be trees, grass and you will probably get to see some birds and squirrels there. The important thing is to head outside away from the distraction of the screens. All the way through Emma’s book there are lists, photos and sketches of things that she finds month by month. There are some on the list below that you might be able to find when you are out and about:


I am fortunate where I live that we have a lot of coast and countryside right on our doorstep.  I can walk down to the River Stour in about 10 to 15 minutes and be in a landscape that is immediately calming. I will almost always see a mallard or swan down there and occasionally there are kingfishers and I have been fortunate enough see an otter too. Having chosen where you want to go, pop on some sensible shoes and head out the door. Even 10 minutes spent near something natural will help.

For those interested in the science behind the recent discoveries of the impact of nature on our well being then I would recommend reading The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Not only is it a brilliant read, but she clearly explains what the benefits are from spending time in the woods and includes lots of examples and case studies with solid evidence. For those wanting to improve their engagement with the natural world, I can also recommend reading Rewild Yourself by Simon Barnes. In here he has 23 different ideas on practical things that you can do to ensure that you get the most of being outdoors.

 

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour

Do buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Alara and Bethany at Michael O’Mara books for a copy of the Wild Remedy

Emma Mitchell can be found on Twitter here and her website is here

Silence by Erling Kagge

4 out of 5 stars

The perfect review for this book on Silence would be:

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Sadly the modern world isn’t like that. We are bombarded by a cacophony of sounds and noise all day long. Our phones squeak for attention every few minutes, the noise from traffic on a road is constant over the course of a day, even most modern kitchen appliances make lots of unnecessary beeps even when you turn them on and off now days. Is there anywhere that could be described as silent on our planet? Even in a meadow on an almost still day, there will be the buzz of bees and the sound of grass moving.

Erling Kagge once spent almost two months walking solo in Antarctica with a broken radio and whilst I can imagine that this wasn’t silent given the way that the winds can howl across that landscape. The lack of radio meant that he was far away from the human generated din of the world. This time alone with the sounds of his internal voices and the natural world gave him time to think about how silence could benefit other people as well as him.

The result of that walk became the contents of this book. In here he explores various elements of silence for example, how it has almost disappeared from modern life in Western cultures and how the absence of noise looms large in our fears. But if you take the time to search it out, you can find silence in all sort of places; places where you enjoy the total absence of any of the noise of the modern world. As there is always some noise somewhere, Kagge argues that this is a skill that we need to relearn for our own calm and for meditative purposes. I really enjoyed this book as it gave me lots to think about with respect to the noise that I encounter every day. As a small aside, it is a beautifully produced book too with lots of pictures of a polar landscape.

Sight by Jessie Greeengrass

3 out of 5 stars

The narrator of the book is currently expecting her second child, with her partner, Johannes. This second time around in her life is causing her to contemplate the relationships that she had with her late grandmother and her mother, as well as the effects of having a second child will have on the bond she has with her daughter. To better comprehend the complexity of being a parent and a child at the same time she spends time in the Wellcome Trust library reading various books. Whilst she is in the library she discovers and reads the works of Wilhelm Röntgen, and the X-Rays he discovered, and about Anna Freud, daughter of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s and John Hunter, the pioneer of modern surgery.

There was a lot that I liked about this book; the recollection of her childhood with her grandmother and the time that she spent there and her looking after her mother at the end of her life and how she sees her kinship developing with her own children make for fascinating reading. She has a beautiful way of writing too, it is sparse and yet eloquent.
However, I thought that the wandering off into the realms of Freud and the other medical practitioners really didn’t fit with the rest of the story for me. I get the psychoanalyst link to Freud with her grandmother, but it distracted from the story. Greengrass is definitely an author to watch though.

This is one of the books longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize. For more details about the other books on the list and to find out more about the prize click here

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