Category: Book Musings (Page 1 of 13)

August 2020 Review

August has come and gone, all to soo as the advent of September brings forth autumn. Gone are the balmy long evenings and the nights close in all too soon. That said, I like this season as much as the others, but it does feel that this side of the planet is spent and needs time to rest. But you’re here for the books really. Not a bad month, in the end, did get seventeen books read in the end. Much less that I thought I would get through even though we had a lovely weeks holiday in Jersey. It was a good selection as ever with a lot of different books, so here they are:



I have read A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab a long while ago and found this in a charity shop so I thought I’d give it ago. Not normally a fan of superhero stuff, but this was very different and I really enjoyed it. The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood is a classic Victorian Gothic melodrama. I won this and thought that I would give it a go. I am not being a huge fan of the genre but I thought this was well written even if it didn’t do much for me. Been meaning to read Liminal for a long while. It is a domestic thriller with a dash of folk horror mixed in and pretty good book overall.



Sometimes nature writing is about more than the flora and fauna and these are two books that show what I call landscape writing off to a T. Dick Capel’s The Stream Invites Us To Follow is about the Eden Valley and his contribution to the artworks along its length. Native is very different, in this, Patrick Laurie writes about how hard it is to farm in Galloway, but also how rewarding it is too.


Staying in Scotland, Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers is exactly what it says it is, a gold mine Scottish Words, some of which have drifted into the mainstream vernacular and a lot that hasn’t ventured south of the border until now.


I love maps, and whilst this isn’t your classic OS map, it is a brilliant way of comparing lots of similar and disparate information about all manner of subjects.


I have heard of most of these mathematical discoveries in Fibonacci’s Rabbits by Adam Hart-Davis, but it had been a long while since I had thought about them. It is a nicely laid out book and shouldn’t frighten the novice too much.


Family museums are not a thing at the moment, but they could be after this book. In here Rachel Morris takes us through her not so straight forward family tree, whilst comparing the curating that she is doing to the advent of museums as a store for our memories.


One of my favourite trees is the oak, it is my family name after all. James Canton spent a couple of years watching and studying the Honywood Oak near where he lives in Essex. It was a place he could go to during a difficult episode in his life, but it is more than that, in that he uses it as a prism to look at the natural world and how we have used these trees over time.



My two poetry books this month were both from Penned in the Margins. Both very different and enjoyable in their own way.




Bitter Lemons of Cyprus was the first book that I have read by Lawrence Durrell or any Durrell for that matter. He is a really good writer and I enjoyed this a lot. Have now acquired several of his others to read. Kapka Kassabovais another beguiling writer, and in A Street without a Name she reminisces and revisits her home country of Bulgaria, a place she loved and lothed in equal measure.



Walking through a tropical jungle is not many people’s idea of fun. Getting lost in one and separated from the rest of your party isn’t going to be on many people’s wishlist. This is what happened to Yossi Ghinsberg and he survived to tell the tale and this is his book about it. Still, in South America, Ronald Wright tells us about his travels in Peru in Cut Stones and Crossroads. Excellent writing by a man who is fascinated by all he sees around him

My book of the month is another Eland, The Way Of The World: Two Men In A Car From Geneva To The Khyber Pass. This was Nicolas Bouvier’s first books and I would say that it should be an essential read for anyone wanting to discover classic travel writing. I have had a copy of this for a while now and wish I had picked it up earlier.

September 2020 TBR

Still only managing to read around 16 a month at the moment, so only expecting to get through about half of these, However, here is my TBR for September:


Finishing Off (Still!)

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery (now halfway through!)

Lotharingia – Simon Winder


Blog Tours

None this month


Review Copies

Thank you to the publishers that have sent me these review copies:

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

The Maths Of Life And Death – Kit Yates

Time Among the Maya – Ronald Wright

Rewilding – Paul Jepson, Cain Blythe

A Time Of Birds – Helen Moat

The Goddess of Macau– Graeme Hall

The Gospel of the Eels– Patrik Svensson

Tales from the life of Bruce Wannell– Kevin Rushby

Unofficial Britain– Gareth E. Rees

DH Lawrence in Italy– Richard Owen

Rotherweird – Andrew Caldecot

Wyntertide – Andrew Caldecot


Wainwright Prize

Only read one so definitely want to read the first two on the list before the prize announcement.

