Category: Book Musings (page 1 of 7)

Monthly Muse: September

It’s October! How did that happen? It feel like it has arrived a month too early. Had my hernia operation on the last day in August and the surgeon signed me off for three, yes three whole weeks! The MD at work wasn’t particularly enamoured about it and has extended my probation to cover the time I had off. Fingers crossed that I pass it soon. With that amount of spare time, I had hoped to read loads of books and more importantly, catch up on my reviews. managed to read ten books in those three weeks and ended up doing some work from home in the end. Got through 16 books by the time the end of the month rolled around. I read a varied selection, as you have probably come to expect now and he they are.

First up was The Rings Of Saturn: An English Pilgrimage. This was part of the summer reading book that Robert Macfarlane was running on Twitter (search for (#ReadingtheRings). Had got it out of the library, but then found a copy in a charity shop. In some ways this wasn’t a bad book, I particularly liked the narrative about his walk through the Suffolk countryside, but it veered off too far around the world in his various interests as he discovered facts about the places he was passing through. Some of the writing was very good though, and the translator had done a top job.


I was on the blog tour for my next book, Ladders to Heaven: The Secret History of Fig Trees. It was almost everything a good non-fiction should be; informative, a well-written narrative and properly researched by a scientific expert. If it had one fault, it was too short! Would have loved to have learnt about the use of figs in the pre-Christian Mediterranean and more of the wider history. Otherwise highly recommended.

Bloomsbury had kindly popped The Dark Interval: Letters for the Grieving Heart in the post to me. This beautiful hardback has been translated by Ulrich Baer and is compiled from the letters written by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke to friends and associates who were grieving after losing family, loved ones and friends, it is a collection that will comfort people these days in moments of loss. I passed this onto someone who had just lost a friend in truly tragic circumstances and they said it was a huge benefit.

Another blog tour ( I try and only do two a month) and this time it was the new science fiction door stopper from Peter F. Hamilton called Salvation. Set in an ultra-connected future world where transport is through quantum entangled portals and energy is almost limitless from the sun. Humanity has encountered one set of aliens, but the revelation is the discovery of another ship 90 light years away that has humans held in stasis. Very fast paced and a mash between a space opera and a spy thriller.

Little Toller are a Dorset based publisher and new books from them are always something to look forward to. Cornerstones is no exception to that. This book is a compilation of essays written by a variety of writers about their favourite rocks, hence the subtitle, Subterranean Writings; from Dartmoor to the Arctic Circle. There is not a bad essay in here and there are some exceptional one too and sits well with their Arboreal compilation released a couple of years ago. Thoroughly enjoyed this and it is my book of the month.

I am not sure what category The Devil’s Highway sits in. Three stories, one historical, one contemporary and one set in the future are in this book. The common thread here is that the three sets of characters all inhabit the same piece of Surrey Heath, just with millennia in between them. The book is laid out with a chapter from each time and then cycles round again. I would have preferred it if they had been three blocks, but when reading you can sense that the common threads of landscape that are present all the way through. Struggled with the language in the final part, but the message of this environmental warning is very clear.

Next up were a couple of fantasy books that were the third and fourth in a series by MD Lachlan. Gollancz were kind enough to send me the fifth and I fully intend to get that this month. First up was Lord of Slaughter. They draw heavily on the Norse and werewolf mythology, that he has brought out of North and into other countries. In this Constantinople is plagued by sinister sorcery and magic is threatening the world. All paths lead to the squalid prison deep below the city, where a man who believes he is a wolf lies chained. Valkyrie’s Song takes some of the characters from the previous book that carry the runes within their souls and puts them in the north of England currently being harried by the Norman invaders. These are dark, bloody tales with a razor-sharp supernatural edge.


The Royal Society shortlist always has a great selection of books on it, and the first from those that I got to read was Liquid by Mark Miodownik. His previous book, Stuff Matters, had won it a few years before, so was really looking forward to this one. It didn’t disappoint either, through the narrative of a flight to America, he takes us through the science of liquids in his unique and entertaining way.


Second from the shortlist was Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World by Simon Winchester. An excellent book on the way that engineers have utterly changed the world that we live in from the first screws that fitted things together to the fact that the phone in your pocket is many more time powerful that the ship that took men to the moon.

Third from the shortlist was The Unexpected Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos And Other Wild Tales. This book by Luck Cooke sought to explain the real truth about animal behaviour and separate fiction from the real facts. Highly entertaining and I frequently laughed whilst reading it.


I had been sent this ages ago from Faber, but I finally got round to reading Cræft by Alexander Langlands. In this book, he is exploring how Traditional Crafts Are about More than Just Making, themes that are finding traction elsewhere. I liked the book but did feel that he was heading into hipster territory far too often.

