Category: Blog Tour (Page 1 of 5)

The Museum Makers by Rachel Morris

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Museum Makers by Rachel Morris and published by September Publishing.

About the Book

‘Without even thinking I began to slide all these things from the dusty boxes under my bed into groups on the carpet, to take a guess at what belonged to whom, to match up photographs and handwriting to memories and names – in other words, to sort and classify. As I did so I had the revelation that in what we do with our memories and the stuff that our parents leave behind, we are all museum makers, seeking to makes sense of the past.’

Museum expert Rachel Morris had been ignoring the boxes of family belongings for decades. When she finally opened them she began a journey into her family’s dramatic story through the literary and bohemian circles of the nineteenth and twentieth century. It was a revelatory experience – one that finds her searching for her absent father in archives of the Tate, and which transports her back to the museums that had enriched a lonely childhood. By teasing out the stories of those early museum makers, and the unsung daughters and wives behind them, and seeing the same passions and neglect reflected in her own family, Morris digs deep into the human instinct for collection and curation.

About the Author

A director of the museum-making company Metaphor, Rachel Morris has been part of the creation, design and delivery of some of the most exciting displays, renovations and museums of the last few decades, from the new Cast Courts at the V&A and the Ashmolean, Oxford to the Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum and Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Rachel is also the author of two novels.

My Review

My father’s father died when I was eight years old. I had only just started to get to know him and he was gone. We didn’t know that much about him other than he was born in East Street, Bridport in 1902 and was an orphan whose mother was called Margaret Annie. About 12 years ago my father and I decided that we could see what we could find out if there was anything to find that was. We trawled all the family history sites and then one day got lucky and found his mother on a census. We discovered a whole family going right back to 1595 that we knew nothing about.

Rachel Morris didn’t have a problem. She knew lots about her family and the various characters involved from her parents all the way back through the generations to the painter William Gale. There were stories that she had heard that were more rumour than fact and most importantly she had boxes of these personal family archives under her bed and they had been there for years. Just the thought of them and the circumstances behind receiving them made her sad.

However, it was time to pull them out from under the bed, blow the dust off them and start looking through.

Tipping the contents out onto the carpet in her room from the first box and sorting them into small piles for each relative brought a flood of emotions back. There was no monetary value to the items within the boxes, letters, locks of hair, photos, poems, wool, diaries and even a hat! The treasure was the stories that the items would tell of her family.

And what a family it was. Her father was an immensely talented printer and mostly an absent alcoholic. Her mother had been told not to marry him by her mother, but being headstrong did so in secret. She was left bringing up her and her siblings, after the disappeared but never really stopped loving him as she was to find out through the letters in the boxes. The hub of these family memories is her Gran, a formidable yet kind woman. She was brought up on art books and romantic love. She had lived in New Zealand, a place that she loathed, written a book, went back to England leaving her husband with her two daughters there. She returned to the UK in 1947 and never went back.

As she is sifting these family stories into some semblance of order, she realises that she is creating what she calls the Museum of Me. It is fitting in some ways as she works for a company that puts together exciting and innovative displays for some of our top museums. Museums do what she is trying to do, which is with these personal effects to present the past in a way that we can understand and how they often came about from large personal collections.

Women are the memory keepers, they can keep those family links and connections

It is a fascinating story of her family and all their successes and secrets, full of happy and sad memories. Whilst she could not always understand the reasons why a particular family member did something, her collection gave her an insight into some of the reasons why it happened. I thought that it was really nicely written, sensitive and also written with an authority and confidence. She doesn’t judge her family for the decisions that they made, each person made that particular choice at a certain time of their life for a variety of reasons. If you like family histories, then I can recommend Dadland by Keggie Carew and Mary Monro’s Stranger in My Heart. They are very similar to this, women unpacking their father’s history that they knew almost nothing about.

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

You can buy this through Hive here
Or at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Di Riley and September Publishing for the copy of the book to read.

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers by Robin A. Crawford

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers by Robin A. Crawford and published by Elliott and Thompson.

About the Book

The evocative vocabulary, wit and wisdom of the Scots language – from Robert Burns to Twitter.