Dar, Salt, Clear – Lamona Ash

Dancing with Bees – Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Rebirding – Benedict Macdonald


Library Books

Complete change around from last month as for the first time in a very long time I have had to renew my library books. These are the next books due back fairly soon now:

Lone Rider – Elspeth Beard

Losing Eden – Lucy Jones

Inglorious – Mark Avery

Nightingales In November – Mike Dilger

Nine Pints – Rose George

Buzz – Thor Hanson


Challenge Books

As well as a dusty shelf challenge that I am running on Good Reads, I am joining in with #20BooksOfSummer run by Cathy at 746 books.

From Rome to San Marino – Oliver Knox

Hokkaido Highway Blues – Will Ferguson

A Dragon Apparent – Norman Lewis

Slow Train to Guantanamo – Peter Millar

Corvus: A Life with Birds – Esther Woolfson

In Search of Conrad – Gavin Young


Own Books

See challenge books!



How to Make Curry Goat –  Louise McStravick

Tongues of Fire – Seán Hewitt


Science Fiction

Didn’t read any last month (yet again!!!) so this is still on the list:

One Way – S.J. Morden

July 2020 Review

Another month whizzes by and another birthday for me too. Not sure I am any wiser yet… Really good reading this month too, with three books getting five stars and I managed to read 18 too! So here we go.

Not quite sure how I got to hear about this one but managed to get a library copy prior to lockdown. This is a multi-layered story about a Piers Shonks who was supposed to have slain a dragon. Unpicking the fact from the myth takes Hadley all around the country.

Landscapes of Detectorists is about the TV series that is as much about the human character as it is the landscape. In here four academics look at what makes this such a wonderful comedy.

Alex Bellos keep coming up with really good puzzle books and So You Think You’ve Got Problems? is no exception. Brain stretching stuff.

Two very good books from the writer, Neil Sentance on his family history in the fields of Lincolnshire. Really nicely written vignettes of place too.


Roy Dennis has been a passionate supporter of the natural world and the environment for decades. There are 52 essays in her with his take on what we should be doing and some of his past successes in the reintroduction of extinct birds and animals.

I love spending time by the sea, and if you are going to do that then you can’t go wrong picking up these two books. Buttivant’s enthusiasm pours out of the page in Rock Pool and this new edition of Shell Life on the Seashore is beautifully done. Definitely worthy additions to your shelves.


Two poetry books this month, both utterly different. Flèche deals with complex themes of multilingualism, queerness, psychoanalysis and cultural history and The Picture of the Wind is about that perennial British obsession, the weather.


Finally got to read this one, it has been on my TBR for months, and it is a well-written explanation of why carbon is key to life on this planet.

I had read Gabriel Hemery’s book called Green Gold, and when he offered me a copy of this I accepted. It is a collection of fiction stories about trees and often ventures into the science fiction realm. Really enjoyed this.

We rely on codes in almost all things on the web and this book is about their evolution from ancient times to the modern-day. Clear explanations and lots of graphics and pictures

Lots of travel books this month. I have read all of Jamie’s natural history books abut not this one. It is excellent, as you expect from an accomplished writer, full of empathy of the people that she is staying with. Thubron is one of my favourite travel writers but I had not read this, his first book about Syria. It is really good, but a touch heavy on the history, I much preferred his dealing with the people of that city.


And now for my books of the month, three this time. Two are real-life stories of experience in World War 2, one set in Somalia and the other in Italy. Both writers are sensitive to the people that they are alongside and they are both full of tiny details about how life was at that time. Lev Parikian’s new book, Into The Tangled Bank, is my final book of the month. In here he writes about his wider experiences of exploring the natural world and pays homage to some of the great of nature writing. Very funny and occasionally a bit rude!


So there we go. Have you read any of these? Are there any that you now want to read? Let me know below.