The fourth book from the Royal Society Shortlist was Hannah Fry’s Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine. Almost everything that we do, online or not, has some sort of algorithm, that ‘helps’ us make the choices that are presented. However, there is a sinister side to all this and Fry makes it very clear that a lot of the algorithms we encounter have some (or a lot) of flaws. A really good book that even people who aren’t computer savvy could engage with.


Another review copy that the people at The Book Publicist had sent me was The Modern Shepherd. Written by AlBaraa Taibah it details his time spent shepherding sheep in the Sahara and the lessons he learnt and could apply in his business life. Very short book and only thought it was ok overall.


The final two this month were by the genuine and humble author Matt Haig. In Reasons To Stay Alive, he tells us his story of standing at the top of a cliff in Ibiza seriously contemplating suicide and taking the brave decision to turn around and face the demons that were plaguing his life. It is a truly heartfelt, raw and emotional book on the issues of mental health and how he dealt with them. More importantly, he gives suggestions that others suffering from the terrible affliction of modern life could use. Even if you don’t suffer from mental health, then you should read this as the insights in here could help you help someone else. Then read Notes From a Nervous Planet. This is about our addiction to social media and the benefits that it can bring, but also the things to be wary of and the best time to step away from the computer and go and do something else. I would say that this is an essential book for teenagers.

Monthly Muse: August

September. Already?!?! Nights are drawing in and the kids go back to school. 🙂 It is the final year for my eldest as she takes her A Levels next summer! Anyway, you are here for the books. I only managed to read 17 books last month, even though we had a great week’s holiday in Jersey. There were four, yes four, five-star books too. But first, a book prize.


I was fortunate to get an invite to the announcement one of my all-time favourite book prize, the Wainwright Prize. For those of you that don’t know anything about it, it is a book prize that celebrates Uk based books that are focused on the outdoors, travel and natural history of these isles. The book that I wanted to win, The Last Wilderness, didn’t, however, the winner, The Seabirds Cry is another excellent book by a high-quality author.

Really enjoyed going to the event and meeting some of the people that I have only known virtually until now. Also got a big pile of books signed too:

But what I read then. First up was a wonderful book of photographs that were taken by Joan Leigh Fermor and collected into this book with a commentary of her, Patrick and the places and people that they mixed with. This was five stars and if you have read any of his travel books then you need this book in your collection.

I had been fortunate enough to receive all five of the new Jonathan Raban books that the lovely people at Eland are republishing in their distinct covers. First up was Arabia: Through the Looking Glass the first book he wrote. He is a perceptive traveller, keen to venture off the beaten track and explore the places that others seldom venture. I had been intending to read one a month since June and have failed a little, but will be reading the next he published this month.


I and some others run an online book group on Good Reads called Book Vipers. A book of the month a little while back was The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood. This is about three women who are glad to see the back of someone after she dies who has wrecked their marriages and called much misery. Until they see her again and it opens all the old wounds up again. I felt it took a while to get going and the last third of the book did get really good.


I read The Gilded Cage on the ferry over to Jersey. It is set in a modern world where feudal traits still exist, and the elite that governs do so with the help of magic. A family is allocated to another landed family to serve their ten years as slaves, except on is separated and sent to the industrial heartland in the north of the country where the work is much tougher and he is unlikely to survive. But things are changing in the society and what has been for hundreds of years may not remain. Enjoyable and fast-paced.

Granta was kind enough to send me a copy of The Written World a long while ago. This book by Martin Puchner looks at the way that cultures have developed the skills of writing, printing and papermaking and then considers how those skills have affected that society as it bought better literacy and education to the populations. Worth reading, but it is a brief snapshot of literary matters and does not have the time to go into the depth that others may want.



Brexit. The very thought of it makes me shudder, especially give those trying to implement it. My Europe – an anthology is a collection of essays and poems that contemplate our current and future position in the economic and political landscape of the EU. Well worth reading as the authors vary from MPs to poets, immigrants to current residents. It is an interesting selection of points of view.

I had been meaning to read Alastair Reynold’s Poseidon’s Wake for ages, and finally got to it whilst on holiday. It is the final book in the trilogy that began with Blue Remembered Earth and has links back to the same family and intelligent elephants that have been common to all three books. On top of this family saga, is a space opera and alien life and is written as only Reynolds can do. Whilst I enjoyed it, I didn’t think that it was as good as the previous two books in the series.




I was fortunate enough to get a signed proof copy of the debut novel by Kate Mascarenhas, The Psychology of Time Travel. This concern four women who have managed to invent the time machine back in the 1960’s have controlled access to it ever since through the Conclave. All was fine until the body of an unknown woman with bullet wounds is discovered in a cupboard and trying to uncover who she is and who killed her will occupy the latest generation of time travellers at the Conclave. Time travel books are notoriously difficult to get right, but Mascarenhas has deftly managed it with this.


Looking For The Goshawk was the next book that I read, one I had had from the library for a while. (review to come soon). It details Conor Mark Jameson’s passion or borderline obsession with that elusive bird that is the Goshawk. He travels over to Berlin to see them there and travels around his local area and wider in the UK to seek them out. It is a really well written natural history book and can highly recommend.

