Category: Book Musings (Page 1 of 13)

2020 Six Month Stats

These are my book stats so far for 2020 now we have got to six months through the year. I have read 97 books so far and 25402 pages. My monthly average of books is  16.2. This broke down into these monthly totals:

January – 17

February – 16

March – 16

April – 16

May – 16

June – 16

The split of books read

Male Authors – 66

Female Authors – 31 i.e. 32%

Review Copies  – 43

Library Books – 26

Own Books– 28 (This is already more than last year!)


Non-Fiction – 68 – 70%

Fiction – 17 – 17.5%

Poetry – 12 – 12.5%


Stars Awarded:

5 Stars – 5 Books
4.5 Stars – 11 Books
4 Stars – 38 Books
3.5 stars – 18 Books
3 stars – 18 Books
2.5 Stars – 4 Books
2 Stars – 2 Books
1.5 stars 0 Books
1 stars – 0 Books



I use a spreadsheet to keep a note of the types and genres of books that I read. There are detailed below:

Travel 23
Poetry 12
Natural History 10
Memoir 9
Fiction 8
Science 7
Fantasy 5
History 4
Science Fiction 4
Psychology 2
Politics 2
Language 2
Miscellaneous 2
Environmental 1
Sport 1
Craft 1
Britain 1
Cricket 1
Humour 1
Reportage 1



These are the number of books read by each publisher so far:

Eland 6
John Murray 6
Penguin 5
Faber & Faber 5
Canongate 5
Little Toller 4
Granta 4
Jonathan Cape 4
Sandstone Press 3
Fly on the Wall Press 3
Corgi 3
Elliott & Thompson 3
Cinnamon Press 3
Haus Publishing 3
William Collins 3
Bloomsbury 3
Saraband 2
Picador 2
Icon Books 2
Bradt 2
Allen Lane 2
Dey Street 1
Michael Joseph 1
Salt 1
Profile Books 1
Wildings Press 1
Stella Maris 1
The Westbourne Press 1
Headline 1
Fitzcarraldo Editions 1
Headline 1
Little, Brown 1
Sphere 1
Duckworth 1
Hamish Hamilton 1
Seven Dials 1
Myriad Editions 1
The Bodley Head 1
Gollancz 1
Michael O’Mara Books 1
Tor 1
Allen & Unwin 1
4th Estate 1
Inkandescent 1
Influx Press 1

June 2020 Review

Another month has gone by in this year that never ends… And another 16 books read too and I thought it was a really good reading month with lots of variety.

I was kindly sent one of the shortlisted books, Cricket Country, to read for the Wolfson blog tour, run in conjunction with the prize publicity. This book by Prashant Kidambi is about the Indian Cricket Team and is a well researched and detailed account of their early history.

I will admit to having had this in my to-read pile for far too long before picking it up. I am not a big reader of fiction, but The Glass Woman had a certain sort of appeal and I was lucky enough to get a copy sent to me. Set in Iceland, it is a story of a young lady who because of misfortune is betrothed to a man whose previous wife dies in mysterious circumstances. He is very strict and she is forbidden from talking to any of the other villagers. It is very atmospheric and full of dark creepy moments.

The natural world is full of many wonders, but for many people around the world, it has a large spiritual element too. In Wanderland, Jinny Reddy explores various places around the UK with the hope of finding that extra dimension.

My two poetry books this month were new books out from Chris Emery and Edward Ragg. Both very different and I enjoyed both of them very much.


Sadly we still live in a world where a vast proportion of the population are still under some form of dictatorship or restricted authoritarian leader. The Dictatorship Syndrome book by Alaa Al Aswany is a considered approach to why this happens and steps we can take to stop this happening.

I have read a number of Steven Johnson’s books in the past and picked this up in the library a while before they closed. It is about the process of making decisions and started off well before fizzling out a little.

Two little chemistry books this month that look at the same subject elements (sorry) in very different ways. The first book looks at 50 elements and some of their history and the second covers all the elements.


There were five travel books in this months reading, the first two are by the same author, but set in very different places. In Against a Peacock Sky, Monica Connell is high up in Nepal learning about the people of Talphi. Closer to home, Gathering Carrageen is about time spent on the wild coat of Donegal. She is a beautiful writer. Another travel classic is Roumeli by the immense talent that is Patrick Leigh Fermor. Another very good book about the country that he fell in love with, Greece.


The Frayed Atlantic Edge is a book about travel and history and people and place. In this David Gange travels down the western seaboard of our island and experiences all that the Atlantic Ocean throws at him. Though it was really good. This next book is one for my #20BooksOfSummer and #WorldFromMyArmchair Challenge and is a blend of history, travel and biography about the author George Orwell. Really nicely written book.


I normally hate football, but my first book of the month is a book about football, Unseen Academicals. But is it Terry Pratchett who manages to make this so much more than the beautiful game (it isn’t, that is cricket…) and does it with wonderfully wry humour about the human condition. My second book of the month is Greenery, the latest book from the writing genius that is Tim Dee. He is following the swallows from South Africa north into Europe, but there is so much more to this. Like all of his others, it is magnificent.


Have you read any of these?


Now you have seen them, is there any that you want to read now?


Let me know in the comments below.

Further 2020 Releases

I have been through all of the autumn 2020 publishers catalogues that could lay my hands on. I have extracted all the books that I really really like the look of. Most are non-fiction, as you have probably come to expect by now, but there are a smattering of fiction and sci-fi in there. This is why my TBR is never going to end!!!


