20 Books of Summer 2021

After the truly bloody horrible May that we have had, the past few days of heat and sun have meant that it almost felt like summer. Not convinced it will last though. And as it is summer then it must be time for this challenge once again.

It was dreamt up by Cathy at 746 Books, it is a challenge for bloggers and anyone else and the aim is to try and read through 20 books that are on their TBR. I have tried for the past two years. In the first year, I read 18 and last year I only managed 12. I almost didn’t do it this year, but I like the idea of it and It is good to support another blogger in what they are doing to promote reading. Follow the hashtag #20booksofsummer21 to follow those who are taking part this year.  I like to pick themes normally. Last year it was travel and this year the theme is trying to read through some of the review books that I have had around for way too long. So without further ado, here is my list of books:

An Affair Of The Heart by Dilys Powell

Dilys Powell’s love affair with Greece and the Greeks began on a sun-baked archaeological dig in 1931. Joining her husband the archaeologist Humfry Payne on the remote peninsula of Perachora, she came to know the villagers who laboured on the site, camping beside them year after year, for months at a time.

Despite personal tragedy, the occupation of Greece and civil war, Powell’s affair of the heart continued. She returned time and again through the ’40s and ’50s, and with each visit there was a reconciliation with her idyllic memories of the country. Both with Humfry and without, she explored remote mountains in the company of shepherds, isolated stretches of coast and island with local fishermen and olive-dotted hillsides with the subsistence farmers who worked them. Out of this she has fashioned a gem of a travel book.

 

Wyntertide by Andrew Caldecot

Welcome back to Rotherweird, where an ancient plot centuries in the making is about to come to fruition – and this time the forces of darkness might actually win . . .

The town of Rotherweird has been independent from the rest of England for four hundred years, to protect a deadly secret.

Sir Veronal Slickstone is dead, his bid to exploit that secret consigned to dust, leaving Rotherweird to resume its abnormal normality after the travails of the summer . . . but someone is playing a very long game.

Disturbing omens multiply: a funeral delivers a cryptic warning; an ancient portrait speaks; the Herald disappears – and democracy threatens the uneasy covenant between town and countryside.

Geryon Wynter’s intricate plot, centuries in the making, is on the move.

Everything points to one objective: the resurrection of Rotherweird’s dark Elizabethan past – and to one date: the Winter Solstice.

Wynter is coming

 

The Con Artist by Fred van Lente

This illustrated mystery will appeal to comic book fans and anyone who appreciates an unconventional whodunit.

Comic book artist Mike Mason arrives at San Diego Comic-Con, seeking sanctuary with other fans and creators—and maybe to reunite with his ex—but when his rival is found murdered, he becomes the prime suspect. To clear his name, Mike will have to navigate every corner of the con, from zombie obstacle courses and cosplay flash mobs to intrusive fans and obsessive collectors, in the process unravelling a dark secret behind one of the industry’s most legendary creators.

 

Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History by Sam Maggs

A modern girl is nothing without her squad of besties. But don’t let all the hashtags fool you: the #girlsquad goes back a long, long time. In this hilarious and heartfelt book, geek girl Sam Maggs takes you on a tour of some of history’s most famous female BFFs, including:

• Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the infamous lady pirates who sailed the seven seas and plundered with the best of the men
• Jeanne Manon Roland and Sophie Grandchamp, Parisian socialites who landed front-row seats (from prison) to the French Revolution
• Sharon and Shirley Firth, the First Nations twin sisters who would go on to become Olympic skiers and break barriers in the sport
• The Edinburgh Seven, the band of pals who fought to become the first women admitted to medical school in the United Kingdom
• The Zohra Orchestra, the ensemble from Afghanistan who defied laws, danger, and threats to become the nation’s first all-female musical group

And many more! Spanning art, science, politics, activism, and even sports, these girl squads show just how essential female friendship has been throughout history and throughout the world. Sam Maggs brings her signature wit and warmth as she pays tribute to the enduring power of the girl squad. Fun, feisty, and delightful to read—with empowering illustrations by artist Jenn Woodall—it’s the perfect gift for your BFF.