I have been meaning to read The Gallows Pole for absolutely ages and had even managed to get a copy out of the library. Someone else had reserved it, so decided to have a bit of a Benjamin Myers week starting with this. What a book too, it is the fictional account of the real-life story of the Cragg Vale coiners, a group of men who would clip the coins and melt the clippings down into newly minted coins. This didn’t go down well with the crown and men from London are dispatched to deal with the situation. He has deeply rooted the book in the landscape and he has captured the smells, sights, mud and hardship of just trying to make a living at that time. The prose is a delight to read, poetic, lyrical and visceral, it grips you and drags you into this tale. A brilliant book.

Dee Dee Chainey who has scoured the legends, crept past the giants and kelpies and learnt about the customs and included them in this charming little book. It is a good overview of the weft and weave of folklore that permeates our lives even today. It does lack a little depth, but it is a concise summation of all things folklore. That said, there is an extensive bibliography and references and more importantly a comprehensive list of places to find folklore for those that want to uncover much more about this fascinating subject. I loved the bold woodcut illustrations by Joe McLaren too, they are a certain gravitas to the book.

The next Benjamin Myers book I read was Beastings. This tells the story of a mute girl who one night takes a baby who she is caring for and takes to the hills. She is pursued by the local priest and poacher. It deals with some very dark disturbing themes, as one pair chase the other across the hills and the ending does not pull any punches at all. If you liked the Wasp Factory, this is another book that is as shocking as that. Brilliant.



With the end of the Second World War now over 70 years ago, we are starting to hear of the stories of the individuals affected by this global conflict. Dadland is probably the best known of this genre and another published last month, East of West, West of East joins it. This book tells of the story of Hamish Brown’s family and their time in Japan as war erupted in the Far East and the journey that they made from Japan to Singapore via China and the Philippines when they had to flee. There is also an account of his fathers escape from Singapore to safety. It is a fairly short book and is very much of the moment as it is taken from the letters that his mother sent to his grandmother at the time.

I like fantasy books but don’t read them very often (mostly because of a big pile of non-fiction that I have to read), but The Last Namsara looked really good. It is about Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, who has become a feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari. It is a YA book and has a romance element, something that I am not overly concerned by. However as a debut book, Kristen Ciccarelli, has come up with a well-conceived series with a solid backstory. Looking forward to the next.

My third Benjamin Myers book was his first non-fiction offering and is set where he lives. Carved from the land above Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire, Scout Rock dominates the landscape. Some consider it an unremarkable place, but as Myers explores, the natural world and the landscape of that part of Yorkshire he covers subjects as diverse as political discourse to folklore, industrial music to slugs, asbestos to ravens. Most of all it, this book is about place; that small part of our small country that he has grown to love since moving out of London. All of his this month have been five-star reads.


From rocks to pebbles, now and The Pebbles on the Beach is a reprint of the 1954 classic by Clarence Ellis. It was a book that I never knew about in my childhood, which was a shame as I spent a lot of time alongside a shingle beach in Sussex and this would have been a brilliant book to have. Faber has re-issued this beautifully illustrated reprint with a fantastic fold-out cover shown the pebbles that you are likely to find on the beaches of England.

The final book of August was the charmingly titled F*** You Very Much by Danny Wallace. After a horrendous time in a restaurant that he called the HotDog Incident which descended into a slanging match between him and the person serving, he decided to take a look at how rude we are getting as a nation. He commissions a survey and talks to all sorts of people about our tolerance levels and what is making us less considerate and even confronts someone who trolled him on twitter once. It is a worrying trend and whilst Wallace does not have the answers, reading this should make you think twice before posting a rude reply back to someone.

So that was it really. Any there that you have read and liked, or are there any that you really like the look of? Tell me in the comments. I had a hernia operation on the last day of August and am now signed off recovering and reading for three weeks!

Monthly Muse: July

How is it August already?? Is time getting faster or is it just me? Settling into the new job well, hopefully, I will be able to make a difference there. The fantastic weather that we have been having broke this month on the only weekend we had booked to go camping! Such is life, but I did get to go to a few bookshops in Bridport and might have just acquired a few more books. Anyway onto what I read last month. Seemed to be a busy month, so didn’t get as many read as I have been doing in previous months, in the end, I read 15.

Began the month with In Search of Ancient North Africa: A History in Six Lives by the bundle of energy that is Barnaby Rogerson. He is the owner of Eland books, the people who are bringing back many travel classics into print and who are generous to me. This book is a combined travelogue and history books about six people who have had a significant impact on the history of this landscape. Fascinating stuff, I wish it had a little more on his travels in the modern world.


