Category: Blog Tour (page 1 of 3)

Under the Rock by Ben Myers

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Under the Rock by Benjamin Myers and published by Elliott and Thompson.

 

About the Book

In Under the Rock, Benjamin Myers, the novelist perhaps best known for The Gallows Pole, winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018, returns to the rugged landscape of the Calder Valley in a bold and original exploration of nature and literature.

The focus of his attention is Scout Rock, a steep crag overlooking Mytholmroyd, where the poet Ted Hughes grew up. In solitude, Ben Myers has been exploring this wooded ten acre site for over a decade and his Field Notes, scribbled in situ are threaded between sections entitled Wood, Earth, Water and Rock. Taking the form of poetry, these Field Notes are “lines and lists lifted from the landscape, narrative screen-grabs of a microcosmic world that are correspondent to places or themes explored elsewhere, or fleeting flash-thoughts divined through the process of movement”.

 

About the Author

BENJAMIN MYERS was born in Durham in 1976. He is a prize-winning author, journalist and poet. His recent novels are each set in a different county of northern England and are heavily inspired by rural landscapes, mythology, marginalised characters, morality, class, nature, dialect and post- industrialisation. They include The Gallows Pole, winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and recipient of the Roger Deakin Award; Turning Blue, 2016; Beastings,2014 (Portico Prize For Literature & Northern Writers’ Award winner),Pig Iron, 2012 (Gordon Burn Prize winner & Guardian Not The Booker Prize runner-up); and Richard, a Sunday Times Book of the Year 2010. Bloomsbury will publish his new novel, The Offing, in August 2019.

As a journalist, he has written widely about music, arts and nature. He lives in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, the inspiration for Under the Rock.

 

My Review

For a lot of people landscape is something they travel through or past, barely acknowledging it in the maelstrom of modern life, unless it is something spectacular. Hathershelf Scout above the Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd is one of those places that most would consider unremarkable. It lacks some of the photogenic qualities of the dales, has been a place where criminals and coin clippers hid in the 18th Century, has a drawn for those with suicidal thoughts was once a tip and hides a lethal secret.

However, Benjamin Myers would disagree. Not only is it his home patch of landscape, but he can walk through tangled woods that lead up onto a crag that has its own stark beauty, its brooding gritstone seeping into his psyche as he uncovers the geological and personal histories of the place that run deep into the bedrock. Entwined with the landscape that he walks every day he can, he starts to discover that the remarkable exists in the mundane and ordinary, the imperceptible daily changes that slowly build to make the seasons feel like they have arrived in a rush.

His writing is split into the four elements that make up the view he can from his window, wood, water, earth and rock and he uses these to explore all manner of other subjects as he walks with his dog, Heathcliff. Nothing escapes his gaze or thought process, he considers the invasive species alongside the natural, acknowledges the life of the animals that cross his path as much as their deaths. History is as important to him as the modern political issues of the day. He swims regularly in the wild and shockingly cold waters in the local pools and plays a part in helping in the community with the floods in 2015 when Mytholmroyd partially disappeared beneath the brown waters of the River Calder after days of rain and watches as a landslide takes a sizable chunk of the hillside away. It doesn’t stop him exploring though as he snags his coat on the keep out sign as he climbs over the fence.

It is a difficult book to characterise as it encompasses so much within its pages. It is as much about the natural world and the landscape of that part of Yorkshire and Myers 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. I have read two of his other books, Beastings and The Gallows Pole, just before I got to this one and I found his writing in those captivating. This is no different, his mastery of the language means that you feel you are alongside him as he looks out over the valley, or clambering up the same path behind him as the water runs down through the rock. I really liked the Field Notes at the end of each section, these are short and elemental poems as well as a small number of black and white photos that add so much to the rest of the book. If you have read Strange Labyrinth or 21st Century Yokel then this should be added to your reading list. Brilliant book and highly recommended.

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  Alison and Elliott and Thompson for the copy of the book to read.

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein and published by Text Publishing.

 

About the Book

Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society’s most in-need people. 

Sandra Pankhurst founded her trauma cleaning business to help people whose emotional scars are written on their houses. From the forgotten flat of a drug addict to the infested home of a hoarder, Sandra enters properties and lives at the same time. But few of the people she looks after know anything of the complexity of Sandra’s own life. Raised in an uncaring home, Sandra’s miraculous gift for warmth and humour in the face of unspeakable personal tragedy mark her out as a one-off.

