Category: Review (page 2 of 54)

The Met Office Advises Caution by Rebecca Watts

3 out of 5 stars

This was just a chance pick up in the library, the cover appealed and the title of the collection was intriguing. That and I have been trying to read more poetry, it seemed to be worth a go. Whilst there are some poems in here that have some roots in the natural world, there are others that source material from others subjects that are unexpected, for example, Christmas, maps, milk the hare and insomnia to name a few. This approach to poems about unusual subjects means that she can play with the structure of the verse on the page.

 

The leaves are turning and the trees

are shaking them off. Bonfire smoke

between us like a promise lingers.

It is a very different way of writing compared to say, Alice Oswald, one of the other nature poets that I have read and I thought that it was an interesting poetry collection. As with others that I have read, there were some I loved and others I found harder to fathom, but as with all poetry, I read it seems to fill a necessary gap in my reading.

Three Favourite Poems:

The Ways, Map

Hawk-Eye

Turning

Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Almost all of the poetry I had read up until now has been contemplative and meditative on landscape, life and other matters that have trouble the poet in question. Vertigo & Ghost is utterly different to anything I have read poetry-wise. Fiona Benson’s new collection is divided into two parts, but before that begins with a poem called Ace of Bass. This concerns some girls on a tennis court who can feel the hormones coursing through themselves as they awaken sexually.

 

Hormones poured into me

Like an incredible chemical cocktail

 

The first part consists of 30 odd poems about Zeus. These are powerful, visceral prose that portrays him as a serial rapist, where woman are prey and sex is weaponised. The anger in these poems is quite something, but it is a response to the modern world where women are still subject to personal attacks on a daily basis.

The second half of the book is a much more personal reflection on her life, with poems on family, depression and the delights and fears of motherhood. It is a much slower pace unlike the first part that had a great sense of urgency to it,

For we are tracks in the dew

Vanishing at dawn,

We are mist, we are rain,

We are gone

This is not the easiest read for anyone who, like me, hasn’t read much poetry, but these things need to be read. I really liked what they had done with the physical layout of the words for some of the poems, it added a certain amount of dynamics to the page that added to the fieriness of the prose. I much preferred the second half of the book to the first, but it is a book I will be keeping and will read again.

My three favourite poems were:

Wood Song

Almond Blossom

Blue Heron

Swell by Jenny Landreth

4 out of 5 stars

Swimming seems to be a big thing now days, there are a plethora of books about people finding solace in the waves or ponds around our country, but if you go back far enough you would find that swimming was only a male preserve and rich men only too a lot of the time. Women didn’t even get the choice, being found in the water could lead to fines or even arrest. It took until the 1930s before women were granted equal access to the wet stuff.

In this Waterbiography, Landreth explores the ways that women have pushed to be allowed to swim in the same places as men and how access was reluctantly given. She highlights those women who have taken them on at their own records across the channel and other endurance events, fought against overt discrimination just for the right to swim. In amongst these social battles are some amazing women who would not take no for an answer, some pretty dire swimming costumes and Landreth’s own personal journey swimming in lidos.

It is a really enjoyable book, and well worth reading. Landreth has a seriously dry sense of humour as well as has some fairly forthright feminist views. However, given some of the petty reasons that women were denied that right to swim, you can see why.

All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew

4 out of 5 stars

On the coast of Cornwall lives, Ia Pendilly. She is eking out an existence in a caravan in a Britain that is under military rule after being ravaged by floods and cut off from Europe. She is cohabiting with a bloke called Bran, who is some sort of cousin. He is involved in some fairly dodgy stuff as well as his regular job and treats her like dirt when he appears back at irregular intervals.

Whilst walking the beaches finds a child washed up who is just clinging onto life. Nursing this girl back to health opens once again that deep longing that she has had for a family, but she has never been able to carry any of the children she has had with Bran past a few weeks. A chance encounter with someone else shows that people can care for her and as the girl regains her strength it opens a memory and a longing for a past that she remembers. It will take courage though, and a journey downriver, with the hope of a better life.

This dystopian future set in Cornwall in the UK that that has been devastated by climate change and a collapse in society is quite a shocking read. As Ia and Jenna head south across this landscape, Carthew has captured this broken countryside well it is full of passionate and lyrical prose, which is understandable given her background as a poet who spends as much of her time outdoors as she can. It reminded me of The Devil’s Highway by Gregory Nominton where his third and final story in that book is of a landscape that has been irreversibly changed from what we have today. Definitely, an author to read more of.

