Category: Review (page 2 of 58)

Sincerity by Carol Anne Duffy

4 out of five stars

This collection demonstrates that Duffy is a current master of all that she writes, there are poems in here that are very personal and others that are contemporary and political. The common thread that links them though is that they are all written with passion. Duffy is not angry in these but furious, seething with the injustice and unfairness of the world and the vested interests that seek to keep it that way.

My hand on what I take from time and this world

And the stone’s shadow there on the grass with mine

This bold and political book can be summed up in the poem, Swearing In. In this, she does not pull any punches at all as she welcomes the tangerine terror to his new job… I liked the fact that the poems varied in style and length, each written to suit the story she wanted to tell in those few words. Really enjoyable collection.

Three favourite poems

Stone Love

Wood

Once

Outpost by Dan Richards

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

Should you wish to escape from the relentless 24 / 7 grip of the digital world then you need to turn off your phone and head outside. That will help in all sorts of ways, even if it is just for an hour or so. However to really get away from it all you need to head to the wilder parts of the world, to walk the hills, climb the mountains and cross the deserts. It is in these places where the changes over deep time are almost imperceptible, and that are as wild as they are beautiful.

The last thing that you would expect or actually want to see when you are miles from civilisation though is evidence that humans have already been there. However, occasionally a bothy appearing on the horizon can be a welcome sight. Five Star accommodation it isn’t, however, these very simple huts or shelters can offer some respite from the relentless weather that you will often find in the wild.

He was fascinated as a child by the picture of his father and his team outside a small shed in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, where they had stayed and the pelvis of a polar bear that his father had brought back from the far north. Richards’ desire to head to these far out of the way places is genetic. As you’d know if you read his previous book about his great-great-aunt, Dorothy Pilley, who was one of the pioneering women climbers of her time. With this inspiration and background, he sets off on his journeys from Scotland to Washington, to a mountain in Japan and a retreat in Switzerland and from the heat of Mexico to the bleakness and cold of the Arctic hoping to walk in his father’s footsteps. He ends up in Denmark to see an artistic interpretation of a shed too, but he starts his journey in the land of ice and fire; Iceland.

All these landscapes have these tiny places of refuge in common and it is these places that have inspired all sorts of people to write and make art and to seek their peace with our planet. In this book, Richards’ has sought them out to gain his own insight in what appeals with these remote and beautiful places. He writes in a lyrical way that also has an impish humour too, I know that you shouldn’t really laugh at others misfortune, but Dan’s description of his hangover as he stepped off the train in Scotland is truly hilarious. As this is the second family inspired travel book that Dan has written, I am hoping that he has got some more relatives that we don’t know about yet for his next book. Cracking stuff and one for anyone who likes well-written travel writing.

For those that want to go and find the bothies for themselves then there is this guide here: https://www.mountainbothies.org.uk

Or perhaps you have skills that can help keep them weatherproof:

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/jan/25/mountain-rescue-why-bothies-need-a-helping-hand-a-photo-essay

Time Song by Julia Blackburn

4 out of 5 stars

Despite the recent shenanigans about our relationship with Europe, if you were to go back about 7000 years ago, you’d find that we were physically connected to the continent. This connection point was where the North Sea is now. We know that there were people and animals there because of the number of bones and other artefacts that keep being bought to the surface by trawlers. This land has a name too now, Doggerland.

For lots of people, the past has a lot of allure, there are stories to be told from the things that we find and tales from bumps in a field. Julia Blackburn is one of those who seeks out objects that can speak to her across the bridge of time. She has amassed more and more things but didn’t really feel that she knew much about this land just below the sea. Her curiosity would take her back and forth across this shallow sea and far back in time to the people that inhabited this landscape. She gets to see footprints from humans that had been fossilised in mud and silt, hold flint arrowheads that were last used  a millennia ago, discover the traces of plants that must have come across on the land bridge and even get to see those that have been preserved in the acid waters of the bogs that surround the North Sea.

This fascination, or almost borderline obsession with the past, stemmed from Blackburn’s desire to collect and hold objects from history. The paths she takes as she walks back in time are sometimes walked alone and sometimes with others there to guide her to the wider view or the minutia of the items she is looking at. Entwined with the history and archaeology is her very personal journey as she reminisces about her late husband, the artist Herman Makkink. This the second of Blackburn’s book that I have read now, the other was Thin Paths which I really enjoyed. She is such an evocative and beautiful writer and this has an intensity that makes you think of elements of it long after you have set it aside. I loved the art that was included from Enrique Brinkman, but personally wasn’t that keen on the Time Songs. However, they added a pause to the intensity of the writing. Can highly recommend this.

Likely Stories by Neil Gaiman & Mark Buckingham

4 out of 5 stars

Most people headed to the after-hours bar called the Diogenes to concentrate on the serious business of drinking, but some chose to talk and tell each other stories. Men who are on the fringes of society telling each other unexpected strange tales. And they are slightly strange too, there is a girl Charlotte who appears in a soft porn magazine and who never seems to age as a photographer follows her career with interest. There is a man who is neighbours with an old lady who needs to feed on raw meat and a man who has somehow acquired an embarrassing disease and finally there is the ghost story with the suitably creepy house.