This is a truly unique book, taking the humanity of S-Town, the beauty of H Is for Hawk and the sensitivity of When Breath Becomes Air to create something of startling originality. 

 

About the Author

Photo: Gina Milicia

Sarah Krasnostein is a writer and a lawyer with a doctorate in criminal law. A fourth generation American and a third generation Australian, she has lived and worked in both countries. She lives in Melbourne and spends part of the year working in New York City. The Trauma Cleaner is her first book.

 

My Review

 

Peter was adopted by his parents after Bill and Ailsa lost a child. When she conceived again and had two more boys, they moved Peter from the family home to a shed in the garden. He was rarely fed and expected to be a slave to the family and beaten by his father regularly for no reason at all. The torment and abuse continue until he is seventeen and then he is thrown out. Two years later he has met and is married to Linda and shortly after they have two boys themselves.

Peter had always felt different from other boys, and being out of the pressure zone that was his previous home meant he managed to stop surviving and begin living. He began frequenting gay bars and wearing makeup. It had never even crossed his mind that he might be trans, but when he heard that you could take drugs to enable the transfer to a female, he began as soon as he could. One thing led to another, he split from Linda and ended up as a prostitute. As soon as he was able to he had the operation and became fully female, something that she thought she would never be able to do.

After a few years working nights in the oldest profession, Sandra was brutally raped with another prostitute and made the decision to get out of the trade before it killed her. She ended up in a funeral directors, then a hardware store with her new husband and then went onto a cleaning company before starting her own business. The story of Sandra’s life is told hand in hand with the stories of the homes and people that she helps out every week cleaning up after trauma victims and helping those whose homes and lives have become unmanageable. After a lifetime of being on the edge of society, she is now helping those who have not been able to help themselves.

It really is not a book to read when you’re eating your lunch as the descriptions that Krasnostein has of the home being cleaned after deaths and suicides can be pretty grim. But this is true life and these things do not fix themselves, but require people with courage and industrial cleaning chemicals to fix. Pankhurst is one remarkable lady, even after a horrendous childhood and working in the prostitution trade she has an amazing amount of empathy for all of her clients when she is asked to clean and clear homes, treating them with a firm attitude whilst respecting their dignity. This is not going to be for everyone, but if you want to have a no holds barred look at a part of society that almost everyone will be unaware of then this is a one to read.

 

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 The Wellcome Prize and Midas PR for the copy of the book to read.

The Point of Poetry by Joe Nutt

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for The Point of Poetry by Joe Nutt and published by Unbound.

About the Book

What’s the point of poetry? It’s a question asked in classrooms all over the world, but it rarely receives a satisfactory answer. Which is why so many people, who read all kinds of books, never read poetry after leaving school.

Exploring twenty-two works from poets as varied as William Blake, Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove and Hollie McNish, this book makes the case for what poetry has to offer us, what it can tell us about the things that matter in life. Each poem is discussed with humour and refreshing clarity, using a mixture of anecdote and literary criticism that has been honed over a lifetime of teaching.

Poetry can enrich our lives, if we’ll let it. The Point of Poetry is the perfect companion for anyone looking to discover how.

 

About the Author

Joe Nutt’s writing career really began when he published an essay on Anthony Powell as a postgraduate student at The University of Warwick, (after his tutor had graded it B) and then followed that up by winning first prize in the university’s short story competition. His academic books are used by some of the leading schools in the UK but he is saddened at the way so many other schools shy away from great literature. He has written a fortnightly column for the Times Educational Supplement since 2015 and articles for The Spectator, Spiked and Areo magazines

 

My Review

If you’d have asked me what’s the point of poetry at the age of sixteen you would have got a very different answer than I would give now. My English teach of the time had managed to almost put the entire class off reading and it would be a very long time before I even though about picking up a book of poems. In the end, I came back to poetry a couple of decades later via a circuitous route. Some of my favourite books on the natural world have been by authors who are best known as poets, such as Kathleen Jamie and Paul Farley, and it was the desire to read more by them led me to pick up their poetry books. From those small re-beginnings, I have made a conscious effort to read at least one poetry book a month now.