 

Water Ways: A Thousand Miles Along Britain’s Canals by Jasper Winn

For a hundred and fifty years, between the plod of packhorse trains and the arrival of the railways, canals were the high-tech water machine driving the industrial revolution. Amazing feats of engineering, they carried the rural into the city and the urban into the countryside, and changed the lives of everyone. And then, just when their purpose was extinguished by modern transport, they were saved from extinction and repurposed as a ‘slow highways’ network, a peaceful and countrywide haven from our too-busy age. Today, there are more boats on the canals than in their Victorian heyday.

Writer and slow adventurer Jasper Winn spent a year exploring Britain’s waterways on foot and by bike, in a kayak and on narrowboats. Along a thousand miles of ‘wet roads and water streets’ he discovered a world of wildlife corridors, underground adventures, the hardware of heritage and history, new boating communities, endurance kayak races and remote towpaths. He shared journeys with some of the last working boat people and met the anglers, walkers, boaters, activists, volunteers and eccentrics who have made the waterways their home. In Britain most of us live within five miles of a canal, and reading this book we will see them in an entirely new light.

 

The Night Lies Bleeding by M.D. Lachlan

The world is at war again. London is suffering from the German Blitz. For one immortal werewolf, the war means little. He knows he will soon have to give up his identity once more, begin a new life. Before the wolf emerges.

But a chance conversation leads him to the scene of a gruesome murder, and the realisation that another war is being fought. The runes want to be together, and the when they are the wolf’s story will end.

And in Germany, one weak-willed doctor finds himself caught up in the Third Reich’s fascination with the occult and the Norse myths. They believe that the runes will bring them power, and wish to abuse them for their own ends.

And if they succeed, Ragnarok will come.

 

Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls by Tim Marshall

 

We feel more divided than ever.
This riveting analysis tells you why.

Walls are going up. Nationalism and identity politics are on the rise once more. Thousands of miles of fences and barriers have been erected in the past ten years, and they are redefining our political landscape.

There are many reasons why we erect walls, because we are divided in many ways: wealth, race, religion, politics. In Europe the ruptures of the past decade threaten not only European unity, but in some countries liberal democracy itself. In China, the Party’s need to contain the divisions wrought by capitalism will define the nation’s future. In the USA the rationale for the Mexican border wall taps into the fear that the USA will no longer be a white majority country in the course of this century.

Understanding what has divided us, past and present, is essential to understanding much of what’s going on in the world today. Covering China; the USA; Israel and Palestine; the Middle East; the Indian Subcontinent; Africa; Europe and the UK, bestselling author Tim Marshall presents a gripping and unflinching analysis of the fault lines that will shape our world for years to come.

 

The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist by Tim Birkhead

From the author of Bird Sense, a biography of Francis Willughby, the man who pulled the study of birds out of the dark ages and formed the foundations of modern ornithology.

Francis Willughby lived and thrived in the midst of the rapidly accelerating scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. Travelling with his Cambridge tutor John Ray, they decided to overhaul the whole of natural history by imposing order on its messiness and complexity. It was exhilarating, exacting, and exhausting work. Yet before their first book, Ornithology, could be completed, Willughby died in 1672. Since then, Ray’s reputation has grown, obscuring that of his collaborator. Now, for the first time, Willughby’s story and genius are given the attention they deserve.

In his too-short life, Francis Willughby helped found the Royal Society, differentiated birds through identification of their distinguishing features, and asked questions that were, in some cases, centuries ahead of their time. His discoveries and his approach to his work continue to be relevant–and revelatory-today. Tim Birkhead describes and celebrates how Willughby’s endeavours set a standard for the way birds–and indeed the whole of natural history–should be studied. Rich with glorious detail, The Wonderful Mr Willughby is at once a fascinating insight into a thrilling period of scientific history and an authoritative, lively biography of one of its legendary pioneers.