Allen Lane

The Sirens of Mars – Sarah Stewart Johnson

Owls of the Eastern Ice – Jonathan C. Slaght

Calling Bullshit – Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West

Bunker – Bradley Garrett

English Pastoral – James Rebanks

The Ten Equations that Rule the World – David Sumpter


Bodley Head

Why We Drive – Matthew Crawford

Science Fictions – Stuart Ritchie

The Janus Point – Julian Barbour

Ten Tips for Surviving a Black Hole – Janna Levin



Wild Abandon – Jen Barclay



The Secret History of Here – Alistair Moffat

Idiot Wind – Peter Kaldheim

The Oak Papers – James Canton

Antlers of Water – Ed. Kathleen Jamie



Ingredients – George Zaidan

Queen of Spies – Paddy Hayes



Impact: Reshaping capitalism to drive real change – Ronald Cohen

Why We Swim – Bonnie Tsui

Letters from an Astrophysicist – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Perfect Planet – Huw Cordey



Tales From the Life of Bruce Wannell – Various


Elliott & Thompson

Into The Tangled Bank – Lev Parikian


Faber & Faber

Conflicted – Ian Leslie

Beneath the Night – Stuart Clarke

Lost for Words – Alex Bellos

The Stubborn Light Of Things – Melissa Harrison



The Museum of Whales You Will Never See – A. Kendra Greene

Undreamed Shores – Frances Larson

Eat the Buddha – Barbara Demick

Between Light and Storm – Esther Woolfson


Hamish Hamiton

The Lost Spells – Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris


Head of Zeus

99% – Mark Thomas

We, Robots – Simon Ings (ed.)

Jet Man – Duncan Campbell-Smith

Languages are Good for Us – Sophie Hardach

Voyagers: The Settlement of the Pacific – Nicholas Thomas

The Gardens of Mars Madagascar, an Island Story – John Gimlette

The First Kingdom – Max Adams

The Wild Isles – Patrick Barkham (ed.)

The Cabin in the Mountains – Robert Ferguson


Icon Books

The Gran Tour – Ben Aiken


Jonathan Cape

Vesper Flights – Helen Macdonald

Inmates – Sean Borodale

Gigantic Cinema – Ed. Alice Oswald and Paul Keegan



The Border – Erika Fatland


Michael Joseph

A History of Britain in 12 Maps – Philip Parker



Weirdest Maths At the Frontiers of Reason – David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee

The Last Stargazers – Emily Levesque

Survival of the Friendliest – Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

Them and Us – Philippe Legrain


Pan Macmillan

The Saints of Salvation – Peter F. Hamilton

The Dark Archive – Genevieve Cogman



The Bookseller’s Tale – Martin Latham



Reimagining Capitalism – Rebecca Henderson

Competition is Killing Us – Michelle Meagher

Bad Buying – Peter Smith

Investing To Save The Planet – Alice Ross

BANKING ON IT: How I Disrupted an Industry – Anne Boden



Summerwater – Sarah Moss

The Gospel of the Eels: A Father, a Son and the World’s Most Enigmatic Fish – Patrik Svensson

How The Hell Are You? – Glyn Maxwell

Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books – Cathy Rentzenbrink

The Running Book: A journey through memory, landscape and history – John Connell



Notes from Deep Time – Helen Gordon

The Velvet Rope Economy – Nelson Schwartz

Fabric – Victoria Finlay

The Colour Code – Paul Simpson



Red Sands – Caroline Eden


Reaktion Books

Crime Dot Com – Geoff White

Wanderers – Kerri Andrews

A History of Writing – Steven Roger Fischer

Landscape as Weapon – John Beck


Sandstone Press

The Actuality – Paul Braddon


Square Peg

The Swallow: A Biography – Stephen Moss



Slow Trains to Seville – Tom Chesshyre



Written In Bone – Sue Black

Privacy is Power – Carissa Véliz

The Wild Life of the Fox – John Lewis-Stempel


Two Roads

Tall Tales and Wee Stories – Billy Connolly



Agent Sonya – Ben Macintyre

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy – Arik Kershenbaum

How Spies Think – David Omand

Numbers Don’t Lie – Vaclav Smil



The Outlaw Ocean – Ian Urbina

Harvest – Edward Posnett



Hodder & Stoughton

The 2084 Report – James Lawrence Powell

Billion Dollar Loser – Reeves Wiedeman

Nala’s World – Dean Nicholson

The 99% Invisible City – Roman Mars & Kurt Kohlstedt

Clanlands – Sam Heughan & Graham McTavish

Good Enough – Eleanor Ross

Bread Therapy – Pauline Beaumont


Yellow Kite

TFL Quote of the Day – All on the board


John Murray

Burning the Books – Richard Ovenden

Meteorite – Tim Gregory

If, Then – Jill Lepore

Word Perfect – Susie Dent

Things I Learned on the 6.28 – Stig Abell


Two Roads

Spell In The Wild – Alice Tarbuck

Jeremy Hardy Speaks Volumes – Jeremy Hardy, ed. Katie Barlow & David Tyler



Outraged – Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles

The Book of Trespass – Nick Hayes

Behind the Enigma – John Ferris

How to Lose the Information War – Nina Jankowicz

Catching Stardust – Natalie Starkey

First Light – Emma Chapman


Any books in this list that take your fancy? Any that you weren’t aware of? More importantly, are there any that I have missed that you might know of?

