September. Already?!?! Nights are drawing in and the kids go back to school. 🙂 It is the final year for my eldest as she takes her A Levels next summer! Anyway, you are here for the books. I only managed to read 17 books last month, even though we had a great week’s holiday in Jersey. There were four, yes four, five-star books too. But first, a book prize.
I was fortunate to get an invite to the announcement one of my all-time favourite book prize, the Wainwright Prize. For those of you that don’t know anything about it, it is a book prize that celebrates Uk based books that are focused on the outdoors, travel and natural history of these isles. The book that I wanted to win, The Last Wilderness, didn’t, however, the winner, The Seabirds Cry is another excellent book by a high-quality author.
Really enjoyed going to the event and meeting some of the people that I have only known virtually until now. Also got a big pile of books signed too:
But what I read then. First up was a wonderful book of photographs that were taken by Joan Leigh Fermor and collected into this book with a commentary of her, Patrick and the places and people that they mixed with. This was five stars and if you have read any of his travel books then you need this book in your collection.
I had been fortunate enough to receive all five of the new Jonathan Raban books that the lovely people at Eland are republishing in their distinct covers. First up was Arabia: Through the Looking Glass the first book he wrote. He is a perceptive traveller, keen to venture off the beaten track and explore the places that others seldom venture. I had been intending to read one a month since June and have failed a little, but will be reading the next he published this month.
I and some others run an online book group on Good Reads called Book Vipers. A book of the month a little while back was The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood. This is about three women who are glad to see the back of someone after she dies who has wrecked their marriages and called much misery. Until they see her again and it opens all the old wounds up again. I felt it took a while to get going and the last third of the book did get really good.
I read The Gilded Cage on the ferry over to Jersey. It is set in a modern world where feudal traits still exist, and the elite that governs do so with the help of magic. A family is allocated to another landed family to serve their ten years as slaves, except on is separated and sent to the industrial heartland in the north of the country where the work is much tougher and he is unlikely to survive. But things are changing in the society and what has been for hundreds of years may not remain. Enjoyable and fast-paced.
Granta was kind enough to send me a copy of The Written World a long while ago. This book by Martin Puchner looks at the way that cultures have developed the skills of writing, printing and papermaking and then considers how those skills have affected that society as it bought better literacy and education to the populations. Worth reading, but it is a brief snapshot of literary matters and does not have the time to go into the depth that others may want.
Brexit. The very thought of it makes me shudder, especially give those trying to implement it. My Europe – an anthology is a collection of essays and poems that contemplate our current and future position in the economic and political landscape of the EU. Well worth reading as the authors vary from MPs to poets, immigrants to current residents. It is an interesting selection of points of view.
I had been meaning to read Alastair Reynold’s Poseidon’s Wake for ages, and finally got to it whilst on holiday. It is the final book in the trilogy that began with Blue Remembered Earth and has links back to the same family and intelligent elephants that have been common to all three books. On top of this family saga, is a space opera and alien life and is written as only Reynolds can do. Whilst I enjoyed it, I didn’t think that it was as good as the previous two books in the series.
I was fortunate enough to get a signed proof copy of the debut novel by Kate Mascarenhas, The Psychology of Time Travel. This concern four women who have managed to invent the time machine back in the 1960’s have controlled access to it ever since through the Conclave. All was fine until the body of an unknown woman with bullet wounds is discovered in a cupboard and trying to uncover who she is and who killed her will occupy the latest generation of time travellers at the Conclave. Time travel books are notoriously difficult to get right, but Mascarenhas has deftly managed it with this.
Looking For The Goshawk was the next book that I read, one I had had from the library for a while. (review to come soon). It details Conor Mark Jameson’s passion or borderline obsession with that elusive bird that is the Goshawk. He travels over to Berlin to see them there and travels around his local area and wider in the UK to seek them out. It is a really well written natural history book and can highly recommend.
I have been meaning to read The Gallows Pole for absolutely ages and had even managed to get a copy out of the library. Someone else had reserved it, so decided to have a bit of a Benjamin Myers week starting with this. What a book too, it is the fictional account of the real-life story of the Cragg Vale coiners, a group of men who would clip the coins and melt the clippings down into newly minted coins. This didn’t go down well with the crown and men from London are dispatched to deal with the situation. He has deeply rooted the book in the landscape and he has captured the smells, sights, mud and hardship of just trying to make a living at that time. The prose is a delight to read, poetic, lyrical and visceral, it grips you and drags you into this tale. A brilliant book.
Dee Dee Chainey who has scoured the legends, crept past the giants and kelpies and learnt about the customs and included them in this charming little book. It is a good overview of the weft and weave of folklore that permeates our lives even today. It does lack a little depth, but it is a concise summation of all things folklore. That said, there is an extensive bibliography and references and more importantly a comprehensive list of places to find folklore for those that want to uncover much more about this fascinating subject. I loved the bold woodcut illustrations by Joe McLaren too, they are a certain gravitas to the book.
The next Benjamin Myers book I read was Beastings. This tells the story of a mute girl who one night takes a baby who she is caring for and takes to the hills. She is pursued by the local priest and poacher. It deals with some very dark disturbing themes, as one pair chase the other across the hills and the ending does not pull any punches at all. If you liked the Wasp Factory, this is another book that is as shocking as that. Brilliant.
With the end of the Second World War now over 70 years ago, we are starting to hear of the stories of the individuals affected by this global conflict. Dadland is probably the best known of this genre and another published last month, East of West, West of East joins it. This book tells of the story of Hamish Brown’s family and their time in Japan as war erupted in the Far East and the journey that they made from Japan to Singapore via China and the Philippines when they had to flee. There is also an account of his fathers escape from Singapore to safety. It is a fairly short book and is very much of the moment as it is taken from the letters that his mother sent to his grandmother at the time.
I like fantasy books but don’t read them very often (mostly because of a big pile of non-fiction that I have to read), but The Last Namsara looked really good. It is about Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, who has become a feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari. It is a YA book and has a romance element, something that I am not overly concerned by. However as a debut book, Kristen Ciccarelli, has come up with a well-conceived series with a solid backstory. Looking forward to the next.
My third Benjamin Myers book was his first non-fiction offering and is set where he lives. Carved from the land above Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire, Scout Rock dominates the landscape. Some consider it an unremarkable place, but as Myers explores, the natural world and the landscape of that part of Yorkshire he covers subjects as diverse as political discourse to folklore, industrial music to slugs, asbestos to ravens. Most of all it, this book is about place; that small part of our small country that he has grown to love since moving out of London. All of his this month have been five-star reads.
From rocks to pebbles, now and The Pebbles on the Beach is a reprint of the 1954 classic by Clarence Ellis. It was a book that I never knew about in my childhood, which was a shame as I spent a lot of time alongside a shingle beach in Sussex and this would have been a brilliant book to have. Faber has re-issued this beautifully illustrated reprint with a fantastic fold-out cover shown the pebbles that you are likely to find on the beaches of England.
The final book of August was the charmingly titled F*** You Very Much by Danny Wallace. After a horrendous time in a restaurant that he called the HotDog Incident which descended into a slanging match between him and the person serving, he decided to take a look at how rude we are getting as a nation. He commissions a survey and talks to all sorts of people about our tolerance levels and what is making us less considerate and even confronts someone who trolled him on twitter once. It is a worrying trend and whilst Wallace does not have the answers, reading this should make you think twice before posting a rude reply back to someone.
So that was it really. Any there that you have read and liked, or are there any that you really like the look of? Tell me in the comments. I had a hernia operation on the last day of August and am now signed off recovering and reading for three weeks!