Next up was a small pile of books on how we as people respond to the natural world. First was Sarah Ivens book, Forest Therapy about how we can spend more time in the natural world and the positive benefits that it can bring us. Worth reading, but the next book Into Nature by the people involved with the mindfulness project, Alexandra Frey & Autumn Totton didn’t really do it for me. The aim of the book is the same enabling people to get out into the wild and discover things about themselves and where they are, but it was a little too thin on content for my liking. Next up was How To Survive in the Wild by Sam Martin & Christian Casucci which gives concise plans for those wishing to go off grid and build their own shelters and fires, hunt for their own food and if they feel so inclined, build a log cabin. Best of this little bunch was The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Taking the same themes as Forest Therapy and Into nature, William has gone all over the world to look at the latest research on the impact of spending time outdoors. Fantastic read and I really hope that there is still some left to venture into.

To say that the natural world is under threat in the UK would be an understatement and in this devastating critique, Mark Cocker lays out the harsh cold facts as he sees them. It does not make for comfortable reading, and he is prepared to show the work that is having an impact and openly talk about those organisations that he feels are failing. It is a book that should be read by many people, especially those that are in positions of power to do something about this mess.

My book of the month, and when you read it in conjunction with the Nature Fix and learn how we need that for our well being then you’ll see why too.



The next theme was all on books. Scribbles in the Margins is a collection of 50 or so things that book lovers (or addicts) do, really enjoyable little book and zipped through this in no time at all. I had really enjoyed Susan Hill’s book, Howard’s End is on the Landing, so was looking forward to Jacob’s Room Is Full Of Books. It didn’t disappoint either as she recounts a whole year of reading a wide variety of books and authors and how she discovers her next read. Next was Alex Johnson’s A Book of Book Lists. A book of lists of books and full of things of wonder. So if you want to know which pop stars liked books then this is the place to start. I am a big lover of libraries and had borrowed Reading Allowed by Chris paling from my local library. They are a precious resource that is under great threat from our present government that we will miss when it does go. We don’t know the town that Paling is a librarian in, but the stories that he has to tell from his day to day life there are compelling and occasionally heartbreaking.

I am old enough to remember the Great Storm of 1987, however, I didn’t hear a thing as I slept through it. The chaos that I woke up to was unreal. In Windblown, Tamsin Treverton Jones tells the stories behind the storm, but there is a personal element too as she finds the person who made her late fathers mural design into a real object made from the wind-felled trees at Kew Gardens. It is a really touching story that I have heard her talk about too.

The next book was also weather themed, and in London Fog, Christine L. Corton tells the literary and artistic stories that were a response to the horrific fogs that London was plagued with until the 1960’s. It is a reasonable read, and the images included within are well worth looking through in particular the photos.

I had read Alastair Humphreys two books about his 46,000-mile cycle around the world and I had been in contact with the publisher about this months Publisher Profile this month and they offered to send me this and two other books. There is not a lot in here as it is a book version of those inspirational posters you see on walls. That said the photos are stunning and this book and the author are capable of inspiring people to push themselves to real the goals that they desire.


I have been neglecting my #WorldFromMyArmchair challenge recently (post to follow later this month on it) but The Timbuktu School for Nomads was due back to the library and I had a proof of The Immeasurable World to read which are both desert themed, so it seems to be a good place to start ( I also read Arabia by Jonathan Raban but that will appear in August). It is a well-written book about Jubbers travels around the north-west part of the African continent and the time he spends meeting the people of those countries. He is prepared to muck in and learn how they make a living as well as spending time with the nomads of the desert. William Atkins new book is really good too, (review to follow soon) is about eight short journeys on the world’s most famous deserts, following in the footsteps of some of the classic travel writers, discovering how places are changing in the modern world and helps out at the Burning Man festival in the states.


That was it. Have any of you read any of these? Any you like the sound of? Or any you’d like to recommend based on what I have read here?

Happy reading all.









New Mug

Monthly Muse – June

That was a month of changes for me. On the 1st of June I finished my job after being made redundant. I had been there 13 years and was a little emotional.  They had been a great bunch of people (mostly) to work with. On Tuesday the 5th June, I had a second interview at another local company and was offered the position just be 6 pm that day. Had two weeks off and then started on the 18th. So far it seems to be going well.

In the two weeks that I had off, I didn’t get as much read as I had hoped, but I did go and see the lovely people at Eland and Elliot and Thompson, sorted three bookcases out and got all my natural history and landscape books together after being spread around the house. In the end, I did manage to read 17 books.  All sorts of subjects and here they are:

William Collins had kindly sent me a copy of this to read. It was a true story about a girl growing up in a fairly dysfunctional family and who in the end put herself into care. She survived her childhood of precious little food and lots of books. It was an interesting read and the end part was quite powerful, but a lot of it felt surreal.

I read a fair amount as a child but would have never considered myself a bookworm, though others may disagree with that. Lucy Mangan though was an utter bookworm; she spent every available hour in imaginary worlds ignoring the other members of her family unless she really had too. This is her recollection of that time and a little about trying to turn her son into a bookworm too. A very enjoyable book even though our overlap is small in terms of the books that we read as a child.

