Author: Paul (page 1 of 95)

The White Heron Beneath the Reactor by Gary Budden & Maxim Griffin

4 out of 5 stars

Dungeness is a place that has been on the edge of our society for a while now, home to a now decommissioned nuclear power station and military zone including some strange looking listening ‘ears’ this shingle desert was a place that some people made their home. It is a place that has a remarkable variety of wildlife too. There are over 600 different types of plant and it is one of the best places to find insects including some that are found nowhere else.

It also has an abundance of birdlife, too and it is that that which drew the lifelong bird-lover, Gary Budden, here. He was here to find the white heron, better known as the great white egret, but before he had even got out of his car, he had seen greenfinches, a bird he had not seen for a long while and is under threat.

On this shingle spit where land ends and the sea begins, things are never absolute, everything changes every single moment of the day. He was here though to discover other things too. Partly about the place and to contemplate why things were here and why this place is such an enigma, but also to discover things about himself and his love for the liminal and the melding of music, landscape, nature and punk.

It is a strange book, it feels deeply rooted in Dungeness and at the same time, edgy and untethered. However, it is the images by Maxim are really what make this. He has an utterly unique way of making art. They are utterly captivating pictures, bold and full of energy. I am proud to have been one of the 100 contributors to make this a real book.

Salvation Lost by Peter F. Hamilton

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

Life in the mid 23rd Century is the closest that humanity has got to a utopia, energy is pretty much free because of the quantum entangled portals and it has enabled mass transportation to almost anywhere. That comfortable life is about to come to an end as a threat of epic proportions has just been discovered. Feriton Kane’s investigative team has discovered that the supposedly benign Olyix race are heading to Earth.

They plan to harvest humanity, in order to carry us to their god at the end of the universe. It is the worst threat ever to face mankind and there is almost no time to fight back. As the Olyix ship appears it opens a portal and thousands of ship pour through with one aim in mind. Humanity could be wiped from the face of the universe; they have a choice; stay and fight, or flee out among the stars.

When I read the first in the series, Salvation, about this time last year, I thought it was a fast-paced and well-conceived sci-fi thriller. This builds on all the elements that he put in place in that first book but doesn’t have the relentless pace of the previous book. The plot is more subtle, with subplots that weave around the main thread and slowly are drawn in but the gravity of the ending. I did feel that it took a lot longer to get going than the first in the series, but then that hit the ground running.

His world-building of the habitats that humanity now live it and a futuristic London and other major cities that are preparing for the worst on Earth is really special. I also liked the space battles too, they just felt really plausible and are really well written. I thought that it concluded fairly well, but it suffers from a little of those middle book blues where a lot of the plot is unresolved and left open. That said, there is the third book coming that should resolve all these threads and I am really looking forward to it.

Ness by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood

5 out of 5 stars

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

On a shingle island, a figure called the Armourer is at work. He is standing in the Green chapel and is assisted by the Engineer, the botanist the physicist and the ornithologist. He is invoking the Firing song, a dark ceremony that will bring destruction. Five human-like forms are converging on the Green Chapel and are intent on stopping him.

She makes green & green fills the air around her & warps hard into objects within her radiance.

There is Drift, who is a world shaper, He who is water, She who is earth, They who are rock and As who is the very air around. They are moving through land, sea, time and space to the Green Chapel where they will become one, where they will become Ness. They want their island back.

Listen. Listen now. Listen to Ness

This is a stunning if slender book. It is part story and part poem, with taut writing that writhes with dark metaphor. Macfarlane takes familiar tropes from folk horror, dystopia, science fiction and drapes them over this unreal landscape to make a thriller that is as troubling as it is surreal. A hagstone allowing a glimpse of the future and the past separate each section. This unreal landscape of shifting shingle and harsh military structures is bought to chilling life by the stunning art from Donwood that captures the eeriness of the place. Very highly recommended.

The Offing by Benjamin Myers

4.5 out of 5 stars

It is not long after the end of the Second World War and the country is still in the grip of post-war blues and rationing. Robert Appleyard has just turned sixteen and faces heading down the local pit as did his father and grandfather before him. It is not something that he fancies so he decides to head away from his home town of Durham and discover a little bit more of the world.

Slowly making his way across the northern landscape, walks the road and trackways doing days of work at smallholding and farms and helping out at houses that didn’t get their men back from the war. He slept in barns or under hedges or sheltered by his makeshift tent. He made do with food, apples from the places he passed and gifts from people that he met. He route took him past the horrors of war, twisted and burnt aircraft that showed the insignia of the common enemy. Until one day he reached the coast and the village of Robin’s Hood Bay.

He discovered her home at the end of the lane and it overlooked the sea, though people could no longer able to see it as she had let the scrub grow up. He stopped at the end and heard a dog growling and then she stood up from the garden and spoke to him. Her name was Dulcie and his life would never be the same again.