Scottish writer and bookseller, Robin Crawford, has gathered 1,000 Scots words – old and new, classical and colloquial, rural and urban – in a joyful celebration of their continuing usage. His amusing, erudite definitions put each of these words in context, revealing their evocative origins and essential character. Delightful line drawings by Scottish printmaker Liz Myhill contribute to this treasury of linguistic gems for language lovers everywhere.

The Scots language is intricately bound up in the nation’s history, identity, land and culture. It is also a living and vital vernacular, used daily. With references to Robert Burns mingling with contemporary examples from Billy Connolly and even Monty Python, Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers revels in the richness of one of our oldest languages, and acts as a precious
reminder of words that are also beginning to fade away, their meaning and value disappearing.

About the Author

Born in Glasgow, writer and Scottish bookseller Robin A. Crawford has a particular interest in the culture and natural heritage of his native land. He is the critically acclaimed author of Into The Peatlands: A Journey Through the Moorland Year, longlisted for the Highland Book Prize 2019. He lives in Fife, Scotland, with his wife.

My Review

I have always loved the country and have visited a number of times including one glorious holiday alongside Loch Goil just where it opens out to Loch Long. Thankfully, the time we were there we weren’t inundated with the dreaded midges. Whilst I have Scottish blood from my grandfather swilling around somewhere within, I must admit I am not that fond of haggis. Whisky, however… I have almost always been able to understand the accent, bar one case where it was so broad that I did struggle a bit.

As well as the beautiful Gallic language that is spoken by some in Scotland they have their own patois and dialect that is distinctively different from the regular English language. Robin A Crawford has collected 1000 of these words from all walks of life and from the modern-day and rummaging through their linguist history for the words that remain in use after hundreds of years.

So if you want to know what a deil’s darning needle or a tourist eagle is, of how you are feeling when you’re forefochen or if you have runkled or fankled something is a good place to start. The range of subjects covered by the words is fascinating, know the difference between an oxter and pintil will save many a red face later on. There are words that most will be familiar with, i.e. neaps, the Tartan Arm and a Glaswegian kiss are pretty much mainstream across the country now.

With each word is a short definition and often an example of usage, very helpful for some of the more obscure ones such as doech-an-doris, lea-rig and stooshie. I thought that this was a delightful collection of words that Crawford has brought together, into this book. I really enjoy learning all things about language and have read a large number of books on the subject. Crawford has properly researched this book but still made this readable and occasionally funny. If you are a bit of an etymologicon then this is for you.

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 Menzies for the copy of the book to read.

Cricket Country by Prashant Kidambi

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Cricket Country by Prashant Kidambi and published by Penguin and one of the shortlisted books for the Wolfson History Prize.

 

The Wolfson History Prize is awarded annually to promote and recognise outstanding history written for a general audience. First awarded in 1972, it remains a beacon of the best historical writing being produced in the UK, reflecting qualities of both readability and excellence in writing and research. Books are judged on the extent to which they are carefully researched, well-written and accessible to the non-specialist reader. The Wolfson History Prize is the most valuable non-fiction writing prize in the UK, with the winner receiving a total prize of £40,000, and the shortlisted authors receiving £4,000 each. The Prize is awarded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity that awards grants to support and promote excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts & humanities.

The books shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2020 are:

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia

A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths by John Barton

A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution by Toby Green

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

Cricket Country: An Indian Odyssey in the Age of Empire by Prashant Kidambi

 

About the Book

‘Cricket is an Indian game accidentally invented by the English, ‘ it has famously been said. Today, the Indian cricket team is a powerful national symbol, a unifying force in a country riven by conflicts. But India was represented by a cricket team long before it became an independent nation.

Drawing on an unparalleled range of original archival sources, Cricket Country is the story of the first ‘All India’ cricket tour of Great Britain and Ireland. It is also the extraordinary tale of how the idea of India took shape on the cricket field in the high noon of empire. Conceived by an unlikely coalition of colonial and local elites, it took twelve years and three failed attempts before an ‘Indian’ cricket team made its debut on the playing fields of imperial Britain.

This historic tour, which took place against the backdrop of revolutionary politics in the Edwardian era, featured an improbable cast of characters. The team s young captain was the newly enthroned ruler of a powerful Sikh state. The other cricketers were chosen on the basis of their religious identity. Remarkably, for the day, two of the players were Dalits.