Joe Nutt is well placed to reignite a love for poetry in other people, as his love for it has been honed over a lifetime of teaching it to others. In this book, he considers twenty-two poems, taking a chapter to concentrate on a specific poem. There are some really famous ones in here, such as The Tyger by William Blake and Adlestrop by Edward Thomas as well others that are less well known, such as The Gun by Vicki Feaver. So I had heard of, but most of them I hadn’t come across before at all, nor read. He takes each poem and breaks it down into manageable sections before analysing those parts and drawing out exactly what the poet was trying to do. Thankfully he doesn’t go into endless detail, but his pointers will help you get the maximum out of the poem.

Each of the poems he has selected build towards the final two that he considers the two best written in the English language, The Prelude by William Wordsworth and Paradise Lost by John Milton. With these, he encourages you to use the techniques for gaining deeper meaning that he explained throughout the book with the other poems and get you to apply them to these. I liked having the single chapter per poem, it works well and you can dip in as you want. It is good to have poems that he loved in there as well as ones that he was not so keen on. Poets have a way of cramming so much meaning into so few words and overall I thought this was worth reading, to have someone explain just what the poet had in mind as they pulled the words onto the page.

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 Anne Cater from Random Things through my Letterbox for arranging this and to Unbound for a copy of the book to read.

Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne and published by Tinder Press. This was one of the books longlisted for the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize 2019.

 

About the Book

For Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf, growing up under the towers of Stones Estate, summer means what it does anywhere: football, music, freedom. But now, after the killing of a British soldier, riots are spreading across the city, and nowhere is safe.

While the fury swirls around them, Selvon and Ardan remain focused on their own obsessions, girls and grime. Their friend Yusuf is caught up in a different tide, a wave of radicalism surging through his local mosque, threatening to carry his troubled brother, Irfan, with it.

Provocative, raw, poetic yet tender, In Our Mad And Furious City marks the arrival of a major new talent in fiction.

 

About the Author

Guy Gunaratne was born in North West London and has lived in Berlin, Helsinki, San Francisco and Malmö, Sweden. He has worked as a designer, documentary filmmaker and as a video journalist covering post-conflict areas around the world. He co-founded two technology companies and has given public talks on new media, storytelling and human rights issues globally. He now lives in London with his wife and two beautiful cats.

 

My Review

It was supposed to be like every summer they could remember, hanging out, football, freedom and music. But an off duty soldier has just been murdered and the tension in the air is palpable. The anger in the area is spilling over into riots. Selvon and Ardan are wary of what is going on around them, but their friend, Yusuf, is starting to get caught up in the rise of radicalism in his own mosque. Worryingly, his brother is falling for the rhetoric from the Imam. Watching from the sidelines are the emigres, Caroline from Ireland and Nelson from West India. They and their children, Arden an aspiring rapper and Selvon who is trying to run his way out of the estate.

The bonds that have been forged between the youngsters as they played football and grew up together are going to be stretched to the maximum as the tension builds in the community. A march has been arranged by a right-wing group through the estate, something is going to snap soon, who will survive the coming maelstrom.

Gunaratne’s debut novel has drawn on recent and past events from London’s story of immigration and inner-city estates and is both raw and simmering with tension. It pulses with the language from the street, which did take a while to get the hang of, but added authenticity that fits the backdrop perfectly. Setting the plot over the course of two days works really well too, the pace is relentless with short chapters as the story is told from multiple perspectives. He holds a mirror up to recent events, not to criticise our modern society, but to ask searching questions about why the tensions are there in the first place. Well worth reading as a sparkling contemporary novel.

 

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

 

 

This is one of the books longlisted for the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize.  Do also take a look at the website here for more information

Recognised for its celebration of experimental and challenging young voices in contemporary writing, this year’s longlist highlights more than ever the challenging world we live by tackling head on difficult topics – including domestic violence, mental health, rape, racism, gender and identity.

This year’s longlist of 12 books comprises eight novels, two short story collections and two poetry collections:

  • Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Friday Black (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (US) and Riverrun (UK))
  • Michael Donkor, Hold (4th Estate)
  • Clare Fisher, How the Light Gets In (Influx Press)
  • Zoe Gilbert, Folk (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Emma Glass, Peach ((Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Guy Gunaratne, In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press, Headline)
  • Louisa Hall, Trinity (Ecco)
  • Sarah Perry, Melmoth (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Sally Rooney, Normal People (Faber & Faber)
  • Richard Scott, Soho (Faber & Faber)
  • Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, House of Stone (Atlantic Books)
  • Jenny Xie, Eye Level (Graywolf Press)

 

Don’t forget to buy this and any of the other books at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Agnes at Midas PR for sending me a copy of the book to read.