Wainwright Shortlisted Books

It is that time of the year again when the shortlist for one of my favourite prizes is announced. Yesterday the two shortlists for The Wainwright Prize were announced. Normally by now, I would have read all of the books on the longlist and have some strong opinions as to what should be populating the shortlist, but due to many other factors and commitments this year I haven’t got to all of them. There is a pile of books glaring at me from a bookcase to be read soon. But without further ado, here is the shortlist:

Diary of a Young Naturalist – Dara McAnulty (Little Toller Books)

Diary of a Young Naturalist chronicles the turning of 15-year-old Dara McAnulty’s world. From spring and through a year in his home patch in Northern Ireland, Dara spent the seasons writing. These vivid, evocative and moving diary entries about his connection to wildlife and the way he sees the world are raw in their telling. “I was diagnosed with Asperger’s/autism aged five … By age seven I knew I was very different, I had got used to the isolation, my inability to break through into the world of talking about football or Minecraft was not tolerated. Then came the bullying. Nature became so much more than an escape; it became a life-support system.” Diary of a Young Naturalist portrays Dara’s intense connection to the natural world, and his perspective as a teenager juggling exams and friendships alongside a life of campaigning. “In writing this book,” Dara explains, “I have experienced challenges but also felt incredible joy, wonder, curiosity and excitement. In sharing this journey my hope is that people of all generations will not only understand autism a little more but also appreciate a child’s eye view on our delicate and changing biosphere.”




The Frayed Atlantic Edge – David Gange (William Collins)

An original snapshot of the beauty of the British Isles, as captured by a brand new voice in nature and travel writing.

After two decades exploring the Western coast and mountains of the British Isles, the historian and nature writer David Gange set out to travel the seaboard in the course of a year. This coastline spans just eight-hundred miles as the crow flies, but the complex folds of its firths and headlands stretch more than ten-thousand. Even those who circumnavigate Britain by kayak tend to follow the shortest route; the purpose of this journey was to discover these coastlines by seeking out the longest.

Travelling by kayak, on foot and at the end of a rope, Gange encounters wildcats, basking sharks and vast colonies of seabirds, as well as rich and diverse coastal communities. Spending nights in sight of the sea, outdoors and without a tent, the journey crosses hundreds of peaks and millions of waves. With an eye attuned both to nature and the traces of the past, Gange evokes living worlds and lost worlds on the tattered edges of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England.

Written with literary finesse in an immersive style, and informed by history, this new talent in nature writing takes us on a whirlwind trip over the course of twelve months, each chapter serving as a love letter to a different region of the British coastline.

On the Red Hill – Mike Parker (Cornerstone)

In early 2006, Mike Parker and his partner Peredur were witnesses at the first civil partnership ceremony in the small Welsh town of Machynlleth. The celebrants were their friends Reg and George, who had moved to deepest rural Wales in 1972, not long after the decriminalisation of homosexuality. When Reg and George died within a few weeks of each other in 2011, Mike and Peredur discovered that they had been left their home: a whitewashed ‘house from the children’s stories’, buried deep within the hills. They had also been left a lifetime’s collection of diaries, photographs, letters and books, all revealing an extraordinary history.

On the Red Hill is the story of Rhiw Goch, ‘the Red Hill’, and its inhabitants, but also the story of a remarkable rural community and a legacy that extends far beyond bricks and mortar. On The Red Hill celebrates the turn of the year’s wheel, of ever-changing landscapes, and of the family to be found in the unlikeliest of places. Taking the four seasons, the four elements and these four lives as his structure, Mike Parker creates a lyrical but clear-eyed exploration of the natural world, the challenges of accepting one’s place in it, and what it can mean to find home.