Over the course of the blazing Coronation summer of 1911, these Indians participated in a collective enterprise that epitomizes the way in which sport — and above all cricket — helped fashion the imagined communities of both empire and nation.

 

About the Author

Prashant Kidambi trained as a historian at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and completed an MA and an MPhil before proceeding to the University of Oxford to undertake a doctorate. After holding a Junior Research Fellowship in History at Wolfson College, Oxford, took up a lectureship in the School of History, University of Leicester, where he has taught ever since.

 

My Review

I have loved cricket since my early teenage years (quite a long time ago now) and have occasionally played for low-level club teams where batsmen have been underwhelmed with my spin bowling. I have followed the sport for years and have had that roller coast of emotion that you get supporting the England cricket team where defeat is often snatched from victory and the certainty of a batting collapse hangs over every match.

While cricket is a sport that we invented and evolved, it seems that most of the world is better at it than us as a rule, in particular the players of the subcontinent, hence the phrase, cricket is an Indian game accidentally invented by the English. Now days India is a force to be reckoned with in modern cricket, producing world-class batsmen and bowlers who can reduce an opposition teams supporters to tears. It is a sport that does manage to unite a country that is riven with internal conflicts, but where did it all begin?

The story begins way back in the 1830s when India was under British control and the youth of the day began to take up the sport. As it became more popular interest in traditional Indian games began to diminish. Their colonial rulers did not discourage this, seeing that the game extolled of the British virtues. Lots of local teams were formed and by the late 1870s, some of them were good enough to defeat the Royal Navy Team. It was around this time that the possibility of a tour of an Indian Cricket team around the UK was first mooted. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen, but in 1889 a team from England toured the subcontinent and the India team of Parsi’s beat Lord Hawkes team, much to the disbelief of spectators.

Ranji was a talented cricketer who had studied at Cambridge and at one point played for Sussex and there was even some controversy about his being selected to play for England. He was involved in the possible first Indian tour of the UK, that was being organised for the turn of the century, but he scuppered that with his attempt to secure the throne of Nawanagar. There were internal rivalries in the team too, with the Hindu and Parsi factions causing another attempt to tour being abandoned. These differences were resolved in the end.

Further progress was made with the organisation for the tour and the Tata family offered to help with financial assistance, but some of the team members complained about individuals from lower castes being selected, thankfully Balloo contested the decision and in his time became to be considered the best left-arm spinner in the world.

Finally, all the different aspects of the tour came together and a team left India to go to the UK in 1911. The UK that year was undergoing a heatwave with temperatures as high as 98 deg F. The country cooked, thousands died from the heat and there was even one man who shed so many clothes as he was so hot that he was arrested for nudity. On top of that, there was social turmoil, strikes fighting in the streets and a political battle between the House of Commons and the Lords. It was an inauspicious start to their tour of the UK, but they began it in Oxford, nonetheless.

They didn’t have an auspicious start to the tour and lost a number of their matches at the start of the tour, this was partly because they weren’t used to the pitch conditions of the spin and seam bowling, the matches were too close together not allowing recuperation between them and they were often set against much better sides. The odds were very much stacked against them, however, halfway through, their fortunes changed and they began to win matches, even Baloo began to take wickets and accumulated five-wicket hauls. The team was dissolved on it’s return to India and there would be another national team until 1926 and it was another five years after that, that an official Indian team would return to the UK.

I will admit to being a cricket fan, so this had an immediate appeal anyway, but for those that like their sport this book will almost certainly appeal. Kidambi has written a book that is comprehensive, richly detailed and full of stories and anecdotes about the origins of what is now a great cricket team. There was a brief sojourn into a story about a gentleman called Ramamurti Naidu who performed feats of strength and wrestling Fascinating as it was, and he was in the UK at the same time as the others, I wasn’t totally sure of the link to the cricket team’s story.

 

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

 

You can 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 Ben at Midas PR for sending a copy of the book to read.

The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Anthony Jones

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Anthony Jones and published by Elliott & Thompson.

 

About the Book

For almost a decade, Paul Anthony Jones has written about the oddities and origins of the English language, amassing a vast collection of some of its more unusual words. Last year, doubly bereaved and struggling to regain his spirits, he turned to words – words that could be applied to difficult, challenging times and found solace.  The Cabinet of Calm is the result.