May 2020 Review

May has come and gone, and we’re already into June. It seems to drag, but also passed really quickly in other ways. It was an interesting reading month too with a wide variety of books being read too. And here they all are:


The art and craft of stone masonry has always fascinated me and in the lovely book, Andrew Ziminski takes us through the stone monuments and buildings from the Neolitic period right up to the present day. Really enjoyable reading



Two very different fiction books this month, A Tall History of Sugar was set in Jamaica and England and is the story of a boy and man who never really fitted in either place. Didn’t really get along with this one.  I did like A Good Neighbourhood though which is a story of conflict between neighbours over a newly built home and the damage it caused to a tree. As the parents argue, they don’t notice their children are falling in love


I love books about language and The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Anthony Jones is a book of words that he has found to offer us comfort in these difficult times. Fascinating, as ever, from this word master.


I had read one of Nicholas Royle ‘s novels before, which I liked but didn’t love. I was offered his new book, Mother: A Memoir and found it to be a touching portrait of a proud lady. Well worth reading if you want to read a book about life in the 1960s



I read four natural history books this month, the first of which, The Birds They Sang is a wonderful book by the Polish author Stanisław Łubieński about his love for our avian friends. Paul Evan is a quality author and his first book for the Little Toller Monograph series, Herbaceous is a series of experimental essays on plants



Even those people who don’t like insects tend to like butterflies. The convoluted way that they got their names is explored in Peter Marren’s book, Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers. Beautifully produced and a wonderful read. Another plant book, The Brief Life Of Flowers by Fiona Stafford is the follow up to her book on trees. Small potted histories on a variety of different flowers.



Still managing to read two poetry books each month. I have only read Paul Farley’s non-fiction and was fortunate to win a copy of this. The Mizzy was the first of his collections that I have read, it is a contemporary take on the natural world and I can thoroughly recommend it. Poetry and photography is a powerful combination and Simon Corble has done a grand job of showing the landscape he loves in White Light White Peak.


Ignoring nasty things that happen to other people seems to be a thing at the moment! In The Bystander Effect, Catherine Sanderson considers just why we as humans we choose to walk on by, and discusses strategies for dealing with it better. Interesting reading.



The Silk Road is legendary now for the trade and ideas that flowed back and forth along it. Kate Harris and her friend decide that they want to cycle the route and experience the places and people. Not too bad a book overall, but didn’t have that extra something to make it a great travel book.

Being stuck on an island in the south Pacific has quite a lot of appeal at the moment. This travel classic by Eland, The Book of Puka-Puka is the story of Robert Dean Frisbiefalling in love with the island where he set up a trading post. Great insight into the people who acknowledged the external Christain Western influence, but never fully accepted it. Another by Eland is Mortiz Thomsen’s book written after he had been devoted off his farm in Ecuador and took a boat ride up the Amazon. he is quite introspective as a writer as he relives most of the pain of his life.


My book of the month is written by the youngest author I have ever read a book by.  – Dara McAnulty began this at the age of 14 and it was published last week a couple of months after his 16th birthday. He is autistic and is equally passionate and besotted about the natural world, life can be tough at times for him with bullying and the general nastiness of kids, bu wandering along a beach or finding insects in a field give him the peace and solace he needs to cope with the modern world. This is his story so far and he has a lot more to tell.

Twenty Books Of Summer Challenge

It is almost summer, and it feels like it with rising temperatures and almost a drought, so it must be time for this challenge once again. Run by Cathy at 746 Books, it is a challenge for blogger and anyone else to try and read through 20 books that are on their TBR. Last year when I took part, I had a few themes for the books that I was reading for it, Wainwright Prize,  water, mountains and Sicily and the odd travel book included. I managed to read 18 in the end, which is close but oh so annoying!

This year I am going to link it to another very long term personal challenge that I have been doing called, The World From My Armchair. The intention is to read a non-fiction travel book from every country in the world. There is more about it here and follow the hashtag on Twitter:  #WorldFromMyArmChair . I also chose travel because of the times we are living in, we had been aiming to go on holiday in August with four other families and it is not going to happen. The world that had been open to all that could is now closed as countries deal with the pandemic. Thankfully we can travel all around the globe from the comfort of our homes. So here is my list of books that I am intending (and hoping) to read:

Bangkok – Alec Waugh

In Bangkok, Alec Waugh has created the most fluent, truthful and affectionate portrait not only of the city, but also of the dynasty and culture which created it. Cutting through confusion and veiled mystery, he unravels the plots, coups, wars, assassinations, invasions and countercoups of three hundred years of history as if they were this evening’s street gossip. This loving description of the genius, fascination and enduring vitality of Thailand is told with Waugh’s customary delight in life and sensual appreciation. The story is brought up-to-date with an afterword by Bruce Palling, former Times correspondent in Thailand.






The Way of the World – Nicolas Bouvier and Translated by Robyn Marsack

A cult classic, The Way of the World is one of the most beguiling travel books ever written. Reborn from the ashes of a Pakistani rubbish heap, it tells of a friendship between a writer and an artist, forged on an impecunious, life-enhancing journey from Serbia to Afghanistan in the 1950s. On one level it is a candid description of a road journey, on another a meditation on travel as a journey towards the self, all written by a sage with a golden pen and a wide, infectious smile. It is published here for the first time in English with the Vernet drawings which are such a dynamic part of its whole.






Warriors – Gerald Hanley

Somalia is one of the world’s most desolate, sun-scorched lands, inhabited by independent-minded and fierce tribesmen. It was here that Gerald Hanley spent the Second World War, charged with preventing bloodshed between feuding tribes at a remote outstation. Rations were scarce, pay infrequent and his detachment of native soldiers near-mutinous.
In these extreme conditions seven British officers committed suicide, but Hanley describes the period as ‘the most valuable time’ of his life. He comes to understand the Somalis’ love of fighting and to admire their contempt for death. ‘Of all the races of Africa,’ he says, ‘there cannot be one better to live among than the most difficult, the proudest, the bravest, the vainest, the most merciless, the friendliest: the Somalis’.