Dark, Salt, Clear – Lamorna Ash (Bloomsbury)

A captivating, lyrical and deeply discerning portrait of life in the Cornish town of Newlyn, the largest working fishing port in Britain, from a brilliant debut writer
There is the Cornwall Lamorna Ash knew as a child – the idyllic, folklore-rich place where she spent her summer holidays. Then there is the Cornwall she discovers when, feeling increasingly dislocated in London, she moves to Newlyn, a fishing town near Land’s End. This Cornwall is messier and harder; it doesn’t seem like a place that would welcome strangers.
Before long, however, Lamorna finds herself on a week-long trawler trip with a crew of local fishermen, afforded a rare glimpse into their world, their warmth and their humour. Out on the water, miles from the coast, she learns how fishing requires you to confront who you are and what it is that tethers you to the land. But she also realises that this proud and compassionate community, sustained and defined by the sea for centuries, is under threat, living in the lengthening shadow cast by globalisation.
An evocative journey of personal discovery replete with the poetry and deep history of our fishing communities, Dark, Salt, Clear confirms Lamorna Ash as a strikingly original new voice.


Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape – Patrick Laurie (Birlinn)

Desperate to connect with his native Galloway, Patrick Laurie plunges into work on his family farm in the hills of southwest Scotland. Investing in the oldest and most traditional breeds of Galloway cattle, the Riggit Galloway, he begins to discover how cows once shaped people, places and nature in this remote and half-hidden place. This traditional breed requires different methods of care from modern farming on an industrial, totally unnatural scale.

As the cattle begin to dictate the pattern of his life, Patrick stumbles upon the passing of an ancient rural heritage. Always one of the most isolated and insular parts of the country, as the twentieth century progressed, the people of Galloway deserted the land and the moors have been transformed into commercial forest in the last thirty years. The people and the cattle have gone, and this withdrawal has shattered many centuries of tradition and custom. Much has been lost, and the new forests have driven the catastrophic decline of the much-loved curlew, a bird which features strongly in Galloway’s consciousness. The links between people, cattle and wild birds become a central theme as Patrick begins to face the reality of life in a vanishing landscape.



Dancing with Bees – Brigit Strawbridge Howard & John Walters, illustrator (Chelsea Green Publishing)

A naturalist’s passionate dive into the world of bees of all stripes–what she has learned about them, and what we can learn from them.

Brigit Strawbridge Howard was shocked the day she realised she knew more about the French Revolution than she did about her native trees. And birds. And wildflowers. And bees. The thought stopped her quite literally in her tracks. But that day was also the start of a journey, one filled with silver birches and hairy-footed flower bees, skylarks, and rosebay willow herb, and the joy that comes with deepening one’s relationship with place. Dancing with Bees is Strawbridge Howard’s charming and eloquent account of a return to noticing, to rediscovering a perspective on the world that had somehow been lost to her for decades and to reconnecting with the natural world. With special care and attention to the plight of pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees, and what we can do to help them, Strawbridge Howard shares fascinating details of the lives of flora and fauna that have filled her days with ever-increasing wonder and delight.



Wanderland – Jini Reddy (Bloomsbury)

Alone on a remote mountaintop one dark night, a woman hears a mysterious voice.

Propelled by the memory and after years of dreaming about it, Jini Reddy dares to delve into the ‘wanderlands’ of Britain, heading off in search of the magical in the landscape.

A London journalist with multicultural roots and a perennial outsider, she determinedly sets off on this unorthodox path. Serendipity and her inner compass guide her around the country in pursuit of the Other and a connection to Britain’s captivating natural world. Where might this lead? And if you know what it is to be Othered yourself, how might this colour your experiences? And what if, in invoking the spirit of the land, ‘it’ decides to make its presence felt?

Whether following a ‘cult’ map to a hidden well that refuses to reveal itself, attempting to persuade a labyrinth to spill its secrets, embarking on a coast-to-coast pilgrimage or searching for a mystical land temple, Jini depicts a whimsical, natural Britain. Along the way, she tracks down ephemeral wild art, encounters women who worship The Goddess, falls deeper in love with her birth land and struggles – but mostly fails – to get to grips with its lore. Throughout, she rejoices in the wildness we cannot see and celebrates the natural beauty we can, while offering glimpses of her Canadian childhood and her Indian parents’ struggles in apartheid-era South Africa.

Wanderland is a book in which the heart leads, all things are possible and the Other, both wild and human, comes in from the cold. It is a paean to the joy of roaming, both figuratively and imaginatively, and to the joy of finding your place in the world.


