Author: Paul (Page 1 of 115)

Reckless Paper Birds by John McCollough

3 out of 5 stars

One of my goals this year has been to read at least two poetry books each month and so far I have succeeded in this. I haven’t managed to get to read some of the older classic poetry books that I have been accumulating for a while now, but I have been reading some of the more contemporary offerings that have come my way.

I have read some of Penned in the Margins non-fiction book and really enjoyed them, but have not ventured into their poetry collections until now. I was fortunate to have won this collection through a Costa prize giveaway where I won all 20 books that were shortlisted for the 2019 prize.

                         The chalk path you bever longed for
zigzags through cowslips no one asked to throng.

Reckless Paper Birds is probably a collection that I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise and reading out of my comfort zone is a good thing. In this McCollough looks at all manner of things from the queer perspective. The subject that are as diverse as origami, stationary, pterodactyls stones and of course, birds.

The poems varied from short stanza to longer and more considered verses. Some of the subject matter was quite intimate and others wrote about the mundane. They all had a touch of the surreal about them too, the way he describes colour stones scattered on a road or being ina crowd falling from a tall building. I thought it was quite a good collection and challenged my outlook.

Three Favourite Poems
Nuthatch
Nervous Systems
Cartoons for Adults

A Human Algorithm by Flynn Coleman

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Artificial Intelligence is almost upon us. Lots of people are using Siri on their phones or have an Alexa or Google home device to help them organise their busy lives. But as hand as these are, the next generation of AI is going to revolutionise the world in many different ways and cause us to ask many searching and profound questions about this technology in our lives. Will it be the end of humanity? Or can these technologies be used as a power for good?

It is thought that there are around 700 people working on AI in one form or another around the world and there are about another 70,000 software engineers who understand how it functions. The problem it this tiny subset of people who have in their hands something that has the possibility to dramatically affect up to 7 billion people around the world in good and bad ways. One of the issues that are affecting the development of AI is that there is almost no diversity of voices that are contributing to this technology. Black and Latino developers are conspicuous by their absence. For example, one conference had seven black attendees, only one of which was a woman. Therefore as it is developed by a very narrow clique, the majority who are white, male and have often attended one or two of the major universities, it is inherently very sexist, racist and biased

It is said that the first trillionaire in the world will be the person who makes AI a reality. Worryingly there are no global standards on AI systems, nor are there any moral guidelines to help structure some of the internal decision making. There are significant gaps between those building the technologies, those policing it and those who will be affected by it, It does seem to be more chasms than gaps though. AI automation will also lead to mass changes in employment at the lower level. This was beginning to happen before the COVID pandemic hit, extenuating the financial gulf between rich and poor is widening day by day.

One place that you will find AI starting to proliferate, is social media. It can be great, but it can be a next of vipers too, as well as an echo chamber and brings the worst out with tribalism and confirmation bias. Always remember, if you are not paying for a product or service then you are the product.

In amongst all the bad news though there are some positive effects of AI. It is being used to work on projects that promote sustainability and humanitarian use, drones can be used to deliver food and medicine to remote areas. Another scheme is using it to make incarceration more humane and allow better rehabilitation of prisoners. Another sphere that shows great promise in is healthcare. Doctors cannot know every single disease or illness out there, the ability of Ai to crunch data showed in a clinical trial that medical assistants using the tool were accurate 91% of the time, without having to use labs, medical imaging or even having sat exams. The software developed by IBM called Watson AI read 25 million medical papers in a week or so and could recommend treatments that it had found in obscure medical trials. There are even robots that have begun to communicate with each other in a language that we cannot understand.

The fundamental question that this book asks is, do we want AI to help us or become a monster? If we do this right then we gain a brilliant new partner, if we get it wrong it could be the advent of a new dark age and we all suffer. Is it just me that is thinking of the Matrix or Skynet? How will we as a global population react to AI and robots? If the paranoia about the new 5G mobile networks is anything to go by, it might not go that well.