Somehow Gaiman manages to take what looks like a normal situation and with some of his magic turns it into something that just isn’t quite normal and it is the same with these four interlinked stories, Foreign Parts, Feeders and Eaters Looking for the Girl and Closing Time. The stories aren’t that dark compared to some of Gaiman’s that I have read, but they are reassuringly disturbing. It is very much an adult graphic novel too… I loved the art from Mark Buckingham, it lifts the book to another level. However, I would have liked to have seen nine panels per page for the stories rather than sixteen as it felt a little cramped. Definitely one for the NG aficionado, but if you have never read one of his graphic novels then you may just enjoy this as first.

The Woman Who Rode a Shark by Ailsa Ross

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

If you were to ask most people they could probably name several famous men who had achieved something significant in their lives, but if you were to ask the same people if they could think of any women who had achieved similar things then they would be hard pushed to name one or two in the majority of cases. Women are just a capable as men in achieving things that they set out to do, it is just we tend to hear about the men.

In this book there are the profiles of fifty women who have forged their own paths, climbed trees and mountains, flown and sailed solo around the world, crossed deserts, became spies and as the title says there is the profile of one woman, Kimi Werner, who rode a Great White shark. Sadly most of the women mentioned in here are not household names, I had only heard of a handful of them, but they should be. So if you want to know what Manon Ossevoor, Diana Nyad and Wang Zhenyi had achieved then you need to read this book.

Each of the women featured in here has accomplished something amazing or unique and this book is a celebration of all their lives. It is really nicely put together too, with single page profiles that give enough detail of the subject and suggestions of other women to discover and find out about. They are accompanied by bold art for each one to that complement This really nicely put together book should be read by all children, to prove that following your dreams can lead to many things.

In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas

4 out of 5 stars

On March the 21st 1913, the poet Edward Thomas set off from Clapham with the intention of heading to Somerset in the West Country searching out the first signs of spring. His journey on his bike would take him through the lanes of Surrey, through my home town of Guildford, across the downs and past Winchester. He heads across a pre-Army controlled Salisbury Plain and onto Somerset where his journey ended.

This is a heady blend of travel, natural history and architecture as well as the history of the places he visits on his ride across the country. He is a keen observer of the things that he sees as he travels through the countryside, spotting flowers just breaking through in the hedgerows, hearing the chatter of birds as he pedalled through a quiet lane and stopping to take in the views, which he relays details of in the account. Intertwined in the book are his thoughts on other writers who he recalls as he passes through areas associated by them. He also takes time to read the epitaphs of people that he never knew and discover stories of others that he comes across on his travels.

The Plain assumes the character by which it is best known, that of a sublime, inhospitable wilderness. It makes us feel the age of the earth, the greatest of Time, Space and Nature; the littleness of man, even in an aeroplane, the fact that the earth does not belong to man, but man to earth.

When Thomas cycled across the south of the UK looking for the first signs of spring, he saw a country that was at peace with itself. A year later that was all to change as war broke out over Europe and men rushed to sign up. Their drain of manpower from the countryside was to change the country forever. A lifelong pacifist he still felt an obligation to enlist for the Great War, which he did in 1915. Sadly his life was tragically taken far too early from us in 1917 in the Battle of Arras.

This is the first of his that I have read, and oddly enough at the same time a poem of his was in another book I was reading, but it won’t be the last. He has a way with words in his descriptions that are quite evocative and in other parts, he can be quite matter of fact about what he is seeing around him. This edition includes several photographs from his collection as he cycled across the country and it adds a wonderful touch to the text.

The Lights in the Distance by Daniel Trilling

4 out of 5 stars

To be a modern European means that you have the opportunity to travel amongst the member countries with little or no identification. Quite amazing to think that this is possible when less than a century ago, we were all at War. That was the last in a series of wars that had taken place on the continent over the past millennia too. Should someone from the Netherlands wish to move to Spain to work they are perfectly entitled to do so. This has gone a long way in ensuring that the horrendous things that happen back then are never repeated and that human rights have become one of the key values of the European project.

Whilst freedom of movement is allowed within the borders, if you live outside those lines, don’t have the right passport or sadly don’t have the correct colour skin, it is much much harder to get across and move within. With various conflicts going on around the world, there are a lot of people who want to come here to make some attempt to rebuild their lives.

This displacement affects real people and in 2015 this river of people wanting to come to Europe became a flood. It is these people that Trilling wants to meet with and talk with and try to understand their predicament. To do this he sneaks into detention centres, goes to the camps and hostels with the intention of understanding why the felt the need to move from their homeland. He also hopes to understand what drove his ancestors to do a similar thing when they were displaced from Russia to Germany and then again from there to the UK.