 

The House of Islam by Ed Husain

‘Islam began as a stranger,’ said the Prophet Mohammed, ‘and one day, it will again return to being a stranger.’

The gulf between Islam and the West is widening. A faith rich with strong values and traditions, observed by nearly two billion people across the world, is seen by the West as something to be feared rather than understood. Sensational headlines and hard-line policies spark enmity, while ignoring the feelings, narratives and perceptions that preoccupy Muslims today.

Wise and authoritative, The House of Islam seeks to provide entry to the minds and hearts of Muslims the world over. It introduces us to the fairness, kindness and mercy of Mohammed; the aims of sharia law, through commentary on scripture, to provide an ethical basis to life; the beauty of Islamic art and the permeation of the divine in public spaces; and the tension between mysticism and literalism that still threatens the House of Islam.

The decline of the Muslim world and the current crises of leadership mean that a glorious past, full of intellectual nobility and purpose, is now exploited by extremists and channelled into acts of terror. How can Muslims confront the issues that are destroying Islam from within, and what can the West do to help work towards that end?

Ed Husain expertly and compassionately guides us through the nuances of Islam and its people, contending that the Muslim world need not be a stranger to the West, nor its enemy, but a peaceable ally.

 

Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age by Fred Pearce

Environmental journalist Fred Pearce travels the globe to investigate our complicated seven-decade long relationship with nuclear technology, from the bomb to nuclear accidents to nuclear waste.

While concern about climate change has led some environmentalists to embrace renewable energy sources like wind and solar, others have expressed a renewed interest in nuclear power as an alternative source of carbon-neutral energy. But can humanity handle the risks involved?
In Fallout, Fred Pearce uncovers the environmental and psychological landscapes created since the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Traveling from Nevada to Japan to the UK to secret sites of the old Soviet Union, he explores first the landscapes transformed by uranium and by nuclear accidents–sites both well-known and little known. He then examines in detail the toxic legacies of nuclear technology, the emerging dilemmas over handling its waste, the decommissioning of the great radioactive structures of the nuclear age, and the fearful doublethink over our growing stockpiles of plutonium, the most lethal and ubiquitous product of nuclear technologies. How, Pearce asks, has the nuclear experience has changed us? Is nuclear technology indeed the existential threat it sometimes appears? Should we be burdening future generations with radioactive waste that will be deadly for thousands of years?
Fallout is the definitive look at humanity’s nuclear adventure, for any reader who craves a clear-headed examination of the tangled relationship between a powerful technology and human politics, foibles, fears, and arrogance.

 

Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion by Humphrey Hawksley

Few territories are as hotly contested as the western Pacific Ocean. Across the 1.5 million square mile expanse of the East and South China Sea, six countries lay overlapping claims that date back centuries. China, Vietnam, Korea and Indonesia assert their right to trade routes, deploying military garrisons to defend disputed territories while Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines resist their expansion. But no single government can face a superpower such as China alone, and as the country extends its reach, less powerful states look to the US for diplomatic mediation creating an American security umbrella that stretches across the Asia-Pacific nicknamed the “American Lake”. These conditions produce an unstable cocktail of competing interests and international tensions poised for conflict.

BBC foreign correspondent Humphrey Hawksley has been following this increasingly precarious situation in East Asia for decades. Reporting on years of political developments, he has witnessed China’s rise to become one of the world’s most powerful trade entities, elbowing smaller markets out in the process. In Asian Waters, Hawksley draws on his experience as a veteran journalist to portray the region in all its complexity and delivers a compelling account of where it is heading. Will China continue to rise to power peacefully or will its ambition prompt a new world war? Will Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan create a multi-lateral alliance similar to NATO to pre-empt further encroachment? Asian Waters delves into these topics and more as Hawksley presents the most comprehensive analysis of the region to date.