Fiction is empathy technology (Steven Pinker)

Colman puts both sides of the argument for and against AI really well in this book. Whilst it has the potential to be a force for good, she is careful to detail the ways in that it could be an utter disaster. She explores all manner of subjects that are connected to AI, from the history behind it, the economy and even what is consciousness and can AI become conscious? It is written with clarity about a complicated subject. There is no moral machine without a moral human and the key behind getting a useful technology that works for all and not just a techno-rich elite, is empathy, that ability that humans have to feel what other people are feeling. Sadly it is an emotion that is sadly lacking in today’s world. It is essential to our survival to include it in AI. Highly recommended.

Warriors by Gerald Hanley

5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

In World War 2 we mostly hear about the major wars and events that took place in Europe and the Far East. There was the Campaign in North African and lots of other little theatres of war that were taking place all over the world. Gerald Hanley spent his war in the desolate sun-scorched landscape of sub-Saharan Africa.

The population was the fierce and independently minded and fierce tribesmen of Somalia. They had been ruled by the Italians but after they had been defeated, the administration had imploded and his small group of soldiers were tasked with trying to hold everything together, stop warring tribes from raiding and killing each other.

To say it was tough there was an understatement. They were the last in a long line of supply drops and the men were rarely paid, had very little in the way of rations and the detachment of native soldier that he had under his command were in a constant state of near mutiny. Some of the men found it so tough there that suicide was the only option that felt they had to leave the place.

Yet it was the isolation more than anything which was hardest to bear, at first. Eventually one grew to love it, and those who knew long isolation in those Somali wastes and survived it, will miss it forever. It was the most valuable time of one’s life.

As tough as it was there, it was a place that Hanley grew to love. He learnt so many lessons from the people that he carried forward into his later life. He is humble but firm as they were not the easiest people to deal with, the way that he deals with a guy who has just stabbed someone else is eye-opening, but he did consider them the proudest, the bravest, the vainest, the most merciless, the friendliest. I thought that this was an excellent book. He writes with a passion for the people that he is trying to help and manage there whilst trying to hold his detachment together. Whilst it was utterly different to Naples 44 by Norman Lewis it had a lot of similarities; both books were written by men who had been thrust into situations that they were never expecting. They both took everything that they came across in their stride and used the skills to strike an uneasy peace with the local populations. Very highly recommended.

Rebirding by Benedict MacDonald

4.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Nature as a whole is in decline. We are part of the natural world have taken it upon ourselves to make sure that we live in the most unsustainable and destructive way possible. The collapse of invertebrates has rippled all the way up the food chain as each species reaches their specific tipping point and are suddenly gone from our landscapes. In the UK there are almost no areas of the land that haven’t been touched or manipulated in some way by mankind.

Even though the decline has been happening for a long time, it is only in the past few decades that the dramatic drop in numbers of all species has become very evident. The act of strimming, weed killing and obliterating anything that looks slightly scruffy form our urban and rural landscapes has been the final death knell. The memory of the way that the landscape and natural world used to be, has almost faded from our collective memories.

But some people have had enough, there is a growing backlash against the vested interests and status quo; Benedict MacDonald is amongst that number. In this book Rebirding, he is looking at the ways that we can bring the life back into our skies in practical and profitable ways. There are various ways of doing this and reintroduction have been successful, in particular with kites and the great bustard. But more is needed urgently.

He looks at the various national parks that we have and the current state of the SSSIs and nature reserves and how they are doing. One of the criticisms that he has about them is that they are managing their particular area in a way that is detrimental to the long term health of the site. The key to bringing back wildlife of all shapes and sizes is to bring back the large mammals and predators to our landscapes and just let them get on with it.

One place that this has been happening is the Knepp Estate, primitive species of cows and horses and pigs have been allowed to wander pretty much anywhere in the estate and the changes that they have brought about have been staggering. The habitats have returned and with them has come species that haven’t been seen in years. The flip side of this is that their neighbours are not particularly happy about the untidiness of the estate. Another key behind this is the revert to a scruffy form of land control. Leave things on the margins, don’t cut verges back until later in the summer and wildlife will find the way.