The House On Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

3.5 out of 5 stars

On a bitterly cold night, three seemingly unconnected events happen. Lord Strythe who is being watched by Octavia Hillingdon who thinks she is onto a story, vanishes into the night. In his home, a seamstress who is there to make alterations to a finely crafted gown is locked into the attic room to carry out her duties. She has been careful to disguise her pain in front of the butler from the words sewn into her own flesh, but she climbs through the window onto the sill before turning and jumping. That same night, Gideon Bliss seeks shelter from the snow in a Soho church, where he finds Angie Tatton, a former love of his, lying before the altar. In her delirium, he hears snatches of phrases about black air and Spiriters before he is knocked out. When he comes to she is no longer there.

In the cold light of day, Inspector Cutter of Scotland Yard begins his investigation into the suspicious death of Eleanor Tull and the disappearance of Angie Tatton. Gideon Bliss offers to help given his personal connection and Cutter is reluctant at first, but eventually relents. As they start to find out more about the people affected, they hear rumours of a shadowy group of men that may be the Spiriters. Octavia Hillingdon’s own research for her paper on the group who claim to be stealing souls is rapidly heading to a similar conclusion as Cutter and Bliss, that all these threads lead to the mysterious house on Vesper Sands

I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of these Victorian Gothic melodramas, but this came highly recommended by Melissa Harrison, no less. And O’Donnell has done a pretty good job with this one. He captures the atmosphere of the places really well, the brooding and pervasive dampness of London fogs, the bleakness of the Kent coast in winter coupled with strong flawed characters and blended all those elements with a reasonable plot and a sprinkling of supernatural otherness that don’t undermine the plausibility of the story. I thought it was worth reading and if you have read an loved The Essex Serpent and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock then this will be right up your darkened alley.

Between Sky and Stone by Whitney Brown

3.5 out of 5 stars

There is something about drystone wall that fit the countryside they inhabit. They are self-supporting structures that look simple to make, however, it is a craft that takes a while to master to ensure that they are strong and safe. Making them look beautiful though is another level up again. At the age of twenty-six, Whitney Brown had never seen a dry stone wall, let alone met a met a dry-stone waller. But chance meant that whilst helping at the Smithsonian Folk Festival she was introduced to a contingent of Welsh people including a female blacksmith and a man called Jack. 

She was going through an emotional time and feeling the urge to smash things with a hammer would stop by to learn a little about how it was done. As they got talking they started to learn more about each other’s home country and by the end of the festival, Brown knew that all she wanted to head to the Welsh hills to learn about this craft. Declining a position at the Smithsonian, her parents tried to dissuade her from heading across the Atlantic, but she was smitten by the look of the countryside and could not think of any other way of quenching her burning desire on how to learn how to make dry stone walls.

Dry stone walling though is a tough job, but Brown grew to love it. The physical effort of shifting tonnes of stones took its toll on her body along with the wear and tear on her hands. She grew to love the countryside that she ventured out in every day, often getting cold and frequently wet (especially in Wales). She had the companionship of Jack who was twice her age, but more importantly the fellowship of the women in the local area who took her under their wings and carried her in her lowest ebbs.

This is a warm and touching memoir of a lady who completely fell in love with a country and a craft. It is raw and emotional too, as she wears her heart on her sleeve for a lot of the book, detailing the positive and the negatives of being so far from home and in the company of strangers. She was determined to take back what she has learnt on the hillsides of Wales and make a career from back in America, and it is something she has achieved judging by the impressive structures completed on her website.. She is one impressive lady who has the eye of an artist and the muscles of a waller.

The World of Tides by William Thomson

3.5 out of 5 stars

In William Thomson’s first book, The Book of Tides,  he took us a journey around the coast of Britain exploring the sea and the tides of our country. But there is a whole world out there that is covered by ocean and in this book he sets out to introduce us to the most amazing places around the globe and their tides.

Ironically he begins in the places where there are no tides. Because of their specific geographical location. These points are called amphidromic and there are a dozen around the world, mostly in the middle of the oceans, apart from one around the coast of New Zealand. From this beginning, we will find the coasts with the greatest tidal ranges in the world, the most impressive and most deadly tidal bores, and the strongest whirlpools. He explains what happens when two oceans meet and what the immense forces can do to the seas at those points. There are chapters on Tsunami’s, rip tides and ocean currents.

Once again it is full of excellent infographics that explain clearly the way the part of the ocean that he is describing. It is a beautifully produced book, with the layout that worked so well in the first volume. If there was one flaw, I felt that there was a little too much overlap with his first UK based book, that said though, one. this is a great companion volume to that one.