Living Poor – Moritz Thomsen

At the age of 48, Moritz Thomsen sold his pig farm in California and joined the Peace Corps. For the next four years he lived in an impoverished village on the coast of Ecuador; its inhabitants were so poor that six chickens represented wealth, and cigarettes were bought one at a time, on credit. Thomsen discovered how difficult it was for an outsider to help, and most of his attempts were a mixture of tragedy and farce. This did not prevent him from entering into the hearts and minds of an alien people, becoming ‘just another person in a poor village, working out my own problems and frustrations, making friends and enemies like one more citizen of the town.’






Against a Peacock Sky – Monica Connell

For two years in the early 1980s Monica Connell lived as a paying guest of Kalchu and Chola in the Nepalese Himalayan village of Talphi. Gradually she was accepted as a member of the family, sharing its joys and sorrows as well as taking part in its various tasks from mud-plastering the house to rice planting in the terraced fields. The village, in the remote Jumla region of western Nepal, was ten days walk from the nearest road, and its only contact with the outside world was through trading expeditions: north to Tibet for salt, and south to the Indian border for cotton and metalware.






A Dragon Apparent – Norman Lewis

Travelling through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the twilight of the French colonial regime, Norman Lewis witnessed these ancient civilisations as they were before the terrible devastation of the Vietnam war. He creates a portrait of traditional societies struggling to retain their integrity in the embrace of the West. He meets emperors and slaves, brutal plantation owners and sympathetic French officers trapped by the economic imperatives of the colonial experiment.
From tribal animists to Viet-Minh guerrillas, he witnesses this heart-breaking struggle over and over, leaving a vital portrait of a society on the brink of catastrophic change.






Slow Train to Guantanamo – Peter Millar

Modern-day Cuba. Disabled by an American blockade, with a Communist system that has delivered atrocious standards of living, Cuba looks and feels like a nation at the end of a long, hard war.
Award-winning journalist Peter Millar jumps aboard a railway system that was once the pride of Latin America – and is now a crippled casualty case – to undertake a railway odyssey the length of Cuba in the dying days of the Castro regime. Starting in the ramshackle but romantic capital of Havana, once dominated by the US mafia, he travels with ordinary Cubans, sharing anecdotes, life stories and political opinions, to the far end of the island, where it meets a more modern blot on American history, the Guantanamo naval base and detention camp. Millar may not have all the answers but he asks the right questions on an anarchic entertaining and often comic adventure.
This is a journey everyone will want to read about – but no one in their right mind would want to follow!




Bitter Lemons of Cyprus – Lawrence Durrell

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus is Lawrence Durrell’s unique account of his time in Cyprus, during the 1950s Enosis movement for freedom of the island from British colonial rule. Winner of the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, it is a document at once personal, poetic and subtly political – a masterly combination of travelogue, memoir and treatise.
‘He writes as an artist, as well as a poet; he remembers colour and landscape and the nuances of peasant conversation . . . Eschewing politics, it says more about them than all our leading articles . . . In describing a political tragedy it often has great poetic beauty.’ Kingsley Martin, New Statesman
‘Durrell possesses exceptional qualifications. He speaks Greek fluently; he has a wide knowledge of modern Greek history, politics and literature; he has lived in continental Greece and has spent many years in other Greek islands . . . His account of this calamity is revelatory, moving and restrained. It is written in the sensitive and muscular prose of which he is so consummate a master.’ Harold Nicolson, Observer




Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan – Will Ferguson

It had never been done before. Not in 4000 years of Japanese recorded history had anyone followed the Cherry Blossom Front from one end of the country to the other. Nor had anyone hitchhiked the length of Japan. But, heady on sakura and sake, Will Ferguson bet he could do both. The resulting travelogue is one of the funniest and most illuminating books ever written about Japan. And, as Ferguson learns, it illustrates that to travel is better than to arrive.







Where The Hell Is Tuvalu? – Philip Ells

How does a young City lawyer end up as the People’s Lawyer of the fourth-smallest country in the world, 18,000 kilometres from home?
We’ve all thought about getting off the treadmill, turning life on its head and doing something worthwhile. Philip Ells dreamed of turquoise seas, sandy beaches and palm trees, and he found these in the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu. But neither his Voluntary Service Overseas briefing pack nor his legal training could prepare him for what happened there.
He learned to deal with rapes, murders, incest, the unforgivable crime of pig theft and to look a shark in the eye. But he never dared ask the octogenarian Tuvaluan chief why he sat immobilised by a massive rock permanently resting on his groin.Well, you wouldn’t, would you?

This is the story of a UK lawyer colliding with a Pacific island culture. The fallout is moving, dramatic, bewildering and often hilarious.




Red Tape and White Knuckles – Lois Pryce

Unafraid of a challenge, Lois Pryce began the kind of adventure most of us could only ever dream of. She put on her sparkly crash helmet, armed herself with maps and a baffling array of visas, and got on her bike. Destination: Cape Town – and the small matter of tackling the Sahara, war-torn Angola and the Congo Basin along the way – this feisty independent woman’s grand trek through the Dark Continent of Africa is the definitive motorcycling adventure.

Colourful and hilarious, Red Tape and White Knuckles is an action-packed tale about following your dreams that will have you packing your bags and jetting off into the sunset on your own adventure before you know it.