I thought that this was a well researched and more importantly a well-written book about rewilding. Coming at the subject from a desire to see a sizable increase in the number of species in and around our landscapes is laudable, birds are his passion after all. One that every conservationist should read, along with Wilding by Isabella Tree and Rewilding by Paul Jepson & Cain Blythe, all books that have drawn similar conclusions from practical experiments that are being run in various places around the world.

A Time of Birds by Helen Moat

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

People undertake a journey for all sorts of reasons, Helen Moat had always been restless, but when on the beach of Inner Farne, dodging the Arctic Terns, the thought of leaving her piles of marking behind and cycling across the continent of Europe to Istanbul struck her. She asked her 15-year old son, Jamie, if he would like to join her after he finished school and to her surprise, he agreed. Her other son just laughed and said that he’d eat his hat if they actually did it.

It was when she was on the ferry that the doubts swirled in her mind; would her bike be too heavy, would she be able to communicate with the people of the Balkans, could she keep cycling for three months and would her husband and other son still be talking to each other after she made it home? Getting off the ferry they discovered that they were in the wrong place to start the Rhine Cycle Route, but after Jamie had shuffled through the google map pages he had printed, they found the right route, and they were off. By mid-afternoon, they were on the outskirts of the Netherlands oldest city, Dordrecht.

It was a good place to start their trip, the flat landscape meant that they could build miles and stamina and the routine was different, the time she would normally be making a coffee and sinking into the sofa she was happily pedalling along a road exploring places that she hadn’t been to before. Moat could speak German so the next country, Germany, she was looking forward to. The route that they had chosen was alongside the Rhine and it was here that she wasn’t quick enough on the brakes and ran into the back of Jamie and fell off, cutting her finger and bruising her ego a little. Her bike was normally called Gertrude, but Jamie christened it The Tank, and it was to be called that for the remainder of the trip.

They are cycling through Europe in the spring and they continually hear birds signing as they pass through or define territories ready for mating. It reminds her of her father who loved watching birds. He was a difficult man and father, constrained by the draconian rule of a Brethren faith that put obedience over compassion. They lived in Northern Ireland which added to the stress as every day she would see soldiers with guns patrolling the streets and they were encouraged to hate their catholic neighbours. She was seen as a rebel as she got older which added extra strain to the relationship with him. This was a time to address her own internal demons as she pedalled along the river.

Northern Europe felt a comfortable place to travel through, but she was wary of Eastern Europe. She had heard lots of stories about the people and packs of dogs and other tales of warning. However curiosity could overcome fear, and they pushed on, suppressing the warnings to a nagging doubt at the back of her mind. Probably the hardest part for her was travelling through Serbia and Croatia. The population that always used to get along fine were split by politicians into factions that then spend a lot of time killing each other. It reminded her of her childhood growing up in Northern Island and the divide that was in every community as catholics and protestants grew further apart ad the hate increased. Conversations with a couple of people showed that the tensions are much reduced, but still there.

I thought that this was a reasonably well-written book about a relaxed and thoughtful journey across Europe on a bike. They are not setting themselves a punishing schedule or daily mileage, rather seeking to absorb some of the cultures and make it an enjoyable trip. There is the odd scary moment as they battle lorry on some of the larger roads and even have to take the train on the odd stretch. When Moat embarked on the ride, she was not sure that she would be able to make it, but it goes to prove that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. It would have been nice to see a few photos from their trip in the book and I don’t know if Patrick ever did eat his hat or not…

Confess by Juliette van der Molen

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Confess Juliette van der Molen and published by Twist It Press.

About the Book

1692 Salem, Massachusetts – Based on the life of Dorothy Good, the youngest person accused of and imprisoned for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, Confess tells the story of the trauma surrounding this nearly forgotten child from one of the darkest chapters in early American history. A colony is plunged into turmoil filled with misunderstandings, fear, intolerance, religious fervour, and an egregious abuse of power. Over the course of the year, more than two hundred people are accused of witchcraft and thirty are found guilty. Nineteen will be sentenced to death.