Citizen Clem by John Bew

 

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

We have had some great politicians and Prime Ministers over the years and, how should I put this, some less than great ones too. Especially recently… Go back a few years though and you will find most political leaders of our country were also great statesmen too, working for the greater good of the country regardless of their particular hue of party. Several politicians spring to mind, but one that doesn’t often is Clement Richard Attlee. Born in 1883 in Putney to Henry Attlee and Ellen nee Watson, he was the seventh of eight children. He was educated at Northaw School, then Haileybury College; and before getting a degree in modern history from University College, Oxford. From there he trained as a barrister and worked at his father’s company and was called to the bar in 1906.

He served in The Great War, whilst his brother Tom was imprisoned for being a conscientious objector but was fortunate twice to escape heavy action that saw a lot of his regiment perish. The law was not where his passion lay though, having seen the poverty in the East End of London it inspired him to become politically active and he was first elected to the House of Commons in 1922 as the MP for Limehouse. Two years later he became a junior minister and a few years after that became a cabinet minister for the first time. Shortly after in 1931, the Labour Party were defeated in a general election, but Attlee held his seat. Four years later he was to become the leader of that party.

As tensions rose in Europe in the 1930s, he preferred pacifism and opposed rearmament, but was later to reverse his position. He became a strong critic of Chamberlain’s attempts to appease Hitler and Mussolini and after war broke out joined the war coalition serving under Churchill as Deputy Prime Minister. In 1945 after the end of the war in Europe the, coalition fractured and a general election was called.  Churchill expected to win, but he didn’t, and Attlee had a landslide victory.  His time as Prime Minister would prove to be the most progressive of all that held that position that century.

Bew has studied his subject in almost intimate detail and not just the written about the time that he spent as Prime Minister. The thorough research goes into the background that drove this fairly unassuming man to the political stance and outlook that he took consistently all his life. There are snippets and anecdotes that fill in the gaps from the official stories as well as lots of details from the life that he lived outside politics. It also goes some way to disproving the claim from those that opposed him that he had no intellectual or political footing, instead it shows a man of strong principles and rigor. For anyone with an interest in political history, this is a balanced and objective view of a man who should be considered the most radical PM of the 20th century.

Amateur by Thomas Page McBee

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Round One

In his training for the fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden, McBee joined the Church Boxing Gym. It is in downtown Manhattan and in underground down several flights of stairs. There are several rings in the room and it is covered with posters of fighters long forgotten.  It is a place that oozes testosterone, echoes to the sound of people working out and sparring and the aroma of stale sweat permeates the place.

 

Round Two

Mangual and the other guys training him admired his energy and enthusiasm and were fully behind him for this match. Thomas Page McBee was learning how to punch, how to get hit, when to defend and when to strike. Every time he entered the ring he learnt a little more about what makes a man, what makes them resort to a physical way of dealing with issues and why some sorts of masculinity were toxic. But McBee had not been completely open with those training him; when they said he had balls facing the other guys in the ring, it turns out that he didn’t.

 

Round Three

Because McBee was trans.  After a lifetime of being, but not feeling female and having had surgery and testosterone and hormones that he started at the age of 30, he finally got a new birth certificate at the age of 31 declaring the sex he always knew he was. But there is more depth to this book than just his personal journey across the gender divide. He uses it to ask wider questions as to why men are as they are, how women’s perception of him changed and how culture and stereotypes should not always define who we are or who we aim to be.

The Dark Stuff by Donald S. Murray

4 out of 5 stars

Normally the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Dark Stuff is Guinness. What Murray thinks of though, is peat. This decomposed vegetable matter is formed on acidic and very wet ground, but when dried can then become fuel and is the strong scent in the delightful Islay whiskies. He had grown up with them in Scotland all around him and even fell in a few. But these moorlands that make up swathes of our uplands in our country and Ireland also exist in Europe and all around the world.

These moorlands have affected and influenced people for hundreds of years. Not only have they provided the fuel to heat and cook with, but they have been a focal point for ritual and darker matters in the past as well as inspiration for stories, art, poetry and folk tales. Murray takes us on a path through his own personal history of moors when growing up on the Isle of Lewis as well as peering into the murk to discover the cultural history and investigates the science and the crucial role they play in our climate. The challenge of keeping these fragile environments going and meeting the balance of economic needs of the local populations  is a difficult one given just how much carbon they are capable of storing

The book does weave around, just like the path that you would take through a bog, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of what Murray does here in telling us of his love for these places. There are fine illustrations from Douglas Robertson and a smattering of his own poems throughout the book which nicely adjusts the pace. Overall a fascinating book of a part of the landscape that is often overlooked.

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