Jungle – Yossi Ghinsberg

‘I heard the rustle again, too close and too real to ignore. I clutched the flashlight, stuck my head out of the mosquito net… and found myself face-to-face with a jaguar.’
Four travellers meet in Bolivia and set off into the Amazon rainforest on an expedition to explore places tourists only dream of seeing. But what begins as the adventure of a lifetime quickly becomes a struggle for survival when they get lost in the wilds of the jungle.
The group splits up after disagreements, and Yossi and his friend try to find their own way back without a guide. But when a terrible rafting accident separates them, Yossi is forced to survive for weeks alone. Stranded without a knife, map or survival training, he must improvise in order to survive. He wonders if he will make it back alive.





Street Without a Name – Kapka Kassabova

After years on the outside, Bulgaria has finally made it into the EU club, but beyond the cliches about undrinkable plonk, cheap property, and assassins with poison-tipped umbrellas, the country remains a largely unknown quantity. Born on the muddy outskirts of Sofia, Kapka Kassabova grew up under Communism, got away just as soon as she could, and has loved and hated her homeland in equal measure ever since. In this illuminating and entertaining memoir, Kapka revisits Bulgaria and her own muddled relationship to it, travelling back to the scenes of her childhood, sampling its bizarre tourist sites, uncovering its centuries’ old history of bloodshed and blurred borders, and capturing the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of her own and her country’s past.






Roumeli – Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani compellingly revealed a hidden world of Southern Greece and its past. Its northern counterpart takes the reader among Sarakatsan shepherds, the monasteries of Meteora and the villages of Krakora, among itinerant pedlars and beggars, and even tracks down at Missolonghi a pair of Byron’s slippers. Roumeli is not on modern maps: it is the ancient name for the lands from the Bosphorus to the Adriatic and from Macedonia to the Gulf of Corinth. But it is the perfect, evocative name for the Greece that Fermor captures in writing that carries throughout his trademark vividness of description. But what is more, the pictures of people, traditions and landscapes that he creates on the page are imbued with an intimate understanding of Greece and its history.






The Traveller’s Tree – Patrick Leigh Fermor

In this, his first book, Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts his tales of a personal odyssey to the lands of the Traveller’s Tree – a tall, straight-trunked tree whose sheath-like leaves collect copious amounts of water. He made his way through the long island chain of the West Indies by steamer, aeroplane and sailing ship, noting in his records of the voyage the minute details of daily life, of the natural surroundings and of the idiosyncratic and distinct civilisations he encountered amongst the Caribbean Islands. From the ghostly Ciboneys and the dying Caribs to the religious eccentricities like the Kingston Pocomaniacs and the Poor Whites in the Islands of the Saints, Patrick Leigh Fermor recreates a vivid world, rich and vigorous with life.







The Marsh Arabs – Wilfred Thesiger

During the years he spent among the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq-long before they were almost completely wiped out by Saddam Hussein-Wilfred Thesiger came to understand, admire, and share a way of life that had endured for many centuries. Travelling from village to village by canoe, he won acceptance by dispensing medicine and treating the sick. In this account of a nearly lost civilization, he pays tribute to the hospitality, loyalty, courage, and endurance of the people, and describes their impressive reed houses, the waterways and lakes teeming with wildlife, the herding of buffalo and hunting of wild boar, moments of tragedy, and moments of pure comedy in vivid, engaging detail.






Finding George Orwell in Burma – Emma Larkin

Over the years the American writer Emma Larkin has spent travelling in Burma, also known as Myanmar, she’s come to know all too well the many ways this brutal police state can be described as “Orwellian.” The life of the mind exists in a state of siege in Burma, and it long has. But Burma’s connection to George Orwell is not merely metaphorical; it is much deeper and more real. Orwell’s mother was born in Burma, at the height of the British raj, and Orwell was fundamentally shaped by his experiences in Burma as a young man working for the British Imperial Police. When Orwell died, the novel-in-progress on his desk was set in Burma. It is the place George Orwell’s work holds in Burma today, however, that most struck Emma Larkin. She was frequently told by Burmese acquaintances that Orwell did not write one book about their country – his first novel, Burmese Days – but in fact, he wrote three, the “trilogy” that included Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Larkin quietly asked one Burmese intellectual if he knew the work of George Orwell, he stared blankly for a moment and then said, “Ah, you mean the prophet!”
In one of the most intrepid political travelogues in recent memory, Emma Larkin tells of the year she spent travelling through Burma using the life and work of George Orwell as her compass. Going from Mandalay and Rangoon to poor delta backwaters and up to the old hill-station towns in the mountains of Burma’s far north, Larkin visits the places where Orwell worked and lived, and the places his books live still. She brings to vivid life a country and a people cut off from the rest of the world, and from one another, by the ruling military junta and its vast network of spies and informers. Using Orwell enables her to show, effortlessly, the weight of the colonial experience on Burma today, the ghosts of which are invisible and everywhere. More importantly, she finds that the path she charts leads her to the people who have found ways to somehow resist the soul-crushing effects of life in this most cruel police state. And George Orwell’s moral clarity, hatred of injustice, and keen powers of observation serve as the author’s compass in another sense too: they are qualities she shares and they suffuse her book – the keenest and finest reckoning with life in this police state that has yet been written.


From Rome To San Marino – Oliver Knox

In the spring of 1980, Oliver Knox Set out to follow on foot the track of Garibaldi’s retreat from Rome over what is still a very beautiful and little visited part of Italy. The Walk he describes is a long zig-zag up Central Italy, along the foothills and over the high Apennines. The author’s experiences and encounters are interwoven with the story of the retreat from Rome to San Marino during the summer of 1849 after the fall of the short-lived Roman Republic.