Four-year-old Dorothy and her mother, Sarah Good, are arrested for witchcraft.

Dorothy will confess.

Sarah will hang.

This is Dorothy’s story…

About the Author

Juliette van der Molen is an ex-pat poet living in Wales. She is an intersectional feminist and member of the LGBTQ+ community. Her work has appeared in The Wellington Street Review, Nightingale & Sparrow, Burning House Press and several other publications. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of The Net. Juliette is also the Poetry Editor for Mookychick Magazine. She is a spoken word performer and has had the honour of appearing in several venues in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Her books include; Death Library: The Exquisite Corpse Collection, Mother May I? and Anatomy of A Dress.

Extract: A Hex On All Your Houses

a bit of thread, black
tied tight around this
Hathorne poppet who cares
not enough to know my
name, but removes me
from the world, all the same.

a bit of thread, red
knotted over the mouths
of Ann & Mary, who bled
untruths from tongues
loosed, cries and shakes
just from my stare, enough to
induce—
this witch, unawares.

poppets, poppets
dance for me,
slide through fire,
singed with flame,
with coals for feet,
may the heat of your lies
burn within, your lips
blotted black with sin.

i call for justice,
i call for power,
i call in the name of:
the weak,
the poor,
the unwashed,
the unwanted.

i bind your cords as
these threads burn,
i still your tongues
& break your power.

this little girl,
unjustly handled,
robbed of youth—
has grown into
what you fear,
manifested power
no longer denied.

through this hex
i heal & protect.

My Review

In February 1692 a four-year-old child watched as her mother, Sarah Good, was arrested by magistrates and took her into custody. Almost four weeks later they came back to arrest the child, Dorothy. They were both charged with the same offence, witchcraft.

This was the Salem Witch trials and of the 200 or so people who were arrested 20 of them were to lose their lives. Dorothy Good was arrested after the Putnam’s made complaints against her. She was bullied and coerces into testifying against her mother. And it was this ‘confession’ that condemned her mother to the gallows. It is not known if Dorothy was killed at the same time.

This collection is the result of Juliette van der Molen hearing about these trials and Dorothy’s arrest. She then scoured the records to discover the scant details that exist about her. It is split into four sections, the first is on her incarceration and trial, the poems are charged with emotion, from the howling as her mother is taken away in Farewell, the unfounded accusations in Devil’s Issue and when they arrest her in Poppet Mine and where a square of flannel twisted into a doll is the sole source of comfort she has as she is taken away.

The second part is the sentencing and judgement where the poems take on a really dark element, in particular When The Moon Is Dark and Banished. The third section is titled Of Revelation and Precedence and is about Ann Putnam, the accuser of the Good’s and her later revelations. Criminalis Carolina is incredibly powerful. Finally, there is Voice and Remembrance, a poetic tribute the those that lost their lives because of unfounded hysteria

i could hold them,
fold them, in my heart
or let them go in the tides
these prayers
these spells
Sinking ships in maelstroms
as my soul divides

At times, Confession makes for grim reading  but van der Molen has written this collection to be a voice to the unheard and almost unknown Dorothy Good. It is also a warning against the way that mob rule and the fear of certain types of people can mean that the modern ‘witch hunt’ is still with us.

Three Favourite Poems
Pact
When The Moon Is Dark
Remember Me

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

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

You can connect with her via Twitter and her website

My thanks to Isabelle from Fly On The Wall Press for the copy of the book to read.

Street Without a Name by Kapka Kassobova

4 out of 5 stars

Life growing up with virtually nothing was what they were used to. Her father was not high in the communist regime, but he had some opportunities to travel outside the country with the family and when her mother saw the things that were available in the shops in the West she stood and looked in amazement at the shelves. All that was available in most of the shops in Sofia was queues. She grew up loving her homeland as much as she hated it and when they had the opportunity to leave when Kassobova was in her late teens, they took it. She moved to New Zealand with her family and then in 2005, moved back across the world to the UK.