 

Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth by Adam Frank

Light of the Stars tells the story of humanity’s coming of age as we awaken to the possibilities of life on other worlds and their sudden relevance to our fate on Earth. Astrophysicist Adam Frank traces the question of alien life and intelligence from the ancient Greeks to the leading thinkers of our own time, and shows how we as a civilization can only hope to survive climate change if we recognize what science has recently discovered: that we are just one of ten billion trillion planets in the Universe, and it’s highly likely that many of those planets hosted technologically advanced alien civilizations. What’s more, each of those civilizations must have faced the same challenge of civilization-driven climate change.

Written with great clarity and conviction, Light of the Stars builds on the inspiring work of pioneering scientists such as Frank Drake and Carl Sagan, whose work at the dawn of the space age began building the new science of astrobiology; Jack James, the Texas-born engineer who drove NASA’s first planetary missions to success; Vladimir Vernadsky, the Russian geochemist who first envisioned the Earth’s biosphere; and James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, who invented Gaia theory. Frank recounts the perilous journey NASA undertook across millions of miles of deep space to get its probes to Venus and Mars, yielding our first view of the cosmic laws of planets and climate that changed our understanding of our place in the universe.

Thrilling science at the grandest of scales, Light of the Stars explores what may be the largest question of all: What can the likely presence of life on other worlds tell us about our own fate?

 

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

Why are we drawn to the ocean each summer? Why does being near water set our minds and bodies at ease? In Blue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols revolutionizes how we think about these questions, revealing the remarkable truth about the benefits of being in, on, under, or simply near water. Grounded in cutting-edge studies in neurobiology, cognitive psychology, economics, and medicine, and made real by stories of innovative scientists, doctors, athletes, artists, environmentalists, businesspeople and lovers of nature – stories that fascinate the mind and touch the heart – Blue Mind will awaken readers to the vital importance of water to the health and happiness of us all.

 

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

In Sapiens, he explored our past. In Homo Deus, he looked to our futureNow, one of the most innovative thinkers on the planet turns to the present to make sense of today’s most pressing issues.

How do computers and robots change the meaning of being human? How do we deal with the epidemic of fake news? Are nations and religions still relevant? What should we teach our children?

Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is a probing and visionary investigation into today’s most urgent issues as we move into the uncharted territory of the future. As technology advances faster than our understanding of it, hacking becomes a tactic of war, and the world feels more polarized than ever, Harari addresses the challenge of navigating life in the face of constant and disorienting change and raises the important questions we need to ask ourselves in order to survive.

In twenty-one accessible chapters that are both provocative and profound, Harari builds on the ideas explored in his previous books, untangling political, technological, social, and existential issues and offering advice on how to prepare for a very different future from the world we now live in: How can we retain freedom of choice when Big Data is watching us? What will the future workforce look like, and how should we ready ourselves for it? How should we deal with the threat of terrorism? Why is liberal democracy in crisis?

Harari’s unique ability to make sense of where we have come from and where we are going has captured the imaginations of millions of readers. Here he invites us to consider values, meaning, and personal engagement in a world full of noise and uncertainty. When we are deluged with irrelevant information, clarity is power. Presenting complex contemporary challenges clearly and accessibly, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is essential reading.

 

The Restless Kings: Henry II, His Sons and the Wars for the Plantagenet Crown by Nick Barratt

In The Restless Kings Nick Barratt presents the tumultuous struggle for supremacy between the first Plantagenet king, Henry II, and his four sons – a drama that tore apart the most powerful family in western Europe and shaped the future of two nations.

As well as exploring the personalities and crises facing these extraordinary people as a family, The Restless Kings follows them as they raced around western Europe, struggling to hold together a vast conglomeration of lands – often through force of arms – whilst constantly harried by the their nominal overlord and arch rival, Philip Augustus, king of France.