Paul has unearthed fifty-one linguistic remedies to offer reassurance, inspiration and hope in the face of such feelings as grief and despair, homesickness and exhaustion, missing our friends and a loss of hope.

Written with a trademark lightness of touch, The Cabinet of Calm shows us that we’re not alone. From MELORISM, when you’re worried about the future of the world and AGATHISM, when you’re feeling disillusionment or struggling to remain positive to SELF-SOOTHE, when you’re struggling to sleep and STOUND, for when you’re grieving, someone else has felt like this before, and so there’s a word to help, whatever the challenge.

 

About the Author

Paul has a Masters in Linguistics and is a language blogger from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. His obsession with words began with a child’s dictionary he received as a Christmas present when he was eight years old.  As @HaggardHawks he has tweeted obscure words since 2013 and now has a social media following of over 75k, including the likes of JK Rowling, Robert Macfarlane, Susie Dent, Richard Osman, Greg Jenner, Ian McMillan, Rufus Sewell, Simon Mayo, Michael Rosen and Cerys Matthews.

HaggardHawks.com brings together the entire HH network including a blog, books, quizzes & games, the 500 Words YouTube series, Instagram gallery and newsletter. He regularly contributes to the media.

 

My Review

In case you have been living in a forest in the middle of know where there is a lot going on at the moment. We are in the middle of a global pandemic at the moment, the planet is heating up dramatically and weather systems are becoming more extreme because of climate change. Politically we have the rise of nationalism in many countries and there is, of course, the UK’s special project, Brexit…

Some people have the ability for all these issues to just wash over them, shrugging off things that keep other people wide awake at night. But how to comfort those that need it? Well Paul Anthony Jones has just released The Cabinet of Calm. In here he has scoured the dustier corners of the dictionary to bring us words that will bring comfort to us when we are grieving, or in despair at the world around us, or have lost hope in everything.

Respair – the return of hope after a period of despair

All of these words that Jones has unearthed are a source of reassurance for those that seek solace in these troubled times within the pages of a book. In here you can learn what frowst means, words for when you are overcome with sadness or for those who often run out of weekend and you have the Monday morning blues. One very much for this moment in the middle of the pandemic and missing your friends is angel visits. If you’re in a bad mood following the news too, there is even a word coined by Dickens for a room to go and growl in.

As with his other books, it is a fascinating read, not only do you get the word, you get all the cultural and etymological background to each word and a raft of other much-underused words like sphexishness, forswunk and neiperty that you can add to your vocabulary. If you are a language addict then this is a must-read; however, its primary aim is to help those that are finding the real world all too much at the moment and I think that this will be a great help to them too.

 

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 Menzies for the copy of the book to read.

Not the Wellcome Prize Tour

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for the Not the Wellcome Prize Tour organised by Rebecca Foster of BookishBeck

The official Wellcome Prize is on hiatus this year. This is not the first time that they have done this, but I don’t think that they knew about the pandemic in advance! It is an anxious time for many, and what it shows is that we need books that can talk honestly and truthfully about the science of health and wellbeing and not succumb to the snake oil salesmen.

Here is how the website describes the Prize’s purpose: “a book should have a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. … At some point, medicine touches all our lives. Books that find stories in those brushes with medicine are ones that add new meaning to what it means to be human. The subjects these books grapple with might include birth and beginnings, illness and loss, pain, memory, and identity. In keeping with its vision and goals, the Wellcome Book Prize aims to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.

We have selected 19 books for this tour:

Two of which I am going to be highlighting today.

Chasing the Sun: The New Science of Sunlight and How it Shapes Our Bodies and Minds by Linda Geddes

Since the dawn of time, humans have worshipped the sun. And with good reason.

Our biology is set up to work in partnership with the sun. From our sleep cycles to our immune systems and our mental health, access to sunlight is crucial for living a happy and fulfilling life. New research suggests that our sun exposure over a lifetime – even before we were born – may shape our risk of developing a range of different illnesses, from depression to diabetes.

Bursting with cutting-edge science and eye-opening advice, Chasing the Sun explores the extraordinary significance of sunlight – from ancient solstice celebrations to modern sleep labs, and from the unexpected health benefits of sun exposure to what the Amish know about sleep that the rest of us don’t.