Blog Tour – 21st-Century Yokel by Tom Cox

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for 21st Century Yokel by Ton Cox and published by Unbound.

 

21st-Century Yokel is not quite nature writing, not quite a family memoir, not quite a book about walking, not quite a collection of humorous essays, but a bit of all five.

Thick with owls and badgers, oak trees and wood piles, scarecrows and ghosts, and Tom Cox’s loud and excitable dad, this book is full of the folklore of several counties – the ancient kind and the everyday variety – as well as wild places, mystical spots and curious objects. Emerging from this focus on the detail are themes that are broader and bigger and more important than ever.

Tom’s writing treads a new path, one that has a lot in common with a rambling country walk; it’s bewitched by fresh air and big skies, intrepid in minor ways, haunted by weather and old stories and the spooky edges of the outdoors, restless and prone to a few detours, but it always reaches its destination in the end.

 

 

Tom Cox has written ten books, including The Good, The Bad And The Furry, which was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. This one,  21st Century Yokel, was described The Guardian as “a rich, strange, oddly glorious brew” and was longlisted for the Wainwright Nature Writing prize. His newest, Help The Witch, is a collection of sort-of-ghost stories-which draw on folklore and the power of landscape. He often works in collaboration with his mother, Jo, who is an artist and printmaker and whose prints have featured in his books. When not writing, he is usually reading, mooching about in a secondhand record shop or bookshop or swimming or walking somewhere out in the elements in the South West Of The UK, where I have lived for most of the last five years.

 

My Review

The facets that make up our character are drawn from many sources; our DNA, our family, our culture, our history and as Tom Cox argues in this book, the places where you grow up that can define you as much as these other things. The way that Cox recommends that immerse yourself in the local landscape is to walk through the lanes and paths, climb the hills and the stiles, take in the views and soak up the natural world at walking pace.

The blurb on the cover says: It’s not quite a nature book, not quite a humour book, not quite a family memoir, not quite folklore, not quite social history, not quite a collection of essays, but a bit of all six. But there is a lot more in this book than that; crammed into the covers of the book. He is captivated by all sorts of things that he encounters on his strolls, from bees to beavers, scarecrows to owls and even his cats make an appearance a few times. Keeping his sanity by taking longs walks in the country around his Devon home gives him plenty of time to consider the world. All of the subjects he tackles begin with a narrow focus, before becoming wider ranging and for me, much more interesting.

He is fascinated equally by the ghosts of the past as he concerned by the future of the countryside, but what makes 21st Century such a really good book is that it defies categorisation. Part of this reason behind this is because Cox writes about what he wants to without following any set agenda, and partly this is because this reflects modern life and all its distractions where you start on one project, get distracted by something else, wander off to get an item and arrive back four hours later wondering why you were starting that in the first place. Because of this, the book feels fresh and interesting, it has its poignant moments, the chapter on scarecrows is really quite creepy and is a great example of modern folklore, His VERY LOUD DAD makes me laugh every time he appears in the narrative too. This rich and varied book is not quite many things, but one thing it is, is fantastic.

 

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

 

 

Don’t forget to 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 Anne Cater at  Random Things through my Letterbox for arranging this.

Tom Cox can be found here online

Unbound, a publisher redefining how the industry works can be found here

 

 

 

The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell Blog Tour

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for the first stop on the Blog Tour for The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell and published by Michael O’Mara Books.

About the Book

Emma Mitchell has suffered with depression – or as she calls it, ‘the grey slug’ – for twenty-five years. In 2003, she moved from the city to the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens and began to take walks in the countryside around her new home, photographing, collecting and drawing as she went. Each walk lifted her mood, proving to be as medicinal as any talking therapy or pharmaceutical.
In Emma’s hand-illustrated diary, she takes us with her as she follows the paths and trails around her cottage and further afield, sharing her nature finds and tracking the lives of local flora and fauna over the course of a year. Reflecting on how these encounters impact her mood, Emma’s moving and candid account of her own struggles is a powerful testament to how reconnecting with nature may offer some answers to today’s mental health epidemic. While charting her own seasonal highs and lows, she also explains the science behind such changes, calling on new research into such areas as forest bathing and the ways in which our bodies and minds respond to plants and wildlife when we venture outdoors.
Written with Emma’s characteristic wit and frankness, and filled with her beautiful drawings, paintings and photography, this is a truly unique book for anyone who has ever felt drawn to nature and wondered about its influence over us.