The ghost of the romantic General is ever-present to enhance the scene that meets the traveller’s eye. Oliver Knox has drawn on contemporary diaries and accounts, hitherto unpublished in English, to tell a vivid story of skirmishes and escapes, of ambushes and ‘miracles’, of the losings of the way on the stony mountain-tracks, of kidnapping of monks, of hunger and thirst endured and satisfied. These adventures touch a sympathetic chord in the author, whose enjoyment of the weather and wild country. of small towns and the company he finds in them sharpens his appetite for what is set before him. He does not allow the figure of Garibaldi to obscure the feeling of the citizens of Orvieto, Todi, Arezzo and other towns suddenly faced with the incursion of this strange army that numbered among its officer a distinctly disreputable ex-Coldstreamer as well as a Barnabite priest and a wine-merchant.

It is this awareness of people and the enjoyment of their welcome that gives especial delight to this enchanting account of a long walk through out-of-the-way parts of Tuscany, Umbria and the Marches. Everyone who enjoys travelling in Italy will enjoy this book.


Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah’s Beard – Nicholas Jubber

An engrossing blend of travel writing and history, Drinking Arak off an Ayatollah’s Beard traces one man’s adventure-filled journey through today’s Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, and describes his remarkable attempt to make sense of the present by delving into the past.

Setting out to gain insight into the lives of Iranians and Afghans today, Nicholas Jubber is surprised to uncover the legacy of a vibrant pre-Islamic Persian culture that has endured even in times of the most fanatic religious fundamentalism. Everywhere—from underground dance parties to religious shrines to opium dens—he finds powerful and unbreakable connections to a time when both Iran and Afghanistan were part of the same mighty empire, when the flame of Persian culture lit up the world.

Whether through his encounters with poets and cab drivers or run-ins with “pleasure daughters” and mujahideen, again and again Jubber is drawn back to the eleventh-century Persian epic, the Shahnameh (“Book of Kings”). The poem becomes not only his window into the region’s past, but also his link to its tumultuous present, and through it Jubber gains access to an Iran and Afghanistan seldom revealed or depicted: inside-out worlds in which he has tea with a warlord, is taught how to walk like an Afghan, and even discovers, on a night full of bootleg alcohol and dancing, what it means to drink arak off an Ayatollah’s beard.


Mirror to Damascus – Colin Thubron

Mirror to Damascus is a unique portrait of a city now obscured by recent upheavals, by one of the most indefatigable and popular of travel writers.
Described by the author as simply “a work of love,” Mirror to Damascus is an enthralling and fascinating history of Damascus from the Amorites of the Bible to the revolution of 1966, as well as being a charming and witty personal record of a city well-loved.
In explaining how modern Damascus is rooted in immemorial layers of culture and tradition, Thubron explores the historical, artistic, social and religious inheritance of the Damascenes in an amusing and perceptive manner, whilst interspersing the narrative with innumerable anecdotes about travellers of bygone days.





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


May 2020 TBR

I haven’t been reading as much as I normally do or would like, but I fully intend to read as many of these as possible this month

Finishing Off

Diary of a Young Naturalist – Dara McAnulty

A Tall History of Sugar Curdella Forbes

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

Lands Of Lost Borders – Kate Harris

Hollow Places – Christopher Hadley

Lotharingia – Simon Winder


Review Copies

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins (wavering on this one a little with all the publicity about this)

A Good Neighbourhood – Therese Anne Fowler

Mother: A Memoir – Nicholas Royle

The Dictatorship Syndrome – Alaa Al Aswany

The Birds They Sang – Stanisław Łubieński

The Bystander Effect – Catherine A. Sanderson

The Many Lives of Carbon – Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

30-Second Elements – Eric Scerri

Elementary – James M. Russell

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers – Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific Robert – Dean Frisbie

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

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

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century – Fred Pearce

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea

Sunfall – Jim Al-Khalili


Library Books

The Stonemason – Andrew Ziminski

Sea People – Christina Thompson

The Way To The Sea – Caroline Crampton

A Beginner’s Guide To Japan – Pico Iyer

Pie Fidelity – Pete Brown

The Bells of Old Tokyo – Anna Sherman



Challenge Books

Unseen Academicals – Terry Pratchett

Herbaceous – Paul Evans


Own Books

Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers – Peter Marren

Water and Sky – Neil Sentance

Ridge and Furrow – Neil Sentance



The Mizzy – Paul Farley

White Light White Peak – Simon Corble


Science Fiction

I ended up reading Agency last month so this is still on the list:

One Way – S.J. Morden

March 2020 Review

Well, that was a long month and possibly one of the most surreal that I have ever lived through. I can’t see it getting any better any time soon though. I hope that you are all safe and well and coping with staying at home. I have been at work the last two week because this was the week that we planned to move at work and we had stock and the production line to move. We did it, we’re in It is all working and I am shattered. Thankfully, I now have a week off and I am looking forward to some government-approved walks and reading.

First some stats after reaching a quarter of the way through the year.

I have read 49 books and 13492 pages. Thirty-three of the authors were male and the remaining 17 were female (34%). I have read 21 review books, 19 library books and 9 of my own.

Top three publishers are:

Faber – 5 books

Eland – 3 Books

Jonathan Cape – 3 books

Top three genres are:

Travel – 11 books

Memoir – 7 books

Poetry – 6 books


Anyway onto the books that I read in March. I only managed to get through 16 from the huge TBR that I posted and they were

I had really enjoyed Alistair Moffat’s previous book, The Hidden Ways and was fortunate enough to get To The Island Of Tides from the library. Partly a memoir and eulogy to a lost grandchild, this is a personal pilgrimage to the island of Lindisfarne walking through the historical landscape of Scotland and Northern England.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is one of the books on the Dylan Thomas Prize and I was kindly sent a copy to read by Martina at Midas. It is a semi-autobiographical book about a mixed-race lad who in a letter to thin mother is exploring his past and his sexuality. Well written but not entirely my thing, but it is good to push your boundaries.