This book is a series of memories of her childhood there and accounts of her returning there as a visitor. The town of Sofia had bleak apartment blocks to house the workers and their families, there were nicer parts of the town with older buildings and leafy parks, but they were reserved for those in power and with the right connections. One day having visited one of the nicer parts, she turns to her mother and asks her ‘Mum, why is everything so ugly?’ Her mother could answer her, just managing to hide her tears.

She recounts memories of the accident in Chernobyl, a painful year as she lost two grandparents and then the rumours started about a nuclear accident elsewhere in the Soviet Union. People who went out to celebrate the May Day parade were rained on with radioactive pollution and some were to die later from the poisoning. She was slightly afraid of her grandfather, he was an angry man and anyone who wasn’t of the bloodline would be an enemy. Her male cousin was the favourite, as he would carry the family name onto the next generation. In 1989 all of what they had known until that point would change as perestroika swept across the Soviet Block., both her parents would stare at the telly in disbelief as the events unfolded in front of them.

Returning to her homeland in the second part of the book is a mixed bag of emotions. Just looking at the map of Sofia she finds that strange new names of streets have replaced the strange old names. She visits her old school and when she explains to the security guard they used to study there, he waves them in. Some things don’t change though, the bus that she is just about to give up waiting for arrives late, and crawls slowly up the hills. Seeing family members that she hasn’t for so long is full of emotion she offers to pay for the fuel in her uncle’s car knowing that for him it is a quarter of his pension to pay for it. Bumping into school friends and catching up with the gossip is happy and sad at the same time.

Even though she no longer lives there, the ties to her homeland are still there but stretched gossamer thin. It is not your regular travel book where someone moves through a country or a region in a planned way, rather she spends as much time with her memories of the place as she does in the towns and cities seeing what is still there. As with her other books that I have read, she has a beautiful way of writing, it is as much about emotions and feelings as it is about the sense of place. If you have never read anything about Bulgaria before this is a good place to start.

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow and published by Head of Zeus.

 

About the Book

Returning to the world of ​Little Brother​ and ​Homeland​, ​Attack Surface​ takes us five minutes into the future, to a world where everything is connected and everyone is vulnerable.

Masha Maximow has made some bad choices in life – choices that hurt people. But she’s also made some pretty decent ones. In the log file of life, however, she can’t quite work out which side of the ledger she currently stands.

Masha works for Xoth Intelligence, an InfoSec company upgrading the Slovstakian Interior Ministry’s ability to spy on its citizens’ telecommunications with state-of-the-art software (at least, as state-of-the-art as Xoth is prepared to offer in its middle-upper pricing tier).

Can you offset a day-job helping repressive regimes spy on their citizens with a nighttime hobby where you help those same citizens evade detection? Masha is about to find out.

Pacy, passionate, and as current as next week, ​Attack Surface​ is a paean to activism, to courage, to the drive to make the world a better place.

 

About the Author

Cory Doctorow ​is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger – the co-editor of Boing Boing and the author of many books: ​In Real Life​, a graphic novel; ​Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free,​ a book about earning a living in the Internet age; and Homeland​, the award-winning, best-selling sequel to the 2008 YA novel ​Little Brother​. Cory has been on the frontline of international debates on privacy, copyright and freedom of information for over a decade.

 

My Review

Masha Maximow is a smart girl who is working for Xoth Intelligence. This is an InfoSec company who can provide individual, companies, states and countries with the tool they need to monitor and spy on their staff and citizens. She is currently in the country of Slovstakian working with the Ministry of the Interior to upgrade their systems to enable them to spy on their citizens with the best software that Xoth is prepared to sell a former Soviet Bloc country.

She learnt her trade of surveillance and providing the tools of oppression by slipping through the darker shadows of the internet in the virtual battlegrounds of Iraq, and now she is highly paid and very very good at her job. Rather than chill out in a five-star hotel in the evenings, she hits the streets and finds the leaders of the public opposition to the right-wing goons in the government and teaches them every thin that she knows on how to fight back against the oppressive surveillance. Insider knowledge does help sometimes…

Then she gets caught.