 

About the Author

Emma is an ex-biologist, naturalist, workshop-teacher, designer-maker, illustrator, mum, baker, gardener and keeper of guinea pigs. She shares her nature diaries and the things she makes on Instagram. Sometimes she likes to pretend I’m a Victorian museum curator with a massive crinoline and stovepipe hat.

 

My Review

Depression is a horrid illness that can thrive unseen in the people around us. Unless they are a very close friend or family member, it is only as the person suffering reaches the very limit of what they can tolerate that most of us come aware of their suffering. Emma Mitchell is one of those who has suffered from depression for over two decades. Sixteen years ago she moved from the city to the edge of the fens with the hope of overcoming ‘the grey slug’ as she has named her depression in her new environment. However, just over a year ago, it was back with a vengeance and it took her to one of her lowest points ever, right to the edge of the abyss.

This is her story of how she came back from that place with the help of her family and friends, her dog, Annie and most of all, the natural world. She is searingly honest in her account of the lowest points in her battle with the illness as she almost became a hermit. As she gains the courage to head outside once again, the healing power of nature combined with the medicine that she was taking begun to lift her out of her gloom.

Her journey back to better health was not without struggle, some days were much better and other days were bleak. As the days lengthen she begins to take longer walks with Annie, heads out with a friend to attempt to find glow worms or out to try and see a murmuration at dusk one night. Each sighting of one of the local flora and fauna such as an owl or butterfly raises her spirits little by little.

She has an eye for the inherent beauty in nature and this is what makes this an utterly glorious book. It is full of her own art sketches and photographs of the beautiful things that she has discovered as she goes out and about around her local area. But there is much more to it than this, through her recovery she is proving what science is confirming now, that we need exposure to the natural world for our essential and deep-rooted well being.

 

Getting out and about in the Natural World

So how do you go about getting rediscovering nature? You don’t need to book a train ticket on the overnight sleeper to Scotland, nor do you need to spend vast sums of money on kit. The first thing to do is to find where your nearest area for wildlife is here, here or here. Or head to the coast, still some of our wildest landscapes around if you are prepared to go beyond the arcades. There are also books with suggested places to visit, such as Wild and Free by Dominic Couzens or Where to See Wildlife in Britain and Ireland by Christopher Somerville.

If all else fails head to your local park, there will be trees, grass and you will probably get to see some birds and squirrels there. The important thing is to head outside away from the distraction of the screens. All the way through Emma’s book there are lists, photos and sketches of things that she finds month by month. There are some on the list below that you might be able to find when you are out and about:


I am fortunate where I live that we have a lot of coast and countryside right on our doorstep.  I can walk down to the River Stour in about 10 to 15 minutes and be in a landscape that is immediately calming. I will almost always see a mallard or swan down there and occasionally there are kingfishers and I have been fortunate enough see an otter too. Having chosen where you want to go, pop on some sensible shoes and head out the door. Even 10 minutes spent near something natural will help.

For those interested in the science behind the recent discoveries of the impact of nature on our well being then I would recommend reading The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Not only is it a brilliant read, but she clearly explains what the benefits are from spending time in the woods and includes lots of examples and case studies with solid evidence. For those wanting to improve their engagement with the natural world, I can also recommend reading Rewild Yourself by Simon Barnes. In here he has 23 different ideas on practical things that you can do to ensure that you get the most of being outdoors.

 

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

Do 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 Alara and Bethany at Michael O’Mara books for a copy of the Wild Remedy

Emma Mitchell can be found on Twitter here and her website is here

The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt by Sarah Armstrong

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt by Sarah Armstrong and published by Sandstone Press.

Blurb:

Escaping failure as an undergraduate and a daughter, not to mention bleak 1970s England, Martha marries Kit – who is gay. Having a wife could keep him safe in Moscow in his diplomatic post. As Martha tries to understand her new life and makes the wrong friends, she walks straight into an underground world of counter-espionage.