As more of us move into light-polluted cities, spending our days in dim offices and our evenings watching brightly lit screens, we are in danger of losing something vital: our connection to the star that gave us life. It’s a loss that could have far-reaching consequences that we’re only just beginning to grasp.

 

About the Author

Linda Geddes is a London-based journalist writing about biology, medicine and technology. Born in Cambridge, she graduated from Liverpool University with a first-class degree in Cell Biology. She has worked as both a news editor and reporter for New Scientist magazine, and has received numerous awards for her journalism, including the Association of British Science Writers’ awards for Best Investigative Journalism. She is married with two young children, Matilda and Max.

 

My Review

The sun rises every single day and has done so for the past few billion years. This source of energy has played a pivotal part in the development of life on Earth and not unsurprising, it has been a focus of our collective attention for time immemorial. Many cultures have worshipped it or have tracked its regular path through the heavens and tried to elucidate meaning from it.

As the sun has been a central part of almost all the Earth’s inhabitants, lots of creatures have evolved in tandem with it, including us. Research has shown that the sun is key to our mental well being, sleep, immune systems and circadian rhythms. Too much sun is bad for us as it can cause skin cancers but then so is too little, those that rarely see the sun do not generate enough vitamin D that is essential for their health.

One of the biggest disrupters to our health in the modern day is artificial light. Ever since the light bulb was invented, cheap affordable light has been available to all so we have retreated indoors turning pallid in the glow of the modern screens. Office lighting is a good example. The output from the ceilings lights is fairly poor, you only get a fraction of light, around 200 to 300 lux, which is nothing when you compare it to the amount light on a bright day which can reach around 100,000 lux. All of these effects are cumulative, and if you live in northern Europe, then you are much worse off in winter because of the very short days.

I liked this book a lot, it does what a good popular science book should do, gives you a good overview of the subject and touches on lots of different subjects without becoming too academic. On certain elements, for example, on our body clocks and how to improve lighting for those on shift work, in particular, Geddes explores them in a little more depth. Worth reading.

 

The Nocturnal Brain: Nightmares, Neuroscience, and the Secret World of Sleep by Guy Leschziner

For Dr Guy Leschziner’s patients, there is no rest for the weary in mind and body. Insomnia, narcolepsy, night terrors, sleep apnea, and sleepwalking are just a sampling of conditions afflicting sufferers who cannot sleep–and their experiences in trying are the stuff of nightmares. Demoniac hallucinations frighten people into paralysis. Restless legs rock both the sleepless and their sleeping partners with unpredictable and uncontrollable kicking. Out-of-sync circadian rhythms confuse the natural body clock’s days and nights.

Then there are the extreme cases. A woman in a state of deep sleep who gets dressed, unlocks her car, and drives for several miles before returning to bed. The man who has spent decades cleaning out kitchens while “sleep-eating.” The teenager prone to the serious, yet unfortunately nicknamed “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” stuck in a cycle of excessive unconsciousness, binge eating, and uncharacteristic displays of aggression and hyper-sexuality while awake.

With compassionate stories of his patients and their conditions, Dr Leschziner illustrates the neuroscience behind our sleeping minds, revealing the many biological and psychological factors necessary in getting the rest that will not only maintain our physical and mental health but improve our cognitive abilities and overall happiness.

 

About the Author

Guy Leschziner is a consultant neurologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals in London, where he leads the Sleep Disorders Centre, one of the largest sleep services in Europe, and a reader in neurology at King’s College London. He also works at London Bridge and Cromwell Hospitals. Alongside his clinical work, he is the presenter of the Mysteries of Sleep series on BBC Radio 4, is editor of the forthcoming Oxford Specialist Handbook of Sleep Medicine (OUP), and is Neurology Section editor for the next edition of Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine (Elsevier)

 

My Review

Thankfully I have never had any issues in sleeping. I put my head on the pillow and almost always I am asleep within a few minutes. I sleep deeply too, I missed the entire Great Storm in 1987 and was totally oblivious to a massive lightning storm that struck an oak tree opposite where I lived. My father has always called it a short course in death…

Sleep is essential to our health, but no one can say with any conviction exactly why we need it. If we are sleep deprived then there is a finite time that we can survive, hence why it is used as a form of torture. So what happens to our brain at night? A lot of what we can learn about the brain when it is resting is by studying those that struggle with all manner of sleep-related issues.