Although the key events took place over 800 years ago, their significance still resonates today. Whether you’re looking for the root causes of Brexit or tension in the Middle East, their origins can be found in the actions of the Angevin kings of England.

The Restless Kings will challenge everything you assumed you knew about the medieval world. Above all, it brings to life some of the most remarkable, complex, flawed and brilliant monarchs ever to have sat on the English throne.

 

The Kindness Of Strangers: Travel Stories That Make Your Heart Grow by Ed. Fearghal O’Nuallain

Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer

Travel opens our minds to the world; it helps us to embrace risk and uncertainty, overcome challenges and understand the people we meet and the places we visit. But what happens when we arrive home? How do our experiences shape us?

‘The Kindness of Strangers’ explores what it means to be vulnerable and to be helped by someone we’ve never met before. Someone who could have walked past, but chose not to.

This is a collection of stories by accomplished travellers and adventurous souls like Sarah Outen, Benedict Allen, Ed Stafford and Al Humphreys, who have completed daring journeys through challenging terrain, adventuring from the Calais Jungle to the Amazon, from Land’s End to the Gobi Desert, from New Guinea to Iran and many other places in between. Each has a story to tell of a time when they were vulnerable, when they were in need and a kind stranger came to their rescue.

These are stories that make our hearts grow, stories that will restore our faith in the world and remind us that, despite what the media says, the world isn’t a scary place – rather, it is filled with Kind Strangers just like us.

All royalties go directly to fund Oxfam’s work with refugees.

 

To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Every day, President Obama received ten thousand letters from constituents. Every night, he read ten of them before going to bed. This is the story of the profound ways in which they shaped his presidency.

Every evening for 8 years, at his request, President Obama received a binder containing ten handpicked letters from ordinary American citizens — the unfiltered voice of a nation — from his Office of Presidential Correspondence. He was the first to President to save constituent mail, and this is the story of how those letters affected not only the President and his policies, but also the deeply committed people who were tasked with opening the millions of pleas, rants, thank yous, and apologies that landed in the White House mailroom.

Based on the popular New York Times article, “To Obama,” Laskas now interviews the letter writers themselves and the White House staff who sifted through the powerful, moving, and incredibly intimate narrative of America during the Obama years emerges: There is Kelli, who saw her grandfathers finally marry – legally — after 35 years together; Bill, a lifelong Republican whose attitude toward immigration reform was transformed when he met a boy escaping M-16 gang leaders in El Salvador; Heba, a Syrian refugee who wants to forget the day the tanks rolled into her village; Marjorie, who grappled with disturbing feelings of racial bias lurking within her during the George Zimmerman trial; and Vicki, whose family was torn apart by those who voted for Trump and those who did not.

They wrote to Obama out of gratitude and desperation, in their darkest times of need, in search of connection. They wrote with anger and respect. And together, this chorus of voices achieves a kind of beautiful harmony: here is a diary of a nation. To Obama is an intimate look at one man’s relationship to the American people, and the the intersection of politics and empathy in the White House.

 

The Secret Network of Nature: The Delicate Balance of All Living Things by Peter Wohlleben

Did you know that trees can influence the rotation of the earth?
Or that wolves can alter the course of a river?
Or that earthworms control wild boar populations?

The natural world is a web of intricate connections, many of which go unnoticed by humans. But it is these connections that maintain nature’s finely balanced equilibrium.

Drawing on the latest scientific discoveries and decades of experience as a forester and bestselling author, Peter Wohlleben shows us how different animals, plants, rivers, rocks and weather systems cooperate, and what’s at stake when these delicate systems are unbalanced.

The earth’s ecosystems are too complex for us to compartmentalise and draw up simple rules of cause and effect; but The Secret Network of Nature gives us a chance to marvel at the inner workings and unlikely partnerships of the natural world, where every entity has its own distinct purpose.

And the more light that is shed on relationships between species, the more fascinating nature’s web becomes.