A nice coffee table book about just under 100 different fictional lands. Some really nice artwork in it but be aware that there are lots of spoilers.


Parts of Syria are war-torn and ravaged and yet the capital is still functioning relatively normally. This book by Kassem Eid tells of his story being persecuted by his own government and why he joined the Syrian Free Army. Very moving.
Marc ‘Elvis” Priestly wanted to work in Formula 1 for a long time and one day he got that chance and started at McLaren as a mechanic. It is a high-pressure job swapping wheels on a multi-million-pound racecar in under 3 seconds and this is his story of working hard and playing hard in the echelons of F1. One for the petrol head.

Another war-torn country and another set of people displaced and persecuted. This time it is Iraq and Nadia Murad of the Yazidi community. ISIS took over her village, shot all the men and took a lot of the girls to be sex slaves. This is her story. Horrific and moving and a must read to see the way that the region has changed since the war there.

Eighty-two years ago around 200 men set off from the Tyneside town of Jarrow to march to London. The reason for this was to protest at the closure of Palmer’s shipyard that had affected everyone’s livelihoods in the town. This is Ian Maconie’s story as he follows the route in 2016 speaking to those he meets of the journey and seeing what is left of their legacy. Another great book from Maconie.

London has a history going back 2000 years or so, but the people that made most impact of the look and feel of the city was the Victorians. In this book, Winn takes you on a series of walks to see the things that are left behind from that era. I tried part of one of the walks and the detail he has compiled is impressive.

I love a good quiz, but the ones in here are another level up on the sort I can answer. Thankfully the answers are in the back.


If you’re bored of Suduko, then this might be the book for you. Bellos has been over to Japan and has returned bearing puzzles galore. There are tips on how to do them, a potted history and lots of examples for you to try that vary from the easy to the bloody difficult.


The British have for thousands of years have been inventing various ways of getting drunk. We have had fruit wines, Even the Romans had vineyards. We have made apples and pears into ciders and perry’s made all types of grains into beers. But for a real kick, you need a spirit. Bought over here by monks, once we had learnt what to do there was no stopping us and this book is about the various ways people have avoiding the tiresome effort of paying tax on it…


Lots of people love a pub crawl, but the one Pete Brown embarked on for this book was epic. 300 pubs in 27 cities across four continents. Sounds like a plan. Hilarious at times, this was a well-written eulogy to the magic created from malt, hops and water.


Hipsters. Love them or hate them they are not going anywhere soon. This parody brilliantly rips the piss out of hipster culture in London in such a clever way.


I really enjoyed the Hidden Life of Trees by this author, so when I received a copy of this I was really looking forward to it. Wohlleben does talk about the weather, but that only makes up around the first part of the book. The rest is in the same vein, but about all sorts of other subjects. interesting, but a little disappointing overall.


Smell is one of our least understood senses, but it is also one of the strongest, one smell can take you instantly back to childhood and a loved or hated food. This is a fascinating book that was prompted by the question from the author’s son, what does three o’clock in the morning smell like. Well worth reading.


Natural history poems are very personal and this collection is no different. There are some lovely poems in here and I like what she did with the word by using them in a graphical way, however, I feel that I need to read more poetry, but I find it such a difficult thing to review.
Finished this a day or so ago so haven’t written a review yet. the part about the building of the White City for the Chicago World Fair is interesting, but the fascinating part is the horrific story of the murder committed by Holmes. Even today they still don’t know how many he killed in the building that he made with its airtight rooms, gas chambers and crematorium. Compelling stuff.
Apologies about the formatiing this is my first post with WordPress. I will get the hang of this.
So that was what I read. What did you read in June?

New Publisher & Author Spotlight

In the spirit of helping small publishers and new authors out, I am delighted to profile Steve Dressing and his new book, Game Keepers.

 I’m a new, self-published author with a book I think will be enjoyed by many if they can just find it. “Game Keepers” is the first of what I hope will be several books I publish over the next few years through my own publishing company, Number 6 Publishing. Turning from my career as an environmental scientist to a publisher and author of books for kids is quite a change. It has been a lot of fun, but there have been many new things to learn, most of which come with an unpleasant price tag. The world isn’t particularly kind to authors in my situation, but we’re a group that doesn’t give up easily.
Getting to the point of selling the book was probably the easiest part of the journey for me. Marketing has been a huge challenge, particularly after purchases by friends and family dried up. I know that the faithful have told others about the book but even with my large family that only takes you so far. It feels like my book is simply a needle in a huge haystack competing against the thousands of books neatly displayed in huge bookstores and featured on major websites. How do I get people to even bother to check the haystack to see if there is something worthwhile inside?
Multiple outlets are being used to advertise the book, including social media, libraries, and book stores.  That alone doesn’t set you apart, however, because this business is very competitive with an ever-growing group of talented new writers.  Of all the possible outlets, I want most to be able to share my book with the local community.  “Game Keepers” has a baseball theme, and I am currently a coach and an umpire in the neighborhood Little League.  I find it unethical, however, to use my platform in the Little League to advertise.  That has caused me to seek other outlets to reach this same community, outlets such as the local hardware store.  One day I would like to do a book reading at the store with both new and old faces from my community.   
I haven’t yet dreamed of being lost in one of Van Gogh’s beautiful piles of hay in his “Haystack in Provence”, but sometimes I feel that way.  Sometimes I feel as if my story is covered by layers of inescapable hay.  My hope is that people will come by, pick up a fork, and tear apart the haystack. Quickly the needle lost in the haystack becomes treasure.

