Category: Book Musings (page 1 of 7)

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!

Monthly Muse – March

Apologies for being a bit late with this and being very quiet on the blog recently, almost immediately into April we went on holiday, so now have a pile of reviews to catch up with, but here is what I read in March. I managed 17 books in the end. Not as many as I had hoped for, other stuff kept getting in the way! 

There is a total mix of books this month, hopefully, something for everyone so here we go: 

I have been a huge fan of David Crystal for years, he has a knack of teasing out those etymology gems from our rich and varied language. What he has also done is to teach himself and other the best way of speaking to others, be it a small group in an office to a packed lecture theatre. This was one of the books and authors that was involved with Jewish Book Week and they were kind enough to send me a copy to review

Eland have been my publisher of the month in the profiles that I have been doing and you can read all about them here. Warrior Herdmen is one of the books that they have kindly sent me to review. This is the stories that Elizabeth marshall collected from her time spent with the Dodoth people who inhabited the northern fringe of Uganda. More anthropology than travel but fascinating none the less. 


Another one of the books and authors that was involved with Jewish Book Week and they were kind enough to send me a copy of this to review too. At the young age of fourteen, Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia.While she let very little pass her lips in the form of nourishment, she still devoured books, and it was literature that was to hold the key to her recovery. Laura and her list of childhood favourite books has played a crucial role in her accepting that food is not something to avoid and can be enjoyed.

The final Jewish Book Week book that I was sent was The Ascent of Gravity by Marcus Chown. Gravity affects everything on this planet, but it was first understood only 400 years ago by Newton. Other have since broadened and deepened our understanding of this tiny, but significant force and Choswn takes us through the history and the most recent discoveries.

Undercover Muslim is about the troubled country of Yemen.  takes us into the coffee shops and backstreets where disillusioned young muslim men of the west seek some sort of spiritual aspiration in this society. One for my #WorldFromMyArmchair challenge too.

Surfing is a tough sport, so attempting it when you’ve had a hip replaced is beyond most people’s comprehension. Iain Gately is one surfer who has never ridden a tube, and it is one thing that he wants to do before he can’t surf any more. I really enjoyed this and it was nice to have a book written by a local Dorset author too.

Sometimes it is who you know, rather than what you know, that opens doors and opportunities and Clare had a friend had a contact in the Finnish Embassy. A message came via this link asking: We are celebrating a hundred years since independence this year: how would you like to travel on a government icebreaker? Horatio Clare jumped at the chance to spend 10 days on a modern Icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean. I love the evocative way that he writes about the sharpness of the ice, the clarity of the light and the noise as the frozen sea succumbs to the power of the ship Another good read from Clare and can highly recommend.

There are an awful lot of wild swimming books out there now, and I have read a lot of them. The classic Waterlog is still the one to beat though, but I still like to pick the others up and see where their aquatic adventures take them. It has a personal side as do a lot of natural history books these days, but then we are as much of this planet as the wildlife is. Thers is a deep melancholy and eloquence to Peter’s writing as even though he was better when he wrote the book, the spectre of depression is still a shadow in the background

In the urban sprawl, it is sometimes hard to see the natural world, but most people don’t realise that after an hour or so in the car from their front door they’d be able to see some of best examples of wildlife, woodlands and our finest natural landscapes. There is something in here for everyone, moorlands, coastal and wetlands, woodlands and even derelict industrial areas. Keep one in the glovebox of the car.

Lewis -Stempel is described as one of the best nature-writers of his generation, and he is very good, though I would argue that there are others that can carry that bough too. This is another sublime book from Lewis-Stempel to add to his raft of award-winning books. I really liked the diary format and the way that it is interspersed with folklore, poems, history, recipes and personal thoughts. Read it and you will want to own your own wood too.

Nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas in Yunnan Province lies the capital city of the almost forgotten Nakhi Kingdom, Likiang. This city was the home of the Nakhi. It was here that Peter Goullart went to live and work as a Chinese Industrial Cooperatives representative just before the beginning of World War 2. He paints a fascinating portrait of the people there uncovering the details that make the stories that he tells so compelling to read. Superb book

In Ground Work, Tim Dee has collated the thoughts and observations of thirty-one of the finest landscape and natural history writers around. This poetic and literary collection is the response to the threat that is being posed by the ‘soft-skinned, warm-blooded, short-lived, pedestrian species’ that has turned our present day into a new epoch; the Anthropocene. This new era is already causing chaotic changes to our weather systems, there is the steady creep upwards in average temperature across the globe as well as significant and it some cases catastrophic changes to our environments.

The Gathering Tide is Karen Lloyd’s journey around and across the dynamic sea and landscape of Morecombe Bay. Her evocative writing weaves together the physical journey on and around the sands, across the dunes and out to the islands and one kingdom, that poke their heads above the 10m tides. There are glimpses back into her past, fond memories of growing up in the area and meeting up with people whose livelihood depends on this coastline.

Where would you be without the internet? It is now one of life’s essentials along with power and water, and if you have teenagers then you know for them it is their lifeblood. The book covers the men who started the websites that now rule our lives and have permeated our existence in so many ways and we now rely on them. It is an interesting read, but he really doesn’t go anyway to address what needs to be done to curtail their power.

The first instance of the name Hamtunscir appeared in the 8th century, but there has been a human presence in the county of Hampshire since around 12,000 BC. People were communicating in a different way back then, but in this Langlands has scoured books and manuscripts to bring the very best of Hampshire writers and writing. There are the people that you’d expect, Jane Austen and Gilbert White as well as a raft of others including Wodehouse, Doyle and even Hardy who had ventured out of Dorset.  Nice collection of literature.

A Black Fox Running is a re-published edition with 
a stunning cover with a beautiful introduction by Melissa Harrison on how it inspired her to become a writer. It tells the story of Wulfgar, the dark-furred fox who roams far and wide over the wilds of Dartmoor and his battles with Scoble, an ex-veteran from the war with a drinking problem. It is not a children’s book, there are no compromises on death in this book, rather the writing is firmly grounded in the granite bedrock of Dartmoor bringing the natural world alive to the reader.

Jules Pretty walked along the shoreline of East Anglia in southeastern England over the course of a year, exploring four hundred miles on foot and another hundred miles by boat. It is a coast and a culture that is about to be lost not yet, perhaps, but soon to rising tides and industrial sprawl. It is a part of the world that has my roots in, as my paternal grandmother’s family come from Paglesham, though I have never visited it yet. I loved the photos in this book and the writing was considered without being too academic.

Wellcome Prize Shortlist

People who follow me on here (thank you all) know that I read a lot of non-fiction. I have a particular interest in travel, natural history and science. The Wellcome Book Prize is an annual award, open to new works of fiction or non-fiction with a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. This can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci-fi and history. By highlighting the best books with these themes that will affect us in some way throughout our lives, the Wellcome Trust aims to spark debate and interest around the variety of topics.
The longlist was announced on the 8th February and had the following 12 titles on it, two of which I had read. My predictions as to what was going to be on the shortlist are in bold (which is seven I know!):
To Be a Machine: Adventures among cyborgs, utopians, hackers, and the futurists solving the modest problem of death by Mark O’Connell

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s quest to transform the grisly world of Victorian medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

With the End in Mind: Dying, death and wisdom in an age of denial by Kathryn Mannix

Mayhem: A memoir by Sigrid Rausing

The Vaccine Race: How scientists used human cells to combat killer viruses by Meredith Wadman

In Pursuit of Memory: The fight against Alzheimer’s by Joseph Jebelli

Plot 29: A memoir by Allan Jenkins

The White Book by Han Kang

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen brushes with death by Maggie O’Farrell

Behave: The biology of humans at our best and worst by Robert Sapolsky

Yesterday the shortlist was announced and the following six had made it to the next stage:

Stay With Me By Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Canongate Books

Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear.

Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me is a story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the power of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about the desperate attempts we make to save ourselves, and those we love, from heartbreak.

Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (30, Nigeria) stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, and one was highly commended in the 2009 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She holds BA and MA degrees in Literature in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. She also has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded an international bursary for creative writing. She has been the recipient of fellowships and residencies from Ledig House, Hedgebrook, Sinthian Cultural Institute, Ebedi Hills, Ox-Bow School of Arts and Siena Art Institute. She was born in Lagos, Nigeria. In 2017 Stay With Me, her debut novel, was shortlisted for the Baileys Womens Prize for Fiction.

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s quest to transform the grisly world of Victorian medicine By Lindsey Fitzharris

Allen Lane, Penguin Press

The story of a visionary British surgeon whose quest to unite science and medicine delivered us into the modern world – the safest time to be alive in human history

Victorian operating theatres were known as ‘gateways of death’, Lindsey Fitzharris reminds us, since half of those who underwent surgery didn’t survive the experience. This was an era when a broken leg could lead to amputation, when surgeons often lacked university degrees, and were still known to ransack cemeteries to find cadavers. While the discovery of anaesthesia somewhat lessened the misery for patients, ironically it led to more deaths, as surgeons took greater risks. In squalid, overcrowded hospitals, doctors remained baffled by the persistent infections that kept mortality rates stubbornly high.

At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more dangerous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: Joseph Lister, a young, melancholy Quaker surgeon. By making the audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection – and could be treated with antiseptics – he changed the history of medicine forever.

With a novelist’s eye for detail, Fitzharris brilliantly conjures up the grisly world of Victorian surgery, revealing how one of Britain’s greatest medical minds finally brought centuries of savagery, sawing and gangrene to an end.

Lindsey Fitzharris (34, USA) received her doctorate in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology at the University of Oxford and was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Wellcome Institute. She is the creator of the popular website The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, and she writes and presents the YouTube series Under the Knife. She has written for the ‘Guardian’, the Lance’, New Scientist, Penthouse and the Huffington Post, and has appeared on PBS, Channel 4, BBC and National Geographic.

With the End in Mind: Dying, death and wisdom in an age of denial By Kathryn Mannix

William Collins, HarperCollins UK

Told through a series of beautifully crafted stories taken from nearly four decades of clinical practice, her book answers the most intimate questions about the process of dying with touching honesty and humanity. She makes a compelling case for the therapeutic power of approaching death not with trepidation but with openness, clarity and understanding.

With the End in Mind is a book for us all: the grieving and bereaved, ill and healthy. Open these pages and you will find stories about people who are like you, and like people you know and love. You will meet Holly, who danced her last day away; Eric, the retired head teacher who, even with Motor Neurone Disease, gets things done; loving, tender-hearted Nelly and Joe, each living a lonely lie to save their beloved from distress; and Sylvie, 19, dying of leukaemia, sewing a cushion for her mum to hug by the fire after she has died.

These are just four of the book’s thirty-odd stories of normal humans, dying normal human deaths. They show how the dying embrace living not because they are unusual or brave, but because that’s what humans do. By turns touching, tragic, at times funny and always wise, they offer us illumination, models for action, and hope. Read this book and you’ll be better prepared for life as well as death.

To Be a Machine: Adventures among cyborgs, utopians, hackers, and the futurists solving the modest problem of death By Mark O’Connell

Granta Books

What is transhumanism? Simply put, it is a movement whose aim is to use technology to fundamentally change the human condition, to improve our bodies and minds to the point where we become something other, and better, than the animals we are. It’s a philosophy that, depending on how you look at it, can seem hopeful, or terrifying, or absurd. In To Be a Machine, Mark O’Connell presents us with the first full-length exploration of transhumanism: its philosophical and scientific roots, its key players and possible futures. From charismatic techies seeking to enhance the body to immortalists who believe in the possibility of ‘solving’ death; from computer programmers quietly re-designing the world to vast competitive robotics conventions; To Be a Machine is an Adventure in Wonderland for our time. To Be a Machine paints a vivid portrait of an international movement driven by strange and frequently disturbing ideas and practices, but whose obsession with transcending human limitations can be seen as a kind of cultural microcosm, a radical intensification of our broader faith in the power of technology as an engine of human progress. It is a character study of human eccentricity, and a meditation on the immemorial desire to transcend the basic facts of our animal existence – a desire as primal as the oldest religions, a story as old as the earliest literary texts.A stunning new non-fiction voice tackles an urgent question… what next for mankind?