Guy Leschzineris well placed to explain these sleep issues as he is the head of the Sleep Disorders Centre at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospitals. In this book, he explains the various types of disorders that he has come across, such as sleepwalking, apnoea, night terrors and narcolepsy through the stories of the people that he has met and treated. Some of the things that these people have to suffer sound horrendous, paralysis, tremors and hallucinations for example. The story of a lady who would wake in the middle of the night and drive around whilst asleep and be utterly unaware what she was doing is terrifying.

This book by Leschziner is a fine addition to the discussion and understanding of this little-understood habit that we have to undertake every day for our health. His compassionate writing about the people that he is treating will help those that have been suffering from insomnia and other sleeping disorders to understand that they are not alone. There are several books out there now about sleeping. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker is a really good explanation of why we need sleep and this accessible book is a fine addition to the knowledge of sleep.

 

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour. There are quite a few of them! Follow the hashtag on Twitter too, #NotTheWellcomePrize.

The shadow panel (Annabel, Clare, Laura, Rebecca and myself) will choose a shortlist of six titles to be announced on 4 May. We will then vote to choose a winner, with the results of a Twitter poll serving as one additional vote. The Not the Wellcome Prize winner will be announced on 11 May.

Buy these at your local independent bookshop if possible. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

Follow the authors and publishers on Social Media:

Chasing the Sun by Linda Geddes

@LindaGeddes

Instagram @lindageddes.science

published by @ProfileBooks

Insta: @profile.books

The Nocturnal Brain by Guy Leschziner

@guy_lesch

published by Simon & Schuster UK

@simonschusterUK 

 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and published by Jonathan Cape.

About the Book

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born – a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam – and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to the American moment, immersed as it is in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.

About the Author

Ocean Vuong is the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 30 languages worldwide. A recipient of a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Grant, he is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.

My Review

It is when he is in his twenties that Little Dog writes a letter to his mother. She is never going to be able to read it as she is illiterate. Contained within the letter is the family history that he has unearthed and that he traces his mothers side of the family back to Vietnam. In this letter are some of the experiences that his mother Rose, and grandmother, Lan have suffered during and after the war in Vietnam, before they arrived in America.

Little Dog is son to an American and who is still violent to Rose until the police take him away one day. But growing up in Connecticut is not easy when you are mixed race, and he suffers at school for a plethora of reasons. But he does find what he thinks is love, with another boy, an all American lad called Trevor, but is it not an even relationship, rather one where Little Dog is the submissive partner.

It is not the easiest book to read as he writes about things that a lot of people would count as trigger warnings, i.e. abuse, drugs, mental health issues, cruelty and so on. Yet with his prose, he can make this tender and intimate at one moment and then before you know it, it becomes brutal and violent in the next. Sometimes these are brought together in ways that make for uncomfortable reading. It does feel that he has drawn deep on his and his families experience as he touches on some of the factors that have affected him in his life: race, immigration, acceptance and love. Definitely an experience reading this book and you are unlikely to be unaffected reading it.

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour and have a look at the website to discover all the other books that have been longlisted.

Buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here. They might not be open at the moment, but may be able to send you a copy.

My thanks to Martina at Midas PR for the copy of the book to read.

If All the World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for If All the World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton and published by Penguin

About the Book

When Stephen Sexton was young, video games were a way to slip through the looking glass; to be in two places at once; to be two people at once. In these poems about the death of his mother, this moving, otherworldly narrative takes us through the levels of Super Mario World, whose flowered landscapes bleed into our world, and ours, strange with loss, bleed into it. His remarkable debut is a daring exploration of memory, grief and the necessity of the unreal.

About the Author

Author Photo

Stephen Sexton lives in Belfast. His poems have appeared in Granta, POETRY, and Best British Poetry 2015. His pamphlet, Oils, was the Poetry Book Society’s Winter Pamphlet Choice. He was the winner of the 2016 National Poetry Competition, the recipient of an ACES award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and was awarded an Eric Gregory Award in 2018.