In talking to these people he hopes to find what the differences are between, economic migrant, asylum seeker and refugee and to see if these broad definitions stand up to the reality of life. He helps people like, Jamal, Caesar and Farhan tell the stories from their perspective as well as asking the bigger questions about the way our societies treat these people, why we should we regulate their movement and if there are better ways of dealing with the whole immigration issue. Whilst this is not the most cheerful of books to read, it is an important book in lots of ways and deserves to be read by more people so they can understand the issues we all face.

Orchid Summer by Jon Dunn

4 out of 5 stars

There are countless varieties of Orchid across the world and we are fortunate in the UK that we have around 50 odd species here. They vary from tiny example a few centimetres high to magnificent flower spikes that can reach much higher than the surrounding vegetation. They vary hugely, some are strongly perfumed, some smell rank and others are scented to attract a particular type of insect. The flowers are the thing that makes the orchid unique though, spectacular petals, mimicry of insects and gorgeous colours. They truly are a plant that are is rewarding to find and they seem to attract obsessive types (mostly men) who are utterly besotted with these beguiling plants. Jon Dunn is one of these who considers himself an addict.

To satisfy this addiction he decides to take himself on a mission to see all the species in the UK. This will take him from the Dorset coast, over the South Downs, up into Scotland and to the wild coastline of Western Ireland and back home to the very Northern Isles of our country. However, there is to this than the obsession of one man travelling backwards and forwards across the country in search of them. Some of these are really common, anyone with a small amount of research can find hundreds in the right location. Others though are much rarer, locations are often secret and frequently protected from those that seek to have these for themselves. As he ticks them off the list he tells the stories behind each one of these elusive and beautiful plants.

It is an enjoyable book about one slightly obsessed man’s quest to see and photograph every species of orchid in the UK and a brief sojourn to New York. It reminded me of The Orchid Hunter where Leif Bersweden undertakes a very similar pilgrimage to find the same plants. One to read if you have a general interest in plants and botany, and has a stunning cover. If there is one thing that lets the book down is that there are no photos. Thankfully they are available on Jon’s website here, and they are a stunning set of images.

The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

5 out of 5 stars

Cohen can remember many things, the time when heroes didn’t need to worry about offending people or be concerned by the ruminations of anyone in the legal industry and he wasn’t that concerned about civilisation. The thing that he was struggling to remember though, was where he’d left his teeth.

However, that is not the important thing, Cohen and his Silver Horde, ancient heroes from all over the Disc are on a final quest to visit the Gods. They are returning to the Gods what was stolen by the first hero but with added interest, with the intention of obliterating their mountain home, Cori Celesti. So that their monumental quest can be immortalised and passed into lore, they have, shall we say, persuaded a bard to come along and create the saga.

The Wizards of the Unseen University are in a bit of a panic about this. Destroying Cori Celesti will cause the magic of Discworld to cease holding together the Disc and it will be curtain for everyone. Lord Vetinari recruits Leonard of Quirm, who sets about designing the Discworld’s second known spacecraft, The Kite. This is powered by dragons and will slingshot around the world and land in the home of the Gods. Leonard of Quirm, Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, and a very reluctant Rincewind are to be the pilots of the craft and they are launched on their mission to say the world, except unbeknown to them, they have an extra passenger on board.

It this to be the end of the world as they know it, or will another hero save the day?

It has been a long while since I read a Pratchett book, and I forgot how much I love his writing. His managed to perfectly blend a carefully crafted plot, with humour, steampunk gadgets, and of course the librarian. Pratchett really was the comic fantasy master, and The Last Hero is as good as I’d expected. It is helped by the fantastic art by illustrator Paul Kidby turns the fine plot into this fantastic technicolour extravaganza.

Assurances by J.O. Morgan

3.5 out of 5 stars

War poetry has normally been set on the battlefield, the place where war and death were much more personal, tangible and raw. What Morgan has done here is to consider the position of those that were the hands-on people looking after the nuclear deterrent and considered how they felt about their role. For this, he has borrowed heavily from his father’s experience in the R. A. F. Airborne Nuclear Deterrent.

It is a long poem too, taking up the entire book, but he mixes prose and stanza to move between the different voices that he uses in the book. This change of pace in the various parts of the poem conveys many things, the pressure that the pilots were under as they carried their deadly cargo, the almost gallows humour that they had to not think about the consequences of them having to carry out the task they were employed to do as well as the secrecy of the task in hand.

At night he matches its motions to

the pulse of an atomic clock

where forward change is marked and set

by nuclear decay,

each measure to show how far we’ve come

how far we’ve still to go

It is a powerful poem, and it reminded me of the dread that I used to feel with the cold war in the early 1980s and the horrific promise of Mutually Assured Destruction that was almost palpable in the air at the time. I really liked the mix of styles throughout the book, it made it much more readable and fitted well with what he was doing by coming from different perspectives. This is the first of Morgan’s poetry books that I had read and I will definitely be reading more.

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