He boss at Xoth considers her compromised and she is swiftly sacked. The hotel room that she stays in that night is normally rented by the hour, but she needs to lie low before leaving the country. She is woken in the middle of the night by the sound of a car crash, it was one of the Finecab automated taxi’s wrapped around a planter. She is just dozing off and hears another crash. Another cab crash, The feeds on her phone showed the usual riot and overly heavy police response and then lots of photos and videos of cabs being deliberately run into the protestors. She realised that this was the work of the company that she had been working for not long ago. She had to leave the country as soon as possible.

She ends up back home in San Francisco, but waiting for the flights means she has time to think about how she ended up in the InfoSec business and the first person that she worked for, Carrie Johnson. When she is back home she hooks up with Tanisha a friend from long ago who is involved with the Black-Brown Alliance which had its origins in the Black Lives Matter campaign. They spend a while catching up and Maximow realises that the group needs a full-time security person and offers her services. They head back to Tanisha’s flat and she falls fast asleep. She realises that she is being targeted when the alarm of her sounds. The phone is off, but there is a hacker trying to get into her phone. The log file terrifies her, so she goes to check Tanisha’s phone and realises that it has been compromised. Just how much is soon clear when she is picked up on a train and Maximow offers to go with her.

Life for both is never going to be the same again.

This world that Doctorow has imagined is set in the very near future, with most of the technologies that he is writing about either already with us or we are on the cusp of receiving them. It feels absolutely bang up to date with some of the things that are happening in the plot and subplots being very strongly influenced by current real-life events. It is set just far enough into the future to be a quite disturbing dystopia. I really liked this book, even though it is a terrifying read. If you think about the implications of a future of overly authoritarian states that he is predicting in here, then it is pretty grim.

I thought that the characters mostly felt fully fleshed out, Maximow, in particular, seems to be some flawed genius. Her two bosses at the InfoSec companies, Carrie Johnstone and Ilsa are two sides of the same coin really. Both super smart and ambitious they only have on thing in mind and that is to maintain power and influence in their company and over the population as a whole. I did find that it jumped around a bit too much between her present warp-speed life and the recounting of her previous life. Occasionally he moves away from the technical language that most will be able to follow and ventures deep into the silicon pathways. Where this book really wins though is presenting the stark future of the advent of mass and oppressive surveillance of the population at large and the choices that we have to make very soon as a society to curtail government and private sector intrusion into our private lives. This is 1984 in real life; your life. Oh, and read the two afterwords too; they should make you think.

There is a need to balance online privacy, everyday security and the ability to solve crime. But not at the cost of individuality, freedom and self-expression

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

 

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 Lauren Tavella for the copy of the book to read.

You can follow Cory Dotorow on Twitter here, and I strongly recommend that you do so

Head of Zeus are on Twitter here

Mr Cadmus by Peter Ackroyd

3 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Miss Finch and Miss Swallow, two cousins live in the village of Camborne in the West Country. They lived in a terrace of three houses and had the end ones with a neighbour in between. The middle house was currently vacant, the previous occupant a retired schoolmaster, Mr Herrick, had died suddenly of a heart attack three months ago. Various people had visited with the aim of moving in, but they disapproved of them, until the arrival of a gentleman in his mid-forties.

Two weeks later a removals van pulled up followed soon after by a small yellow car. A man wearing green trousers and a scarlet sweater jumped out and let the removals men in. He notices the two women watching him, and blows a kiss and holds his heart in admiration. He appeared at their door later with the gift of chocolates.

Mr Cadmus had arrived.