Out of her depth, Martha no longer knows who can be trusted

Sarah Armstrong is the author of The Insect Rosary and The Devil in the Snow. Her short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies, and she teaches undergraduate and postgraduate creative writing with the Open University. Sarah lives in Colchester with her husband and four children.


It is 1973 and the don’s at Cambridge have decided that they don’t like Martha doing any work towards her degree. When she was caught handing out left-wing political leaflets though, that was the final straw and she was cast out from the university. Her very middle-class parents are embarrassed, especially given the position her father has within the smoke and mirrors of the secret service and decide that she must follow their orders from now on. They line her up for a job as a teacher where she cannot get into trouble or shame them anymore.

To escape from their claustrophobic clutches she hatches a plan with a good friend, Kit. He is just about to be posted to Moscow as a junior diplomat and needs a companion. Unbeknown to both families, Kit is gay and he is hoping that Martha’s presence will deflect suspicion about his sexuality.  Their families agree to the marriage and shortly after they are off to the USSR.

The UK seems quite pleasant when compared to 1970’s Russia. They are allocated a basic apartment as well as a maid, a driver and Martha is provided a Russian teacher to help her with the language. There were no maps of the city that were any use so she began to make her own as she walked around the streets, always followed by the KGB. Martha gets used to being followed, finding them easy to spot.

She makes a few friends and starts to mix with the wives of the other men from the embassy. Goes to the opera and cinema and takes another lady’s son out to give her a break. Preferring to continue with her independent streak, she also befriends Eva, who whilst is British, is very much out of favour with the embassy. Her actions are starting to get her noticed and not just by the Russians, she comes home to find the bin contents removed and the beds messed up. But things really start to unravel when she is asked to pass an envelope on to someone.

In Russia, there is no such thing as a coincidence…

Rather than hearing another story of daring do and action, this is about the people that were equally affected by the hostile environment in the Soviet state. Armstrong builds this atmospheric spy thriller and takes us back to the height of the cold war in the 1970s. She builds the subtle relationships between the women well and explores just how the tension of being there eventually affects everyone to a greater or lesser degree. It is a solid, well-crafted plot and paced just right to build the unease in the reader.


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

Don’t forget to 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 Ceris at Sandstone for the copy of the book and to Ruth Killick for the opportunity to be on the blog tour.

 

The Wellcome Book Prize 10th Anniversary Blog Tour

Welcome to Halfman, Half Book, I am Paul Cheney. This is the first stop on the 10th Anniversary Blog Tour for the Wellcome Book Prize. Launched in 2009, the prize celebrates the best new books that engage with an aspect of medicine, health or illness, showcasing the breadth and depth of our encounters with medicine through exceptional works of literature. These exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction illuminate the many ways that health, medicine and illness touch our lives. Over the last decade, the prize has recognised an eclectic variety of titles from novels to memoirs to popular science. In 2019, the prize will celebrate this legacy and this extraordinary genre of books that add new meaning to life, death and everything in between.

Today I am going to be highlighting one of the books from 2009, the first year that the prize ran, Tormented Hope. First, though I will be talking about, Illness by Havi Carel.

What is illness? Is it a physiological dysfunction, a social label, or a way of experiencing the world? How do the physical, social, and emotional worlds of a person change when they become ill? Can there be well-being within illness?

In this remarkable and thought-provoking book, Havi Carel explores these questions by weaving together the personal story of her own illness with insights and reflections drawn from her work as a philosopher. Carel’s fresh approach to illness raises some uncomfortable questions about how we all – whether healthcare professionals or not – view the ill, challenging us to become more thoughtful. Illness unravels the tension between the universality of illness and its intensely private, often lonely, nature. It offers a new way of looking at a matter that affects every one of us.

Revised and updated throughout, the third edition of this groundbreaking volume includes a new chapter on organ transplantation. Illness: The Cry of the Flesh will prove essential reading to those studying philosophy, medical ethics, and medical anthropology, as well as those in the healthcare and medical professions. It will also be of interest to individuals who live with illness, and their friends and families.

My Review:

However, there are those that have long term, debilitating and life-shortening illnesses that affect them and their families in a multitude of ways. How does society as a whole consider those that are ill and how should we as individuals treat those that are ill.