 

What We Have Lost by James Hamilton-Paterson

Between 1939 and 1945, Britain produced around 125,000 aircraft – to take one example – and enormous numbers of ships, motor vehicles, armaments and textiles. We developed radar, antibiotics, the jet engine and the computer. Less than seventy years later, the major industries that had made Britain a global power industrially and militarily, and had employed millions, were dead. These industries had collapsed within a mere three decades. Had they really been doomed, and if so, by what? Can our politicians have been so inept? Was it down to the superior competition of wily foreigners? Or were our rulers culturally too hostile to science and industry?

James Hamilton-Paterson, in this evocation of the industrial world we have lost, analyses the factors that turned us so quickly from a nation of active producers to one of passive consumers and financial middlemen.

 

Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention by Cathy Newman

 

A fresh, opinionated history of all the brilliant women you should have learned about in school but didn’t.

In this freewheeling history of modern Britain, Cathy Newman writes about the pioneering women who defied the odds to make careers for themselves and alter the course of modern history; women who achieved what they achieved while dismantling hostile, entrenched views about their place in society. Their role in transforming Britain is fundamental, far greater than has generally been acknowledged, and not just in the arts or education but in fields like medicine, politics, law, engineering and the military.

While a few of the women in this book are now household names, many have faded into oblivion, their personal and collective achievements mere footnotes in history. We know of Emmeline Pankhurst, Vera Brittain, Marie Stopes and Beatrice Webb. But who remembers engineer and motorbike racer Beatrice Shilling, whose ingenious device for the Spitfires’ Rolls-Royce Merlin fixed an often-fatal flaw, allowing the RAF’s planes to beat the German in the Battle of Britain? Or Dorothy Lawrence, the journalist who achieved her ambition to become a WW1 correspondent by pretending to be a man? And developmental biologist Anne McLaren, whose work in genetics paved the way for in vitro fertilisation?

Were it not for women, significant features of modern Britain like council housing, municipal swimming pools and humane laws relating to property ownership, child custody and divorce wouldn’t exist in quite the same way. Women’s drive and talent for utopian thinking created new social and legislative agendas. The women in these pages blazed a trail from the 1918 Representation of the People Act – which allowed some women to vote – through to Margaret Thatcher’s ousting from Downing Street.

Blending meticulous research with information gleaned from memoirs, diaries, letters, novels and other secondary sources, Bloody Brilliant Women uses the stories of some extraordinary lives to tell the tale of 20th and 21st century Britain. It is a history for women and men. A history for our times.

 

So there we go. Is there any that you’ve read? Or now want to read? Let me know in the comments below

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10 Comments

  1. Cathy746books

    What a great list Paul! Thanks so much for taking part. Best of luck.

    • Paul

      Thank you, Cathy

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Intriguing list! Good luck!

    • Paul

      Thank you, Karen

  3. MarinaSofia

    Quite serious and weighty books there, look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    • Paul

      Indeed. Thank you, Marina

  4. Liz Dexter

    A lovely list! I enjoyed Bloody Brilliant Women (although I HAD heard of quite a lot of them already!) and the Obama one looks fascinating although most of them appeal. Have fun with them! I’ve got quite a meaty pile this month (just published an annotated list) but then only six of them so should manage …

    • Paul

      Thank you, Liz. I will have a look at your post in a mo!

  5. Ellie Warren

    Fallout sounds interesting. I disagreed with Harari a bit on his 21 Lessons book, he seems to have a lot of faith in Big Tech and didn’t really touch on their negative contributions to the world. Some of it is thought provoking though, I just prefer his writing on the past more than his speculations on the future.

    I think I have those books from Quirk lurking on my forgotten review pile somewhere…

    • Paul

      Sorry for the tardy response, Ellie. I missed this coming in! I am more than happy to send Fallout on when I have read it. I wasn’t that keen on Sapiens as I thought a lot of what he was writing about was speculative rather than fact, but though Homo Deus was much better. The Quirk books were unsolicited and not entirely my thing either

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