You can find more details about the book here:

Follow Number 6 Publishing on Twitter here: @Number6Publ 

Wainwright Prize 2018

This is the fifth year of this prize and the books that make it onto the longlist keep getting better each year, and it is a varied selection again this year. The scope of the memoirs is quite broad, there is Sir John Lister-Kaye’s memoir of his journey to the creation of the Aigas Field Centre and Alys Fowler’s very personal journey through relationships and the waterways near her home. For some people, the closest they get to nature is by living near a designated green belt area, and John Grindrod’s Outskirts is a celebration of these green lungs surrounding our cities. Tom Cox has always striven to do things differently and his book 21st-Century Yokel carries on in that vein. Not only did it set a record for the fastest funded book on Unbound at the time, but he uses it to explore the countryside in his own unique way.
It wouldn’t be a Wainwright longlist without John Lewis-Stempel appearing on it. He only has the one this year, The Wood, a celebration of a small copse on his farm that even the shortest of visits to would be sufficient to recharge his soul. This is also a theme of A Wood of One’s Own by Ruth Pavey; she bought a small wood in the West Country because she wanted to and she could and it has been a place she has grown to love. Books about animals make up a quarter of the longlist. Rosamund Young tells us about the cows on her farm that have characters of their own. Owl Sense details Miriam Darlington’s desire to see all the native owls of the UK, but it becomes a bit of an obsession, so she heads to Europe to see even more. Adam Nicolson’s book, The Seabird’s’ Cry, is as much a polemic on the crisis that is about to engulf our ocean travellers as it is a study of their lives and journeys.
Even though we are a small island, there are still places where we can experience the wild. Neil Ansell needs those moments of solitude and his book is about returning to the same part of Scotland to immerse himself in the landscape there. Patrick Barkham’s journey around our archipelago takes in eleven islands of different sizes and perspectives as he talks to the people that live on them or discovers about those that used to. Raynor Winn’s book, The Salt Path, starts off with a series of bad news; terminal illness, loss of livelihood and home, but as her husband and her walk the South West Coastal Path on a minuscule budget they are healed by the natural world. This year for the first time there is a children’s book on the longlist, The Lost Words. This beautifully illustrated book has inspired people all around the country to run crowdfunding to get copies of it into schools and get children to write their own spells to acclaim the natural world.
How the judges are going to get this down to a shortlist of six, I do not know.
My reviews for all thirteen books are all here:
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

This article first appeared yesterday on Nudge

Monthly Muse – May

That was a month that I am not going to want to remember for a while. I had been with my company for 13 years and this month along with two others I was made redundant with my boss and the other engineer. There is another positive lead that I am following up on, but still a bit numb and shell-shocked. Somehow managed to read 18 books though and there were these below:

This is Malachy Tallacks debut novel, set in a valley in the bleak but beautiful landscape of Shetland. It is not a dynamic plot, just a natural tension between the characters and their interaction. 

It has been a long while since I climbed a tree, but in my childhood, I spent a fair amount of time climbing and occasionally falling out of trees. But in this book, Aldred takes climbing trees literally to another level. An enjoyable account of a part of the wildlife filming side that you don’t get to hear about very often.

Sleep is one of those things that we do as humans that until recently no one has really understood why we do it. But according to this well-written science book, it is a key element of our health and well being. One for any science buffs TBR.

Having lost everything bar a small amount of money, and with the diagnosis for her husband of a terminal illness, Raynor Winn and her husband decide that they might as well buy a tent and camp, and if they are camping then they may as well walk the 630 miles of the South Coast Path. It is a great life-affirming book.

Mary Monroe lost her father when she was 18; until that point, she only knew him as dad; but she heard from an aunt that he was one of the greats of World War II. She had to find out more, and this is her tribute and story of his life.

There is only so much crap people can take before they have had enough, and Solnit in this picks up on the stories of five decades of activism against the state. It is a little dated, but she is such a good author that it is still worth reading

One of the defining characteristics of humanity is our curiosity. In a world where you have almost unlimited knowledge at your fingertips then it is so easy to take everything for granted. Henderson thinks that this is something that we still need to retain, and this book sets about opening your eyes to the wonders that still exist. Beautifully produced too.