Memoirs seemed the be the thing this month. I have always loved electronic and dance music, but never really been into the club scene. The Secret DJ is a funny and sometimes shocking book about the drug-fuelled world of the international jet setting DJ. Even if we knew who had written it, I would probably never of heard of them anyway. Another really funny memoir is This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay about his time as a junior doctor. In amongst all the blood is a touching story of helping people who are in great need. Keggie Carew is quite some character, in her first book Dadland we learnt about the amazing things her father got up to, and in Quicksand Tales, she is recounting various amusing and terrifying misadventures. Jean Sprackland is a great writer and was please to get an early copy of These Silent Mansions from the library. In this book, she travels back to places she used to live and revisits the graveyards that were places of solitude and calm in her busy life.

Just as the weekend storms finish and the country enters into lockdown spring arrives and the sun comes out. I try and make a habit os reading a seasonal book each time the world runs on the equinox or solstice and this year I picked up The Nature Of Spring by Jim Crumley. I had read his Winter book in December and was really looking forward to it as he is a writer of immense talent. I wasn’t disappointed either and am now looking forward to his final one in the series, Summer.



Two poetry books last month that dealt with personal matters. the first is fairly obvious, Alcoholic Betty by Elisabeth Horan is about her battle with the demon drink. The second book, If All the World and Love Were Young is about grief set in the context of the Mario Cart video game. This book by Stephen Sexton is another from the Dylan Thomas Prize

Dervla Murphy is a very independent-minded lady and she wanted to see for herself what life is like in Gaza. She stayed there a month and wrote about it in A Month by the Sea. It is not the easiest book to read given its subject matter, but it is still worth doing so just to have some insight as to what life is like there.



This Book Will Blow Your Mind is a collection of stories and articles from the New Scientist brought together in various themes. Not a bad book, but my mind is still intact after reading this. I had read Gaia Vince’s first book, Adventures in the Anthropocene and thought it was a good summation of the mess that we have made of the planet. Transcendence is looking at how we came to be the most dominant species on the planet and how evolution for other species has not had similar results. It was interesting but I didn’t like it as much as her first book



Only read two travel books this month, the first was A Pattern of Islands. This was Arthur Grimble and stories of his time spent in the Kiribati islands in the pacific. He became very fond of the people and their pagan rituals that still existed even with pressure from Christian Missionaries. Trade routes have been around for millennia and one that was specific to Europe was the Amber Route. People bought amber, the fossilised remains of tree sap from the Baltic coast down to the Mediterranean coast where it was turned into fine objects and then shipped it back along the same trail. C.J. Schuller travels along the same route, finding places where amber has been celebrated and finding his own family history in the places he passes through. Even better, I could use both for my #WorldFromMyArmchair.


Two books of the month in March. First is Irreplaceable by Julian Hoffman. This is a celebration and a call to arms of some of the most beautiful and fragile wild places. Places that we are highly likely to lose unless we change our ways.

My second book of the month is Ghost Town by Jeff Young. It is a beautifully written book about family memories of growing up in Liverpool and re walking the streets that he did when younger.

April 2020 TBR

I hope that all of you reading this are keeping safe and well. We are living in interesting times at the moment, my library service has shut for the foreseeable future and renewed all the books that I have out until the 2nd of July. Because of this, I have changed the priority of things around this month and resorted my spreadsheet and have come up with the following TBR. It is pretty long and there is no way that I am going to be able to get through all of them, but these have been sorted into 2020 books first.  I won’t probably read them in this particular order, but it is a plan.

American Dirt by Jeanie Cummins
A Tall History of Sugar by Curdella Forbes
Origins by Lewis Dartnell
Unspeakable by Harriet Shawcross
To The Lake by Kapka Kassabova
The Ice House by Tim Clare
When by Daniel H. Pink
Lotharingia by Simon Winder
Last Days In Old Europe by Richard Bassett
Liquid Gold by Roger Morgan-Grenville
The Stonemason by Andrew Ziminski
Sea People by Christina Thompson
The Way To The Sea by Caroline Crampton
A Good Neighbourhood by Therese Anne Fowler
We’re Living Through The Breakdown by Tatton Spiller
Horizon by Barry Lopez
Marram by Leonie Charlton
The Supernavigators by David Barrie
Awakening by Sam Love
London Made Us by Robert Elms
The Fens by Francis Pryor
A Beginner’s Guide To Japan by Pico Iyer
Pie Fidelity by Pete Brown
The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman
A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
Holding Unfailing by Edward Ragg
Vickery’s Folk Flora by Roy Vickery
Lands Of Lost Borders by Kate Harris
Hollow Places by Christopher Hadley
The Many Lives of Carbon by Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce
The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen
The Book of Puka-Puka by Robert Dean Frisbie
The House of Islam by Ed Husain
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce
The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili
One Way by S.J. Morden

February 2020 Review

We had an extra day in February, so Happy Leap Year! Even with that extra day I didn’t manage to read all that I wanted to but did manage a healthy 16 books in the end. I also had my judging day in London for the Edward Stanford Travel Awards, where I was reading the Adventure Travel category. I was also fortunate to get an invite to the award presentation for this. Had a really great evening and met several authors that I had only know via the Twittersphere.

Anyway, to the books for February.