Cadmus swiftly moves from being an outsider to fully embedded in village life. The comfortable life and daily routine and they had enjoyed in Camborne disappeared as Mr Cadmus wreaked havoc on the day to day life of the village. There is an armed robbery, unheard of in this village and in Barnstaple one day there is an earthquake. Not everything is as it seems with Mr Cadmus though and the two ladies have their suspicions about him. Then the deaths began…

I have read several of Ackroyd’s non-fiction books, but up until now none of his fiction, so I was delighted to receive this. I thought it was quite captivating at first, the plot line was intriguing and he manages to frame the village as being a nice place to live on the surface, but if you scratch the surface there are lots of things going on. I felt that the characters of the two cousins were not fully formed, they both had a back story of mutual secrets that they had no desire to see revealed, but the arrival of Mr Cadmus adds another level of tension to their relationship. I liked this, it is full of surreal moments and dark humour. However, even though the first half of this was really good, but it lost me a little in the second part.

September 2020 Review

September was a strange month, my youngest two went back to school for the first time in five months, and a week later there was a positive COVID case in my sons class so he was off for two weeks. My company then said that they would prefer me to work at home, so my work commute was a few steps from the kitchen to the office. Didn’t get to read quite as much as I wanted to but it was a very good reading month with two five star books. First some stats after reaching three-quarters of the way through the year.

So far I have read 147 books and a total of 36792 pages. 102 of the authors were male and the remaining 45 were female (31%). I have read 69 review books, 31 library books and 47 of my own.

Top five publishers are:

Eland – 10 Books

Faber – 9 books

Elliott & Thompson – 6 books

Little Toller- 6 books

Canongate – 6 books

 

Top five genres are:

Travel – 32 books

Poetry – 19 books

Natural History – 17 books

Memoir – 12

Fiction – 11

So onto this months reading. Haus Publishing was kind enough to send me a copy of DH Lawrence in Italy by Richard Owen. He was a fascinating character and he adored being in Italy. I have never read any of Lawrence’s fiction, but having read this I want to read his book on Sardina.

One of the shortlisted books on the Wainwright Prize was the beautifully written Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash. It is all about her time spent living in Cornwall and out on the fishing boats with the locals. Well worth reading just for the prose.

I read three books on environmental concerns, the first Losing Eden is about the science behind how we react to the natural world and how it can help heal us. The second two were concerning the current subject of rewilding. Both had a certain amount of overlap and were advocating the various ways of doing this. All worth reading.

           

Isabelle at Fly on the Wall Press kindly sent me a copy of these short stories by Graeme Hall. Set in Macau, these are slightly surreal and unreal stories of the place and people there. I was also sent the new Peter Ackroyd from Canongate, Mr Cadmus. I thought that the first half of this was really good, but it lost me a little in the second part.

    

Ther is a new publisher out there called Chroma Editions. Their first book is by  David Banning and it is called Boundary Songs. This is the account of his journey around the Lake District national park as he recounts what he sees as he walks and cycles. It is a very good start and I am looking forward to seeing what they publish next.

I was offered The Gospel of the Eels by the publisher and accepted a copy. It is a family memoir with ells basically. I thought it was good, but not exceptional. Dancing with Bees is very good, Brigit Strawbridge Howard tells of the bees that she finds in her garden and around her North Dorset Home.

     

My two poetry books could not have been any more different, the first, How to Make Curry Goat by Louise McStravick is a poetic response to her mixed-heritage, working-class identity. Tongues of Fire by Seán Hewitt is very different; its dedication to life, hope and renewal as seen through the natural world.

   

People who decide to head off around the world without going anywhere near a plane are a special breed. Elspeth Beard is one of those and Lone Rider is her account of a 35,000-mile journey taken on her trusty BMW motorbike in the early 1980s. A really good travel book and if you like motorcycle travel, then Read Bearback by Pat Garrod too.

Now for my books of the month and there are two of them this month. The first is Unofficial Britain by Gareth Rees. This is about the things that are on the fringes of society, industrial estates and electricity pylons, motorway service stations of roundabouts and flyovers. Places that most people don’t notice, but still have the capacity to collect stories. The second is about a man that I had never heard of until I picked up this book, Bruce Wannell. He was a great traveller and orientalist and this is a collection of tribute from those that knew him.

   

Have you read any of them? Or do any take your fancy now you have seen them?

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