At the age of 12, Lev Parikian was an avid birdwatcher. He had a huge list of birds from the common or garden to the exotic neatly ticked off. Except he hadn’t seen some of them, in fact, he had probably only seen half of them. When he decided to revive it, he realised that he needed a target to aim for, and after consulting with a friend, plumped for 200. This is his story of that challenge. Really enjoyed this and laughed all the way through.

If someone was to ask where to see eagles, you’d almost certainly suggest Scotland. But a while ago there were eagles on the west coast of Ireland too, and their ghosts can still be seen in the names of places in the landscape.  decides to spend time seeking their eyries by walking the wind and storm-swept landscape. His prose is beautiful and this is another cracking book from little Toller

Snow? In the summer? It sounds like climate change gone mad and given the weather recently it could be quite feasible. However, this is more than that, Nicholson is seeking the pockets of snow in the highlands of Scotland that last deep into the summer and sometimes surviving until the next winter. Lovely book with some haunting beautiful photos of the snow cathedrals he finds.

The benefits of getting outside in the natural world are only just starting to be understood, and Nick Baker in this book suggests some things to do to engage your all senses. Not a bad book. 

For most people science is a big scary thing that they last did at school, but as Cooper explains in the book, anyone can be involved from observing birds in your garden on a weekend to searching the skies for new stars and galaxies. Lots of ideas on how to get involved.

As style icons go there are not as many that are as cool as the VW Campervan and this little book gives a brief overview of the evolution of them so far. Nice photos, but no depth

The newest nation on Earth is on the Antarctica Peninsula, a place that has now been made habitable by global warming, rising sea levels and the advent of ecopoets. These genetically modified humans had special adaptions to cope with the extreme cold and climate at the far south of the planet. This alternative future by Paul McAuley has a thriller and family story dropped onto it. I liked it, but the thriller elements were too predictable as ever.

Dixe Wills latest book in the ‘Tiny’ themed series is all about the small-sized attractions around our island. From the museums in telephone boxes to the tiny public squares in the very centre of London, the smallest theatres and smallest pubs then this is the book for you. 

Life on the open ocean is harsh relentless and unforgiving. To survive there takes resilience and millennia of evolution. Seabirds are masters of this environment, relishing the storms that drive the vast ships to save havens. In this book,  writes about at ten of the greatest seabirds and how they are coping with climate change and the devastation we as humanity are wreaking on the oceans. Fascinating stuff.

 This is a bang up to date contemporary story set in a sleepy Scotish village, but there is more to it than that, there is a mystery, secret and it is very eerie at times too. Excellent debut

Rambling has now reached the grand total of 36 series and on there Clare Balding has walked with all sorts of people in locations around the country. There are stories of her time at the Olympics and other sporting events. Very funny at times it is just good fun read.

Monthly Muse – April

I managed to up my game last month and with the help of a weeks holiday got twenty books read. 20!! There is a little bit for everyone here, including most of the Wellcome Prize shortlist. So behind on reviews at the moment so some of these are not reviewed yet, but here we go:

Our present economic system is broken, it cannot predict the future and the way it is set up, it is consuming vast amounts of resources with no plan for sustainablilty. Rathworth is proposing that we adopt a system that considers the limits the earth can manage, the outer ring, with the minimum acceptable living standard for the global population. Well worth reading, though I am not sure just how much will happen just yet with the vested interests in control.

The cuckoo is one of our most distinctive migrants that most people have never seen, but who would instantly recognise the call of. Nick Davies is obsessed by them (to put it mildly) and this book tells the stories of his observation and experiments on the cuckoos of the fens. Fascinating stuff, and even though he is a Professor, it doesn’t read like an academic paper

The universe that Fenn has created with the Sidhe, a forgotten race that still controls humans covertly reaches its finale in this the fifth book. A fast-paced sci-fi thriller that twists and turns right until the end

This is a loose tie-in to the TV series, that explains the actual story behind the fictionalised account that became the Corfu Trilogy. Lots of details and photos of the Durrell family in their homes in Bournemouth and Corfu

Maxwell had written several books before Ring of Bright Water became a massive bestseller. But his life story as a minor aristocrat, traveller, closet homosexual and consumer of vast amounts of whisky wasn’t really known until his friend Douglas Botting told it in this book. It is brilliant too and this reprint by Eland in their distinct style is still worth reading.

Normally books about hostage taking are fast action thrillers that demand page turning rapidly as the plot races ahead. This isn’t like that; the slow pace after the hostage-takers realise their there target isn’t there allows the building of characters and some unexpected events.

A tragic balloon accident brings two men together, one who becomes obsessed with the other and begins to stalk him. This external pressure starts to unravel his marriage and sanity Until it reaches a dramatic climax. Wasn’t so keen on this book though as there were several parts that didn’t make sense.