He helps by doing odd jobs around the place and she feeds him food that he has never even contemplated, let alone tasted. For someone who had come from ration book meals, the taste of lobster and wine was a revelation. They settle into a routine and as well as feeding his body she begins to work on his mind, bringing piles of books from her home to educate and stretch his mind and then she introduces him to poetry. Dulcie has a past that she is trying to forget and a lover who was taken from her. As their friendship deepens, she stretches Robert’s mind to make him see the world from a different perspective, slowly he teases her past out from her.

That distant stretch of sea where sky and water merge. It’s called the offing

This is another cracker from Myers. By placing together these two characters, who under normal circumstances would have been very unlikely to meet, he has created a tender story about the strength in a true platonic relationship. Dulcie was way ahead of her time and could also see a very different future for Robert than he envisaged. Coupled with this plot is Myers evocative writing about the land and seascape and natural world of this part of Yorkshire. I really liked the ending of the book. It is a very different book to the Gallows Pole, but like that one, he has a way of drawing you into the story and captivating you.

Afloat by Danie Couchman

3 out of 5 stars

For someone who never really had the opportunity to settle as a child as her family kept moving home, you’d think that living on a canal boat that has to keep moving every couple of weeks might not be the best way to put down roots. However, the costs of living in London mean that bricks and mortar are not an option for Couchman.

Our capital city can be a really lonely place, but with her unusual home comes a diverse and welcoming community of people who also live on the river. She learns to be self-sufficient and practical, a canal boat takes a lot of care and attention to keep it going and afloat. She also reveals a part of London that most people are blissfully unaware of.

I thought that this was an enjoyable and mostly unchallenging read. Couchman bares her souls in a couple of parts of the book and tells of her relationships and the inner strength to get through life some days. If you want to read about life on the waterways of London, I can also recommend, Circle Line by Steffan Meyric Hughes

Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan

3.5 out of 5 stars

Hannah Sullivan’s debut collection, Three Poems, has unsurprisingly enough got three poems within. The first is set in New York, and is about the experience of living there compared to the perception of what it was going to be like. The second poem concerns a move to the other side of America and is full of disconnected but repetitive themes. The final poem is about birth, life and death.

Three sooty wraiths
Fade on a bridge like figures on a vase

This a debut collection isn’t like a conventional collection of poetry, the poems are mix of short two line elements and longer more story like sections. Her writing flows from a tautness in certain parts to a fluidity in others, as she writes about sex, history, politics and place all seen from a very personal perspective.

Now nothing will ever be the same again
And everything will be as it always was

I did like this, mostly because it is not conventional, the short story form is mixed with short bursts of poetry, before longer passages return. I am still not sure that I get poetry still, I find it very difficult to review some poets work. However, I am not going to stop reading it as the mastery that Sullivan and other poets have over language is quite something.

Three Favourite Poems
Well, there are only three in here…
You, Very Young in New York
Repeat Until Time
The Sandpit after Rain

October 2019 Review

Another month passes, and there are a few more books read from Mount TBR. Only sixteen this month, which I was a little disappointed with, to be honest. Ho hum, this is a hobby at the end of the day and I primarily read for pleasure. I did read some really good books though, and here they are:

 

Who Owns England? is a loaded question, and it is a question that Guy Shrubsole has been trying to answer for years. Believe it or not, not one really know exactly who owns what for around 15 – 20 % of the land, but modern technology is starting to address this blank space. It is a polemic on how the elite and landed gentry have had it their own way for far too long and I would say it is an essential read for anyone interested in landscape.

   

I read two excellent fiction books this month, first up was Cynan Jones’ near future book set in the UK. It is suffering from freshwater shortages. Razor-sharp writing and almost poetic in its style. You can’t go wrong with a Benjamin Myers book, and the Offing continued that. Set just after World War II it is the story of a sixteen-year-old boy who doesn’t want to work in the pit and sets of from Durham to the Yorkshire Coast. It is there he meets Dulcie and she sees his potential and they form an unlikely friendship.

Effing Birds was one of my blog tour books, and you need to be pretty broad-minded to read this as it is a bit (sorry, a lot) sweary. Aaron Reynolds does not hold back and it is hilarious though.

This was one of the Royal Society Shortlisted book and it is a maths book. Some of you will run with horror from the room at the thought of maths, but I like reading them. In Infinite Powers, Steven Strogatz has written just how much the understanding of Calculus affects us in modern society.

     

I read three very different memoirs this month. First up is Lowborn by Kerry Hudson. This is a story of her childhood in poverty and at the very fringes of society and of returning to those places and memories. Well worth reading. The very slender book, Of Walking in Ice, is the story of Werner Herzog’s walk to Paris to see a friend who was very ill. Surreal at times, but I can see why it is a classic. Danie Couchman is one of the many who could not afford to buy a property in London, but she did make a home in a small boat on the London canal system and Afloat is her memoir about life there.

I was sent a copy of Tempest by Patrician Press. This is an anthology of short fiction, essays and poems about our present political ‘tempestuous’ times.