Havi Carel is well placed to consider the impact of illness on an individual and the wider implications in society in her position as Professor of Philosophy at Bristol and as a long term sufferer of Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). This is a rare, progressive and systemic disease that typically results in cystic lung destruction and affects younger women.

Using the intimate knowledge of her own illness from when she began to realise that there was something wrong in 2004, learning about the illness with her father there, to details on the medical treatments that she needed. She is open about how some friends, family and medical practitioners have treated her since the diagnosis and when their care has succeeded and when it hasn’t. With the finely honed gaze of a philosopher and through the prism of phenomenology she is best placed to understand how and why people do the things that they do.

It is quite a profound book in lots of ways. Carel explores from a very personal perspective the feeling and emotions that come with severe and long term debilitating illness and gets to the very crux of the matter on how we need to treat those in those long term illnesses. Some of the more esoteric philosophy I didn’t really get the first time, so it will be worth a second read again on those sections. In my opinion, this is a brilliant companion volume to the book by Kathryn Mannix that was shortlisted last year, With The End In Mind, that explores different and more empathetic ways to treat people as they reach the end of their life.


Another book on the shortlist in 2009 was, Tormented Hope. 

In this, Brian Dillon looks at nine prominent hypochondriacs – James Boswell, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Daniel Paul Schreber, Alice James, Marcel Proust, Glenn Gould and Andy Warhol – and what their lives tell us about the way the mind works with, and against, the body. His findings are stimulating and surprising, and the stories he tells are often moving, sometimes hilarious, and always gripping. With a new afterword on Michael Jackson.

Brian Dillon’s first book, In the Dark Room, won the Irish Book Award for Non-fiction in 2006. He lives in Canterbury.

Please do come back later for a review of this book and thank you for stopping by today


Do find the other blogs and book lovers on social media as they talk about the books that have made the shortlists over the past decades

Find out more about the prize and the Wellcome Trust here: wellcomebookprize.org

Follow the hashtag too: #WBP2019

WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE 2019 

The longlist for the prize will be announced in February, the shortlist in march and the winner announced in April. Really looking forward to seeing what makes it on this year.

Elif Shafak, the award-winning author, is chair of the Wellcome Book Prize 2019 and is joined on the panel by Kevin Fong, consultant anaesthetist at University College London Hospitals; Viv Groskop, writer, broadcaster and stand-up comedian; Jon Day, writer, critic, and academic; and Rick Edwards, broadcaster and author.

 

 

The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare

The Blurb

As November stubs out the glow of autumn and the days tighten into shorter hours, winter’s occupation begins. Preparing for winter has its own rhythms, as old as our exchanges with the land. Of all the seasons, it draws us together. But winter can be tough.

It is a time of introspection, of looking inwards. Seasonal sadness; winter blues; depression – such feelings are widespread in the darker months. But by looking outwards, by being in and observing nature, we can appreciate its rhythms. Mountains make sense in any weather. The voices of a wood always speak consolation. A brush of frost; subtle colours; days as bright as a magpie’s cackle. We can learn to see and celebrate winter in all its shadows and lights.

In this moving and lyrical evocation of a British winter and the feelings it inspires, Horatio Clare raises a torch against the darkness, illuminating the blackest corners of the season, and delving into memory and myth to explore the powerful hold that winter has on us. By learning to see, we can find the magic, the light that burns bright at the heart of winter: spring will come again.

About the Author

Horatio Clare was born in London, but grew up on a hill farm in the Black Mountains of South Wales. He went to Malvern College and then read English at the University of York. From there he ended up at the BBC, on Front Row on Radio 4 and then Night Waves and The Verb on Radio 3. He has written numerous books including some for children, two memoirs, three travel books, a couple of natural history and travel combined, edited a book on Sicily and now this very personal book about Winter. His writing has appeared in all of the broadsheets and elsewhere. On top of all that he is Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveller and a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University.

My Review

5 out of 5 stars

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

For me, each season has its highlights, the freshness and vitality of spring, the balmy days of summer, the quality of the autumn light and crisp days of winter. However, for others, not every season is loved equally and winter for some is the toughest season. Days are short, often gloomy cold and wet and it becomes a time when people feel at their lowest ebb. These pensive moments can lead to depression and long-term mental health issues.