My Review

Sometimes a way of coping with events in the real world is to head back to the things that gave you comfort in the past. For Stephen Sexton this means heading to the world of Super Mario Kart, where he spent lots of his youth racing against the characters in this colourful and larger than life world. It was a place that infused his reality and gave him lots of happy memories to look back on.

It is this nostalgic place that he returns to in this book frequently as the poems take us through the various tracks and characters in the game. The fun though is short-lived, because all the way through, he has the agony of watching his mothers illness develop to the point where it finally claimed her.

For a collection of poems that leans heavily on gamer references about a fun thing to play, it is heavily draped with sorrow and grief. I liked the way that he varied the pace and structure of the poems, and having those two themes running all the way through, it builds into a narrative thread and feels like we are sharing his grief. Definitely one to read again one day.

Three Favourite Poems

Donut Plains 1

Chocolate Secret

#7 Larry’s Castle

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour and have a look at the website to discover all the other books that have been longlisted.

You can buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here. They might not be open at the moment, but may be able to send you a copy.

My thanks to Martina at Midas PR for the copy of the book to read.

Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below by Steve Denehan

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below by Steve Denehan and published by Cajun Mutt Press.

About the Book

Steve Denehan is an extraordinary poet. In this debut collection, he writes about ordinary everyday events in his life and does so in a way that will resonate with the reader. His poetry brings unforgettable impact into small spaces, reveals the fabric of solitude in epic proportions, and tells stories of the moments where life truly exists.

About the Author

Steve Denehan lives in Kildare, Ireland with his wife Eimear and daughter Robin. He has been twice shortlisted for the Anthony Cronin International Poetry Prize in the Wexford Literary Festival. Also nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Best New Poet amongst other prizes.

My Review

This collection by Steve Denehan is very much rooted in the everyday and the mundane. But in amongst the most ordinary is where he finds the gaps where light floods in and inspires him to write these poems. There is nothing esoteric in here, rather these are poems about real-world situations, casual Fridays, birdsong, cookies and the struggle of writing and finding the words that he knows are there.

I remain calm

I try to remain calm

But the words are there inside my fingertips

Eager to be born

trapped

Family ties are a big theme too. He reminisces about his childhood, spends time with his dad and looks forward to his daughters future. It is a small book about the big things in life, that we can’t always see until too late. His poems are easy to read, feel grounded in our world and soar with joy and bleed with pain.

I buy old library books

Because they are cheap

Because they come with extras

History

Stories beyond the books themselves

I have read more poetry this year than ever before having set myself a challenge of reading at least one poetry book a month. Some of the collections have been really good, other I have struggled with for a variety of reasons, but nonetheless, I have still enjoyed them. I feel a real connection to the poetry that Denehan writes. It is very accessible  whilst still having a depth that comes from having lived.

Three Favourite Poems

Hate

Everything is Invisible

Columbia

 

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 Isabelle Kenyon from Fly on the Wall Press for a copy of the book to read.

You can follow Steve on Twitter here and his website is here.

Effin’ Birds by Arron Reynolds

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Effin’ Birds by Arron Reynolds and published by Unbound

About the Book

Effin’ Birds is the most eagerly anticipated new volume in the grand and noble profession of nature writing and bird identification. Sitting proudly alongside Sibley, Kaufman, and Peterson, this book contains more than 150 pages crammed full of classic, monochrome plumage art paired with the delightful but dirty aphorisms (think “I’m going to need more booze to deal with this week”) that made the Effin’ Birds Twitter feed a household name. Also included in its full, Technicolor glory is John James Audubon’s most beautiful work matched with modern life advice. Including never-before-seen birds, insults, and field notes, this guide is a must-have for any effin’ fan or birder.

About the Author

Aaron Reynolds is the writer of @EfinBirds and @swear_trek, and the curator of @BatLabels. He is also a software instructor, which is where most of his elfin’ inspiration comes from.

My Review

Nature writing seems to be the in thing to be reading at the moment. Wander into your local bookshop and you will find lots of recently published books by people who have recently discovered the healing benefits of nature, or who are extolling the virtues of putting the screen down and looking at something else.

When you have ventured outside, it helps to have a guide to the things that you might see. These have always been popular, especially when it comes to identifying the LBJ’s (little brown jobs) that make up a large number of small brown passerine birds, many of which are notoriously difficult to distinguish, even for experts.