 

I read one book on The Making Of Poetry by the great Adam Nicolson. this book is about the short period of time that Coleridge and the Wordsworths were together in the West country and the creative force that this unleased. My poetry book this month was the acclaimed Hannah Sullivan’s Three Poems. Very different from other poetry books that I have read, this year.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, there is quite a lot of politics going on at the moment. The root of what is going on though is very concisely summed up in The Three Dimensions of Freedom by Billy Bragg. Bit short, but still an interesting discourse.

 

Ross Barnet’s book, The Missing Lynx, is about the lost megafauna of the British Isles and contemplates the possibilities of bringing some of the larger predators back as part of a rewilding programme. Clearing The Air by Tim Smedley is the full story about what’s happened to the air we breathe.  the pollution and particulate matter and more importantly what we can do to bring back better quality air.

From the author of The Way of the World, Nicolas Bouvier, Eland has pulled together a collection of travel writings translated here for the first time into English. From the Aran isles in mid-winter to Xian, Korea to lowland Scotland, these essays are a flavour of a travel writer of the highest quality.

My book of the month was the fantastic Ring the Hill by Tom Cox. Loosely about hills, it is as wide-ranging as you’d expect from Tom as he writes about maps, hares and even ventures as far as the beach. Of course, we have a visit from his LOUD DAD too. Highly recommended. Read it soon.

Any of these that you have read? Or now want to read? Tell me in the comments below.

 

November 2019 TBR

Another month passes and more books get finished, but the ever-looming TBR is always ahead. I did fairly well on my TBR list from October, reading 13 from the list and a couple of other additions getting to 15 books read, which is one below target. For those that don’t know it, it is Non-Fiction November too.  #NonfictionNovember is a month-long nonfiction reading initiative hosted by @abookolive. You can find her on #booktube to find out more. I will mostly be reading non-fiction as ever, but have a couple of fiction books that I am committed to reading. 

Anyway, onto my TBR for the coming month:

 

Blog Tours

Just the one this month, Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below – Steve Denehan

 

Library

Superheavy: Making And Breaking The Periodic Table – Kit Chapman

The Edge Of The World: A Cultural History Of The North Sea And The Transformation Of Europe – Michael Pye

Dark Skies: A Journey Into The Wild Night – Tiffany Francis

Buzz: The Necessity And Nature Of Bees – Thor Hanson

 

Review Books

Chasing the Ghost – Peter Marren

Ness – Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood

Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community and the Meaning of Generosity – Priya Basil

The Many Lives of Carbon – Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

Salvation Lost – Peter F. Hamilton

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novrik

Stealing With The Eyes – Will Buckingham

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific by Robert Dean Frisbie

Irreplaceable: The Fight To Save Our Wild Places by Julian Hoffman

Incandescent – Ann Levin

My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure – Alastair Humphreys

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Blue Mind – Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry – Fred Pearce

Wintering – Stephen Rutt

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili

 

Own Books / Wishful thinking

The White Heron Beneath the Reactor by Gary Budden & Maxim Griffin

As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee – P. D. Murphy

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

Our Endless Numbered Days – Clare Fuller

 

#20BooksOfSummer

Two left to go on this, though as I type this, even British summertime has now gone.

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century by Fred Pearce

 

Any there take your fancy (I know that some have been on previous TBRs!)

Stillicide by Cynan Jones

4 out of 5 stars

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

It is the near future, not that far from where we are now, a place where water has become a scarce commodity

The city demands water, it is bought in on The Water Train and guarded by man and machine against sabotage.

Dry rivers mean that there is not enough water. Icebergs are calved and dragged south. A new Ice Dock is planned and then expanded, it will evict more people than was first thought. The city tenses as the protests start.

In this stark new world, people are trying to live; a marksman whose wife is dying, a woman meeting a lover. A man collecting limpets off the rocks, a boy looking for his brother who is searching for his dog.

All are uncertain about this bleak future.

This short dystopian novella is quite something. Jones writes with surgical precision, twelve short chapters fill in more detail about the harshness of this place through the eyes of his characters. He paints an outline sketch of a society that is on a knife-edge between surviving and failing, whilst still have very human and believable characters.

I thought it was a stunning book and I love the cover too. It has a sense of urgency in the writing. I think because it was conceived for radio first, and the limits of time in that medium, both constrain and liberate his writing.

The Wood by John Stewart Collins

3 out of 5 stars

John Stewart Collins is best known for his book, The Worm Forgives the Plough, which is an account of his time spent working as a farm labourer in the Land Army in Sussex and Dorset. Whilst in Tarrant Hinton, Dorset he was asked to clear and thin an ash wood using only an axe and bill hook.

It was while undertaking these simple and repetitive tasks that he considered the wood around him in the context of the natural world and how being outside daily meant that you could sense the imperceptible change of the seasons throughout the year.

This short volume is an extract from The Worm Forgives the Plough with a focus on the woodland work. I really enjoyed this, as he writes in a very gentle way, enjoying the manual labour while bringing the woodland back to some semblance of order, but his perception of what is happening around his is razor-sharp. Must read his other book at some point.

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