Some thoughts on this shortlist:

So far I have read four of the shortlist and they have all been good in very different ways. Dara’s book shows the promise that he has as a writer and his passion for the natural world in all its forms is evident. The Frayed Atlantic Edge is an evocative travel book about our coastline that faces the mighty Atlantic Ocean and the time he spent bobbing around in a kayak on it. Mike Parker book is a story of the place they live as much as it about the four people in it. Wanderland is a very different book about seeking that something extra from the landscape to fill the spiritual yearning that some people need. I have got the other three on the shortlist and will crack on with reading the final three next month prior to the prize announcement on the 9th of September. I was a little disappointed to not see Surfacing and Bird Therapy on the list, but the difficult choice would be what to leave off to fit those in. It is good to have a couple of travel books on here too. I know which would be my winner from this list of the books that I have read so far, but I don’t envy the judges choice in picking this one!


And then there is the Writing for Global Conservation Prize which is a new and necessary addition. These are the books that have been shortlisted:


Irreplaceable – Julian Hoffman (Hamish Hamilton)

All across the world, irreplaceable habitats are under threat. Unique ecosystems of plants and animals are being destroyed by human intervention. From the tiny to the vast, from marshland to meadow, and from Kent to Glasgow to India to America, they are disappearing.

Irreplaceable is not only a love letter to the haunting beauty of these landscapes and the wild species that call them home, including nightingales, lynxes, hornbills, redwoods, and elephant seals, it is also a timely reminder of the vital connections between humans and nature, and all that we stand to lose in terms of wonder and well-being. This is a book about the power of resistance in an age of loss, a testament to the transformative possibilities that emerge when people unite to defend our most special places and wildlife from extinction.

Exploring treasured coral reefs and remote mountains, tropical jungle and ancient woodland, urban allotments and tallgrass prairie, Julian Hoffman traces the stories of threatened places around the globe through the voices of local communities and grassroots campaigners as well as professional ecologists and academics. And in the process, he asks what a deep emotional relationship with place offers us–culturally, socially and psychologically. In this rigorous, intimate, and impassioned account, he presents a powerful call to arms in the face of unconscionable natural destruction.


Life Changing – Helen Pilcher (Bloomsbury)

We are now living through the post-natural phase, where the fate of all living things is irrevocably intertwined with our own. We domesticated animals to suit our needs, and altered their DNA–wolves became dogs to help us hunt, junglefowl became chickens to provide us with eggs, wildebeest were transformed through breeding into golden gnus so rifle-clad tourists had something to shoot. And this was only the beginning. As our knowledge grew we found new ways to tailor the DNA of animals more precisely; we’ve now cloned police dogs and created a little glow-in-the-dark fish–the world’s first genetically modified pet. The breakthroughs continue.

Through climate change, humans have now affected even the most remote environments and their inhabitants, and studies suggest that through our actions we are forcing some animals to evolve at breakneck speed to survive. Whilst some are thriving, others are on the brink of extinction, and for others the only option is life in captivity. Today, it’s not just the fittest that survive; sometimes it’s the ones we decide to let live.

According to the Bible, Noah built the original ark to save the world’s creatures from imminent floods. Now the world is warming, the ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising. With nowhere “wild” left to go, Helen Pilcher proposes a New Ark. In this entertaining and thought-provoking book, she considers the many ways that we’ve shaped the DNA of the animal kingdom and in so doing, altered the fate of life on earth. In her post-natural history guide, she invites us to meet key species that have been sculpted by humanity, as well as the researchers and conservationists who create, manage and tend to these post-natural creations.


Rebirding – Benedict Macdonald (Pelagic)

Rebirding takes the long view of Britain’s wildlife decline, from the early taming of our landscape and its long-lost elephants and rhinos, to fenland drainage, the removal of cornerstone species such as wild cattle, horses, beavers and boar – and forward in time to the intensification of our modern landscapes and the collapse of invertebrate populations.