Horatio Clare is one of those who suffers from this seasonal woe. This diary of his thoughts, feelings and fears written from mid-October, that time of the year as the nights draw into the 20th March, the spring equinox. In this diary, he is open and brutally honest about how the darkest part of the year affects him, how when he is teaching at John Moores University the words that would come naturally to him are scarce. Calder Valley, where he lives has a high suicide rate, attributed to a feeling that there is no way out and his very bleakest moments hurt his relationships with his loved ones.

Thin wisps of bird song come through bare woods and I am aware of gathering every sign of life and nature against a lowering threat.

But in amongst all the gloom of the season, he finds light and beauty around when he ventures outside. The skeletal starkness of trees, jewel-like frost sparkling in the sun, sunsets the colour of fire and that day went he spots the snowdrops have begun to open and realises that winter is actually on the wane. He is open about his anxieties that causes him to worry about so many things; money, the future, Brexit and his ability to teach; it causes him to frequently wake in the middle of the night mindlessly scrolling through a list of worries. Clare’s writing is taut, sparse and charged with emotion as he details the battles against his own personal demons of winter. This moving book should be essential reading for those that are suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and also for those that know someone who is afflicted.


This tour was arranged by Emma Finegan and Anne Cater of #RandomThings. Do go and have a look at all the other blogs on the tour for their take on the book.

The book is published by Elliott and Thompson and is available from your local independent bookshop 

Blog Tour: The Real McCoy by Claire Cock-Starkey

Hello everyone, welcome to my blog for the next stop on the blog tour for The Real McCoy, the new book by Claire Cock-Starkey. And here it is:

The Blurb

From diesel to gerrymandering, the English language is rich withSamhain—words that are named after an individual. The many histories behind these words are often mesmerizing—a word named, incidentally, after the German physician Franz Mesmer, who developed the practice of hypnotism as a form of therapy.

Deriving from numerous sources, eponyms are full of intrigue. This book features one hundred and fifty of the most interesting and enlightening specimens, delving into the origins of the words and describing the fascinating people after whom they were named. Some honor a style icon, inventor, or explorer, such as pompadour, Kalashnikov, and Cadillac. Others have roots in Greek or Roman mythology, such as panic and tantalize. Still others are far from celebratory and were created to brand the negative association of their origins—into this category can be filed boycott, Molotov cocktail, and sadist.

Encompassing words from medicine, botany, invention, science, fashion, food, and literature, this book uncovers the curious tales of discovery, mythology, innovation, and infamy behind the eponyms we use every day. The Real McCoy is the perfect addition to any wordsmith’s bookshelf. 

About the Author

Claire started out working at BBC Radio Four and Five before going on to work at LBC. Then she ended up finding her spiritual home working with Ben Schott, as a researcher for Schott’s Almanac and was a series editor for eleven different editions. Other opportunities presented themselves for London and American papers whilst she was there.

Family life beckoned and post-nappies she decided to set up as a freelance writer and editor. In between the Lego project management and the business of family life, she has written books, this being her latest. Heaven to her is the British Library reading rooms, rootling through the obscure to find the gem that will make her next book.

As a special treat there is an extract:

My Review

Some people reach that ultimate accolade of having something named after them and making it into the dictionary. Some you would have heard of; Rudolf Diesel managed to get a type of engine and a fuel named after him. The opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba had a dessert and a type of toast named in her honour and the Douglas Fir is named after the Scottish botanist, David Douglas

Lots of people have managed to get places on the planet named after them, Everest, Hudson Bay and Bolivia are three examples, but some of the stranger eponyms that appear in here, mesmerise, Apgar, dunce and praline are some of the few covered in this fascinating little book. There are the weird and wonderful too, a dish that has cultured almost countless numbers of cells was developed and named after the Julius R. Petri, a Germ bacteriologist, the greengage and boysenberry are named after people too and the Scoville will blow your mind.

I had read two of her previous books, The Book Lovers’ Miscellany and A Library Miscellany, so was really looking forward to this one. Whilst this isn’t about books, it is about the English language which is another of my favourite things to read about. There are 150 different eponyms and is a perfect little book for those who also have a passion for words and their origins. The research is meticulous and because of that, this is full of tiny details and anecdotes that make it an entertaining read. If there was one tiny flaw, I would have liked more of it to read.


Don’t forget to take a look at the other blogs on the tour:

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And head over to Claire’s website too: www.nonfictioness.com

Thank you for stopping by.

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