Author: Paul (page 2 of 96)

Be My Guest by Priya Basil

4 out of 5 stars

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

There are five people in my house and as come meal times it is like feeding the 5000. We eat together almost every night, and if I can drag the teenagers away from their phones, we often have conversations about all sorts of things, including politics. It is the hospitality provided over those shared dinners where long term friendships are formed.

Priya Basil has grown up in a family of food fanatics and she probably thinks that it goes way back past her grandmother. She has provided for years for her family, ensuring that all those that sit at her table struggle to get up after. This greed-gene flew in the face of her mothers aim to get her and her sister to sit and eat politely, as every time temptation loomed, she abandoned all that she had learnt, just to eat. When it comes to her mothers kadhi though, she still experiences pure greed.

Recipes are the original open source … You only need to successfully make a recipe once to feel it is your own. Make it three more times and suddenly it’s a tradition.

The etymological origins of the word hospitality are from ghosti; the word hostility also shares these same roots and Basil traces the history of food being used as a weapon against populations to starve them or force them to migrate against their will. Sadly, we are in a time where hostility seems to be on the rise and places where people once looked after each other have become places of tension.

Thankfully, this is a book that concentrates about the shared pleasures of good conversation and even better food. It is also a call to say rather than being selfish, sharing mealtimes with friends and neighbours will help people belong in that community. We can play a part in reducing the friction that seems to be growing, by becoming a generous and selfless host. A slender volume, full of wisdom and is very much worth reading.

My Midsummer Morning by Alastair Humphreys

4 out of 5 stars

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

In the mid-1930s a young man called Laurie Lee arrived in Spain. For most of his life, he had not been out of the village of Slad where he grew up. He had worked for a while in London, but this new country was a revelation. He walked across the country playing his violin to earn a little money to enable him to eat.

Humphreys is an adventurer who has been around the world on a bike (as written about in Moods Of Future Joys and Thunder and Sunshine), crossed seas and deserts and many other things. He has also pioneered the micro-adventure, which is a small and cheap adventure that still pushes your boundaries and get you out into the wider world. But since getting married, having kids and ending up with something that he never would get, a mortgage, he was missing the challenge of something bigger.

Lee’s simple travel has long inspired others, including Alastair, and he had the idea of doing a modern-day version of the same trip discovering inland Spain and sleeping out under the stars. But he needed a violin first. Oh, and more importantly, some lessons to be able to play it and earn some money. He finds a teacher online who declares her musical inspiration to be heavy metal and classical and heads to a music shop and buys the cheapest instrument that he can find. Arriving for his first lesson he discovers an Australian lady who has a very different life to his, he has seven months to learn how to play. The first screeches send shivers down his spine; it was then it dawned on him that he might not earn enough to eat!

A few months later Humphreys was sitting on the harbour wall in the port of Vigo, in northwest Spain. It was time for the adventure to begin. He left his small pile of change on the bench to ensure that he knew he was starting with absolutely nothing as he began his walk. Later on that day he would hopefully earn the first money of his walk…

This is the fourth of Humphreys books that I have read now and like all of his others, it is an enjoyable read. He finds the Spanish people warm and generous and falls in love with the country. He swims in rivers, suffers the heat of the day, helps a postman deliver letters in exchange for a lift as he wanders from the coast to Madrid before heading south. I liked the way he links his trip back to Lee’s journey AS I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. The Spain that Humphreys is walking through though is a very different country than that of the 1930s which was teetering on the brink of a civil war.

It is not a superhuman effort like his cycle trip, but he does push his own boundaries by playing the violin to earn his keep. He thinks the world of his wife and children, but this book and walk is as much about his need to be out there doing something. Getting that balance between responsibility and adventure is very difficult and he is striving to find that in here. I must admit that I have resisted the temptation to go and watch the videos of Humphreys playing his violin though…

Tempest – Editors Anna Vaught & Anna Johnson

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

If you have looked at the news recently you’d realise that we are in a time of political turmoil; Brexit dominates everything in the national conversation, other urgent matters about the climate and the social malaise of the country are falling by the wayside as we get more and more introspective. I am one of those who has taken to skimming the weekend papers and generally avoiding the news as it is just so depressing.

There are others though who see that this time is an opportunity to explore a post-Brexit Britain, and Tempest is a collection of poetry, short stories and articles that contemplate a time after. Some of these stories were from a dystopian and science fiction perspective, which as a fan of that sort of material was good to read.

I really liked some of them, in particular, We should Own the stars, Nature and Culture and The Carp Whisperer. As with any collection like this, there were the odd one or two that didn’t work for me. But then the idea of these collections is to bring your attention to authors who you may not have known about and to hear viewpoints that you wouldn’t normally hear in your regular media consumption. I must say though that the cover is by an artist called Roz Strauss and it is stunning. Solid little collection.

Chasing the Ghost by Peter Marren

4 out of 5 stars

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

Midlife affects all sort of people differently, some buy a motorbike or a swish two-seater sports car. Other have more adventurous plans, travel to exotic or remote places, or decide to throw themselves out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane and skydive. Peter Marren wanted to do something to mark his 50th, but considerable less onerous and dangerous. He did enjoy spending time rooting about in ditches and hedges, walking through woodlands, and occasional falling over in the search for all the plants of the UK.

So far he had found 1,400 of them, but there were still an elusive 50 that he was yet to clap eyes on, including the almost mythical Ghost Orchid, a plant so rare that it hadn’t been seen in the wild since 2010. This journey would take him backwards and forwards across the British Isles from Sussex to Cornwall, Norfolk to the Inner Hebrides, searching for ultra-rare plants that are wonderfully named, such as the Slender Naiad, Creeping Spearwort, Leafless Hawk’s Beard and the Few-Flowered Fumitory. On a lot of his trips, he is joined by friends and experts to assist in the search or to provide that detailed knowledge of the exact location where these plants are.

His enthusiasm for his small green subjects is compelling. He does mention a couple of personal matters in the book, as seems to be the habit these days. However, this is a very well written book one man’s search for some of our rarest plants, but more importantly, it is also a reminder that all of our natural world is under threat, not just the headline species. Thought it was interesting that the Plantlife, who is the organisation who carries out similar work to the RSPB but for plants, have a fraction of the membership of that organisation. Seems like they need our support as much as the others. It is a timely reminder to look all around you when out and about, not just at the thing that you went to see. If you like this then I’d recommend The Orchid Hunter by Leif Bersweden and Orchid Summer by Jon Dunn.

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

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