Mark O’Connell (38, Ireland) is a journalist, essayist and literary critic from Dublin. He is a books columnist for Slate, a staff writer at The Millions, and a regular contributor to the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog and the Dublin Review; his work has been published in the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review and the Observer.

Mayhem: A memoir by Sigrid Rausing

Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books

A searingly powerful memoir about the impact of addiction on a family

In the summer of 2012 a woman named Eva was found dead in the London townhouse she shared with her husband, Hans K. Rausing. The couple had struggled with drug addiction for years, often under the glare of tabloid headlines. Now, writing with singular clarity and restraint the editor and publisher Sigrid Rausing, tries to make sense of what happened to her brother and his wife.

In Mayhem, she asks the difficult questions those close to the world of addiction must face. ‘Who can help the addict, consumed by a shaming hunger, a need beyond control? There is no medicine: the drugs are the medicine. And who can help their families, so implicated in the self-destruction of the addict? Who can help when the very notion of ‘help’ becomes synonymous with an exercise of power; a familial police state; an end to freedom, in the addict’s mind?’

Sigrid Rausing (56, Sweden/UK) is the editor of Granta magazine and the publisher of Granta Books. She is the author of two previous books: ‘History, Memory, and Identity in Post-Soviet Estonia’ and ‘Everything is Wonderful’, which was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. She is an Honorary Fellow of the London School of Economics and of St Antony’s College, Oxford. She lives in London.

The Vaccine Race: How scientists used human cells to combat killer viruses By Meredith Wadman

Doubleday, Transworld

Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of American children suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant; there was no vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated fetuses. In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia, using tissue extracted from an aborted fetus from Sweden, produced safe, clean cells that allowed the creation of vaccines against rubella and other common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would one day wipe out homegrown rubella. The rubella vaccine and others made with those fetal cells have protected more than 150 million people in the United States, the vast majority of them preschoolers. The new cells and the method of making them also led to vaccines that have protected billions of people around the world from polio, rabies, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A, shingles and adenovirus.

Meredith Wadman’s masterful account recovers not only the science of this urgent race, but also the political roadblocks that nearly stopped the scientists. She describes the terrible dilemmas of pregnant women exposed to German measles and recounts testing on infants, prisoners, orphans, and the intellectually disabled, which was common in the era. These events take place at the dawn of the battle over using human fetal tissue in research, during the arrival of big commerce in campus labs, and as huge changes take place in the laws and practices governing who “owns” research cells and the profits made from biological inventions. It is also the story of yet one more unrecognized woman whose cells have been used to save countless lives.

With another frightening virus imperiling pregnant women on the rise today, no medical story could have more human drama, impact, or urgency today than The Vaccine Race.

Meredith Wadman MD (57, USA/Canada) has a long profile as a medical reporter and has covered biomedical research politics from Washington, DC, for 20 years. She has written for Nature, Fortune, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. A graduate of Stanford University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she began medical school at the University of British Columbia and completed medical school as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. She is an Editorial Fellow at New America, a DC think-tank.

It is really good to see so many female authors on the long and shortlists, but which is going to win though? Not sure yet, as I haven’t read them all, but I am on the shadow panel for this with Annabel GaskellClare Rowland and Dr. Laura Tisdall  which is being hosted by Rebecca Foster. We are all going to be reading them all and will reveal our choice nearer the time. Tell me what you have read and liked in the comments below.

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