Leon has just had a baby brother. who unlike him, is white. After his mum suffers a breakdown, they are both put into care and shortly after his brother is adopted, never to be seen again. The lady looking after him ends up in hospital, he is passed to her sister. Whilst he is fond of her, he still wants to bring his family back together again, and maybe the guys at the allotment might be able to help him with that. Poignant stuff about the care system in the 1980’s.  

Patagonia sits astride two countries, Chile and Argentina and is a place that people go to to make or lose a fortune. In this classic travel book, Chatwin follows the stories around the bottom part of the American continent. Not as much of the place as I had hoped, but still worth reading.

This was a Wellcome Prize shortlisted book. Drug addiction routinely devastates families across the UK and it even happens at the very highest level of society. This is the story of Hans and Eva Rausing and their descent into addiction, Eva’s death and the public attention in the story seen from the eyes of Sigrid, Han’s sister. She is brutally honest about her own life and the failures in helping Hans and Eva, but also now understands the limits of what she could actually do at the time. 

This was a Wellcome Prize shortlisted book. This is a story full of love, life, death, tragedy with uplifting moments set in Nigeria of a womans desire to have a child to fufill her husbands families wishes. It is full of the politics of the country as a turbulent backdrop. Yejide is in between cultures as the old Nigerian ways clash with the new world and Western medicine and there is plenty of deceit and lies as the plot twist and turns and the truths are laid bare. 

This is the last book that the late Helen Dunmore wrote and it is a return to the origins as it is poetry. Like with all poetry there are some that I like and other that I didn’t quite get. Mostly enjoyable though

This was a Wellcome Prize shortlisted book about the advent of modern surgery and clinical practices. If you were admitted to a hospital back in the Victorian era, then you stood as much chance of dying of your care as you did from the original problem. It does not hold back on the blood and gore, so not one to read whilst you’re eating, but it is very good and from what the author said to me, may be made into a film.

Over 60 years ago, the chances of people surviving common illnesses were fairly low, but with the advent of effective vaccines then public health improved dramatically. This book is the story of the creation of those vaccines that have saved billions of lives around the world. It does get quite technical at times so might not be for everyone.

There are three things that are certain in life; taxes, your computer crashing and death. The final one of these is almost taboo now days but in this book Mannix tell the stories of those who have reached the end. Most are old, some are painfully young, but each family has come to accept the passing of their loved one with her and her teams help. A very moving book.

Spring is the most dynamic of seasons. The starkness of winter is thrown off with the new shoots, the longer days warm the earth and the annual migration of millions of birds from winter sites to breeding grounds begins. Rose follows the changing season from the very south of Europe across 35 degrees of latitude to the northern coast. Not a bad book overall.

People have spent ages messing about in boats, and after his friend, James made a two-seater canoe, it was time for Matt Gaw to join that gang. It is an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable read about the journeys that make on rivers near and far just because they can.

 has run the Aigas Field Centre for a long while now, but this is the story of his journey to that place so dear to his hear. He tells of the medical struggles that his mother had with her heart, of the frankly horrific school system of the day, and finding happiness at one in Lyme Regis Dorset, where the natural world came alive to him. There is, of course, Gavin Maxwell and the attempt to create a zoo on the Isle of Skye as well as all the animals that passed through his hands as a child. 

So that was it! any her that you have read, or now want to read? Let me know in the comments below

Welcome Book Prize Announcement

I’d read the shortlist, with my fellow bloggers chosen a winner, To Be A Machine, and I was fortunate to be invited to the prize announcement at the Wellcome Collection in London. As it costs a fair amount to get from Dorset to London, I’d thought that I’d make a day of it. Popped in to see Blake and Clare at Head of Zeus and then next tube stop was Matt at Duckworth. Had a very quick bite to eat and then headed north to see Simon at Big Green Books as I promised him I would pop in one day. Purchased his book, signed of course, and then headed south to Euston.

I was meeting up with two of my fellow bloggers from the Shadow Panel, Rebecca from Bookish Beck and Clare from A Little Blog of Books. Quick look around the shop and a natter over a coffee and it was time to head upstairs to the library and for the formal event to begin. Drinks were acquired and canapes consumed and we listened to jazz and shouted at each other over the noise. Edmund de Waal came on after around half an hour and started the preamble and introductions. Each of the judges introduced the books, presented the authors with a bouquet quoted from it. Photo’s (slightly blurry sorry) below:

and the winner was:

Which Max Porter accepted on behalf of Mark as his wife was in the process of giving birth to their second child. It was a highly amusing speech too. It was the one we picked too so we were quite chuffed, to say the least!

After the announcement had been made more drinks were brought around and the authors moved into the crowd to talk. Spoke to several of the authors and was even complimented by one on my review, which I probably blushed quite a lot at!

It was quite an experience and one that I feel privileged to have been invited too, we even got a free goody bag on the way out too. Overall a cracking day in London and I am hoping to be invited to another prize giving soon!

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