It looks at key reasons why species are vanishing, as our landscapes become ever more tamed and less diverse, with wildlife trapped in tiny pockets of habitat. It explores how Britain has, uniquely, relied on modifying farmland, rather than restoring ecosystems, in a failing attempt to halt wildlife decline. The irony is that 94% of Britain is not built upon at all. And with more nature-loving voices than any European country, we should in fact have the best, not the most impoverished, wildlife on our continent. Especially when the rural economics of our game estates, and upland farms, are among the worst in Europe.

Britain is blessed with all the space it needs for an epic wildlife recovery. The deer estates of the Scottish Highlands are twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. Snowdonia is larger than the Maasai Mara. The problem in Britain is not a lack of space. It is that our precious space is uniquely wasted – not only for wildlife, but for people’s jobs and rural futures too.

Rebirding maps out how we might finally turn things around: rewilding our national parks, restoring natural ecosystems and allowing our wildlife a far richer future. In doing so, an entirely new sector of rural jobs would be created; finally bringing Britain’s dying rural landscapes and failing economies back to life.


Sitopia – Carolyn Steel (Chatto & Windus)

We live in a world shaped by food, a Sitopia (sitos – food; topos – place). Food, and how we search for and consume it, has defined our human journey.

From our foraging hunter-gatherer ancestors to the enormous appetites of modern cities, food has shaped our bodies and homes, our politics and trade, and our climate. Whether it’s the daily decision of what to eat, or the monopoly of industrial food production, food touches every part of our world. But by forgetting its value, we have drifted into a way of life that threatens our planet and ourselves. Yet food remains central to addressing the predicaments and opportunities of our urban, digital age. Drawing on insights from philosophy, history, architecture, literature, politics and science, as well as stories of the farmers, designers and economists who are remaking our relationship with food, Sitopia is a provocative and exhilarating vision for change, and how to thrive on our crowded, overheating planet. In her inspiring and deeply thoughtful new book Carolyn Steel, points the way to a better future.




What We Need to Do Now – Chris Goodall (Profile Books)

What We Need To Do Now sets out a comprehensive programme of action to counter the threats to our environment. It is a manifesto for groups around the world that are seeking urgent action on climate breakdown and other threats.

Emphasising the importance and relative simplicity of decarbonising our energy supply, the book also stresses that this is a small part of the switch to a sustainable planet. Among many other urgent transitions, we also need to focus on changing the agricultural system and reducing our hugely wasteful use of resources. As importantly, we need to make sure that the transition to a zero-carbon world benefits the less well-off and reinvigorates the smaller cities and towns around the world that have been left behind.

This is a practical, original and inspiring book: a new green deal for an inhabitable earth.



Working with Nature – Jeremy Purseglove (Profile Books)

From cocoa farming in Ghana to the orchards of Kent and the desert badlands of Pakistan, taking a practical approach to sustaining the landscape can mean the difference between prosperity and ruin. Working with Nature is the story of a lifetime of work, often in extreme environments, to harvest nature and protect it – in effect, gardening on a global scale. It is also a memoir of encounters with larger-than-life characters such as William Bunting, the gun-toting saviour of Yorkshire’s peatlands and the aristocratic gardener Vita Sackville-West, examining their idiosyncratic approaches to conservation.

Jeremy Purseglove explains clearly and convincingly why it’s not a good idea to extract as many resources as possible, whether it’s the demand for palm oil currently denuding the forests of Borneo, cottonfield irrigation draining the Aral Sea, or monocrops spreading across Britain. The pioneer of engineering projects to preserve nature and landscape, first in Britain and then around the world, he offers fresh insights and solutions at each step.




Some thoughts on this shortlist:

I have read two from the longlist so far, both of which were excellent, but only one of those made it to the shortlist, Irreplaceable. this is an urgent plea to take action to save those things that once they have gone, will be gon forever. Again I want to read all of them from here as these are books about urgent subjects that have not gone away in the COVID pandemic. Again I don’t envy them picking one from that pile. As soon as the library reservations are back up and running again I will be reserving the ones that I haven’t read.


Have you read any? Do you now want to read any of them? Let me know in the comments below

For links to my reviews, where there are any, please click on the title of the books.

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

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