This though is a guide with a difference. It is filled with beautiful sketches that are so much like the art of Thomas Berwick, but rather than having details of regular birds, Reynolds has gathered details of birds like the Hipster Pelican, the Enervated Eagle and Buff Petrel, not forgetting the Snub Gull and the Fatalistic Falcon.

Astute Owls

As much as you don’t want an astute owl to be correct, the astute owl is correct

Habitat: Lurking nearby whenever you make a mistake

Identifying Characteristics: An unnerving sense of timing

As you might have guessed from the above, this is a humorous bird identification book. It gives a peek into the characteristics of these new birds and a fairly (ok, very) broadminded insight into what they might be thinking. I really liked the imaginative bird names and the thought he’d put into their habits and characters. The images are excellent too, in particular, the colour ones, they portray the bird and also show the aloof, contemptuous or angry look that the artist and author were aiming for.  There is a lot of swearing in here, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

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 a copy of the book to read.

Ring the Hill by Tom Cox

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Ring the Hill by Tom Cox and published by Unbound.

About the Book

A hill is not a mountain. You climb it for you, then you put it quietly inside you, in a cupboard marked ‘Quite A Lot Of Hills’ where it makes its infinitesimal mark on who you are.

Ring the Hill is a book written around, and about, hills: it includes a northern hill, a hill that never ends and the smallest hill in England. Each chapter takes a type of hill – whether it’s a knoll, cap, cliff, tor or even a mere bump – as a starting point for one of Tom’s characteristically unpredictable and wide-ranging explorations.

Tom’s lyrical, candid prose roams from an intimate relationship with a particular cove on the south coast, to meditations on his great-grandmother and a lesson on what goes into the mapping of hills themselves. Because a good walk in the hills is never just about the hills: you never know where it might lead.

About the Author

Tom Cox lives in Norfolk. He is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling The Good, The Bad and The Furry and the William Hill Sports Book longlisted Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia. 21st-Century Yokel was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize, and the titular story of Help the Witch won a Shirley Jackson Award. You can find him on Twitter @cox_tom

My Review

There are countless books written about mountains, just take a look around the travel section of a bookshop. However, there are not so many written about hills, in particular, the small inconsequential hills that abound the landscape in our country. A hill might not have the majesty or presence of a mountain, but for Cox, these are more accessible, and still have as much mystery and lore and their larger cousins.

Beginning in Somerset under the ever-watchful eye of the Tor and the inland sea that is the Somerset levels he wanders from Britain’s smallest hill, in Norfolk no less, to the highest point on the South Coast. Yet another house move takes him to a house most of the way up a hill in Derbyshire; he is snowed in and it is a place that alarms his cats, and he is often woken at 3.44 in the morning from a nightmare and he would often hear things being moved in the loft… Not many things scare him, sitting with his feet over the edge of Golden Cap is no problem, but halfway up some mechanical edifice is enough to freak Cox out.

He wades through some family history when he discovers that his great grandmother who lived on Dartmoor, prior to moving to Nottingham. He finds that Dartmoor is at its most eerie in the summer when the heat makes time move like treacle. He spends time walking across Dorset’s hills spotting his third hare since moving to the West Country and amusing himself over alternative meanings for the village names in the area. Just seeing a hill on a car journey and then finding on an OS map late is a thrill, especially if there is access to walk up it later.

As I drive the roads, I watch the hills. I always notice the interesting ones, and none of them aren’t interesting, so I notice them all.

Ring the Hill is not quite a sequel to 21st Century Yokel, more of a slightly lairy companion. He seems to be one of the fastest funded authors on the publisher Unbound as he doesn’t really fit in any of the niches that a regular publisher has. Preferring to write widely about whatever the hell takes his fancy, from folklore to the music that works best when he is walking in a place. It is this wide-ranging fascination with all that he sees is what makes this book such a delight. Hares permeate the book too, not just the scant physical ones that he sees out and about, but the way that they are interwoven into the natural and spiritual worlds. I thought that this was a wonderful book, full of tangents and glimpses of things that fascinate him. I love the traditional linocut illustrations of hares that have been created by his mother and I was glad to see that his very LOUD DAD was back in the book again.

 

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 and Unbound for the copy of the book to read.

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