I don’t read much fantasy, but having read Uprooted by Naomi Novik a while back I jumped at the chance of Spinning Silver when offered a copy. I liked the world-building and some of the plot but didn’t get along with the way the narrative changed points of view. Overall I thought it was a good book, but was a little long.


The Edge Of The World by Michael Pye is a book about the countries surrounding the North Sea and how that blend of cultures and peoples defined Europe and us. In here he focuses on specific subjects, but I felt it would have been better if he had concentrated on time periods so you could track the way it changed.



I am a big fan of Laurie Lee, he had a gentle poetic way with words. This new book of his, Down In The Valley is a transcription of his conversations that he had whilst making a BBC documentary. It has some of the magic, but not all and I think that this is down to the way we speak and write tends to be different. I picked up Cobra In The Bath by Miles Morland thinking it would be a suitable book for my #WorldFromMyArmchair challenge where I am reading a travel or non-fiction book that is set in or passes through every country in the world. Turns out this was a slightly pompous memoir about his unusual upbringing and work as an investment banker with a little bit of travel tacked on the end.



I had supported the publication of this book by Anita Roy, A Year In Kingcombe. For those that don’t know, this owned by Dorset Wildlife Trust and is a beautiful place to visit. This is about twelve visits that the author took over the course of a year. Matt Gaw’s book The Pull of the River was a favourite when I first read it and I was really pleased to receive his new book, Under the Stars. In here he sets out to discover the beauty of the night sky for himself and scratches the surface of the night landscape. Well worth reading.


Two very different poetry book this month, first up A Force That Takes by Edward Ragg which the author kindly sent me. It is a wide-ranging collection that contains one of my all-time favourite poems. I won Soho by Richard Scott in one of the Costa giveaways and hadn’t got to read it until now. It is a pretty graphic collection of poems about gay relationships, not my usual reading, but it is good to read beyond your regular haunts sometimes.



I read two science books this month too. The first is Through Two Doors at Once by Anil Ananthaswamy. This is about the two-slit experiment that shows how light is both a wave and a particle at the same time. Quantum mechanics is not the easiest of subjects, but Ananthaswamy manages to make some of this non-baffling… I was lucky enough to receive the new book from Marcus Chown too, The Magicians. In here he has dramatised the ten most significant events in the development of physics and done a really good job of it.



The Impossible Climb was one of the books that I was judging on for the Edward Stanford Travel Awards. It is about Alex Honnold dramatic free solo climb of El Capitan and climbing life in general in Yosemite. The guy is mad and brilliant at the same time. Alexander Kinglake was a traveller in the middle east in the middle of the 19th century and Eothen has just been republished by Eland. He is cited as influencing many travel writers since. It is an interesting book, full of insight and imperial attitudes, but worth a read.  Gail Simmons arranged for me to receive a copy of her book, The Country of Larks. It is a short book as she follows the path of HS2 across the Chilterns and walks in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson. Beautifully written too.



I had three books of the month in February, Sea of Rust C. Robert Cargill which is a bleak, post-humanity story around a robot forging a life in this world scoured of all life. Another bleak science fiction book by Ben Smith called Doggerland where two men are charged with maintaining the wind farm off the Norfolk coast. It is hauntingly beautiful and disturbing at the same time. Finally is Mudlarking, a story of things that are found on the Thames foreshore. This social history book by Lara Maiklem is as fascinating as the things that she finds every time the tide goes out.

March 2020 TBR

Trying to get on top of things this month and be a bit more organised, so have been thinking about this for a few days.  It is far too many, but I really need to put the pedal to the metal with the number of books I read each month, so here is my TBR for March:

Finishing Off

To the Island of Tides – Alistair Moffat


Blog Tour

I am participating in the blog tour for the Dylan Thomas Prize this year. This year’s longlist comprises of seven novels, three poetry collections and two short story collections with some amazing names on the list such as Jay Bernard, Helen Mort, Yelena Moskovich, Mary Jean Chan and many other wonderful writers. I will be reading two books from the longlist:

If All the World and Love Were Young – Stephen Sexton

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong


Review Copies

American Dirt – Jeanie Cummins (wavering on this one a little with all the publicity about this)

Along the Amber Route: St Petersburg to Venice – C.J. Schuller

Liquid Gold: Bees and the Pursuit of Midlife Honey – Roger Morgan-Grenville

A Good Neighbourhood – Therese Anne Fowler

We’re Living Through The Breakdown – Tatton Spiller

Marram: Memories of Sea and Spider Silk – Leonie Charlton

A Good Neighbourhood – Therese Anne Fowler

Vickery’s Folk Flora: An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants – Roy Vickery

The Many Lives of Carbon – Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers – Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific Robert – Dean Frisbie

Irreplaceable: The Fight To Save Our Wild Places – Julian Hoffman

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

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

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century – Fred Pearce

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea

Sunfall – Jim Al-Khalili


Library Books

Britain by the Book – Oliver Tearle

Footnotes – Peter Fiennes

A Month by the Sea: Encounters in Gaza – Dervla Murphy

The Secret DJ – Anonymous

A Pattern of Islands – Arthur Grimble

This Book Will Blow Your Mind -Frank Swain (Ed.)

Concretopia: A journey around the rebuilding of postwar Britain -John Grindrod


Challenge Books

A Hat Full of Sky – Terry Pratchett

This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay

How the Light Gets In – Clare Fisher



The lovely Isabelle from Fly on the Wall Press sent me these:

Awakening: Musing on Planetary Survival – Sam Love

Alcoholic Betty – Elisabeth Horan


Science Fiction

I ended up reading Sea of Rust last month so this is still on the list:

One Way – S.J. Morden

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